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Category Archive for '0-2018 Reviews'

In Some Trick, a collection of thirteen thoughtful and challenging stories, author Helen DeWitt calls to mind a mood similar to that of her first published novel, The Last Samurai, published in 2000. Short-listed for the prestigious IMPAC Dublin Award, The Last Samurai tells the story of a single mother, Sybilla, as she brings up her genius son Ludo. DeWitt had written fifty novels before she felt comfortable enough with The Last Samurai to submit it for publication, and it was a ground-breaking literary success when it was published in 2000. Lightning Rods, her second novel, eleven years later, was a similar critical success, though less popular. Some Trick examines difficult issues about writing, publishing, an artist’s relationships with the public, the involvement of agents and representatives who sometimes distort an artist’s goals in the name of sales, the dependence of creative scholars on outsiders for professional survival, and the lonely life of a creative artist who will never be fully understood. The stories, darkly satiric and sometimes eerie or bizarre, are also heady, intense, concentrated, and often difficult, and the overall intellectualism of the collection is so weighty that readers unfamiliar with DeWitt would do well to read the more charming and character-driven The Last Samurai first. Some Trick, read leisurely, is a fascinating encore for those, who crave more.

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Author Helen DeWitt expresses her admiration, at one point, for “the type of person who thinks boredom a fate worse than death.” And she obviously writes for this type of reader as she performs amazing literary and scholarly acrobatics in this unique and energetic novel which never flags–and certainly never bores! Main character Sybilla is the hard-working, single mother of Ludo, a 6-year-old genius who gobbles up even the most complicated subjects, seemingly overnight, and DeWitt incorporates many esoteric subjects here–Japanese language, Greek verbs, Icelandic verse, Fourier’s analysis, Arabic, astrophysics, and tournament chess, bridge, and piquet, among other things—as she describes their intellectual daily life together. Despite Sybilla’s arcane subjects and complex ideas, DeWitt manages to write so entertainingly about them that they enhance, rather than obscure, the human story at the heart of the novel, when Ludo studies Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai and then set tests for seven men, one of whom might by his unknown father.

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This novel will thrill those who have enjoyed the late Richard Wagamese’s past novels, even though it is unfinished. An Ojibway Indian, he dramatically recreates and shares the breath-taking, almost magical, moments in which he becomes one with nature in its grandest sense. As he teaches a young, abused woman and her child how to feel the pulse of the world and to find peace, he becomes real in ways I have not seen in his previous novels. He is a teacher here, sharing what he has learned in his lifetime, without becoming preachy or sentimental, and I found the book’s lack of completion an ironic benefit: He is so good at conveying the essence of what he has learned in his lifetime that the story itself becomes a simple vehicle, rather than an end in itself. For those who prefer an obvious resolution to the narrative, in addition to the clear resolutions to the themes, the publisher has provided “A Note on the Ending,” in which the pre-planned resolution to the narrative is described in general terms, along with an essay by Wagamese entitled, “Finding Father,” which provides parallels between his own life and the ending planned for this book.

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In this complex mystery, Chinese author Zhou Haohui creates main characters who are so surprisingly human that their behavior crosses the usual political, geographical, and cultural boundaries which often limit mysteries from other nations.  Exploring crimes which are among the worst and most vicious behaviors of which man is capable, the author describes two impeccably planned murder sprees attributed to the same criminal mind – that of Eumenides – a name chosen to recall the Furies, the gods of vengeance in Greek mythology.  Eumenides committed his first murders on April 18, 1984, crimes which resulted in several grotesque deaths.  The Chengdu Criminal Police established the 4/18 Task Force at that time to try to deal with these crimes on several levels and within several different police departments, but the crimes stopped before the police concluded their investigations.  Eighteen years later, many of those police officers are still working within the department when the murders begin again.  The police are more experienced now, and they know they are dealing with the same person when his unique modus operandi reappears.  In every case, past and present, Eumenides has sent a Death Notice to his intended victim, detailing the person’s crimes, stating the date of punishment (that day or the next day), and identifying himself as the executioner. The Chengdu Police have a major problem on their hands, and it even affects the police themselves.

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Set in Berlin and Tokyo in the 1930s, Swiss author Christian Kracht’s latest novel offers an unusual fictional vision of the prewar years in Germany and Japan – one in which the primary focus of the author – and ultimately of his two main characters – is not that of reality as much as it is of cinema: Life and the future can be controlled in a film, even if they can not be controlled in real life. Emil Nageli, a young Swiss film director nearing his thirtieth birthday, has been in Berlin talking with the Reich Minister, who believes that a well-made horror film – “an allegory, if you like, of the coming dread” – would attract much attention, even in America. He also wants to involve the Japanese, however, since he believes that they “will sooner or later subdue the Asian continent.” Masahiko Amakasu, a Japanese film maker and admirer of Nageli, hopes to establish a relationship with the Germans. Amakasu, too, envisions film changing the world, hoping that a Japanese film will “counteract the seeming omnipotence of American cultural imperialism.” A thin plot connects some well developed characters as real characters mix with fictional characters and the action fades to a conclusion.

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