All posts tagged: Book Reviews

August 2017 Friday Reads

Curated by SARAH WHELAN 

This month, in response to a world that appears to be split across slippery fault lines, our interns are recommending books that explore cultural unity and interconnectedness. With attention to language, power, racism, and sex, these books ask the reader to reconsider her place in time as an intimate moment in a wider web of humanity.

Recommendations: Dance Dance Revolution by Cathy Park Hong, The Power by Naomi Alderman, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler.

Emily EverettAugust 2017 Friday Reads
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Review: Fale Aitu | Spirit House

Book by TUSIATA AVAI; ANNE KENNEDY
Reviewed by
TERESE SVOBODA

 

I first encountered Tusiata Avia’s work at the Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia just after she published her first book, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt. Her mocking voice, sometimes full of mimicry, sometimes searingly sarcastic, often aims at neocolonialism and globalization. Samoan/Palagi, Avia’s mother is descended from the Europeans who first colonized New Zealand and her father, a stunt man, was among the first wave of Samoan immigrants to New Zealand in the 1950s. For seven years before Avia’s second book arrived—Bloodclot, about Nafanua, the Samoan goddess of war, who leaves the underworld to wander the earth as a half-caste girl—she traveled from Siberia to Sudan and read or performed her work in places like Moscow, Jerusalem and Vienna. Last year Avia was poet-in-residence with Simon Armitage at the International Poetry Studies Institute in Australia. This year Wild Dogs Under My Skin was adapted as a theater event for six women and received rave reviews. The recipient of a Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writer’s Residency, the Ursula Bethel Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury, a residency at the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies in Christchurch, she won the 2013 Janet Frame Literary Trust Award. Truly an international poet with an indigenous Pacifika frame of reference, in Fale Aitu | Spirit House, Avia writes with a visceral, political, spare and passionate authority of someone who has seen the world.

Olivia ZhengReview: Fale Aitu | Spirit House
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Review: The Honeymoon

Book by DINITIA SMITH
Reviewed by ANNA SHAPIRO

The Honeymoon“One late afternoon in June of 1880, a rather famous woman sat in a railroad carriage traveling toward Venice with her new husband, a handsome young man twenty years her junior.” Thus begins this accomplished tale, in which the honeymoon of a sixty-year-old bride is the frame for the life story of a woman who defied convention but had no wish to.

She is ruled, from the start, by her craving to be accepted, since her mother rejects all that is innate to her. The little girl just can’t sit and sew or keep her hair neat; exemplifying the wild passion her mother hates, the girl chops it off. The child seeks her brother’s approval as much as her mother’s, but his tolerance for his little sister is used up when she forgets to take care of his prized rabbits as promised, and he comes home from school to find them dead.

Olivia ZhengReview: The Honeymoon
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Review: We Come to Our Senses

 

Book by ODIE LINDSEY
Reviewed by JULIA LICHTBLAU

The fifteen stories in Odie Lindsey’s moving first collection, We Come to Our Senses,are war stories—but they feature little combat and no front-line heroics; nor are they of the war-is-hilarious-except-the-killing genre, such as Catch-22 or Fobbit. They’re stories of the PTSD generation, the all-volunteer, gender-integrated, post-don’t-ask-don’t-tell veterans of endless, metastasizing conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Written in a wry, poetic voice, Lindsey’s stories braid past and present into multiple narrative lines and often surprise us with which comes out on top at the end.

Like Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam War classic, The Things They Carried, Lindsey’s book plumbs the psychic impact of war, but he takes his exploration farther from the battlefield. Many of Lindsey’s characters have no direct military experience, but are wounded by war nonetheless, sometimes fatally.

Olivia ZhengReview: We Come to Our Senses
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Review: Garden for the Blind

Book by KELLY FORDON
Reviewed by TYLER BALDWIN

Garden for the Blind

Garden for the Blind is a more idiosyncratic book than one might realize after a cursory read, a provocative and unconventional meditation on privilege, fate, and the city of Detroit. Kelly Fordon’s debut in full-length fiction is a collection of closely interlinked short stories that follow a small cast of characters from childhood to middle age. One of the satisfactions of reading linked-story collections is the sensation, a bit like time travel, of being guided through someone’s life by someone (think Ebenezer Scrooge and the Christmas ghosts) who knows all the most important moments to show you. Fordon seems to imply this in one of the stories near the end of the collection, “In the Museum of Your Life,” in which a gallery visit inspires the protagonist, Alice, to act as a guide to her own past. Paintings and objects become portals to memory, leaving her with nostalgia, guilt, regret, and unanswerable questions of fate and free will. 

