The best parts of Matt Ruff's alternate War on Terror world are when the story seems like a waking dream: characters sense their version of events isThe best parts of Matt Ruff's alternate War on Terror world are when the story seems like a waking dream: characters sense their version of events is not quite the reality, yet the scenes are infused with details too vivid to be anything less. These parts, especially during the first half of the novel, open the reader's eyes to new perspectives on what Americans must think of as an unchangeable cultural moment. But, also as with a dream, the longer the novel goes on, the more gaps appear to make the story less effective, less believable, and less magical. It plays games with wild pairings that work only to make the characters whose world we wanted to believe in seem less believable themselves. The ending effectively explains "the mirage," but the second half of the book disappoints on a promise: that even a broken mirror can, through inversion and distortion, show us exactly who we are....more
Intricately woven, richly informed, and as plausible as anything in contemporary history, "The Impeachment" is a mix of courtroom drama and traditionaIntricately woven, richly informed, and as plausible as anything in contemporary history, "The Impeachment" is a mix of courtroom drama and traditional mystery that aspires -- and achieves -- to be entertaining genre fiction, a study of American race relations, a recognition of women as political protagonists, and a realization of history's political corpus -- where time and place shape as much for the country as personage and character. This wasn't a fast read, or a shallow one, but Carter's attention to detail creates such a plausible escape from history that the reality becomes equally refreshed. The shine taken briefly from Lincoln here makes us only doubly more appreciative that we ever had him at all....more
An almost perfect modern spy novel, filled with a keen understanding of the contemporary environment of Putin's Russia and the United States' self-genAn almost perfect modern spy novel, filled with a keen understanding of the contemporary environment of Putin's Russia and the United States' self-generated dependance on privatized intelligence companies. The plot is masterful in tying strong characters to its global events, and Anna Resnikov is an excellent embodiment of the modern agent and one who satisfies the need for readers to see heroes driven by goals more human than global. Dryden's novel makes the spy novel relevant to an age that has all but forgotten the Cold War, and gives espionage an urgency that had felt lost in the information age....more
With its massive cast introduced and explored in the first novel, "A Clash of Kings" takes these players through multiple conspiracies to claim the riWith its massive cast introduced and explored in the first novel, "A Clash of Kings" takes these players through multiple conspiracies to claim the rights and throne of the Seven Kingdoms. While each character's story is gripping and original, the large number of threads to follow can become daunting to track through this massive novel within a series of massive novels. Nevertheless, Martin's pacing is sharp and his ability to make so many of his creations unique, memorable, and identifiable by the context of their actions makes the series a worthwhile read that is too rich to be labelled a fantasy-themed distraction. This is an epic series worth the investment it asks....more
Murambi is a novel produced as part of a Rwandan program to remember the genocide of 1994 – an event in which between 800,000 to 1,200,000 individualsMurambi is a novel produced as part of a Rwandan program to remember the genocide of 1994 – an event in which between 800,000 to 1,200,000 individuals were killed, most with weapons wielded by their neighbors. The book also makes an effort to capture the Rwandese desire to have the world see beyond the perception that the region is "cursed" by violence, rather than that violence being the result of several specific political actions. The book reproduces the key cultural conflicts by working on the individual level, placing novelist Cornelius Uvimana in a position as somewhat both a perpetrator and product of the murders. And rather than paint in broad strokes of violence, author Diop effectively uses one or two key images of its aftermath – a child’s severed foot in a dog’s mouth; a man hiding under the dead -- to make the murders personal, and somehow imaginable. Murambi is a challenging book, and an important story, that bumps against a great many stereotypes of the region and its people, and ultimately asks that we see not see the Rwandese as sculptures in misery, but as people struggling, continuing, and alive. ...more
"Black Dogs's" closest contemporary in the McEwan oeuvre is probably the novel "Saturday," as both can be read to satisfaction without acknowledging t"Black Dogs's" closest contemporary in the McEwan oeuvre is probably the novel "Saturday," as both can be read to satisfaction without acknowledging their political genesis, though at some level trying to read these very timely novels outside of their context seems to sell the whole purpose short. That effort is especially true with 1992’s "Black Dogs," published closely on the heels of German reunification, thick with reflections on the Jewish Holocaust, and constructed almost entirely around the inescapable political posturing that characterizes the estrangement of Bernard and June Tremaine, the novel's central figures.
