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Category Archive for '4-2013 Reviews'

Set in Chechnya between 1994 and 2004, and moving back and forth through history and the lives of the main characters, Anthony Marra’s brilliant debut novel focuses on the threats to the life of an eight-year-old child, the daughter of a man seized and forcibly “disappeared,” and those who are determined to protect her, even at the cost of their own lives. In 2004, Haava, around whom the action revolves, is ordered by Dokka, her father, to run with her suitcase of “souvenirs” into the woods and hide, as soon as he sees soldiers coming toward their house. The house and all its contents are then burned by soldiers, and Dokka is taken, “the duct tape strip across his mouth wrinkled with his muted screams.” Rescued from the woods by Akhmed, a neighbor and failed physician (who would rather be an artist), Haava leaves the village of Eldar that night with Akhmed, hoping to reach the hospital in Volchansk, miles away. There Akhmed hopes to persuade a doctor he knows to care for Haava. As the novel progresses, Haava, Dokka, Akhmed, Sonja, Natasha, Khassan, Ramzan, their spouses, lovers, and families come fully alive here as individuals, even as they also exemplify broader aspects of life in Chechnya during the horrors of the two wars. The action in Haava’s life in 2004 takes place during only five days, but the book achieves almost epic status in the depth of its pictures of life in Chechnya and its past history. Ultimately, author Mazza touches on the same themes that one sees in other epics of war and peace, with life reduced to its most elemental parts: “Life: a constellation of vital phenomena – organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.”

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This unusual novel by British author Jonathan Grimwood opens with a child of six, “sitting with my back to a dung heap in the summer sun crunching happily on a stag beetle and wiping its juice from my chin and licking my lips and wondering how long it would take me to find another.” As repulsively specific as the image is, it is not included in the opening scene gratuitously or merely to gain the reader’s instant attention (which it does, anyway). It is part of this character’s obsession with tasting every possible flavor in the world, no matter where it might be found, and no matter how revolting the “food” might be to the rest of the world. At the same time, however, Jean-Marie d’Aumout’s everyday life in eighteenth century France is so fascinating for other reasons – historical, cultural, and political – that even the most squeamish reader is likely to become so caught up in his story, that the food-tasting becomes merely one more aspect of his unusual life. Beginning in 1723 and ending with the “Barbarians at the Gate” in 1790, the novel traces the life of an orphaned young noble as he navigates the political perils in France up to the Revolution, while also pursuing his senses, especially that of taste.

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The Longlist for the 2014 IMPAC Dublin International Literary Award has been announced today in Dublin.  Here’s the list of the 152 nominees, chosen by librarians from selected libraries around the world.  Most of these books were published in 2012, as there is a delay of about a year between publication and the creation of […]

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In his fourth dark crime novel to be published by Europa Editions, Irish author Gene Kerrigan continues his string of successful mysteries depicting the hopelessness among those in contemporary Dublin whose chances to escape their dreary lives vanished when the Irish economic “bubble” burst. Now, as Kerrigan depicts it, a successful life for those living on the fringes consists of making compromises with crooks of all types – developers, real estate moguls, extortionists, drug dealers, hired thugs, organized crime, and even the police. Life is uncertain, the ability of good people to avoid being swept up in crime, through economic and social pressure, is limited, and their goals in life are mainly to survive from day to day. Danny Callahan is having a particularly hard time. Convicted ten years ago of killing mob leader Big Brendan Tucker in a premeditated murder (later reduced to manslaughter as the jury’s way of saying the victim “was a scumbag anyway”), Danny has been out of prison for only seven months, staying clean and working as a driver for his friend Novak, who runs a pub, a transport firm, and a specialty bread store. Divorced by the love of his life while he was in prison, Danny is alone, making do until he can figure out a future direction for his life. Then his life changes.

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Many readers will argue that this work is not a novel at all. Certainly it does not adhere to the traditional expectations of a novel, no matter how flexible the reader is with definitions. Begun at the end of the 1980s and still unfinished at the time of author Roberto Bolano’s death in 2003, at the age of fifty, The Woes of the True Policeman was always a work in progress, one on which the author continued to work for fifteen years. Many parts of it, including some of the characters, eventually found their way into other works by Bolano, specifically, The Savage Detectives and his monumental 2666. But though it is “an unfinished novel, [it is] not an incomplete one,” according to the author of the Prologue, “because what mattered to its author was working on it, not completing it…Reality as it was understood until the nineteenth century has been replaced as reference point [here] by a visionary, oneiric, fevered, fragmentary, and even provisional form of writing.” As one character discovers, “The Whole is impossible…Knowledge is the classification of fragments,” and Bolano leaves it to the reader – his “true policeman” of the title – to figure it all out.

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