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“They were standing in the middle of West Princes Street looking up at the blown-out windows and scorched sandstone of what had been the flat at number 43.  The flats around had suffered too: cracked windows, torn curtains hanging out, a window box filled with daffodils sitting face down in the middle of the road…Glasgow [had always been] Belfast without the bombs…until now that is.”

cover parksSet in Glasgow in the days between April 12, 1974 and April 22, 1974, this dark, mystery thriller by Alan Parks focuses on the dysfunctional aspects of life in one of Scotland’s major cities, one well known for its gangs and knife crime.  According to research by Beltramian and Company,*  it is “the least peaceful of all the major urban areas in the UK,” and though it has improved in the present day, “recent studies have found that up to 3,500 [young men] between the ages of 11 and 23 have joined one of the 170 street gangs within the city’s borders. Furthermore, the homicide rate for Glasgow males between 10 and 29 is comparable to rates of Argentina, Costa Rica and Lithuania.”  Life in Glasgow is both difficult and dangerous, and author Alan Parks, a long-time resident, knows it well.  Author of four novels set in Glasgow in the 1970s, Parks specializes in “Tartan Noir,” and brings this difficult city to life in each one, recognizing the horrors of violence and the underlying economic conditions which make any kind of “ordinary life” there a dark challenge. He sees life as it is and depicts it in all its grim reality.

Donald Stewart, son of Andrew, disappears from the nuclear naval base in Greenock.

Donald Stewart, son of Andrew, disappears from the nuclear naval base in Greenock.

The novel opens with an explosion at a “shitey rented flat in Glasgow,” which the polis see as a bizarre attempt to strike at the British establishment. A superficial investigation indicates that there is one dead man, whom Harry McCoy and his partner Wattie decide was the bomber.  It is not until Hughie Faulds, a cop from Belfast, shows up with his superior experience, that they learn details that show the victim was inexperienced and trying to make the bomb when it went off prematurely.  Now the concern is that someone or some group may be making more bombs, a new problem for  Glasgow.  In the midst of this turmoil, an American man, Andrew Stewart, approaches McCoy. Stewart’s son Donald, a young American sailor assigned to the American naval base in Greenock, has gone missing.  Young Donald is a shy man, not the adventurous type, and his father, a former navy captain, is frantic with worry.

Prison in Aberdeen where McCoy will pick up friend Stevie Cooper. (Photo: David Cation)

Prison in Aberdeen where McCoy will pick up a friend.

Since McCoy is about to leave for Aberdeen, he allows the father, who has traveled to Glasgow from Boston,  to accompany him on the ride to tell his story.  McCoy is going to Aberdeen Prison to pick up a friend, who “got into a wee bit of bother, nothing serious.”  That man, a childhood friend named Stevie Cooper, has been badly beaten and kicked by the officers in the prison, perhaps because of his connection to a fight with Pat Dixon and his brother Jamsie, a man who is about to be sentenced to several years in prison  for his violence and his problems in Glasgow.  Connections between the prison officers, the police, and the crime lords of Glasgow are suggested, and Cooper seems connected to them. Adding to the narrative mix, Andrew Stewart represented the U.S. in boxing in the 1948 Olympics, and Stevie Cooper is a boxing promoter, and these two begin to spend time together.


Glasgow Cathedral. Photo by David Cation.

Then another explosion occurs, this one at the Glasgow Cathedral.  As the various characters begin to interact more directly, McCoy begins to believe that Cooper may be involved in some of the troubles, perhaps in a big way.  He also begins to believe that Donny Stewart, missing son of Andrew Stewart, might not be as timid as his father thinks he is. Murders take place, and some of McCoy’s non-police friends make suggestions regarding the possible guilt of various characters whom the reader has come to know.  The possibility that the IRA is involved in some of the trauma further adds to the complexity and the international scope.  Another bombing at a brewery leads to additional deaths, and some evidence suggests that one or more private groups, including a commune, may, in reality, be private military groups with their own set of governmental goals.  A hoard of old photos showing men being tortured, perhaps by the British army, adds a new element of horror and raises questions regarding the people responsible for the photos and their own possible involvement in the crimes McCoy is investigating.

