RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BookIt is the radical formal structure of the book — the rapid point of view shifts from one paragraph to the next — that truly dials into something profound about love, about how limited it can be. As if to show the indissoluble bond between Vibeke and [Jon], the way in which they are never truly apart, in spite of the mother’s distance from her son, the author alternates between their points of view, occasionally even within the same paragraph. There is a slice of viewpoint here, a sliver of the other viewpoint there ... in Love, the closeness of the perspectives, the cramming of them together, as if the mother and son are one person, and yet clearly not, feels less about narrative, and more about the limitations of love. We think we know another person, we feel settled in another person, and yet, perhaps every other consciousness is entirely a mystery. That’s the power of this particular book. The tiny emotional and atmospheric shifts are often barely perceptible, and yet they add up to much more. The total transparency of the prose while engaged in this formal structure leaves a lot of room for the reader’s own prejudices and biases to surface. We don’t know for sure anything of what the author intended us to feel about Vibeke; there is not a single judgmental comment. However, it is plain that the novella is contesting any idealization of motherhood ... Despite its brevity, Love, effectively rendered into English by Martin Aitken, demands and deserves total concentration.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleIn her slim but potent manifesto Women & Power, Cambridge classicist Mary Beard asks, 'If there is a cultural template, which works to disempower women, what exactly is it and where do we get it from?' ... Beard argues that just as Western civilization began, an integral part of growing into manhood was taking control of public speech and silencing women in the process ...very careful in her arguments here, reluctant even to use the word 'misogyny.' This doesn’t diminish how good the book is, but it is a little surprising, particularly because she’s less tentative when writing about ancient women...approaches the question of gender and power with some overlapping perspectives about who holds power, and how deeply ingrained this gender dynamic is within Western culture ...a clear, rich, subversive and witty argument about what power has meant to Western civilization from ancient times, and how its meaning could be changed in the future.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksReading the first 50 pages, with all their satire and humor, I was humming R.E.M.’s 'It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).' But as the novel progressed, I came to understand that it would be grimmer than other dystopian novels I’d read and, because of its recognizable ordinariness at the outset, more terrifying ... Future Home fully conveys the intensity of pregnancy during an apocalypse — if it can feel harrowing for an individual mother in normal circumstances, how much more earth-shattering must it be when you’re carrying one of the last fully evolved humans? The conceit of a mother writing to her unborn child is well executed, and the nature of impending motherhood is handled with care and accuracy ... But the political concepts in Future Home are not fleshed out enough to comment effectively on our current moment ... As a gifted author’s flawed, experimental foray into dystopian fiction, it illustrates an important distinction between dystopian writing that arises from dreams and fantasy and that which arises from observation.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleIsabel Allende’s In the Midst of Winter is her 19th novel, and it is told with her characteristic warmth ... It’s when revealing the characters’ harrowing past lives in other countries that the generous and unflagging energy that characterized Allende’s debut, The House of the Spirits, can most clearly be felt ...sturdy braid of dramatic migration stories is balanced by an equally interesting present-day plot ... Allende writes in a tender and direct way about what it’s like to live in an older body while seeking romantic love and sexual intimacy ...when Allende moves away from the potential love story, and ties the plot too intricately back to immigration trouble, the novel loses some of its verve ... It’s not hard to arrive at the end of this arresting romance and conclude that if its politics around documentation and human trafficking are expressed too bluntly, too crudely, the reality Allende drew from warrants it.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleIt’s when revealing the characters’ harrowing past lives in other countries that the generous and unflagging energy that characterized Allende’s debut, The House of the Spirits, can most clearly be felt … Tremendous pleasure can be found in the present-day plot, especially in its honesty about quieter matters. Allende writes in a tender and direct way about what it’s like to live in an older body while seeking romantic love and sexual intimacy. While we can predict what will happen between Lucia and Richard, that doesn’t diminish how charmingly told this courtship is, and what a light, heartwarming contrast it provides, particularly set against a backdrop of haunting pasts … To quarrel with this novel’s overstated politics when there is so much that is lovely and structurally balanced about it may be stingy.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksMacLean persuasively weaves together biography, intellectual history, and political history to show how the public has been fooled by right-wingers who claim to value 'liberty,' but who actually intend the corporate takeover of public resources ... While the book has all the juiciness of a conspiracy theory — it’s highly readable and absorbing with a cast of characters drawn as carefully as they would be in a novel — it is also painstakingly researched and deeply intelligent. It is an urgent call to liberals to put down frivolous debates about whether Bernie would have won or whether Hillary invested too heavily in the discourse of identity politics. It’s an urgent call to conservatives to wrest back control of their party. It’s also a wake-up call about how desperately those of us who do not want to live in an autocracy need our institutions to survive, to stand up to the remarkable assault against them ... MacLean’s book is necessary reading for this moment. However, the book’s biggest oversight is its failure to detail how crucial the Evangelical element has been to the Koch strategy.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe novel careens backward and forward in time against a backdrop of politics, protests, crime and civil unrest … Rarely do novelists convey the mixed emotions of early motherhood — the tedium, confusion, terror, guilt, ecstasy and delight — as accurately as this book does. Yejide’s perspective as a betrayed wife struggling with fertility and later as a mother struggling with her children’s sickle cell anemia is conveyed with an operatic intensity … After many heartbreaking revelations, the novel resolves with an unexpected degree of warmth.
