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Category Archive for 'Social and Political Issues'

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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Fans of Scottish author William McIlvanney will rejoice in the publication of The Dark Remains, released six years after McIlvanney’s death in 2015. The father of “Tartan noir,” McIlvanney was highly successful in achieving enthusiastic audiences for three thrillers set in seamy Glasgow, all featuring Detective Sergeant Jack Laidaw. When an uncompleted novel – a prequel to the series of three Laidlaw novels McIlvanney published, was later found in his papers, his publisher offered another Scottish author, Ian Rankin, the chance to complete it. He accepted the job, and this is the result. The novel opens in 1972, with the death of a major player in some of the gang warfare in Glasgow. As Laidlaw becomes involved as a young detective, the author(s) show the dark reality of Glasgow during this period and the iconoclastic Laidlaw trying to solve the case without involving most of the police department directly. A large cast will keep readers on their toes, but fans of Scottish author William McIlvanney will rejoice in the publication of this prequel, released six years after McIlvanney’s death in 2015. The novel is fun to read, and the chance to live through a new Laidlaw experience is something I think most fans of the series will thoroughly enjoy.

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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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