VACLAV & LENA by Haley Tanner

Once upon a time, in the exotic land of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, a young boy named Vaclav – an aspiring magician – falls in love with a thin, skittish girl named Lena. And, like any alchemy, the combustion is magical…and it endures.

There is a refreshing fairy tale quality about VACLAV & LENA, a lovely debut book by Haley Tanner. Slowly but surely, I fell under the spellbinding tale of this would-be magician and his girl. It’s an endearing tale that unfolds with gentle fireworks rather than major pyrotechnics – rather like the magic seen in the starlit sky on a summer’s night in Coney Island.

July 4, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Debut Novel, NE & New York, New York City

THE POSSIBILITY OF AN ISLAND by Michel Houellebecq

It’s often said that a critic has no place christening contemporary works as literature; it’s for future generations to decide which books will live on and which will fall the way of obscurity. According to this line of thinking, 19th- century Russians were just as incapable of heralding their literary giants as the ancient Greeks were of immortalizing Homer or the Elizabethans, Shakespeare. But there’s something in this argument I’ve always found hard to believe: great literature lives on not because it’s incidentally suited to future tastes or historically informative; it lives on because it captures some of that elusive essence of what it is to be human, and while that universal quality all literature possesses is hard to pin down, to paraphrase Supreme Court justice, Potter Stewart: I know it when I see it. Tolstoy’s contemporaries knew what they held in their hands with WAR AND PEACE just as I knew what I held in mine the first time I picked up a book by Jose Saramago. So let me be clear: Michel Houellebecq is such a writer and THE POSSIBILITY OF AN ISLAND is a book that will be read for generations to come.

July 2, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Speculative (Beyond Reality), Translated, Unique Narrative, World Lit

FUNERAL FOR A DOG by Thomas Pletzinger

Husbands and wives who work together either end up with their marriage in trouble or being the best of friends. In German author, Thomas Pletzinger’s novel, FUNERAL FOR A DOG, it’s the first scenario for journalist Daniel Mandelkern. Mandelkern is an ethnologist who is supposed to be writing “about anthropological concepts like matrilineality and male childbed,” but instead he’s been getting a series of shit assignments from his boss/wife Elisabeth. Mandelkern is beginning to wonder if there’s an underlying message to these assignments and then he’s told to interview the reclusive Dirk Svensson, the author of a wildly successful illustrated children’s book “The story of Leo and the Notmuch.” Mandelkern protests against the assignment, and with his marriage in crisis, he storms out of his apartment on the journey to interview Svensson.

May 4, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Germany, New York City, Unique Narrative, World Lit

AN ATLAS OF IMPOSSIBLE LONGING by Anuradha Roy

The title of this book alone drew me in; that and I’m partial to books about India. This is a fine book on many levels and I was not disappointed. It’s a multigenerational novel, a great love story, a cross-cultural learning experience, and a book about yearning, hope, loss, money and betrayal. It captures the big themes of life and does a great job of keeping the reader turning the pages.

The story starts out in 1907 when Amulya takes his family from Calcutta to Songarh, a small town on the edge of the jungle. He has a wife and two grown sons, along with one daughter-in law. He builds a house in the middle of nowhere. There are no other houses nearby except for one belonging to an English couple across the street. There is dirt, mud, the screech of monkies and not much else. Kananbala, Amulya’s wife, gradually loses her sanity from the loneliness and utters irrelevant profanities at the oddest times. Amulya confines Kananbala to her room so as to avoid embarrassment. There she languishes, for the most part alone and lonely. She takes to watching the comings and goings of the English couple across the street and is witness to a murder. Her interpretation of what she sees has a fascinating outcome.

April 21, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Family Matters, India-Pakistan, Reading Guide, World Lit

ENOUGH ABOUT LOVE by Herve Le Tellier

Thomas loves Louise, a lawyer. Louise is married to Romain, a scientist. Louise loves Thomas. Yves, a writer, loves Anna. Anna, a psychiatrist, loves Yves, a man she finds “unsettling.” Anna is married to Stan, an ophthalmologist. Thomas is Anna’s psychoanalyst. No, this isn’t an LSAT logic problem or a torrid soap opera. These are the characters that comprise Le Tellier’s urbane, au courant Paris comedy, ENOUGH ABOUT LOVE, a droll romp that is nevertheless intimate and complex within the playful pages.

March 4, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Contemporary, France, Humorous, Translated, World Lit

PORTRAITS OF A MARRIAGE by Sandor Marai

They say there are two sides to every story. In the case of PORTRAITS OF A MARRIAGE, there are three. There is the story of the erstwhile housekeeper cum second wife, Judit; the pragmatic and loving first wife, Ilona; and there is Peter’s story, the husband of wife number one and wife number two, whom we find at the end of the novel, lost and destitute. It is not a complicated story, the one told here; nor is it particularly unique or poignant, though the story is laced with insight. The story told here, the story, as the title suggests, of a marriage, is told in straight-forward narrative, albeit from three perspectives, and set against the fabric of a damaged Hungary between the wars. It is an elegant and beautiful book, a rich tapestry on love, marriage and class. It is, as well, deeply psychological, almost Jamesianly so.

February 22, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Class - Race - Gender, World Lit