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Category Archive for '0-2021 Reviews'

With this “mystery novel,” Argentinian author Claudia Piñeiro writes a far more character-based novel than what I have seen in her previous novels. Here the character of Elena, a particularly iconoclastic and independent thinker in her sixties, becomes the key to solving the “mystery” of daughter Rita’s death and revealing the hidden lives of Elena and Rita, including many of the issues which led to the constant arguments between this mother and daughter. Limited somewhat by a debilitating illness, Elena marshals all her energy to pursue what she considers the incorrect cause of death – suicide, rather than murder – and she will stop at nothing as she begins her own investigation, ignoring the conclusions of the police and the church, and challenging both priests and police officers. At the same time, as she does her own investigation, she brings up a long-ago peripheral case in which she and Rita were on opposite sides of the question of abortion as it related to one of their acquaintances.

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In what is the most engrossing collection of stories I have read in years, author Haruki Murakami introduces and continues to focus on the very meaning of reality and how one approaches it, participates in it, and finds ways to survive and enjoy it – through love, hope, trust, friendship, and any number of other imaginative ways. Though this may seem an esoteric and complex philosophical set of ideas, Murakami’s personality shines through here – and the resulting stories are not only surprisingly lively and enjoyable, but most often fun and funny. The subjects – including jazz, baseball, a talking monkey, and an unattractive woman who happens to share the speaker’s deep love of Schumann’s “Carnaval,” are offbeat but so brilliantly relatable that this reader, at least, was able to put aside any qualms about the exotic content in order to see and enjoy what the author would do with these subjects. As a result, I have now read this book twice, and can imagine reading it again regularly as a vivid reminder to take nothing for granted and to stay open to the unexpected.

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Using known facts and details provided by Mary Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin, following Wollstonecraft’s death in 1797, at age thirty-eight, author Samantha Silva creates an intense and vibrant fictional biography of a woman many generations ahead of her time. The feminist ideals she exemplifies in her life, which shocked the women of her own time, include her years-long relationship with a woman friend and her desire to set up a “female utopia” with her; her establishment with others of a school for young women under the banner of being “dissenters” from the Church of England; her flagrant affairs with two well-known writer-philosophers; her stay in France and support of the French Revolution; and her much-loved child from her out-of-wedlock relationship with Gilbert Imlay. The publication of her ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), considered “one of the trailblazing works of feminism,” added to her reputation as one of the early founders of feminist philosophy. In author Samantha Silva’s hands, however, Mary’s story becomes completely human, with two narratives conveying her life stories from two different times and perspectives. Here Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist beliefs play out within the context of her life two hundred years ago, as these ideas come vibrantly to life among writers, publishers, and political leaders during that time.

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In this absorbing and constantly surprising metafictional novel,Yugoslavian author Lana Bastašić tells the history of a complex friendship between two women from their early years as children in Bosnia through their schooling, part of their college years, and ultimately when they are in their early thirties. Told so realistically that the narrator comes totally alive, and even inspires the reader to identify with her, the story of Sara and her friend Lejla follows a circular pattern, rotating through their lives, adding to the information the reader accepts as real, and establishing themes. Literary references, especially to Alice in Wonderland, add depth and reflect the author’s attitudes, as the constantly changing friendship between the two young women parallels the changing times, values, and sometimes other-worldly feelings of the two women. The Bosnian War echoes throughout much of the novel, but it is peripheral to the wars that are happening within some of the characters, whose lives are so open that the reader cannot help but identify with them.

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In this unusual ode to Barcelona, author Rupert Thomson, who lived in Barcelona from 2004 – 2010, creates three intersecting stories with overlapping characters, each of whom gives a unique perspective on life in this city on the northeast coast of Spain. In the first section, “The Giant of Sarrià,” Amy, a British woman in her forties, owns a shop which she describes as resembling “Aladdin’s cave of unexpected treasures.” With her daughter at school in England, the divorced Amy has the freedom to explore the city and get to know its people, respond to the subjects that interest her, and create her own life and, especially, love. The second novella, “The King of Castelldefels,” features a jazz pianist named Nacho, Amy’s friend Montse’s ex-husband. Alcohol plays a major role in his life, and it is not unusual for him to pass out and remember nothing about his last hours, who he was with, and how he got to where he eventually finds himself. When Ronaldinho, a major Brazilian football star, signs with Barcelona, the city is excited, and he becomes friends with Nacho. The third novella, “The Carpenter of Montjuic,” a bizarre story of the supernatural, is told on several levels by a narrator named Jordi Ferrer, a man who translates books. As he develops these three stories, Rupert Thomson fascinates with his originality and his unique insights, a man whose writing is stimulating at the same time that it is thematically honest and exciting – and even occasionally confounding.

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