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Category Archive for 'Social and Political Issues'

Set in the Greenwich Village enclave of the Macdougal-Sullivan Historic District, Salman Rushdie’s latest novel is pure Rushdie, while also being pure New York. His young narrator, Rene Unterlinden, the son of Belgian academics, has lived in this district all his short life while working to become a filmmaker. The spacious house beside him, owned for over twenty years by a mystery man who has never been seen on the property, has been in the care of professionals – despite its highly desirable address. On the day of President Obama’s inauguration, an “uncrowned seventy-something king from a foreign country and his three sons take over their castle.” Rene confesses that when looking at this man, he “thought of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster,” but before long, Rene begins thinking that this man might, at last, be the unique film subject he has been searching for. Within a few pages. the reader learns that the new residents are from Mumbai and that they have survived a terrorist attack which took place there in November, 2008. About a month after that, the family escaped to their “safe” address in New York City, having planned for this for many years. Rushdie is obviously having the time of his life as he creates and develops these characters, and he certainly enjoys the opportunity to set his story in New York in the heady days immediately after the Obama election. With his immense intelligence, his wild, non-stop imagination, and his ability to see current events as the basis of satiric commentary, he includes music, films, novels, folk tales, and classical references to expand his scope.

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This novel, an epic story of the Faroe Islands, closely resembles a tell-all “confidential” of family secrets over several generations while also providing a broad picture of island history. Written in Faroese by Joanes Nielsen, a native of the Faroe Islands, the novel features a main character who is also a Faroese author, working on a novel about the cultural history of the islands. This fictional character decides to “work some of his own family history into the book,” especially the life of his great-great-grandfather, Nils Tvibur, a violent man, whom he suspects he resembles more than he’d like. Tracing several families through the eighteenth century to the present, Joanes Nielsen creates characters who relish their independence and still resent the foreign countries which have tried to tame them and bring them under political control. The British, Norwegians, and Danish have all occupied and left their marks on the Faroe Islands, and the Faroese characters who live in this book during these periods convey their own individual resentments and, sometimes, act upon them with violence. Filled with surprises, the novel provides many chances to “see” the Faroe Islands in detail and come to know a unique culture.

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Originally published in Turkey in 1943, Sabahattin Ali’s novel Madonna in a Fur Coat remains an enduring legacy, reflecting many of his beliefs regarding the role of women within an unusual love story. A new 2013 edition of this book, seventy years after its original printing, has been “Turkey’s best-selling novel for the past three years,” according to the New York Journal of Books, this despite (or perhaps because of) current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s push to reestablish traditional gender roles within the country. In 1941, the unnamed narrator of the novel, quoted at the beginning of the review, is asked by Raif Efendi, a man he has come to know from his employment, to go to his house to retrieve a notebook in which he wrote intimately about his romantic life for ten years, now long past. The last passage in the journal, dated June 1933, conveys Efendi’s highly emotional state of mind: “I cannot go on with all this locked up inside me. There are so many things – that I need to say…but to whom? Can there be another soul wandering this great globe who is as lonely as I? Who would hear me out? Where would I begin?” Efendi’s eventual choice of this narrator to secure the notebook for him shows his absolute – and belated – trust in the narrator as a confidante since he feels that “all this locked up inside me” cannot be shared with his wife and daughter. Forthright and realistic regarding social issues, despite the overarching romantic story, the 1940s style feels a bit old-fashioned, but the themes could not be more current.

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Author of eleven novels for adults, several collections of short stories, many novels for children, and numerous screenplays, including the BAFTA Award-winning screenplay for the film of The Commitments, Irish author Roddy Doyle writes what is arguably his most serious novel, the ironically titled Smile. His characteristic light touch and his humor, even during times of financial difficulties for his working-class Dublin characters, are almost totally missing from this novel, a first-person story of Victor Forde, a man who once wrote radio and newspaper stories about entertainment but gradually found himself unable to write anymore. Like his other novels, this one maintains a conversational tone, but here Victor is talking to himself most of the time, as he tries to figure out how he came to be in the circumstances in which he now finds himself – separated from his wife, living in a flat new to him, not far from where he grew up, essentially unemployed and lacking the ability to see his writing projects through to completion. Slowly, Victor’s story begins to develop, and some answers to questions about his life begin to appear. It is at this point in which Doyle reveals some of his genius at characterization through effective dialogue. The surprise at the end comes abruptly – and even awkwardly – with no obvious preparation for the reader – and while others may be able to accept it wholeheartedly, there is an aura of trickery – for me at least – as the author resolves all the aspects of the novel very suddenly.

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Set in an upscale apartment building on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Three Floors Up might well have been called “Three Stories Up,” as each of the three floors in this building features a resident who has a story to tell in novella form. Dramatic and intensely personal, these stories by author Eshkol Nevo have few overlaps among them, but as the author focuses on how each person manages his/her life within an Israeli society which is still growing and evolving, the reader becomes involved in the action, especially the psychological action, in ways quite different from most other fiction. The first story, taking place on the first floor, focuses on Arnon, an aggressive, self-serving head of the household, a designer of successful restaurants, husband of Ayelet, and father of two young daughters, Ofri and Yaeli. His short temper and need to be in charge eventually leads to a family disaster. The second story, taking place on the second floor, involves Hani, who is writing to an old friend, Netta, now living in the US. Hani fears she is about to have another breakdown, like the one she had eighteen years ago, and she is begging for help. The last and best developed story, tells the story of Devora Edelman, a widow and retired judge who writes messages to her deceased husband telling him the local news, including an experience she has had with Hani from the second floor, and some new information about the residents on the first floor. When she meets a new friend and goes out into the desert with him, she begins to open up about her son, with whom she has had no contact for three years. Eventually, she begins to take charge of her life and her participation in political demonstrations. A dramatic and enlightening depiction of life in present day Israel.

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