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Monday, December 5, 2016

****Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez ARC
Latin American Literature

Things We Lost in the Fire
by Mariana Enriquez

Things We Lost in the Fire is a series of twelve short stories, each serving as a social commentary on the darker side of present-day life in Argentina. Influenced by violent mythologies, there are ghosts and supernatural apparitions and occurrences. They are macabre tales of extreme circumstances, broken marriages, mental illness, abuse, torture and murder, to name a few. All reveal some aspect of the human condition.

Ms. Enriquez is a journalist and novelist who seems deeply connected to her homeland. She is skilled at portraying disturbing detail with purpose, but without rigidity or farce. Her stories are filled with haunting and memorable images one will not soon forget.

Monday, October 17, 2016

***Library of Illuminaries, Frida Kahlo, An Illustrated Biography, by Zena Alkayat

This illustrated biography of the Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, is nicely designed and made with good quality materials. Unfortunately,  it does not contain any pictures of her paintings. This baffles me. How can one publish a biography about Frida Kahlo without showing her work; they are intricately connected.  It simply does not make any sense, especially since she is known for her autobiographical self-portraits.  It is difficult to recommend an essentially incomplete biography no matter how concise the intention.

Monday, September 12, 2016

***The Mortifications by Derek Palacio ARC 
American Author 

Palacio looks at the psychological complexities of immigration through the eyes of a fictionalized Cuban family divided by their beliefs and nations. He incorporates some Catholic mysticism and magical realism to help illustrate the burden of  loss and longing. Sometimes tedious other times poetic, Palacio is a good writer but requires further editing and refinement to reach the literary goal that lies within his grasp.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

****Human Acts By Han Kang

South Korean Literature ARC

Told by different characters using varying perspectives, Han Kang has written a searing portrait of South Korea’s Gwangju uprising. Despite the violent subject matter, Kang’s writing is beautiful, poetic and introspective.  She effectively illustrates the dichotomy of human nature - one that allows man to both savagely murder, yet show compassion through acts of human kindness.  Kang does not attempt to resolve this complex issue. Instead she uses her unique and powerful voice to honor those lives lost and ruined by this horrific event.  An impressive novel.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

****The Cauliflower, by Nicola Barker Early Review
Australian Literature 

Quirky, stylistically unique and varied, the author combines fact with fiction in her attempt to understand the development of spirituality, how it gains momentum and becomes a part of a culture. Barker uses the Guru, Sri Ramakrishna, as her vehicle for examining this subject. The narrative is not dry and dour, but a fresh and inventive approach to a complex issue.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

****Who Will Catch Us As We Fall, by Iman Verjee Early Reviewer's
African -Kenyan - Literature

Verjee’s narrative is straightforward, yet rich and compelling. It tells the heartbreaking tale of a beautiful city, Nairobi, fraught with rampant racial bias, poverty and unethical practices - especially by those who should be protecting it's people and communities. This is not a story about solutions, it is about hope, a hope that its people can see beyond the dirt, poverty and corruption and realize the beauty in its land and diverse blend of people. The moral is in the story itself without the need for moralizing. It hits the reader hard as one contemplates the formidable injustices.  This is a powerful novel filled with multidimensional characters whose lives were developed from the experience of one who was born and raised in Nairobi. It is a commendable work of literature.

Post note: The above review is based on an ARC edition. In this review I left out my opinion of the author's first and last chapters, which is not favorable. They lack the depth and character of the intervening 400 approximate pages. I do not know whether these parts were edited for the final printing. They were weak enough to warrant mentioning, yet not enough to effect the novel's overall value and rating.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

2016 Books Read through May 3, 2016

****Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamse, audiobook, Canadian Literature

****And After Many Days, by Jowhor Ile, Early Reviewer's program, book to be published February 2016, author was raised in Nigeria and currently resides in London, First Edition to be published in American

****The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson, published in English 2009 (1982 Swedish pub,), translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal, 2015 reading list with Ferris, Finland

****Musical Moment and Other Stories, by Yehoshua Kenaz, translated from the Hebrew by Dalva Bilu and Betsy Rosenberg, 1995, originally published in Isreal in 1980, 2015 reading list with Ferris, Isreal 

****We've Already Gone This Far,  by Patrick Dacey,  Early Reviewer's program, book to be published February 2016, American

****Daddy-long-legs, by Jean Webster (1876-1916), 1912, LibriVox digital audiobook, American Literature

****The Dwarf, by Pär Lagerkvist , originally published in 1945, translated from the Swedish by Alexander Dick, Sweden, Scandinavian Literature

