Tag Archives: Review

Shards by Ismet Prcic

Shards by Ismet Prcic

Black Cat, New York, 2011

From my library hold list.

A young Bosnian, Ismet Prcic, has left his home, his family and his war-torn country to make a new life in Southern California.  But it is not what he expects.  When he hears a car backfire he dives for cover.  He has flashbacks at the strangest times.  He falls in love and misses his mother.  He remembers the war.

Advised to write “everything” he builds a great pile of pieces, descriptions of his life, letters to his mother, memories of home, bits of the past and the present.  And then Mustafa appears.  Is he a construct, someone Ismet has created to distance himself from the war?  Or is he real?

These are the shards that make up this unusual and disturbing novel.  At time a difficult read because of the many bits and pieces, Shards is almost blinding, reflecting life in a war zone, life as an immigrant, and the sometimes mind-bending qualities of memory.

8 Comments

Filed under Bosnia, LiteraryFiction, Review, War

Planesrunner by Ian McDonald

Planesrunner by Ian McDonald

Pyr, Amherst, NY, 2011

From my library TBR holds.  This is the first book in the Everness series.

A great young adult novel, the first in a series,  from one of my favorite science fiction authors.

Everett Singh leads a pretty normal life for a fourteen year old until the day his father is kidnapped.

Everett knows his father is a theoretical physicist, working on the Many-Worlds Theory, but when he tries to explain to the police that his father has been kidnapped they brush him off.

“Do you know what the Many Worlds Theory is?” Everett said. He leaned forward across the table. Previous occupants had doodled stars and spirals and cubes and the names of football clubs on the peeling plastic. “Every time the smallest least tiniest thing happens, the universe branches. There’s a universe where it happened, and a universe where it didn’t. Every second, every microsecond every day, there are new universes splitting off from this one. For every possible event in history, there’s a universe, out there somewhere, right beside this one.” Everett lifted a finger and drew a line through the air. “A billion universes, just there now. Every possible universe is out there somewhere. This isn’t something someone made up, this is a proper physical theory. That’s what physics means: real, solid, actual. Does that sound not so important to you? It sounds to me like the biggest thing there is.”

Through clues and an inter-dimensional map left by his father, Everett opens a gate between worlds and finds himself in a London that is at once familiar and terribly strange, dealing with people from that world, his own world and many others worlds.

McDonald does a fabulous job of making a very complex idea understandable for both young adult and adult readers.  There is adventure, drama and the meaning of family wrapped up in this wonderful story and I can’t wait to read more in this series.

5 Comments

Filed under Review, SciFi, Young Adult

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

Riverhead Books, New York, 2011

From my library TBR list.  This book has been short listed for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize.

Born in 1933, Jamil Ahmad spent time in the Pakistani Civil Service.  He served in the frontier province, traveling through the “Badlands” between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Ahmad is a traditional story-teller.  He values and love these lands and the tribal people who live in and travel across them.

The Wandering Falcon is a small book made up of stories.  Stories you might hear sitting at an old man’s feet or around a fire with many relatives.  I have to believe that this still happens somewhere.  That people tell stories to the young, to each other.

A young couple runs away from their tribe and takes shelter with a group of soldiers.  They build a life and have a son.  Eventually the head man of their tribe comes looking for them and they run away, only to be killed in the desert, their son left to starve. This boy is Tor Baz, the “Black Falcon” and he grows up to wander the land.  The stories follow him from tribe to tribe, from youth to adolescence to manhood.

The area where Pakistan and Afghanistan meet is inhospitable.  It’s people are traditional, tribal, most are nomadic, following their herds through summer and winter, over open pasture, through difficult mountain passes.  They live a harsh, honor-bound life. Many of their beliefs and traditions clash with those of the west.  They are being forced to change.

Jamil Ahmed, through this small collection of linked stories, as written the late 20th and early 21st century history of this land.  The closing of borders, wars fought for territories, western influence, these pressures and others force a people who have lived in certain ways for centuries to change those ways over night.  Ahmed’s stories bring this land, these people, to life.

