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Category Archive for 'Literary'

The Glass Kingdom, a large high-rise community in Bangkok, has seen better days. A once-fashionable community built in the 90s, consisting of four towers connected by glass walkways, gardens, and a swimming pool, today it is “a corner of upperclass affluence hidden within a forgotten ruin.” Into this scene comes Sarah Mullins, a thirty-something American who left New York just a week ago on business involving the theft of $200,000, and she intends to make herself invisible in Bangkok. Once established there, Sarah tries to remain aloof and avoid questions, but she quickly becomes friendly with Mali, a woman whom she meets at the pool, and two other women, each of whom also has some secrets. Author Lawrence Osborne uses these women’s lives at the Kingdom as a microcosm of life in Bangkok, freely shifting points of view back and forth among the women and establishing in more detail the atmosphere of the Kingdom and of Bangkok, in general. Then a murder takes place, and Sarah is at the heart of it.

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Everything I have learned about Mumbai, over the years, I have learned from books, but this is the first time that I have ever felt that I have been given real insights into the nature of this dense and vibrant city and its multitudes of people of all cultures. Author Jayant Kaikini, who obviously loves Mumbai, presents dozens of characters who live their lives on these pages, sharing their inner thoughts with the reader, living through often stressful moments, and supporting their friends in times of difficulty. His characters are so fully drawn and so “human” that many readers will simply sit back, settle into their reading, and let the stories tell themselves – as if socializing with a group of friends – however different the characters’ lives and conditions may be from our own. Presenting a broad picture of daily life in Mumbai for those who must make their own way – often from childhood – author Kaikini shows the inherent thoughtfulness, kindness, and care which these neediest of young people have for each other. No trace of self-pity arises here as the characters must often change their plans, find new directions for their efforts, and experience satisfaction within the narrow limits of their environments and lives. Written between 1986 and 2006, these stories reflect inspiration and hope for the future, and readers of this unforgettable collection cannot help but be inspired and hopeful along with them.

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Readers looking for something thoughtful but not turgid will find much to love here. Father Dan, a “retired” priest, seems very naive – and even a little silly, at the beginning of this book. He is a constantly evolving character making a pilgrimage from Indiana to Washington State, with several important stops along the way to meet with people he knows. He can never make what most of us would call a “decision.” A reaction to two issues, in particular, one involving a friend and one involving an “unfriend,” would create no confusion for most people, but somehow they have been impossible for Fr. Dan to resolve. Throughout, the reader somehow remains on Fr. Dan’s side, even when s/he wants to throttle him, and when he finally arrives to meet his long-time friends in Washington, they provide some new thoughts and insights. Even at this point, however, Father Dan takes no immediate action, but that is good, this time – at least he does not disappear into a “hole to hell,” like the one he saw in western Kansas. Ultimately, the reader is left with the idea that Father Dan might, at last, make a real decision – all by himself, independent of historical learning, his own past, and his own fears, and maybe he will find a kind of peace he has never known. On the Favorites list for the year.

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Though D. A. Mishani employs all his talents and experience as a detective story writer in pacing this novel and its complications, his primary focus for the first hundred pages is on the psychology of three women seeking companionship from a man who is looking for a change of scenery without serious commitment. Each has her own secrets. Gradually this psychological study turns into a dramatic action novel which speeds along as it absorbs elements from all the accumulated action and combines it into a carefully constructed and un-put-downable mystery novel. The book, though different from what it appears to be, at first, is an exciting crime story with well-developed characters, several climactic scenes related to individual women, and a more-than satisfying conclusion.

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On May 5, 1840, Lord William Russell, a quiet, elderly member of the aristocracy, was found in the bedroom of his unpretentious London townhouse with his throat slit so severely that his head was almost detached. Other wounds to his chest were equally horrifying. The shock of the murder reverberated throughout the city, especially among the upper classes, who well knew his prominent family and that of his deceased wife. This was a period of social change, and London was “teeming with immigrants, the unemployed, and a burgeoning working class who were more literate and organized than ever before.” The winter of 1839 had been one of “mass rallies by Chartists demanding universal suffrage,” and in some places had turned into bloody riots. Over two hundred Chartists had been convicted of high treason for their actions and were transported out of the country. Several fiction writers of the period came under fire for “writing fictions that glamorized vice and made heroes of criminals.” Popular books now were seen by some as “pandering to the lowest…full of violent excitements and vulgarity that could all too easily lead susceptible readers astray,” and a whole genre of “Newgate books,” for the masses, evolved. Claire Harman’s careful research and her eye for telling details, even as she focuses on the broad theme of murder in 1840 and the controversy over whether that is an appropriate subject of fiction, make this an absorbing study. She draws in the reader with her selection of facts and her elucidation of the goals of literature as seen by famed authors of the day, making them almost as compelling as the gruesome realities of real murder.

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