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Category Archive for 'Exploration'

Author Helen DeWitt expresses her admiration, at one point, for “the type of person who thinks boredom a fate worse than death.” And she obviously writes for this type of reader as she performs amazing literary and scholarly acrobatics in this unique and energetic novel which never flags–and certainly never bores! Main character Sybilla is the hard-working, single mother of Ludo, a 6-year-old genius who gobbles up even the most complicated subjects, seemingly overnight, and DeWitt incorporates many esoteric subjects here–Japanese language, Greek verbs, Icelandic verse, Fourier’s analysis, Arabic, astrophysics, and tournament chess, bridge, and piquet, among other things—as she describes their intellectual daily life together. Despite Sybilla’s arcane subjects and complex ideas, DeWitt manages to write so entertainingly about them that they enhance, rather than obscure, the human story at the heart of the novel, when Ludo studies Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai and then set tests for seven men, one of whom might by his unknown father.

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In a novel widely regarded as the high point of his work to date, Australian author Tim Winton expands his view of the world and his ability to create fascinating, even symbolic, characters, placing them in circumstances in which they must take actions for which they may not be prepared. Set in the remote wilds of western Australia, where life is often raw and behavior sometimes lacks the constraints which “civilization,” by definition, requires, Winton creates two characters on their own, each one abused, and both trying to escape the events which have marked them for life. Jaxie Clackton, a seventeen-year-old whose family life has been significant primarily for his beatings, has lived through the lingering death of his mother. His father, a man who seemingly obeys no laws and feels no sense of love for anyone, takes his own frustrations out on Jaxie, beating him mercilessly, sometimes for no apparent reason. When he finds his father dead in an accident, Jaxie takes off into the outback, determined to walk almost two hundred miles to see the one person who had been kind to him in recent years. On the way he meets a former priest living alone in a hut, a man who also is rejected by his society but helps Jaxie for many days.

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In 1984 twelve-year-old Pietro Guasti and his parents arrive in Grana, a quiet mountain village in northern Italy between Turin and Milan. Both parents love climbing the mountains, and though his father, who is at heart a loner, routinely climbs to the peaks of the higher mountains which attract him. Grana, a tiny farming village, has been losing its population, but it is adjacent to Monte Rosa, a well-known climbing location, which makes it attractive as a vacation site, far different from Pietro’s home in Milan. Pietro becomes fast friends almost instantly with Bruno Guglielmina, a local youth his age who is in charge of his family’s cows. Together they explore the mountain, the abandoned farms, a former school, and other places testifying to the decline of the village economy but fascinating for the images they conjure for the boys. The action throughout is quiet and thought-provoking, leaving the reader to sort through the various subplots and what they mean to both Pietro and Bruno as they try to find personal, emotional success – a sense of achievement based on effort and care for others. As this coming-of-age novel expands its themes and its characters, some face a future which they may not have been expecting. A surprising and very satisfying novel certain to appeal to those who appreciate understated, leisurely writing with much of value to say, and certainly to book clubs.

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Unusual and perhaps even unique for an American audience, Moshe Sakal’s The Diamond Setter follows three generations of several interconnected families as they move though Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and eventually Israel, following their dreams and their hopes for their families over the course of a century. Narrated in the present by Tom, much of the novel is a metafictional account of his life and his involvement in events surrounding a magnificent blue diamond which has been in the possession of members of his extended family for several generations. The diamond, however intriguing its story, is not the main story here, however. Rather, it is the belief of those who possess it, that the diamond has a mind of its own and that it can affect their lives in unexpected ways. An unusual novel with a casual, almost relaxed attitude toward major issues, The Diamond Setter is, nevertheless, a difficult and challenging study of the places all of us regard as home, especially when others, very different from ourselves, feel just as passionately that the same places are their homes, too.

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Though it deals with nothing less than the meaning of existence, the nature of reality, and ultimately, a search for the legendary “City of Dreams,” which has haunted the lives of writers and philosophers for centuries, Found Audio is also great fun. Debut author N. J. Campbell makes his own rules here as he creates a novel which is entertaining and, at times exciting, even as it also deals with philosophical questions which have been the subjects of treatises, novels, plays, and poetry since the beginning of time. Who we are, where we are going, what we see as the nature of reality, how importantly we regard our dreams, and the universal need to give meaning to our lives are questions for most of us, and what Campbell has to say is not new. What is new is his enthusiastic, down-to-earth treatment of these ideas within a novel which is experimental and often charming, drawing the reader into participating in a search for truth through mysterious audio tapes which have been found by an unknown narrator who has traveled the world to exotic places. In a Foreword, which begins the novel, a transcriber has received a manuscript from an unidentified writer in 2006 while working in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The writer has also provided three audio tapes, and he is prepared to pay her a significant sum in cash for two days of work on the tapes in an effort to determine where they came from, how they were produced, and who might have recorded them. Fresh, often charming, and full of insights into the need for a City of Dreams and what these dreams represent for us all.

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