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Category Archive for 'Ic – Iv'

Focusing on elderly teacher Elsa Weiss and her life story, Israeli author Michal Ben-Naftali develops the character of this teacher in Israel into a stunning novel about aspects of the Holocaust and its effects unlike any other that I have read in my many years of reviewing. This novel has surprises on every page, differing from most other “Holocaust novels” in that it does not follow the customary pattern of presenting innocent victims, the horrors they face from the Nazis, their crises, and the new lives developed in the aftermath of the war. Instead, author Michal Ben-Naftali presents in Elsa Weiss, a woman who has hidden her personal details and personality throughout the Holocaust and even afterward, a woman who has become virtually anonymous, someone whose life feels peripheral to the horrors of the 1940s, someone who survives the wartime savagery in part because she blends in. Dramatic and thought-provoking, this novel abandons the traditional visions of Holocaust survivors and their stories, presenting Elsa Weiss in a series of seemingly hopeless situations from which she believes she can escape and does. The aftereffects of her survival on her values and sense of identity, however, show her spending the remainder of her life trying on some level to erase her naive decisions and to atone for her mistakes.

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“Tell me the truth,” I said.
“What truth?” he echoed. He was making a rapid sketch
in his notebook and now he showed me what it was: a long,
long train with a big cloud of black smoke swirling over it,
and himself leaning out of a window to wave a handkerchief.
I shot him between the eyes. – Opening lines of this book.

In The Dry Heart, her first novel after the war, author Natalia Ginzburg deals with the “world writ small” telling the story of the marriage of an uncommunicative and unnamed woman married to an even more uncommunicative man. Less than a hundred words after the novel opens, the conclusion is revealed: “I shot him between the eyes,” a statement of great drama because of the context’s lack of drama. Using the woman’s point of view, the author carefully shifts back and forth in time, illustrating what happens, and more importantly, what often does not happen, in this marriage. Matching her realistic style to the undramatic nature of the marriage, Ginzburg slowly builds the tensions, eventually revealing everything the reader needs to know about the past which will explain the bold admission of murder in the first few words.

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“At thirty I had almost forgotten what it was like to be alone in a forest, or to immerse myself in a river, or to run along the edge of a crest beyond which there is only sky. I had done these things and they were my happiest memories. To me, the young urban adult I had become seemed like the exact opposite of that wild boy, and hence the desire grew to go in search of him. It wasn’t so much the need to leave as the desire to return; not to discover an unknown part of myself but to recover an old and deep-seated one I felt that I had lost.” Paolo Cognetti, author of 2017’s prize-winning THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS, continues the story of life in the alpine heights of northern Italy during summer vacations, with his own memoir, THE WILD BOY. Readers of EIGHT MOUNTAINS will be familiar with the area and the personality of his main character, remarkably like his own, as shown in this memoir by a man who has just reached age thirty. Newbies unfamiliar with Cognetti should enjoy an opportunity to share the life of a person of letters who is wondering about the direction he may take – a quiet book by a thoughtful writer for whom the trip to the mountains is a chance to relive times past through the activity of the present and learn from it

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It is almost Christmas in 1921, and Captain Sam Wyndham of the Imperial Police Force in Calcutta is running blindly across the rooftops of Chinatown, trying to avoid capture by his own men, who have no idea who they are chasing. An opium addict, as a result of his service in World War I and its aftermath, Sam has spent the evening fighting off his withdrawal symptoms by feeding his habit in an opium den. Then, inexplicably, the police attack. In his desperate efforts to escape, he climbs up through a hatch to a storage attic, where he finds a critically wounded Chinese man with ritualistic injuries – a man in such agony that he musters the last of his strength to try to kill Wyndham with a knife, before expiring. As the police work their way up, Sam escapes across the roof, eventually hiding in a crawlspace, covered with blood and carrying the bent-bladed knife with which the Chinese man tried to kill him.. With all this fast and flamboyant action stuffed into the first ten pages, readers may wonder, as they take a breath, if author Abir Mukherjee is creating a sensational, non-stop narrative to draw the reader into an action-for-its-own-sake story about exotic India and its unusual cultures. Mukherjee, however, has far bigger plans for this novel, both thematically and historically, and as the nonstop action begins, he simultaneously creates a vivid picture of his main character, Sam Wyndham, his problematic personal life, his fears, his role as a police officer trying to maintain control during the British raj in Calcutta, and his questions about why this raid was kept secret from him.

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The title sets the tone of this novel, referring to the physical cold of a bleak winter, matched by the cold, alienated mood of current officers at the Pizzofalcone precinct in Naples. Major officers here were recently purged from the department for corruption and possible connections to the Neapolitan Mafia after they tried to sell a shipment of narcotics which had been confiscated in a raid. These crooked officers, most of them veterans, were put on trial for obvious crimes or forced to resign. A whole new crew, many of them old-timers who had never achieved recognition by the department, along with a few “outsiders” with personal difficulties and few friends within the department, have been put in charge of the precinct. These new officers must also deal with the insulting sobriquet of “bastards,” which is applied to them regularly by the veteran police throughout the rest of Naples. Worst of all, the Pizzofalcone station is on temporary status and can be closed at any moment by the higher-ups if the officers do not do an effective job – or if they create further problems for the police hierarchy. Working there is like living on the edge. What begins as a murder mystery gradually becomes a study of characters who gradually begins to trust each other and open themselves to friendship and even love.

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