Fiction


Jul 14 2010

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Published by under Book Reviews

For an author to be properly crushable, he must possess not only a pretty face, but impressive talent. Handsome hacks are not welcome on the Author Crush List. That said, Tom Rachman is pretty damn crushable.

Behind those dreamy eyes is a mind I’d love to get into. I’d like to know, for instance, how Rachman manages to slip so skillfully into the lives of eleven very different people. How does he know eleven different kinds of aspiration? Eleven different kinds of desperation? Eleven different kinds of loneliness? And how does he whip these stories into the portrait of a modern-day newsroom while also delivering the history of the paper from inception to present day? How does he write The Imperfectionists so perfectly?

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Aug 20 2009

The Real Japan

Published by under Book Reviews

Real World - by Natsuo Kirino

Real World - by Natsuo Kirino

Many readers who express an interest in Japanese literature are already familiar with Natsuo Kirino’s fascinating work. Her recent novel, Real World, reads like a social study carefully disguised as crime fiction. The crime itself, a murder, slowly makes its way out of the picture, revealing other dangers, and rushing the story forward like a Tokyo bullet train.

The main characters are high school students with few bonds to each other and whose aspirations are as mundane as to simply live a peaceful life. Unfortunately, that is not meant to happen, and their worlds are doomed to be invaded by all the threats of the real world imaginable: school girl-obsessed creeps, fortune tellers, marketers, shallow pop-culture, alienated parents, personal disasters they have no idea how to cope with, smothering relatives and peers forcing them to study, study, study until you “spit up blood”, study “like you are going to die.” Continue Reading »

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May 02 2009

Netherland

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Netherland - by Joseph O'Neill

Netherland - by Joseph O'Neill

So, apparently President Obama is reading Netherland. This is great news for Joseph O’Neill, the novel’s author.

Netherland, just out in paperback, was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and, much to my surprise, cut from the short list.  It was also one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2008.

When I told a friend I was reading Netherland, he responded by asking if it was a book set “back in the day.” It’s not, but it was a fair question. The title is enigmatic and elusive: Netherland refers to the protagonist’s birth country (the Netherlands) and to the primary setting of the novel, New York City, once called New Amsterdam (“back in the day” of course). And going further, the title, read as nether-land, evokes images of some sort of underworld, a hidden realm that exists below the surface of the what’s most apparently visible, a nether world I understand to be the psyche of New Yorkers living in a post 9/11 world and struggling to make sense of life in a city that is often too immense, too overwhelming. Continue Reading »

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Feb 10 2009

The Lazarus Project

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The Lazarus Project -by Aleksandar Hemon

The Lazarus Project -by Aleksandar Hemon

After enduring an extremely brutal reading list for a class on genocide, I declared January to be a “happy book only” month for me.  But now it is February, and I can start reading about pogroms, political oppression, and mass graves again. The first book I read after my self-imposed “depressing book ban” was The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon, and it became one of my favorites overnight.

Hemon intertwines two intriguing stories about Lazarus Averbuch, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who was shot by a Chicago Chief of Police in 1908, and a fictional, present-day Bosnian immigrant named Brik. Officially, Lazarus was declared an anarchist assassin, but Brik wants to discover what really happened. Continue Reading »

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Jan 30 2009

The Pearl Jacket and Other Stories, Flash Fiction

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The Pearl Jacket -edited and translated by Shouhua Qi

The Pearl Jacket -ed. & trans. by Shouhua Qi

A young journalist befriends an older gentleman and his bird in “Comedy of Birds.” When the old man has been talked into freeing his favorite bird by the Old Men Bird Club that he belongs to, he bemoans the day. When it arrives, the young man comes along, envisioning a feature story. As everyone’s bird takes flight the old man’s bird drops dead from the sky. The journalist sees his story fly away.

The Pearl Jacket and Other Stories is full of short-shorts with this biting irony or crisp, cruel social criticism. However, it also shares with the readers moments of calm, tenderness, and even humor. Every story in the book can be categorized as “flash fiction,” a style popular both in China and in the US. This book’s short-shorts are about 1000 words or less. Stories this short offer the reader a juicy mouthful of one emotion, idea, or atmosphere of a time.

