2011

Book Review: 2011 Short Listed: Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues

Half_Blood_BluesRating: 5
Half Blood Blues
A Novel by Esi Edugyan
2011 (2012 US) / 304 Pages

The Setup: Paris, 1940.  A brilliant jazz musician, Hiero, is arrested by the Nazis and never heard from again.  He is twenty years old.  He is a German citizen.  And he is black.

Fifty years later, his friend and fellow musician, Sid, must relive that unforgettable time, revealing the friendships, love affairs and treacheries that sealed Hiero’s fate.  From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of  Paris – where the legendary Louis Armstrong makes an appearance – Sid, with his distinctive and rhythmic German-American slang, leads the reader through a fascinating world alive with passion, music and the spirit of resistance.

Half-Blood Blues, the second novel by an exceptionally talented young writer, is an entrancing, electric story about jazz, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art. (from the hardcover edition)

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Book Review: 2011 Short Listed: Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie

Jamrachs_MenagerieRating: 2
Jamrach’s Menagerie
A Novel by Carol Birch
2011 / 295 Pages

The Setup: A thrilling and powerful novel about a young boy lured to sea by the promise of adventure and reward, with echoes of Great Expectations, Moby-Dick, and The Voyage of the Narwhal.

Jamrach’s Menagerietells the story of a nineteenth-century street urchin named Jaffy Brown. Following an incident with an escaped tiger, Jaffy goes to work for Mr. Charles Jamrach, the famed importer of exotic animals, alongside Tim, a good but sometimes spitefully competitive boy. Thus begins a long, close friendship fraught with ambiguity and rivalry.

Mr. Jamrach recruits the two boys to capture a fabled dragon during the course of a three-year whaling expedi­tion. Onboard, Jaffy and Tim enjoy the rough brotherhood of sailors and the brutal art of whale hunting. They even succeed in catching the reptilian beast.

But when the ship’s whaling venture falls short of expecta­tions, the crew begins to regard the dragon—seething with feral power in its cage—as bad luck, a feeling that is cruelly reinforced when a violent storm sinks the ship.

Drifting across an increasingly hallucinatory ocean, the sur­vivors, including Jaffy and Tim, are forced to confront their own place in the animal kingdom. Masterfully told, wildly atmospheric, and thundering with tension, Jamrach’s Mena­gerie is a truly haunting novel about friendship, sacrifice, and survival. (from the hardcover edition)

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Book Review: 2011 Short Listed: A.D. Miller’s Snowdrops

SnowdropsRating: 3.5
Snowdrops
A Novel by A. D. Miller
2010 / 288 Pages

The Setup: A. D. Miller’s Snowdrops is an intensely riveting psychological drama that unfolds over the course of one Moscow winter, as a young Englishman’s moral compass is spun by the seductive opportunities revealed to him by a new Russia: a land of hedonism and desperation, corruption and kindness, magical dachas and debauched nightclubs; a place where secrets – and corpses – come to light only when the deep snows start to thaw – Snowdrops is a chilling story of love and moral freefall: of the corruption, by a corrupt society, of a corruptible young man. It is taut, intense and has a momentum as irresistible to the reader as the moral danger that first enchants, then threatens to overwhelm, its narrator. (from the hardcover edition)

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Book Review: 2011 Short Listed: Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English

Pigeon_EnglishRating: 4
Pigeon English
A Novel by Stephen Kelman
2010 / 272 Pages

The Setup: Lying in front of Harrison Opuku is a body, the body of one of his classmates, a boy known for his crazy basketball skills, who seems to have been murdered for his dinner.

Armed with a pair of camouflage binoculars and detective techniques absorbed from television shows like CSI, Harri and his best friend, Dean, plot to bring the perpetrator to justice. They gather evidence—fingerprints lifted from windows with tape, a wallet stained with blood—and lay traps to flush out the murderer. But nothing can prepare them for what happens when a criminal feels you closing in on him. (From the hardcover edition)

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Book Review: 2011 Winner: Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending

The_Sense_Of_An_EndingRating: 5
The Sense of an Ending
A Novella by Julian Barnes
2011 / 150 Pages

The Setup: The story of a man coming to terms with the mutable past, Julian Barnes’s new novel is laced with his trademark precision, dexterity and insight. It is the work of one of the world’s most distinguished writers.

Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they navigated the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they swore to stay friends forever. Until Adrian’s life took a turn into tragedy, and all of them, especially Tony, moved on and did their best to forget.

Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a marriage, a calm divorce. He gets along nicely, he thinks, with his one child, a daughter, and even with his ex-wife. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove. The unexpected bequest conveyed by that letter leads Tony on a dogged search through a past suddenly turned murky. And how do you carry on, contentedly, when events conspire to upset all your vaunted truths? (from the hardcover edition)

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