Olivia ZhengReview: Garden for the Blind
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Review: Here Comes the Sun

Book by NICOLE DENNIS-BENN
Reviewed by ANGELA AJAYI

Here Comes the Sun

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut novel Here Comes the Sun opens with the stirring words, “God Nuh Like Ugly.” The melding of Jamaican Patois and English establishes an immediate authenticity, as does the disturbing discovery that ugly is synonymous with the blackness of one’s skin. The experience of reading this is akin to encountering Toni Morrison’s unflinching gaze upon the Antebellum South where she set her novel, Beloved. However, Dennis-Benn’s setting is not the slave-owning South of the 19th century U.S. but a black nation, the island of Jamaica, specifically, circa mid-1990s.

Olivia ZhengReview: Here Comes the Sun
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Review: Eleven Hours

Book by PAMELA ERENS
Reviewed by LISA ALEXANDER

Eleven Hours

It’s a brave choice for Pamela Erens to write her third novel about a birth. Shining the spotlight on two women—one in labor, the other her pregnant nurse—during this passage feels almost subversive. Birth is rarely the main event of a book—it’s something that happens to a character or an entry point. But what a gorgeous book this is, dramatically taut, emotionally wrenching, the prose crystalline. It satisfies the reader as an entire universe in the space of a few hours and a rocking story as well. Perhaps that’s the most surprising thing: this novel keeps you turning pages. We don’t tend to think of labor as driving, propulsive, and yet the story reads more like a thriller than anything I’ve recently read.

It’s also a deeply feminine book. Where many novels are concerned with a Hero’s Journey, complete with tasks and dragons and epiphanies, Eleven Hours is a poster child for The Heroine’s Journey. The birth in a hospital provides the time and place but, beyond that, there is web-like interconnectivity between Lore, who is having her child, and Franckline, the Haitian maternity nurse assigned to her. Though these women are so different, socio-economically and culturally, they share their experience of men and pain and transition. Their relationship accrues in a very female way as time goes on and Franckline helps Lore navigate the peaks and swoops and plateaus of her labor.

Olivia ZhengReview: Eleven Hours
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Review: Tram 83

Book by FISTON MWANZA MUJILA
Reviewed by ANGELA AJAYI

Tram 83

After I finished reading Tram 83the debut novel by Congolese writer Fiston Mwanza Mujila, a quote from journalist Adam Hochschild’s book, King Leopold’s Ghost, haunted me, and I went in search of it. With just a few lines, he laid bare the long-term effects of colonization on Congo:

From the colonial era, the major legacy left to Africa was not democracy as it is practiced today in countries like England, France and Belgium; it was authoritarian rule and plunder. On the whole continent, perhaps no nation has had a harder time than Congo in emerging from the shadow of its past.

Olivia ZhengReview: Tram 83
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Friday Reads: April 2016

By BARBARA MAYER, KELCEY PARKER ERVICK, SUJATA SHEKAR, MELODY NIXON

 

Politics and history crackle through the plotlines of our recommended books this month, as we travel the world experiencing struggle and mourning in a many-layered collage of contexts. Here are four varied works of “healing imagination,” as books both simple and unconventional examine trauma unflinching and then look to what happens next.

Recommended:

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin, Book of Ruth by Robert Seydel, The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan, Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett

Olivia ZhengFriday Reads: April 2016
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Friday Reads: March 2016

By NALINI JONES, JAMES ALAN GILL, MORGAN ADAMSGBOLAHAN ADEOLA 

This month, invest in a book you can begin knowing you’ll return many times. These works range the world from Bombay to Russia to Nigeria to San Francisco, and in page count from the “slender” to the “massive”—you’ll find something here for every interest, every schedule, every commute length. But each of this month’s recommenders chose their work in part for the fact that it seems to yield a new story on every visit; as Nalini Jones puts it, you’ll “feel the world tilt to the side” in a new direction every time you dip into these pages.

Recommended:

Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto,  A Collection of Beauties at the Height of their Popularity by Whitney Otto, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Olivia ZhengFriday Reads: March 2016
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