New fiction at the Libraries, Nov 18

November 18, 2010 – 5:27 PM

The Lady Matador’s Hotel: A novel by Cristina García
PS3557.A66 L33 2010

National Book Award finalist Cristina Garcia delivers a powerful and gorgeous novel about the intertwining lives of the denizens of a luxurious hotel in an unnamed Central American capital in the midst of political turmoil. The lives of six men and women converge over the course of one week. There is a Japanese Mexican-American matadora in town for a bullfighting competition; an ex-guerrilla now working as a waitress in the honeymoon suite; an international adoption lawyer of German descent; a colonel who committed atrocities during his country’s long civil war; and a Cuban poet who has come with his American wife to adopt a local infant. With each day, their lives become further entangled, resulting in the unexpected – the clash of histories and the pull of revenge and desire.

The Sacred White Turkey by Frances Washburn
PS3623.A8673 S33 2010

There is nothing particularly noteworthy about an Easter turkey. But when the turkey is stark white and appears on Easter Sunday on the doorstep of a Lakota medicine woman and her teenage granddaughter, it is clearly out of the ordinary. Taking turns, Stella and her grandmother, Hazel Latour, tell the story of what follows as the mysterious turkey stirs up discord on the reservation, where some greet it as wakan, holy and sacred because of its coloring and timing, and others dismiss it as inexplicable but unimportant, while a less reputable local healer views it as a clear challenge to his standing. A tour de force of storytelling, The Sacred White Turkey is at once remarkably entertaining, rich with suspense and humor, and deeply philosophical, exploring questions of spirituality and power, abuse and trickery, all within a framework that embraces both Native and Catholic traditions. As the Latours find themselves the target of escalating violence, embroiled in a BIA leasing scandal, and witnesses to a turkey crucifixion, readers will find themselves thoroughly engaged in the unfolding mystery and meaning of the sacred white turkey.

Living Souls by Dmitry Bykov
Translated by Cathy Porter.
PG3479.4.Y488 Z3513 2010

This novel draws on events and situations from the present day, but sets them in a recognizable near future. It follows the lives of a number of characters – a governor, a soldier, a little girl, a pair of lovers – against the backdrop of a guerrilla conflict in Russian territory between the Northerners’ and the Southerners’ armies, as the indigenous population looks on indifferently. A complex and ambitious journey through the ills afflicting modern Russia, and at the same time a chillingly prophetic dystopia about imminent ethnic conflicts and the consequent crisis of democracy and liberalism, Bykov’s epic is destined to leave a profound mark on the consciousness of Western readers.

Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange & Ifa Bayeza
PS3569.H3324 S66 2010

Ntozake Shange, award-winning author of for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, and her sister Ifa Bayeza, award-winning playwright of The Ballad of Emmett Till, achieve nothing less than a modern classic with this epic, universal story of the Mayfield family.

Opening dramatically at a sprawling rice plantation just off Georgia’s coast, the recently emancipated Elizabeth Mayfield says her goodbyes to Sea Island before fleeing for the prospect of a free life in Charleston. With her granddaughter, Eudora, in tow, she will carve out lives for them in the bustling port city as a seamstress and fortune-teller. Ma Bette, as she is later called, becomes matriarch and fierce protector as she shapes, supports, and leads her children and theirs through trials unimaginable. Eudora will marry; the Mayfield line will grow; and listeners will be taken on an astonishing tour through the watershed events of American history as experienced by one incredibly strong and musically-gifted family.

From Recontruction to both World Wars, from the Harlem Renaissance to Vietnam, Some Sing, Some Cry brings to life a monumental story of one family’s history and of America’s history, of the warmth of home and the shatter of heartbreak, of an unforgettable past and a brighter future, blazing ahead.

Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas
PR6120.H66 O87 2010

Can a story save your life?

Meg Carpenter is broke. Her novel is years overdue. Her cell phone is out of minutes. And her moody boyfriend’s only contribution to the household is his sour attitude. So she jumps at the chance to review a pseudoscientific book that promises life everlasting.

But who wants to live forever?

Consulting cosmology and physics, tarot cards, koans (and riddles and jokes), new-age theories of everything, narrative theory, Nietzsche, Baudrillard, and knitting patterns, Meg wends her way through Our Tragic Universe, asking this and many other questions. Does she believe in fairies? In magic? Is she a superbeing? Is she living a storyless story? And what’s the connection between her off-hand suggestion to push a car into a river, a ship in a bottle, a mysterious beast loose on the moor, and the controversial author of The Science of Living Forever?

