A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the September 5, 2014 edition of The Monitor
As comedy horror series go, the films th...moreA TOP SHELF review, originally published in the September 5, 2014 edition of The Monitor
As comedy horror series go, the films that make up the Leprechaun franchise are pretty laughable, and not in a particularly good way. From Ireland to Nebraska, from Las Vegas to the far reaches of space and back to the ‘hood of Compton, the titular green-clad villain (played by Warwick Davis) has been surrounded by groan-worthy gags and potty humor.
But that’s part of the movies’ charm.
When I first discovered that bizarro-fiction wunderkind Cameron Pierce had teamed up with independent horror authors Shane McKenzie and Adam Cesare to conjointly write Leprechaun in the Hood: The Musical: A Novel, I was giddy with amused delight. Originally uploaded in Dickensian installments on a subreddit, the wickedly humorous and gory project wholly lived up to my expectations.
This week, those installments were published as a single novel by Broken River Books. The plot centers on the attempt by amateur theater director Simon to put on a musical version of the fifth film in the franchise in his native Portland, Oregon, skirting the problems of copyrights (as the book itself does, in a marvelous meta twist) by making the theatrical version more of a parody.
Though the city and indeed the independent media across the country are abuzz at the ostensibly daring artistry of Simon, the friends and acquaintances he has wrangled together for his project are fed up with him as the novel opens. The stage-fright-suffering star, Marvin, and Byron, the project’s rapper, find themselves increasingly alienated from their friend, and more experienced drama folks like Trinie and Mark are embarrassed at his incompetence.
Worse, however, is the fact that the real Leprechaun on whom Lubdan (the films’ protagonist) is based is incensed when he sees a flyer advertising the musical. While he had arranged with the Hollywood executives the right to use his image in their films, he has struck no suck bargain with Simon and his crew, so he decides to rain vengeance of a ghastly Irish sort upon their heads.
Director and actors must scramble amidst tragedy to figure out which rules from the self-contradictory films actually apply in order to defeat the gold-loving imp. Mayhem ensues.
Pierce, Cesare and McKenzie wrangle the action with the unfettered glee of a 1980s Sam Raimi, boggling the mind with horrific yet insanely funny set pieces. Amazingly, however, the main characters are pretty well rounded, rising above the typical cannon fodder or plot contrivances typical of the films themselves.
Most gratifying is the way in which the authors, in the midst of some truly mind-boggling insanity, manage to deal deftly with very timely issues of intellectual property rights and the role of satire and parody in modern society.
The writing is Spartan but strong, with fantastic dialogue and eerily memorable descriptions from three honest-to-goodness masters of their craft. If you enjoy horror, bizarro fiction, or edgy parodies, definitely check this one out. (less)
In April, Arte Público released the latest from former McAllen native Viola Canales, whose first novel (The Tequila Worm) made a big splash back in 20...moreIn April, Arte Público released the latest from former McAllen native Viola Canales, whose first novel (The Tequila Worm) made a big splash back in 2005. The Harvard graduate, turning her hand to verse, has crafted a bilingual collection titled The Little Devil and the Rose: Lotería Poems. A sort of poetic memoir, the volume uses the conceit of the Mexican card game lotería as a frame to explore different aspects of the author’s life and culture. Each poem bears the name of a lotería card (I especially loved “The Little Devil,” “The Dandy,” “The Mermaid,” “Death,” “The Musician” and “The Soldier”).
What’s really fantastic about this volume, aside from the amazing images and lyrical beauty of the poems, is the subversion and transformation of the titles of each card, turning archetypes into moving portraits of raw, powerful human experience. Fantastic art and Spanish versions of each piece complete this memorable journey through the deck.(less)
Released in April 2014 was Ten Thousand Waves, a collection of prose poems by the award-winning Wang Ping in a volume crafted by Wings Press. An amazi...moreReleased in April 2014 was Ten Thousand Waves, a collection of prose poems by the award-winning Wang Ping in a volume crafted by Wings Press. An amazing portrait of the economic and physical hardship suffered by so many in modern China, the book lays bare the untenable relationship between the misery and oppression of millions and the luxury afforded a scant number of tourists and elite. Sometimes this relationship twists the sacred into the owned (“Young Monk at Debating Court”), other times it devalues human life and traditional spaces (“The Price of a Finger”), and always it transforms the Chinese identity in irreparable ways (“In Search of Chinese Poets”).
