REVIEWS: 'The Death Class,' by Erika Hayasaki, and 'Metronote: A History of Paris from the Underground Up,' by Lorant Deutsch

  • Updated: April 4, 2014 - 5:52 PM

The Death Class

By Erika Hayasaki. (Simon & Schuster, 266 pages, $25.)

Erika Hayasaki first grasped the horror of death as a teen in Washington state when her close friend Sangeeta was murdered by an ex-boyfriend. The immensity of her loss was underscored by the Oklahoma City bombing on the same day in 1995. Erika wrote a story about her friend for the school paper and went on to major in journalism, later covering the Virginia Tech killings, the 9/11 attacks and even the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis for the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers.

Along the way, she heard about Prof. Norma Bowe, who teaches a health class on death at Kean University in Union, N.J. Although Bowe, a nurse, begins with the health aspects — discussions of, for example, the physical aspects of dying and death — she also prompts her students to ponder their own sources of grief and to apply what they’ve learned to their life choices.

Hayasaki zeroes in on a few students with much to overcome: a girl whose addicted mother is suicidal, a boy whose family tragedy is compounded by his brother’s mental illness, and another boy who is grasping at a chance to leave his gang behind. As awful as these kids have had it, this book shows the power of one person to change another’s life for the better. Hayasaki reveals the toll such generosity of spirit sometimes exacts on Bowe, as well as her own journey to heal from the long-ago death of her friend. I expected something more general, but was impressed by Hayasaki’s unflinching look at subjects who were remarkably open about their lives.

- Kathe Connair, Copy editor

 

METRONOME: A HISTORY OF PARIS FROM THE UNDERGROUND UP

By Lorànt Deutsch. (St. Martin’s Griffin, 305 pages, $17.99.)

“For those who know a little of its history, Paris is a charming puzzle,” says Lorànt Deutsch in “Metronome, A History of Paris From the Underground Up.” A comedian and history buff, Deutsch provides a witty time traveler’s guide to his city.

He organizes his chapters by Metro stops, one for each century starting with Ile de la Cité, where you learn that the city didn’t start here after all. At Saint-Denis you find where the bodies are buried (or were until somebody moved them). At Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre, you learn the meaning of “HDB” on the Louvre’s south facade. And on through the city.

There are a few flaws: The metro stop/century device is forced at times, the maps could really use some major landmarks, and it’s a bit disappointing that many artifacts he mentions are not visible. Even so, this is a fun, fact-filled guide that will enrich a visit whether it’s your first time in Paris or your 21st.

- Maureen McCarthy, Metro team leader

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