Smart, entrancing, and boiling over with Thomas’s trademark big ideas, Our Tragic Universe is a book about how relationships are created and destroyed, how we can rewrite our futures (if not our histories), and how stories just might save our lives.

The Rich Man of Pietermaritzburg by Sibusiso Nyembezi
Translated by Sandile Ngidi.
PL8844.N99 R53 2008

Translated for the first time from Africa’s native Zulu language, this novel set in apartheid-era rural South Africa follows an urban swindler as he attempts to take advantage of well-meaning but naive villagers, claiming to be on a mission of salvation—but in truth looking for instant riches. Both hilarious and tender, it explores the fateful confrontation between pastoral benevolence and urban slyness in a peasant countryside that is being destroyed by the rapid loss of land and liberties.

Hell by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Translated by Evan Emswiler.
PL862.S77 H4713 2007

Fifty-seven-year-old Takeshi has just been involved in a traffic accident. When he wakes up, he is in a strange bar and is no longer crippled as he has been for most of his life, but able to walk without crutches in his everyday business suit. Looking around, he sees a number of familiar faces—Izumi, a colleague who had died in a plane crash five years before; his childhood friend Yuzo, who had become a yakuza and had been killed by a rival gang member; and Sasaki, who had frozen to death as a homeless vagrant. This is Hell—a place where three days last as long as 10 years on earth, and people are able to see events in both the future and the past. Yuzo can now see the yakuza that killed him as he harasses a friend of his. The actress Mayumi and the writer Torigai are chased by the paparazzi into an elevator that drops to floor 666 beneath ground level. The vivid depiction of afterlife portrayed in Hell admits the traditional horrors, but subjects them to Tsutsui’s unique powers of enchantment—witty, amusing, and praised for its poetic style and the wizard-like light touch of the author’s shifting focus.

Santa: A novel of Mexico City by Federico Gamboa
Translated and edited by John Charles Chasteen.
PQ7297.G3 S313 2010

This enduring classic of Mexican literature traces the path to ruination of a country girl, Santa, who moves to Mexico City after she is impregnated and abandoned by her lover and subsequently shunned by her family. Once in the city, Santa turns to prostitution and soon gains prominence as Mexico City’s most sought-after courtesan. Despite the opportunities afforded by her success, including the chance to quit prostitution, Santa is propelled by her personal demons toward her ultimate downfall. This evocative novel–justly famous for its vividly detailed depiction of the cityscape and the city’s customs, social interactions, and political activities–assumed singular importance in Mexican popular culture after its original publication in 1903.

The book inspired Mexico’s first “talkie” and several other film adaptations, a music score, a radio series, a television soap opera, and a pornographic comic book. Naturalist writer Federico Gamboa, who was also a lawyer and politician, reveals much about Mexican mores and culture at the start of the twentieth century and beyond, from expectations regarding gender roles to the myth of the corrupting and decadent city. In describing how Santa is at the mercy of social problems beyond her control, Gamboa provides a rich historical portrayal of widespread conditions in the years leading to the Mexican Revolution.

The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell.
PQ8098.36.A43 V5313 2010

The Private Lives of Trees tells the story of a single night: a young professor of literature named Julián is reading to his step-daughter Daniela and nervously waiting for his wife Verónica to return from her art class. Each night, Julián has been improvising a story about trees to tell Daniela before she goes to sleep, and each Sunday he works on a novel about a man tending to his bonsai, but something about this night is different. As Julián becomes increasing concerned that Verónica won’t return, he reflects on their life together in minute detail, and imagines what Daniela—at twenty, at twenty-five, at thirty years old, without a mother—will think of his novel. Perhaps even more daring and dizzying than Zambra’s magical Bonsai, The Private Lives of Trees demands to be read in a single sitting, and it casts a spell that will bring you back to it again and again.

