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Category Archive for 'Book Club Suggestions'

HARLEM SHUFFLE by Colson Whitehead is a gem of novel, one certain to win both literary prizes and enthusiastic plaudits from its readers. A crime novel which remains both entertaining and filled with warmth toward many of the characters, even those who do not follow the straight and narrow, it shows life as it is and emphasizes the variety of ways that people deal with their difficulties successfully, even when threats and fear become part of the equation. Despite his marginal set of ethics and a neighborhood in which murder is common, Carney as main character remains intriguing and sympathetic in most of his actions. And though he may never be considered a “hero” on a grand scale, he is a hero to many people for his accomplishments and his pragmatic vision of the community’s future possibilities. His innate goodness, even in the most trying times, somehow shines through, often with a touch of humor.

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Like The Diary of Anne Frank, Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz’s The Passenger is also written by someone who began to write about the horrors of the Holocaust while they were actually happening, and while the author was living through their personal tragedies. Boschwitz’s novel, however, offers a significantly different focus, however, providing additional dimensions of reality while sacrificing some of the intimacy. Boschwitz, author of The Passenger, was twenty-threee and a recent college graduate when he wrote this book over the course of one frantic month in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht. Creating the fictional story of Otto Silbermann, a married businessman/owner of a successful salvage company in Berlin, Boschwitz gives realistic details about life in the city, describing a man who has always been dedicated to his business and fair to his employees, who loves his family, and who has a long history of hard work, even serving in the German military during World War I. After Kristallnacht, however, as life for Jews throughout Germany becomes ever more difficult, Silbermann finds all escapes from Nazi control closed, and takes what he regards as the only way out. He becomes a “passenger,” a man who travels from city to city by train almost non-stop, sometimes not getting out when he arrives at his “destination” in order to avoid being being identified and possibly arrested for being a Jew. It is a hopeless existence, and his thoughts and actions as he travels ring true.

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With this “mystery novel,” Argentinian author Claudia Piñeiro writes a far more character-based novel than what I have seen in her previous novels. Here the character of Elena, a particularly iconoclastic and independent thinker in her sixties, becomes the key to solving the “mystery” of daughter Rita’s death and revealing the hidden lives of Elena and Rita, including many of the issues which led to the constant arguments between this mother and daughter. Limited somewhat by a debilitating illness, Elena marshals all her energy to pursue what she considers the incorrect cause of death – suicide, rather than murder – and she will stop at nothing as she begins her own investigation, ignoring the conclusions of the police and the church, and challenging both priests and police officers. At the same time, as she does her own investigation, she brings up a long-ago peripheral case in which she and Rita were on opposite sides of the question of abortion as it related to one of their acquaintances.

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Using known facts and details provided by Mary Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin, following Wollstonecraft’s death in 1797, at age thirty-eight, author Samantha Silva creates an intense and vibrant fictional biography of a woman many generations ahead of her time. The feminist ideals she exemplifies in her life, which shocked the women of her own time, include her years-long relationship with a woman friend and her desire to set up a “female utopia” with her; her establishment with others of a school for young women under the banner of being “dissenters” from the Church of England; her flagrant affairs with two well-known writer-philosophers; her stay in France and support of the French Revolution; and her much-loved child from her out-of-wedlock relationship with Gilbert Imlay. The publication of her ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), considered “one of the trailblazing works of feminism,” added to her reputation as one of the early founders of feminist philosophy. In author Samantha Silva’s hands, however, Mary’s story becomes completely human, with two narratives conveying her life stories from two different times and perspectives. Here Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist beliefs play out within the context of her life two hundred years ago, as these ideas come vibrantly to life among writers, publishers, and political leaders during that time.

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Great fun to read, the primary purpose of the novel is to entertain while considering the role of plot in the success of any fiction. Because the plot within this novel, which is responsible for Jake’s astounding success, is the same story which makes this book by Jean Hanff Korelitz so successful, any attempt to summarize that plot would spoil the whole reason for reading it. It is a meticulously constructed novel which has a love story, several murders, intense relationships, shifts of focus among various characters and generations, and changes of location, and it is hard to imagine any reader becoming bored or tired of the action. The author is careful to keep the two plot lines from becoming confused. The story of Jake Bonner, nervous author of the bestseller “CRIB,” and the story within the story which originated with Evan Parker, will, of course, eventually merge, but that merger happens gradually and with plenty of foreshadowing. Fun to read and filled with real surprises, this is a pop novel which well deserves its popularity.

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