Imagine a spiral wishing well. Drop a coin and watch it get sucked in. This is exactly what reading TBC feels like. You get drawn in, tossed about and emerge breathless. Spanning centuries, mixing genres, revisiting familiar characters (including the inimitable Hugo Lamb), Mitchell is in full form here. Even if the novel includes an epic battle scene that feels like a drawn out Bollywood movie at times, you can’t help but be wowed by the absolute brilliance of the writing. Some books you read. Some books you enjoy. Some books, like TBC, just swallow you up, heart and soul.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Seventeenth-century Amsterdam springs to life in brilliant detail as viewed through eighteen year-old Nella Oortman wife of Johannes Brandt, a prosperous trader. The Brandts harbor secrets but things get really mysterious when a “miniaturist” sends Nella small packages in the mail for her miniature cabinet house. As the Brandts get mired into circumstances beyond their control, the packages get increasingly prophetic. Unfortunately, the plot turns out to be predictable and the mystery loses steam. Every stripe of minority is prone to suspicion and worse, which is ironic given that Amsterdam is today considered the most liberal city in the world.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
When viewed through a gambler’s lens, Macau can be just a blur — the nights all melting into one another, awash in one big win or loss. “Lord” Doyle is well familiar with this picture. An embezzler to the core, he is hiding in the Chinese territory gambling away the vast sum of money he swindled from a retiree back in England. Doyle might be an unlikeable protagonist but Ballad manages to score big. This is a beautiful and haunting novel exploring the devastation of gambling addiction and life’s complex moralities, all while set in gorgeous Macau. A sure bet.
When viewed through a gambler’s lens, Macau can be just a blur — the nights all melting into one another, awash in one big win or loss. “Lord” Doyle is well familiar with this picture. An embezzler to the core, he is hiding in the Chinese territory gambling away the vast sum of money he swindled from a retiree back in England.
While it is usually difficult to fall in love with a novel with an unlikeable protagonist, The Ballad of a Small Player scores big by casting Doyle not just as scum but as someone often misguided, a victim of the devastating addiction he is so deeply mired in. One can’t help but gasp at the size of his bets and wild spending sprees. It’s a picture of self-destruction that is mesmerizing to watch unfold.
The rain-soaked, lush, green countryside of Macau stands in gorgeous contrast to the sterile yet appealing casinos inside, replicating Egyptian, Roman or English decor at will. The book is worth the read just for this travelogue alone.
In the end, Small Player rises to be about much more — it’s a pithy exploration of the gambling circuit, the lowlies who get by on borrowed money and time; the prostitutes who work these casinos, feeding on scum; and the tragic outcome for many who are mired in the morass. While Osborne wore his morals heavily on his sleeve in The Forgiven, Ballad is a much more subtle analysis of virtue and vice, of sinking so low you can’t even recognize a lifeline when you’re dealt one. A+
Thank you to Blogging for Books for a copy of the book.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Baruch Kotler is a high-flying disgraced Israeli politician looking to divert the spotlight by escaping to the Crimean seaside resort of Yalta with his mistress. Little does he realize that coincidentally, he will run into Chaim Tankilevich, the very person who ratted him out as a KGB operative, years ago. So it is that while these two friends’ arcs have followed wildly divergent paths, things have now come full circle. Bezmozgis occasionally imparts his life lessons in a heavy-handed fashion, yet there are some sobering universal truths tucked into this slim novel. Besides, who can resist a vacation to Yalta?
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
The natural world might appear to be the same as it always was, but things are a tad askew in post-apocalyptic California. Here Calvin and Frida are getting by, trying to understand what the introduction of their baby would mean under these radically different circumstances. As the couple stumble upon other inhabitants and navigate the boundaries and rules of this dystopia, you realize that the slow crawl up your spine is from the realization that what’s scary in this new world is not the new, but the old. Old grievances, old weaknesses and old compromises.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Kurt Gödel was one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the twentieth century, his wife, Adele, an under-educated cabaret dancer who lived in his Vienna neighborhood. What glue held their marriage together having it endure for more than fifty years? This is a moving portrait of a complex relationship, of a great mind slowly unraveling, of life’s infinite compromises thrown up over and over again, and of a woman daring to dream beyond her station. “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle,” Gloria Steinem once said. Adele’s life proves that theory to be, well, complicated.
Monday, June 16, 2014
What does a brutal crime in a neglected apartment in New York City have to do with events unfolding in the Middle East? Turns out they share one set of metaphorical fingerprints - that lead to the Saracen, a deadly terrorist. The only person who can prevent a deadly dose of smallpox virus being released in the United States, is The Pilgrim. Screenwriter Terry Hayes delivers a high-voltage, globetrotting thriller that will keep you turning the pages. Slather on the sunscreen, make a fresh batch of margaritas, this tome is an ideal beach read that will deliver a dizzying adrenaline rush.