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  • Where the God of Love Hangs Out

    Tue, 12 Jan 2010 06:05

    Nice piece by Janet Maslin in the New York Times on Amy Bloom's new collection of short stories Where the God of Love Hangs Out:

    "At 2 o'clock in the morning, no one is to blame," Amy Bloom writes at the start of her beautifully astute new book. Her narrator is Clare, a middle-aged academic speaking in the present tense.

    Clare and her best friend on the faculty, an Englishman named William, are sitting together watching disaster coverage on CNN, the light of the television glinting off their wedding rings as they unexpectedly embrace.

    It happens that each of them is married to another person, that the spouses are present, and that the spouses are asleep at 2 a.m., when Clare and William's union begins. "It does not seem possible," Clare observes of her new lover, "that we are people with three children, two marriages and a hundred and ten years between us."

    Oh, but it does. Ms. Bloom, who has worked as a psychotherapist as well as a creative writing professor, clearly has great gifts in both those realms. Her 2008 novel, Away, was a marvel of concise eloquence and insight, full of artfully executed twists and turns. She writes about characters who are stunning in their verisimilitude but never really predictable in their behavior, and Clare and William quickly emerge as two such figures. Ms. Bloom follows them in sharply cliche-free ways from first embrace deep into guilty pleasure (more...)

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    Three extremely powerful, shocking and uncompromising books about so-called "honour killing" reviewed sensitively ("by the time I had finished reading these ghastly stories, it was the sisters who for me stood out as the heroines"), and exhaustively, by Jacqueline Rose in the London Review of Books:

    The term "honour killing" entered the British legal system in 2003, when Abdullah Yones pleaded guilty to killing his 16-year-old daughter Heshu. Accounts of the case vary but certain facts are clear. The family had fled Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1991 -- in London the father worked as a volunteer for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. At the William Morris Academy in Hammersmith, where she was a pupil, Heshu repeatedly expressed her fear of a forced marriage, but teachers ignored her. When her parents discovered her relationship with a Christian Lebanese boy, she ran away from home -- her teachers, concerned that he was having an adverse effect on her schoolwork, had told her family about him. Taken to Kurdistan to marry her cousin (one account says Pakistan), and forced to undergo a virginity test, Heshu was threatened with a gun by her father but saved, on this occasion, by her mother and brother. After the family's return to England, her brother discovered letters in which she repeated her desire to escape. She was locked in her room and stabbed to death by her father, who then tried to kill himself by jumping from the balcony after slitting his own throat (more...)

  • Jid Lee's powerful memoir of growing up in female in male-dominated Korean culture of the 1960s and 70s, To Kill a Tiger, looks very special (this below from the publisher's blog)...

    Lee's book borrows its title from a myth that one of her grandmothers -- many greats removed -- sacrificed herself to be eaten alive by a tiger in exchange for her descendants' prosperity. Against the backdrop of modern Korea's violent and tumultuous history, To Kill A Tiger relates not only one woman's story, but also an ancient people's journey into the modern, globalized world.

    Drawing on Korean legend and myth, as well as an Asian woman's unique perspective on the United States, Lee has written a searing portrait of a woman and a society in the midst of violent change. Lee weaves her compelling personal narrative with a collective and accessible history of modern Korea, from Japanese colonialism to war-era comfort women, from the genocide of the Korean War to the government persecution and silence of Cold War-era programs. The ritual of storytelling, which the author shares with the women of her family, serves as a window into a five-generation family saga, and it is through storytelling that Lee comes to appreciate the sacrifices of her ancestors and her own now American place in her family and society. This mesmerizing memoir is a revelatory look at war and modernization in Jid Lee's native country, a story of personal growth, and a tribute to the culture that formed her.

  • Ackroyd's Canterbury Tales

    Tue, 05 Jan 2010 07:02

    Steven Levingston, over at the Seattle Times, reviews a new translation/retelling of the The Canterbury Tales by the prodigious and tireless Peter Ackroyd:

    Remember struggling over The Canterbury Tales in high school? It was a labor of laughs borne only for the puerile joy of reading about farts and arse-kissing. And there was this weird recognition: Could people really have been so much like us 600 years ago? For the pleasure of it all, you had to put up with English that was nothing like the English you knew. As Chaucer wrote of the Wife of Bath:

    Housbondes at chirche-dore she hadde fyve,
    Withouten other companye in youthe ...
    In felawschip wel coude she laughe and carpe.
    Of remedyes of love she knew perchaunce,
    For she coude of that art the olde daunce.



    Now here comes Peter Ackroyd, novelist, biographer and historian, with The Canterbury Tales for a new generation -- it's Chaucer in vivid, expressive English exactly as you speak it. Here in Ackroydese, the same passage quoted above:

    "She had been married in church five times but, in her youth, she had enjoyed any number of liaisons. ... She had performed in that game before. She knew, as they say, the ways of the dance."

    Of course, The Canterbury Tales is far more than its ribaldry. It gives a rich and complex portrait of the sensibility of the Middle Ages and, in its original, is beautiful poetry. As Ackroyd remarks, "It is one of the greatest poems in all of English literature, one that will last as long as the language itself endures."

  • The best children's books of 2009

    Wed, 30 Dec 2009 05:20

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    In the Seattle Times, children's/teen librarian Karen Macpherson offers her list of the top books -- from picture books to early readers to young adult fiction -- for 2009.

    Her choices include:

    • Baby, I Love You by Karma Wilson; illustrated by Sam Williams. (Ages infant-two years).
    • Daddy, Papa and Me and Mommy, Mama and Me, by Leslea Newman; illustrated by Carol Thompson (Ages infant-two years).
    • Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales written and illustrated by Maisy creator Lucy Cousins (Ages 4-8).
    • Stick Man, by Julia Donaldson; illustrated by Axel Scheffler. (Ages 4-8).
    • Let's Do Nothing, written and illustrated by Tony Fucile (Ages 3-6).
    • Birds, by Caldecott Medalist Kevin Henkes; illustrated by Laura Dronzek. (Ages 3-6).
    • Crow Call, by Newbery Medalist Lois Lowry; illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. (Ages 4-8).
    • The Lion & the Mouse, illustrator Jerry Pinkney's wordless adaptation of an Aesop's fable. (Ages 3-8).
    • Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. (Ages 4-8).
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