Ping effortlessly captures the multiple voices of rare earth miners to housewives to those emigrating in search of the better lives. Her images and language leave indelible marks on the soul, and the haunting sound of cold waves drowning the hopes of Chinese workers abroad will linger a long time in your ears.(less)
Out this summer from Wings Press is the latest volume of poetry from the indefatigable Carmen Tafolla, former McAllen resident and first poet laureate...moreOut this summer from Wings Press is the latest volume of poetry from the indefatigable Carmen Tafolla, former McAllen resident and first poet laureate of San Antonio. This River Here: Poems of San Antonio is a celebration of the city she loves. It explores in homespun yet elegant ways the recent history and cultural development of the area (“Listen to the voices in this breeze, your ancestors, the trees, the river that remembers…”), its unique linguistic and social milieu (“The Mestizo Molcajete’s Mezcla”) and its deeper historical and philosophical implications (“A Site to See Deep Time”).
With her characteristic mix of humor, insight and compassion, Tafolla once again assumes the many memorable voices of her community to weave the unforgettable portrait of a truly unique city.(less)
A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the August 22, 2014 edition of The Monitor
For more than a century, the world has been captivated and repul...moreA TOP SHELF review, originally published in the August 22, 2014 edition of The Monitor
For more than a century, the world has been captivated and repulsed by the Whitechapel Murders in which a killer calling himself Jack the Ripper slaughtered as many as 11 women working as prostitutes in the most dangerous part of London. Though much ink has been spilled exploring the particulars of these unsolved murders and the possible identity of the perpetrator, less attention has been paid to the victims themselves and the circumstances that thrust them into the path of a serial killer.
Allen M. Clark, an award-winning artist whose cover credits and illustrations span many decades and dozens of impressive venues, has in recent years turned his gifted hand increasingly to writing. In his latest work of historical fiction from Lazy Fascist Press, Say Anything But Your Prayers, Clark interweaves biographical fact, impeccable historical research and resonant psychological speculation to tell the life story of Elizabeth Stride, the third woman to fall beneath the Ripper’s blade.
Born Elizabeth Gustavsdotter in a working-class family in Sweden, Stride leaves home at 17 to make her way in the world, finding work as a domestic in some of the larger towns. Within about five years, economic circumstances and her increasing fondness for drink drive her to prostitution. After a bout of syphilis and a stillbirth, Elizabeth makes her way to London, having worked for years to learn the English language.
In Britain she marries carpenter John Stride, and the two of them set up a coffee shop where she serves the delicious brew with which she once pleased her father. But as the years progress, economic hardships and the ill health of her husband push her toward drink and prostitution once again.
Living in increasingly squalid conditions, losing teeth one by one and embracing dissolution, Elizabeth keeps hoping to meet a kind client who will, as in previous happenstance encounters with the right men throughout her life, push her back into the arms of good fortune.
Instead, her last john turns out to be Saucy Jack himself.
Throughout the novel, Clark delves deeply into the mind of his protagonist, suggesting through several literary devices that she may have suffered from a mild dissociative identity disorder. As the reader realizes the unreliability of events seen through Elizabeth’s eyes, the despair and confusion of her final moments ring poignantly.
Enhanced by powerful illustrations by the author, Say Anything But Your Prayers is not only a remarkable entwicklungsroman, but also an unflinching study of the ways in which societal indifference, economic injustice and moral decay are just as murderous as the worst sociopath.(less)
Coming in September from Arte Público is the first bilingual edition of Rolando Hinojosa’s Klail City / Klail City y sus alrededores. The original Spa...moreComing in September from Arte Público is the first bilingual edition of Rolando Hinojosa’s Klail City / Klail City y sus alrededores. The original Spanish version, published in 1976, won the Casa de las Américas Prize, one of the most prestigious literary prizes in Latin America. The 1987 English translation by the author also garnered critical acclaim.
The second in Hinojosa’s essential Klail Death Trip series, this novel is a loosely structured series of vignettes that takes up strands from The Valley and continues weaving a vibrant tapestry of life in South Texas.