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Oct 17 2008

A White Tiger in Dark India

Published by under Book Reviews,News

The White Tiger --by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger --by Aravind Adiga

*On October 14th, Aravind Adiga was announced the winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2008 for his novel, The White Tiger. To further laud Mr. Adiga and his book, Jess tells us just why exactly this book deserves such praise.*

In honor of coworker Nicole’s departure to Bangalore (and because I can’t go there myself), I’m recommending a recent stand-out novel in the ever-widening body of literature that discusses the post-colonial experience in modernizing countries such as India: Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger.

Written as a modern epistolary novel, the story of the protagonist, Balram Halwai, is dictated over the course of seven nights. The reader learns early on that Balram has not only risen out from the great “Rooster Coop” of India to become a successful entrepreneur, but has also committed the greatest crime of all: murder. First-time author Aravind Adiga consistently uses dark and light imagery to trace Balram’s rise to (relative) economic success and his transition to the modern center of India, Delhi. But as Balram emerges from the dark heart of India, he is also faced with a new type of darkness — a moral darkness that will either destroy or save him.

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Oct 08 2008

Be Careful: Indridason’s Icelandic Murder Mysteries Are Addictive!

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Voices --by Arnaldur Indridason

Voices --by Arnaldur Indridason

“Jesus,” Henry said. “A murder!”
“You have murders in Iceland?” his wife, Cindy [...] asked, glancing over at the Icelandair brochure on the bedside table.
“Rarely,” he said, trying to smile.
(excerpted from Voices)

I didn’t expect to get so wrapped up in a series of murder mysteries. There has to be some secret to this one because I rarely read when I cook, and Arnaldur Indridason’s books made me do just so. The main characters, three detectives from the Reykjavik police, are too different to stick together in the world outside the investigations they lead. The lives of Erlendur, the senior detective, perfectly bred and American-educated Sigurdur Oli, and the amazing cook and housewife Elinborg would have never met if Iceland didn’t have truly mysterious criminal cases popping up now and then. In some strange way those murders remind me of (please, don’t laugh) those wooden matreshka dolls — you open it and there is a new one sitting inside, which contains yet another one, and another one, and so on until you have found the tiniest, the very last little doll. I would say that’s a different plot recipe from a usual missing puzzle piece-type paperback thriller.

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Sep 28 2008

Writering -or- Junot Diaz: Check.

Published by under News

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao --by Junot Diaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao --by Junot Diaz

I have ticked off another box on my Writering Life List (…like birding, but with authors).

Junot Diaz was sitting across from me on the subway the other morning. I was on my way to work, so it was early; I feared my senses were still blurry from having just woken. But there was really no mistaking it. Having seen his picture everywhere when our friends at Harvard Book Store hosted a reading with him, I was familiar with that stubble, that hairline (or lack thereof), those glasses, and that peculiarly frowning mouth. It was him.

Did I go up him and tell him how much I loved Oscar Wao? Of course not! Would you casually saunter up to a pileated woodpecker if you spotted one and tell him how brilliantly red his crest was? Of course not! Most writers are known to be solitary creatures, skittish at the sight of fans clutching books to their chests, grinning shyly, practicing softly under their breath how to say, “I’ve been the biggest fan for…” without sounding like that guy.

So no, I did not bother him. Besides, he was reading.

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Jun 06 2008

The Zen of Darkness

Published by under Book Reviews,News

Murakami\'s After DarkHaruki Murakami‘s After Dark is definitely one of the most curious novels I’ve read in a long time. His way of writing is effortless, and his topics could not be more appealing to the reader. He sums up the essence of many of his own previous works, revealing what it means to feel true affection, to fear loneliness and to be lost in a technologicaly overdeveloped world- the perfect representation of modern Tokyo. Continue Reading »

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May 20 2008

Where For Art Thou, Junot Diaz?

Published by under Book Reviews,News

A fresh copy of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao arrived today, newly emblazoned with a shiny gold sticker identifying it as 2008′s Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction. And, let me tell you, if ever a book deserved a gold sticker, it is this one. Continue Reading »

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