Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Salon- October's Accomplishments, November's Goals

Happy Halloween!

Back at the beginning of October I decided to do a theme month- to read some of my recent hardcovers, to attempt to make a dent in the stash of books I'd bought and received for review. Well, I succeeded about 50% of the way.

I read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English and The Finkler Question- along with the new Madame Bovary. The four other books I picked out for October and didn't get to- C, The Bells, To the End of the Land and The Fifth Servant- will go on the backburner for now as I gear up for next month's theme, books about Russia and the former Soviet Union. Come back tomorrow for the details, the stash, and more. I'll also be announcing a giveaway on Tuesday.

Today I'm back from a brief trip to Philadelphia, where I spent a week doing my thing working and being a tourist. I have to say, the most memorable thing about Philadelphia was the food. I can't say I was that crazy about actually walking the streets and seeing the sights. To the right is a photo of a cheesesteak sandwich I had there- yum. And I can work wherever I can get an internet connection, which made the week even better.

But today it's Halloween, and since I'm gearing up for Russian Month (or Russo-Biblio-Extravaganza, as I think I'm going to call it), I'm going to read  Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales today, which I think will fit the bill nicely. I started it yesterday and read the first couple of stories, which I enjoyed.

(Actually after I finished The Finkler Question I got started on Russian books right away and have already read two short books from my stash. Yay!)

I plan to spend much of today helping my husband carve a pumpkin and passing out candy. I'm not sure about my costume; I'll tell you more next week if the idea I'm cooking up actually works out.

What scary reading are you reading today? More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Publisher Spotlight Other Press: Interview with Mitchell James Kaplan

Photo by Renee Rosensteel courtesy of Other Press.
Today's entry in the Other Press Publisher Spotlight series is an interview with author Mitchell James Kaplan, whose novel By Fire, By Water I reviewed yesterday. 

You can see my review here and the intro post to the series here.

The book is an intriguing and engrossing novel set during the time of the Spanish Inquisition and Colombus’s voyage to the Americas and focuses on a diverse community of Spanish Jews.
You can find reviews of By Fire, By Water in Ha’aretz, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.
 
1. What was it that drew your attention to the topic of converso Jews and the Inquisition?
I did not set out to write a book about converso Jews or the Spanish Inquisition. I set out to write a novel exploring the background of Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage of discovery. It became clear that Columbus’s voyage was as much the symptom of a world in profound disarray as it was a harbinger of change. As I explored that disarray, the Spanish inquisition and the condition of conversos came into focus as important elements in my story.

2. Why do you think this subject is important for today’s readers?

Most of us are conversos today, in the sense that we must navigate between different identities and ghettos. Few of us in the western world any longer have the privilege of remaining confined within one narrow belief system or ethnicity, to the exclusion of all others. Like it or not, we are exposed to competing world-views and absorb elements from them. The conversos of fifteenth century Spain were precursors of modern man.

3. Why did you choose Luis de Santangel as the central figure of your book? How is the real life Santangel different from your fictional creation?

Santangel stood at the center of all four events that changed the world at the end of the fifteenth century: the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the “reconquest” of Granada, and the discovery of the New World. Despite his importance in history, most Americans had never heard of him. The fact that his personal life was so complex, and in some ways tragic, made him all the more compelling as a character.

My initial question, with regard to Santangel, was: What could possibly motivate such an astute and well-grounded courtier to take the risks associated with supporting Columbus’s voyage, even when the preponderance of scholarly opinion found no merit in Columbus’s ideas? After researching Santangel’s life, I came to feel that Columbus’s dream must have represented a prayer of hope for Santangel, uttered from the murky depths of a world whirling into chaos.

The Luis de Santangel of my story, like most of my characters, is closely based on the historical individual. He really did have a cousin who was murdered by the Spanish Inquisition. His son did have to pay penance in much the way I described. Santangel was accused of murdering the first Chief Inquisitor of Aragon. King Ferdinand did intervene to save him from the consequences of that accusation. Columbus really did write first to Santangel, following his 1492 voyage.

Santangel’s love interest, Judith Migdal, I invented to show the condition of the Jews in Granada leading up to the expulsion. But her nephew, Levi Migdal (later baptized as Luis de Torres) was Columbus’s interpreter on the Santa Maria. As Columbus describes him in his diaries, he was a Jew who spoke Arabic, Aramaic, and Hebrew, as well as Spanish, so it is likely he grew up in the Islamic emirate of Granada.

4. You clearly did a lot of research into the period. Did you learn anything that surprised you? Was there something particularly interesting or unusual that you learned, that didn’t make its way into your book?

I learned so many surprising things, among them the aforementioned fact that the Spanish Inquisition was unique in its focus on the “judaizing” heresy among conversos. It was interesting to me to learn that the pope did not initially authorize the Spanish inquisition, and indeed continued to express qualms about it even after it was established. As I researched Queen Isabella, I came to the conclusion that she was a usurper, although most history books gloss over that fact. It would take me much more than another whole book to describe everything I had to leave out.

5. What do you want your readers to take away in terms of an understanding about converso Jews and Jewish culture of the period? What lessons can be drawn from the book?

Regarding the conversos: I like Santangel’s question, “what is the advantage of knowing, with absolute certainty, what one believes? There’s much to be said for doubt.” This intrusion of doubt into the medieval world – a world of certainties, at least with regard to faith – marked the beginning of the process that would lead to the Enlightenment, the Existential age, and our current age which, in my view, is evolving toward mutual respect between the faiths. Karen Armstrong credits conversos with the invention of atheism.

Regarding “lessons:” What I want most of all is not to preach but for my readers to feel that their sojourn in the world of my novel has been a valuable and enriching experience.

A good novel, in my view, is an experience of language, of characters, of complexity and nuance. The best novels evoke an entire world. Like real life, a good novel teems with ambiguity, connotation, and subtlety.

For this reason, I was thrilled to discover that many of my Christian readers identified Luis de Santangel as a Christian facing a crisis of faith, while many of my Jewish readers felt he was a Jew. Similarly, some of my readers asked why I made Torquemada so “human,” as if I were trying to vindicate him, while others saw him as a psychopathic villain. When I receive a wide range of responses like that, I feel I have succeeded in at least one of my aims: to faithfully hold a mirror to a complex world.

