Thursday, November 28, 2013

Baghdad Solitaire-Leslie Cockburn

Baghdad Solitaire-Leslie Cockburn

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 351
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2013
Novel

in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, love and friendship are as uncertain as the shifting battle lines of the civil war. Lee McGuinness, a trauma surgeon on a humanitarian mission, is also on a personal quest: to find her companion-in-arms, Martin Carrigan, who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Has he been kidnapped for ransom? Or is he a traitor to his country, running arms to the insurgents? In search of someone - and something - to believe in, Lee must navigate a wilderness of mirrors in which greed, lies, and brutality are found among allies and enemies alike.

This is a scorching, blistering thriller set against a painfully all-too-believable backdrop of utterly corrupt and mismanaged 'reconstruction' we all dreaded was happening in Iraq. Cockburn has such an eye for detail that really brings to mind how damaged everything was in a way that actually manages to be rather even-handed. It was hard to really note the fiction in the story as it as written in a narrative style that brings the situation alive. Her main poetic licence was Laela who may have been a bit of a heavy-handed symbol of the civilization bulldozed and killed through cancer (survived the bombs falling but it's the aftermath that Iraq will be dealing with forever since the half life is in millions of years) but she ended up breaking my heart anyway. This is not a book about character development, it is a book about a country devastated by war and profiteering.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Alienated-Melissa Landers

Alienated-Melissa Landers

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 354
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
Novel, YA series

Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them. Handpicked to host the first-ever L'eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she'll have inside information about the mysterious L'eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara's blog following is about to skyrocket.
 

I really enjoyed this well written YA with a fairly unusual premise-pitting a dystopian (alien) world against our imperfect world. Gripping in that it answers the question what we'd be offering a 'higher' species but it is a bit slower than other YA series in the same genre. Nevertheless, I read it essentially in one go, almost resenting interruptions since it is easy to be drawn into the all too realistic worry that bigots or xenophobes would win the day and ruin it for the rest of us.

As usual, for YA, the romance is a bit iffy (because it is so foreshadowed) mainly because it creates a few unnecessary plotholes about the nature of the alien society. It kind of irks me that such plotholes happened but I hope the next in the series will plug them back up. Cara, the main human protagonist, is a bit too mature with the almost mythic strength one almost expects from YA. Another minor nitpick is that she was part of her public school's debate society as I was once and there are incorrect details about the form of debate but that is minor. In short, I am looking forward to the next in the series.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Children of the Jacaranda Tree-Sahar Deljani

Children of the Jacaranda Tree-Sahar Deljani


the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 287
gender: F
nationality: Iran
year: 2013
novel

Neda is born in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where her mother is allowed to nurse her for a few months before the arms of a guard appear at the cell door one day and, simply, take her away. In another part of the city, three-year-old Omid witnesses the arrests of his political activist parents from his perch at their kitchen table, yogurt dripping from his fingertips. More than twenty years after the violent, bloody purge that took place inside Tehran’s prisons, Sheida learns that her father was one of those executed, that the silent void firmly planted between her and her mother all these years was not just the sad loss that comes with death, but the anguish and the horror of murder.

A bittersweet history of Iran written in a poetic style. Ranging from the 1980s with the prison stories that would become the secrets of the 2000s, it explores how various situations in past would arise and impact the future, our present. Constantly asking the question: Can there a future with such a past? Going from character to character in a varied range of situations and life circumstances, this book feels like a microcosm of society evoking emotions ranging from despair and death to hope and renewal. It is an excellent exploration of the scars of history.
However, it is a debut novel that suffered a bit from seeing the forest without the trees. The characters are a bit two dimensional at times, they are not fully realized which makes discerning relationships between all the people a bit of a head scratcher at times which is further exacerbated by an extremely jumpy organization of flashbacks and different points in the present. In a way, this is more of a collection of vignettes rather than a novel proper but Deljani's lovely prose kept me going. I look forward to more from her.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Paradise Trees-Linda Huber

The Paradise Trees-Linda Huber

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 266
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2013
Novel

The Paradise Trees is a compelling suspense novel, written in an engaging and pacey style. Linda’s powerful characterisation is inspired by her work with neurological patients, and the book is written with an intense realism that powers the narrative.