A friend once said that Ian McEwan was the author he most wished would receive the Nobel prize, and I have to agree. I can't think of another living author as consistent in skill or as clever in finding unique ways to engage an audience to read, knowingly or not, what previous generations would have called 'Political novels.' "Black Dogs" is as brilliant as "Atonement," as "Saturday," or as "The Child in Time." I believe there isn’t a book by Ian McEwan not worth reading.
Beasts of No Nation encapsulates, in narrator Agu’s voice, the mixture of formative development at the mercy of war with the already muddled journey tBeasts of No Nation encapsulates, in narrator Agu’s voice, the mixture of formative development at the mercy of war with the already muddled journey to adulthood that has a boy comparing, still, all the women he meets to his mother. Unapologetically graphic, and clearly sympathetic, Iweala’s book is a strong shot to swallow rather than a novel one might expect to sip. Its effectiveness may come in exposing Western readers to a world they often do not see, or wish to notice, but the language is sharp and stands as a good contemporary counterpoint to benefit students of classic Western war novels such as "All Quiet On the Western Front."
(Some reviewers question Iweala’s authenticity in writing a narrative involving a boy soldier without his having first-hand experience of the job. Requiring first-hand experience in authorship is a bizarre standard to set and would, if applied to others, eliminate about 80% of novels published. Are we all so unimaginative?) ...more
I'jaam's lucid flashbacks and hallucinatory passages written during narrator Furat's Iraqi imprisonment reminds me of similar political or existentialI'jaam's lucid flashbacks and hallucinatory passages written during narrator Furat's Iraqi imprisonment reminds me of similar political or existential novels The Stranger and The Plague. There is even something about I'jaam to recall the less mature Stephen King novella, The Long Walk, and the more artificially constructed, e-less novel from Georges Perec, A Void. But while those books had much looser ties - if any - to a kind of truth, it is not difficult to find the reality that motives the surreality of I'jaam: the Orwellian-like regime of Saddam Hussein. As a novel, I'jaam is beautifully done: believable in its premise; effective as a written artifice; reluctant to use heavy-handedness and anger when its portrayal of soft tragedies, and a lost romance, bring Furat's imprisonment a readier display of human endurance, justification, and regret. This novel, like the era it captures, needs to be elevated into broader view. ...more
Tahmima Anam's slow starting biographical and historical novel, the first of three, finds it voice quite suddenly, and in the same manner as does itsTahmima Anam's slow starting biographical and historical novel, the first of three, finds it voice quite suddenly, and in the same manner as does its characters: with the outbreak of war in East Pakistan, 1971. Occurring a few long chapters in, the war that leads to the eventual birth of Bangladesh also leads to the startling growth of Rehana Haque, a mother whose characterization avoids the ready but dangerous stereotypes of war-torn families, grieving widows, and over-reaching maternalism. Instead Anam charts the rough ground of an independence and an identity subsumed but never sacrificed, both personal and ultimately political. A Golden Age is well worth the patience its first few chapters demand....more
Disgrace is a beautifully written, emotionally blunt novel that maps, in shadows and scars, the complicated cultural geography of contemporary Cape ToDisgrace is a beautifully written, emotionally blunt novel that maps, in shadows and scars, the complicated cultural geography of contemporary Cape Town. In Disgrace the decadence of Western privilege overlays the body of rural Africa; the useless academic hopes to shape and tame the simple thoughts of the unformed young; and art seeks to find honesty in first distantly mimicking then finally respecting the rough-hewn people it mines for material. Finally, and in a manner that makes this novel so striking, the reverse of each scenario arrives, and proves its own uncomfortable truth.
