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Category Archive for 'Exploration'

In a remote, almost unpopulated area adjacent to Argentina’s pampas, China Iron, the main character and speaker in this small epic, grew up believing that she was “born an orphan,” never having known her mother. Brought up as a virtual slave by a woman known as Las Negra, she was then married off to Martín Fierro, a gaucho-singer who won her in a card game and by whom she had two sons before reaching the age of fourteen. Now, in 1872, her husband has been conscripted by the army, along with all the other young men of the outpost, and China has decided to take off, not in search of her sometimes violent husband, but in search of a life. Leaving her babies with an elderly couple, she joins with Liz, a red-haired Scottish woman whose husband Oscar was conscripted before he could take possession of land he had planned to purchase and develop. Liz, with an oxcart, supplies, and clothing from her previous life abroad, is about to set off across the pampas in her cart to find and rescue Oscar, and she is happy to have some company. The trip becomes a mini-epic (with a twist) based on the Martín Fierro work from 1872, as China, Liz, and the cowherd Rosario head for new worlds beyond the pampas. Brilliant descriptions, lively characters, and a picture of Argentina in the 1800s that few will forget. On the Favorites List.

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Readers looking for something thoughtful but not turgid will find much to love here. Father Dan, a “retired” priest, seems very naive – and even a little silly, at the beginning of this book. He is a constantly evolving character making a pilgrimage from Indiana to Washington State, with several important stops along the way to meet with people he knows. He can never make what most of us would call a “decision.” A reaction to two issues, in particular, one involving a friend and one involving an “unfriend,” would create no confusion for most people, but somehow they have been impossible for Fr. Dan to resolve. Throughout, the reader somehow remains on Fr. Dan’s side, even when s/he wants to throttle him, and when he finally arrives to meet his long-time friends in Washington, they provide some new thoughts and insights. Even at this point, however, Father Dan takes no immediate action, but that is good, this time – at least he does not disappear into a “hole to hell,” like the one he saw in western Kansas. Ultimately, the reader is left with the idea that Father Dan might, at last, make a real decision – all by himself, independent of historical learning, his own past, and his own fears, and maybe he will find a kind of peace he has never known. On the Favorites list for the year.

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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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I Will Never See the World Again by Ahmet Altan, written from a cell in Turkey where the author has been imprisoned for the past three years, is a memoir so stunning in its description of his prison life and so remarkable for its positive revelations regarding Altan’s emotional state that I cannot imagine anyone not rejoicing in the publication of this book. While that reaction may seem absurd on its surface and oddly romantic in its vision of reality, the author has had three years to come to terms with his arrest and figure out ways to survive – and even benefit from it, hard as that may be to believe. Sharing observations from literature and philosophy in which he sees parallels to his prison life, he connects with the reader in a broader, more universal, and peaceful way than most readers will expect. He thinks of himself as Odysseus fighting Poseidon, appreciating that “there was the storm and there was me. We were going to fight.” Ultimately, he has dream adventures from all over the world, and he is happy, possessing “a godly arrogance. I am not in prison. I am a writer…[and] like all writers, I have magic.” An extraordinary memoir by an extraordinary man.

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