In the final moments of the Spanish Civil War, fifty prominent Nationalist prisoners are executed by firing squad. Among them is the writer and fascist Rafael Sanchez Mazas. As the guns fire, he escapes into the forest, and can hear a search party and their dogs hunting him down. The branches move and he finds himself looking into the eyes of a militiaman, and faces death for the second time that day. But the unknown soldier simply turns and walks away. Sanchez Mazas becomes a national hero and the soldier disappears into history. As Cercas sifts the evidence to establish what happened, he realises that the true hero may not be Sanchez Mazas at all, but the soldier who chose not to shoot him. Who was he? Why did he spare him? And might he still be alive?
'If you're seeking an example of commanding modern fiction that revisits the landmarks of modern history at the same time as it reveals their long aftermath in ordinary lives, you need look no further than Soldiers of Salamis. It is a novel that, with immense subtlety, humanity and wit, finds small mercies within the big picture of conflict and tragedy. . it does have an epic theme, and an epic sweep, but it achieves a touching and often comic intimacy as well. . Anne McLean's translation captures all the gravity and grace of a novel that crams a broad, rich canvas into a modest frame. Soldiers of Salamis is a study of memory and forgetting, of courage and delusion, as much as a straightforward narrative of wartime victors and victims. It is consistently moving, surprisingly funny, and utterly accessible. And it rewrites the headlines of history on behalf of all of us who will be remembered — if at all — only in the smallest of small print'
'It is understanding, intelligent, compassionate. It makes Hemingway'sFor Whom the Bell Tolls look like play-acting. . If you were required to read only one book about Spain and its civil war, this should be that book. It requires more than a single reading to value it truly, but that first single reading is marvellous. . this is a novel that will last, one of the few great books to have been made out of the madness of the mid-twentieth century. . written coolly, with wit and humour'
'Splendid. . Soldiers of Salamis redeems the epic genre much neglected in our time'
'Soldiers of Salamis offers a gentle and often moving reassertion that individual lives and actions matter most, however overwhelming the historical circumstances may seem'
'Words such as "haunting", "original", "profoundly humane" are used too lightly. But in regard to Javier Cercas' novel, yet more than fiction, they truly apply. This is a masterly parable of political violence, of suffering, but also, and decisively, of the strange logic of compassion and healing. To use another often exploited term: Soldiers of Salamis, humour and all, should become a classic'
'With irresistible directness and delicacy, Javier Cercas engages in a quick-witted, tender quest for truth and the possibility of reconciliation in history, in our everyday lives — which happens to be the theme of most great European fiction. He has a fascinating tale to tell, which happens (mostly) to be true. He has written a marvellous novel'
'His thematic conclusions are powerful and humane. . its moral core is smart and compelling'
'It lays bare the virtual impossibility of historical certainty, the whimsicality of fate, the unpredictability and unreliability of memory and the elusiveness of truth. . Cercas perfectly captures the uncanny ways in which a story evolves'
'This book is magnificent… one of the best I've read in a long time'
It is Bombay in 1971, the year India went to war over what was to become Bangladesh. A hard-working bank clerk, Gustad Noble is a devoted family man who gradually sees his modest life unravelling. His young daughter falls ill; his promising son defies his father’s ambitions for him. He is the one reasonable voice amidst the ongoing dramas of his neighbours. One day, he receives a letter from an old friend, asking him to help in what at first seems like an heroic mission. But he soon finds himself unwittingly drawn into a dangerous network of deception. Compassionate, and rich in details of character and place, this unforgettable novel charts the journey of a moral heart in a turbulent world of change.
An introduction to the residents of Firozsha Baag, an apartment complex in Bombay. We enter the daily routine and rhythm of their lives, and by the time we reach the final story we are as familiar with the people as we are with our own neighbours. The crowded, throbbing life of India is brilliantly captured in this series of stories.
