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Category Archive for 'A – B'

Author Aravind Adiga, whose Indian family immigrated to Australia during his childhood, is well familiar with Australia’s social and economic conditions, and with its attitudes toward “brown”people, both legal and illegal. His sensitivity and empathy in his presentation of Danny as a kind, thoughtful, and honest main character make Danny’s problems as an illegal resident from Sri Lanka and his lack of options particularly vivid for the reader. When he arrives at work one morning, he finds a police van parked across the street and learns that there has been a murder across from where he is working – in a house which he himself has cleaned many times over the past two years. He knows the female owner, Radha, a married woman who is having an affair, and he is also a worker of the person who may have killed her. With the author’s stunning ability to present Danny’s hopes, his memories of beauty from the past, and his fully imagined dreams for the future, which he presents impressionistically, Danny comes fully to life – a real person with a real life and personality – and not simply a character who is illustrating social conditions, themes, and ethical problems. Danny must decide whether to help the police with much-needed information and risk deportation, or keep quiet and let events take their course. Outstanding!

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From the opening story of the same name, Up in the Main House entertains and enlightens the reader with stories of life in modern day Bangladesh which recall the tales of servants and their privileged employers from colonial England years ago. Here, however, author Nadeem Zaman focuses on the lives of domestic employees in the capital city of Dhaka, most of them working for families of wealth that they have worked for during all or most of their lives. As in the typical British “upstairs” and “downstairs” stories, the servants often have clearer visions of what really matters and closer relationships with each other than what the reader usually sees from the often absent “upstairs” owners of these houses and their friends. As the servants share their daily lives and do their daily work, they reveal their genuine emotions and insights into real life. Vividly described and more casual than the formal stories of upperclass British servants, the lives of these Bangladeshi workers and their values become far more intimate and genuinely real than what most readers will expect, their lives complicated primarily by their sense of position regarding their employers.

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With this collection of stories, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro have produced a young author of stunning talent and the ability to convey images and feelings about the overcrowded, poverty-filled neighborhoods which are homes to many young teens who have little control over the neighborhoods in which they grow up. These teens, as we see in these stories, face death because they get mixed up with the “wrong” crowd, sometimes resort to theft and physical force to survive, and often become involved with guns simply because they are available. Some teens may have high hopes but find few legitimate outlets for their energy and creativity. New author Geovani Martins knows the Rio favelas well, having grown up and lived in them until the end of his teen years, but unlike most of the teens whose stories become the subjects of this collection, Martins was able to take advantage of a unique opportunity – he attended writing workshops at FLUP, the literary festival of the Rio favelas, which gave him an opportunity to channel his talents in surprising new directions – and he now has this powerful, new story collection to his credit.

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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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