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Category Archive for 'Social and Political Issues'

From the sensual and fully imagined opening paragraphs of this extraordinary work to the intensely personal characterizations of the people who share their stories here, Irish author Joseph O’Connor creates worlds so vibrant that many readers will feel as if they, too, have become part of this novel, its period, and its subjects. O’Connor does not hold back here, creating three artists of the literary and theatrical worlds of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whose very lives reflect the Gothic intensity of the age with all its private hopes and failures. Henry Irving, world famous actor; Bram Stoker, theatre manager and frustrated writer; and Ellen Terry, highest paid and most beloved actress in England, all speak to the reader so intimately that their often difficult lives, with all the aches and longings one usually holds inside, begin to emerge in what feel like “private” confidences between the characters and the reader. Sharing the characters’ lives from their early adulthood until, in two cases, their deaths when they are in their sixties, the author allows the reader to share even their self-judgments and their judgments of each other when their public lives are at an end, which gives a broader perspective to their stories. Superb.

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Believe all the good things you see, hear, and read about this dramatic, totally involving, and thematically insightful novel about three young people and their families living in and around Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. A huge train fire and its resulting spread to a neighborhood of huts, with over a hundred deaths, described in the opening quotation, is the event around which the novel evolves, with three main characters. Jivan, a young woman living in a slum area near the railway station “ought to have seen the men who stole up to the open windows and threw flaming torches into the halted train.” She is accused of being involved in the terrorism. The second main character, Lovely, is a “hijra,” a transgender person who is taking acting lessons and drawing applause for her performances in class. The third character, PT Sir, a teacher of physical-training at a girls’ school, also knows Jivan because she was once a scholarship student whom he helped. With main characters who are female, male, and transgender, author Megha Majumdar is able to provide broad commentary on the city, its values, the difficulties of finding good work, the lives and decisions made by Jivan’s acquaintances, and Jivan’s own “crime.” Majumdar writes so efficiently, descriptively, and intelligently, that I cannot imagine a reader not becoming caught up in every aspect of this astonishing novel.

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Described by Culture Trip as “the most prominent female writer in twentieth century Hungary,” Magda Szabó (1917 – 2007) was almost unknown in the English speaking world until 2016. Since that time, three more novels have appeared in translation, to outstanding reviews and literary success. Szabo’s novels are dramatic, psychologically intense, and historically focused, emphasizing everyday life and its trials and complexities, often in particular historical moments. A resident of Budapest when the Nazis occupied the country in 1943, author Szabo writes from experience about that fraught time in ABIGAIL. Main character Georgina Vitay, an independent girl of fourteen, is secretly removed from her home and everyone she knows in Budapest and driven overnight by her father to a severe, almost cult-like boarding school in Arkod, eastern Hungary (now Serbia). From the day she arrives, the school controls every aspect of her life, keeping her safe from any major conflicts or warfare to come. Her father, a general in the Hungarian army, also works as a secret agent against the Nazi occupation, and he knows that if the enemy learns where Georgina (Gina) is living, that she could be captured and used as a pawn to force him into betraying his own goals of a free Hungary. As Gina tries to grow up in this difficult atmosphere, the Germans are invading Budapest. Exciting novel also appropriate for Young Adults.

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Dealing simultaneously with past and present, Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez appears at first to be a fairly straightforward and unpretentious murder mystery, but it is far more complex than it seems. It shifts back and forth over the course of twenty-seven years as one person who was present at the time of a murder returns to the town many years later to re-examine his memories and those of others in an effort to identify the guilty party. The murder takes place after a three-day wedding celebration, as Santiago Nasar prepares to go to the port, naively going out the back door while the two men who plan to kill him wait for him at the front. All this because the groom, Bayardo San Roman, has returned the “soiled” bride to her family on their wedding night, and Santiago is thought to be involved.

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Saul Indian Horse, who tells this story of his life as an Ojibwe living in a non-native society, is in his thirties as the novel opens, and he is at an alcohol rehabilitation facility to which he has been sent by social workers at the hospital where he has been a patient for six weeks. Now alcohol-free for thirty days, he admits that now it is time for his hardest work to begin. “If we want to live at peace with ourselves, we need to tell our stories.” Saul Indian Horse is just four years old in 1957, when his nine-year-old brother Benjamin disappears. His sister vanished five years before. These kidnappings are all part of a brutal program to separate aboriginal children from their families and their culture, send them to a school where they will live apart from everything and everyone they ever knew, and teach them English and the Canadian school curriculum. Ultimately, the goal is to turn them all into “Canadians,” without connections to their aboriginal past. “I saw kids die of tuberculosis, influenza, pneumonia, and broken hearts. I saw runaways carried back, frozen solid as boards. I saw wrists slashed and, one time, a young boy impaled on the tines of a pitchfork that he’d shoved through himself.” These children universally yearn for the freedom to be outdoors in nature, sharing the spirits of the earth and sky which have been so much a part of them until now. Fortunately, Saul Indian Horse is able to find some salvation in all this. St. Jerome’s has a hockey team, and he, at age eight, is desperate to be part of it, though he has never played. For Saul, hockey becomes the equivalent of a natural religion.

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