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Category Archive for 'COUNTRIES REPRESENTED'

Fourteen-year-old Erik Wassman has been working on a graphic novel and keeping himself otherwise occupied in the summer of 1962, hoping to get past some of the problems he faces. He is a very young fourteen, just beginning to look at the world from a wider perspective, and his father has just told him it will be a “rough summer,” as his mother is dying of cancer in hospital. Hoping to make life easier for Erik, his father has arranged for him to go to the family’s lakeside summer retreat on Lake Möckeln with his older brother Henry, now twenty-two. He has also suggested that Erik invite a classmate, Edmund, whom Erik does not know well, to come to the lake with him. The summer place is only fifteen miles from home, and it will be possible for Erik to visit his mother if he needs to. Author Håkan Nesser, the winner of many prizes for his crime novels, maintains a quiet calm here as he introduces his main characters and setting, especially with Erik, and as new characters are introduced, it becomes clear that much of this novel will be concerned with Erik’s psychological growth, rather than with hard crime, the dark machinations which lead to murder, and the complex motivations which usually accompany it. Then a murder takes place.

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Ha Seong-nan’s latest collection of stories, originally published in Korea in 2002, reflects the fresh, dynamic approach to writing which has made her writing so successful both in Korea and internationally over the past twenty years. Famous for her sharp, penetrating imagery, the author creates stories that capture the small moments which make the lives of her characters so memorable for the reader. At the same time, however, she often places these characters in circumstances which evoke unsettling thoughts and feelings, often close to horror, as the reader gains sudden new insights into what has happened in the past and what may happen in the future. High on my Favorites list for the year!

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From the sensual and fully imagined opening paragraphs of this extraordinary work to the intensely personal characterizations of the people who share their stories here, Irish author Joseph O’Connor creates worlds so vibrant that many readers will feel as if they, too, have become part of this novel, its period, and its subjects. O’Connor does not hold back here, creating three artists of the literary and theatrical worlds of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whose very lives reflect the Gothic intensity of the age with all its private hopes and failures. Henry Irving, world famous actor; Bram Stoker, theatre manager and frustrated writer; and Ellen Terry, highest paid and most beloved actress in England, all speak to the reader so intimately that their often difficult lives, with all the aches and longings one usually holds inside, begin to emerge in what feel like “private” confidences between the characters and the reader. Sharing the characters’ lives from their early adulthood until, in two cases, their deaths when they are in their sixties, the author allows the reader to share even their self-judgments and their judgments of each other when their public lives are at an end, which gives a broader perspective to their stories. Superb.

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Believe all the good things you see, hear, and read about this dramatic, totally involving, and thematically insightful novel about three young people and their families living in and around Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. A huge train fire and its resulting spread to a neighborhood of huts, with over a hundred deaths, described in the opening quotation, is the event around which the novel evolves, with three main characters. Jivan, a young woman living in a slum area near the railway station “ought to have seen the men who stole up to the open windows and threw flaming torches into the halted train.” She is accused of being involved in the terrorism. The second main character, Lovely, is a “hijra,” a transgender person who is taking acting lessons and drawing applause for her performances in class. The third character, PT Sir, a teacher of physical-training at a girls’ school, also knows Jivan because she was once a scholarship student whom he helped. With main characters who are female, male, and transgender, author Megha Majumdar is able to provide broad commentary on the city, its values, the difficulties of finding good work, the lives and decisions made by Jivan’s acquaintances, and Jivan’s own “crime.” Majumdar writes so efficiently, descriptively, and intelligently, that I cannot imagine a reader not becoming caught up in every aspect of this astonishing novel.

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Described by Culture Trip as “the most prominent female writer in twentieth century Hungary,” Magda Szabó (1917 – 2007) was almost unknown in the English speaking world until 2016. Since that time, three more novels have appeared in translation, to outstanding reviews and literary success. Szabo’s novels are dramatic, psychologically intense, and historically focused, emphasizing everyday life and its trials and complexities, often in particular historical moments. A resident of Budapest when the Nazis occupied the country in 1943, author Szabo writes from experience about that fraught time in ABIGAIL. Main character Georgina Vitay, an independent girl of fourteen, is secretly removed from her home and everyone she knows in Budapest and driven overnight by her father to a severe, almost cult-like boarding school in Arkod, eastern Hungary (now Serbia). From the day she arrives, the school controls every aspect of her life, keeping her safe from any major conflicts or warfare to come. Her father, a general in the Hungarian army, also works as a secret agent against the Nazi occupation, and he knows that if the enemy learns where Georgina (Gina) is living, that she could be captured and used as a pawn to force him into betraying his own goals of a free Hungary. As Gina tries to grow up in this difficult atmosphere, the Germans are invading Budapest. Exciting novel also appropriate for Young Adults.

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