Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Book Review: Jerusalem by Gonçalo Tavares

Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Portugal
Author: Gonçalo Tavares
Title:Jerusalem
Translator: Anna Kushner
Publication Info: Champaign [Ill.] : Dalkey Archive Press, c2009
ISBN: 9781564785558
Summary/Review:

This novel brings together several characters in one place for one event and then jumps back to show vignettes of each character’s life, building up to what all brought them there.  It is a well-written and structured work, but also very complex, and I admit that I don’t totally “get” it.  Themes of troubled relationships, mental illness, and the nature of evil.  If you’re interested in provocative fiction, you may like this.

Recommended booksThe Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder.
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

AuthorAyana Mathis
TitleThe Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Narrators: Adam Lazarre-White, Bahni Turpin, and Adenrele Ojo
Publication Info: Books on Tape, 2012
Summary/Review: This somber novel tells the stories of a woman named Hattie who migrates from Georgia to Philadelphia in the 1920s, and her subsequent life and that of her children.  The novel is a series of connected stories, each focusing on a different child from dates ranging from the 1920s to 1980s.  The family perseveres against poverty, racism, mental illness and internal strife.  I found it a well-written story that approaches family life and the African-American experience from different angles.  The audiobook is also well-performed with different narrators reading stories from the different children’s perspectives.

Recommended booksBailey’s Cafe by Gloria Naylor, Strivers Row by Kevin Baker, and Jazz by Toni Morrison
Rating: ***

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Around the World for a Good Book selection for Colombia
Author: Gabriel García Márquez
Title: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Translator: Gregory Rabassa
Narrator: John Lee
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio (2014) (originally published 1967)
ISBN: 9781482939682
Other books read by the same author: Love in the Time of Cholera
Summary/Review:

I always find it difficult to review a book that is a recognized classic.  What can I possibly say that hasn’t been said before.  I enjoyed this book a lot, and I was surprised it was so funny (it was meant to be funny, I hope?), at least parts of it.  I also couldn’t keep track of all the characters but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that is not as vital as the story of the town of Macondo itself with its sleepless sickness, civil wars with civil generals (but gruesome executions), and endless rain.  There’s also the books style and use of words and imagery that set it apart from your typical novel.  This novel is also rich in symbolism encapsulating an alternate history of Colombia.

So there you have it, my very short and very dumb review of a classic work of literature.  Here’s all you need to know: read it!
Favorite Passages:

“Fernanda was scandalized that she did not understand the relationship of Catholicism with life but only its relationship with death, as if it were not a religion but a compendium of funeral conventions.”

“Literature was the best plaything that had ever been invented to make fun of people.”

Recommended booksThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Man of Feeling by Javier Marias

Around the World for a Good Book selection for Spain
Author: Javier Marias
Translator: Margaret Jull Costa
TitleThe Man of Feeling
Publication Info: New Directions (2003)
ISBN: 0811215318
Summary/Review:

This short meditative book is narrated from the perspective of a young opera singer who travels across Europe for performances.  On one of his journeys he shares a train cabin with an attractive woman, her husband, and a man who works as their handler (for lack of a better word).  It seems painfully obvious that the narrator will lust after the woman, that the power-hungry husband won’t like that, and the handler will play both sides against one another, because that is exactly what happens.  Marias narrator is not a sympathetic character, even as he details the reprehensible behavior of the others in this quartet, he still comes off as the worst.  The saving grace is that Marias – and his translator – makes good use of lyric writing with a few turns of the flowery word and a narrative built on a dreamlike quality.  This is not a book to read for the plot or the characters, just the well-crafted prose.  Marias describes his work accurately in the epilogue as ‘a love story in which love is neither seen nor experienced, but announced and remembered.”
Rating: **

Book Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

AuthorJhumpa Lahiri
TitleThe Lowland
Publication Info: Knopf (2013)
ISBN: 9780385367431
Summary/Review:

Lahiri’s novel, like many of her works, deals with Indian expatriates assimilating to life in the United States and coming to terms with their past in India.  The Lowland tells the story of two brothers Subhash and Udayan.  While Subash leaves for America to study in Rhode Island, Udayan is drawn to the Maoist Naxalite movement.  The Lowland is also about a woman named Gauri who is connected to both brothers.

A big spoiler here, but after Udayan is killed by the police, Subhash marries the pregnant Gauri and takes her to Rhode Island to help her escape living with her oppressive in-laws.  The marriage built on expediency cannot sustain and the desires of Subhash and Gauri to pursue their own goals and carry on in their lives with the memory of Udayan drive the conflict of the narrative.  It is in many ways a quiet story with a lot of the passions tempered under placid exteriors and one that offers a sympathetic but not nonjudgmental look at each of the characters.


Rating: ***

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Author: Markus Zusak
Title:  The Book Thief
Publication Info:   [New York, N.Y.] : Listening Library, 2006.
ISBN: 9780739348345

Summary/Review: 

This novel balances the line between heartwarming and heartbreaking, inevitably falling to the later, but never without giving up hope.  Boldly, Zusak has the book narrated by Death who proves to be sympathetic to humanity and tired of the work he’s given in the Second World War.  Central to the novel is Liesel, a German girl taken in by foster parents when her father is taken away for being a Communist.  Set in a fictional suburb of Munich near Dachau, the novel details day-to-day life in a way that’s familiar to a coming of age tale but also has the overlooming presences of things like the Hitler Youth and nights spent in air raid shelters.  Liesel finds comfort in books, and as the title suggests, purloins some books earning her nickname.  Her life is also changed when her foster parents the Hubbermanns (already at odds with the Nazi party) repay a promise by hiding a young Jewish man in their basement.  Zusak focuses on relationships, test of character, and hope while not dodging the tragedy and atrocity in their midst.  It sounds cheesy to describe it but it really is a wonderful, well-written novel.

Favorite Passages:

“They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thin, incessantly: ‘Get it done, get it done.’ So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.”

Rating: ****

Recommended BooksSkeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian, The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies, and Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

Book Review: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

Author: Claire Messud
TitleThe Woman Upstairs
Publication Info: 2013: Books on Tape
ISBN: 9780307913630
Summary/Review:

Messud’s “Woman Upstairs” is her take on the character without an identity such as Ellison’s Invisible Man or The Mad Woman in the Attic, but in this case the nice woman who no one takes notice of.   Nora is a school teacher who takes an obsession with the family of one of her pupils who are only in the country for a year.  She ends up babysitting the boy, starting an art studio with his mother, and developing a romantic attraction for the father on long walks together.  Messud makes her narrator Nora extremely unappealing in her self-absorption, and unreliable in her idealization of the Shahid family.    There’s also a sense that the Shahid’s are taking advantage of Nora the whole time.  There are some interesting internal narratives of a woman’s place in modern society and as the book is set in Cambridge, MA, some good local color.  I’m not sure I’m convinced by the conclusion, which is somewhat predictable, but I don’t get the sense that it is as life changing as Nora claims it to be.

Recommended books:
Rating: ** 1/2

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