***1/2 The Vegetarian, by Han Kang, Early Reviewer's program,  book to be published in February 2016, originally published in South Korea, South Korean

***Best Boy, by Eli Gottlieb, 2015, digital audiobook, American

****A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, 1943, audiobook, American Literature

***Fury, A Novel, by Salman Rushdie, 2001, reading list with Ferris, Indian author

*West of Here, by Jonathan Evison,  2010, audiobook, USA

****Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou, 2012, Translated from the French by Helen Stevenson, Republic of Congo, Africa

***1/2This Dark Road to Mercy, by Wiles Cash, 2014, digital audiobook, USA

***Expensive People, Wonderland Quartet #2,  by Joyce Carol Oates, 1968, American Literature

***My Name is Lucy Barton,  by Elizabeth Barton, 2016, digital audiobook, American Novelist

****A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, 2015, digital audiobook, Swedish

*****Are You Here For What I Am Here For, Stories, by Brian Booker, to be published in May 2016, Early Reviewer's Edition,  American

****The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce, 2012, digital audiobook,  British

****The Nightingale,  by Kristin Hannah, 2015, audiobook, American Literature

****We have Always Lived in the Castle,  by Shirley Jackson, 1962, American Literature

***The Ploughmen,  by Kim Zupan, 2014, audiobook, American Literature 

**Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving, 2010, audiobook, USA

Currently Reading Little Bee, by Chris Cleave, 2010, audiobook, USA 

Currently Reading Zafarani Files, by Gamal al-Ghitani, 2015, originally published in Arabic 1976, first English translation 2009, translated from the Arabic by Farooq Abdul Wahab, Egyptian  

Currently Reading Five Spice Street, by Can Xue, 2009, translated from the Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping, Chinese Literature

Currently Reading Accursed,  by Joyce Carol Oates, 2013, American Literature

Currently Reading The Fox Was Ever the Hunter, a Novel, by Herta Müller,  2016, Early Reviewer's program, translated from the German by Philip Boehm, German Literature

Currently reading Clarissa, or, The history of a Young Lady, by Samuel Richardson, 1748, (from 2014 reading list w/ Ferris - resumed reading 2/10/2016), England

****Are You Here For What I Am Here For by Brian Booker

Early Reviewer's Edition via

We are the sum of our experiences. How we internalize them determine our thoughts, emotions and ultimate responses. It is a nonlinear abstract process that is not fully digested on a conscious level. Booker pays homage to this elusive cognitive concept through his cast of troubled characters. Their hallucinatory thoughts and situations illustrate the surreal functionality of the brain. It is an haunting display of extraordinary imagery that is as unpredictable as life itself. This was a thoughtful and unique debut novel.  )

Saturday, February 27, 2016

***The Vegetarian, A Novel by Han Kang

  • Originally published in South Korea
  • ARC edition for publication in February 2016
    • Early Reviewer's program
    • S. Korean Literature 

  • Han Kang's book runs into a peculiar problem. The entire story is based on a premise and a premise by its very meaning demands a resolution. The Vegetarian lacks resolve. The ending is merely a continuation of the story. The book does not fall apart, it simply does not fulfill its implied objective. It is otherwise a strong, beautifully elegiac and poetic work of fiction.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

****The Dwarf by Pär Lagerkvist

  • Pär Lagerkvist, 1891-1974, Sweden
    • received the Nobel Prize for Literature,  1951
  • The Dwarf was first published in 1945
    • was written at the height of Hitler's powers
  • pasquinade - a satire or lampoon,  especially one posted in a public place
  • jackanapes- an impertinent presumptuous person, especially a young man
  • jeremiad - a long, mournful complaint  or lamentation; a list of woes; 

Setting: Renaissance, Italy (approx. late 15th c. to early 16th c.)

  • Piccoline -  dwarf; narrator; an evil misanthrope; is dedicated to Prince Leone, only; hates anything to do with love or bodily functions
  • Prince Leone - Teodora's husband and the dwarf's master  
  • Princess Teodora - adulterous wife; involved romantically with Don Riccardo for many years.
  • Angelica- daughter of Prince & Princess, in love w/ Giovanni Montanza (Prince's enemy)
  • Bernardo (The Great Master) - a painter hired by the Prince (is patterned after Leonardo Da Vinci)
  • Don Riccardo - of noble lineage, the Princesses' lover
  • Boccarossa-  originally condottiere for Prince Leone, but switches sides and joins Lodovico's men after certain events occur
  • Lodovico Montanza il Toro - Prince of Montanza (Prince Leone's ancestors have battled with them for last two centuries.)
  • Beatrice - revered wife of Lodovico who died 10 years prior.
  • Giovanni - son of Prince Lodovico & Princess Beatrice. In love with Angelica (father's enemy)
Theme: Evildark side of human nature, faith vs reason