Alan Parks: Photo by ENRIC FONTCUBERTA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10546128a) British writer Alan Parks poses for a photograph during an interview in Barcelona, Spain, 30 January 2020 (issued 02 February 2020), on the occasion of the 'BCNegra' Crime Fiction Literature Festival. The event runs from 30 January to 09 February 2020. Alan Parks at Barcelona's Crime Fiction Festival, Spain - 02 Feb 2020

Alan Parks: Photo by ENRIC FONTCUBERTA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

By far the most complex of the three McCoy novels I have read so far, The April Dead features approximately forty characters, some of them present for much of the book and some merely for short scenes. Keeping a character list saves a lot of page-flipping as these characters appear and reappear (or not).  The overall mood throughout is high pressured and tense, and the novel lacks any kind of comic relief or even the relief of seeing some major issues become successfully resolved before the conclusion.  The deaths keep coming, and while the perpetrators may seem obvious to some characters and the reader, those who are really responsible always seems to remain a mystery.  One factor which makes the mood particularly depressing is that there are almost no women in the book – for good or for bad – and the chance for a break from the super-macho behavior of the police, the military, and the criminal elements never occurs.  When McCoy himself ultimately manipulates some of the evidence to achieve an end he personally deems to be “right,” the depths to which one good man will stoop for the “right” result are laid out for the world to see, if anyone still has any questions.  With non-stop action, constant surprises, deaths and near-deaths, torture, torment, and evil involving virtually all the “good” institutions civilization counts on for its existence, Alan Parks raises some thought-provoking issues on many levels. More loosely connected, plot-wise, than previous McCoy novels, The April Dead will still appeal to Parks’s many Tartan noir fans, while others may hope that the author eventually expands his characterizations to include one or two who find a ray of hope even amidst the horrors.

* Note: Beltramian and Company has published its information about Glasgow here: https://www.beltramiandcompany.co.uk


Photos:  The photo of the Greenock Naval Station appears on: https://www.bbc.com

The Prison in Aberdeen, where McCoy picked up Stevie Cooper: https://www.alamy.com

Glasgow Cathedral, one of the bombing sites:  https://www.tripsavvy.com

Author Alan Parks:  https://www.shutterstock.com

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Mystery, Thriller, Noir, Psychological study, Scotland, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Alan Parks
Published by: Europa Editions
Date Published: 08/03/2021
ISBN: 978-1609456870
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

Elena knows that “Even if she uses all the tricks in the book, she won’t be able to uncover the truth [about her daughter’s death] unless she recruits another body to help her.  A different body that can act in her place.  That can investigate, ask questions, walk, look directly into people’s eyes.  A body that will obey [her] orders.  Not her own body.”

41oTYgS+QFL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Suffering from a debilitating illness which limits her movement, Elena, an Argentinian mother in her sixties, has decided she will need help in resolving the death of her daughter Rita, assumed by police and investigators to have been a suicide.  Found hanging from the belfry of her local church while a service was in progress, daughter Rita, a middle-aged teacher at the local Catholic school, was Elena’s primary caregiver, though they argued constantly.  Rita believed all sorts of superstitions and was somewhat romantic, but she was a devout church goer.  Her mother Elena, by contrast, has always been far more pragmatic, not sure whether she believes or has any faith at all, though she does observe the holidays. In an argument with the local priest over whether Rita committed an “aberrant act” by committing suicide, Elena goes so far as to tell the priest that his own “appropriating the word of God is the greatest act of pure arrogance,” and that he has no right to take away her right to decide how to behave or how [she] lives her life.  Or how [she or her daughter] dies.”  She “knows” that Rita did not kill herself – because it was raining, and Rita was so afraid of lightning that she never even went outside if it rained.

C;laudia Piñeiro, winner of the Premio Femenino Singular, and Premio Clarin for her work.

Claudia Piñeiro, winner of the Premio Femenino Singular, and Premio Clarin for her work as a novelist.

Argentinian author Claudia Piñeiro, a highly successful author in her own country who has also published four previous “mystery” novels in the U.S., is a careful observer of the social scene in Argentina, providing much information about contemporary life there in the early 2000s, when these “mystery novels” were originally published there.  With this novel, which is also described as a “mystery novel,” she writes a far more character-based novel than what I have seen in her previous novels.  Here the character of Elena, a particularly iconoclastic and independent thinker and actor, becomes the key to solving the “mystery” of daughter Rita’s death and unlocking the hidden lives of Elena and Rita, including many of the issues which led to the constant arguments between this mother and daughter.