Multiple narrators, including series protagonists Rafe Buenrostro and Jehú Malacara spin tales from in and around Klail City, a fictional stand-in for Mercedes. From the abuse of Texas Rangers to the tribulations of migrant workers, from political machinations to schooling in an era of segregation and all the murders, marriages, and drunken gossip along the way, Klail City marks the point at which Hinojosa’s rich fictional world begins to rival the Macondo of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
You owe it to yourself to pick up this essential tome from the “Dean of Mexican-American Letters,” a master of voice and place and the human experience. (less)
From El Zarape Press comes Insomnia, the latest collection of poetry by South Texas arts promoter Edward Vidaurre. This volume explores every moonlit...moreFrom El Zarape Press comes Insomnia, the latest collection of poetry by South Texas arts promoter Edward Vidaurre. This volume explores every moonlit nook and cranny of the insomniac night — visions both nightmarish and beautiful brought on by lack of sleep—and the coffee-fueled, bleary-eyed morning that comes close on its heels. The poems he discovers in the borderland between wakefulness and slumber are full of startling images, purgatories brimming with fingertips and thighs, rivers and blood, howls and laughter, ghosts and the afterimages of bright smiles. From formal to experimental, Vidaurre’s irrepressible, unique voice echoes in verse that only a barrio poet could compose.(less)
Just out from Slough Press is the first book by Octavio Quintanilla, If I Go Missing. Bracingly stark yet littered with both lyrical and thematic beau...moreJust out from Slough Press is the first book by Octavio Quintanilla, If I Go Missing. Bracingly stark yet littered with both lyrical and thematic beauty, these poems center on the lives lived and lost in the fluid space of la frontera.
The first of the three sections largely explores the fallout from the shattering of dreams and repression of identity: men look for “a new opponent / more dangerous than the universe” “before water forgets / how to drown” them, men who are still “trembling / at the principal’s office” and unable to move on from the cultural humiliation heaped on them. The people in these poems often feel disassociated from their own bodies or as if they lived another’s life. When family members or neighbors die, there is a deep sense of loss that unmoors them. The second section delves deeper into the hurt and despair of border folk, from the alienation of immigrants now horrified at Mexico’s descent into violence to the plight of those seeking to escape that world. From kidnappings to killings, from spirit-sapping drudgery to potential death in distant war zones, Quintanilla quietly guides us with an intimate tone and shocking imagery to face the realities of border life.
In the final section, the poet opens himself up even further, exploring poignantly how his own dual identity (born in Harlingen, raised in Mexico and Weslaco) continues to impact his roles as lover, husband, father, scholar. In poems like “Pretending” and “All of us have a story,” he seems to conclude, like Wallace Stevens, that life is about finding the right metaphor. “Maybe all you truly want is to have a story,” he tells us, and I think he’s right. The story he tells us about himself in these harrowingly lovely poems will linger in your mind long after you turn the last page.(less)
A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the July 12, 2014 edition of The Monitor
After WWII, the English-speaking world experienced a boom of inter...moreA TOP SHELF review, originally published in the July 12, 2014 edition of The Monitor
After WWII, the English-speaking world experienced a boom of interest in Latin-American literature that arguably had a profound effect on writing published across the globe. Vital to this movement was the work of Gregory Rabassa, who translated some of the key texts into English and opened the floodgates for others.
Rabassa has won multiple awards for his work: the PEN Translation Prize, the Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, the Gregory Kolovakos Award, and the U.S. National Book Award for Translation.
As a translator, I was excited to learn of his book If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, A Memoir, recipient of the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. Though written by a man pushing 90, the volume is full of wit and verve as well as invaluable insight into the process of one of our greatest translators.
In the first 50 pages or so, Rabassa reflects on the art of translation and its oddly disreputable position among the arts, reviewing broadly some of the linguistic and cultural conundrums translators face. He then sets out to provide personal context for his evolution into a translator: born in Yonkers, New York, into a family whose patriarch was a Cuban émigré, Rabassa lived a linguistically playful life. His college studies were interrupted by World War II, during which conflict he served an OSS cryptographer. Upon his return, he studied Romance languages and literature atDartmouth and Columbia University, where he eventually earned a doctorate and began to teach. It was here that he co-founded the journal Odyssey, which published many Latin-American stories and poems in English for the first time.
Rabassa’s memoir then goes on to walk us through a “bill of particulars,” a chronological review of all the major works in Spanish and Portuguese that he has translated. And what a list it is! Beginning with Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch (a project that spawned a life-long friendship), Rabassa’s body of work contains some of the most important translations of the 20th century, including A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, who waited three years to secure Rabassa as translator and who famously said that the English version was better than the original.