Quotes & Notes 
Quotes are from Piccoline (except where noted).
  • I have heard tell that we dwarf's are descended from a race older than that which now populates the world,  and therefore we are old as soon as we are born. (p. 6) Separates Piccoline from the human race he hates - self-deception.
  • Love is something which dies and when dead it rots and becomes soil for a new love.  Then the dead love continues its secret life in the living one, and thus in reality there in no death in love. (pp. 22-23) Part of Piccoline's self-defense mechanism - by hating anything to do with "humans" and the emotion of love, he is able to live in a world that ostracizes him and treats him as something "other". In essence, and as part of his self-defense mechanism, he is ostracizing and treating man as "other".
  • I have noticed that I frighten people; what they really fear is themselves. They think it is I who scare them, but it is the dwarf within them, the ape-faced manlike being who sticks up its head from the depths of their souls.
  • Bernardo:  Our are fates predetermined? If so, all our efforts to seek truth & attempts at happiness are in vain.  God is like a falconer whom allows freedom of thought and exploration, but only as far as his leash allows. 
    • it not the secret of our being that we are always subject to the hand of the falconer?
    • What use are our wings when they can never be spread? They become a burden instead of a release. They weigh us down,  we trail them and finally we hate them. (p. 55)
  • He has painted her exactly as she is, like a middle-aged whore. It is really like her, diabolically so. The voluptuous face with the heavy eyelids and the vague lustful smile, everything is like her. And he has put all her soul into the picture; it is uncannily revealing.  (p. 56)
  • Piccoline on war:
    • Warfare...It is a marvelous life! Body and soul feel liberated when you take part in war...Never in all my life have I been so happy. (p. 77)
    • ... I crave combat with all my soul...War is no game to me, but grim reality. I want to fight, I want to kill! Not for the glory of it, but for the deed alone. 
    • I think the world has gone mad! Lasting peace! No more war! What flummery, what childishness!  Do they think they can change the cosmic system? What conceit! And what infidelity toward the past and the great traditions.  (p. 121)
  • Love is always disgusting. 
  • The guests stuffed themselves with food and I began to feel the discomfort,  the vague nausea from which I always suffer when I see people eating, especially when they are gluttonous. They gaped in the most disgusting manner in order to make room for the too large bits and their jaw muscles champed in constant unison, while one could see the tongue moving about the food inside the mouth. (p.137)
  • A people without a leader is nothing but a miserable flock of sheep.  (p.162)
  • Human beings like to see themselves reflected in clouded mirrors.  (p. 225)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

****And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

  • Author was raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria and currently resides in London, b. 1980
  • This book takes place in Ile's hometown, Port Harcourt, Nigeria
  • A Early Reviewer's book
  • to be published February 2016, USA
  • Book designer: Lauren Dong

Setting:  1995 Port Harcourt Nigeria, during a radical time of change, violence & corruption

Draw yourself a straight line, walk backwards on it to erase your footsteps and you will trip and crack your skull. Straddle the two sides of a stream and you will unhinge your hips. Be unstable as waters and you will not excel.

Jowhor Ile's writing is beautiful and quietly captivating. There is a slow rhythmic quality to his work that dances back and forth through time as the story unfolds. Despite themes of political and personal greed and corruption, Ile's narrative remains elegant throughout.  I look forward to future work by this new literary voice.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

****Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamse

●Canadian Literature
●Tom Stechschulte (Narrator)
●Justin Rexford (Cover Designer)
●Recorded Books/Maple Leaf Audio , 2015, unabridged
●7 CD's, 8hours/1 minute

The Start of 2016 Books

This marks the end of my 2015 reading journal and the beginning of a brand new year of books.  I am excited to begin as I have just purchased some exciting new books and have shelves full of great books I have been waiting to read. There is also my never ending list of books I want, but have not yet purchased and many more that I have not yet discovered. Cheers to all bibliophiles and to another great year of reading (and reviews- when I allow myself the time to write them) and the interesting, creative and exciting minds and places they reveal. Happy reading!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

*****The Palm-Wine Drinker by Amos Tutuola

  • Note: SPOILERS throughout my narrative. 

