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Category Archive for '0-2019 Reviews'

In what is the most excitingly creative and unusual group of stories I have read in many years, Bosnian author Asja Bakic not only captured my attention totally, but kept it through several readings of her ten stories – so much so that I could sit down and reread the entire collection right now and still find new ideas and new sparkle to enliven my day and my reading life. Translator Jennifer Zoble obviously plays a strong role, too, in making these stories feel bright, lively, often humorous, always ironic, and bursting with life, however different Bakic’s characters may be from anything a reader has encountered before. Translator Zoble’s contribution is so smooth and feels so comfortable that it is as if she is channeling the author in a direct line to the reader. It is no surprise to discover that Zoble, the translator, is also an author, and Bakic, the author, is also a translator. Together they provide a perfect match for these unique stories. High on my Favorites list, this is the most intriguing collection of short stories I’ve read in a long time.

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The dramatic hit-and-run death of a respected cafe owner in the Mohave brings all the members of the man’s family to his home in the Mohave, to which he and his wife immigrated from Morocco when violence broke out in Casablanca in 1981. Each of these family members and many others in the community become first-person narrators as the action begins, the novel becoming a character-based study of people and how they respond the danger and threats. Nora Guerraoui, who becomes the main character, is a musician, composer, and grad student in California now, but on her return to the Mohave, where her parents live, she quickly re-adapts to the community where she grew up and reconnects with some friends from the past, some of them with long-standing prejudices. One of the best novels I’ve read all year, THE OTHER AMERICANS draws in the reader, provides constant interest and insights, and shows the sensitivity with which author Laila Lalami treats her subject without talking down and without lecturing. High on my Favorites list for 2019.

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In her first novel to be translated into English, Yuko Tsushima (1947 – 2016), an author who has won every prize imaginable in her native Japan, shows the spirit which has made her work so honored in her own country. Independent and determined, Tsushima challenged the social norms and achieved great renown for her writing, often using her own experiences as starting points for her stories and novels. This novel, published originally in 1978 – 1979, focuses on a married mother seeking a divorce. The unnamed main character and her daughter, only two years old as the novel opens, face very real problems with day-to-day life, in addition to agonizing emotional problems which the woman ignorantly creates for herself and her child. Focused on her own emotional needs, she has shared so little one-on-one time with her child that she does not recognize that the child, who, at age two, is not much older than a baby, has very real and important needs, too. Seeming to believe that if she herself gets what she wants and finds some happiness that her attitude will spill over and make her two-year-old happy, she is, throughout the novel, closed off from a child whose whole life is spent with her grandmother (the speaker’s mother), in daycare, or with her own mother on Sundays her mother’s one day of “time off” from her full-time job.

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Australian author Felicity Castagna focuses here on general immigration issues facing Australia, much like immigration issues here in the US. Without taking sides, the author depicts two successive generations of the Martone family which itself came to Australia from “outside” – in their case, from Calabria in the toe of Italy. In the Preface, the author sets the time in 1967, and the Australian Prime Minister has recently disappeared while swimming. No trace of him has ever been found, the author implying that the many rescued refugees on the Tampa in 2001 would have met that same fate if they had not been rescued from their sinking ship. In this somewhat awkward introduction to the novel, Antonio Martone, a recent immigrant, is further described as standing in his new home in 1967, outside of Sydney, thinking about how his future has materialized. Looking from 1967 into Antonio’s future in 2001, the author informs the reader, that Antonio “is not yet the Antonio Martone who becomes so famous for a brief moment in [future] history when his own existential crisis coincides with that of a nation that can not decide whether to admit a Norwegian container ship named the MV Tampa and its cargo of four hundred thirty-three refugees who had escaped a sinking ship.” Antonio Martone will eventually become famous, and not in ways one would have predicted.

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From the opening paragraph, author Tanguy Viel is off and running with a propulsive story which never lets down and never quits until the last possible moment, when its ending comes as a relief or an irony to the involved reader. Set in Finistere, a depressed waterfront community in Brittany in the late 1990s, a man stands before a judge, trying to explain how and why he has killed another man aboard that man’s own Merry Fisher boat, and then returned home to await the inevitable arrival of the local police a few hours later. When he sees them arriving, he cannot help but admit that he “wouldn’t have done anything different…I would have done the same thing, heaved Antoine Lazenec overboard the same way and brought the boat back in the same way, following the channel to the yacht harbor while respecting the green and red buoys like railroad signals…” The killer, Martial Kermeur, is anxious to set the record straight, and he is impressed that this judge is “thirty, at most” and really seems to want to hear him out. In descriptive and involving prose, Kermeur describes his thoughts – “no they weren’t thoughts, images maybe…still whirling around.” And then suddenly, he sees the whole picture and begins: “It’s about a run-of-the-mill swindle, Your Honor, that’s all.”

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