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Category Archive for 'A – B'

In OPTIC NERVE, Argentinian author Maria Gainza’s narrator invites the reader into her life and her love of art, celebrating the glorious feelings which come to her, often suddenly, when she sees an artwork and suddenly connects with it emotionally. These unexpected moments provide thrills in her life, forever joining her spiritually with the people and places associated with the work. As she muses on these moments in this collection of stories which epitomize her life, she allows her mind and its associations free rein, celebrating not just the original artwork but the long-term effects it often has on her life. Some of the artists featured include Gustave Courbet, Henri Toulouse Lautrec, Mark Rothko, Henri Rousseau, and Candido Lopez, each of whom is connected thematically with some aspect of the speaker’s life, while the author also features literary references. Writers as different from each other as A. S. Byatt, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Truman Capote, Guy de Maupassant, Victor Hugo, and Carson McCullers are also quoted here, and other writers, like Katherine Mansfield, Somerset Maugham, Nikolai Gogol, and J. D. Salinger are referenced. A treat for readers who enjoy literary fiction especially when paired with paintings.

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In what is the most excitingly creative and unusual group of stories I have read in many years, Bosnian author Asja Bakic not only captured my attention totally, but kept it through several readings of her ten stories – so much so that I could sit down and reread the entire collection right now and still find new ideas and new sparkle to enliven my day and my reading life. Translator Jennifer Zoble obviously plays a strong role, too, in making these stories feel bright, lively, often humorous, always ironic, and bursting with life, however different Bakic’s characters may be from anything a reader has encountered before. Translator Zoble’s contribution is so smooth and feels so comfortable that it is as if she is channeling the author in a direct line to the reader. It is no surprise to discover that Zoble, the translator, is also an author, and Bakic, the author, is also a translator. Together they provide a perfect match for these unique stories. High on my Favorites list, this is the most intriguing collection of short stories I’ve read in a long time.

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Australian author Felicity Castagna focuses here on general immigration issues facing Australia, much like immigration issues here in the US. Without taking sides, the author depicts two successive generations of the Martone family which itself came to Australia from “outside” – in their case, from Calabria in the toe of Italy. In the Preface, the author sets the time in 1967, and the Australian Prime Minister has recently disappeared while swimming. No trace of him has ever been found, the author implying that the many rescued refugees on the Tampa in 2001 would have met that same fate if they had not been rescued from their sinking ship. In this somewhat awkward introduction to the novel, Antonio Martone, a recent immigrant, is further described as standing in his new home in 1967, outside of Sydney, thinking about how his future has materialized. Looking from 1967 into Antonio’s future in 2001, the author informs the reader, that Antonio “is not yet the Antonio Martone who becomes so famous for a brief moment in [future] history when his own existential crisis coincides with that of a nation that can not decide whether to admit a Norwegian container ship named the MV Tampa and its cargo of four hundred thirty-three refugees who had escaped a sinking ship.” Antonio Martone will eventually become famous, and not in ways one would have predicted.

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As soon as I saw the announcement that Australian author Peter Carey had published a new novel, his fourteenth in thirty six years, I knew I would read it, just as I have read and enjoyed six other Carey novels. I have just finished reading it, and I did, eventually, enjoy and even admire much of it, but I read the first twenty-five pages three times before I was able to get a sense of who the initial speakers are, how they are connected, and where this book will be going. Even now I see the plot as consisting of several loosely connected parts, instead of reflecting several different aspects of the same themes and a strong sense of direction and interconnection. When I finally read some of the professional reviews today, I saw a similar dichotomy among professional reviewers. The first plot line, lasting for almost half the novel, begins when car salesman Titch decides to gain publicity for his incipient car dealership by participating in the Redex Trial, a competition involving almost three hundred participants who plan to circumnavigate the whole Australian continent – all sixty-five-hundred miles around it. The winner is the team with the highest number of points gained and the fewest penalties. No big prize results, except for the immeasurable positive publicity for the winner. Titch and his wife Irene will be the two drivers for their team, and their new neighbor, Willie Bachhuber, will, with his map-making expertise, become the navigator as they prepare their Holden sedan for the long trip and the hazards they will face. The Redex Trial dominates the first half of the novel, and the plight of the indigenous black community dominates the second half. Many aspects to admire, and some to regret.

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Set in Patagonia, in the southernmost part of Argentina and Chile, during an unspecified time period, this novel by French author Sandrine Collette shows life at the edges, as a dysfunctional family tries to stay alive though the herding of cattle and sheep on a remote ranch in the steppe. Shortly after the novel begins, the father disappears, their mother saying that he “took off,” without explanation. After that, the mother assumes the role of boss – and she is one of the most demanding bosses imaginable, performing the kitchen duties and managing the finances while assigning the hard work out on the steppe to her four sons. The grim novel which follows is a difficult read with the boys experiencing no joyfulness, no satisfaction with their work, no love, and no let-up in sight throughout the book. When the mother becomes an alcoholic, as was her husband, and often disappears to gamble at the bar in the remote town nearest their ranch, the boys are left on their own, with unstable Mauro in charge, a situation obviously headed for disaster. When the mother runs into debt from gambling, their fraught lives become even more horrific. Full of action, the novel will appeal especially to those who enjoy seeing life lived on the edge, with violence always just a step away, though it sometimes intrudes unexpectedly here and complicates the characters’ lives.

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