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Category Archive for 'Social and Political Issues'

In the third novel of the Occupation Trilogy, Patrick Modiano, then twenty-six, presents a narrative in which the speaker makes an effort to find and to know his father, who is not really co-operative. Like Modiano’s father during and after the war, this father has also been absent from his son’s life and is also a member of a gang which is taking advantage of the chaos to make money from selling illegal goods on the blackmarket. Modiano’s depiction of their lives and activities is very different from what was common among French writers at that time, as most authors explored new writing styles – surrealism, existentialism, and the absurd, among others – and did not deal with their own possible complicity in the Occupation. Here young Modiano shows his sense of reality as his narrator searches for his father at two different times, ten years apart, getting to know him in unexpected ways, but leaving open questions at the end of the novel. (Those unfamiliar with Modiano would do well to start with SUSPENDED SENTENCES as an introduction.)

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Thirty-one years have passed since author Cristina Garcia’s first trip to Germany, and she has just returned to Berlin for the first time since then. Because she is fascinated by some of the people she meets there, she creates a “Visitor” as a stand-in for herself acting as the third person narrator of this book – not telling the stories of these people, so much as introducing them and then allowing each of the thirty-five characters she features the freedom to tell their own individual stories. As she “listens” to these stories, she and the reader share the same vantage point – and the stories come to life in unique ways, some of them so unusual that most readers will become spellbound, wondering why they never thought to ask the questions about postwar life in Germany that these characters are answering without being asked. Though the individual stories are unique, brilliant in their execution, and enlightening for the reader – even readers who have read dozens of books about postwar Germany and the generation after that – Cristina Garcia performs magic by opening up even more new threads and suggesting dozens of issues which most of us have not yet even thought to explore. On the top of my Favorites List for the year so far.

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Sharing his feelings with the reader, Dickson Steele becomes the linchpin of this psychological noir mystery by Dorothy B. Hughes, and within the first two pages, the reader discovers that Dix’s thoughts and behavior are vastly different from what the rest of us would consider “normal. By the third page, he is following an attractive young woman walking along the road and planning what he will say to her when he catches up to her. Only a series of cars passing prevents him from crossing the street to meet up with her, and he decides to let her go, turning instead into a local bar. Author Hughes, with her efficient pacing and streamlined prose, does not make the reader wait long for the action to develop. On the fourth page, at the bar, Dix overhears another patron nearby mention a man named “Brub,” the name of one of Dix’s friends from the air corps whom he has not seen for two years. A quick call from Dix to Brub at his house in Santa Monica Canyon, and the old friends decide to get together that night at Brub’s house. There Dix meets Brub’s wife Sylvia and also learns that Brub, having graduated from Berkeley, has now started work at a new job – as a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. What develops is a noir murder novel in which author Hughes develops these ideas throughout the remainder of this two-hundred page novel, bringing her characters to life and the action to a peak. In the process she will also bring Los Angeles and its suburbs to life as people try to get back to the kinds of lives they had before the war.

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Written as a biography, not of Arthur Conan Doyle’s life but of the specific influences on his life which led to his successful creation of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as fictional heroes, Michael Sims presents a fully documented and carefully researched study of Arthur Conan Doyle and how he eventually achieved success as the author of the wildly popular Sherlock Holmes novels. Doyle began his career as a novelist in 1886 in Edinburgh, Scotland, when he was only twenty-seven years old. In private medical practice in Portsmouth, England, at this time, Doyle had been out of medical school for five years, and as he had always enjoyed writing, he had been spending his spare time writing stories of mystery, adventure, and the supernatural as a way to augment his income. Focusing primarily on A Study In Scarlet, his first novel, written in 1887, Sims documents how Doyle made the detective’s methods unique for the time, and, in the process, made his mysteries huge successes. Five years after this novel, Doyle was able to begin writing full-time. Great and unusual information here shows how one man became a success in this genre.

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Ahmet Altan, Turkish journalist and author of nine novels, was WINNER of the Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media from the Sparkasse Leipzig in 2009. In 2011, he was AWARDED the international Hrant Dink Award. He is currently jailed for criticizing the government of Turkey. In his first novel to be translated into English, author/journalist Ahmet Altan sets his novel in a small, unnamed town in rural Turkey to which an unnamed Turkish author has gone to retire and work on a new book. In the first two pages of this book, however, the reader learns that the author himself has committed a murder. What follows is a novel which is both clever and exasperating, as the main character inserts himself into the life of a small town with long-standing rivalries and intrigues and becomes, himself, a part of the frenzied action and reaction to slights and betrayals, both real and imagined. As the novel opens, the author is sitting outside, apparently in the final hours of his life, waiting to be apprehended for murdering a resident and contemplating the meaning of life and his responsibility for his own actions – an irony, since he also believes his predicament to be “God’s work.” God, after all, “has a savage sense of humour. And coincidence is his favorite joke.”

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