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Category Archive for 'Ur – Z'

I am not usually a fan of futuristic novels, but I loved this book! Welsh author Cynan Jones writes with such great care for his readers that this experimental novel of the future feels totally human. Other readers who do not usually like or read this genre may also be thrilled by this work for its exciting and often new ideas, and the author’s ability to share his own attitudes without being ponderous. The novel takes place sometime in the future, as the future of the world and society is threatened by environmental disasters. Water is being supplied to towns and cities by a Water Train, moving through towns at 200 MPH, and a new project will bring a large piece of Arctic iceberg to their community in Europe. Many unusual characters broaden the scope and create interest because of the real feelings they share regarding the themes without being ponderous or polemical, and most, if not all, readers will clearly understand the points Jones is making, even when his style and narrative pattern vary widely from the norm.

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Though there are, at present, over a thousand reviews on this website, this is the first, of all the international fiction I have read and reviewed over the past ten years, that is written by a Venezuelan author about everyday life in this country where turmoil and bloodshed often dominate daily life. Author Karina Sainz Borgo, born and raised in Caracas, worked as a journalist there before emigrating to Spain a few years ago. Her experience in Caracas holds her in good stead here as she gets the novel off to a quick, almost journalistic, start, setting the scene and developing her main character, Adelaida Falcon, an editor in Caracas. Her mother’s long illness and recent death have left her with no money, while she and her neighbors are also forced to endure shortages of everything needed for a healthy life, including food and medicine. “We could only watch as everything we needed vanished: people, places, friends, recollections, food, serenity, peace, sanity. ‘Lose’ became a leveling verb, and the Sons of the Revolution wielded it against us,” Adelaida comments. The student brother of her next door neighbor, has been arrested, along with others, by these same Sons of Revolution, and he has spent more than a month inside a prison, “beaten, bludgeoned in a corner, or raped with the barrel of a gun.” When things become much worse, Adelaida decides it is time for her to flee, if she can figure out a way to do it.

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In the years between 1973 and 1981, Uruguay was ruled by the rich and powerful – autocrats who used the power of the military to secure their rule and their continuing wealth – while the needs of the rest of the country were ignored.  Uruguayan author Mario Orlando Benedetti, widely regarded as one of the most influential writers in South America, was himself arrested and exiled during this time, and he knew many people who were imprisoned, if not executed.  Using his firsthand knowledge, he published this extraordinary and revelatory book in 1982, in the days immediately following the end of military rule, giving his audience and the rest of the world a vibrant, literary study of the effects of imprisonment on the hearts, minds, and psyches of people like himself, and of those at home who loved them. On the Favorites List for 2019.

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Cove, a novella by Welsh author Cynan Jones, so perfectly captures the mind and heart of its main character that many readers will read it in one sitting and then go back and reread all or most of it. An experimental novel in which the narrator’s individual thoughts are set off in separate paragraphs on wide-margined pages, the narrative hovers between a sharp, detailed, almost journalistic depiction of a speaker who goes out to sea in his kayak to scatter his father’s ashes and some equally sharp, detailed pictures of what may be his hallucinations. All observations are the same to the speaker after a sudden storm and a lightning strike at sea leave him seriously injured, hungry and thirsty, and sometimes incoherent. Though he is well trained in the safety procedures which he recognizes may make the difference between his life and death at sea, he has gone out alone in his kayak, without informing the woman he loves, who is pregnant: He had hoped to spend this one last day with his father, in private. What follows is a life or death struggle with a tension rare for such a short work. Though the style is experimental and takes some chances which may take a bit of getting used to, Jones is as aware of his reader as the narrator seems to be, providing clues throughout. Powerful and unforgettable.

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The author of eight previous novels, many of which have been nominated for international prizes, Abdulrazak Gurnah, from Zanzibar, specializes in novels which reflect a sense of alienation and loss as a person living, first, under the British colonial rule of his country, then later living under Zanzibar’s revolutionary rule after a coup following independence, and finally living in Britain itself. His characters often reflect similar dislocations, growing up and living without the pride one expects for the place where they grew up or much sense of belonging elsewhere within the world order. Sometimes at a loss and uncertain what will happen next politically, they may be unsure of how to go about traversing the multitude of competing influences on their lives and on the people they love. In this novel Gurnah examines these feelings through the life of Salim, a young man whose early childhood is upended when his father inexplicably leaves his mother and the home Salim thought was happy, and moves elsewhere, while his mother begins to spend time with another man. Salim’s alienation becomes more complicated as time passes. Gradually, the contrast between the life Salim thought he was living and life as it has become emerges more clearly. His father, who used to be a clerk for the Water Authority finds work in a market stall or just sits in his room after the separation. When real life at home becomes far more complicated for Salim, he readily accepts his uncle Amir’s offer of a chance to attend school in London, the place he lives for the next seven years, one which is not home, though Zanzibar no longer is home, either. Straightforward, honest, and filled with observations about alienation and the need for belonging.

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