In a tower on the New Zealand sea lives Kerewin Holmes, part Maori, part European, an artist estranged from her art, a woman in exile from her family. One night her solitude is disrupted by a visitor — a speechless, mercurial boy named Simon, who tries to steal from her and then repays her with his most precious possession. As Kerewin succumbs to Simon's feral charm, she also falls under the spell of his Maori foster father Joe, who rescued the boy from a shipwreck and now treats him with an unsettling mixture of tenderness and brutality. Out of this unorthodox trinity Keri Hulme has created what is at once a mystery, a love story, and an ambitious exploration of the zone where Maori and European New Zealand meet, clash, and sometimes merge. Winner of both a Booker Prize and Pegasus Prize for Literature, The Bone People is a work of unfettered wordplay and mesmerizing emotional complexity.
As Cold War hysteria inflames America, FBI agents knock on the Bronx apartment door of a Communist man and his wife. After a highly controversial trial, the couple go to the electric chair for treason despite worldwide protests. Decades later their son, Daniel, grown to young manhood, tries to make sense of their lives and deaths — and their legacy to him. Like millions of other Americans, he is attempting to reconcile an America based on the highest human ideals with the tragedy of his parents. This is the framework for E.L. Doctorow's dazzling masterpiece, as he fictionalizes an actual social and political drama to create an intensely moving, searching, and illuminating tale of two decades, two generations, and a troubled legacy of passion and purpose, martyrdom and meaning.
Mehring is rich. He has all the privileges and possessions that South Africa has to offer, but his possessions refuse to remain objects. His wife, son, and mistress leave him; his foreman and workers become increasingly indifferent to his stewarsship; even the land rises up, as drought, then flood, destroy his farm.
The Death of the Heart is perhaps Elizabeth Bowen's best-known book. As she deftly and delicately exposes the cruelty that lurks behind the polished surfaces of conventional society, Bowen reveals herself as a masterful novelist who combines a sense of humor with a devastating gift for divining human motivations.
Mislabeled boxes, problems with visiting nurses, confusing notes, an outing to the county fair-such are the obstacles in the way of the unnamed narrator of as she attempts to organize her memories of a love affair into a novel. With compassion, wit, and what appears to be candor, she seeks to determine what she actually knows about herself and her past, but we begin to suspect, along with her, that given the elusiveness of memory and understanding, any tale retrieved from the past must be fiction.
The story of a writer's singular journey — from one place to another, from the British colony of Trinidad to the ancient countryside of England, and from one state of mind to another — this is perhaps Naipaul's most autobiographical work. Yet it is also woven through with remarkable invention to make it a rich and complex novel.
Internationally acclaimed and profoundly moving, Richard Flanagan’s is a stunning tale of colonialism, ambition, and the lusts and longings that make us human. Now in paperback, it links two icons of Western civilization through a legendarily disastrous arctic exploration, and one of the most infamous episodes in human history: the colonization of Tasmania.
In 1841, Sir John Franklin and his wife, Lady Jane, move to the remote penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania. There Lady Jane falls in love with a lively aboriginal girl, Mathinna, whom she adopts and makes the subject of a grand experiment in civilization—one that will determine whether science, Christianity, and reason can be imposed in the place of savagery, impulse, and desire.
A quarter of a century passes. Sir John Franklin disappears in the Arctic with his crew and two ships on an expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage. England is horrified by reports of cannibalism filtering back from search parties, no one more so than the most celebrated novelist of the day, Charles Dickens. As Franklin’s story becomes a means to plumb the frozen depths of his own life, Dickens finds a young actress thawing his heart.
