All posts tagged: Book Reviews

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.

Review: 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.

Review: 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. 

Review: 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.

Review: 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.

Review: 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.

Review: 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

Friday 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

Friday Reads: March 2016
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Review: Desert Songs of the Night: An Anthology of 1500 Years of Arabic Literature

Book by SUHEIL BUSHRUI and JAMES MALARKEY
Reviewed by GRETCHEN MCCULLOUGH

Desert Songs of the Night

Suheil Bushrui and James Malarkey’s anthology, Desert Songs of the Night: An Anthology of 1500 years of Arabic Literature, is not aptly named. The romantic title conjures up an image of a bard, reciting poetry and telling stories in the Arabian desert by a fire: the very best poetry and tales from the Arabic literary tradition. In fact, the anthology is a collection of a wide range of texts, reflecting the rich cultural history and thought of Arabic heritage: chivalric verse, political, philosophical, and legal treatises, religious texts, moralistic essays, folktales, travel writing, excerpts from plays and memoirs and modern narrative poetry.

The collection is tempered by the academic backgrounds and interests of the two editors. Suheil Bushrui, who died last year at 84, was a distinguished critic and translator, an authority on Yeats and Kahlil Gibran and the founder and former director of the George and Lisa Zakhem Kahlil Gibran Center for Values and Peace at the University of Maryland. James Malarkey was Professor Emeritus at Antioch University, the former Chair of Humanities and General Education with past stints at universities in Algeria and Beirut. He is an anthropologist, specializing in Algerian politics.

Review: Desert Songs of the Night: An Anthology of 1500 Years of Arabic Literature
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Friday Reads: February 2016

By MARIAN CROTTY, NICK FULLER GOOGINS, GRANT KITTRELL, SARAH SMARSH

How much more palatable is any dish when “imbued with the stories of home”? We’re exploring that this month in our recommendations, which variously braid entertainment and education in their reading experiences. Grow as a writer, a poet, a consumer, a human being—and do it while laughing, remembering home, or teetering on the edge of your seat.

Recommended:

The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury, The Door by Magda Szabó,Ennui Prophet by Christopher Kennedy, Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love by Simran Sethi

Friday Reads: February 2016
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