None of this says what the novel is about, which is something I think is best described by the book jacket: an attempt to finding meaning after an act — acts — of unimaginable violence. But around those scenes are moments of individual, personal elevation, making the entire novel something like the county itself: a mix of chaos and ritual, horror and art, and disgrace met with a kind of accepting salvation. ...more
There is no real reason to link Snow to The Lovers of Algeria or The Swallows of Kabul, two Muslim-authored books I read earlier this year, other thanThere is no real reason to link Snow to The Lovers of Algeria or The Swallows of Kabul, two Muslim-authored books I read earlier this year, other than a personal effort to understand better the religion our President seems to be at war against. But of these three novels, which all deal with the leaps in power given to Islamic fundamentalists over the past thirty years, Snow seems the most Western-feeling of the three. Maybe that’s a given for a novel about Turkey, the most Westernized of Mediterranean Muslim nations, and for a book whose author was awarded a prize from that most prestigious Western literary institution.
What I liked about Snow was its Western feel, which seemed to allow me in a bit more (an attitude with political problems). The scope, too, is broad and detailed and full of interesting characters who are all perfectly understandable as individuals.
When you read a book that is so obviously good, it seems silly to go on about it so much. So I’ll just say (until perhaps I can think of something more original to add) that I enjoyed getting into this author’s world, and will probably read more of it soon....more
In the general sense, The Swallows of Kabul is a short novel of Afghan life under the Taliban, but (as with Philip Caputos' Acts of Faith) the real mIn the general sense, The Swallows of Kabul is a short novel of Afghan life under the Taliban, but (as with Philip Caputos' Acts of Faith) the real message of this political novel is more personal and more penetrating. Here is book made to question the logic of fundamentalist rule. Here also is an emotionally emptying story of how the central binding power of women has been systematically destroyed by Afghanistan’s culture of war. There are scathing commentaries given to the women of Kabul — the swallows of the novel — about the theft of femininity and identity through the assignment of the burqa. The men, meanwhile, seem not to know themselves, and can only note their losses in the mirroring faces and costumes of their wives.
Reading Swallows is like reading science fiction without the fiction part; it creates an uncomfortable view of life yoked by the impulses of fundamentalism, and demonstrates a history of loss — lives literally driven to ruin — from the whips and bonds that has made this world of men.
[Yasmina Khadra is the feminine pen name for Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul]
Don DeLillo’s novel of 9/11, reminds me in a way of the film Brokeback Mountain. The weight of that movie came from the premise that the viewer wouldDon DeLillo’s novel of 9/11, reminds me in a way of the film Brokeback Mountain. The weight of that movie came from the premise that the viewer would be, or should be, shocked by two rural men in love, but the great failing of that movie is that if you aren’t shocked by the concept, then you are left with a fairly typical story of love abbreviated.
Falling Man gains its importance from being a novel about the New York terrorist attacks. But if you overlook the weight of this event — contextualize it in the way you might contextualize a novel wanting to recapture Pearl Harbor, or the assassination of John Kennedy — then you are left with a novel of a marriage struggling to rebuild itself, with the weight of a cataclysmic event moving the characters in and out of reflection.
I’ve read better novels of Events, in particular, Birds In Fall. Where Falling Man suffers is that the novel doesn’t seek to do any contextualizing for us. We read about the aftermath of the attack and are asked, as readers, to blow our own feelings, our own experiences like dust over DeLillo’s portrayal of a fractured domestic life.
(Is it even possible to write a novel about 9/11 that doesn’t in some way ask us to invest ourselves in the author’s difficult process of making the factual mythical and then factual again? I think that novel will be written, but Falling Man is not it.)
There are also sections of Falling Man that follow one of the hijackers. These seemed removed and unreal (most of the book feels removed and unreal, but I say that to DeLillo’s credit) and ultimately false in their rendering.
Of all the things to write about 9/11, is the event itself now the least important? Have we played that song over and over so long that we no longer know how to hear it, and instead only hear what we expect to hear? Is there a person in America who can speak of 9/11 that escapes the tower we built of it in our language horrific hyperbole? Shakespeare didn’t have to write about the deaths of Kings for his stories to reflect the great breadth of human experience, but that choice elevated the root of his story, making Kings more human and common men more like kings. In Falling Man, the Event rules all, but I wonder if we really know what story it is that we are trying to tell about it, about us, about then, about now.