Mostly Fiction BOOK REVIEWS


Around the World

World Literature

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The Accordionist's Son

by Bernardo Atxaga

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In Other Rooms,
Other Wonders

by Daniyal Mueenddin
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First Execution

by Domenico Starnone
In Paperback

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The Isle of Dogs

by Daniel Davies
In Paperback
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Esther's Inheritance

by Sándor Márai
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The Reader

by Bernhard Schlink
In Paperback

Recently Published Books in Hardcover:

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Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada - This never-before-translated masterpiece-by a heroic best-selling writer who saw his life crumble when he wouldn't join the Nazi Party-is based on a true story. It presents a richly detailed portrait of life in Berlin under the Nazis and tells the sweeping saga of one working-class couple who decides to take a stand when their only son is killed at the front. With nothing but their grief and each other against the awesome power of the Reich, they launch a simple, clandestine resistance campaign that soon has an enraged Gestapo on their trail, and a world of terrified neighbors and cynical snitches ready to turn them in. In the end, it's more than an edge-of-your-seat thriller, more than a moving romance, even more than literature of the highest order-it's a deeply stirring story of two people standing up for what's right, and each other. (March 2009)

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin - In the spirit of Joyce's Dubliners and Turgenev's A Sportsman's Sketches, Daniyal Mueenuddin's collection of linked stories illuminates a place and a people through an examination of the entwined lives of landowners and their retainers on the Gurmani family farm in the countryside outside of Lahore, Pakistan.(February 2009) author page

The Accordionist's Son by Bernardo Atxaga - As David Imaz, on the threshold of adulthood, divides his time between his uncle Juan’s ranch and his life in the village, where he reluctantly practices the accordion, a tradition that his authoritarian father insists he continue, he becomes increasingly aware of the long shadow cast by the Spanish Civil War. (February 2009) author page

A Mad Desire to Dance by Elie Wiesel - From Elie Wiesel, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and one of our fiercest moral voices, a provocative and deeply thoughtful new novel about a life shaped by the worst horrors of the twentieth century and one man’s attempt to reclaim happiness. (February 2009)

Brothers by Yu Hua - A bestseller in China, recently short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, and a winner of France’s Prix Courrier International, Brothers is an epic and wildly unhinged black comedy of modern Chinese society running amok. (January 2009)

Buried Strangers by Leighton Gage - 2nd in the Mario Silva series set in Brazil. (January 2009) author page

The Conqueror by Jan Kjaerstad - Jonas Wergeland has been convicted of the murder of his wife Margrete. What brought Norway's darling to this end? A professor has been set the task of writing a biography of the once celebrated, now notorious, television personality; in doing so he hopes to solve the riddle of Jonas Wergeland's success and downfall. But the sheer volume of material on his subject is so daunting that the professor finds himself completely bogged down, at a loss as how to proceed, until the evening when a mysterious stranger knocks on his door and offers to tell him stories which will help him unravel the strands of Wergeland's life.(December 2008)

Sea of PoppiesSea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh - At the heart of this vibrant saga is a vast ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean; its purpose, to fight China’s vicious nineteenth-century Opium Wars. As for the crew, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners. (October 2008) author page

Three Musketeers by Marcelo Brimajer - Elisa Traum, a former Argentinian currently residing in Israel, returns to Buenos Aires after twenty years of absence to mourn two friends- two fellow Jews who together with him once comprised "the three musketeers." (October 2008)

A Guide to Birds of AfricaA Guide to Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson - For the past three years, the widower Mr. Malik has been secretly in love with Rose Mbikwa, a woman who leads the weekly bird walks sponsored by the East African Ornithological Society. Just as Malik is getting up the nerve to invite Rose to the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball (the premier social occasion of the Kenyan calendar), who should pop up but Malik's nemesis from his school days. So begins the competition: whoever can identify the most species of birds in one week's time gets the privilege of asking the object of his affection to the ball. (September 2008) author page

Yesterday's Weather by Anne Enright - Enright presents a series of deeply moving glimpses into a rapidly changing Ireland: a land of family and tradition, but also, increasingly, of organic radicchio, cruise-ship vacations, and casual betrayals. (September 2008) author page

Human Love by Andrei Makine - (September 2008)

Sorry by Gail Jones - In the remote Australian outback during World War II the emotionally adrift child of an English couple is befriended by equally anomalous strangers. Perdita becomes friends with a deaf and mute boy, Billy, and an Aboriginal girl, Mary. Perdita and Mary soon come to call one another sister and to share a profound bond. They are content with life in this harsh corner of the world, until a terrible event lays waste to their lives. (June 2008)author page