I'm two minds about this book. It was a good thriller. You have a deranged murderer and a woman and her daughter marked as his victims. There's a decent if a bit sudden romantic plotline. There're red herrings as to who the murderer is which kept me reading. But despite all this there were such flaws I cannot ignore them. The red herrings seem a bit contrived and are not as subtly worked as I prefer them to be. There was a bit too much simplicity in the way that you were supposed to be guessing which of the choices was the killer. Then there was the style which was second person, present tense which is a perspective I really rarely enjoy. Then there was Alicia-like, she constantly reiterates, over and over, that she wants her daughter, Jenny, to have the best summer ever. But why? Why this desperation that Jenny have a good summer. I mean, yes it's natural to want your kid to enjoy their life, that's the beauty of childhood but Alicia is neurotic about it which made me wonder why? Was the last summer horrible? Why is she so guilty? If she had gone on about only once in awhile, I would've been fine and attributed it to Jenny's negligent father but it's more like once every 25 pages.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Inconvenient Indian-Thomas King

An Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America-Thomas King

the facts
satisfaction: Up
pages: 268
gender: M
nationality: USA (Cherokee)
year: 2013
Non-fiction

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.

It's unfortunately difficult for me to obtain King outside of the US so this is my first King and it's non-fiction not the fiction he's known for. However, there is such a distinct voice that I presume is King and he's everywhere in this book. I thought I had a decent grasp of Native American history but I was surprised at just how many treaties have been violated and how Canada has repeated so many of the US's mistakes (why Canada, why?!). Yet despite the anger, King inserts so much humor that you want to keep on reading. This never feels like a slog, it feels like a story that is being told (but one that is real). King tackles history from the individual story to the tribal level to the nation to the federal level without ever losing sight of his objective. There is a wryness that is not unwarranted. 

I want everyone to read this. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

All is Silence-Manuel Rivas

All is Silence-Manuel Rivas

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 249
gender: M
nationality: Spain (Galicia)
year: 2013
Novel in translation

 Fins and Brinco are best friends, and they both adore the wild and beautiful Leda. The three young friends spend their days exploring the dunes and picking through the treasures that the sea washes on to the shores of Galicia. One day, as they are playing in the abandoned school on the edge of the village, they come across treasure of another kind: a huge cache of whisky hidden under a sheet. But before they can exploit their discovery a shot rings out, and a man wearing an impeccable white suit and panama hat enters the room. That day they learn the most important lesson of all, that the mouth is for keeping quiet.

Well, I love Rivas so I'm always going to be biased but I definitely enjoyed All is Silence despite its flaws. Everyone always seems so surprised when I mention how big an enterprise smuggling is in Galicia but the nooks and crannies of the ria systems really lend themselves to smuggling and thus a lot of the corruption in the region is based on the sea. Rivas is talking about a proper mafia-style organization (which is before my time) whose motto is the mouth is made for silence. Childhood friends are pitted against each other as adults since they interpreted the motto differently. Though, as usual, poetic but precise, I do have to say that Rivas's language does not feel as well formed as it does in his other novels and the transition between the childhood friends and adult enemies is abrupt but this is still a polished novel that is Galician through and through.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Azazeel-Youseff Ziedan

Azazeel-Youseff Ziedan

the facts
satisfaction: Up
pages: 311
gender: M
nationality: Egypt
year: 2009
Novel in translation

 Ostensibly the memoirs of a fifth-century doctor-monk named Hypa, whose scrolls bearing witness to a period of Christian turmoil are uncovered in 1994, its depictions of an aggressive, pagan-purging Bishop Cyril offended some members of the Coptic Church so gravely that they filed lawsuits.

This was my season of historical fiction. However, Azazeel is historical fiction from an era I've never heard from. Hypa is a Coptic monk during the period of Christianity in which the church was splitting. Pagans still exist (though horrible things are happening) but Roman/Orthodox divide didn't. Having never really thought too much about the real individual living in this strange turbulent period, I found myself really getting sucked into it. I mean, Hypa is written in a way that he is all-too-human (a bit modern in his forthrightness, I thought there was no mistaking this for 'truth') and it proves engrossing. He is a man far from home (Egypt to Syria- no small distance by camel/walking!) unsure of how to proceed which is a timeless situation. To experience it through his eyes against his front seat view of the church schisms and human cost of faith was incredible and almost devastating. I felt my heart move and almost missed how the language at times becomes a bit too high-flying.
 