From Vargas Llosa to Machado de Assis, the iteration of authors is a veritable round-up of must-reads, and the inside perspective on the authors and their interactions (or lack thereof) with the translator is eye-opening.
In the end, some may find Rabassa’s often hand-wavey explanations of the translation process frustrating. His own practice is to render a book into English as he reads it for the first time, without any real preparation or research (except on-the-fly, as needed). But as a translator, I find this honesty refreshing. Translators, at the end of the day, are just very careful readers with the uncanny skill of reading one language into another.
This book is meant for them and for anyone fascinated by Latin-American literature in general.(less)
A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the June 27, 2014 edition of The Monitor
Graham Greene is best known as both having abandoned agnosticism a...moreA TOP SHELF review, originally published in the June 27, 2014 edition of The Monitor
Graham Greene is best known as both having abandoned agnosticism as an adult to convert to Catholicism and as having, perhaps better than any other British author, married critically acclaimed literary writing with mass popularity. Most modern Americans will know him the many film adaptations of his work.
Most characteristic of Greene’s writing is the internal, spiritual struggles of characters in inhospitable and often far-flung locales, places where the small existences of men and women seem likely to be swallowed up in larger evils.
The Heart of the Matter is set in an unnamed British colony on the African coast during WWII. Major Henry Scobie is responsible for security in the principal town, where he has lived for the past decade and a half with his wife Louise, who is increasingly unhappy at this life. A devout Catholic, Scobie has gradually rid his existence of all but the bare necessities: all he truly needs is his work and his faith, he believes.
When Scobie is passed up for a promotion to Commissioner, his wife can take no more and insists they move to South Africa. Scobie sends her ahead, compromising his staunch sense of ethics to procure a loan from Yusef, a shady Syrian who is likely smuggling diamonds.
With his wife gone, however, Scobie only momentarily experiences the peaceful freedom he has imagined so long. Survivors of a ship sunk by Germans make their way to the colony, and among them is 19-year-oldHelen Rolt, widowed by the attack. Scobie opens his heart to her as a friend, thinking to bring her some peace and joy, but he cannot help but fall in love.
The consequences of this affair are devastating, especially when Louise decides to return. Scobie finds himself caught in a web of lies and deceit, pushed to commit what he considers some of the most spiritually evil of acts in order to keep both women from paying the price of his weakness.
No book I’ve ever read documents the horrible, soul-wrenching experience of rationally choosing to violate principles one believes in deeply to protect others. Scobie’s spiritual self-sacrifice is heart-breaking and chilling, and one can’t help but feel compassion as he tries to bear the weight of tragedy.
Featuring powerful, immediate prose, fantastic characterizations and a highly memorable setting, The Heart of the Matter is a masterful tale of existential betrayal.(less)
A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the June 20, 2014 edition of Festiva Magazine, the weekly entertainment insert of The Monitor
Nikos Kazantz...moreA TOP SHELF review, originally published in the June 20, 2014 edition of Festiva Magazine, the weekly entertainment insert of The Monitor
Nikos Kazantzakis is primarily known to the US public through the film adaptations of his novels Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation. The Cretan-born philosopher and writer was the author and translator of dozens of other works, however, including a sequel to the Greek epic The Odyssey, which he considered to be his greatest achievement.
In 1957, after being nominated for the Nobel Prize, Kazantzakis lost by a single vote to Albert Camus. A few months later, returning from a tour of Asia, the writer finally succumbed to the leukemia he’d been struggling with for years. His tombstone reads, “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”
That fearlessness was the end result of a life-long spiritual quest poignantly detailed in Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises, translated into English by Kimon Friar. In the pages of this small book, using a heightened tone of sacred worship and ecstasy, Kazantzakis distilled the philosophy that underpins all of his writing: the universe is evolving toward something greater than mere matter, plants, animals, humanity. We have, he insisted, a special duty to this future being now rising through us.
He made the highly controversial choice of calling the end product of that evolution “God.” It’s a small wonder the Greek Orthodox Church anathematized him just two years before his death.
