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Category Archive for 'M – N'

The dramatic hit-and-run death of a respected cafe owner in the Mohave brings all the members of the man’s family to his home in the Mohave, to which he and his wife immigrated from Morocco when violence broke out in Casablanca in 1981. Each of these family members and many others in the community become first-person narrators as the action begins, the novel becoming a character-based study of people and how they respond the danger and threats. Nora Guerraoui, who becomes the main character, is a musician, composer, and grad student in California now, but on her return to the Mohave, where her parents live, she quickly re-adapts to the community where she grew up and reconnects with some friends from the past, some of them with long-standing prejudices. One of the best novels I’ve read all year, THE OTHER AMERICANS draws in the reader, provides constant interest and insights, and shows the sensitivity with which author Laila Lalami treats her subject without talking down and without lecturing. High on my Favorites list for 2019.

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In the ending of Unquiet, author Linn Ullman summarizes her feelings about her father, Ingmar Bergman, and her complicated relationship with him and her mother, Liv Ullmann. The book, which she calls a “novel,” is more like a memoir, containing descriptions of many intimate family events, the instinctive reactions of her father and mother to life’s circumstances as they face them, and her own thoughtful exploration of her own identity, which dominates the body of the narrative. Age forty-eight by the time the novel ends, Ullmann presents an honest and realistic depiction of her life from the time she was a tiny child to the present, and she is so determined to be honest with herself and her reader, and so hopeful that her commentary contains elements of universality that she does not even mention the names of her famous parents until well over a hundred pages of narrative have elapsed. Linn Ullman has created a work memorable for its authenticity, its insights into parents and children, and its forthright depictions of the struggles that even caring people have in showing love.

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WINNER of the IMPAC Dublin Award, this novel is set in rural Norway with a swirling chronology which incorporates both modern times and, briefly, the days of Norway’s occupation by the Germans during World War II. Powerful and rich thematically, the novel focuses on the life of Trond Sander, a sixty-seven-year-old man, as he relives events which occurred when he was a teen. After the war, in 1948, when Trond was fifteen, he and his father spent the summer together in a cabin in the countryside of Norway, near the Swedish border, a time which affected his entire life. As the novel opens, the aged Trond has returned to a cabin in that same village, intending to live there in retirement, wanting to be alone but living independently, though the reasons for his self-imposed solitude are not clear, even to him. Nature is the important factor in his new life in retirement, and the lyricism with which he views that nature and its power is palpable. At the same time, he is aware this “simple” life will be difficult, with many responsibilities which only he can fulfill.

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I am especially fond of Japanese novels for their quiet power, restraint, and careful structure, and I was looking forward to this one, written by a Japanese woman but focusing on characters who have immigrated to Australia, with its totally different culture and completely different language. Iwaki Kei, the Japanese author, knows all about this, having first gone to Australia herself twenty years ago when she was a recent college graduate. She has stayed there with her expatriate Japanese husband ever since, an eventuality which I expected would give much added insight into cultural adaptation, perhaps also including an overlay of analysis into how the differences between cultures affect every aspect of the lives of immigrants. What I found was completely different – surprising, even shocking at first, but which made this, ultimately one of the most intriguing and original debut novels I have read in years, as a Nigerian war refugee and a Japanese scholar both find themselves together in an ESL class in Australia, where they both learn more about life than pronunciation and grammar.

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In her debut novel, just translated and published in English, Norwegian author Gunnhild Oyehaug explores many facets of love among three different women and their lovers, a novel which led in her own country to her involvement with the acclaimed film “Women in Oversized Men’s Shirts” in 2015, based on a repeating theme throughout this novel. Here men believe that women in oversized men’s shirts – and little else – are inherently attractive, and most of the female characters find themselves in oversize men’s shirts or pajama tops at some point in the novel as they search for the perfect love. Gunnhild Oyehaug does not lack for imagination, literary credentials, or intelligence. The book is great fun as often as it is annoying for its extreme self-consciousness. Ironies abound, even including what constitutes a cliché, as seen in the opening quotation of this review and some of the events and descriptions which follow. The never-ending and problematic love stories, all involving women between twelve and twenty years younger than their lovers (for reasons not even hinted at by the author) are strangely off kilter much of the time, though these “intellectual” characters take great delight in analyzing them to death. The academic and literary worlds and those who take them seriously are presented as serious characters here, but I found that I liked the book and the characters much more when I assumed that the whole novel was a wild satire of those who need to “get a life.”

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