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Category Archive for 'Social and Political Issues'

From the opening story of the same name, Up in the Main House entertains and enlightens the reader with stories of life in modern day Bangladesh which recall the tales of servants and their privileged employers from colonial England years ago. Here, however, author Nadeem Zaman focuses on the lives of domestic employees in the capital city of Dhaka, most of them working for families of wealth that they have worked for during all or most of their lives. As in the typical British “upstairs” and “downstairs” stories, the servants often have clearer visions of what really matters and closer relationships with each other than what the reader usually sees from the often absent “upstairs” owners of these houses and their friends. As the servants share their daily lives and do their daily work, they reveal their genuine emotions and insights into real life. Vividly described and more casual than the formal stories of upperclass British servants, the lives of these Bangladeshi workers and their values become far more intimate and genuinely real than what most readers will expect, their lives complicated primarily by their sense of position regarding their employers.

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Bridging the gap between a novel and a novella, Space Invaders by Nona Fernandez is, in fact, as short as a novella, but it feels more like a much larger novel in the grandeur of its themes, its well-developed controlling ideas, the world-changing historical events which give it drama, and the intense, literary style which brings it all to life and makes it work. This powerful story takes place in Santiago de Chile during the years of the Pinochet regime from 1980, when the children who are the main characters here are ten years old, and extends to 1994 and later, when they are in their twenties and middle age. Eight school children from Santiago who are close friends tell this story, which never succumbs to “cuteness” or patronizing simplicity here, as these bright, curious, and observant children react to conflicts around them, the military presence, and the sometimes bloody events which erupt and affect their lives as they grow up. Dreams, memories, and imagination form their visions of the past here and become even more clearly defined as this story develops. Time flips back and forth and around throughout the short sections, and the narrative develops dramatically and quickly. An important, unusual, and sensitive story of a tumultuous time in Chile.

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I Will Never See the World Again by Ahmet Altan, written from a cell in Turkey where the author has been imprisoned for the past three years, is a memoir so stunning in its description of his prison life and so remarkable for its positive revelations regarding Altan’s emotional state that I cannot imagine anyone not rejoicing in the publication of this book. While that reaction may seem absurd on its surface and oddly romantic in its vision of reality, the author has had three years to come to terms with his arrest and figure out ways to survive – and even benefit from it, hard as that may be to believe. Sharing observations from literature and philosophy in which he sees parallels to his prison life, he connects with the reader in a broader, more universal, and peaceful way than most readers will expect. He thinks of himself as Odysseus fighting Poseidon, appreciating that “there was the storm and there was me. We were going to fight.” Ultimately, he has dream adventures from all over the world, and he is happy, possessing “a godly arrogance. I am not in prison. I am a writer…[and] like all writers, I have magic.” An extraordinary memoir by an extraordinary man.

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Author Rosa Liksom grew up in a Lapland village of eight houses, and she sets much of the action of this novel in Lapland as she creates, through flashbacks, the life story of an unnamed woman, now elderly, who is looking back on her life and her experiences in Finland during that tumultuous time during and after World War II. The old woman as a young girl loved scouting and summer camp, which taught her how to be hard-working to the point of self-sacrifice and helped prepare her for her future role as a mother of soldiers. The complex political conditions in Finland, as they affect the action which follows, are briefly established in the early pages here, then later developed in greater detail. Between 1939 and 1945, Finland faces three wars, which influence the novel’s narrative. Her relationship with “the Colonel,” thirty years older than she, becomes the impetus for the rest of the novel.

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In this unique, ground-breaking novel, John Okada creates such a vibrant picture of the first- and second-generation Japanese-Americans during and immediately after World War II, that it is impossible to imagine readers of this book not being universally moved by what they read here. The Foreword alone, written by Ruth Ozecki as a letter to the author in April, 2014, when this edition was published, attests to the fact that Okada, who died in his forties in 1971, never knew how important No-No Boy would become – the only such book ever written by a Japanese-American about the plight of Japanese immigrants who came under immediate and universal suspicion the instant Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Over 110,000 people who had come to the US from Japan, some of them many years ago, were rounded up and sent to prison camps in the desert for the duration of World War II, forced to give up their homes, their jobs, their businesses, and their dreams. Young Japanese-American men, however, were offered a chance to prove how American they had become. A required questionnaire contained two questions regarding their loyalty: Were they willing to serve in combat duty in the US armed forces, and would they swear “unqualified allegiance” to the country and defend it from any attack by foreign or domestic forces. Those who answered “no” to these two questions were immediately sent to prison for two years, by which time the war was over. This book is an up close study of the effects of the imprisonment on one young no-no boy after he was released to a population which regarded him as a coward. A classic which will make every reader feel the pain of this young man and some of his friends as they try to reenter society.

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