Rita was afraid to walk on the black and white tiles in front of a women's center in the city.

Rita was afraid to walk on the black and white tiles in front of a women’s center in the city.

Marshalling all her energy to pursue what she considers the incorrect cause of death – suicide, rather than murder – Elena will stop at nothing as she begins her own investigation, ignoring the conclusions of the police and the church, and challenging both priests and police officers.  At the same time, as she does her own investigation, she brings up a long-ago peripheral case in which she and Rita were on opposite sides of the question of abortion as it related to one of their acquaintances.  Elena was in favor of the mother’s right to choose, while Rita believed in the absolute sanctity of life.  As she heads by train to central Buenos Aires to talk with the woman whose desire for an abortion twenty years ago might be a key to helping her in her current situation, Elena fears the woman will not remember who she is but hopes she will help her.  As she heads toward the house where she thinks she will find this woman from twenty years ago, she sees the black and white tiles of the pavement which have always signaled the “abortionist’s house” for her.  Her daughter Rita always refused to walk on those tiles, and she herself always accompanied her daughter on the opposite side of the street so Rita would not have to walk alone there.

Rita saved her money to buy a sea lion filled with special liquid, like that here. If it turned ink it would be a rainy day. If blue, it would be sunny.

Rita saved her money to buy a glass sea lion filled with special liquid, like that here. If it turned pink it would be a rainy day. If blue, it would be sunny.

The narrative, which takes place during a single day, gradually includes Elena’s thoughts from the past, including her relationship with her husband and his attitudes toward the church and its policies.  A porter at the Catholic school, he was also a theology teacher there, believing deeply in the church and  its teachings, while Elena paid only lip service to them.  This gave daughter Rita two different points of view to observe while she herself tried to remain within the church’s good graces – the deeply felt beliefs of her father, the more rational behavior of her mother, and her own fears of making a mistake.  It is this fear which caused her to resort to superstition, just in case that worked, too – refusing to go outside in the rain to avoid being hit by lightning, refusing to walk on black and white paving stones, and even saving her money to buy a glass sea lion filled with a chemical which turned pink if it was expected to rain, and blue if it would be sunny.  A kind person, she also considered a handicapped young man to be her boyfriend, though her mother was repulsed and rejected this idea.  All the churchly conflicts experienced by Elena, the contrasts with her husband, and the confusions of Rita, highlight Elena’s inability to share who she really is – and to learn from others.

The train to Buenos Aires, where much of the action takes place, was difficult for Elena to negotiate due to her illness.

The train to Buenos Aires, where much of the action takes place, was difficult for Elena to negotiate due to her illness.

A new series of medical tests and new information regarding Elena’s illness lead to the climax, and as the beliefs which underlie the lives of each person help, or clearly do not help, them deal with the “meaning” of the tests as they are personally affected by these new results, the death of Rita takes on new significance.  Each character, including Isabel, the woman from the past that Elena has sought out in the city, has a reaction to the news of the testing based on her own past history, and each hopes to be able to deal with it successfully in some way.  The answer for Elena arrives unexpectedly, eventually arising, not from any book or priest or prayer or source of advice.  Instead, the unexpected arrival of a being guaranteed to survive and win any argument, one who is never wrong, and one who will never talk back, gives tomorrow a whole new look.   Facing the future may not be so bad after all.


Photos. The author’s photo is by Ricardo Ceppi/Getty Images, and it appears on https://www.theguardian.com

Rita was afraid to walk on the black and white paving stones outside a women’s center, even after she was an adult.  https://www.pinterest.com

Rita enjoyed a weather indicator in the shape of a sea lion, similar to the heart-shaped one here.  On a rainy day, the liquid would turn pink.  On a sunny day, it would be blue.  https://www.etsy.com

The train to Buenos Aires, where much of the action takes place, was difficult for Elena to negotiate due to her illness. https://www.alamy.com

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Argentina, Book Club Suggestions, Literary, Psychological study, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Claudia Piñeiro
Published by: Charco Press
Date Published: 07/13/2021
ISBN: 978-1999368432
Available in: Ebook Paperback