Within that complex world, there is room for a Torquemada (whom I see as sincere and intelligent but misguided) as well as a Caceres (whose understanding of Christ’s message of love and forgiveness seems to be more aligned with our own) and a Talavera (a man of contradictions, moderate and analytical). The Islamic rulers of Granada can be seen as protective (from Judith’s point of view) or ruthless (from the point of view of Sarah’s mother). The Jewish scribe Serero is sincere, but causes great damage to those who trust him.

Mr. Kaplan, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and best of luck with your terrific book! 

Other Posts in Other Press Week:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Publisher Spotlight Other Press: REVIEW- By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan

By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan. Published 2010 by Other Press. Literary Fiction.

Mitchell James Kaplan's novel By Fire, By Water is an absorbing and engaging work of historical fiction about the conversos of Inquisition-era Spain- conversos being Jews who converted to Christianity (Catholicism) and either may or may not continue to practice Judaism in secret.

At this time, the Catholic Church was a powerful political and military as well as spiritual force, and allegiance to the Pope was as much about ensuring one's physical safety as it was about what one believed in; Jews in many countries were persecuted, uprooted or forcibly converted, and those who refused could suffer for it if their government didn't protect them. By Fire, By Water focuses on one such converso, Luis de Santangel, a real historical figure of medieval Spain and confidant of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella; he was also pivotal in convincing them to support Christopher Columbus's 1492 voyage.

This story covers more personal ground. Santangel starts to struggle with identity as a Christian and wants to reconnect with his Judaism and Jewish culture; to this end he starts to cast about for others like him who might be able to provide a sense of community or just a place to practice a little, however secretly. But during the Inquisition this kind of thing could bring serious consequences for not only the practitioner but the practitioner's family, and it's not long before Santangel, his son and his brother begin to feel pressured. But not all Jews live under this close scrutiny; others, like silversmith Judith Migdal, are protected and can live openly. Santangel is captivated by Migdal and they have a relationship; she is a strong and appealing woman who I wish I'd seen more of in the book. As the story progresses, Kaplan shows us how these forces come together and affect Santangel's family, for better and for worse.

By Fire, By Water is very good historical fiction. Kaplan's research shows without calling attention to itself, and the fictionalized aspects of the story flow well. I liked his depictions of different kinds of Jews- those practicing openly, those practicing secretly, and those who don't even know that they're practicing- and seeing the Jewish characters interacting with their Muslim and Christian neighbors. Kaplan creates a vivid community peopled by varied characters of different social strata and backgrounds. If you read and enjoyed any of Maggie Anton's Rashi's Daughters series you'll find  yourself on familiar ground. The writing is florid and highly descriptive but not overmuch; Kaplan strikes a good balance between the era he's writing about and the era he's writing for. I'd recommend it to readers of historical fiction and Jewish books, and anyone who likes a good story well told.

Come back tomorrow for my interview with Kaplan, the final installment in this week about Other Press!

RATING: Backlist

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Posts in Other Press Week:

Madame Bovary Group Read: Final Week

So it's done- I've finished Madame Bovary.

When we last saw the intrepid Emma, Rodolphe has dumped her and she was about to resume her affair with Léon, the clerk with whom she was infatuated earlier in the novel. This affair doesn't really go any better. Meanwhile, her financial troubles escalate and it seems like it's only a matter of time before it all comes to a head.

I won't say exactly what happens, but this is a book that ends badly for just about everyone except jolly Homais, the anti-clerical and more than slightly ridiculous pharmacist. Poor Charles, a nice guy who loves his wife and tries to do right by her only to be scorned, rejected, humiliated and cuckolded; poor Berthe, who doesn't deserve what happens to her, either. She's the only member of the family to bear the weight of Emma's transgressions in the end.

I really didn't have much sympathy for Emma; I get how bored and oppressed she felt, and how trapped. But she's so melodramatic, and her affairs are so tawdry and built on fantasy. The only man who truly loves her is her long-suffering husband. We hear about how repulsive she finds Charles, how he repels her and disgusts her. But what does he actually do to deserve this scorn? Let's not forget that after the brief beginning of the novel, we see him only from her distorted point of view. All he does is try to be a loving husband and he's rejected at every turn. More tragic is the fate of little Berthe, who never even has a chance at a decent life. But if her husband is some kind of mutant to Emma, her little girl seems to barely exist.

I think Madame Bovary is a book that needs to be read and re-read to fully savor its subtleties and structure, its nuances and details. It's been fascinating to read other bloggers' reflections on the book over the past few weeks; there's so much going on in this book and I know I've only got the most basic sense of how it's put together. The first read is always primarily about plot. It's definitely a book everyone should read, both because it's a magnificent work of literature and because it's a book that's referred to and alluded to in so many other works of literature, film and popular culture. I'm so glad to have participated in the group read and I want to thank Frances at NonSuchBook for hosting. I can't wait for next month and Doctor Zhivago!

Rating: BUY



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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Publisher Spotlight Other Press: Interview with Avner Mandelman



Today's entry in the Other Press Publisher Spotlight series is an interview with Avner Mandelman, author of the Giller Prize-nominated novel The Debba. See my review here and the intro post to the series here.
1. The story you tell in THE DEBBA mixes politics, romance, myth and even magic. There are issues around Jewish identity and assimilation as well as the Arab-Israeli conflict and it all comes together at the end with the revelation of shocking secrets and betrayals. What inspired you to write this story?
The story’s beginning came to me on the third day of the Yom Kippur War (I was then living in Vancouver, Canada), as I saw on TV Israeli jet planes exploding and Israeli tanks bursting into flames, with my friends in them. I escaped to a nearby park in great distress, and the opening pages of the book then came to me -- I still have no idea from where -- and I wrote them down in a white heat. Then the flow stopped, and over the next eighteen years, as I got married, had children, got an MBA degree, and worked in the market, I kept trying to dig out the story, but it was clear to me I did not know how to write fiction. So finally in 1991 I closed my house in Toronto, took my then-wife and two toddlers and decamped to California to the Bay Area, to learn how to write fiction. It took a while. I got an MA in CW, finished the book, got an agent, published some story collections, and returned to Canada. After many rejections, last year, thirty six years after the first words were written, the book was finally accepted by a publisher. And yes, the ending shocked me too when I wrote it…

