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Category Archive for 'S'

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, the dark machinations which lead to murder, and the complex motivations which usually accompany it. Then a murder takes place.

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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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Poet-author Serge Pey grew up among the Republican partisans and anarchists who participated in the Spanish Civil War and were brutally defeated by Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s army in 1939. His family, like those of many other defeated fighters, escaped to France in the aftermath of the war, but were confined to internment camps within France as soon as they were captured. Author Pey, born in 1950, has obviously grown up knowing his family’s stories during the Spanish Civil War and in the internment camps in France, and his own values and beliefs in freedom have been molded by the culture within them. Here in this collection of often interconnected stories, he provides glimpses of a unique and powerful culture, the product of the lives lived by his family and their friends during and immediately after the Spanish Civil War. Filled with dramatic events, symbols, and hidden messages, this book is more than literary fiction. It is true literature, a collection of writings which inspire thoughtful reflection on life itself and share the ideas of its characters and author, a work which many readers will enjoy reading again and again and again.

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Author Aravind Adiga, whose Indian family immigrated to Australia during his childhood, is well familiar with Australia’s social and economic conditions, and with its attitudes toward “brown”people, both legal and illegal. His sensitivity and empathy in his presentation of Danny as a kind, thoughtful, and honest main character make Danny’s problems as an illegal resident from Sri Lanka and his lack of options particularly vivid for the reader. When he arrives at work one morning, he finds a police van parked across the street and learns that there has been a murder across from where he is working – in a house which he himself has cleaned many times over the past two years. He knows the female owner, Radha, a married woman who is having an affair, and he is also a worker of the person who may have killed her. With the author’s stunning ability to present Danny’s hopes, his memories of beauty from the past, and his fully imagined dreams for the future, which he presents impressionistically, Danny comes fully to life – a real person with a real life and personality – and not simply a character who is illustrating social conditions, themes, and ethical problems. Danny must decide whether to help the police with much-needed information and risk deportation, or keep quiet and let events take their course. Outstanding!

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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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