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Category Archive for 'Social and Political Issues'

Though there are, at present, over a thousand reviews on this website, this is the first, of all the international fiction I have read and reviewed over the past ten years, that is written by a Venezuelan author about everyday life in a country where turmoil and bloodshed often dominate daily life. Author Karina Sainz Borgo, born and raised in Caracas, worked as a journalist there before emigrating to Spain a few years ago. Her experience in Caracas holds her in good stead here as she gets the novel off to a quick, almost journalistic, start, setting the scene and developing her main character, Adelaida Falcon, an editor in Caracas. Her mother’s long illness and recent death have left her with no money, while she and her neighbors are also forced to endure shortages of everything needed for a healthy life, including food and medicine. “We could only watch as everything we needed vanished: people, places, friends, recollections, food, serenity, peace, sanity. ‘Lose’ became a leveling verb, and the Sons of the Revolution wielded it against us,” Adelaida comments. The student brother of her next door neighbor, has been arrested, along with others, by these same Sons of Revolution, and he has spent more than a month inside a prison, “beaten, bludgeoned in a corner, or raped with the barrel of a gun.” When things become much worse, Adelaida decides it is time for her to flee, if she can figure out a way to do it.

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Author Deborah Levy’s unique and hypnotic character study opens with Saul Adler, a twenty-eight-year-old British historian writing a lecture on “the psychology of male tyrants,” in which he describes the way Stalin flirted with women. It is September, 1988, and in three days Saul will travel from London to East Germany, the GDR, to “research the cultural opposition to the rise of fascism in the 1930s at Humboldt University.” He will leave behind his photographer girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau, who is just beginning to be recognized for her artistic photography and is about to have a show in London. Saul will live in a divided country which has only recently allowed albums by the Beatles and Bob Dylan to be released there, the lyrics having been studied by officials and finally cleared of accusations of “cultural corruption.” It is Jennifer’s idea to re-shoot the iconic Beatles photograph of Abbey Road by showing Saul himself crossing Abbey Road, so he can give a copy of it as a present to Luna, the Beatles-fan-sister of Walter Muller, who will be his translator in East Germany. When, during the photo shoot, he is grazed by a car, smashing its outside mirror, he barely avoids catastrophe. Subsequent sections are set in Berlin in 1988 and in London again in 2016, as Saul is forced to examine his previously unexamined life, from which he learns much about reality and man’s place in the world.

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Before one reads even the first sentence of THE COCKROACH, author Ian McEwan uses the introductory epigraph to clearly establish the satirical nature of this work. Inspired by Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, an existential novel in which the main character, Gregor Samsa, finds himself gradually transformed from a human being into a cockroach, McEwan gives that concept a twist. Here main character Jim Sams has experienced the reverse, starting out as a cockroach and becoming human. This change has come suddenly. After waking up in bed one morning, he sees that he now has fewer legs and, most “revolting,” he now feels a “slab of slippery meat…squat and wet in his mouth…[which] moved of its own accord to explore the vast cavern of his mouth.” His color has changed, as has his vision, and his “vulnerable” flesh now lies outside his skeleton. Just last night this new human had made a difficult trip in his previous body from the Palace of Westminster through the underground garage, the gutters, and across Parliament Square. A political demonstration had been going on, complete with horse guards and police, but somehow he had avoided them, making his way from there to the bedroom of a residence for the rest of the night. Now, however, he remembers he is on an important, solitary mission. When the phone beside the bed rings, he is barely able to move in his new body, and he misses the call, only to be greeted by a young woman at his door who says, “Prime Minister, it’s almost seven thirty.” There is a Cabinet meeting scheduled for nine o’clock.

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Three strikingly similar murders have taken place in Glasgow during 1969, and police have made no progress apprehending the killer, nicknamed The Quaker. Detective Inspector Duncan McCormack has been sent from the Flying Squad in Glasgow to the Murder Room at the Marine Police Station in Partick, assigned to review the evidence, the investigation, and the abilities of the local police. McCormack has been treated with cold disdain, if not outright hostility, however, by the entire local crew. As Goldie, one of the more outspoken local detectives, puts it, “You cannae be the brass’s mark and do good police work. Know why? Because good police work doesnae get done on its own. You need your neighbors to help you. And who’s gonna help you after this?” While McCormack is working on these murders, a major jewel robbery takes place, and the two plot lines, which alternate, will keep readers totally occupied. The enormous suspense McInvanney creates eventually leads to one of the grandest finales ever, as surprise after genuine surprise is revealed, corrected, changed and eventually resolved.

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Published originally as Livret de Famille in 1977, and written when Patrick Modiano was barely thirty, this collection of stories, all of them autobiographical, provide details about his early life and his search for answers. Nobel Prize winner Modiano had a bizarre childhood, one in which he grew up without any real supervision – and love. As a result, virtually all of his books focus on his search for who he is, what his values are, and who he might yet become as he moves forward in life. This book is particularly revelatory, including as it does, an opening chapter in which he sees his newborn daughter for the first time, and later the stories of his wedding day, the early life of his mother, his fraught relationship with his father, and his own friendships at various stages of his life. The dream-like stories here are set at various stages of his life, and they do not follow chronological order, creating a feeling for the reader that s/he is moving with the author through memories which have had continuing effects on the author’s life. These stories and others leave questions for which Patrick does not even yet have answers, but all have left their marks on him in some significant way. One of his most fascinating books.

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