2. The main character, David, a burnt-out Israeli military assassin, has to return to Israel from Canada after the death of his father, who asks him posthumously to stage a play called THE DEBBA. It seems like a very unusual request and puts David in the role of a creator. Why does his father make this request? What impact does it have on David?
David’s father asks him to perform the play as an oblique way of telling David his destiny, and what he must do. The story is structured as a monomyth, the classical “hero’s return,” as identified by Joseph Campbell. It usually involves a hero of mysterious origins who had left his people and who suddenly receives a message from his ancestor (or his God or gods) to perform a task. This task goes against his grain and so he at first refuses, but after a while he does it; and as he performs it, he gets deeper and deeper into trouble, passes through a vale of shadows where he must perform ever harder tasks, until at the end he must perform the one task that changes him and renders him whole, and reveals to him his destiny, thereby helping his people. This in essence is the structure of all the enduring myths— Moses, Jason, Jesus, or modern ones like Hamlet, Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker, etc. So David must stage the play and go through the investigation in order to find out what his father really wanted.

3. In an interview you did for Other Press you talk about the violent reactions people have to the play in the book, that "normal people kill and are killed for fictions." Do you think that art can still have that power even in a cynical age like ours?
That’s an excellent question. The “fictions” in the book for which “normal people kill and are killed” are not Art, but scriptures, religions, ideologies, and other books of “holy” fictions. All around him David sees otherwise sane people who casually accept “holy fictional fables” as perfectly good reasons to kill strangers who believe in other fictional stories, or as good reasons to be killed themselves. It is the casual acceptance of “holy fictions” as a valid reason for killing that horrifies him.
As for whether art can still have this power even in a cynical age like ours, the answer is, of course, yes. Every day people still kill or are killed for the sake of “holy” poetic fictions such as the Old and New Testaments or the Koran, and for the sake of their fictive protagonists. Clearly, then, skillfully composed fictions can raise intense emotions which even in this modern age have the power to unleash death and destruction.
Now, any good novel makes the readers enter into a trance that temporarily makes them forget their everyday reality. But exceptionally well-structured language in “holy” art can hypnotize many into life-long trances. They then come to believe that what the stories tell them about— 72 Virgins in paradise, or the Messiah and Resurrection, or Hell and Damnation, or Pearly Gates— is more real than what their senses tell them, and, what’s worse, are perfectly good reasons to kill and be killed.

In my novel, I hope that, for a brief time, Good Art can be seen to counteract the perniciousness of “holy” Art (a.k.a. in the novel as “God’s Mein Kampf”).

4. One reviewer compared THE DEBBA to an "M.C. Escher-like structure...doubling back on [itself]." To me it was like a layer cake of secrets, symbols and hidden agendas. How do you see the book?
Another very good question. Yes, there are some symbols in the book, but it’s up to the reader to find them... As for hidden agendas, there aren’t any. I’m merely trying to tell a good story. As far as the reviewer’s reference to structure, the Western monomyth is only half of it. The other half is the Moslem End of Days myth, so that the book in essence has two overlapping myths. The father’s request (from beyond the grave) both starts the Western-type hero on his journey-of-return, and launches the Eastern-type hero on his journey to the End-of-Days. In addition, there are three time periods: The past, the present, and the play, in each of which the same characters re-appear. These three parallel stories, and the repetition of actions in different forms, are meant to give the novel reverberations beyond the straight story.

5. The Booklist review says the book "reveal[s] the paradoxes of Israeli life." What were you trying to show about Israel through the way you portray the country in THE DEBBA?
I tried to convey Israel’s smells, sights, tastes, and feeling of tightly-confined communal living, in a place where everyone knows everyone else, and where soldier / citizens must take hard actions during their army service to keep life going.
Indeed, if there’s any theme in the book, it is that of necessary evil. As I’ve said elsewhere, most of us conveniently prefer to forget that necessary evil is often the price of civilized life. If we want to eat cow’s meat, someone must be the butcher. But what if we see cow-killing as evil? We still want our steak. What then is to be done with the butcher? This can provide a rich vein for a novelist: how much necessary evil can be allowed by a civilized society, and what is to be done with those who perform the tasks we cannot admit are necessary? Or, worse, who defines what’s necessary for whom, and why? All these are hard questions without straight answers, just the kind novelists find useful to make a book unputdownable and unforgettable. If, that is, they can resist the twin temptations of providing answers or engaging in polemics…
Mr. Mandelman, thank you so much taking the time to answer my questions. I hope lots of people decide to read your fantastic book.

Posts in Other Press Week: 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Publisher Spotlight Other Press: REVIEW- The Debba, by Avner Mandelman

The Debba, by Avner Mandelman. Published 2010 by Other Press. Fiction. Crime Fiction.

Nominated this year for Canada's prestigious Giller Prize, Avner Mandelman's novel The Debba is a web of contradictions. A tight thriller about messy relationships and an unresolved past, it's the story of David Starkman, an Israeli who's emigrated to Canada, renounced his Israeli citizenship and tried to leave his former life behind. But it's all brought back in a flash when his father is found murdered in his Jerusalem shoe shop and David must return to Israel to confront his, and his father's demons.

First, he must deal with the fact of his father's death and murder; compelled to solve the murder and convinced that it's tied to his father's past in the Israeli army and his relationship with an enigmatic figure known as "the Debba," an Arab hero who disappeared after David's father captures him, David immerses himself in his father's story. In folk lore, a debba is a mythical hyena who can turn into a man;  it's also the title of a play David's father has written and which he insists in his will David must produce in order to inherit. The play has only been performed once before, when it caused a near-riot, and David must endure physical threats, the anger of his friends and even the opposition of the police and military to put the play on.

