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Category Archive for 'ALL GENRES'

On March 24, 1946, fifty-four-year-old world chess champion Alexandre Alekhine was found dead in his hotel room at the famed Hotel do Parque in Estoril, Portugal. He had been living there alone for two months during the off-season, first awaiting news of a worthy opponent and then awaiting the details regarding a future match. As Italian author Paolo Maurensig develops this story, Alekhine’s life in several different countries under several different governments begins to unfold, and the suspicious circumstances in which his body was found lead to the inescapable conclusion that this death may not have been an accident. Alekhine was fully dressed and wearing a heavy coat as he sat in his overheated room, apparently eating a meal, though he had attended a full dinner in his honor that same night. The journalist who reported on his death in the Portuguese press, Artur Portela, did so in the face of strong censorship and the influence of the secret police of long-time ruler Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, which promptly ended the investigation, making no comment at all. The investigation by Portela, the journalist, provides author Maurensig with details of the case which he develops. Enjoyable as a picture of the times, whether or not you are a chess aficionado.

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“July is the fireworks season. A whole world, on the brink of extinction, was sending up one last flurry of sparks beneath the foliage and the paper lanterns. People jostled each other, they spoke in loud voices, laughed, pinched each other nervously. You could hear glasses breaking, car doors slamming. The exodus was beginning…Smoke rises […]

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In the third novel of the Occupation Trilogy, Patrick Modiano, then twenty-six, presents a narrative in which the speaker makes an effort to find and to know his father, who is not really co-operative. Like Modiano’s father during and after the war, this father has also been absent from his son’s life and is also a member of a gang which is taking advantage of the chaos to make money from selling illegal goods on the blackmarket. Modiano’s depiction of their lives and activities is very different from what was common among French writers at that time, as most authors explored new writing styles – surrealism, existentialism, and the absurd, among others – and did not deal with their own possible complicity in the Occupation. Here young Modiano shows his sense of reality as his narrator searches for his father at two different times, ten years apart, getting to know him in unexpected ways, but leaving open questions at the end of the novel. (Those unfamiliar with Modiano would do well to start with SUSPENDED SENTENCES as an introduction.)

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Thirty-one years have passed since author Cristina Garcia’s first trip to Germany, and she has just returned to Berlin for the first time since then. Because she is fascinated by some of the people she meets there, she creates a “Visitor” as a stand-in for herself acting as the third person narrator of this book – not telling the stories of these people, so much as introducing them and then allowing each of the thirty-five characters she features the freedom to tell their own individual stories. As she “listens” to these stories, she and the reader share the same vantage point – and the stories come to life in unique ways, some of them so unusual that most readers will become spellbound, wondering why they never thought to ask the questions about postwar life in Germany that these characters are answering without being asked. Though the individual stories are unique, brilliant in their execution, and enlightening for the reader – even readers who have read dozens of books about postwar Germany and the generation after that – Cristina Garcia performs magic by opening up even more new threads and suggesting dozens of issues which most of us have not yet even thought to explore. On the top of my Favorites List for the year so far.

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Sharing his feelings with the reader, Dickson Steele becomes the linchpin of this psychological noir mystery by Dorothy B. Hughes, and within the first two pages, the reader discovers that Dix’s thoughts and behavior are vastly different from what the rest of us would consider “normal. By the third page, he is following an attractive young woman walking along the road and planning what he will say to her when he catches up to her. Only a series of cars passing prevents him from crossing the street to meet up with her, and he decides to let her go, turning instead into a local bar. Author Hughes, with her efficient pacing and streamlined prose, does not make the reader wait long for the action to develop. On the fourth page, at the bar, Dix overhears another patron nearby mention a man named “Brub,” the name of one of Dix’s friends from the air corps whom he has not seen for two years. A quick call from Dix to Brub at his house in Santa Monica Canyon, and the old friends decide to get together that night at Brub’s house. There Dix meets Brub’s wife Sylvia and also learns that Brub, having graduated from Berkeley, has now started work at a new job – as a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. What develops is a noir murder novel in which author Hughes develops these ideas throughout the remainder of this two-hundred page novel, bringing her characters to life and the action to a peak. In the process she will also bring Los Angeles and its suburbs to life as people try to get back to the kinds of lives they had before the war.

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