A memoir written at 96 years old by Harry Bernstein. He was a Jewish boy growing up during World War I and his family lives on a street divided by an "invisible wall." This wall separates the Jewish side of the street from the Christian side. Harry's sister does the unthinkable, and falls in love with a boy from the other side. Harry finds out about this affair, and he is torn between what he knows is right in his heart (letting them be) or what is right in his head (telling his mother). It follows Harry through this moral conflict, and growing up while struggling to make ends meet. Since it is memories from 92 years ago, many have asked Harry, how does he remember the time from when he was four years old? He responds, "But how could I not remember them? How can you forget such things as my father's drunken roars when he came staggering home at night, and pulling the covers over my head in bed to shut out the sounds?...These are wounds inflicted on a young boy's mind that have left scars forever. There is nothing strange about my remembering such details." He wrote a sequel, The Dream: A Memoir, at the age of 97, about escaping poverty in England just to come to poverty in America. He also wrote a third memoir, The Golden Willow: The Story of a Lifetime of Love, about life with his wife, Ruby. Why did he start writing so late? The loneliness after the death of his wife, Ruby, in 2002 after 67 years of marriage. A real-life Romeo and Juliet story through the eyes of a four year old, you will be moved to tears by Bernstein's stories. Rating: ★★★★
This novel is advertised as a 9/11 book, a book about the lives of New Yorkers. Yet Colum McCann, in an interview, describes it differently. He says his book is not only about 9/11, but “The story comes right down to the ground, in the very dark of night, in the roughest part of New York…That, for me, is the core image of the novel. That’s the moment when the towers get built back up.” McCann goes on to say, “…it doesn’t have to be a 9/11novel at all. It could also be just a book about New York in 1974 and how we are all intimately connected.” A major point McCann is trying to make in writing this book is that no matter how many different lives, different stories, New York City contains, it’s really a unified city. So in keeping with this theme, that New York is not a jumble of stories – but it is in fact one unified story – McCann chooses seemingly random narrators for his story, yet they all spin together in the end. It is narrated by eleven different people, most New Yorkers, all ordinary lives put together to form a tale of pre-9/11 Twin Towers and New York, yet written post-9/11. Where in most books there is a clear, definite, main character, there is no one main character in this book. When I begin to think that say, the tightrope walker (based on Philippe Petit) is the main character, I then think that Corrigan (based on Daniel Berrigan), the Irish priest living in the worst neighborhood of New York, or Jazzyln, a prostitute killed in a car accident. McCann so magnificently wraps together the stories, from pre-9/11 to post-9/11. The end of the book leaps forward to 2006, and is very tight and wrapped up – absolutely no loose ends. Yes, in a way this was extremely satisfying, and a nice conclusion. But in another, the reader is thinking in the back of their mind, there is no way real life is this perfect. And it isn’t. It almost felt wrong because of the perfect yet imperfectness of it all. Still, it was a breathtakingly beautiful portrait of New York City, and I highly recommend reading it (In 2009, it received the National Book Award for fiction!). Rating: ★★★★
A dystopian novel taking place in a futurstic, electronic-centered America, Gary Shteyngart's novel is an interesting look of what we will become. It focuses on Lenny Abramov, a 39-year-old who works at Post-Human Services, where they try to make people live forever. Lenny narrates the book, and throughout the novel the reader sees snippets from Eunice Park's, his girlfriend's, e-mail. It's a world where hardly anyone reads books anymore (there's a warning on the cover of the book: "READ AT YOUR OWN RISK! Harvard Fashion School Studies has been shown that reeding long-form texts and dicrease Shopping/Consumptioning abilities and cause eye strain problemz and unattractiveness in girlz aged 3 to 90") and where people are more concerned about their purchases than their families. As literary critic Edmund White proclaimed on the back of the book, "I never really believed in the horrors of Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the details of Super Sad True Love Story are all too convincing." I agree with him. It is completely possible that the world as we know it will be sucked into consumerism and forget about books and literature all together. With items such as the Kindle (which is an awesome invention that I recommend 100%), books can be viewed as slowly dying out. I think that we have to strike an uneasy balance between the two - between the past and the future, books and e-readers, tradition and innovation. I highly suggest reading Super Sad True Love Story. If you like Shetyngart's work, you should also check out Russian Debutante's Handbook and Absurdistan, two of his other critically-acclaimed novels. Rating: ★★★★★
Set in a post-World War II Barcelona, Spain, the story focuses on Daniel, a book dealer's son, who finds a book entitled The Shadow of the Wind. Daniel becomes completely enthralled with the story and the author, Julián Carax. He then journeys to find other books by Carax, but he finds out someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has ever wrote. Daniel believes his copy of the Shadow of the Wind is the last Carax book in existence. Soon, Daniel's "seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona's darkest secrets - an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love." I found the book to be extremely suspenseful, and quite scary at times, and I could hardly put it down, for I feared what was to happen next. You never know what is going to happen and the plot twists are surprising and unexpected. Zafrón also wrote The Angel's Game, set in Barcelona, and centering around the same "Cemetery of Forgotten Books" that is central to his first book. This novel features David Martín, a struggling writer who gets a job from an extremely mysterious publisher that is "almost too good to be real." Some of the characters from Zafrón's first novel make an appearance in this one, and The Angel's Game, like The Shadow of the Wind, keeps you reading until the very end. I recommend both these books if you are looking for a good mystery novel to keep you guessing. Rating: ★★★★
Sorry, haven't posted in a while. The next week or so will still be a little hectic, expect more posts starting on or around January 27th.
Five books to keep reading until then....
Five books to keep reading until then....
- The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie: Twelve short stories about Nigerian women in America and Nigeria.
- A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé: A bookseller tries to make a story with only good books. Then rises the question...what is a good book?
- The Song of Names by Norman Lebrecht: A holocaust novel about a Jewish Polish violin prodigy who, on the day before he is to make his debut, disappears.
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry: Set in India during partition, it tells the story of three different people and how they survive and how their lives intertwine.
- The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America's Dilemma by Alex Kolowitz: The novel is centered around a black teenager's body that is found in the river, a river that separates a white town from a black town.