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Book News: Memoir Coming From Obama's Half-Brother

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Kelvin Chan of The Associated Press reports that President Obama's half-brother Mark Obama Ndesandjo is publishing a memoir in February in which he writes that their father was violent, and recalls "alcohol-fueled beatings meted out by his father to his mother." Chan adds that the book, titled Cultures: My Odyssey of Self-Discovery, "recounts one incident in which his father held a knife to his mother's throat because she took out a restraining order against him." Ndesandjo published a semiautobiographical novel in 2009 that also depicted an abusive father. Asked about the novel in a CNN interview, Obama said, "it's no secret that my father was a troubled person. Anybody who has read my first book, Dreams from My Father, knows that, you know, he had an alcoholism problem, that he didn't treat his families very well. Obviously it's a sad part of my history and my background but it's not something I spend a lot of time brooding over." The brothers have met only a handful of times. Ndesandjo, 48, grew up in Kenya and now lives in Shenzen, China.

  • A Turkish court this week suspended the trial of a translator and publisher accused of "corrupting public morals" with a 2009 edition of the century-old French novel The Exploits of a Young Don Juan. Thought to have been written by the surrealist poet Guillaume Apollinaire and originally published in 1911 the novel describes the sexual awakening of a teenage boy. Publisher Irfan Sanci and translator Ismail Yerguz won't be tried for another three years because of a legal technicality, but Sanci told Agence France-Presse that, "this decision is like the Sword of Damocles over my head." Sanci's lawyer added, "They tell us not to commit a crime for three years. For them, publishing a book is a crime." Sanci says he plans to go forward with the book anyways.

  • Charles Simic translates Radmila Lazic's poem "Psalm of Despair" from Serbian for The New York Review of Books:

"In despair we make children
In despair we strangle them
And feed our desperate offspring
With our own despair
So that they may multiply
By giving birth to ever more desperate children..."

  • Monday saw the launch of yet another e-book subscription service. For a monthly fee, Entitle lets you download a fixed number of ebooks every month from its digital library ($14.99 for two books a month; $21.99 for three; $27.99 for four). It differs from its predecessors, which include Oyster and Scribd, in that readers get to keep the ebooks they download.

  • Cynthia Russett, the historian whose book Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood described the efforts of Victorian scientists to find evidence that women were inherently inferior, has died at the age of 76. The book, which is her best-known work, suggests that scientists responded to women's "new claims to a life beyond the domestic hearth," by "measuring limbs, pondering viscera, [and] reckoning up skulls" in an attempt to demonstrate scientifically that women are naturally subordinate. After earning a PhD at Yale, Russett joined the faculty there and taught from 1967 until her death.

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