While Eisenstein documented the forces of totalitarianism and Stalinism upon the faces of the Russian peoples, DeLillo offers a stunning, at times overwhelming, document of the twin forces of the cold war and American culture, compelling that "swerve from evenness" in which he finds events and people both wondrous and horrifying. Underworld opens with a breathlessly graceful prologue set during the final game of the Giants-Dodgers pennant race in 1951. Written in what DeLillo calls "super-omniscience" the sentences sweep from young Cotter Martin as he jumps the gate to the press box, soars over the radio waves, runs out to the diamond, slides in on a fast ball, pops into the stands where J. Edgar Hoover is sitting with a drunken Jackie Gleason and a splenetic Frank Sinatra, and learns of the Soviet Union's second detonation of a nuclear bomb. It's an absolutely thrilling literary moment. When Bobby Thomson hits Branca's pitch into the outstretched hand of Cotter-the "shot heard around the world"-and Jackie Gleason pukes on Sinatra's shoes, the events of the next few decades are set in motion, all threaded together by the baseball as it passes from hand to hand.
"It's all falling indelibly into the past," writes DeLillo, a past that he carefully recalls and reconstructs with acute grace. Jump from Giants Stadium to the Nevada desert in 1992, where Nick Shay, who now owns the baseball, reunites with the artist Kara Sax. They had been brief and unlikely lovers 40 years before, and it is largely through the events, spinoffs, and coincidental encounters of their pasts that DeLillo filters the Cold War experience. He believes that "global events may alter how we live in the smallest ways," and as the book steps back in time to 1951, over the following 800-odd pages, we see just how those events alter lives. This reverse narrative allows the author to strip away the detritus of history and pop culture until we get to the story's pure elements: the bomb, the baseball, and the Bronx. In an epilogue as breathless and stunning as the prologue, DeLillo fast-forwards to a near future in which ruthless capitalism, the Internet, and a new, hushed faith have replaced the Cold War's blend of dread and euphoria.
Through fragments and interlaced stories-including those of highway killers, artists, celebrities, conspiracists, gangsters, nuns, and sundry others-DeLillo creates a fragile web of connected experience, a communal Zeitgeist that encompasses the messy whole of five decades of American life, wonderfully distilled.
Starting with a 1951 baseball game and ending with the Internet, "Underworld" is not a book for the faint-hearted. Elegiac in tone and described variously as DeLillo's Magnum Opus and his attempt to write the Great American Novel, the book weighs in at a hefty 827 pages and zips back and forwards in time, moving in and out of the lives of a plethora of different characters.
Following three main themes – the fate of a baseball from the winning game of the 1951 world series, the threat of atomic warfare and the mountains of garbage created by modern society – DeLillo moves forwards and backwards through the decades, introducing characters and situations and gradually showing the way their lives are interconnected.
Reading the prose can be uncannily like using a web browser: the narrative focus moves from character to character almost as quickly as we are introduced to them, and the time frame regularly changes to show further connections between the key players. This device – literature as hypertext – is particularly effective in the early parts of the novel and the technique never intrudes on the story itself.
The book focuses on Nick Shay, a former hoodlum who now works in the burgeoning waste management industry and owns the baseball from the 1951 game, "the shot heard around the world". In addition to Nick we hear from Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, Lenny Bruce and the various people who move in and out of Nick's life: lovers, family, friends and colleagues. Through these seemingly disconnected narratives DeLillo paints a picture of Cold War paranoia at its peak – the baseball game happened the same day as the USSR 's first nuclear test – and the changes affecting his characters as a microcosm of American society as a whole.
Very few writers, however, can justify over 800 densely-printed pages to tell a story and "Underworld" would have benefited greatly from judicious wielding of the blue pencil. Potentially intriguing plots which feature strongly in the earlier parts of the book – an intriguing serial killer subplot, the stories of each person who possesses the winning baseball – are abandoned halfway through the book in favour of overlong childhood memories or the inane ponderings of a performance artist; other stories are neglected for over 400 pages before reappearing at the end of the novel, causing an unwelcome jolt as the reader tries to remember the pertinent details.
