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Category Archive for 'S'

In this unusual ode to Barcelona, author Rupert Thomson, who lived in Barcelona from 2004 – 2010, creates three intersecting stories with overlapping characters, each of whom gives a unique perspective on life in this city on the northeast coast of Spain. In the first section, “The Giant of Sarrià,” Amy, a British woman in her forties, owns a shop which she describes as resembling “Aladdin’s cave of unexpected treasures.” With her daughter at school in England, the divorced Amy has the freedom to explore the city and get to know its people, respond to the subjects that interest her, and create her own life and, especially, love. The second novella, “The King of Castelldefels,” features a jazz pianist named Nacho, Amy’s friend Montse’s ex-husband. Alcohol plays a major role in his life, and it is not unusual for him to pass out and remember nothing about his last hours, who he was with, and how he got to where he eventually finds himself. When Ronaldinho, a major Brazilian football star, signs with Barcelona, the city is excited, and he becomes friends with Nacho. The third novella, “The Carpenter of Montjuic,” a bizarre story of the supernatural, is told on several levels by a narrator named Jordi Ferrer, a man who translates books. As he develops these three stories, Rupert Thomson fascinates with his originality and his unique insights, a man whose writing is stimulating at the same time that it is thematically honest and exciting – and even occasionally confounding.

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Masquerading as a family saga, The Promise is also a depiction of the various crises in the history of South Africa, especially in the past thirty years. The Swart family – Ma, Pa, Astrid, Anton, and Amor – are white descendants of the Dutch and Afrikaner Voortrekkers who settled in rural areas of South Africa in the mid-1800’s as an escape from the British control of the cities of colonial South Africa. Many created large farms in the relatively unpopulated rural areas and ran their farms as their own fiefdoms. The past hundred years have led to significant changes, however. The Promise straddles genres as it focuses on the emotional problems of the Swart siblings’ lives, some of them exacerbated by the behavior of their parents. It also focuses on the social and cultural milieu of South Africa from the mid-1980’s to the present, as it moves from a strongly white-dominated government to a more democratic one which recognizes the contributions of all cultures and their importance to peaceful society. The author recognizes that change is happening and that peace is possible, but he does not lecture the reader, preferring to present facts regarding the changes, letting the reader see some of the results, both good and bad, as they affect one white family struggling with personal problems of their own.

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In this “Tartan Noir” mystery set in 1973, thirty-year-old Harry McCoy, a member of the Glasgow polis, is about to have a week to end all weeks. From July 13, 1973 to July 21, 1973, he will be busy twenty-four hours a day with a series of heinous crimes that will take him from investigations in his native Glasgow to Belfast and back. Several missing persons and some grisly murders, which seem to be the most efficient way to solve difficult problems among the various crime lords of Glasgow, will keep him and his fellow officers so busy they rarely have time to drink, socialize, or experiment with substances. Only a few hours (and ten pages) after the novel begins with the disappearance of thirteen-year-old Alice Kelly, McCoy discovers the body of musician Bobby March, “the best guitarist of his generation,” a man who was not only asked to join the Rolling Stones, but said “no, thank you” to the offer. The noir gets even darker as the novel develops, with more grisly murders and a trip to Belfast by McCoy in search of more information regarding funding for the crimes in Glasgow. The references to Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones give context to Bobby March’s talent, and provide a bit of a break in this very dark narrative.

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Fourteen-year-old Erik Wassman has been working on a graphic novel and keeping himself otherwise occupied in the summer of 1962, hoping to get past some of the problems he faces. He is a very young fourteen, just beginning to look at the world from a wider perspective, and his father has just told him it will be a “rough summer,” as his mother is dying of cancer in hospital. Hoping to make life easier for Erik, his father has arranged for him to go to the family’s lakeside summer retreat on Lake Möckeln with his older brother Henry, now twenty-two. He has also suggested that Erik invite a classmate, Edmund, whom Erik does not know well, to come to the lake with him. The summer place is only fifteen miles from home, and it will be possible for Erik to visit his mother if he needs to. Author Håkan Nesser, the winner of many prizes for his crime novels, maintains a quiet calm here as he introduces his main characters and setting, especially with Erik, and as new characters are introduced, it becomes clear that much of this novel will be concerned with Erik’s psychological growth, rather than with hard crime. Then a Kim Novak look-alike arrives , and some dark machinations lead to murder.

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In this finely written and often subtle literary thriller, debut author Sara Mesa focuses on an elite boarding school in rural northeast Spain. The school, Wybrany College, has been built in a man-made meadow on the road from Cardenas to the now defunct city of Vado. No signs along the road indicate any access to the property, and the school’s website does not provide an exact location for it. There are no photographs of the school or its grounds. Said to have been founded in 1943 by Andrzej Wybrany, a wealthy, exiled Polish businessman, who had been “moved by the fate of exiled orphans who had lost their parents,” the school was intended to educate and care for these orphans “with all the resources they would have enjoyed had the destinies of their families remained unaltered.” The reader soon discovers that nothing at the school is what the new teacher Isidro Bedragare expects, and the reader soon learns that even Isidro is not what the reader expects. Isidro has to admit that “my free time in the afternoon doesn’t compensate for the stress of every morning, the continual shifting between pretense and mockery, appearance and uncertainty,” with everyone speaking in code – both students and faculty. Gradually, the grim, hidden stories behind the school evolve, and as author Sara Mesa begins to show them in increasingly symbolic light, Isidro gets ready to take action.

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