Saviors of God consists of five parts. In “The Preparation,” Kazantzakis spells out three human duties: to recognize the limitations that separate us from one another, to rebel against those limitations and unite to become the mind of the world, and to struggle for freedom through our collective evolution even while admitting that the universe has no inherent purpose.
In “The March,” Kazantzakis presents his vision of the individual contribution to the evolution of God, first by identifying with and then rejecting the ego, allowing the Combatant (our collective drive for freedom and complexity) to flow through and destroy the self; then by gradual identification with and transcendence of one’s culture, of humanity, of the very earth.
“The Vision” gives us a glimpse at the gradually evolving hope and freedom that the author calls God, the eventual transmutation of our material selves into “spirit” or “spark,” a virtual being that encompasses the universe with absolute liberty. “The Action” meditates on the need for each person to dedicate him or herself to the advancement of our collective knowledge, freedom and compassion (given that “God” is not all-powerful and must be “saved”).
Finally, in “The Silence,” the philosopher reflects on how the spark of each individual mind commingles in the abyss that predates existence, united within the future deity. But he turns this vision on its head with the final, paradoxical axiom: “even this one does not exist!”
While likely frustrating to adherents to the big three monotheist religions, this work spoke to me as few other philosophical essays have done. Inspiring and humbling, Saviors of God is made for would-be rational mystics.(less)
A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the June 12, 2014 edition of The Monitor
A life-long fan of Stephen King, I was excited to see his latest h...moreA TOP SHELF review, originally published in the June 12, 2014 edition of The Monitor
A life-long fan of Stephen King, I was excited to see his latest hit the shelves. This weekend I downloaded the Kindle version and devoured it quickly, relishing the fast-food flavor and its hints of gourmet literary seasoning.
King has tried his hand at many genres beyond the horror for which he is best known: science fiction, fantasy, pulpy noir, etc. Mr. Mercedes is a crime thriller or mystery, a pleasing blend of elements most akin to Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series and Thomas Harris’s Hannibal novels.
The book opens with a harrowing (and timely) massacre, as a man wearing a clown mask drives a stolen Mercedes into a crowd of people lined up in the wee hours of the morning for a job fair. The press labels him “The Mercedes Killer,” and the police, including aging Detective Kermit William “Bill” Hodges, seek unsuccessfully to track him down.
Months later, Bill retires. His lonely, unconnected existence begins to wear thin, and he takes to carrying a revolver around the house, contemplating suicide. But a letter from the Mercedes Killer infuses his life with meaning, and he sets out to single-handedly bring the psychopath down, engaging in a tense game of cat-and-mouse.
King doesn’t leave us in the dark about the identity of Mr. Mercedes: we are pretty quickly introduced to the man, and the harrowing looks inside his mind and his relationship with his drunken mother are some of the more powerfully written bits of the novel. Like Thomas Harris, King is not afraid to unsnarl the tangle of the deviant brain, and the narrative tension is ratcheted tighter and tighter by seeing how close the killer comes to causing a tragedy.
Bill Hodges is meanwhile drawn into the family sphere of the woman whose Mercedes was used in the initial attack. With them and Jerome, the college-bound teen who strikes up an unlikely friendship with the retired detective, Bill finds not only the means to stop a serial killer, but also a way to belong again.
King’s strengths are definitely on display here: characters that feel real (and whose deaths wrench at your heart as a result), great dialogue and suspense. The book doesn’t suffer from his characteristic exhausting length and weak endings, which is a plus. Mr. Mercedes isn’t perfect, of course: I was particularly annoyed by King’s (continuing) choice to have middle-class minority characters slip ironically into stereotypical dialect for no apparent reason other than to say “Look! I’m a minority character who can poke fun at stereotypes by talking like one!”
But if you’re looking for a heart-pounding, quick read with great twists and believable characters, pick this one up. (less)
One of the many valuable missions of Arte Público Press is to rescue and re-release books important to the corpus of Mexican-American literature. This...moreOne of the many valuable missions of Arte Público Press is to rescue and re-release books important to the corpus of Mexican-American literature. This year the Houston publisher is bringing to our attention a couple of titles that once broke new ground and that continue to speak to readers today.
How far would you be willing to go to discover a hidden truth? What would you risk to bring justice to someone who had avoided it for decades? In The Nature of Truth, originally published in 2003, award-winning author Sergio Troncoso continues his preference for exploring the intellectual and moral quandaries of his characters (prevalent also in his debut, The Last Tortilla and Other Stories).