His return to Israel also puts him in the sphere of Ruthie, the woman he left behind (and his best friend's fiancée)- and their passion is reignited with animal ferocity. David also must uncover secret after secret about his father, his father's work and the mysterious Debba himself. In the end David has to ask himself searing questions about his identity and his future. But there is a lot standing in his way- powerful forces that want him to leave the past alone.

Politically The Debba does not take sides but rather forces the reader to ask questions and re-examine his or her own beliefs. I found the book's politics fascinating and complex. Other themes treated in the book include assimilation and Jewish identity and the meaning of inheritance. Mandelman's writing throughout is brisk and punchy. Israel is presented as a chaotic landscape where human behavior operates at a basic animal level. Nobody simply talks; people hiss and snarl and spit, and love is something brutish and wild. Literature and poetry can bring people together in unexpected ways in this hostile universe, and hide a lifetime's worth of secrets.

I found The Debba to be an irresistible literary pageturner and I'd recommend it to readers interested in Israel and contemporary Jewish writing that doesn't offer easy answers or pat reassurances.  It's not a book for everyone but I think if you do decide to give it a go, it'll draw you in and keep you reading right till the end.

Come back tomorrow for an interview with The Debba author Avner Mandelman.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Posts in Other Press Week:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Publisher Spotlight Other Press: REVIEW- The Wrong Blood, by Manuel de Lope




The Wrong Blood, by Manuel de Lope. Published by Other Press, 2010. Literary fiction. Translated from the Spanish.

The Wrong Blood is a luminous, marvelous novel from Spanish writer Manuel de Lope, about secrets, women and war, and what people will do to recapture their lost love and lost innocence.

Set during and after the Spanish Civil War, The Wrong Blood is the story of two women. Maria Antonia Extarri is a working-class girl, daughter of a bar owner, who is raped by a group of visiting soldiers; she's sent out to work in a series of large homes. A smart girl and a quick study, she learns a full set of domestic skills. When her baby is born she leaves her employer and settles in the home of wealthy widow Isabel Cruces, whose husband and great love has died during the war, executed as a traitor.  Years later, Isabel's grandson Miguel returns to the family home to study for law exams. Isabel has died left the house and all her money to Maria, who runs it like a solitary fiefdom. The local doctor, an older man well acquainted with the family, tries to befriend the young law student. Little by little, through the doctor's narration, we learn the family's sad history and the secret that binds the two women.

Beautifully written, very moving and very tender, The Wrong Blood is a character-driven and atmospheric story of full-blooded characters with complex psyches and drives. It will remind many readers of the rich family chronicles and passionate love stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and even has some of the gothic elements of Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The sequence detailing Isabel's childbirth and delivery in an iconic dark and stormy night is almost a ghost story,  harrowing and vivid. The story of Isabel's marriage and widowhood are lovely and sad. The doctor's own stories and memories add a fascinating layer of tragedy and bittersweet irony, and Isabel's protean personality adds an unpredictable variable to the story.

The Wrong Blood is definitely a must-read for literary readers and is recommended also for readers interested in historical fiction, Spanish fiction and the fiction of war. (This edition includes a helpful introduction elucidating the basic facts of the war.) Even though very little of the story takes place on the battlefield, it's still about people whose lives are turned upside down by war in one way or another. It's also about class and the privileges afforded to and taken away from people, women especially, at different levels of society, and the things one has to live with and without. Maria and Isabel are enigmatic people, their inner lives held at a distance; this sense of remoteness makes the story all the more moving since the reader has to use his or her own empathy and imagination to understand them. It's a lovely book, literary fiction at a very high level and well worth the effort to read.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

Posts in Other Press Week:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Publisher Spotlight on Other Press: Interview with Judith Gurewich, Publisher of Other Press

Today is the first in a series of six posts spotlighting the fantastic Other Press, a small publisher of literary fiction and important nonfiction. See the intro post here. I had the privilege of conducting a brief interview with the Publisher, Judith Gurewich, about the company and the kinds of books it publishes:

1.  When did Other Press start? What's the company's background? What's its mission? How has it changed or grown over the years? 

Other Press started off by publishing books on various psychoanalytic schools, with a particular focus on the works of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. However, over the years it shifted to literary fiction in translation, political nonfiction books, and memoirs. Today Other Press is doing exclusively literary fiction and nonfiction, from here and abroad.  

2. What kinds of books does Other Press publish? When a reader sees the Other Press logo on a book, what can he or she expect? 

Literature. In other words: books that needed to be written.

3. What's your favorite Other Press book? Is there something particularly special to you personally, or a book that comes with an unusual or particularly memorable story?

Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton sold 100,000 copies in England before I turned it down. It was good, I thought, but not good enough. But the author was willing to work on it with me. He flew from London, lived in my house, and we worked until the book was perfect. This is unusual enough in the publishing world today.  The Wrong Blood by Manuel de Lope, one of the most exquisite literary works I’ve ever published, also has a story attached. I wrote about it in the latest Other Press newsletter.  It is rather uncanny.

4. I've noticed that while Other Press doesn't specifically specialize in Judaica, Other Press has published a number of wonderful Jewish books, especially in the last year or so, like THE DEBBA, BY FIRE, BY WATER and THE WITNESS HOUSE. What does Other Press look for when it comes to Judaica?

This is a great question!  I love the kind of Jewish literature that goes against the grain, that speaks of resilience, of heart, of compassion, and that adamantly refuses to play the victim. One of the most remarkable books in that vein is The Woman from Hamburg by Hanna Krall. But I also publish books by Jewish authors that are thoughtful about Israeli history and wary of what the country has become.

5. Can you give our readers a little sneak preview of some of the books out now and coming next year that you're particularly excited about?

The book I am most excited about this season, apart from Mr. Toppit and The Wrong Blood, is How To Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.  The author did in this book what few intellectuals can: she explains and entertains all at once. It is a masterpiece and probably the best nonfiction book I’ve ever had the luck to publish. 