“An old man had sat down on the bench across from me and was looking straight at me….Then suddenly the old man spoke.  “A circle with many centers…sometimes an infinite number…[he announced], and it’s a circle with no circumference….Not everyone can see it….You’ve got to imagine it with your own power….[The old man paused.] If you put in such an intense effort that you feel like you’re sweating blood – that’s when it gradually becomes clear what the circle is.”

cover murakamiThis image of the circle becomes the focus of  “Cream,” the first story in First Person, Singular, the newest work by Haruki Murakami.  A young man is reminiscing about the past and the piano recitals he once shared with a young woman, when he receives a surprise invitation to attend a concert which she will be giving at a concert hall at the top of a mountain in Kobe.  Two years have passed since he has seen her, and he decides to attend, traveling up the mountain.  The higher he goes, the fewer people he sees, and when he gets to the top, the gate to the concert hall is locked and chained.  Resting in a park there at the top, he gathers his thoughts, when suddenly, a very old man appears without warning.  The old man’s first words describe a strange circle with “many centers” and “no circumference.”  Puzzled, the young man wonders what he is talking about and asks whether it is possible ever to see such a circle.  The elderly man tells him that if he works as hard as he possibly can to understand and fully appreciate that difficult image, “it becomes the cream of your life…the best of the best, the most important essence of life.  The rest is just boring and worthless.”  Then the old man vanishes.

author photoIn what is the most engrossing collection of stories I have read in years, the author introduces and continues to focus, as he does in “Cream,” on the very meaning of reality and how one approaches it, participates in it, and finds ways to survive and enjoy it – through love, hope, trust, friendship, and any number of other imaginative ways. Though this may seem an esoteric and complex philosophical set of ideas, Murakami’s own personality shines through here – and the resulting stories are not only surprisingly lively and enjoyable, but most often fun and funny.  The subjects – including jazz, baseball, a talking monkey, and an unattractive woman who happens to share the speaker’s deep love of Schumann’s “Carnaval” –  are offbeat but so brilliantly relatable that this reader, at least, was able to put aside any qualms about the exotic content in order to see and enjoy what the author would do with these subjects.  

The imaginary album that the speaker finds in a used-record shop in NYC.

The imaginary album that the speaker finds in a used-record shop in NYC.

The stories never fail to intrigue. “Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova” takes place in 1963, eight years after Charlie “Bird” Parker vanished from sight.  Now, apparently, Parker has resurfaced, and once again picked up his alto sax to record an album in a studio outside New York.  He is even playing the bossa nova, a new kind of music for him.  The journalist who wrote this story published it when he was in college, and, he readily admits, there is really no such album as “Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova,” since Charlie Parker died on March, 12, 1955.  Continuing his praise as if Parker were still alive, and commenting on Parker’s work here with Antonio Carlos Jobim, in all its detail, the author of the article nevertheless brings Charlie Parker and his music back to life.  He receives praise for it from the editor of the journal which published it – until the editor of the journal discovers that the article has all been a fantasy.  Years later, in New York, the author of the article, while shopping in a used record store, finds a remarkable album entitled “Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova,” and it looks exactly as he described it years ago in his fantasy journal article.  Murakami has great fun playing with this journal writer, the writer’s feelings for Bird, and his love of Bird’s music in a final set of twists, as reality plays its own games, both for the writer and for the reader.


Shinagawa monkey, one befriended by the speaker at an inn in a “hot springs town.”

“Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey” takes place in a Japanese “hot springs town” where the writer, a visitor, has difficulty finding a place to sleep. When he finally succeeds in finding a low cost room, he is happy to stay there,  especially so when he discovers that a shinagawa monkey, one who reads, writes and speaks Japanese fluently, gives him a massage and scrubs his back in the spa, which has been his job at the inn for three years.  After dinner the monkey brings snacks and beer and confesses that he gets along better with humans than with his own kind, as he was brought up by a professor and his wife and does not really understand the society of monkeys.  The monkey admits that he does, sometimes, feel love for human females, however, and he expresses that love by stealing the women’s names, the “ultimate form of romantic love.”  Years later, the storyteller meets a woman who tells him that, for reasons she does not understand, she often cannot remember her own name, reminding the speaker of events from his stay at the inn and raising strange questions regarding the shinagawa monkey.

The trademark of the Yakult Swallows in Japan.