  •      Amos Tutuola,  1920-1997
    • A native of Abeokuta, a town in Western Nigeria, Tutuola is a member of the Yoruba tribe.
    • During his childhood, Tutuola was formerly educated for only six years.
    • Tutuola was educated in a village 23.75 miles from his father's village. When Tutuola needed money for school, fees and living expenses he had to make the long trek, on foot, to his father's village. Before that, he lived with an old woman hired by Tutuola's financial sponsor far away from home. She worked him like a slave, kept him from some of his schooling and barely fed him, saving the sponsor's money for herself. These experiences, along with the dark native tales that filled his boyhood, color Tutuola's work. His characters roam for hundreds of miles serving as slaves, starving, with garish metamorphic creatures challenging and abusing the protagonist at every turn. This is particularly seen in, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts where the narrator is on an unexpected journey that begins when he is a seven year old boy and continues into his adulthood.
    • Tutuola combines native Nigerian folklore, symbols and themes with contemporary culture. Together, they form the unique and surrealist imagery found in both stories. 
  • I enjoyed My Life in the Bush of Ghosts more than The Palm-Wine Drinkard, yet both are intensely memorable. The journey seems more complete, the story is deeper and more developed, as are the characters, especially the protagonist.
 My Life in the Bush of Ghosts - A Vignette
  • Themes: metamorphoses, hunger, the journey, animal sacrifice, good and evil (love/hate, hunger/satiated, confinement [ especially against ones will, etc.] /freedom )
Notes and Quotes
  • The bush is a where ghosts live. In some areas of Africa the bush is still forbidden territory. "This Bush of Ghosts was so dreadful that no superior earthly person ever entered it." (p. 22)
  • The Bush of Ghosts is located on the second side of the world between heaven and earth. Humans are strictly banned from the bush.
  • The narrator looses his youthful innocence during his nightmarish journey and learns the meaning of bad and good, which is what hatred did.
    •  p. 17 & p. 174  I was seven years old before I understood the meaning of 'bad' and 'good'...This is what hatred did. These are the first and last sentences of the story. The Bush comes in between. The narrator/boy was forced into the Bush to hide from war. The war is hatred learned.
  • Tutuola's imagery is deeply archetypal and highly visual. A few examples can be found in the following scenes: 
    • Once in the Bush of Ghosts, the narrator-boy comes upon a golden door leading to three rooms - one of gold, one of silver and one of copper. Each door is fronted by a naked ghost who is the same color as his door. The boy is told to pick which door he would like to enter.  Each ghost entices the narrator to choose his door by pointing a long and ugly beseeching finger at him. As he moves across and in front of each door/ghost, the narrator's body is flooded with light the color of each ghost's body.
    •  The boy's choice was also influenced by the smell of different foods pouring out of each colored door. The boy had not eaten in a while and was ravished. The smell of the enticing foods began to influence his decision as to which door to choose. The ghosts aware of this, told the boy he was not to make his choice with his mouth; yet he chooses the copper door because it smelled like African food, the food he is used to and loves. Upon entering, all havoc breaks loose. The three ghosts start fighting, pulling on the boy, terrifying and hurting him. When he screams, other ghosts in the area appear in order to help settle the matter. Some of the ghosts do not have hands, others no feet or heads, some are without eyes or ears. Order is temporarily restored when the fearful Smelling-Ghost arrives.
    • The Smelling-Ghost - living on his body were "all kinds of snakes, centipedes and flies...bees, wasps and uncountable mosquitoes...he wore many scorpions on his fingers as rings...and many poisonous snakes were on his neck as beads and he belted his leather trousers with a very big and long boa constrictor which was still alive. His smell...his body was full of excreta, urine and was also wet with the rotten blood of all the animals that he was killing for his food." The fighting does not stop so the Smelling-Ghost throws the boy into a bag filled with centipedes, small snakes and mosquitoes and takes off. The boy has no idea what is going to happen to him. This is where the punishments in the Bush of Ghosts begins for the boy and continues throughout the story until he is finally brought out of the Bush and magically returns home. Although being home is not an easy conclusion. You must read the book to find out why. 
  • The above description is a spoiler, albiet a relatively small one. There are many, many more ghosts and harrowing adventures to come. The imagery is as incredible and creative as it is grotesque. Tutuola's language, summoned from hundreds and thousands of years of oral tradition, are translated through his contemporary voice. He conjures up many of the fears experienced and shared by mankind. His literary voice is important both aesthetically and historically as it chronicles a rich and vanishing culture - especially as influenced by the West.

  • p. 162  ...every earthly person gets eyes but cannot see. 