Ms. Gurewich, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions! It was an honor to have to chance to interview you. I look forward to reading even more from Other Press in the future!
Stay tuned to Boston Bibliophile all week for reviews of Other Press books and interviews with Other Press authors. Thank you to Terrie Akers and Other Press for help with this week's features!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Publisher Spotlight on Other Press: Introduction

Tomorrow is the launch of my first Publisher Spotlight series, featuring the wonderful Other Press. All week (Sunday through Friday) of next week I'll be featuring reviews and interviews focused on Other Press. Here's the schedule:
So I hope you'll come by and check out these features. I'm really excited to be doing this and I want to give a big thank-you to Gurewich, Mandelman, Kaplan and everyone at Other Press who helped me out, especially publicist Terrie Akers and editor Katie Henderson.


Additionally, I've reviewed two other Other Press books, both by author Atiq Rahimi:
They put on a great event at Harvard University with Rahimi  and the PEN World Voices Festival.

You can visit Other Press at their website and follow them on Twitter (@otherpress). Hope to see you tomorrow and during the week!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Finds is Back!

Bad Marie, by Marcy Dermansky

I know, you were wondering what happened.
Bad Marie, by Marcy Dermansky, is one I've been meaning to pick up. I was offered it for review by Harper Collins and passed on it; I regretted that almost immediately! I got it at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth last weekend.
Secret Asian Man, by Tak Toyoshima

Secret Asian Man: The Daily Days is a compilation of the Secret Asian Man comic strip that ran in the Weekly Dig, a Boston newspaper. I loved this comic and I was thrilled to find the book.

Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak
Finally, I picked up the new translation of Doctor Zhivago, just out this week from Random House.  Gorgeous! I love this book and I'm thrilled to be participating in the Group Read being run next month by Frances at NonSuchBook.








This is my first attempt at a video blog; I think I'll try making a more polished one for next week with next week's finds but for now I bring you- me!

More Friday Finds at ShouldBeReading.wordpress.com.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Madame Bovary Group Read: Week Two

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

This past week I read Part Two of Madame Bovary, where Emma, now a mother, moves with her husband to a larger town and he sets up a practice there. Emma is ambitious for the hapless Charles, who will do just about anything to please his wife. Meanwhile,  flâneur and rake extraordinaire Rodolphe arrives on the scene.

Rodolphe is an interesting character and Emma's passion for him illustrates both her descent into a world of her own imagination and her lust for possessions. He's a rich single man with an actress mistress who's bought an estate in Emma's town. She finds him attractive right away, and he notices her, too. When one of their early encounters combines a memory of the frisson between herself and Léon and of the delicious ball she's attended, the one that gave her a taste of the high life, she's lost.

"I have a lover," she says, in one of the most famous lines of the book, "I have a lover." She's as delighted as a shopper with a shiny new bauble. But her passion for him reaches beyond a shopper's fleeting thrill; she clings to him like her life depends on it and she's blind to his lack of regard for her. Oh sure, he likes her, and finds her attractive, but she means no more to him than any other of the many women he's known. He sees an easy, appealing mark in the pretty young woman and knows he can treat her however he wants and she'll always come back for more.  But when she starts to demand too much, he cuts her loose.

I found this section fascinating for Flaubert's social commentary and for the developments in Emma's character and her and Charles' relationship. At times it seemed like her affair with Rodolphe was the stuff of cheap dime-store novels, but that's the point- that she's throwing herself away on someone who's not worthy of her, on a relationship that's entirely a fantasy. Rodolphe is what in contemporary parlance we'd call a player and Flaubert makes it obvious to the reader that he doesn't give a whit about Emma, who seems to become more and more obsessed as time passes. By the end of the section, it seems that she's about to fall into an even deeper abyss.

Or maybe not, but despite never having read the book before I do know how it ends, so I suspect I may be right. We'll see!

Thank you to Frances of NonSuchBook for organizing the Group Read and click over to her blog to see other participants' entries.



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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

REVIEW: Wherever You Go, by Joan Leegant

Wherever You Go, by Joan Leegant. Published 2010 by W.W. Norton & Company. Literary fiction.

When I first started reading Joan Leegant's very compelling novel Wherever You Go I was worried it would be a different sort of book than it ended up being. It  starts with the story of Yona Stern, an American on her way to Jerusalem to visit her sister Dena, from whom she's become estranged. The story behind the estrangement is melodramatic enough that I was worried the book would be equally melodramatic but I was wrong.

The novel alternates between several different narratives. After Yona we meet Mark Greenglass, a formerly observant man going to Israel to teach, and then Aaron Blinder, a college student somewhere between a nerd and loser, who finds a purpose for himself on a kibbutz. The story moves to Israel quickly and the first part of the novel focuses on how these characters come together in a tragedy which one of these characters precipitates. The aftermath, which makes up the shorter second section, falls mainly on the other two, one of whom must cross a difficult personal divide to do right by the other.

Once I got into the characters (and once I was assured that the book was not chick lit) the narrative swept me along to the devastating conflict and through the difficult peace that follows. Leegant uses the plot as a means of examining the choices that people make when they're motivated by wanting to belong, or feeling left out, or just trying to find their place in the world. Equal parts character and plot, it would make a great book club selection and provides some interesting commentary on modern Israeli life and some of the people who choose to make it their home. I would class it as an above-average read, one that readers of both popular and literary fiction will enjoy.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the author.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Boston Book Festival '10

This past Saturday was the second annual Boston Book Festival, a free, public one-day celebration of all things literary. The day was packed with speakers, exhibits, booksellers and workshops; the event kicked off at 10am and went until early evening- and then into the evening, if you count parties and after-events.

My husband and I took the subway to Copley Place around 10:30, too late for the first event but just in time to get a head start on browsing the outdoor exhibits and displays. There were booksellers, journals and magazines, writing centers and more. And the weather couldn't have been better!

That's some of the swag we got- just some little things. The purple magazine is an issue of a local journal called "One Story," which features, yes, one short story per issue. This issue features a story by A.M. Homes. I also picked up a copy of Tom Perrotta's "The Smile on Happy Chang's Face," which was featured in the "One City, One Story" event, and a little package of tea with literary sayings on the tags.

