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Category Archive for 'Literary'

Author Rosa Liksom grew up in a Lapland village of eight houses, and she sets much of the action of this novel in Lapland as she creates, through flashbacks, the life story of an unnamed woman, now elderly, who is looking back on her life and her experiences in Finland during that tumultuous time during and after World War II. The old woman as a young girl loved scouting and summer camp, which taught her how to be hard-working to the point of self-sacrifice and helped prepare her for her future role as a mother of soldiers. The complex political conditions in Finland, as they affect the action which follows, are briefly established in the early pages here, then later developed in greater detail. Between 1939 and 1945, Finland faces three wars, which influence the novel’s narrative. Her relationship with “the Colonel,” thirty years older than she, becomes the impetus for the rest of the novel.

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In this unique, ground-breaking novel, John Okada creates such a vibrant picture of the first- and second-generation Japanese-Americans during and immediately after World War II, that it is impossible to imagine readers of this book not being universally moved by what they read here. The Foreword alone, written by Ruth Ozecki as a letter to the author in April, 2014, when this edition was published, attests to the fact that Okada, who died in his forties in 1971, never knew how important No-No Boy would become – the only such book ever written by a Japanese-American about the plight of Japanese immigrants who came under immediate and universal suspicion the instant Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Over 110,000 people who had come to the US from Japan, some of them many years ago, were rounded up and sent to prison camps in the desert for the duration of World War II, forced to give up their homes, their jobs, their businesses, and their dreams. Young Japanese-American men, however, were offered a chance to prove how American they had become. A required questionnaire contained two questions regarding their loyalty: Were they willing to serve in combat duty in the US armed forces, and would they swear “unqualified allegiance” to the country and defend it from any attack by foreign or domestic forces. Those who answered “no” to these two questions were immediately sent to prison for two years, by which time the war was over. This book is an up close study of the effects of the imprisonment on one young no-no boy after he was released to a population which regarded him as a coward. A classic which will make every reader feel the pain of this young man and some of his friends as they try to reenter society.

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Young Once, published originally in 1981, when Modiano was thirty-six, came as a huge and thrilling surprise to me, after I had already read eighteen of Modiano’s other autobiographical novels. Here, in what publisher New York Review Books describes as “his breakthrough novel,” Modiano “strips away the difficulties of his earlier work and finds a clear, mysteriously moving voice for his haunting stories of love, nostalgia, and grief.” The fact that main character Louis Memling, is twenty immediately captured my own attention because that is the one stage of author Modiano’s life which had been a total blank for me in his novels. Incomplete but ominous references to this period in Sleep of Memory, published in France in 2017, and which I had just read, added to a sense of mystery. Here two young people, Louis and Odile, are “adopted” by two older men who help them in their lives and offer them work but also take advantage of their naivete´. Soon they discover that they are being used for a criminal enterprise by their “friends.” One of Modiano’s very best.

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Author Deborah Levy’s unique and hypnotic character study opens with Saul Adler, a twenty-eight-year-old British historian writing a lecture on “the psychology of male tyrants,” in which he describes the way Stalin flirted with women. It is September, 1988, and in three days Saul will travel from London to East Germany, the GDR, to “research the cultural opposition to the rise of fascism in the 1930s at Humboldt University.” He will leave behind his photographer girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau, who is just beginning to be recognized for her artistic photography and is about to have a show in London. Saul will live in a divided country which has only recently allowed albums by the Beatles and Bob Dylan to be released there, the lyrics having been studied by officials and finally cleared of accusations of “cultural corruption.” It is Jennifer’s idea to re-shoot the iconic Beatles photograph of Abbey Road by showing Saul himself crossing Abbey Road, so he can give a copy of it as a present to Luna, the Beatles-fan-sister of Walter Muller, who will be his translator in East Germany. When, during the photo shoot, he is grazed by a car, smashing its outside mirror, he barely avoids catastrophe. Subsequent sections are set in Berlin in 1988 and in London again in 2016, as Saul is forced to examine his previously unexamined life, from which he learns much about reality and man’s place in the world.

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A novel written by James Sallis is always a cause for celebration, if you enjoy high-powered surprises and compressed and insightful writing representing several different genres of crime writing. In all his novels, Sallis’s characters must come to terms with a troubled past and grow beyond the difficulties and sometimes horrors which have dominated their inner lives to date. His people face life’s big questions on their own as they explore ideas of innocence and guilt, strength and weakness, and the past and its effects on the present and future within their own lives. Sarah Jane continues these same themes, but here Sallis becomes almost invisible. The novel is the journal of Sarah Jane Pullman from her childhood until she is well into middle age, and though the reader quickly gets to share her life, Sarah Jane steadfastly avoids dealing with problems which often feel much bigger to the reader than they do to her. She hints at events from the past but often prevents the reader from knowing more about the mysteries they create, which soon dominate most of the action – and, in fact, most of Sarah Jane’s life. Though it is presented as the journal of Sarah Jane – and it works as a disorganized journal filled with memories from changing time periods – author Sallis’s own presentation and organization of Sarah Jane’s issues are so effective, and the conclusion so filled with ironies, that many readers will gasp when they reach the ending.

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