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Category Archive for 'S'

Telling the story of his father’s life, author Johannes Anyuru, the son of a Ugandan father and Swedish mother, focuses on the fraught political climates of several East African countries in the 1970s, when his father was in his early twenties, trying to find some sort of direction and sense of purpose. As a young teen in Uganda in the early 1960s, his father, known here as P, took advantage of a program in Greece which taught him and other young men in Uganda how to fly military aircraft, a program which changed his life. He loves the freedom of the air and sees himself flying professionally. P is an ethnic Langi, belonging to the group to which President Obote of Uganda also belongs, but as the novel opens, Obote has just been deposed in a coup led by Idi Amin. Assumed to be a supporter of Obote, P has no interest in being drafted into the air corps aiding Amin in his bloody rise to power. Secretly escaping his program in Greece by going to Rome, he then flies to Lusaka in Zambia, hoping to start a job he found as a crop-duster. The back and forth narratives of P and his son continue as they try to figure out who they are and where they come from, and require the reader to fill in blanks by making their own connections. For P, the biggest issue is escaping to someplace safe. For his son, it is filling in the blanks in his own life by learning more about who is father is, or has been. P remains full of mysteries, largely because one never knows whether he is telling the whole truth about the things we do know about him.

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Three strikingly similar murders have taken place in Glasgow during 1969, and police have made no progress apprehending the killer, nicknamed The Quaker. Detective Inspector Duncan McCormack has been sent from the Flying Squad in Glasgow to the Murder Room at the Marine Police Station in Partick, assigned to review the evidence, the investigation, and the abilities of the local police. McCormack has been treated with cold disdain, if not outright hostility, however, by the entire local crew. As Goldie, one of the more outspoken local detectives, puts it, “You cannae be the brass’s mark and do good police work. Know why? Because good police work doesnae get done on its own. You need your neighbors to help you. And who’s gonna help you after this?” While McCormack is working on these murders, a major jewel robbery takes place, and the two plot lines, which alternate, will keep readers totally occupied. The enormous suspense McInvanney creates eventually leads to one of the grandest finales ever, as surprise after genuine surprise is revealed, corrected, changed and eventually resolved.

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In the sixth of the Swedish Millenium series of mysteries begun by Swedish author Stieg Larsson and continued by David Lagercrantz, all the familiar characters and secret organizations reappear. Fourteen years have passed since THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was published, and even Lisbeth Salander, a sociopathic but brilliant computer hacker, and Mikael Blomqvist, an admired journalist who cares for her, have changed with time. Lisbeth is on her own most of the time now, and she has no financial worries so she can come and go and pursue her twin sister, who has threatened her life. Her sister will never forgive her for her attacks on her father and brother who were determined to kill her – but failed. Sister Camillia is now associated with the highest eschelons of Russian intelligence, as was her father, and is out to finish her off. While this is going on, Blomqvist is asked to help with the investigation of the mysterious death of a beggar, who is eventually discovered to have been a Sherpa guide for a group of Swedish officials who wanted to climb Mount Everest. Much of the book is concerned with Mt. Everest. Deaths occurred there, and the guide knows more than participants are comfortable with. Less tightly organized and less focused on Salander and Blomqvist than in the past, this one has a multitude of characters and action scenes which don’t always connect tightly but show Salander and Blomqvist as they settle into their lives more fully.

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In the most fervently psychological novel I have read in many years, Swedish author Linda Bostrom Knausgard tells the inner stories of an almost totally dysfunctional family in Stockholm. An eleven-year-old girl who has stopped talking “a long time ago,” reveals that her mother and brother are now “used to it,” and that her father is dead. School for this silent child is the equivalent of “walking into pitch darkness every day – [like] having to hold on to a handrail until it was time to go home.” Intense and revelatory of the many fears and nightmares which can hide behind the silence – real or symbolic – in the mind of a pre-teen, Knausgard reminds readers that silence does not mean acceptance or passivity, that real drama may be unfolding behind the mask that hides the pain. While outside specialists and teachers seem to have had little effect on the thinking and emotional needs of Ellen, the main character here, the author also seems to offer some encouragement that families who care about each other do have the ability to see beyond immediate issues and eventually to deal with their problems on the family level. Whether or not they can heal themselves, long-term, without help, is not answered here.

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One can almost see the wink and the smirk on the face of Italian author Paolo Maurensig as he begins his dark satire of a community in the Swiss mountains where a formidable adversary has established residence, a place where the residents do not even recognize this new resident as an adversary, though he is the devil himself. Telling a story within a story within a story, the author creates the story of the devil incarnate, who inhabits a literary community in the mountains of Switzerland. Only Father Cornelius recognizes how serious the threat is to their society. Maurensig keeps the action moving rapidly, while also raising serious questions about the nature of good and evil. His use of symbolism and lively detail allows the reader to see some issues which are often discussed more abstractly by other writers, and his dark sense of humor keeps the reader from becoming overwhelmed by the serious subject matter. The care with which Maurensig organizes and paces this novel is astonishing – it feels like a thriller in places where serious issues are being presented – and the build-up to the conclusion is so carefully done that the discussions of morality which one usually associates with a parable or an allegory feel natural, instead of turgid or intrusive here.

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