In this respect "Underworld" is a victim of its own ambition: by trying to cover such a wide range of characters and situations, DeLillo loses track of some of them and, in the latter parts of the novel in particular, the writing feels as if it is on autopilot while the author works out what to do next.
There is still much to recommend in "Underworld", however. Each vignette is lovingly crafted: DeLillo seems as comfortable writing from the perspective of a street missionary as he is inhabiting J Edgar Hoover's paranoia. The book employs vivid imagery, from painted angels on ghetto walls to the cityscape created by mountains of domestic waste, and the dialogue is usually well-observed and thoroughly believable although it does flag when describing Nick Shay's hoodlum past. Despite its faults DeLillo has created an ambitious and powerful novel which, due to its size, can also be used to swat annoying children on trains. Highly recommended.
The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn't the drink that killed him – although that certainly helped – it was what happened to him as a boy in his grandmother's house, in the winter of 1968. His sister, Veronica was there then, as she is now: keeping the dead man company, just for another little while. The "Gathering" is a family epic, condensed and clarified through the remarkable lens of Anne Enright's unblinking eye. It is also a sexual history: tracing the line of hurt and redemption through three generations – starting with the grandmother, Ada Merriman – showing how memories warp and family secrets fester. This is a novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and how our fate is written in the body, not in the stars. The "Gathering" sends fresh blood through the Irish literary tradition, combining the lyricism of the old with the shock of the new. As in all Anne Enright's work, fiction and non-fiction, this is a book of daring, wit and insight: her distinctive intelligence twisting the world a fraction, and giving it back to us in a new and unforgettable light.
It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.
Oprah Book Club® Selection, June 2000: As any reader of The Mosquito Coast knows, men who drag their families to far-off climes in pursuit of an Idea seldom come to any good, while those familiar with At Play in the Fields of the Lord or Kalimantaan understand that the minute a missionary sets foot on the fictional stage, all hell is about to break loose. So when Barbara Kingsolver sends missionary Nathan Price along with his wife and four daughters off to Africa in The Poisonwood Bible, you can be sure that salvation is the one thing they're not likely to find. The year is 1959 and the place is the Belgian Congo. Nathan, a Baptist preacher, has come to spread the Word in a remote village reachable only by airplane. To say that he and his family are woefully unprepared would be an understatement: "We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle," says Leah, one of Nathan's daughters. But of course it isn't long before they discover that the tremendous humidity has rendered the mixes unusable, their clothes are unsuitable, and they've arrived in the middle of political upheaval as the Congolese seek to wrest independence from Belgium. In addition to poisonous snakes, dangerous animals, and the hostility of the villagers to Nathan's fiery take-no-prisoners brand of Christianity, there are also rebels in the jungle and the threat of war in the air. Could things get any worse?
In fact they can and they do. The first part of The Poisonwood Bible revolves around Nathan's intransigent, bullying personality and his effect on both his family and the village they have come to. As political instability grows in the Congo, so does the local witch doctor's animus toward the Prices, and both seem to converge with tragic consequences about halfway through the novel. From that point on, the family is dispersed and the novel follows each member's fortune across a span of more than 30 years.
The Poisonwood Bible is arguably Barbara Kingsolver's most ambitious work, and it reveals both her great strengths and her weaknesses. As Nathan Price's wife and daughters tell their stories in alternating chapters, Kingsolver does a good job of differentiating the voices. But at times they can grate-teenage Rachel's tendency towards precious malapropisms is particularly annoying (students practice their "French congregations"; Nathan's refusal to take his family home is a "tapestry of justice"). More problematic is Kingsolver's tendency to wear her politics on her sleeve; this is particularly evident in the second half of the novel, in which she uses her characters as mouthpieces to explicate the complicated and tragic history of the Belgian Congo.