I enjoyed this book, loved Jamil’s traditional story-telling.  I am sad for these people, for their struggles, for being caught in a time of great change.

Other reviews:

Farm Lane Books Blog

S. Krishna’s Books

Winstonsdad’s Blog

3 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, Historical Fiction, Pakistan, Review

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer.

Picador, New York, 2008

Originally published in Spain by Editorial Anagrama as Los dectectives salvajes in 1998.

From my TBR shelf.

Wow.  Reminds me a bit of the old days.  A four-day weekend, a beach house, lots of wine and plenty of weed.  Loud music, creative energy, you get the idea….

The Savage Detectives runs to over 600 pages and is divided into three sections.

The first, Mexicans Lost In Mexico, is told through the diary entries of  Juan García Madero.  Juan is a 17-years-old  law school student who dreams of becoming a poet and is suddenly invited to join the Visceral Realists.  Who are the Visceral Realists?  A group of poets and want-to-be poets striking out against the mainstream and spending a lot of of their time stoned, drunk and changing lovers like musical chairs.  The two poets who head this movement are Arturo Belaño, a Chilean of questionable character and his best friend Ulises Lima, the quiet one.  Are these two poets or small-time thieving dope dealers?

The middle section of the novel, The Savage Detectives, is made up of brief interviews with more than fifty characters.   Belaño and Lima are on a search for the vanished poet, Cesárea Tinajero, the “mother of Visceral Realism” and travel to many places tracing her history.  Or are we actually tracing their history?  The timeline runs from 1976-1996, the characters run the gamut from poets to police detectives.  I found myself constantly moving back and forth within the text tracking who knew whom, who slept with or fought with whom.

In the last section, The Sonora Desert, we return to García Madero’s diary.  Juan,  Arturo, Ulises and their friend Lupe, a prostitute from Mexico City, are zeroing in on the mysterious Cesárea.  They are being chased by Lupe’s pimp, Alberto.  It is a wild road trip through Sonora that ends in Santa Teresa, the city based on Ciudad Juárez, that plays such a vital part in the 2666.

The Savage Detectives is a Chinese puzzle box of a novel.  Like one of those old desks with a multitude of drawers, cubby holes and hidden spaces,  I would open it and find something new, sometimes enticing, often frightening.  Autobiographical,  containing people, events and bits of history from 1970’s Mexico, The Savage Detectives is a rant and a love letter, filled with rebellion and with regret, I think, for lost loves and lost friendships.  Frustrating at times, as I found the writing in 2666, I am astounded at Bolaño’s creative energies, the multiple voices, places, the literary and political arguments.   It is a very moving, funny and terrifying look at youth, love and violence.

I am not a literary critic or Latin American literary scholar.  There is really no way that I can summarize or analysis this novel.  All I can tell you is my personal experience with Bolaño’s words and that they have an effect on me, both intellectually and emotionally.  His words and the way he puts them together, as translated by Natasha Wimmer, and the short stories and interviews I have read, have me wanting to read as much of Roberto Bolaño’s work as I can find.

Thanks to Rise and Richard for organizing this group read.   Maybe we can do it again.  I tried to read Hopscotch once, would be willing to try it again.

12 Comments

Filed under Group Read, InTranslation, LiteraryFiction, Roberto Bolano

Play The Monster Blind by Lynn Coady

Play The Monster Blind by Lynn Coady

Vintage Canada, Toronto, 2001

From my TBR pile.

This is a collection of short stories, linked by characters, family histories and location.  It is the first time I have read Lynn Coady, an author and playwright from Nova Scotia who now lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

Reading these stories felt like walking barefoot over gravel, sharp and painful, wanting to hurry and get into cool grass.  Coady is an insightful writer, exploring the dynamics of family and community in a small town.

Anyone who has lived in a small town, particularly as an adolescent, knows the feeling Coady expresses in her stories.  Gossip, back-biting, bullying, the need to fit in and the need to escape.

