New fiction at the Libraries, Dec 6

December 6, 2010 – 10:45 AM

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel by Jamie Ford
PS3606. O737 H68 2009

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship – and innocent love – that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice – words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

Exley: A Novel by Brock Clarke
PS3603. L37 E95 2010

A nine-year-old boy named Miller, who lives in Watertown, NY, struggles to make sense of his father’s disappearance, for which he blames himself. Later, when he is convinced that his father is lying in a coma in the local VA hospital, he searches for the one person he thinks can save his father, the famously reclusive–and dead–author, Frederick Exley, Watertown native and author of the “fictional memoir” A Fan’s Notes, his father’s favorite book. Told in alternating voices of the young boy and the therapist the boy’s mother has hired to help him, Exley is ultimately an exploration of the difference between what we believe to be real and what is real and how difficult it is to reconcile the two.

To the End of the Land by David Grossman
Translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.
PJ5054. G728 I8413 2010

From one of Israel’s most acclaimed writers comes a novel of extraordinary power about family life—the greatest human drama—and the cost of war.

Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is on the verge of celebrating her son Ofer’s release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, she sets out for a hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the “notifiers” who might darken her door with the worst possible news. Recently estranged from her husband, Ilan, she drags along an unlikely companion: their former best friend and her former lover Avram, once a brilliant artistic spirit. Avram served in the army alongside Ilan when they were young, but their lives were forever changed one weekend when the two jokingly had Ora draw lots to see which of them would get the few days’ leave being offered by their commander—a chance act that sent Avram into Egpyt and the Yom Kippur War, where he was brutally tortured as POW. In the aftermath, a virtual hermit, he refused to keep in touch with the family and has never met the boy. Now, as Ora and Avram sleep out in the hills, ford rivers, and cross valleys, avoiding all news from the front, she gives him the gift of Ofer, word by word; she supplies the whole story of her motherhood, a retelling that keeps Ofer very much alive for Ora and for the reader, and opens Avram to human bonds undreamed of in his broken world. Their walk has a “war and peace” rhythm, as their conversation places the most hideous trials of war next to the joys and anguish of raising children. Never have we seen so clearly the reality and surreality of daily life in Israel, the currents of ambivalence about war within one household, and the burdens that fall on each generation anew.

Grossman’s rich imagining of a family in love and crisis makes for one of the great antiwar novels of our time.

A Life on Paper: Stories by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud
Translated by Edward Guavin.
PQ2663. H352 A2 2010

The celebrated career of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud is well known to readers of French literature. This comprehensive collection—the first to be translated into English—introduces a distinct and dynamic voice to the Anglophone world. In many ways, Châteaureynaud is France’s own Kurt Vonnegut, and his stories are as familiar as they are fantastic.

A Life on Paper presents characters who struggle to communicate across the boundaries of the living and the dead, the past and the present, the real and the more-than-real. A young husband struggles with self-doubt and an ungainly set of angel wings in “Icarus Saved from the Skies,” even as his wife encourages him to embrace his transformation. In the title story, a father’s obsession with his daughter leads him to keep her life captured in 93,284 unchanging photographs. While Châteaureynaud’s stories examine the diffidence and cruelty we are sometimes capable of, they also highlight the humanity in the strangest of us and our deep appreciation for the mysterious.

Great House by Nicole Krauss
PS3611. R38 G74 2010

For twenty-five years, a solitary American novelist has been writing at the desk she inherited from a young poet who disappeared at the hands of Pinochet’s secret police; one day a girl claiming to be his daughter arrives to take it away, sending her life reeling. Across the ocean in London, a man discovers a terrifying secret about his wife of almost fifty years. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer is slowly reassembling his father’s Budapest study, plundered by the Nazis in 1944.

These worlds are anchored by a desk of enormous dimension and many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away. In the minds of those it has belonged to, the desk comes to stand for all that has disappeared in the chaos of the world-children, parents, whole peoples and civilizations. Nicole Krauss has written a hauntingly powerful novel about memory struggling to create a meaningful permanence in the face of inevitable loss.

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans
PS3605. V3648 B44 2010

Introducing a new star of her generation, an electric debut story collection about young African-American and mixed-race teens, women, and men struggling to find a place in their families and communities.When Danielle Evans’s short story “Virgins” was published in The Paris Review in late 2007, it announced the arrival of a bold new voice. Written when she was only twenty-three, Evans’s story of two black, blue-collar fifteen-year-old girls’ flirtation with adulthood for one night was startling in its pitch-perfect examination of race, class, and the shifting terrain of adolescence.

