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Category Archive for 'Experimental'

Setting his novel in Punta Gotica, the poorer side of Cienfuegos, a city on the south side of Cuba, author Marcial Gala, creates a grim novel of the non-stop action in this city, while, at the same time, breathing life into people, societies, and places new to many readers. Often the narrative feels as if Marcial Gala himself, a resident of this city, is “hanging out,” invisibly, with some of the characters here, even as he is telling their stories, and on several occasions one character even recommends that another character go see “Marcial” for some kind of help with an issue. As a result, the author creates the feeling that he is part of the action, creating his own story in Cienfuegos within the characters’ more objective stories, despite the serious difficulties that many of these characters get into on their own or create for others. Unconscionable, often life-changing difficulties, are drawn realistically, rather than intuitively or emotionally, as the affected characters react to traumas they have experienced in their daily lives. Casual murder, innocent cannibalism, the betrayal of lovers for cash, and a general mood of prevailing evil, which even infects the ghosts of some of the dead, make this a novel in which anything can – and often does – take place without warning.

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A young couple and their children, a ten-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl, take a road trip from New York City to the Southwest where the father plans to do research on the Apache culture and where the mother continues her study of the “lost children” of the immigration system. Themes of home, family, culture, and values are broad and sensitively rendered here, but for many readers author Valeria Luiselli’s ability to create real people, including children, as they have fun but also face problems, will be the primary excitement of the novel. The children are intelligent and curious, and they are traveling without any “devices,” fascinated instead by the places they see and stories they hear from their parents and on tapes. I have rarely cared about characters as much as I did for these characters, and their stories will linger a long time. A big favorite!

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Awaking in an Istanbul hospital after jumping from the Bosphorus Bridge in a failed suicide attempt, young blues singer-musician Boratin has no memory of his life – or why he chose suicide as a way out. The bridge is five hundred feet high, and fewer than a handful of people have survived the jump since the bridge was built in the early 1970s. Boratin is one of the “lucky” ones – only one rib is broken. His biggest problem is that he has total amnesia. He does not recognize his own face in the mirror, has no memory of his own name, knows no one who visits him, and has no past. Almost plotless, this short novel recreates the ultimate crisis of identity as it happens to a twenty-eight-year-old musician, who obviously had problems before his jump off the Bosphorus Bridge. As Boratin tries to figure out who he is so he can revisit his past and perhaps connect it to a new present, the author raises many questions about time, place, history, philosophy, psychology, life, death, and the desire of people to relate to each other in positive ways. The novel’s progress through short episodes, and the reactions of Boratin to them, allow the reader to identify with him, and through him to see some of life’s grandest themes through a completely new point of view. The extent to which the past controls the present, and the present controls the future take on new meaning in this remarkable novel.

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Among the most prolific novelists and playwrights in Japanese history, Yukio Mishima wrote thirty-four novels, fifty plays, twenty-five books of short stories, and many books of essays, before he committed ritual suicide after he failed in a coup attempt in Japan in 1970, when he was forty-five. This novel, written in 1961, now translated by Andrew Clare into English for the first time, is one of his early novels, quite different from his major work, the Sea of Fertility tetralogy, which traces Japanese history throughout the twentieth century. Here, in a novel which has been described as a parallel to Japanese noh drama, with its wooden masks, Mishima writes an unusual psychological novel which begins with the ending, as the three main characters see themselves as “three fish caught up in a net…a net of sin.” As they pose for a picture in the small fishing port of Iro in West Izu, on a peninsula to the west of Tokyo, the reader has already become aware of “a final wretched incident,” the appearance of “droplets of blood [on the] dazzingly reflective surface of the concrete,” the “anguish” that Yuko, the main female character, feels within, and her comment about how “marvelous it would be to erect a tomb like this – the three of us lined up together.” The novel “progresses” backward as it develops relationships and themes.

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Author Deborah Levy’s unique and hypnotic character study opens with Saul Adler, a twenty-eight-year-old British historian writing a lecture on “the psychology of male tyrants,” in which he describes the way Stalin flirted with women. It is September, 1988, and in three days Saul will travel from London to East Germany, the GDR, to “research the cultural opposition to the rise of fascism in the 1930s at Humboldt University.” He will leave behind his photographer girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau, who is just beginning to be recognized for her artistic photography and is about to have a show in London. Saul will live in a divided country which has only recently allowed albums by the Beatles and Bob Dylan to be released there, the lyrics having been studied by officials and finally cleared of accusations of “cultural corruption.” It is Jennifer’s idea to re-shoot the iconic Beatles photograph of Abbey Road by showing Saul himself crossing Abbey Road, so he can give a copy of it as a present to Luna, the Beatles-fan-sister of Walter Muller, who will be his translator in East Germany. When, during the photo shoot, he is grazed by a car, smashing its outside mirror, he barely avoids catastrophe. Subsequent sections are set in Berlin in 1988 and in London again in 2016, as Saul is forced to examine his previously unexamined life, from which he learns much about reality and man’s place in the world.

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