I didn't attend the "One City, One Story" reading and discussion, and that was intentional- I didn't really like the story. I found it sort of uninspiring as short fiction goes, and I thought it was strange that for the Boston Book Festival, a story was chosen that takes place in New Jersey. Really? So I decided to skip that event.

The first talk we attended was at 12, "The Ancients," about the differences between portrayals of ancient history in the popular media and the real history. The panel included Caroline Alexander, Sir Peter Stothard and Stacy Schiff; it was moderated by Boston media notable Peter Kadzis. Alexander talked about the Iliad as a war poem, Stothard discussed Spartacus and Schiff talked about Cleopatra. It was fascinating!

Unfortunately we had to duck out a little early because I arranged a little tweetup at 1:00 at Bukowski's, a nearby bar that pays tribute to the late poet Charles Bukowski. Appropriate for a literary festival, no? Anyway a few friends made it out and we had a nice time chatting and noshing on their delicious food.

In the afternoon, Jeff and I attended "My Mother She Ate Me, My Father He Killed Me," a panel featuring authors Kathryn Davis and Kelly Link along with scholar Maria Tatar and hosted by author Kate Bernheimer, editor of a fairy-tale anthology of the same name in which Link and Davis are featured. Link and Davis read from the stories they contributed, and Tatar, a Harvard professor, talked about fairy tales from an academic point of view. I have a copy of the book for review and I've really been enjoying dipping into it. Books of short stories take me forever to finish but hopefully I'll have a review for you sometime in this lifetime!

Finally, Jeff and went to a free-writing poetry workshop hosted by Barbara Helfgott Hyett, a take-no-prisoners writing instructor and poet who for some reason latched on to my husband and teased him mercilessly about being a lawyer. Someone else in the workshop said she thought Ms. Hyett was uncomfortable because my husband was using his Blackberry for his writing exercises. Who knows. Anyway I really enjoyed her workshop and she was a very stimulating instructor. I'd love to work with her again.

I volunteered last year's festival but I didn't get to leave my venue all day so in a way I felt like this was the first year I got to go; I learned that it's important to plan your time and it's important to realize that while you'll never get to everything, with a little planning and forethought you'll get to enough and have a great time. Jeff and I had a fantastic time, aided by a beautiful fall day and lots of incredible choices, authors and events. Thank you so much to the organizers of this year's festival for an unforgettable day!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Musing Mondays: What format of physical book do you prefer?

 This week’s musing asks…
Do you prefer hardcovers, trade paperbacks (the bigger ones), or mass market paperbacks (the smaller ones)? Why?
I definitely prefer trade paperbacks; lighter and more portable than hardcovers and prettier (generally) than mass markets, they fit in my purse and they look nice on my shelves. When I finally got around to reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I paid the extra few bucks for the good-looking trade even though the mass market was cheaper and sitting right next to it in the store (and took a little ribbing from none other than Margaret Atwood for doing so). And paperbacks are less precious than hardcovers; I can bend back the covers, set my drinks on them and break the spines. Having said that, I do buy hardcovers occasionally (and I don't always use my books as coasters), when I'm really excited to get a particular book or when I want to collect it in a first edition. I am very disappointed, for example, that The Finkler Question was not released in hardcover in the US, because I think a Booker Prize winner deserves a hardcover release. But I got one from England so all is not lost for this inveterate collector!

More Musing Mondays with Miz B at ShouldBeReading.wordpress.com.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Salon- Reading, Reading and More Reading

Yesterday was the second annual Boston Book Festival, and what a day it was for it- perfect fall weather and a full schedule made for a great bookish day. But I'll have a full post on the festival Tuesday. For now let's just say I had a great time.

Today I'm reading Madame Bovary, for the group read hosted by Frances at NonSuchBook, and The Finkler Question, which won the Man Booker Prize this past week. Finkler, by British writer Howard Jacobson, was, I think, considered an underdog for the Prize- Room and C and The Long Song were the darlings, with a flurry of betting the day before the winner was announced centered on C. I was very excited Jacobson won, if only because it was the only book on the shortlist that really interested me. Someone asked if Jacobson was the first Jewish writer to win the Prize and as far as I can tell he's the fifth, after Bernice Rubens, Nadine Gordimer, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Anita Brookner. Anyway the book so far is very engaging and I'm looking forward to spending a big chunk of today really digging into it.

But for now I have tea to drink and reading to plan. On Friday my husband and I took 11 bags of books to sell at local used bookstores and racked up enough store credit to last us a good long time-which means I'll be replacing some of those books very, very soon!

What are you up to today? Have a great Sunday and see more Sunday Salon here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Jewish Book Carnival- October Edition

It's time for the October edition of the Jewish Book Carnival!

You can go to the Jewish Book Council page to find this month's collection of links.

The JBC has collected a great group of posts from all over the blogosphere for this month's carnival.

I contributed my review of Julie Orringer's stunning historical novel The Invisible Bridge, about the Hungarian experience of World War II through the eyes of a Hungarian Jew named Andras.

Go check out all the links, visit and comment. It's a great event!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Madame Bovary Group Read: Week One


For the first week of the Madame Bovary Group Read, we read Part One of the book, a mere 58 pages, plus the introduction by translator Lydia Davis. In the introduction, Davis lays out some of the themes, motifs and peculiarities of Flaubert's writing that we'll be seeing throughout the novel. Some points that interested me particularly include his use of metaphorical language, his innovative use of the imperfect tense in French (most French literary writing is dominated by a literary-only tense called the passé simple, or simple past, which has a slightly different meaning than the imparfait) and information about his laborious, intense writing process. In the section on her translation methods, she covers some of the broad decisions she made, such as the decision to retain his characteristic comma splice technique, and she gives a brief overview of the many English translations of Bovary.

On to the book itself. Part One opens with young Charles Bovary, an awkward boy who wants to fit in. He grows up and marries an older woman his parents choose; he meets the charming Emma and his first wife dies. Slowly the focus of the book shifts to Emma, so slowly I almost didn't notice until I was completely immersed in her point of view and Charles had become a bit player in Emma's vivid and all-consuming romantic delusions. These delusions start when she attends a luxurious ball and falls in love with the lavish lifestyle she sees on display, and thus begins her downfall.