Despite these weaknesses, Kingsolver's fully realized, three-dimensional characters make The Poisonwood Bible compelling, especially in the first half, when Nathan Price is still at the center of the action. And in her treatment of Africa and the Africans she is at her best, exhibiting the acute perception, moral engagement, and lyrical prose that have made her previous novels so successful. -Alix Wilber
From Publishers Weekly
In this risky but resoundingly successful novel, Kingsolver leaves the Southwest, the setting of most of her work (The Bean Trees; Animal Dreams) and follows an evangelical Baptist minister's family to the Congo in the late 1950s, entwining their fate with that of the country during three turbulent decades. Nathan Price's determination to convert the natives of the Congo to Christianity is, we gradually discover, both foolhardy and dangerous, unsanctioned by the church administration and doomed from the start by Nathan's self-righteousness. Fanatic and sanctimonious, Nathan is a domestic monster, too, a physically and emotionally abusive, misogynistic husband and father. He refuses to understand how his obsession with river baptism affronts the traditions of the villagers of Kalinga, and his stubborn concept of religious rectitude brings misery and destruction to all. Cleverly, Kingsolver never brings us inside Nathan's head but instead unfolds the tragic story of the Price family through the alternating points of view of Orleanna Price and her four daughters. Cast with her young children into primitive conditions but trained to be obedient to her husband, Orleanna is powerless to mitigate their situation. Meanwhile, each of the four Price daughters reveals herself through first-person narration, and their rich and clearly differentiated self-portraits are small triumphs. Rachel, the eldest, is a self-absorbed teenager who will never outgrow her selfish view of the world or her tendency to commit hilarious malapropisms. Twins Leah and Adah are gifted intellectually but are physically and emotionally separated by Adah's birth injury, which has rendered her hemiplagic. Leah adores her father; Adah, who does not speak, is a shrewd observer of his monumental ego. The musings of five- year-old Ruth May reflect a child's humorous misunderstanding of the exotic world to which she has been transported. By revealing the story through the female victims of Reverend Price's hubris, Kingsolver also charts their maturation as they confront or evade moral and existential issues and, at great cost, accrue wisdom in the crucible of an alien land. It is through their eyes that we come to experience the life of the villagers in an isolated community and the particular ways in which American and African cultures collide. As the girls become acquainted with the villagers, especially the young teacher Anatole, they begin to understand the political situation in the Congo: the brutality of Belgian rule, the nascent nationalism briefly fulfilled in the election of the short-lived Patrice Lumumba government, and the secret involvement of the Eisenhower administration in Lumumba's assassination and the installation of the villainous dictator Mobutu. In the end, Kingsolver delivers a compelling family saga, a sobering picture of the horrors of fanatic fundamentalism and an insightful view of an exploited country crushed by the heel of colonialism and then ruthlessly manipulated by a bastion of democracy. The book is also a marvelous mix of trenchant character portrayal, unflagging narrative thrust and authoritative background detail. The disastrous outcome of the forceful imposition of Christian theology on indigenous natural faith gives the novel its pervasive irony; but humor is pervasive, too, artfully integrated into the children's misapprehensions of their world; and suspense rises inexorably as the Price family's peril and that of the newly independent country of Zaire intersect. Kingsolver moves into new moral terrain in this powerful, convincing and emotionally resonant novel.
Anyone who lived through the 1980s may find it impossible—inconceivable, even—to equate with anything other than the sweet, celluloid romance of Westley and Buttercup, but the film is only a fraction of the ingenious storytelling you'll find in these pages. Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that's home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.”
Lewis Martin, a retired college professor, stumbles upon the body of a friend of his, Martin Aguilera, when he stops by his cabin for a quick visit. When he later returns with the sheriff, the body is no longer there and there is no real evidence that anything had taken place in the cabin.
A dead man hangs from the portal of St Paul's Chapel in Damascus. He was a Muslim officer and he was murdered. But when Detective Barudi sets out to interrogate the man's mysterious widow, the Secret Service takes the case away from him. Barudi continues to investigate clandestinely and discovers the murderers motive: it is a blood feud between the Mushtak and Shahin clans, reaching back to the beginnings of the 20th century. And, linked to it, a love story that can have no happy ending, for reconciliation has no place within the old tribal structures.