Osama Alomar, Trans. by C. J. Collins
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleAlomar is a visionary writer, extending metaphors every which way. Nothing is dead, nothing is inert — his limpid prose pulses with psychedelic life. Animals and inanimate objects alike are personified ... Alomar’s longer flash fiction is equally powerful, careening between political and moral concerns, and occasionally delving into love and other human considerations ... It takes immense skill to forge work that creates meaning by distilling life to its essences. In the best moments of the collection, including the title story, Alomar illuminates our common humanity, and our refusal, at times, to recognize it.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe genius of this novel is in how, after several pieces of exposition about Bengali history at the start of the novel, it manages to ground the personal within the political, to show how even faraway political events can transform and devastate lives … The Lowland is a breathtaking achievement, taking into account four generations and almost 70 years. While certain readers, myself included, may wish for more of Udayan’s perspective — we so infrequently see anything of India’s dissenters or revolutionaries in realistic literary fiction — it is hard to imagine the thorough application of Lahiri’s delicate, observant, American prose to a charismatic revolutionary abroad.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleKanishk Tharoor’s cosmopolitan short story collection Swimmer Among the Stars reminds me of [Italo] Calvino’s brand of storytelling — airy, whimsical and disinterested in the specific minds or motivations of individuals...It seems evident, however, that Tharoor’s international background — time spent in New York, India, London and elsewhere — informs his fiction, which is shaded by melancholy, a strong awareness of things lost ... In a time and place where immigration is a fraught political issue, these freewheeling stories appeal by disregarding conventional boundaries — they zigzag across nations, ethnic identities and linguistic traditions. Most notably, they transcend traditional notions of time.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksIt’s the kind of book that makes you feel like you’ve lived several times over. I’d felt a shadow of this same enormous, overpowering feeling — along with a welter of other chaotic emotions — when reading The God of Small Things for the first time ... Somehow in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, her first novel in 20 years, Roy outdoes The God of Small Things, and this is largely because it is an even more unsettling, artistic cry against injustice. It is a polyphonic protest ... What the second novel sometimes lacks in the 'miniature' qualities that characterized The God of Small Things, it makes up for in its kaleidoscopic range, its rugged Rushdie-esque maximalism, its ripping open of the world to show us everything that is dazzlingly beautiful and brutally ugly about it, its daring public unsheathing of many emotions and events considered private, and its enormity, its recounting of everything without sacrificing the sheer honesty of its predecessor.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe collection is composed of 14 essays of varying lengths, and many of the most insightful observations in it are about the difficulty of making language match up to lived reality. The most interesting pieces in the book consider language in conjunction with identity … In what is a fairly radical gesture these days, the author often places her predilections above the reader’s ease. At times, the lack of hard structure coupled with free-floating lyricism feels self-indulgent. Chew-Bose almost certainly knows this … When the world seems to be on fire, intuitive essays that focus on miniature aspects of the ordinary-everyday can serve as a balm. Chew-Bose turns all her associative musings into a melancholy self-portrait of the highest order.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleThe rest of the novel is strong, but sometimes feels off balance due to the different narrative techniques used to tell the mother and daughter’s diverging stories. See doesn’t always trust the reader’s ability to make the leap into an Akha girl’s mind, and pushes too hard to generate understanding ... evocatively conjured through tremendous research, so much so that it steals the spotlight from the inherent drama of a girl who loses her daughter and leaves her traditional world behind. Still, the novel is an alluring escape, a satisfying and vivid fable that uses an Akha belief to tap into our own longings for coincidence.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleWith its casually fantastic elements and kinetic, propulsive prose, the lineage of Unnikrishnan’s fiction can be traced to George Saunders and Nikolai Gogol. In many of the stories, the fantastic illuminates deeper truths related to the condition of migrant workers ... While the premises of these stories are weird gems, the true wonder is Unnikrishnan’s masterful drive, his pushing of each story’s starting point to wild, interesting places. Temporary People is streaked with artistic genius — it is startling, deeply unnerving and urgent.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleFrench perfectly captures how someone’s perceptions of adversity can cause him or her to 'lose the plot.' What distinguishes her from contemporaries is her emphasis on the ordinary; her heroes and villains aren’t creepy serial killers or psychopaths. They are the sorts of people most of us have encountered in work settings, but with the curtains to the darker, secret parts of their psyches pulled back ... If occasionally more self-conscious than the rest of 'Dublin Murder Squad,' the novel also reads like its zenith — a culmination of the thinking that must have gone into earlier books. It shouldn’t be missed.
PanThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe novel achieves its kaleidoscopic effects primarily through a nonnarrative juxtaposition of shards and fragments of expository research about Hinduism ... In places, there’s something ebullient and exciting about this devil-may-care approach to allusion, but the looseness of the associations often comes across as sloppy and artless ... What reads as uniquely funny and occasionally ribald in [Barker's] earlier books sometimes comes across as juvenile silliness in The Cauliflower.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleSpanning three centuries of Ghanaian and American history, each chapter functions like a linked story, each with its own dramatic and emotional arc. While telling what happens to one descendant for each generation, the novel also sheds light on a point in history. In the wrong hands, this massive ambition — gliding through long periods of time with different characters — could result in disaster, but Gyasi pulls it off with spectacular results ... Homegoing brims with complex emotions and insights about the human condition. It is essential reading from a young writer whose stellar instincts, sturdy craftsmanship and penetrating wisdom seem likely to continue apace — much to our good fortune as readers.
PositiveThe RumpusWhile the novel does takes very weird turns, as a whole, particularly in terms of language, it doesn’t quite achieve the strange and uncanny pleasures of its ancestors—books by Vila-Matas, Borges, or Aira...The reader’s conscious fun in untangling what is being said, in such a lovely, spare and playful voice, takes precedence over a more subconscious emotional rush.