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Category Archive for '8-2009 Reviews'

Telling Avgoustis’s story obliquely from several points of view, including that of Litsa, the true love of his life, whom he has abandoned in Greece, author Ioanna Karystiani creates a tender portrait of a proud man in thrall to the “swell,” with little to draw him home. It is only when the reader discovers (early in the novel) that Mitsos is actually blind, something that he has been able to keep secret from everyone, including his crew, that some of his deliberate self-isolation begins to make sense. He knows every foot of his ship, the Athos III, eats every meal alone in his cabin, stares at maps “from memory,” grows a beard so he will not need to shave, and lets his hair grow to shoulder length. He runs the ship by feel, through the “swell,” even bringing the ship safely through bad storms and equipment failures. As long as he does not return to Greece or be available to meet company representatives, they cannot force him to give up his ship.

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Don’t plan to see this film and then go out for a lively night on the town. You will be so spent after the one hundred forty-one minutes of this gut-wrenching film that when the lights come on at the end, you’ll need a minute to figure out where you are, and then additional downtime to process all you’ve seen. Days later, you’ll still be thinking about this slice of life–and Edith Piaf.

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Young Balram Halwai, describing himself as “The White Tiger, A Thinking Man, And an Entrepreneur” in Bangalore, has decided to tell the story of his short life to Premier Wen Jiabao of China, who is about to visit the city. Jiabao, according to the local radio station, is on a mission–“He wants to know the truth about Bangalore,” with its burgeoning population of entrepreneurs. Balram decides that “if anyone knows the truth about Bangalore, it’s me.” In a long letter to Jiabao, written over the course of a week, Balram describes his childhood, his escape from the rural Darkness to the city, his slow journey from poverty into a servitude which pays him enough to survive, and ultimately his successful entrepreneurship in Bangalore. He is a “white tiger, that rarest of animals, the creature that comes along only once in a generation.” He is also a wanted man. A black-humored study of India from the point of view of a “half-baked,” undereducated boy who yearns to be free, Balram’s narrative emphasizes the class divides. Adiga creates a unique look at Indian society, one in which Balram, who grew up in poverty, is exposed to the world of the wealthy, having virtually no contact with the middle-class now burgeoning in India.

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In September, 1957, Joseba, the speaker who opens the novel, and his friend David Imaz are both eight years old when they introduce themselves to the new teacher at their Basque school in Obaba, near Guernica, Spain. David, sometimes called “the accordionist’s son,” is, like his father, an accordionist–an “artist” at his craft–and almost instantly, he finds himself perched on top of a desk, playing for his delighted class. Forty-two years later, the accordion is put away, and Joseba is visiting David’s widow, not in Basque country, but at Stoneham Ranch in Three Rivers, California, where David’s uncle once lived. Joseba, a published author who also participated in the events in Obaba with David, discovers when he reads David’s book that “events and facts have all been crammed” into the book, “like anchovies in a glass jar.” He suggests to Mary Ann that he rewrite the book, expanding David’s memoir and setting the record straight, promising that “any lines I add…must be true to the original.” Mary Ann agrees, and three years later Joseba has completed the book which becomes the text of this novel. (On my Favorites List for 2009)

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In this assured and evocative debut novel set in rural Kentucky, author C. E. Morgan comes closer to conveying the essence of life, as she sees it, than do most other novelists with generations’ more experience. Writing about an area in which she still lives, Morgan recreates the bare bones lives of subsistence farmers who are irrevocably tied to the land, a land which is sometimes fickle in its ability to sustain those who so lovingly tend it. Interminably long days and aching physical labor are not always rewarded here, and despair is often the prevailing mood of whole communities when droughts or floods play havoc with man’s efforts. Yet each spring offers new opportunities and hope as the resilient farmers renew their back-breaking connection to the land once again. Aloma and Orren are very young when he inherits the family farm, and the work of running the farm is brutal. Orren is determined to make everything work, but Aloma is inexperienced, and Orren is unable to afford the time to teach her what she needs to know.

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