Put simply, I loved it!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

10 Novels to Define Spain

SavidgeReads shared his challenge to make a list of 10 books in which he defined the UK, his partner defined the USA. He invited his readers to make their own lists defining their own countries and I thought, oh, it'd be easy to come up with at least 10 titles from Spain.

I have realized some things in the process of this list:
-Most of my older Spanish reads are actually poetry. Which actually surprises me since I read so little poetry comparatively nowadays.
-I have a heavy bias towards literature dealing with the trauma of the Civil War and Franco.
-Way too many of the classic Spanish authors are men. I need to find more women!

Here follows my list of 11-I made it 11 because Don Quixote has to be included but it's so obvious!

Don Quixote-Cervantes
The famous, the untouchable-no list about Spain can miss out Cervantes. Do I have to even talk about it? If you read Spanish, do try the 17th century version for a great insight in how language changes and evolves.

Into the Wilderness-Manuel Rivas
My roots spring from Galicia and while Cela is our most famous novelist, I just can't get behind the tremendismo genre of violence and shock value; I much prefer the picturesque phrasing of Galicia's poetry. This is a book that evokes the classic poetry while staying very modern. Blending mythology and real life, this is a book that feels Galician with its mountains and craggy coasts where crows may be knights.

Never to Return-Esther Tusquets
Written by a formidable force in the Catalan publishing world, this is a quintessentially female novel. Exploring how psychoanalysis may not help a women, this is an exploration of a neurotic woman desperate to be heard.

Obabakoak-Bernardo Atxaga
Most people seem to immediately think of the ETA when they think of the Basques and Atxanga, their most famous author, certainly has written a number of books touching on those topics but I prefer Obabakoak. It's a series of short stories about a small town named Obaba. It's quirky and enjoyable while retaining Atxanga's tendency to poke a stick where most people would not want to be pushed.

Blood Wedding-Frederico Garcia Lorca
Not a novel but no list defining Spanish literature can leave off Lorca whose influence has spread throughout every arena of art. (I particularly adore Saura's flamenco adaptation.) Most of his plays are accessible and resplendent with the tastes and styles of the Generation of '27 but I like Blood Wedding most-its rural setting and timeless feel endear it to me.

3 Exemplary Novels-Miguel de Unamuno
Actually not novels but rather novellas, Unamuno was one of the most influential thinks in Spain. Evoking Cervantes, Unamuno brings his philosophical light on the inner struggles between reason and faith and how those bear upon interpersonal relationships.

Holy Innocents-Miguel Dilibes
A more modern novel set in a rural Castillian village where the local politics, the caciques, are ruthlessly destroying the inhabitants. This is corruption at its base and lowest level.

Soldiers of Salamis-Javier Cercas
Blending truth and fiction, Cercas details the ordeals of a prisoner of war during the Civil War. This is a story about how heroes are made (and how they don't really exist) and what creates the truth. Necessary book if you're interested in the Civil War.

Carpenter's Pencil-Manuel Rivas
Ok, those who know me have raised your eyebrows, yes there are two Rivas books on here but this here is his defining book. Directly about how war destroys lives and the traumas of the Falangist regime.

Time of Silence-Luis Martin Santos
A great story about the lack of efficacy under Franco's regime, this is considered one of the greatest literary novels of the 20th century. It was banned when it came out-partially because it's not really a realist novel and partly because of its blend of sex, death, and philosophy. If you want a hint of life under Franco's later years...this is your novel.

Nada-Carmen Laforet
Elegantly written, Laforet is exploring the traumas of post-Civil War Barcelona in a very understated way. It is at its heart a novel about mental illness and the coming of age of its protagonist. Between the lines are the currently highly oppressive politics but Laforet makes the whole novel seem very real since this focuses on the everyday strength of Andrea who observes how it may be easier to endure great setbacks rather than the everyday grind. Not to be missed!