The trademark of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in Japan.

In “The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection,” the speaker, who indicates that he is Murakami himself, confesses his passion for live baseball, especially the Yakult Sparrows team.  In fact, he has chosen to live within walking distance of the Jingu Stadium where the Sparrows play so he can walk regularly to the games. As he examines why he is such a fan of this particular team, which is not a team that wins a lot, he goes over past history, his and theirs, and as he describes the ten years leading up to the first league championship of the Yakult Sparrows, he thinks back on the poems, included here, that he has written about the team and its players.  As he watches this ordinary game, he is “quietly praying that our team wins.  But at the same time quietly steeling myself for the possibility of yet another loss,” the attitude of a true baseball fan.

Quotation from Mahatma Gandhi

Quotation from Mahatma Gandhi

Filled with new ideas, exciting and unexpected twists and turns, and much to think about, First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami is the most enjoyable and eye-opening collection of stories I have read in years – a journey into new worlds of imagination and an exploration of their possibilities.

ALSO by Murakami:  Colorless Tsukura Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

PHOTOS.  The author’s photo appears on https://www.pinterest.com

The Charlie Parker record cover is from https://illustration-awards.vam.ac.uk

The shinagawa monkey may be found on https://www.literaryroadhouse.com

The trademark of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows occurs on https://www.yakult-swallows.co.jp/en/

The quotation from Mahatma Gandhi, similar to the quotations from the mysterious man in “Cream,”
is from https://quotefancy.com


REVIEW. PHOTOS. Experimental, Japan, Literary, Short Stories
Written by: Haruki Murakami
Published by: Knopf
Date Published: 04/06/2021
ISBN: 978-0593318072
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

“My own story is [not pretty], far from it.  There are triumphs in it, a scattering of joys, but the beautiful sits side by side with the grotesque; I cannot separate them.  All the brutality is there, the hurt I’ve suffered at the hands of others, but so, too, my own mistakes, missteps, and missed understandings.  I have held it close, afraid to unleash it into the world.” – Mary Wollstonecraft, August, 1797.

cover love and furyThough Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) may have been afraid to “unleash her story into the world,” that story, however incomplete it may have seemed to the general public in her own time, has now been recreated in insightful detail by author Samantha Silva.  Using known facts and details provided by Mary Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin, following Wollstonecraft’s death in 1797, at age thirty-eight, 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.  She made these and other seemingly radical choices alone at a time in which most women were completely subservient to men, the church, and the government in power.  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, a philosophy she lived throughout her life.

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft

In author Samantha Silva’s hands, Mary’s story becomes completely human, with two narratives conveying her life stories from two different times and perspectives.  The first narrative, told primarily by Mrs Blenkinsop, a midwife, opens on August 30, 1797, as Mary, then thirty-eight, is about to give birth to her second child, a daughter by her husband, the novelist and philosopher William Godwin.   Her labor has been long and slow, and Mrs. Blenkinsop has suggested that she tell the unborn child the story of her life, believing that Mary might be able to “talk [the baby] into the world.”  The birth comes, with difficulty, but there are serious complications.  Mrs. B remains loyal, helping Mary as she continues to tell her story for the next eleven days, during which Mary struggles with fever and infection.  Husband William Godwin loves her and is sweetly attentive, and his revelations of their relationship show the depth and honesty of their feelings for each other, despite the past.

William Godwin

William Godwin

Mary’s own narrative, “told for the baby,” begins with the story of her childhood in which she becomes infatuated with Jane Arden, a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl whose life is more elegant than Mary’s, and Mary is “determined to overcome any obstacle to possess her friendship.”  Jane’s father, a scientist, also becomes a friend, introducing the curious Mary to the magnifying glass, and even giving one to her. As for her own family, she resents her often drunk father’s heartless treatment of her mother, his brutal treatment of her handicapped brother, and his heartlessness toward her, which is so obvious that she believes she “ought to have said to him: “Look at you.  You’re less than nothing.  That’s why you hurt everyone else.” It is through Jane that Mary is first able to formulate arguments against the role of women as dependents of men, even as she is still anxious to attend a formal dance at which Jane openly admits she will be looking for a potential husband.

