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Category Archive for 'Coming-of-age'

In the most fervently psychological novel I have read in many years, Swedish author Linda Bostrom Knausgard tells the inner stories of an almost totally dysfunctional family in Stockholm. An eleven-year-old girl who has stopped talking “a long time ago,” reveals that her mother and brother are now “used to it,” and that her father is dead. School for this silent child is the equivalent of “walking into pitch darkness every day – [like] having to hold on to a handrail until it was time to go home.” Intense and revelatory of the many fears and nightmares which can hide behind the silence – real or symbolic – in the mind of a pre-teen, Knausgard reminds readers that silence does not mean acceptance or passivity, that real drama may be unfolding behind the mask that hides the pain. While outside specialists and teachers seem to have had little effect on the thinking and emotional needs of Ellen, the main character here, the author also seems to offer some encouragement that families who care about each other do have the ability to see beyond immediate issues and eventually to deal with their problems on the family level. Whether or not they can heal themselves, long-term, without help, is not answered here.

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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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“Over the past few decades, Emily Carr’s reputation has soared so high that it now can be argued she is Canada’s best-known artist, historic or contemporary. Her impassioned paintings of the West Coast of Canada – her depiction of the monumental sculpture of British Columbia’s indigenous peoples and of the towering trees and dense undergrowth of the region’s rain forests, executed during the early decades of the twentieth century – have superseded [every other] claim to Canadian wilderness. And to national identity.” – Robin Laurence, “The Making of an Artist,” Introduction, 2005. In this autobiography, Carr shows her superb talent as a writer and observer, concentrating on her feelings and her intense responses to life’s challenges over the seventy-four years she has lived – including her struggles to acquire the skills she needed as a painter on an island where there were few others, her trips to aboriginal villages and her desire to preserve their unique qualities, and her friendships with the Group of Seven which gave her new impetus to continue with her landscape paintings. Lawren Harris, in particular, became a mentor. Fascinating and enlightening story by a woman whose success almost did not happen.

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Sleep of Memory, Modiano’s first published work since he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014, draws together many of his never-revealed, often frightening,memories of his late teens and early twenties, some of them in fragments, which have haunted him from the mid-1960s. It is by far the most intimate picture he has ever given of his life, which feels so real here that it is hard to imagine that is “fictionalized.” He recalls these years as “a time of encounters, in a long-distant past,” admitting that he “was prone back then to a fear of emptiness, like a kind of vertigo.” Mysteries surround his characters, their lives, and their motives, and the sudden disappearance of a young woman is a warning sign that things may not be as they appear. Another woman involves him in a terrifying event for which the terms “amnesty,” “witnesses,” and “statute of limitations” creep into the narrative. People enter, then leave Modiano’s life, and years later, he seeks out some of these people and places still looking for resolution for some of the issues he has faced. Newcomers to Modiano will probably want to start with SUSPENDED SENTENCES, about his childhood, to start familiarizing themselves with Modiano’s work. Those who are already fans will want to start on this one without delay!

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This Prix Goncourt Winner in France, focuses on the country of Burundi between 1992 and 1995, when the civil war began there. Debut novelist Gael Faye creates a lively account of the life of a young boy and his friends between the ages of 10 and 13, concentrating on their emotions, understandings, their family lives, and their coming of age. Leaving the gruesome aspects of the country’s revolution till later, when the boy is older, he brings Burundi and its people to life. Beautifully organized and developed; sensitively depicted in terms of the human costs, both physical and psychological; vibrantly depicted in its historical setting and atmosphere; enlightening in its insights into the lives the children affected; and grand in its scope and emotional impact, Small Country is now at the top of my Favorites List for the year. It’s a gem!

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