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Category Archive for 'Historical'

It is almost Christmas in 1921, and Captain Sam Wyndham of the Imperial Police Force in Calcutta is running blindly across the rooftops of Chinatown, trying to avoid capture by his own men, who have no idea who they are chasing. An opium addict, as a result of his service in World War I and its aftermath, Sam has spent the evening fighting off his withdrawal symptoms by feeding his habit in an opium den. Then, inexplicably, the police attack. In his desperate efforts to escape, he climbs up through a hatch to a storage attic, where he finds a critically wounded Chinese man with ritualistic injuries – a man in such agony that he musters the last of his strength to try to kill Wyndham with a knife, before expiring. As the police work their way up, Sam escapes across the roof, eventually hiding in a crawlspace, covered with blood and carrying the bent-bladed knife with which the Chinese man tried to kill him.. With all this fast and flamboyant action stuffed into the first ten pages, readers may wonder, as they take a breath, if author Abir Mukherjee is creating a sensational, non-stop narrative to draw the reader into an action-for-its-own-sake story about exotic India and its unusual cultures. Mukherjee, however, has far bigger plans for this novel, both thematically and historically, and as the nonstop action begins, he simultaneously creates a vivid picture of his main character, Sam Wyndham, his problematic personal life, his fears, his role as a police officer trying to maintain control during the British raj in Calcutta, and his questions about why this raid was kept secret from him.

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Fans of Yukio Mishima (1925 – 1970) will celebrate this first-ever English translation of STAR, one of the thirty-four novels written by Mishima before his death by ritual suicide at age forty-five. Written in 1961, Star tells the story of actor Rikio Mizuno, a twenty-three-year-old film star whose whole life is fraught with intense anxiety, alleviated only by his opportunities to become someone else in films. The author himself was well familiar with the joys of acting and producing theatrical works, writing approximately fifty plays, working as an actor, and even as a film writer, when he was not writing his thirty-four novels. His insights into acting and the actor’s feeling of becoming another “person” are obvious here in this novella, which is filled with insights into drama and its fine line between imagination and reality.

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In the years between 1973 and 1981, Uruguay was ruled by the rich and powerful – autocrats who used the power of the military to secure their rule and their continuing wealth – while the needs of the rest of the country were ignored.  Uruguayan author Mario Orlando Benedetti, widely regarded as one of the most influential writers in South America, was himself arrested and exiled during this time, and he knew many people who were imprisoned, if not executed.  Using his firsthand knowledge, he published this extraordinary and revelatory book in 1982, in the days immediately following the end of military rule, giving his audience and the rest of the world a vibrant, literary study of the effects of imprisonment on the hearts, minds, and psyches of people like himself, and of those at home who loved them. On the Favorites List for 2019.

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In OPTIC NERVE, Argentinian author Maria Gainza’s narrator invites the reader into her life and her love of art, celebrating the glorious feelings which come to her, often suddenly, when she sees an artwork and suddenly connects with it emotionally. These unexpected moments provide thrills in her life, forever joining her spiritually with the people and places associated with the work. As she muses on these moments in this collection of stories which epitomize her life, she allows her mind and its associations free rein, celebrating not just the original artwork but the long-term effects it often has on her life. Some of the artists featured include Gustave Courbet, Henri Toulouse Lautrec, Mark Rothko, Henri Rousseau, and Candido Lopez, each of whom is connected thematically with some aspect of the speaker’s life, while the author also features literary references. Writers as different from each other as A. S. Byatt, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Truman Capote, Guy de Maupassant, Victor Hugo, and Carson McCullers are also quoted here, and other writers, like Katherine Mansfield, Somerset Maugham, Nikolai Gogol, and J. D. Salinger are referenced. A treat for readers who enjoy literary fiction especially when paired with paintings.

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In her first novel to be translated into English, Yuko Tsushima (1947 – 2016), an author who has won every prize imaginable in her native Japan, shows the spirit which has made her work so honored in her own country. Independent and determined, Tsushima challenged the social norms and achieved great renown for her writing, often using her own experiences as starting points for her stories and novels. This novel, published originally in 1978 – 1979, focuses on a married mother seeking a divorce. The unnamed main character and her daughter, only two years old as the novel opens, face very real problems with day-to-day life, in addition to agonizing emotional problems which the woman ignorantly creates for herself and her child. Focused on her own emotional needs, she has shared so little one-on-one time with her child that she does not recognize that the child, who, at age two, is not much older than a baby, has very real and important needs, too. Seeming to believe that if she herself gets what she wants and finds some happiness that her attitude will spill over and make her two-year-old happy, she is, throughout the novel, closed off from a child whose whole life is spent with her grandmother (the speaker’s mother), in daycare, or with her own mother on Sundays her mother’s one day of “time off” from her full-time job.

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