The Palm-Wine Drinkard - A Vignette
  • Themes: the impermanence of death, fighting death, fertility of life: of soil and cycle of human life, the failure of nature, which leads to ritual sacrifices of food and people in order to restore balance.
  •  This story has a similar narrative in that the protagonist meets up with strange creatures culled from native symbols and mythology. Yet this journey is about death. Death is not permanent, it is not the end, but a passage. The narrator begins his quest as an adult. As such, he does not start out innocent as the boy in Bush of Ghosts. The protagonist starts out as a wealthy man who goes in search of his expert palm-wine tapster. 
  • Africa is being influenced by the Western world and becomes overpowered through colonization.
  • Following that thought, the loss of the palm-wine tapster is symbolic of the loss of the native African culture to modern European lifestyle, and as a result of colonization. The narrator journeys into the unknown world, in essence, to find his culture and bring it back home - the African bush. It is a sobering journey.
  • Tutuola illustrates how captives can wind up identifying with their captures and wind up working along side them.
  • The character, The Skull as the Complete Gentlemen, symbolizes the European modern gentlemen inciting his influence, causing temptation. The girl is warned not to be fooled by this man, but he proves irresistible.
  • The fear of death is universal due to the ephemeral nature of life. In this tale individuals can buy and sell certain aspects of their lives. For example, they can sell their deaths and live forever. But, they cannot sell fear. In order to avoid death, the narrator & his wife sell their deaths. However, they perpetually experience fear (of death) because fear is an innate part of death. So, while they will never die, they will always live with the imminent fear of death. 
  • p. 181    The missionaries - courageous and mostly doomed - frequently brought, or possibly had to bring, to their civilizing mission that narrow self-righteousness that is so often the sword and shield of the religious idealist.
  • p. 199    The old man had thought that Death would kill me if I went to his house, because nobody could reach Death's house and return, but I had known the old man's trick already.
  • p. 253    This is only fear for the heart but no dangerous to the heart.

    *****The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat

    This is an incomplete and unedited overview of The Blind Owl.  I have published it in this form because I do not know when or if I will get back to working on it soon. However, it is such a magnificent and important work of literature, I hope what information I do provide entices you to read this novel. Despite the fact it is a novella it warrants a minimum of two readings. I have read it once, hence my reluctance to complete and edit my scruffy notes at this time.

    Sadegh Hedayat 1903-1951
    • Sadegh Hedayat  1903-1951
    • first published 1937
      • written in Persian
      • first printed in Bombay bearing the stamp, "Not for sale or publication in Iran"
      • 1941 - first appeared in Tehran as a serial in the weekly journal, Iran.
      • It was believed that The Blind Owl made its readers commit suicide.
      • This novel has been banned several times.
    • Translated by D.P. Costello
    • Introduction by Porochista Khakpour
    • psycho-fiction
    • Hedayat is considered the father of modern Iranian Literature
      • Committed suicide at age 48 while living in France.

    • city of Rey, now known as Tehran, Persia (now Iran)

    Main Character* -  an unnamed pen-case artist who narrates the entire novel

    Themes and Motifs (These should not be housed as one; please bear with me for now.)
    • death (esp by murder or suicide: i.e., narrator will give woman his poisoned wine to kill her, or narrator will drink it in order to kill himself  p. 63)
    • sexual desire
    • madness - a developing psychosis
    • repetition**
    • opposites: desire for sex vs. sexual repulsion, fear of death and desire for it
    • owl
    • black eyes
    • cypress tree
    • jar/container form, as in an urn
    • smell of cucumber on especially a female's breath (as adult or child)

    Quotes & Notes
    • This book opens with one of those fantastic and memorable first lines you do not easily forget: 
      • "There are sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a kind of canker."  (p. 17)
    • *Protagonist / narrator  - it is difficult to determine what are hallucinatory and what are real thoughts:
      • Is there one female who symbolizes all females - i.e., the desired woman = the unattainable wife. 
      • Likewise, are all or some of the portrayed men the narrator hallucinating- i.e., the butcher across the street = the one who butchered the girl, or his wife.
        • Simultaneously, is the narrator also the sinister hearse driver who must bury the girl.
        •  Is there a male nanny with his wife caring for him (the narrator), or is the nanny really his uncle, a person who cared for him in the past, or the narrator simply imagining someone taking care of his psychotic self. 
    ● Old men are always depicted as feeble with crazy laughter, women are seductress' but unattainable, so must die.
    • **"I write only for the benefit of my shadow cast on the wall," is an  oft repeated phrase throughout the novel.
    • The novel is broken up into two sections:
      • The first part is a sort of journey where the narrator, a painter of pen-cases, sets out to find a woman who haunts his mind, the same woman he paints on his pen-cases.
      • In the second section the narrator confesses his murder, revealing the background of the first section, as he is cared for by a Nanny and his wife.
    • There is a developing sense of madness that increases as the novel progresses.  
      • The narrator addresses his murderous confessions to the shadow on the wall which resembles an owl.