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Category Archive for 'Book Club Suggestions'

In the ending of Unquiet, author Linn Ullman summarizes her feelings about her father, Ingmar Bergman, and her complicated relationship with him and her mother, Liv Ullmann. The book, which she calls a “novel,” is more like a memoir, containing descriptions of many intimate family events, the instinctive reactions of her father and mother to life’s circumstances as they face them, and her own thoughtful exploration of her own identity, which dominates the body of the narrative. Age forty-eight by the time the novel ends, Ullmann presents an honest and realistic depiction of her life from the time she was a tiny child to the present, and she is so determined to be honest with herself and her reader, and so hopeful that her commentary contains elements of universality that she does not even mention the names of her famous parents until well over a hundred pages of narrative have elapsed. Linn Ullman has created a work memorable for its authenticity, its insights into parents and children, and its forthright depictions of the struggles that even caring people have in showing love.

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WINNER of the IMPAC Dublin Award, this novel is set in rural Norway with a swirling chronology which incorporates both modern times and, briefly, the days of Norway’s occupation by the Germans during World War II. Powerful and rich thematically, the novel focuses on the life of Trond Sander, a sixty-seven-year-old man, as he relives events which occurred when he was a teen. After the war, in 1948, when Trond was fifteen, he and his father spent the summer together in a cabin in the countryside of Norway, near the Swedish border, a time which affected his entire life. As the novel opens, the aged Trond has returned to a cabin in that same village, intending to live there in retirement, wanting to be alone but living independently, though the reasons for his self-imposed solitude are not clear, even to him. Nature is the important factor in his new life in retirement, and the lyricism with which he views that nature and its power is palpable. At the same time, he is aware this “simple” life will be difficult, with many responsibilities which only he can fulfill.

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Returning to Prague for the location of this novel, after setting The Glass Room there in 2009, author Simon Mawer uses his familiarity with Prague, and his obvious love for it, to create this stirring novel of political history and intrigue. Set during the almost magical Prague Spring of 1968, a time in which Russian influence had waned and a broader view of socialism and some new freedoms were being celebrated by students and political writers in Prague, Mawer focuses on “the fleeting nature of presence” as the Prague Spring is cancelled by the sudden arrival of half a million Warsaw Pact troops led by the Soviet Union, which went on to occupy the country for the next twenty-three years. A writer who focuses primarily on people and their lives, rather than on politics or cultural movements, Mawer brings the Prague Spring to life by focusing on two couples who come together in Prague, live and love, engage in adventure, and find their lives permanently changed by the arrival of the Soviet-led troops. The couples represent different backgrounds, and they experience the Prague Spring in different ways. Each has connections with people from Prague who help them during the danger which evolves, providing a broader picture of the events as they affect all the people of Prague, instead of the more limited focus which might have occurred with fewer main characters. This is a carefully developed novel, filled with fascinating history and sidelights involving literature, music, and popular culture, a fine addition to Mawer’s bibliography.

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NOTE:  At the end of each year, I enjoy checking to see which reviews are getting the most attention (highest number of hits) on this website, and each year I am always surprised by the number of older books (and reviews) which remain in the Top Ten. For this new list I wanted to see which books would appear on the list if I removed the perennial Old Favorites. Gone from the list of old favorites are the following, some of which have been published and/or reviewed here ten or more years ago by Jo Nesbo, Helon Habila, Alan Duff, Kamila Shamsie, and Alan Paton.

The new TOP TEN, published more recently by newer authors, feature books from Tasmania, Vietnam, Norway, Republic of China, Chile, England, Germany (rediscovered from 1932), Netherlands, France, the aboriginal community of western Canada, and the Native American community of the US

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Jamel Brinkley, author of this extraordinary debut collection of stories, is much more than “a lucky man” in having this collection published by Graywolf, one of the most respected literary publishing houses in the country.  Brinkley’s literary talents and his insights into people – all kinds of people of various backgrounds and ages – kept me spellbound for the entire time I spent reading and rereading these stories.  I am not young, black, male, or the resident of a city, as these characters are.  I have not experienced (or do not remember) most of the kinds of events which Brinkley’s characters experience as normal – growing up in a broken home, having few resources for dealing with the turmoil of the teen years, struggling with responsibilities which would be challenging even for an adult, and living a life in which “betrayal on the cellular level” is complicated by surprising naivete regarding love and sex, expectations and reality, and issues of identity and reputation.  Still, as the young male characters of the nine stories here live their lives as well as they can, given their ages and limitations, they achieve a kind of universality which cannot help but touch the heart of the reader as s/he connects with these characters on a deeply personal level.

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