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Category Archive for 'A – B'

With this “mystery novel,” Argentinian author Claudia Piñeiro writes a far more character-based novel than what I have seen in her previous novels. Here the character of Elena, a particularly iconoclastic and independent thinker in her sixties, becomes the key to solving the “mystery” of daughter Rita’s death and revealing the hidden lives of Elena and Rita, including many of the issues which led to the constant arguments between this mother and daughter. Limited somewhat by a debilitating illness, Elena marshals all her energy to pursue what she considers the incorrect cause of death – suicide, rather than murder – and she will stop at nothing as she begins her own investigation, ignoring the conclusions of the police and the church, and challenging both priests and police officers. At the same time, as she does her own investigation, she brings up a long-ago peripheral case in which she and Rita were on opposite sides of the question of abortion as it related to one of their acquaintances.

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In this absorbing and constantly surprising metafictional novel,Yugoslavian author Lana Bastašić tells the history of a complex friendship between two women from their early years as children in Bosnia through their schooling, part of their college years, and ultimately when they are in their early thirties. Told so realistically that the narrator comes totally alive, and even inspires the reader to identify with her, the story of Sara and her friend Lejla follows a circular pattern, rotating through their lives, adding to the information the reader accepts as real, and establishing themes. Literary references, especially to Alice in Wonderland, add depth and reflect the author’s attitudes, as the constantly changing friendship between the two young women parallels the changing times, values, and sometimes other-worldly feelings of the two women. The Bosnian War echoes throughout much of the novel, but it is peripheral to the wars that are happening within some of the characters, whose lives are so open that the reader cannot help but identify with them.

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In this complex and compressed experimental novel, Brazilian author Beatriz Bracher conveys the secrets and innermost connections of the Kremz family as they live their lives over the course of four generations. Benjamim, addressed in the opening quotation, is the second member of his immediate family to have borne that name – the previous Benjamim, his uncle, having died under circumstances traumatic for the family. Benjamim has never learned all the details of his uncle’s death. All he knows is that it affected those he loved in major ways. Since many of these family members have now passed away, Benjamim has decided to ask family friends who were close to the events and to the people involved to tell him the story of the other Benjamim, to help him understand how his own life might have been different if the lives of those closest to him had been different. Helping him learn about the past and its effects on later events are Isabel, his grandmother, who is still active and important in much of this story; Haroldo, a lawyer, who was the best friend of his grandfather, Xavier; and Raul, a writer who was a classmate of Teodoro, Benjamim’s father. Each has a different slant on the events, the nature of the men who have dominated the action, and the questions in the younger Benjamim’s life.

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In a remote, almost unpopulated area adjacent to Argentina’s pampas, China Iron, the main character and speaker in this small epic, grew up believing that she was “born an orphan,” never having known her mother. Brought up as a virtual slave by a woman known as Las Negra, she was then married off to Martín Fierro, a gaucho-singer who won her in a card game and by whom she had two sons before reaching the age of fourteen. Now, in 1872, her husband has been conscripted by the army, along with all the other young men of the outpost, and China has decided to take off, not in search of her sometimes violent husband, but in search of a life. Leaving her babies with an elderly couple, she joins with Liz, a red-haired Scottish woman whose husband Oscar was conscripted before he could take possession of land he had planned to purchase and develop. Liz, with an oxcart, supplies, and clothing from her previous life abroad, is about to set off across the pampas in her cart to find and rescue Oscar, and she is happy to have some company. The trip becomes a mini-epic (with a twist) based on the Martín Fierro work from 1872, as China, Liz, and the cowherd Rosario head for new worlds beyond the pampas. Brilliant descriptions, lively characters, and a picture of Argentina in the 1800s that few will forget. On the Favorites List.

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In this autobiographical novel of his early life and family in Gjirokastra, Albania, author Ismail Kadare focuses primarily on his mother, “the center of his universe” for his early years. Though she was not a warm, demonstrative person, her son stresses that she did have a caring nature and that it was “her self-restraint, her inability to cross a certain barrier,” that gave her a “doll-like mystery, but without the terror.” Her tears, he says, sometimes “flowed like those in cartoon films,” but when he asked her once about the reason for them, her answer “[made] my skin creep to recall it: ‘The house is eating me up!’ ” she claimed. Totally different from the newer, warmer house in which his mother had lived with her own family before her marriage, the Kadare residence was a grim, three-hundred-year-old building almost devoid of people, and for Kadare, it is as much of a character here as the family itself. Kadare’s early interest in writing eventually causes him to leave his home for later schooling in Tirana and Moscow, exposing him to many philosophies alien to his Russian teachers. These ideas further develop for him as he continues his work into the future and in exile in Europe. Trips back to his old house bring back last memories and the perplexity of his early life and family.

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