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Category Archive for 'Experimental'

WHEREABOUTS does not identify any particular country as its setting, though it is presumably set in Italy. Author Jhumpa Lahiri is far more interested in the emotional reactions of the main character, a forty-six-year-old professor of writing, as she responds to the events affecting her. She is an independent woman, never married, though she has had serious relationships, and she cares about all aspects of her life. Choosing to tell her story by recreating brief episodes that take place in ordinary locations familiar to us all, the narrator frees herself from the necessity of co-ordinating the events of a plot in order by date. Dividing the novel into forty-six short episodes, some only a paragraph long, the narrator talks about her life – On the Street, In the Bookstore, In the Pool, In the Sun, At the Cash Register, At the Coffee Bar, etc. Strikingly, she reveals three episodes from “In My Head.” These talk about solitude as her “trade,” about the unraveling of time and the fact that sometimes she just cannot get up and out of the house, and eventually about her childhood at school when she hated recess though her friends were euphoric. Eventually, she learns that she has won a fellowship which will require her to leave her apartment, her community, her family, and her friends and move to another country for the duration. Readers will enjoy looking back at their experience with this woman, evaluating how ready she might be to leave and take on a new life, whether she is capable of finding some kind of personal fulfillment, and if she is capable of forming genuine, caring new relationships. She and her life will be challenging, no matter what she decides.

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Winner of Japan’s prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 2012, “Touring the Land of the Dead,” a novella by Maki Kashimada, has now reached a large American audience for the first time. Regarded in Japan as an avant-garde writer, Kashimada rejects many of the cliches we think of when we regard books by Japanese women as quiet, elegant, formal, and “polite.” Here Kashimada, translated by Haydn Trowell, sees the world in realistic terms and does not hesitate to depict what she sees as the sad, meaningless lives some people accept as their “due,” showing their inner turmoil and even rebellion as they try to improve life for themselves and, often, their immediate families. “Touring the Land of the Dead,” the longer and more emotionally involving of the two novellas in this debut, takes a close look at a one family which, in successive generations, has become less and less successful, reflecting the damage and even bullying imposed on some members of the family by others who take advantage of them. A hardworking wife struggles to stay afloat and caring of her husband. “Ninety-Nine Kisses,” however, is “thinner,” less thoughtful, and less involving than “Touring the Land of the Dead.” Supposedly modeled on Junichiro Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters, the overall atmosphere, mood, and thematic focus of “Ninety-Nine Kisses” remain very different from the Tanizaki novel.

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In this complex and compressed experimental novel, Brazilian author Beatriz Bracher conveys the secrets and innermost connections of the Kremz family as they live their lives over the course of four generations. Benjamim, addressed in the opening quotation, is the second member of his immediate family to have borne that name – the previous Benjamim, his uncle, having died under circumstances traumatic for the family. Benjamim has never learned all the details of his uncle’s death. All he knows is that it affected those he loved in major ways. Since many of these family members have now passed away, Benjamim has decided to ask family friends who were close to the events and to the people involved to tell him the story of the other Benjamim, to help him understand how his own life might have been different if the lives of those closest to him had been different. Helping him learn about the past and its effects on later events are Isabel, his grandmother, who is still active and important in much of this story; Haroldo, a lawyer, who was the best friend of his grandfather, Xavier; and Raul, a writer who was a classmate of Teodoro, Benjamim’s father. Each has a different slant on the events, the nature of the men who have dominated the action, and the questions in the younger Benjamim’s life.

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In a novel which defies genre, written in a style which feels like a cross between Wilkie Collins and Bram Stoker, Irish author Paraic O’Donnell creates a complex mystery set in London in the late nineteenth century. Fun to read, often humorous, just as often mysterious or violent, and filled with vibrant description of all kinds, The House on Vesper Sands stands out for its uniqueness among all recently released novels for the year. Providing gothic thrills at the same time that it also creates an intense picture of Victorian spiritualism, ghostly manifestations, and changing church practices, it is structured as a formal religious Requiem from 1893, at the same time that it features ironies and elements of humor which will provide some hearty laughs. And always, always, the author remembers that his primary goal with this novel is to entertain.

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Young main character Willis Wu spends the most important parts of his life at the Golden Palace, a Chinese restaurant/film studio in an unnamed time period in an unnamed English-speaking city. As Willis, whose parents were immigrants, lives his life there and in the broader enclave of Chinatown, his creator, author Charles Yu, explores Willis’s reality, quickly constructing level upon level of different “realities” and creating an experimental novel, often satiric, which includes the reader from the opening pages. Willis, an actor in a film being made in off-hours at the Golden Palace, is realistic in evaluating his chances at improving his role from that of Background Oriental Male to his ideal role, that of Kung Fu Guy, the hero. As Willis plays his part, hoping to make “progress,” the role of US immigration policy on his life and the lives of his family and friends becomes clearer. A unique novel dealing with the subject of immigration with irony, humor, and a sense of understanding for the victims and the lives they sometimes choose to live.

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