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Category Archive for 'Book Club Suggestions'

In this unique, ground-breaking novel, John Okada creates such a vibrant picture of the first- and second-generation Japanese-Americans during and immediately after World War II, that it is impossible to imagine readers of this book not being universally moved by what they read here. The Foreword alone, written by Ruth Ozecki as a letter to the author in April, 2014, when this edition was published, attests to the fact that Okada, who died in his forties in 1971, never knew how important No-No Boy would become – the only such book ever written by a Japanese-American about the plight of Japanese immigrants who came under immediate and universal suspicion the instant Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Over 110,000 people who had come to the US from Japan, some of them many years ago, were rounded up and sent to prison camps in the desert for the duration of World War II, forced to give up their homes, their jobs, their businesses, and their dreams. Young Japanese-American men, however, were offered a chance to prove how American they had become. A required questionnaire contained two questions regarding their loyalty: Were they willing to serve in combat duty in the US armed forces, and would they swear “unqualified allegiance” to the country and defend it from any attack by foreign or domestic forces. Those who answered “no” to these two questions were immediately sent to prison for two years, by which time the war was over. This book is an up close study of the effects of the imprisonment on one young no-no boy after he was released to a population which regarded him as a coward. A classic which will make every reader feel the pain of this young man and some of his friends as they try to reenter society.

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Meticulously constructed and highly dramatic, The Secrets We Kept moves forward with dual story lines – one set in the West and featuring members of the Soviet Russia branch of the US intelligence agency, beginning in 1950, and the other set in the East, primarily Moscow, focusing on the Soviet government, famous author Boris Pasternak and his banned book, Dr. Zhivago, and the people surrounding him, beginning in 1956. The title alone attests to the fact that both groups keep important, even life-or-death secrets during the Cold War. While maintaining the almost contemporaneous time frames of the two separate groups, East and West, the author alternates the locations of the action over the course of several years, a technique which puts two big story lines into a grand perspective while allowing readers to recognize how these story lines overlap in real time. The Soviets are determined to keep the novel Dr. Zhivago hidden in their own country, and the west believes it will benefit the world if it is released internationally. The excitement of the story line, especially for those who remember the atmosphere in the US when Dr. Zhivago was finally published here in 1958-59, is palpable. A debut novel which will have almost universal appeal for lovers of literary fiction, history, biography, and Cold War politics.

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Note:  Every six months or so, I enjoy looking at the statistics regarding this site to see which reviews garner the most interest.  Reviews which have been on the site for many years have a greater chance of being in the Top Ten than new books, of course, and, as a result, some books have […]

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It is almost Christmas in 1921, and Captain Sam Wyndham of the Imperial Police Force in Calcutta is running blindly across the rooftops of Chinatown, trying to avoid capture by his own men, who have no idea who they are chasing. An opium addict, as a result of his service in World War I and its aftermath, Sam has spent the evening fighting off his withdrawal symptoms by feeding his habit in an opium den. Then, inexplicably, the police attack. In his desperate efforts to escape, he climbs up through a hatch to a storage attic, where he finds a critically wounded Chinese man with ritualistic injuries – a man in such agony that he musters the last of his strength to try to kill Wyndham with a knife, before expiring. As the police work their way up, Sam escapes across the roof, eventually hiding in a crawlspace, covered with blood and carrying the bent-bladed knife with which the Chinese man tried to kill him.. With all this fast and flamboyant action stuffed into the first ten pages, readers may wonder, as they take a breath, if author Abir Mukherjee is creating a sensational, non-stop narrative to draw the reader into an action-for-its-own-sake story about exotic India and its unusual cultures. Mukherjee, however, has far bigger plans for this novel, both thematically and historically, and as the nonstop action begins, he simultaneously creates a vivid picture of his main character, Sam Wyndham, his problematic personal life, his fears, his role as a police officer trying to maintain control during the British raj in Calcutta, and his questions about why this raid was kept secret from him.

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French author Catherine Cusset, the author of thirteen novels, several of which have been nominated for the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medicis, combines fiction and biography in new ways here as she recreates the life, feelings, thoughts, and conversations of British artist David Hockney, described by some as the world’s “most famous living English painter.” Although I have read a number of such “fictional biographies,” in which the author invents conversations and thoughts for her characters, this is the first time that I have seen such a work in which the subject is someone who is still alive. Hockney, born in 1937, studied art at a time in which nearly all contemporary artists were abstract artists. He, by contrast, does representational art, yet he was able to become a raging success. Handsome, gay, a traveler from London to LA, where lived for much of the time, and an artist who explored many media, David Hockney comes to life here in ways made possible by the author’s point of view.

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