…When you think about people gossiping, you think about everyone sitting around and talking and talking until it makes everyone sick, but that’s not really how it works at all.  All it takes is one sentence every couple of days, a passing remark or a joke.  And then that person and all that is wrong with them is riveted inside your skull and if  anyone ever says their name around you it triggers all the remarks and jokes in a flood – that’s what you think of when you think of them.  That’s how it works.  From The Ice-Cream Man, page 36.

And there’s that closed in feeling of not getting anywhere as an adult, of giving in, and giving up.   There are also those people who escape small towns and then find themselves drawn back, for a funeral or a wedding or because life is just too difficult “out there”.

I know, this sound depressing, but Lynn Coady’s abilities bring a sharp humor to these stories and make even the most unlikable character understandable.  Some of the stories focus on girls growing up and women who blame themselves for the state of their families and the state of the world.  This made me angry but I found that while Coady shines a light into some dark corners, she does so with compassion.

Other reviews:

Buried in Print

17 Comments

Filed under Canadian, Review, StoryCollection

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

Other Press, New York, 2011

From my TBR pile.  I first read an excerpt of Lamb in Harper’s last summer and was completely drawn in by Nadzam’s writing.

David Lamb’s life is falling apart.  His marriage is over, his father has died and he is in danger of losing his job because of  an office affair.  Then, while sitting in a parking lot, a young girl approaches him on a dare.  This is eleven-year-old Tommie, bumbling and awkward and, Lamb thinks, a to change his life.

At first it seems  Lamb truly wants to help Tommie, to offer her the things he feels are missing from her life. Then, when he decides to take her on a road trip to a cabin in the west, the reader has to question his motives.

Dear girl, how could she not carry Lamb with her, all the grassy fields he painted hanging between her little face and the world, bright screens printed with the images he made for her: flashes of green and silver; huge birds circling in the wind; the wet brown eyes of a horse; yellow eggs on a breakfast dish; the curve of their backs on a weathered rail fence on a cool blue morning.  From page 36

This pair, so awkward and needy, make it hard to stop reading and yet the possibilities are terrifying.   Lamb’s lies become clear but is he lying to Tommie or to himself?  Does it matter? Nazdam’s writing surrounds her characters, covers their emotional dysfunction and manipulation with layers of beauty.

A stunning, morally ambiguous novel,  Lamb is dangerous and difficult book.  It will be on my 2012 favorites list.

10 Comments

Filed under LiteraryFiction, Review, TBR Double Dare

Seed by Rob Ziegler

Seed by Rob Zielger

Night Shade Books, San Francisco, 2011

From my library TBR list.  With a recommendation from Paolo Bacigalupi, author of The Windup Girl, I wanted to read this one when I first saw it on the Night Shade Books website.

At the beginning of the 22nd century most of the United States has become a dust bowl, ravaged by violent waves of unpredictable weather.  Migrants, ragged and hungry, travel from place to place, on foot or in rigged-up vehicles,gathering Seed from government depots and hoping to find a place to grow and harvest a crop, enough food to last until the next harvest, never knowing when that will be.  They are swayed by prairie saints and harassed by La Chupacabra, a gang of violent thieves.

Seed is bio-engineered and precious, marked by a tiny barcode.   Made by Satori, a living,  growing animal of a city, controlled by the Designers, and genetically coded to be sterile,  it is the only source of food available, and the Government struggles to control  it.  Satori’s Designers, bio-engineered themselves, have minds of their own and have created modified humans as laborers and security forces.  And there is Tet, a deadly virus slowly spreading through the population.

Ziegler has written a dystopian western, filled with shoot-outs and clipped dialogue.  His use of imminent climate change and terminator technology turns this first novel towards speculative fiction.  It is messy, violent and I found it a quick, disturbing read.

2 Comments

Filed under 2012 Speculative Fiction Challenge, Review, Sci-Fi Experience, SciFi, SpeculativeFiction, TBR Double Dare