This is the first time I've read Madame Bovary although I'm quite familiar with the story. I majored in French in college but I never got around to taking a course on nineteenth century French literature- I signed up for it but then dropped it in favor of a class on Russian literature in translation, a decision I've never regretted, but I am a little sorry to have missed reading some of the seminal masterpieces of this most crucial period in French literature in the original French. I do hope to read it in French as well, but not this time around.

Thank you to Frances of NonSuchBook for organizing the Group Read and click over to see other participants' entries.

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Boston Book Fest!

It's that time again- for the second annual Boston Book Festival. Last year's inaugural event was so successful that this Saturday, October 16, they're doing it again.

Now, last year I volunteered at the one-day festival and although it was fun to work with a local indie bookstore to run signings, I didn't get to attend a single event. This year though, no volunteering for me; I'm going to be out and about and getting to everything I can. And my husband will be coming with me this time, which will make it even better.

New to the Festival this year is a "One City One Story" event, featuring the story "The Smile on Happy Chang's Face," by novelist Tom Perrotta, who wrote Little Children and Election, among other things. Copies are widely available in bookstores in the Boston area and online; I picked mine up at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. Perrotta will participate in a discussion of the story at the Festival. This is the first time that the city of Boston has run a "One City" reading event, although Cambridge and other area communities have done their own.

Also of interest is the City Wide Creative Writing Project being run by Union Park Press"an independent publisher specializing in books about the arts, history, and culture of Boston and New England". This is a contest and collaborative writing project:
Festivalgoers at this year’s Boston Book Festival are invited to stop by the Union Park Press booth to add a sentence in city-themed stories started by fellow Bostonians. Each story will be limited to one or two pages of text. When one story ends, the next one begins. Notable Bostonians who’ve been generous enough to “donate” a first line include Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River and Shutter Island, Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Susan Sloane, managing editor of WCVB TV’s Chronicle. The end result will be a collection of short-shorts collaboratively written by book festival attendees—available free of charge on the Union Park Press website after the festival.
Various people were solicited by Union Park to submit a first line, myself and other local bloggers included. I can't wait to see what comes of this very interesting exercise in creativity and community.

I'm also trying to organize a tweetup during the Festival; right now some friends and I are meeting at 1:00pm at Bukowski's Tavern on Dalton Street near the Prudential Center. It's cash-only but the burgers are delicious. Come join us!

In addition to all this, there are loads of great panels and talks all day long as well as writing workshops and more. I can't wait!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

REVIEW: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender. Published 2010 by Random House. Literary Fiction.

Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you could see past social niceties into someone's secret state of mind? On her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein finds out that some gifts arrive without notice, cannot be returned and give you more than you ever expected.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a bittersweet coming-of-age novel about a troubled family and a little girl who grows up too fast because she has the ability to sense people's feelings in the food they cook. On her birthday, her mother bakes a special cake and when Rose digs in, she is shocked to taste her mother's sadness, frustration and disappointment. In an instant, she realizes that her family is not what it seems- and that nothing will ever be the same again. And it's not just her mother's cooking; all of a sudden, Rose can sense anyone's emotional state by the food they cook, even strangers. She can even tell where things were made, how factories are run that make food, and more. She copes as best as she can until, years later, she finds a safe harbor and starts to build a life there.

In the meantime though, she has a lot on her plate. Each of her immediate family members- her mother, her father and her brother- have secrets they're keeping, some of which she can taste and some of which she can't. And her brother Joseph has a power even stranger than her own, and to help him she must overcome an adolescent crush, confront her parents and find out what she's really made of.

I enjoyed Lemon Cake very much. I didn't love it, but I thought it was a fine read. It reminds me a lot of Myla Goldberg's luminous Bee Season, another story about a dysfunctional family and a little girl with a special power and if I had to choose I'd say Bee Season is the better book but there's lots I admire about Lemon Cake. Rose is a wonderful character and I liked that Bender ages her quickly and doesn't spend too much time with little-girl Rose. Bender writes in the first person from Rose's point of view, but her voice is neither cloying nor naive; a grownup is telling you this story, not a child.

Reactions to Lemon Cake have been mixed and I can see why. Joseph's story will strike some readers as a little much, and the ending is rather understated and underwhelming. Joseph's bizarre troubles add another layer of magic realism to the story but struck me as a plot device to get Rose to interact with his friend George, with whom she's infatuated. I wish Rose's relationship with her father had been developed more; Rose seemed very alone to me. On balance though I think it's a neat little read that literary fiction readers and fans of magical realism will enjoy if not love. And I wish she'd had a stronger ending, not that it's exactly a bad one or a good one- just somewhere in between, kind of like life.

RATING: Backlist

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Musing Mondays- What Are You Thankful For?


First of all… Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian readers! :D

This week’s musing is in honor of the holiday…

In regards to books, reading, the publishing industry, etc… What are you most grateful for? Why? Have you ever done anything to tangibly show your appreciation?

I'm thankful for so many things. I'm thankful for the US Constitution and our American First Amendment freedom of speech, which keeps us free of government censorship. I'm thankful for the wonderful bookstores- independent and chain- that provide us with great books to read and the smart booksellers who run them. I'm thankful for the wonderful writers and global literary culture responsible for the books stocked in the stores. I'm thankful for the publishers who bring the books to market. I'm thankful for every teacher and librarian who ever put a book in my hands. I'm very thankful for the Beverly Public Library, where I grew up and spent many, many hours reading anything I could put my hands on. And I'm thankful to be married to a man who doesn't mind all the piles and piles of books that come in (and out) of our home all the time!

What have I done to show my appreciation? I shop indie as much as possible, to keep those great stores open; I became a librarian and dedicated my professional life to the freedom to read; and I don't give my husband a hard time about his books either!