The Book about Blanche and Marie by Per Olov Enquist
Translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally.
PT9876.15.N78 B66 2006

Hailed internationally for his unique ability to shape historical facts into tales of extraordinary depth and probing insight, Per Olov Enquist has long been regarded as one of the world’s foremost authors of literary fiction. In The Book about Blanche and Marie, Enquist has once again found inspiration from the historical record, this time exploring the fascinatingly complex relationship between two of the twentieth century’s most remarkable women: Blanche Wittman, the famous hysteria patient of Professor J.M. Charcot at Salpêtrière Hospital outside Paris, and Marie Curie, the Polish physicist and Nobel Prize winner. While the scientist tries to understand the nature of radiation, Blanche, her assistant and, at the time of her death, a triple amputee as a result of exposure to radiation, fills three notebooks with her exploration of a deceptively simple question: What is love? The Book about Blanche and Marie is at once a haunting look at scientific martyrdom and an intimate and moving portrait of a friendship between two uniquely brave and talented women.

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li
PL2946.Y59 G65 2010

In these spellbinding stories, Yiyun Li, Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award winner and acclaimed author of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and The Vagrants, gives us exquisite fiction filled with suspense, depth, and beauty, in which history, politics, and folklore magnificently illuminate the human condition.

In the title story, a professor introduces her middle-aged son to a favorite student, unaware of the student’s true affections. In “A Man Like Him,” a lifelong bachelor finds kinship with a man wrongly accused of an indiscretion. In “The Proprietress,” a reporter from Shanghai travels to a small town to write an article about the local prison, only to discover a far more intriguing story involving a shopkeeper who offers refuge to the wives and children of inmates. In “House Fire,” a young man who suspects his father of sleeping with the young man’s wife seeks the help of a detective agency run by a group of feisty old women.

Written in lyrical prose and with stunning honesty, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl reveals worlds strange and familiar, and cultures both traditional and modern, to create a mesmerizing and vibrant landscape of life.

From the Four Winds by Haim Sabato
Translated by Yaacob Dweck
PJ5055.4.A24 B6513 2010

Haim Sabato draws us into his childhood with this evocative rendering of his experiences as a young boy whose family immigrates to Israel in the 1950’s, settling in a Ma’abara – a transit camp. He notices his fellow immigrants’ concealment of their pasts. He accepts this secrecy, sensing that everything will reveal itself eventually. And this revelation does come, in the form of Farkash, a mysterious, dynamic man who takes Haim under his wing and gradually divulges to him his sorrowful, uplifting story, one that profoundly impacts Haim for the rest of his life…

The Dead Feel No Pain: a Belarusian novel of the Second World War by Vasil’ Bykau
Translated from the Belarusian with an introduction by Joseph P. Mozur.
PG2835.2.B9 M413 2010

This book is one of few works by a Soviet writer that provides an honest portrayal of the life of a Soviet foot soldier on the Eastern front in World War II. Aside from the brilliant depiction of life at the front, it reveals how members of Stalin’s secret police transformed themselves into war heroes and began to resurrect Stalinism, following the War. Understandably, Bykau’s novel was res non grata and not published in its entirety until after the demise of the Soviet Union. In this novel, Lieutenant Vasilevich is under orders to escort several German prisoners of war to a collection point in the rear when the ambush occurs. He escapes, but soon finds himself trapped with other wounded men behind his battalion’s lines. He eludes death several more times and has to traverse a treacherous, snow-covered minefield to reach the safety of a culvert. There the Germans eventually corner him. Vasilevich’s group of wounded men is commanded by Captain Sakhno, a member of the secret police, who suspects everyone of treason and is merciless in risking the lives of the men. He foolishly commands the men to cross the snow-covered mine field and selfishly puts himself at the end of the column. He even orders Katsya, a young nurse caring for the wounded, to lead the men through the field. She dies shortly thereafter when she steps on a mine. Vasilevich miraculously survives the ordeal, yet remains maimed for the rest of his life. He recalls the events of 1944 over and over again, but they well up with particular poignancy in 1965 during the celebration of Victory Day in Miensk. In a crowded hotel he comes face to face with a man that strongly resembles Captain Sakhno, whom he holds responsible for the debacle that cost so many lives. The Stalinist views of the stranger are remarkably similar to the cruel and merciless mindset of Sakhno, even though some twenty years have gone by since the war. Vasilevich argues with the stranger over the latter’s arrogant attitude toward the men who fought and died at the front, and the man tries to have Vasilevich arrested for anti-Soviet propaganda. Ironically, it turns out that the stranger had served as a judge on a military tribunal during the war. The immeasurable loss of human life during the war did little to change their attitudes. Indeed, Bykau proved to be prophetic in 1965-the cultural Thaw following Stalin’s death in 1953 came to an abrupt end when Leonid Brezhnev took control of the country after Khrushchev’s removal.

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