Monday, January 19, 2015

A Man Of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg

Blikkiesdorp, might be Cape Town’s “asshole, the muscle through which the city shits out the parts it does not want,” but for Somali refugee, Asad Abdullahi, Tin Can Town is a step up compared to the hell he has been through. Just eight when violence in Mogadishu split his family asunder, the young and enterprising Asad moved from city to city, country to country, forever pursuing a dream of stability. This is a brilliantly reported story of hope against overwhelming odds, and survival in the bleakest circumstances. It brings home the refugee’s plight like no news bite can. A must-read.

Thanks to Knopf for an ARC.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? by Andrew Lawler

The chicken’s footprint might be tiny but its impression on humanity remains large. Science reporter Andrew Lawler expertly traces its movement from early domestication and the jungles of south Asia, to today’s production of billions of pounds of broiler meat for world consumption. Even if at times it seems as if Lawler packs way too much information into its pages, this is an engaging look at man’s big bird and its impact on almost every aspect of our lives: religious, cultural, medicinal and more. Think the dog is man’s best friend? Well, the chicken really makes a more compelling case.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Don't Let Him Know by Sandip Roy

Three generations of the Mitras are captured through revealing vignettes in Roy’s moving and brilliant debut. Those high walls hold not just the outside world at bay, they lock in a way of life that suppresses individuality in favor of societal expectations. This is a remarkable analysis of the ripple effects of a secret coming to light, and of lives spent regretting lost chances. A reliance on fate as crutch makes the quotidian bearable for these sharply drawn characters who manage large doses of grace despite a nagging sense of longing for a life that is forever out of reach.

Full disclosure: The author is an acquaintance.
Thanks to Bloomsbury for an ARC.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc

The vast tundra of Lapland is the perfect setting for this thriller that shines a spotlight on tensions between the native Sami peoples and the Norwegians. On the fortieth day without shadow, a drum that is of symbolic importance to the Sami, is stolen from a local Kautokeino museum. When a Sami reindeer herder is also found murdered in a day, the Reindeer Police know more’s at stake. The mystery checks all the right boxes but it’s the setting that truly elevates the story. One can’t help but be amazed at man’s ability to survive even in the bleakest places.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson

The Laughing Monsters, a set of mountains in the Congo, were named by a Victorian missionary. Denis Johnson’s adrenaline-filled adventure through the heart of Africa, features Roland Nair, a NATO operative, and his buddy, Michael Adriko, a Ugandan native, who set out on a mission whose purpose is hazy at best. Johnson’s story lacks focus, which can be frustrating but the powerful descriptions of Africa are simply stunning. Hardcore Johnson fans will find much that is familiar, but this isn’t his best novel. That it is still worth reading speaks to the quality of Denis Johnson’s incredible body of work.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer

Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean leader, was an avid movie fanatic. Realizing the power of the medium to sell his version of the country’s story, he arranged to abduct South Korean cinema’s golden couple: movie director Shin Sang-Ok and actress Choi Eun-Ee, and forced them to make propaganda movies. This is a blockbuster account of not just a bizarre true story but of the surreal North Korea of the ‘70s and’ 80s. It is also a brilliant exploration of cinema as political tool. Celluloid can be crafted to tell any story be it one of escape or mass delusion.

Thanks to BookBrowse's First Impressions program for an ARC.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Brief History Of Seven Killings by Marlon James

The iridescent flashes of color on the Jamaican black-billed streamertail hummingbird might well mirror the luminous prose in Marlon James’ epic novel. There are many more than seven killings here and the novel is anything but brief, but this is a heartbreaking story crafted like a kaleidoscope. Each new chapter delivers a new perspective from a different angle or voice and place. While the Jamaican patois that is sprinkled liberally through the narrative might be difficult to understand at times, this is a story epic in every way that counts: vision, setting, ambition, voice. A singularly astounding achievement.