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Category Archive for 'Historical'

The death of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till by lynching in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, serves as the starting point for a broad look at racial crime, the people who participate in it, their families, and the society in which they live and perpetuate their own version of “justice.” Author Percival Everett treats Till’s murder and those which follow with the seriousness they deserve, but he also keeps a light, often absurd touch, preventing the reader from becoming so overwhelmed by issues that s/he becomes inured to the individual horrors. Characters have unexpected names (Pinch Wheyface and Pick L. Dill, for example), and ignorance and profanity play a big role here as the murderers of Emmett, all from the same family, themselves become the victims of vengeance by unknown people. Roles get reversed, black investigators take precedence over local white police, and as lynchings spread throughout the country, they ultimately become an issue involving an unnamed former President. Unique and unforgettable in its presentation, format, and messaging.

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HARLEM SHUFFLE by Colson Whitehead is a gem of novel, one certain to win both literary prizes and enthusiastic plaudits from its readers. A crime novel which remains both entertaining and filled with warmth toward many of the characters, even those who do not follow the straight and narrow, it shows life as it is and emphasizes the variety of ways that people deal with their difficulties successfully, even when threats and fear become part of the equation. Despite his marginal set of ethics and a neighborhood in which murder is common, Carney as main character remains intriguing and sympathetic in most of his actions. And though he may never be considered a “hero” on a grand scale, he is a hero to many people for his accomplishments and his pragmatic vision of the community’s future possibilities. His innate goodness, even in the most trying times, somehow shines through, often with a touch of humor.

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Like The Diary of Anne Frank, Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz’s The Passenger is also written by someone who began to write about the horrors of the Holocaust while they were actually happening, and while the author was living through their personal tragedies. Boschwitz’s novel, however, offers a significantly different focus, however, providing additional dimensions of reality while sacrificing some of the intimacy. Boschwitz, author of The Passenger, was twenty-threee and a recent college graduate when he wrote this book over the course of one frantic month in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht. Creating the fictional story of Otto Silbermann, a married businessman/owner of a successful salvage company in Berlin, Boschwitz gives realistic details about life in the city, describing a man who has always been dedicated to his business and fair to his employees, who loves his family, and who has a long history of hard work, even serving in the German military during World War I. After Kristallnacht, however, as life for Jews throughout Germany becomes ever more difficult, Silbermann finds all escapes from Nazi control closed, and takes what he regards as the only way out. He becomes a “passenger,” a man who travels from city to city by train almost non-stop, sometimes not getting out when he arrives at his “destination” in order to avoid being being identified and possibly arrested for being a Jew. It is a hopeless existence, and his thoughts and actions as he travels ring true.

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When a young man known as “Buddha,” who has been living in Bangkok, is sent back to Hong Kong to continue his recovery from drug abuse in the late 1980s, he finds many changes underway. Once “the Hollywood of the Orient,” the familiar Diamond Hill area of Hong Kong looks vastly different now in the lead up to the British turnover of Hong Kong to China, less than ten years away. Poet and novelist Kit Fan, who was born and educated in Hong Kong until he was twenty-one, tells Buddha’s story with the kind of sensitivity which comes from knowing his setting well, its people, and its problems – and caring about all of them Focusing on the people whom Buddha comes to know on Diamond Hill after he returns there from Bangkok, he writes an intimate story involving four major characters: “Buddha” himself. a recovering heroin addict; a young woman named Boss, who runs the heroin business for Diamond Hill; “Audrey Hepburn,” who once acted in a film with Bruce Lee; and Quartz, a complex and disturbed woman who is in charge of the chickens at the nunnery where Buddha lives. As each character becomes more connected with Buddha, he must evaluate himself and his relationships. One of the best debut novels I have read in a long time, I look forward to Kit Fan’s next novel for its insights, its precise descriptions, and its unusual characters.

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Using known facts and details provided by Mary Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin, following Wollstonecraft’s death in 1797, at age thirty-eight, author Samantha Silva creates an intense and vibrant fictional biography of a woman many generations ahead of her time. The feminist ideals she exemplifies in her life, which shocked the women of her own time, include her years-long relationship with a woman friend and her desire to set up a “female utopia” with her; her establishment with others of a school for young women under the banner of being “dissenters” from the Church of England; her flagrant affairs with two well-known writer-philosophers; her stay in France and support of the French Revolution; and her much-loved child from her out-of-wedlock relationship with Gilbert Imlay. The publication of her ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), considered “one of the trailblazing works of feminism,” added to her reputation as one of the early founders of feminist philosophy. In author Samantha Silva’s hands, however, Mary’s story becomes completely human, with two narratives conveying her life stories from two different times and perspectives. Here Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist beliefs play out within the context of her life two hundred years ago, as these ideas come vibrantly to life among writers, publishers, and political leaders during that time.

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