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Category Archive for '7-2010 Reviews'

In much the same way that Virginia Woolf focuses on one day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway, in the aftermath of World War I, to show the dramatic changes in everyday British life as a result of the war, author Mollie Panter-Downes shows the equally dramatic changes which have occurred in Wealding, near Portsmouth in the south of England, in 1946, in the aftermath of World War II. Panter-Downes lived in the picturesque village of Haslemere, and she uses her own experience to create sensitive, often unique, images about everyday life in her town (which becomes Wealding). Here she creates a vibrant portrait of ordinary people coping, or not coping, with a whole new way of life. In lush, often musical prose, she appeals to the reader’s senses, as well as the heart, as the Marshall family–wife Laura, husband Stephen, and daughter Victoria–go about their business in a world which no longer resembles anything they have known before. The village, the author tells us, “had very slightly curdled and changed colour.”

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Bernhard Schlink faces a monumental challenge in this novel in which he attempts to connect the terrorism of the Red Army Faction (represented by the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany in the seventies) with the earlier German national terrorism that the Nazis represented and the contemporary terrorism of Al-Qaeda. Here he investigates what makes people become terrorists and what happens to them in the aftermath of their crimes. At one point Schlink even has a character question whether Germany is the victim of a curse: “Isn’t it a curse, what’s being passed on from the [World War II] generation before Jorg [a Baader-Meinhof member who killed four people] to Jorg, and from Jorg to his son? It seems like one to me.”

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Set in Belfast and focusing on the long-term hatreds between Catholics and Protestants, and among agencies in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, this complex and violent noir mystery shows all the hatreds and rivalries involving many departments of the police, the British Army, the SAS (Special Air Service), MI5 (one of the UK’s Military Intelligence services), the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force, a paramilitary group) , the UDA (the Ulster Defense Association, another Loyalist force), and various Catholic paramilitary forces. Jack Lennon, a Catholic who has joined the RUC (the Royal Ulster Constabulary) in order to try to form a bridge among the various law enforcement factions in the city, had been on the Major Investigation Team, until he tried to fix a speeding ticket for a man to whom he owed favors and was busted. As Lennon tries to investigate the assassinations, he is repeatedly warned off by higher-ups, who know who seem to know who the killer is but who obviously intend to hang the crime on someone else.

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An unusual and often dark novel, Faith, Hope & Love is billed as an urban thriller, but it is far more the psychological study of an unusual anti-hero than it is a mystery. In fact, the biggest mystery of the book is why the main character is in prison in the first place, a question which does not get answered until late in the novel. The Prologue, entitled “The Beginning of the End,” raises additional questions concerning a car crash, which is described there, and the identities of the people in the car—again, issues which are not addressed again till late in the novel. In between the Prologue and the resolution of these questions, however, the novel is study of Alun Brady and his family, much more a sensitive domestic drama, set in Wales, than an action thriller, a study of identity and reality—personal, familial, cultural, and religious—as revealed through a series of unrelenting ironies in which God, fate, and free will do battle.

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If there is truly a separate genre known as a “Jewish novel,” then this novel would have to be its crowning achievement. An expansive and wide-ranging novel about the many facets of being Jewish (or “Finklerish,” as Treslove sees it), The Finkler Question examines the lives of three friends: Julian Treslove, a now forty-nine-year-old Gentile, has always been fascinated by all things Jewish. A romantic who has never been able to maintain a relationship, Julian has been abandoned by all of the women he’s known in the past, including the two who bore his sons. Sam Finkler, Julian’s former classmate, writes wildly popular (and popularized) editions of philosophical ideas “for all occasions.” Libor Sevcik, almost ninety, their former teacher, who eventually became a commentator on the entertainment business, has just lost his devoted wife of over fifty years, and his former students have been trying to see him more often because he feels so lost. As the three interact and share their lives with each other (and the reader), often hilariously, the author takes the unusual approach of showing how these actions reflect both their interdependencies and their religion–or lack of it.

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