Gilbert Imlay

Gilbert Imlay

A series of family moves to new places in England, Mary’s ten year relationship with Fanny Blood, and her decision with Fanny to start a school continue to illustrate the differences between women and men in terms of opportunity.  It is through Fanny that she ponders the question, “What if our real power – the one we’re born with, which we so rarely assume – lies in altering our sensitivity to the things that aggrieve us.  Imagine if we could heal ourselves.”  Eventually she goes to Dublin as a governess/teacher, where she does well and enjoys her work, until the lady of the estate discovers a book Mary has been writing in which she privately questions the behavior of that lady and mocks her.  Losing her job, she again returns to writing and finds interest from a publisher.  That publisher later introduces her to other writers, and some of whom are also philosophers.  She challenges Edmund Burke in print, and it is this way that she first meets William Godwin, who disagrees with her opinions. Two passionate love affairs follow, one with Henry Fuseli and one with Gilbert Imlay, who becomes the father of her first child.  These experiences help Mary gain further insights into the complexities of  love and the difficulties of being true to herself.  Her eventual marriage to William Godwin, when she is several months pregnant by him, is the crowning touch of what has been her true awakening as a thoughtful feminist.

Author Samantha Silva

Author Samantha Silva

Without sacrificing the philosophical underpinnings of Mary Wollstonecraft’s life and legacy, author Samantha Silva recognizes the effects of these same beliefs on other writers and governmental officials during the Romantic Period, while also acknowledging the conflicts that arise both for individuals and societies.  Her depiction of Mary’s time in France during the French Revolution, a turning point for Mary, makes the horrors of that time truly real, in contrast to the final chapters of Mary’s story which emphasize her passionate, romantic loves within her dedicated life.  Readers who are accustomed to regarding “feminism” as a modern meme will see 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.  And when Mary Wollstonecraft’s new baby is named Mary, and becomes, eventually, Mary Shelley, creator of Frankenstein and the wife of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft’s legacy truly becomes real.


Statue of Mary Wollstonecraft, raised on Newington Green, London, on November 10, 2020. More information available at Wikipedia link.

Note:  On November, 10, 2021, a statue honoring Mary Wollstonecraft was unveiled in London. It faced immediate criticism with the nude figure regarded as insulting to Mary and her beliefs.  Some supporters are working to replace it, though the sculptor, Maggi Hambling, insists that the nude is a “sculpture of an idea.”

Photos.  The portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft appears on  https://constitutionallawreporter.com

The portrait of William Godwin, Mary’s husband, is from https://wordsworth.org.uk

Gilbert Imlay, with whom Mary had a life-changing affair, is shown here: https://www.geni.com

The author’s photo may be found on https://www.chicagotribune.com

The controversial statue of Mary Wollstonecraft by Maggi Hambling, erected on Newington Green, London, November 10, 2020.  More information on this Wikepedia link:   https://en.wikipedia.org

LOVE AND FURY: a Novel of Mary Willstonecraft
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Biography, Book Club Suggestions, Historical, Literary, Psychological Study, Social and Political Issues, England
Written by: Samantha Silva
Published by: Flatiron Books
Date Published: 05/25/2021
ISBN: 978-1250159113
Available in: Ebook Hardcover

Note:  This novel was WINNER of the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature.

“Even now, within this text, I can almost feel her fidget.  If she could, she would sneak between two sentences like a moth between two slats of a Venetian blind, and would finish my story off from the inside.  She would change into the sparkly rags she always liked…add some waves to her hair.  Me she would disfigure, leaving a single lock of hair on my square head…think up an inherent deformity so I keep dropping the pencil.” – Sara, referring to Lejla

cover, catch rabbitIn 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.


Author Lana Bastašić

Sara, who eventually leaves Bosnia to continue her college education in Dublin, settles down there, rejecting everything associated with her past, even including her native language.  She begins a new life, sharing it with Michael, a computer specialist, while she works as a writer and editor. Twelve years after she has lost contact with Lejla, she receives a surprising telephone call from her, insisting that Sara come to Bosnia immediately to pick her up so they can drive to Vienna where Lejla’s brother Armin, thought missing in the Bosnian War, twenty years ago, has been found alive.  It is the reference to Armin which makes Sara decide to help Lejla deal with this unexpected and demanding task, even after all these years. She has always had a secret love for Armin.  Almost immediately, she is packing up what she’ll need for her trip from Dublin to Bosnia and then the long drive from Bosnia to Vienna.