Now this debut collection delivers on the promise of that early story. In “Harvest,” a college student’s unplanned pregnancy forces her to confront her own feelings of inadequacy in comparison to her white classmates. In “Jellyfish,” a father’s misguided attempt to rescue a gift for his grown daughter from an apartment collapse magnifies all he doesn’t know about her. And in “Snakes,” the mixed-race daughter of intellectuals recounts the disastrous summer she spent with her white grandmother and cousin, a summer that has unforeseen repercussions in the present.

Striking in their emotional immediacy, the stories in Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self are based in a world where inequality is reality but where the insecurities of adolescence and young adulthood, and the tensions within family and the community, are sometimes the biggest complicating forces in one’s sense of identity and the choices one makes.

Death Is Not an Option: Stories by Suzanne Rivecca
PS3618. I8425 D43 2010

A teacher obsesses over a student who comes to class with scratch marks on his face; a Catholic girl graduating from high school finds a warped kind of redemption in her school-s contrived class rituals; a woman looking to rent a house is sucked into a strangely inappropriate correspondence with her landlord-these are just a few of the powerful plotlines in Suzanne Rivecca’s gorgeously wrought debut collection. From a college student who adopts a false hippie persona to find love to a young memoirist who bumps up against a sexually obsessed fan, the characters in these fiercely original tales grapple with what it means to be honest with themselves and the world. As provocative as Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior, the exuberant prose of Death Is Not an Option explodes -with piercing insight . . . illuminating the dangerous dance between victims and saviors.  (Melanie Rae Thon).

How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
PS3613. E487 H69 2010

Dinaw Mengestu’s first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, earned the young writer comparisons to Bellow, Fitzgerald, and Naipaul, and garnered ecstatic critical praise and awards around the world for its haunting depiction of the immigrant experience. Now Mengestu enriches the themes that defined his debut with a heartbreaking literary masterwork about love, family, and the power of imagination, which confirms his reputation as one of the brightest talents of his generation.

One early September afternoon, Yosef and Mariam, young Ethiopian immigrants who have spent all but their first year of marriage apart, set off on a road trip from their new home in Peoria, Illinois, to Nashville, Tennessee, in search of a new identity as an American couple. Soon, their son, Jonas, will be born in Illinois. Thirty years later, Yosef has died, and Jonas needs to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. How can he envision his future without knowing what has come before? Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, Jonas sets out to retrace his mother and father’s trip and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn Ethiopia of his parents’ youth to his life in the America of today, a story-real or invented- that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.

Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue
PR6054. O547 R66 2010

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

Isa & May by Margaret Forster
PR6056. O695 I83 2010

An intriguing new novel about a young woman, her two very different grandmothers, and the secrets that families keep.

The curiously named Isamay, a young would-be academic, is trying to write a coherent thesis about grandmothers in history — from Sarah Bernhardt and George Sand, to the matriarchal Queen Victoria — while being constantly surprised by the secrets that her own family, and in particular her two very different grandmothers, have been keeping. An only child, she is named after her two grandmothers, Isa and May, who have formed and influenced her in very different ways, and are jealous of each other. Isamay is almost thirty, and despite having always said she didn’t want children herself, finds her biological clock is ticking and that she is pregnant.

Margaret Forster’s engrossing new novel, set in the present, is about grandmothers and their potentially powerful role in family life, about nature vs. nurture, bloodlines, and bridges across generations.

The Ancient Curse by Valerio Massimo Manfredi
PQ4873. A4776 C5513 2010

In the middle of the night at the Museum of Volterra, young archeologist Fabrizio Castellani is immersed in his work – research into the famous Etruscan statue known as ‘the shade of twilight’. Completely engrossed, he is startled by the phone ringing. An icy female voice warns him to abandon his work at once. A series of gruesome killings shortly follow, throwing the people of Volterra into a panic. The victims – all involved in the desecration of an unexplored tomb – have been torn to pieces by a beast of unimaginable size. Fabrizio is in charge of excavating this Etruscan tomb. Fabrizio is joined in his fearless investigation of the past by Francesca Dionisi, a vivacious young researcher, and foremost by Lieutenant Reggiani, a brilliant carabinieri officer assigned to the case. Fabrizio is convinced that a single event has set off the entire chain of events. What is hiding inside the enigmatic statue? What lies behind the bloodthirsty rage that has lain in wait for all these centuries? What tragedy is hidden behind the inscription? Will Fabrizio manage to unravel these secrets without being sucked into the spiral of violence himself?

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