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Category Archive for 'Social and Political Issues'

I have never thought of Louise Erdrich as a particularly humorous author, but the opening chapter of this novel, “Time In Time Out,” had me chuckling nonstop at the wry humor and irony for all thirty pages. Tookie, the narrator, wastes no time introducing herself, explaining in the opening sentence that “While in prison, I received a dictionary. It was sent to me with a note. This is the book I would take to a deserted island,” a book she had received from a former teacher. Tookie, released from prison in her thirties, “still parties, drinking and drugging like I [am] seventeen,” and she admits that she does not yet know who she is. Finding a job becomes difficult until she talks with “Louise,” who runs a bookstore in MInneapolis, Birch Bark Books, which becomes a setting and includes “Louise.” Since author Louise Erdrich herself also owns a bookstore called Birch Bark Books, the identifications are real. Characters come to life as history takes place, with Covid playing a strong role in the action, as does the death of George Floyd. A book which focuses on books, readers, and authors, this will appeal to a wide range of readers.

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In the fifth installment of the Wyndham and Banerjee mysteries, set in 1923, author Abir Mukherjee once again recreates the complex issues of colonialism in India after World War I, laying the groundwork for the tensions, the hostility among those of competing religious views, and the overriding fear that an all-out religious war might break out at any moment. The Hindus, Muslims, devotees of Mahatma Gandhi, and the British are all committed to keeping India free from tyranny, but each wants his own version of “freedom,” and no one agrees with anyone else. Author Abir Mukherjee is able to convey this confusion and frustration among all those of influence by using two very different characters. Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee, often known as “Surrender Not” Banerjee for his attitudes and the pun on his name – is a Hindu from Calcutta who is working with Sam Wyndham of the British Imperial Police Force, to try to bring peace and avoid anarchy as a result of all the competing social and religious interests. Then the bombings and fires begin. Full of action, a wide variety of characters, complex relationships, and a history of India and the forces that made it what it is today, this book presents all the details.

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I am not usually a fan of futuristic novels, but I loved this book! Welsh author Cynan Jones writes with such great care for his readers that this experimental novel of the future feels totally human. Other readers who do not usually like or read this genre may also be thrilled by this work for its exciting and often new ideas, and the author’s ability to share his own attitudes without being ponderous. The novel takes place sometime in the future, as the future of the world and society is threatened by environmental disasters. Water is being supplied to towns and cities by a Water Train, moving through towns at 200 MPH, and a new project will bring a large piece of Arctic iceberg to their community in Europe. Many unusual characters broaden the scope and create interest because of the real feelings they share regarding the themes without being ponderous or polemical, and most, if not all, readers will clearly understand the points Jones is making, even when his style and narrative pattern vary widely from the norm.

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In this psychological study of Pietro Vella, who is a thirty-year-old teacher in Italy at the beginning of the novel, author Domenico Starnone concentrates on themes of love, the self-knowledge it needs to grow, and the kind of honesty which evolves from the trust and respect which two people must have in each other. The novel opens with Pietro’s early love of Teresa, a wild, brilliant, and impulsive woman, whose relationship with Pietro lasts for three years, before her career beckons. Nadia, Pietro’s next love, with whom he eventually has a family, is Teresa’s opposite, and their decades long marriage and family, become a key to the novel and Pietro’s happiness – or not. The three main characters- Pietro, Nadia, and Teresa – each with his/her own section – provide alternative visions of major events as the characters show their interactions, their love, and their self-awareness – or not – as fifty years pass, lives grow and change, and the characters share their lives with the reader.

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John Banville, writing here under his own name, has returned to writing mystery stories featuring the often unlovable Dublin police pathologist, Quirke, and he clearly enjoys the freedom of his mystery writing. This novel opens in London, where an Irishman who “liked killing people” is hired to kill a mother who plans to leave her son out of her will. Grabbing her bag “to make it look like garden snatch job done by some panicky kid,” he does the job and escapes. The second setting is in Donostia, Spain, where Quirke, a recently married pathologist for the Dublin police, and his wife Evelyn, a psychiatrist, are on holiday. In Spain, Quirke twice sees an Irish woman from a distance and believes he has seen her before, dismissing, temporarily, the idea that a physician friend of his daughter Phoebe in Dublin, missing and presumed dead, might actually be the person he has seen. Creating many darkly ironic scenes and descriptions, Banville creates his characters, using them to present plot elements which many other “literary” authors would be unable to include in a mystery without being accused of “sensationalism.” APRIL IIN SPAIN is a coherent, tense, and wide-ranging mystery, written with drama and flair, with no subject considered off-limits.

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