Lewis Carroll's White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland

As she prepares to meet Lejla, the time and place shift, and Sara remembers visiting Lejla at her home a few days after Sara’s college graduation. Lejla’s pet rabbit has just died, and she wants help in burying him and in having Sara, then a budding poet, deliver a eulogy “to poisoned rabbits.”  For Lejla, “life was a rabid fox coming at night to steal your chickens…[and] writing about life meant staring at the slaughtered [chickens] the next day, forever unable to catch the beast at its crime.” For Sara, however, “The fox had already run away,” and she knows that “I couldn’t catch it.”  They are clearly operating on different planes as Lejla ultimately jokes about the rabbit that Sara remembers Lejla loving more than people.  Now what matters  most to Lejla is that “Bunny got his epilogue,” contributed by Sara. Life, death, meaning, and their interrelationships, established early, echo again and again throughout the novel, and the aphorism – “Catch the Rabbit” – not only gives life to the stories of their friendship but also illustrates their differences in goals and values.


The catacombs of Bosnia, “A malificent name for a maleficent little house standing above a hole in the ground.”

When she begins her car trip from Bosnia with Lejla, Sara notes that “a road-trip story makes sense only when the travelers, albeit wrongly, believe in reaching the finish line, the journey’s end that will solve all problems and end all misery.  There’s no finish line in Bosnia, all roads seem to be equally languid and pointless; they lead you in circles even when it looks like you’re making progress.”  A stop to spend the night at the home of an older friend from Jajce leads Lejla to resort to trickery, pretending that Sara does not speak their language, and she talks over Sara’s head, making fun of her to the woman while Sara, exhausted, just wishes to find a bed and sleep.  Then Lejla decides she wants to see the catacombs, “a maleficent name for a maleficent little house standing above a hole in the ground,” a place where Tito was said to have hidden during World War II. As Lejla inspects the holes and the wounds on the walls, Sara believes it is all “crap to attract tourists.”  Another rotation of the narrative, and Sara is remembering the cruelty and bullying by young school children to each other and to animals, with the boys playing catch in the snow with an injured infant sparrow with a broken wing and a crooked leg.  When the question arises as to who is going to put the tiny bird out of its misery, none of the boys respond.  It is Sara’s behavior which permanently changes perceptions of her.


“Young Hare” by Albrecht Dürer, 1502.

Sara and Lejla continue their trip as each comes to new realizations about the other, and they both recall events with which readers will easily identify – the prom, discovering sex, socializing, and working to get their diplomas.  But as they pass through the town in which they both grew up, Sara has an experience with her elderly mother which permanently affects her view of the world.  Another experience on “the island” also reminds Sara of the trauma of growing up, and she soon begins to see how different she and Lejla really are.  When Sara and Lejla finally arrive in Vienna, Sara regards the city as “swollen like a corpse,” and she does not trust it.  Ultimately, she and Lejla decide to visit the Albertina Museum in Vienna, where they are lucky enough to see Albrecht Durer’s watercolor of a hare, painted in 1502, an event which leads to the thematic climax of the novel.

Albertina Museum

Albertina Museum

It is easy to see why this novel won the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature.  Though it is a debut novel, author Lana Bastašić writes with such confidence and élan, such devotion to her themes and her characters, and such intense desire to communicate her ideas, that I found myself reading much of this book twice, enjoying new discoveries upon the second or third reading about particular events.  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.  Though there are some aspects of the book that could be tightened a bit for clarity, that issue is almost irrelevant in relation to the overall grandeur of the novel and its message.  On my Favorites List for the year.

Photos:  The author’s photo appears on https://www.euprizeliterature.eu

 Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland may be found here:  https://www.etsy.com

The catacombs of Bosnia, “A malificent name for a maleficent little house standing above a hole in the ground.”  https://www.alamy.com

Albert Durer’s watercolor of a hare, painted in 1502, is from https://www.wikiart.org

The Albertina Museum in Vienna appears on  https://www.ukrinform.net


REVIEW. PHOTOS. Bosnia, Historical, Literary, Psychological study, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Lana Bastašićc
Published by: Restless Books
Date Published: 06/01/2021
ISBN: 978-1632062918
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

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