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Category Archive for '0-2020 Reviews'

Micah Mortimer, the main character of Anne Tyler’s latest novel, her twenty-third, could not be more ordinary, at least on the surface, yet Anne Tyler makes his story one that will keep even jaded readers intrigued and involved in his unexciting life. Already forty-three, he has had his share of girlfriends, and now, “women friends,” since he refuses to refer to women over thirty as “girls.” None of his relationships have evolved into anything permanent, however, nor has he expected them to. “He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.” Finding Brink Bartell Adams, a first semester freshman in college, sitting on his doorstep one morning after Micah finishes his run, comes as a total surprise. Brink, the son of Lorna Bartell, a girlfriend from his distant past, is a freshman in college. He has found Micah’s photo in a shoebox in his family’s house, and is totally convinced that Micah must be his father. At the same time, Micah’s relationship with Cass, his woman friend of the past three years, begins to have trouble. As she has said, “I’m just saying that the you that you are might not be the right you for me.” Anne Tyler’s develops the story of a boring, unimaginative stick-in-the-mud and turned it into a charming and enlightening story of a man who just may have a chance at real life after all. If it is not too late.

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This deeply affecting and love-affirming novel by Zülfü Livaneli, filled with World War II sadness and guilt, is a powerful story based on a true, nearly unknown tragedy, the sinking of the Struma, an old cattle ship carrying almost eight hundred Jewish refugees in December, 1941. Leaving Romania and headed for Palestine, it was overcrowded, underpowered, and unsafe. Barely arriving in Istanbul after several engine failures on the way from Romania, it waited with all passengers for seventy days, hoping for the necessary visas for Palestine. The British, governing Palestine under a mandate from the League of Nations, were unwavering in their refusal to grant the permits. The Turks, too, feared that the almost eight-hundred passengers would become the responsibility of Turkey if they were released into Turkey, and returning them to Romania was out of the question. Finally, with the Turks and the British at an impasse, the disabled ship and its passengers were towed out of the harbor into the Black Sea and abandoned. The following day, a torpedo, fired by a Russian submarine, obliterated the ship, killing the entire crew and all passengers but one. Turkish author Zulfu Livanelli devotes this novel to the stories, past and present, connected with the Struma, especially the love story of Maximilian Wagner and his bride, Nadia. With its vivid historical setting, believable characters, constant action, and a narrative which moves around in time, even through the worst, even unimaginable, horrors of war, this remains a narrative in which love still, somehow, survives.

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In this magnificent collection of short stories, Edwidge Danticat always goes straight to the point, but she does so with grace and an honesty that leads each reader to come to new recognitions about life and death, hope and despair, and love and marriage. As individuals and families face their lives both separately and together, Danticat’s stories cast an almost hypnotic power over her readers as the characters share their lives while they make decisions about who they are, how much responsibility they have for their own difficulties, and what kind of future they may be creating for themselves and others. There is no easy sentimentality here: Danticat’s tough characters have learned from their experiences that life is hard, and that any sweet memories they have must be treasured for what they are – partly the result of their own behavior and commitments, and partly the result of fate – inescapable, changeable, and often cruel. Set in New York, Miami’s Little Haiti, and the island of Haiti, the author creates a vibrant picture of the issues faced by first and second generation immigrants and their long-lasting connections to their heritage.

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While I cannot speak to the experiences of others, I found SCHRÖDINGER’S DOG to be one of the best and most insightful debut novels I have read in years. Reading it in two sittings, I was completely engaged both emotionally and intellectually, and I still cannot stop thinking about it, coming to new realizations each time I reflect on its themes of perception, reality, time, and death and their interrelationships. Except for the novel’s title, in which a dog is substituted for “Schrödinger’s cat,” a “thought experiment devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935, the physics principles that make this story so hypnotic and its conclusion so satisfyingly elusive are hidden within, just as Schrödinger’s cat or dog, hidden within its box, is both alive and dead. Although may seem like an odd and highly esoteric principle around which to mold such a sensitive and emotion-filled novel about a man and his dying son, debut novelist Martin Dumont uses it as the unobtrusive crux of his story and part of its dramatic conclusion. In doing so, he achieves a kind of originality I myself have never before encountered in literary fiction.

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Author Anne Enright, the Irish author of this novel about fictional actress Katherine O’Dell, recreates the “life” that Katherine led publicly as opposed the “real” life she is said to have kept hidden. Enright, a superbly controlled author, faced a daunting task in creating the lives of her characters here without resorting to the sensationalism her main character/author Norah scorns. Throughout her career, Enright has specialized in showing the values and attitudes at play within complex but intimate family dynamics, varying her points of view and time frames to allow the reader to draw conclusions about one character because of events which reflect the lives of other characters in other generations and times. She is often so subtle that readers become lulled into sharing the lives of her characters before they have a chance to evaluate who and what the characters are doing and saying and what this means about life and their attitudes toward it. In Actress, Anne Enright is especially concerned with the fictions people create for their own reasons, including fame. Three generations, reflecting different times and points of view, make this novel a complex study of how people often recreate their own memories to make them more palatable, while drawing conclusions, often false, about the realities of other people

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