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Category Archive for 'M – N'

When an abandoned 50′ yacht is found on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, with bloodstains inside, the chief drug enforcement officer there calls his fellow officer in Managua for help investigating. As clues are revealed about the international implications, the increasingly large cast of characters (helpfully identified in a Dramatis Personae at the beginning of the novel) gets to work. Author Sergio Ramirez is the former Vice President of Nicaragua (1985 – 1990) under Daniel Ortega, and he creates a complex slice of life in that equally complex country. Set in the post-revolution mid-1990s, a politically fraught time, Ramirez shows that political parties have come and changed and gone; friends from the revolution are sometimes working toward different goals; the economy is in tatters, the poor are on their own, and violence is a common theme.

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Giving birth alone in Guadeloupe after her lover, Lansana Diarra, returned to his home in Mali, Simone Némélé waited in vain for the ticket he had promised to send her so that she and their newborn twins, Ivan and Ivana, could join him in Mali. Simone worked in the sugarcane fields, but she tried hard to ensure that her children would have an education and be able to pursue their own interests during their lives. Though they were very different in personality, Ivan and Ivana dearly loved each other, but as they grew up, responding to the political and philosophical movements to which they were exposed, they began to move in different directions. As author Maryse Conde tells their stories, she creates two young people and their friends who feel real to the reader – characters who have many unique personal characteristics – but she clearly wants to tell a bigger story than a simple family saga set in exotic parts of the world. Here Ivan and Ivana ultimately become examples of a broader population of twenty-first century youth who must deal with displacement, racial and gender issues, and political and social issues. Some disaffected youth, as we see here, are often open to radicalization to solve social problems, while some others remain open to change and are willing to help bring it about through more peaceful means.

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When author Marc Petitjean was contacted in Paris by a Mexican writer named Oscar, who wanted to meet him to talk about Marc Petitjean’s father Michel, the author’s interest was piqued. His father, a “left-wing militant” journalist, and associate of avant-garde artists and writers in Paris, had been dead for twenty years. When they met, Oscar pulled out a short manuscript he had written with information acquired from the archives of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, indicating that she had had an affair with Michel Petitjean during the three months she had been in Paris from early January to late March, 1939. An affair between the author’s father and Kahlo was new information to son Marc Petitjohn, who almost dismissed it as “overblown.” Still, Frida Kahlo had given his father one of her best paintings when she returned to Mexico after that three-month visit in 1939. Ultimately, “Oscar’s curiosity kindled my own, and I in turn embarked on researching the lovers’ lives.” The developing love story of Frida Kahlo and Michel Petitjean is inextricably connected with the fraught pre-war political atmosphere of Paris in 1939, the boiling artistic and philosophical ferment of the period, and the close, interconnected friendships among Joan Miro, Kadinsky, Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and “other big cacas of Surrealism.” When she finally departs from France after three months, Michel Petitjean has thought ahead to have letters and notes delivered to her along the way.

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Harry Hole, the main character of Knife (and of the series bearing his name), has long been known for his alcoholism, blackouts, and complete lack of control, which he continues to exhibit in his self-destructive rages against the world at large. While I am tired of Harry’s negative behavior after reading all twelve novels in which he exhibits this behavior, this new offering, Knife, is so well written that it has made me regard Nesbo’s work in a new light. The best of the best, it has beautifully developed themes, flawless pacing, intriguing and repeating subordinate characters, imaginative plotting, unrelenting dark atmosphere, and plot twists – one after another – after another – the likes of which I have never seen any other author even come close to duplicating. Most excitingly, Nesbo keeps all levels of his themes on point throughout the action, while adding a whole new level of thematic development.

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In this sequel to THE SECRET DIARY OF HENDRIK GROEN, 83 1/4 YEARS OLD, from two years ago, “Hendrik Groen” continues his iconoclastic, humorous, and irreverent commentary on life in a senior care center outside of Amsterdam. A full year has passed since Groen completed his earlier diary in 2013, and now, in 2015, he has finally decided to start another one. “This diary will give me a sense of purpose again,” he believes. Though this sequel continues the stories of many of the previous characters from Groen’s first book, the mood is a bit different, and the focus is not so sharp. Some international news is inserted here, and this 440-page book about life in a “care home,” told with humor, could have been condensed significantly, and its focus sharpened. Fans of the first novel will enjoy seeing what has happened to characters in the ensuing two years. Newcomers who have not yet “met” Hendrik Groen, however, may find it advantageous to begin with the more focused – and more humorous – first novel, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old.

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