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Category Archive for 'Social and Political Issues'

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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Set in that fraught period between the German occupation of France during World War II and the liberation which came much later, Patrick Modiano’s second novel, written in 1969, when he was just twenty-three years old, incorporates as his main character a young man who is at a total loss about what to do with his life. Describing himself as someone who “started out a pure and innocent soul,” he admits that his “innocence got lost along the way.” The people who have gravitated toward him now are former policemen and criminals, including an official now known as the Khedive, who have opened a “detective agency” from which they are collecting protection money. The Khedive, who still has important contacts throughout the police department, has high hopes himself of eventually becoming “Monsieur le Prefet de Police.” The young man known only as “Swing Troubadour,” does dirty work for this group, sometimes referred to as The Night Watch, earning a huge salary in the process. Possessing a warrant card and a gun license, the young man is ordered to infiltrate a “ring” of enemies and destroy it.

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In her startling, futuristic title story, debut author Lesley Nneka Arimah wakes up her reader and signifies that this is no “ordinary” collection. The stories in this book make so many creative leaps into new worlds that in many ways the author actually defies the limits of her genre. Born in the UK, Arimah grew up in Nigeria, following her father in his work abroad and acquiring such varied experiences of life that she has escaped the cultural limitations which so often root a writer’s work firmly in one place. The multicultural Arimah finds, appreciates, and focuses on the elements which make people from different places and times react differently to seemingly similar sets of circumstances, creating stories which are full of surprises and unexpected twists. Within these stories, however, she also recognizes the seemingly universal problems and habits which can often limit and determine a character’s personal outcomes. As she explores life from many points of view, her own vision, often dark, creates in the reader the urge to re-read, re-explore, and re-imagine both her work and the settings in which her characters live, to come to know them better and, perhaps, understand what makes many of her conclusions so surprising. An original and brilliant first collection.

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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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