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Category Archive for 'T – Uk'

In the Strandja Mountains, where Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece come together, a young graduate student, who left Bulgaria for the United States as a boy, reconnects with his grandfather, from whom the family has heard nothing for the past three years. Unsuccessful in his college studies and desperately in need of funds to pay off some loans, the youth has come to Klisura in southeast Bulgaria hoping to sell some family land and also to spend time with the grandfather he has not seen in fifteen years. Written by debut novelist Miroslav Penkov, who lived in Bulgaria until he was nineteen, the narrative breathes with the kind of exuberant realism which distinguishes the writing of someone who has actually lived through certain events, as opposed to the writing of someone who is “writing about” events which he may have observed but not fully lived. Specific, often charming, detail accompanies the descriptions of many events and cultural traditions, giving a new kind of liveliness to the story of the youth’s return to his homeland and to his meetings with the people who live there. Among them are the nestinari, men and women, often quite young, of priestly importance, who walk on red-hot coals without being burned during the once-a year religious celebration. The overwhelming presence of storks in the spring and summer also adds to the spiritual tone of everyday life in Klisura. An unusual – possibly unique – combination of coming-of-age novel and epic of Bulgarian history and culture, the narrative has the small focus of a young man with limited goals and the grand scope of a culture which has incorporated elements from its Christian, Muslim, and even pagan past over many centuries.

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Recognized as one of the most exciting young novelists in Latin America, Santiago Gamboa of Colombia has written a novel which defies easy labeling. Filled with non-stop action and much like a thriller in its ability to generate and maintain suspense, it is also a sociological illustration of crime on a grand scale, a study of political corruption and violence in more than one country, a close look at the interactions of one middle class Colombian family trapped in the complex social milieu of Bogota, the unusual love story of a brother and his nurturing sister who depend on each other for love, and ultimately, a story of innocence and overwhelming guilt, as felt by more than one character. Scenes set in Colombia during the rule of Alvaro Uribe (2002 – 2010) provide insights into that country’s political challenges and the power of its drug trade and are balanced by scenes in Thailand, where the often sadistic interpretation of “justice” bears little relationship to anything most of us have ever known. Ultimately, Gamboa’s wide-ranging plot lines keep the reader moving at a rapid pace, hopping from country to country – from Colombia and Thailand to India, Japan, and Iran, and back.

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With its stunning cover, contrasting the architectural details of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque with the elemental sand which is its underpinning, Denise Roig’s collection of interconnected stories opens a vibrantly exotic and alien world to English-speaking readers. Illustrating the disparities of social life within the United Arab Emirates as lived by those who make up its oil-rich economy, these stories highlight universal themes within domestic circumstances which every reader will be able to appreciate: a pastry chef from Egypt, so poor he has to sleep inside a flour bag, wants to present a special gift to the sheikh he admires and who employs him; a Filipina servant woman begs to borrow a cellphone from a neighbor woman in order to escape her abusive circumstances; a doctor delivers the baby of a fourteen-year-old girl, who has no idea what is happening to her; a limo driver voluntarily takes the obnoxious son of his employer to see an experimental “green city” where both learn an important lesson; a newcomer to Abu Dhabi endangers the status quo by “overpaying” her help; an Anglican priest, a Catholic bishop, and a sheikh meet to discuss how to bring the country into the twenty-first century in terms of its thinking. These are just a few of the characters who come and go and sometimes overlap within stories illustrating the contrasts between the lives of the sheikhs and those of their help, and the foreign professionals who live in the middle.

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Irish author Joseph O’Neill, a citizen of the world, was born in Cork, Ireland, lived in Mozambique as a toddler, in Turkey (his mother’s place of birth) till he reached school age, and in Iran, the Netherlands, and England (where he attended college and then practiced law for ten years), before moving to New York City, where he has lived for the past fifteen years. Perceptive and particularly attuned to cultural differences and their ironies as a result of his own upbringing, O’Neill writes a darkly comic novel set in Dubai, creating an unnamed narrator whose real first name, never mentioned because he hates it, begins with the letter X. In an unusual twist, this main character is a man so lacking in personality that he himself also resembles an X. A lawyer who for nine years lived with Jenn, a co-worker, X is now single, with almost no resources, emotional or financial. The breakup, coming as it did when he and Jenn were in their mid-thirties, was toxic, her revenge leaving him with few funds, no apartment, no friends among their mutual acquaintances and fellow employees, and virtually no prospects for a better life. Public scorn and denigration, perhaps engineered by Jenn, are widespread on the internet’s social media, and even Facebook provides no refuge for him.

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The “sensitivity” of Japanese soldiers, their “wisdom in understanding,” and the “higher side of themselves” which they celebrate in the novel were lost on the allied Prisoners of War under their control, and these qualities will be just as lost on readers of this novel as they read about unconscionable examples of gross inhumanity. Set during World War II, when many Australians became POWs after the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese, the novel details the brutality of the conquerors, their starvation of prisoners, their forcing of dying soldiers to work until they collapsed and expired, their murders and tortures, and even their use of conscious prisoners as guinea pigs for Japanese officers who wanted to test their bayonets. The sadism which paralleled the officers’ interest in poetry was cultivated and celebrated among themselves as proof of their dedication to the Emperor, who could do no wrong. Much of the action here takes place during the building of the Siam to Burma Railway, known as the Death Railway, which the Emperor wanted finished immediately so that it could eventually be extended to India. Balanced against these horrors, which Flanagan depicts in grim and uncompromising imagery, is a non-traditional love story, which shows aspects of the Australian society from which most of the soldiers have come and hope to return, and particularly the society of Tasmania, which several main characters call home and where author Richard Flanagan himself grew up and has spent most of his life.

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