Helmut Sánchez, a half-Chicano and half-German graduate student at Yale, is research assistant to the aging scholar Werner Hopfgartner. When he discovers that the professor expressed Nazi sympathies in his earliest writing, Sanchez is both repulsed and driven to dig deeper. The truths he uncovers, when coupled with the philandering destruction of Hopfgartner among students and staff of the university, unhinge the younger man to the point that he decides to effect his own awful sort of justice.
As he bounces between his own guilt, his girlfriend’s moral sturdiness and a police investigation, Sánchez, the eternal outsider, begins to discover a deeper truth about human existence: the value of community and faith, which help us to rise above the black hole into which causal chains of blame and cold facts often lead.
Troncoso adroitly balances the pulpy aspects of hardboiled mystery with weighty philosophical issues and the labyrinthine inner workings of a major university. Poised at the intersection of Dostoyevsky, Dan Brown and Dashiell Hammett, The Nature of Truth is the sort of fast-paced but rewarding read that will make your summer complete.(less)
"It seems, at times, David Bowles 'has wandered away from the land of men,' his earthly declarations channeled up from a history of anc...moreAdvance praise:
"It seems, at times, David Bowles 'has wandered away from the land of men,' his earthly declarations channeled up from a history of ancient monsters: a world still ruled by deep mystery. His words strike unexpected chords and intense visuals: 'Death will come slow/ Like a beautiful girl who does not turn away.' They are fresh and mythical, with voices of Old Mexico and samurai and ancient Greece that teach us death is just another stepping stone in this life’s journey. 'When wounds are healed by love,” he says, “The scars are beautiful.'
These are powerful poems to haunt and enthrall, connecting us beyond time and rushed reality. Prepare for a new voice. Prepare to be left wanting more."
—Karla K. Morton 2010 Texas Poet Laureate
"David Bowles’ words will take you from a false ultrasound reading to the sun of the Aztecs, from runaway newspapers borne on the wind to runaway cosmology of demons and gods. David Bowles is not afraid, either of words or ideas. You will feel braver after reading Shattering and Bricolage."
A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the May 29, 2014 edition of The Monitor
Imagine living your life in a city that physically intersects with...moreA TOP SHELF review, originally published in the May 29, 2014 edition of The Monitor
Imagine living your life in a city that physically intersects with another city, sharing the same geographical space but with very different customs, architecture and language. Imagine further that you are not allowed to actually look upon or listen to the sights and sounds of that sister urb, even if they are meters away from you. Nor can you cross into the other city physically, except through one central border crossing.
If you do, you have breached. And the feared organization called Breach will step from the shadows to mete out punishment.
This is the setting of The City & The City by China Miéville. Otherwise the world is much like the one we know. People are drawn to the odd dual metropolis of Besźel and Ul Qoma there at the edge of Eastern Europe, but to get in requires rigorous training in the “unseeing” and “unhearing” that citizens grow up learning. Students of archeology flock to the strange ruins and digs, searching for answers to the Cleaving.
Among these is Mahalia Geary, a Canadian doctoral candidate convinced in the veracity of legends of a third city lodge in the interstices of Besźel and Ul Qoma. When she turns up dead, Inspector Tyador Borlú of Besźel’s Extreme Crime Squad finds himself drawn into a harrowing “international” investigation with Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt.
Together the two cops navigate an even stranger fringe of unification groups and ultranationalists, locked into a struggle to either merge the two cities or destroy one so the other thrives. But the true nature of the growing threat to their way of life and of the Breach itself will shake both men to the roots of their culture and change them forever.
In many ways a departure from his other weird fiction Miéville is known for, The City & The City is a fascinating piece of speculative fiction boasting more stripped-down, nourish prose and Chandleresque plot turns. It may not satisfy fans of his science fiction and fantasy work, but anyone hungry for evocative mystery with a wholly unique setting will enjoy the book.
Most significantly, Besźel and Ul Qoma serve as stand-ins for places around the world where cultures overlap in politically tense ways, such as Cold-War Berlin or Jerusalem. The idea of “unseeing” and “unhearing” one’s immediate yet culturally different neighbors resonates profoundly, and I kept thinking of ethnic and racial groups here in the US that live life as if the others didn’t exist.
Thought-provoking and thrilling. Definitely top-shelf. (less)