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Category Archive for 'Historical'

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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In this autobiographical novel of his early life and family in Gjirokastra, Albania, author Ismail Kadare focuses primarily on his mother, “the center of his universe” for his early years. Though she was not a warm, demonstrative person, her son stresses that she did have a caring nature and that it was “her self-restraint, her inability to cross a certain barrier,” that gave her a “doll-like mystery, but without the terror.” Her tears, he says, sometimes “flowed like those in cartoon films,” but when he asked her once about the reason for them, her answer “[made] my skin creep to recall it: ‘The house is eating me up!’ ” she claimed. Totally different from the newer, warmer house in which his mother had lived with her own family before her marriage, the Kadare residence was a grim, three-hundred-year-old building almost devoid of people, and for Kadare, it is as much of a character here as the family itself. Kadare’s early interest in writing eventually causes him to leave his home for later schooling in Tirana and Moscow, exposing him to many philosophies alien to his Russian teachers. These ideas further develop for him as he continues his work into the future and in exile in Europe. Trips back to his old house bring back last memories and the perplexity of his early life and family.

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Author Eshkol Nevo, a highly skilled and very popular Israeli author, takes a unique approach to this novel, simply answering typical interview questions without connecting them thematically – “What motivates you to write?” “What is your earliest memory?” “Do you have a recurring dream?” In the course of almost five hundred pages, his true purpose and his underlying themes emerge, especially regarding a writer’s connections with friends, family, and his own memories. The author soon discovers, however, that answering the interview questions unexpectedly raises additional questions within the author himself. Determined to be completely honest, while also creating “fiction,” Nevo obviously feels the inherent conflict between those two approaches to describing life, and as he slowly edges into some serious self-examination, his skills as a writer get a real workout. Ultimately, his scenes from a writer’s life, including, almost certainly, episodes from his own life, challenge him to maintain the true honesty he has promised himself and the reader, while also recognizing the hurt that such honesty can sometimes bring to those he loves and admires. Filled with insights into life in Israel, life within his family, and life within himself, the author has created a unique look at the writing life and what it means to at least one author, what he has given up for it, and what he hopes to regain from taking it back. Truly unique.

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Set during the last summer of World War II in Europe, The Turncoat, Siegfried Lenz’s second novel, humanizes war and its soldiers in new ways. Concentrating on a group of young German soldiers who obey orders, even at the cost of their own lives and sanity, Lenz shows their vulnerability as they begin to reject the myths and propaganda they have been fed and do the best they can simply to survive. Focusing primarily on Walter Proska, a young man in his late twenties who has been at the front for three years, the author allows the reader to know him and his fellow soldiers as people, young men who once had dreams and who now have mostly memories – many of them horrific. They go where they are marched or transported, and do what they are told to do, often with a secret eye to escape. Lenz shows these soldiers as they really are, without demeaning them, sentimentalizing their emotional conflicts, or excusing their crimes. He makes no judgments, depicting the war as it was for this group of young German soldiers and illustrating a point of view very different from what Americans may expect. Written in 1951 but never published, it was rediscovered after Lenz’s death in 2014, and published in Europe and now the US. A masterpiece!

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When an abandoned 50′ yacht is found on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, with bloodstains inside, the chief drug enforcement officer there calls his fellow officer in Managua for help investigating. As clues are revealed about the international implications, the increasingly large cast of characters (helpfully identified in a Dramatis Personae at the beginning of the novel) gets to work. Author Sergio Ramirez is the former Vice President of Nicaragua (1985 – 1990) under Daniel Ortega, and he creates a complex slice of life in that equally complex country. Set in the post-revolution mid-1990s, a politically fraught time, Ramirez shows that political parties have come and changed and gone; friends from the revolution are sometimes working toward different goals; the economy is in tatters, the poor are on their own, and violence is a common theme.

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