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Category Archive for 'C – D'

Jacob Rigolet is attending a 1977 auction of photographs on behalf of his employer, Mrs. Esther Hamelin, a well-known collector of vintage photographs – literally doing her bidding at auctions of antique photographs around the world. Suddenly, he is horrified to see his estranged mother, Nora Rigolet, walk up the aisle of the auction hall. Without warning, she throws a pot of black ink at a photograph taken by photographer Robert Capa during a World War II battle, “Death on a Leipzig balcony.” Jacob’s mother, the former Head Librarian of the Halifax Free Library in Nova Scotia, had been “safely tucked away” at the Nova Scotia Rest Hospital, following a breakdown three years previously, and Jacob has not seen her for over a year. He himself has been busy working part-time at the Free Library and, for the past two years, living in a cottage behind Mrs. Hamelin’s Victorian home. In one of the novel’s many ironies, it is Jacob’s fiancée, Martha Crauchet, a detective with the Halifax Regional Police, who is in charge of Nora Rigolet’s interrogation at the police station. With no sense of fear, Nora answers their questions but provides little insight into why she destroyed this photograph. As the novel develops and the lives of the characters unfurl, the author maintains an air of fun and good humor for most of the novel, even as universal themes of right and wrong, and good and evil, begin to appear throughout, and it is not until the conclusion that the novel’s “noir” elements become more obvious. Norman is a clever author who does not tie all the details into a bow, leaving the reader to solve the mystery surrounding Nora with the clues provided.

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In this story which seems to be a memoir, Sanchez Guevara offers a short, often poetic, description of the life of one black man as he faces the interminable boredom life in Cuba in the late 1980s – early 1990s – the lack of privacy, the “repetitive cycle of routine,” and “repetition after repetition of the scratched record of time and grime.” His use of “scratched record” imagery, over and over again – forty repetitions of this image in the space of ninety-four short pages – actually creates within the reader’s own life the same boredom and stultifying lack of variety which the main character feels, and the reader soon begins to feel controlled by some of the same kinds of forces that the author himself dealt with in the overwhelming tedium of a life over which he had little control. The speaker reminisces about his father, his upbringing, his father’s lack of interest in anything to do with the arts, his own technical studies, his record as a model student, always revealing aspects of life which he noted in Cuba at the time. He discovers reading as an escape, and later music, and then the theatre, but every now and then “he wonders what he’s done to deserve this – to have tastes so alien to the tropics and yet live here…” A sexual encounter with a Russian woman leads to his arrest and torture, though he does not know why, and he wonders, yet again, about the point of life. The conclusion reconciles the thirty-three scenes/revolutions of the record and provides an answer to the speaker’s quest.

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In his first novel published in English since the IMPAC Dublin Award-winning The Sound of Things Falling, Juan Gabriel Vasquez further develops some of the themes of identity and reality which made that novel so rich, mesmerizing, and dramatically exciting. In this more compressed and even more insightful and exciting novel, Vasquez homes in on the many kinds of events which affect our lives and our visions of reality, while also adding a whole new layer of “reality”– that of art and its ability to change the way we see life and even to control our perceptions of it. Key to this approach is his focus on main character Javier Mallarino, a sixty-five-year-old artist who has worked for forty years as a caricaturist for one of Bogota, Colombia’s major newspapers. Reputations, the assessments of a person’s life by those who know him, can be confirmed, enhanced, or, in some cases, utterly destroyed by a cartoonist who is, in actuality, inserting himself into the life of that person through his satirical artwork. and permanently manipulating aspects of that life as others see it. Ultimately, the novel is filled with wonderful images, symbols, observations, and sly commentary on the role of art, creation, and imagination in our lives, even when it affects our views of reality. The conclusion, appropriately enigmatic, reflects the changes which occur whenever one’s past must be reconsidered in light of new information, and Mallarino shows here how new information will affect his own life. One of the best books of the year.

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Brunelleschi’s Dome opens with a description of the city of Florence in 1418, when it is holding a competition for artists or architects to produce a model or design for the vaulting of the main dome of the large new cathedral being built there. Six weeks are allowed for the candidate to produce his sample work for the dome, which will complement the cathedral campanile on which the artist Giotto has worked for twenty years. Because of the proportions of the work already completed, the crowning dome will have to be the highest and widest dome ever built – higher and wider than the 143’ 6” diameter of the Pantheon built in Rome a thousand years earlier and never duplicated. The Gothic architecture popular in the rest of Europe, with its flying buttresses to draw the weight of large arches and domes away from the center of the cathedral, does not appeal to the Florentines, who want something different for their cathedral. The finalists in the competition are Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith and clockmaker, and Lorenzo Ghiberti, a worker in bronze who has designed the doors of the Baptistery of Florence. Detailing the issues that Brunelleschi faced for twenty-five years as he designed and built the dome of the cathedral, Ross King makes the complex engineering and structural feats of building this dome understandable to the lay reader and makes Brunelleschi’s behavior human

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Recognized as one of the most exciting young novelists in Latin America, Santiago Gamboa of Colombia has written a novel which defies easy labeling. Filled with non-stop action and much like a thriller in its ability to generate and maintain suspense, it is also a sociological illustration of crime on a grand scale, a study of political corruption and violence in more than one country, a close look at the interactions of one middle class Colombian family trapped in the complex social milieu of Bogota, the unusual love story of a brother and his nurturing sister who depend on each other for love, and ultimately, a story of innocence and overwhelming guilt, as felt by more than one character. Scenes set in Colombia during the rule of Alvaro Uribe (2002 – 2010) provide insights into that country’s political challenges and the power of its drug trade and are balanced by scenes in Thailand, where the often sadistic interpretation of “justice” bears little relationship to anything most of us have ever known. Ultimately, Gamboa’s wide-ranging plot lines keep the reader moving at a rapid pace, hopping from country to country – from Colombia and Thailand to India, Japan, and Iran, and back.

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