Rafik Schamis dazzling novel spans a century of Syrian history in which politics and religions continue to torment an entire people. Simultaneously, his poetic stories from three generations tell of the courage of lovers who risk death sooner than deny their passions. He has also written a heartfelt tribute to his hometown Damascus and a great and moving hymn to the power of love.
From the critically acclaimed author of Affliction comes a story that begins with a school bus accident that kills 14 children from the town of Sam Dent, New York. A large-hearted novel, The Sweet Hereafter explores the community's response to the inexplicable loss of its children. Told from the point of view of four different narrators, the tale unfolds as both a contemporary courtroom drama and a small-town morality play.
Exakt zwanzig Jahre nach seinem Erstling unter dem Titel *Die Tessinerin* legt Thomas Hürlimann im Ammann Verlag einen Roman vor, der das Zeug zu einem Bestseller besitzt. Es ist die launische Sommergeschichte eines Heranwachsenden, eines aus katholischem Holz geschnitzten Jungen, der beim Onkel Monsignore, dem Biblitohekar des Stifts St.Gallen, dazu benötigt wird, den Besuchern der weltberühmten Klosterbibiliothek Filzpantinen zu verpassen, bevor sie den barocken Aufbewahrungsort alter Handschriften, Folianten und gebundenen Büchern betreten. Aus der Rückblende beschreibt Hürlimann diesen Sommer, der im Jungen das Interesse für das weibliche Geschlecht aus einer denkbar erregenden Perspektive weckt. Er sieht Waden, Beine, sein Kopf wird von Röcken umweht, seine Sinne werden vom Geruch wollener Socken genauso benebelt wie vom Parfüm Seidenstrümpfe tragender Damen. Und dieser Junge wagt, kecker und dreister werdend, bisweilen einen Blick unter die faltenreichen Zelte an den Ursprung der Welt. Dazu bedient er sich schliesslich eines Handteller grossen Spiegels -- aber, oh Weh! Seine Erkundungen in den weiblichen Schritt fliegen auf, und der Junge erleidet zwischen dem Monsignore und dem Fräulein Stark, der Haushälterin des Stiftsbibliothekars, die dem Roman den Titel gab, regelrechte Höllenqualen. Er wird gemaßregelt, weil er gegen das sechste Gebot versündigt. Hürlimann hat eine federleichte Prosa geschrieben, an der bald weniger das sexuelle Erwachen des Halbwüchsigen interessiert als die Schrullen der beiden Hauptfiguren -- beide überdies heute noch hochbetagt in St.Gallen lebend. So erzählt Hürlimann von einer verstockten Welt in der Schweizer Provinz der anbrechenden 60er-Jahre, in denen Sitte und Strenge über die allzu menschlichen Regungen eines Pubertierenden wachen. In denen die zehn Gebote Gottes über allem stehen -- und fleißig von denen gebrochen werden, die sie mit Verve predigen. Immer wieder berichtet Hürlimann von ausschweifenden Kneipenbesuchen des Monsignore und von heimlichen Sehnsüchten des Fräulein Stark, das an der Pforte zur Bibliothek am liebsten einen Kiosk betriebe (und ihn am Ende auch bekommt). Hürlimann verwendet viel augenzwinkernde Zuneigung für die beiden Figuren. Darum auch bleibt unverständlich, weshalb die noch lebenden Porträtierten gegen das Buch in der lokalen Presse wetterten. Unnötig ist diese Begleitmusik schon deshalb, weil man sich mit Hürlimann zwei gute Stunden lang blendend unterhält. Seine Prosa ist geschliffen, seine Sprache witzig -- und am Ende nimmt der Autor sich selbst so wenig wichtig wie die beiden Figuren. *\--Carlo Bernasconi*