Steer Toward Rock by Fae Myenne Ng - Not since Bone, Fae Myenne Ng's highly praised debut novel, has a work so eloquently revealed the complex loyalties of Chinese America. Steer Toward Rock is the story of a man who chooses love over the law, illuminating a part of U.S. history few are aware of, but one that has had echoing effects for generations. (June 2008)

BreathBreath by Tim Winton - Tim Winton is Australia’s best-loved novelist. His new work,Breath, is an extraordinary evocation of an adolescence spent resisting complacency, testing one’s limits against nature, finding like-minded souls, and discovering just how far one breath will take you. (May 2008) author page

The Enchantress of FlorenceThe Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie - A tall, yellow-haired, young European traveler calling himself “Mogor dell’Amore,” the Mughal of Love, arrives at the court of the Emperor Akbar, lord of the great Mughal empire, with a tale to tell that begins to obsess the imperial capital, a tale about a mysterious woman, a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, and her impossible journey to the far-off city of Florence.(May 2008) author page

A Story of a MarriageThe Story of Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer -“We think we know the ones we love.” So Pearlie Cook begins her indirect and devastating exploration of the mystery at the heart of every relationship, how we can ever truly know another person. (April 2008)author page

Gentlemen by Klas Ostergren - Written with an intense regard for storytelling and style, Gentlemen is the most important literary work to emerge from Sweden in the past thirty years – simultaneously celebrating and mourning the post-WWII era with its jazz music, poetry, hidden treasures, and espionage.
(April 2008)

Civil and StrangeCivil and Strange by Claire Ni Aonghusa - From a notable new voice in Irish fiction, a refreshingly mature debut that introduces us to three interconnected lives in a vibrant, modern Ireland Civil and Strange transports us to a changing Ireland through the stories of thirty-eight-year-old Ellen; her uncle Matt, a local farmer; and widowed Beatrice, each at a crossroads in their respective lives. (March 2008) author page


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About this Bookshelf:

Sometimes being an American, we  forget that the world can go on without us.One night while eating dinner and watching Peter Jennings on TV, or I should say watching the commercials between segments of Peter Jennings' sound bites, we realized that the actual news in the thirty minute segment was probably all of twelve minutes at most. Especially since this program follows the presentator's advice to "tell them what you are going to say, then say it." All of this "coming up next" takes up valuable time in which news reporters could have actually provided a far more reaching story or even more news. Essentially, we weren't watching news while we ate dinner; we were watching commercials.

So taking control of our TV viewing, we went in search of something else and found that BBC news. What a breath of fresh air; not only are there no commercials, it is like looking through a window at ourselves as we see how others report on events here in the United States. At first I had a hard time with some of the accents, but after a week or so, I didn't notice as much, although occasionally a word will jump out at me as being so non-American in nature, that I get a chuckle. (Since Carl lived in England for seven years, he's not as apt to catch this.) And of course, we found that they cover news from more corners of the globe and give each story more depth than our prime time news.

During the first week we learned that a woman was to be stoned to death in Nigeria for adultery. What a startling realization that such things can and still do happen in this world! (The court did overturn this later.) We also saw court scenes from former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's trial in Hague and was amazed to learn that he was representing himself and seemingly quite competently at that. We learned that the UN ratified the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal and as such, the rest of the world was celebrating that the International Criminal Court (ICC) would be in affect as of July 1st. The shocking news was the fact that the U.S. vehemently opposes the ICC. It appears that the world is making strides to improve human rights without "us."

I find that watching the BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the most upsetting, but educational. Last year while visiting my nonagenarian great-aunt, I met her favorite therapist. She clearly was not originally from America, so I asked where she came from and I learned that she was Palestinian. So we attempted a discussion of life in her country and it quickly became apparent as to how ignorant I was. Finally, she said that the problem is that as Americans we are told only one side and that if I would watch or read news from a non-American source I would find that the majority of world does not side with the Israeli government. Now I'm not going to say here who's right or wrong, but now that I'm watching the BBC news regularly I understand the point she was making to me that day.

Although I think of myself as broadminded, I am culturally speaking, very much American. So my resolution of late is to make it my task to explore as much as I can about what it is to not think as an American. Or at least, what it is like to be American but with a cultural identity that originates from another part of the world. Maybe this is my personal 9-11 aftermath. Maybe it's because I turn forty-five this year. Or maybe it's simply because I can't afford to travel anymore.

Since I deal with everything in life through reading fiction, it is only natural to have one bookshelf that reflects this new found interest.

So here it is -- fiction written about places and people who live and breathe around the world. This new category is not so much about geography as it is about the way one thinks of or one experiences life, similar to the bookshelf called Latin American which is also more of a theme than geography.

Judi Clark, Editor
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