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Category Archive for 'T – Uk'

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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Awaking in an Istanbul hospital after jumping from the Bosphorus Bridge in a failed suicide attempt, young blues singer-musician Boratin has no memory of his life – or why he chose suicide as a way out. The bridge is five hundred feet high, and fewer than a handful of people have survived the jump since the bridge was built in the early 1970s. Boratin is one of the “lucky” ones – only one rib is broken. His biggest problem is that he has total amnesia. He does not recognize his own face in the mirror, has no memory of his own name, knows no one who visits him, and has no past. Almost plotless, this short novel recreates the ultimate crisis of identity as it happens to a twenty-eight-year-old musician, who obviously had problems before his jump off the Bosphorus Bridge. As Boratin tries to figure out who he is so he can revisit his past and perhaps connect it to a new present, the author raises many questions about time, place, history, philosophy, psychology, life, death, and the desire of people to relate to each other in positive ways. The novel’s progress through short episodes, and the reactions of Boratin to them, allow the reader to identify with him, and through him to see some of life’s grandest themes through a completely new point of view. The extent to which the past controls the present, and the present controls the future take on new meaning in this remarkable novel.

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I Will Never See the World Again by Ahmet Altan, written from a cell in Turkey where the author has been imprisoned for the past three years, is a memoir so stunning in its description of his prison life and so remarkable for its positive revelations regarding Altan’s emotional state that I cannot imagine anyone not rejoicing in the publication of this book. While that reaction may seem absurd on its surface and oddly romantic in its vision of reality, the author has had three years to come to terms with his arrest and figure out ways to survive – and even benefit from it, hard as that may be to believe. Sharing observations from literature and philosophy in which he sees parallels to his prison life, he connects with the reader in a broader, more universal, and peaceful way than most readers will expect. He thinks of himself as Odysseus fighting Poseidon, appreciating that “there was the storm and there was me. We were going to fight.” Ultimately, he has dream adventures from all over the world, and he is happy, possessing “a godly arrogance. I am not in prison. I am a writer…[and] like all writers, I have magic.” An extraordinary memoir by an extraordinary man.

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When I finished reading Arid Dreams, the first of Thai author Duanwad Pimwana’s story collections ever to be translated into English, I was so stunned that I had to wait a day before even beginning this review. To say it is a powerful and dramatic collection of thirteen short stories so understates the collection’s ability to affect the reader emotionally that it would be unfair to characterize it in such a limited fashion. Vibrant characters, intense interactions, and beautifully controlled themes feature in realistic stories about the daily lives of the hard working poor and those who have dreams but little or no opportunity to act upon them. Cultural expectations play a big part in the conflicts and disasters which some of the characters face, and though these may be shocking to American readers, they are taken for granted by the characters themselves. As the reader becomes more and more deeply involved with these stories, which show people both as individuals and as members of a broader society, it is impossible not to care about them and how they live, doing what they must do to survive. A collection which is truly unforgettable.

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Ahmet Altan, Turkish journalist and author of nine novels, was WINNER of the Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media from the Sparkasse Leipzig in 2009. In 2011, he was AWARDED the international Hrant Dink Award. He is currently jailed for criticizing the government of Turkey. In his first novel to be translated into English, author/journalist Ahmet Altan sets his novel in a small, unnamed town in rural Turkey to which an unnamed Turkish author has gone to retire and work on a new book. In the first two pages of this book, however, the reader learns that the author himself has committed a murder. What follows is a novel which is both clever and exasperating, as the main character inserts himself into the life of a small town with long-standing rivalries and intrigues and becomes, himself, a part of the frenzied action and reaction to slights and betrayals, both real and imagined. As the novel opens, the author is sitting outside, apparently in the final hours of his life, waiting to be apprehended for murdering a resident and contemplating the meaning of life and his responsibility for his own actions – an irony, since he also believes his predicament to be “God’s work.” God, after all, “has a savage sense of humour. And coincidence is his favorite joke.”

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