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Category Archive for 'Social and Political Issues'

Set in Berlin and Tokyo in the 1930s, Swiss author Christian Kracht’s latest novel offers an unusual fictional vision of the prewar years in Germany and Japan – one in which the primary focus of the author – and ultimately of his two main characters – is not that of reality as much as it is of cinema: Life and the future can be controlled in a film, even if they can not be controlled in real life. Emil Nageli, a young Swiss film director nearing his thirtieth birthday, has been in Berlin talking with the Reich Minister, who believes that a well-made horror film – “an allegory, if you like, of the coming dread” – would attract much attention, even in America. He also wants to involve the Japanese, however, since he believes that they “will sooner or later subdue the Asian continent.” Masahiko Amakasu, a Japanese film maker and admirer of Nageli, hopes to establish a relationship with the Germans. Amakasu, too, envisions film changing the world, hoping that a Japanese film will “counteract the seeming omnipotence of American cultural imperialism.” A thin plot connects some well developed characters as real characters mix with fictional characters and the action fades to a conclusion.

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Falling somewhere between a novel and a story collection, The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor continues a narrative which began with his earlier novel, Reservoir 13. Though both books revolve around the disappearance of Becky Shaw, here the author takes the reader inside the characters, all of whom are featured in their own chapters. Here they reveal their inner thoughts and memories, their fears, vulnerabilities, quirks, and even suggestions of past violence. Individualized in this way, these chapters create a sense of hidden danger and violence, raising new questions about what really happened to Becky Shaw, and forcing the reader to consider whether someone in the community has hidden knowledge of what happened to her. People who have read and liked the prize-winning Reservoir 13 will have an advantage in reading this book because of their familiarity with the community and many of its characters, but others will find this book so effectively written from a character and suspense standpoint that they may like it even better than that first novel (especially if they keep a character list). Dramatic, insightful, and effective, The Reservoir Tapes makes one wonder if another entry in a Reservoir series might be on its way.

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Maurizio de Giovanni’s Commissario Ricciardi’s mysteries, hugely popular in Italy and Europe, are now attracting large numbers of readers from the US and UK. Intriguing, sometimes wryly humorous characters living everyday lives in 1930s Naples, then ruled by Benito Mussolini, provide insights into the period and its fraught atmosphere. For two characters, Commissario Ricciardi and his partner Brigadier Rafaele Maione, “every day life” consists of police work, often dangerous, as they investigate murders and try to stay on the good side of some of their politically connected superiors. One characteristic of de Giovanni’s novels which has made them especially popular is that a group of appealing characters repeats throughout the series, and their personal stories and personalities continue to develop in succeeding narratives. The action starts with a love story in which fifteen-year-old Cettina and seventeen-year-old Vincenzo Sannino fall desperately in love, though World War II is looming and Vincenzo is not able to support Cettina adequately. His only hope is to take his chances in America, hoping that he can find a job and earn enough money to return to Naples as a success. He does not return for sixteen years. Cettina has changed since then.

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Everyone is familiar with the novels of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson. In this book, however, Conan Doyle does not appear as an author inventing a story, however clever and astute those novels may be. Here, in a beautifully presented and carefully developed study of a murder case from 1908, Conan Doyle becomes a participant in the real life events. Like Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle must carefully examine all aspects of a confusing case, the motivations behind the actions of all the people involved in it, and the end results, even when those differ from what he believes they should have been. Conan Doyle becomes human here, a man involved in trying to help an immigrant he believes has been used as a pawn by the police and public officials, one who has been the victim of false testimony by “witnesses,” and one who will eventually serve eighteen years of a life sentence before he is released from Peterhead Prison where he has spent his life at hard labor, mining granite. Conan Doyle was largely responsible for his release.

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Tommy Orange, a Native American author, describes the contemporary culture of the Urban Indian, one who does not live on a reservation or in the countryside, but in the middle of cities, in this case, Oakland, California. Orange is especially interested showing the need for a unifying Indian culture and the fact that urban areas are totally different from any previous centers of Native American culture. Using twelve characters moving back and forth across three generations, he tells the interconnected stories of these people, the tragedies, the horrors of their lives, their frequent reliance on drugs and alcohol, and their difficulties continuing a culture which may not adapt well to twenty-first century urban life. All these characters come together in the final section, “Powwow,” which emphasizes their various relationships, some of them quite innocent, others not, as a dramatic and powerful ending unfolds.

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