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Category Archive for 'Social and Political Issues'

Using known facts and details provided by Mary Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin, following Wollstonecraft’s death in 1797, at age thirty-eight, author Samantha Silva creates an intense and vibrant fictional biography of a woman many generations ahead of her time. The feminist ideals she exemplifies in her life, which shocked the women of her own time, include her years-long relationship with a woman friend and her desire to set up a “female utopia” with her; her establishment with others of a school for young women under the banner of being “dissenters” from the Church of England; her flagrant affairs with two well-known writer-philosophers; her stay in France and support of the French Revolution; and her much-loved child from her out-of-wedlock relationship with Gilbert Imlay. The publication of her ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), considered “one of the trailblazing works of feminism,” added to her reputation as one of the early founders of feminist philosophy. In author Samantha Silva’s hands, however, Mary’s story becomes completely human, with two narratives conveying her life stories from two different times and perspectives. Here Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist beliefs play out within the context of her life two hundred years ago, as these ideas come vibrantly to life among writers, publishers, and political leaders during that time.

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In this absorbing and constantly surprising metafictional novel,Yugoslavian author Lana Bastašić tells the history of a complex friendship between two women from their early years as children in Bosnia through their schooling, part of their college years, and ultimately when they are in their early thirties. Told so realistically that the narrator comes totally alive, and even inspires the reader to identify with her, the story of Sara and her friend Lejla follows a circular pattern, rotating through their lives, adding to the information the reader accepts as real, and establishing themes. Literary references, especially to Alice in Wonderland, add depth and reflect the author’s attitudes, as the constantly changing friendship between the two young women parallels the changing times, values, and sometimes other-worldly feelings of the two women. The Bosnian War echoes throughout much of the novel, but it is peripheral to the wars that are happening within some of the characters, whose lives are so open that the reader cannot help but identify with them.

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In this unusual ode to Barcelona, author Rupert Thomson, who lived in Barcelona from 2004 – 2010, creates three intersecting stories with overlapping characters, each of whom gives a unique perspective on life in this city on the northeast coast of Spain. In the first section, “The Giant of Sarrià,” Amy, a British woman in her forties, owns a shop which she describes as resembling “Aladdin’s cave of unexpected treasures.” With her daughter at school in England, the divorced Amy has the freedom to explore the city and get to know its people, respond to the subjects that interest her, and create her own life and, especially, love. The second novella, “The King of Castelldefels,” features a jazz pianist named Nacho, Amy’s friend Montse’s ex-husband. Alcohol plays a major role in his life, and it is not unusual for him to pass out and remember nothing about his last hours, who he was with, and how he got to where he eventually finds himself. When Ronaldinho, a major Brazilian football star, signs with Barcelona, the city is excited, and he becomes friends with Nacho. The third novella, “The Carpenter of Montjuic,” a bizarre story of the supernatural, is told on several levels by a narrator named Jordi Ferrer, a man who translates books. As he develops these three stories, Rupert Thomson fascinates with his originality and his unique insights, a man whose writing is stimulating at the same time that it is thematically honest and exciting – and even occasionally confounding.

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In this newly reprinted Italian classic by Natalia Ginzburg, originally published in Italy in 1961, Elsa, an unmarried young woman of twenty-seven, becomes the primary narrator/commentator on her own life, the lives of her family, and the social scene which they all share in a small, unnamed town in Italy during and after World War II. As the only first person speaker in the novel, Elsa guides the action in three chapters, giving personal insights and a sense of honest reality to the day-to-day lives of which she is part. Four other chapters, concentrating on the points of view of other characters, emerge from her parents’ generation – their prewar lives illustrating where they have started and their postwar lives revealing the effects that fascism, socialism, communism, and the partisanship of wartime have made on their domestic lives, family, and friendships. Unusual to the point of being unique, or almost unique, Voices in the Evening deals with the growth of fascism in Italy, World War II, and the postwar conditions – big, complex subjects – but these issues become almost peripheral to the everyday gossip and personal stories on which the main characters and the community depend for their daily lives. The issue of moving from their local towns and cities for parts of the war and its aftermath is treated almost casually, with more attention paid to love stories and their complications, gossip, and personal tales than to the big subject of Italy during the war. By changing the focus so dramatically, the author is able to gain some dark humor while developing a creeping horror of the way in which these people allow their personal issues to camouflage the dramatic changes taking place in their lives and throughout the country.

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Masquerading as a family saga, The Promise is also a depiction of the various crises in the history of South Africa, especially in the past thirty years. The Swart family – Ma, Pa, Astrid, Anton, and Amor – are white descendants of the Dutch and Afrikaner Voortrekkers who settled in rural areas of South Africa in the mid-1800’s as an escape from the British control of the cities of colonial South Africa. Many created large farms in the relatively unpopulated rural areas and ran their farms as their own fiefdoms. The past hundred years have led to significant changes, however. The Promise straddles genres as it focuses on the emotional problems of the Swart siblings’ lives, some of them exacerbated by the behavior of their parents. It also focuses on the social and cultural milieu of South Africa from the mid-1980’s to the present, as it moves from a strongly white-dominated government to a more democratic one which recognizes the contributions of all cultures and their importance to peaceful society. The author recognizes that change is happening and that peace is possible, but he does not lecture the reader, preferring to present facts regarding the changes, letting the reader see some of the results, both good and bad, as they affect one white family struggling with personal problems of their own.

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