Musing Mondays is hosted by MizB at ShouldBeReading.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Salon: Fall Fair, Books and How Much I Love Everyman's Library



So how is your weekend going? Did you participate in yesterday's ReadaThon? I didn't this time, but it's a great event and I hope those of you who did have a great day. It's really hard for me to sit still for long, especially this time of year when the weather is sunny and crisp and there's so much to do outside and around town.

Yesterday my husband and I went to the annual Topsfield Fair, a farming and agricultural fair I've been going to since I was a baby. We petted animals, ooo-ed and ah-ed over baby bunnies and chickens, won cheap toys at the midway and wandered the stalls and vendors. It was a great day.

Today, though, will likely be a reading day! I finished the first hardcover in my pile for my personal challenge, Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (review coming this week) and started Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, by Natasha Solomons. I've also been reading Penelope Fitzgerald's Offshore, her Booker Prize winner. I've been reading Offshore in the Everyman's Library edition and I have to say, if you like nice-quality books but worry that they are impractical to actually read, Everyman's Library is for you. They have beautiful cloth bindings and come in a smallish size, with lovely smooth, ivory paper and bindings that lay open easily. They are very comfortable to hold and live with- quality editions that aren't just for display but for reading. The first Everyman's Library edition I got came as a gift and now I think I want all my books in Everyman's editions. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, Oh Random House, is there anything you can't do?

Well, Offshore is a short novel and I'm almost done so I think I'll get back to it now. What are you reading today? Or are you taking the day off after the Readathon? Whatever you're doing, have a great day.

More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday Finds- NEIBA10


Above is the stash of books I found at the NEIBA conference this past weekend; mostly late fall and early spring releases, I feel like I have my next few months' of reading all set! Banned in Boston is a very interesting-looking account of censorship in the Boston area; Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, out now, is a very exciting new release from HarperCollins; A Discovery of Witches is a biblio-mystery; Enough About Love is a humorous French love story from Other Press; and The Dry Grass of August looks like a very nice literary read.

But the prettiest galley of them all was The Oracle of Stamboul, by Michael David Lukas, about a little girl who becomes an advisor to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

The galley is so beautiful, I can only imagine that the finished book will be gorgeous- and from what I've read so far, the inside of the book looks good, too!


Apart from the wonderful reads I picked up at NEIBA, I also got the new translation of Madame Bovary, so I'm all in for the Group Read happening at NonSuch Book later this month!

More Friday Finds at ShouldbeReading.wordpress.com.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

REVIEW: Bulls Island, by Dorothea Benton Frank

Bulls Island, by Dorothea Benton Frank. Published 2008 by William Morrow. Fiction.

Betts McGee has a problem. Actually, she has a few. A high powered Manhattan executive with roots in the South Carolina lowcountry, she's sent back home for a career-boosting assignment developing an environmentally sensitive barrier island. Along the way she'll have to deal with her old flame, his brittle Barbie wife along with rest of his family, and keep the secret of the existence of her 18-year-old son by the aforementioned old flame. All while looking good and sealing the deal.

I read Bulls Island while vacationing in South Carolina this past summer and it was a fine book with which to while away a plane flight. I'm just not sure I can recommend it for anything else. Betts was interesting but the family drama was nothing short of soap-opera worthy, from the secret child to the tragic love affair to the new wife's drug addiction. I read the book hoping for local color and was disappointed but if melodrama had a color this book would be painted all over. The people didn't behave the way people behave; neglecting to mention the existence of a child for 18 years- not just to the father but to your own entire family- isn't just eccentric, it's psychotic. And since that's the central drama of the book, it was hard for me to sympathize with Betts.

And if I don't like a protagonist it's really hard for me to like a novel. Bulls Island was entertaining enough but somewhat bland and forgettable at the end of the day. Lots of readers like Frank's books and Bulls Island was mindless fun as long as I didn't think about it too much. But that's not usually good enough for me and I doubt I'll be revisiting her world anytime soon.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

REVIEW: The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer

The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer. Published 2010 by Knopf. Literary Fiction.

The Invisible Bridge is an extraordinary, detailed and moving novel about World War II and the Holocaust, a Holocaust novel in which the Holocaust itself barely figures. Author Julie Orringer tells the story of Andras Lévi, a Hungarian Jew whose journey through the Europe of the first half of the 20th century takes him from Budapest to Paris and back by way of Ukraine and the killing fields and labor camps of war. It's a story about an unlikely passion, a friendship that lasts a lifetime, the saving grace of family and the power of love.

Andras is a talented but poor student who travels to France to study architecture; he falls in with the Hungarian émigré community where he meets the entrancing and enigmatic Klara, a ballerina hiding a secret which will haunt and eventually ruin her family. But in Paris his life is full, with his lover, his studies and his friends Ben Yakov and Polaner. Klara, his friends and his two brothers Tibor and Matyas form the nucleus of Andras's days; then, little by little, things fall apart. Antisemitism eats away at their life in France and Andras and his circle disperse to fates known and unknown illustrating the different paths that lead in and out of war. Sometimes it seems they will never find their way out.

Reading The Invisible Bridge, I never quite had the feeling that these people were safe, or believed entirely that they weren't; just like in real life, anything could happen to them. Just when things looked up, or the book looked like it was going to be one kind of narrative, something would pull the rug out and Orringer would surprise me; when I thought all hope was lost, I still turned the pages breathlessly. The characters are vivid and three-dimensional and grow and change through their various and often harrowing circumstances in believable ways. Orringer has created a richly detailed universe but writes with such assurance that I never felt like I was reading research, or even fiction- I felt like I was reading real life.

I would say that The Invisible Bridge is required reading for anyone with a serious interest in World War II fiction and highly recommended for other readers of literary fiction. The book covers the Hungarian experience of the war and manages to evoke the horror of the Holocaust but as a spectre that always remains just offstage; part of the novel's power lies in the fact that we as readers know what could happen to these people, what could waiting just around the corner, and we wonder if and when they will get there or if by some miracle they'll escape. There were many times over the course of this 500+ page novel when I teared up, many surprises good and bad. It's a wonderful, engrossing novel about a very particular experience of war and at the same time, it's a wonderful universal story about people- people in love, people in unimaginable circumstances and people living life everyday. It's just a great book.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.