MixedNew York Journal of BooksWe sense Grose is a work in progress, but she refrains from making a deeper dive into her own psyche. We don’t hear her questioning her desire to conform and succeed and be well-liked; it still sometimes seems enough for her that she figure out how to do so. The same can be said about her evolving feelings about motherhood ... Ultimately, Grose is a very engaging writer, but one is not certain she has fully absorbed that it really is her life, and her life alone. She is free to design it. She doesn’t need to explain it to anyone. Or photograph it nonsensically and continue to send fraudulent images into an increasingly hostile world.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksMary-Alice Daniel’s wondrous new work A Coastline Is an Immeasurable Thing: A Memoir Across Three Continents isn’t typical of most memoirs that seek a solid reckoning of sorts. Author Mary-Alice Daniel remains mired in uncertainties ... A poetic rendering of a woman in search of herself ... Daniel is a keen observer ... One can’t help but by overwhelmed by the exquisiteness of her prose, which we sense has been pulled from the deepest regions of her heart ... Although we sense a burgeoning feminist sensibility, there is a part of her that remains determinably old-fashioned ... She leaves questions swirling around mid-air almost as if she believes answering them might risk massacring something sacred ... And it is this insistence on keeping herself in check that pulls us more closely to her. Mary-Alice Daniel is an exquisitely elegant young writer.
MixedThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThere is much of Bialosky in the pages of her engaging new novel ... Her first-person voice has the same compelling nervousness we recall from an earlier work, History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life (2011), in which Bialosky tried to come to terms with her half-sister’s untimely death. This new work, being fiction, gives her more latitude to stretch, but in some ways it also constrains her, for she seems deeply wedded to the personal truths of her own life, and when transforming this into fiction, she sometimes runs amiss ... Bialosky’s rendering of a marriage on the brink is enhanced by her ability to allow her protagonist ample room to ruminate about how things became as awful as they are now. She lets her ramble on ... She recalls the stigma of being a \'fatherless girl\' with a masterful poignancy that seems to come directly from the author’s own life experiences ... Bialosky has drawn a complex composite of a middle-aged, attractive, accomplished woman who nonetheless is torn in half ... These trips to the Met carry much meaning for Bialosky, but what precisely they do for her narrator is unclear. Perhaps they confirm the wickedness and cruelty of the world. Or perhaps the museum has replaced the synagogue of Bialosky’s childhood as a place of worship. Is the narrator looking for some sort of absolution for past sins? Or does the male-dominated world of the ancient gods confirm her sense that men have always controlled everything and not much has really changed? These questions linger unspoken in the margins of the novel’s haunting pages. We perceive that the narrator is adrift in a toxic cloud of anger and contempt and confusion, but does she have any agency in all this? The subtext behind many of her reckonings seems to question her own role in her lingering unhappiness, to ask what she could do to change the situation. But it never changes.
Shukri Mabkhout, Tr. Miled Faiza and Karen McNeil
RaveWords Without BordersMabkhout comes off as restrained in interviews. This benign demeanor is at odds with the raging passion and rebelliousness that infiltrate the pages of his phenomenal novel ... Readers will immediately grasp why his book threatened the status quo. Mabkhout has produced a stunning literary work about how it feels to live in a society that is not free ... it is impossible not to think that many of his finely drawn, haunting characters owe something to his experiences as an intellectual in a country whose government censors any material deemed not beneficial to the running of the state ... As I came towards the end of this tremendously provocative work, I kept thinking of Shukri Mabkhout’s decision to write this book. It took courage for him to have published The Italian. For surely he knew what he was trying to show us. And how dangerous it was to do so.
Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint
MixedOn the Seawall... questions linger over her narrative. Whom is she writing for? Is she trying to reveal or conceal? Is she deceiving herself or trying to deceive others? Is this an attempt to reconnect with a family that obsesses her, but from whom she seems estranged? The mystical beauty of her prose, which seems to speak to us in intermittent revelations, transports us elsewhere, but it is an unnamable place, a territory of lostness ... At its simmering core, Names For Light is itself the \'place\' where the family’s past – and Myint’s dynamically evolving present — approach each other. The tug and pull of these forces, and the broader awareness of tyranny in the world, comprise an environment for the reader that is both demanding in its multiple vectors and gratifying in its patterning and acute intelligence.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of Books... stellar ... [Sayrafiezadeh] writes in a scathing first-person voice that astounds you with its immediacy and perceptiveness, about unhappy people who are worn down, exhausted, and drained by an America that has lost its promise. His characters are all haunted by some kind of trauma — sometimes remembered, sometimes not — and he treats their woundedness with a poetic tenderness. He lets us see how alone they are, and how easily they fall between the cracks. He describes with dead-on precision the brutality of their workdays in mind-numbing jobs that pay little. We feel the author’s hovering presence throughout, his understanding of their helplessness — the kind that can paralyze someone into long stints of hiding in godforsaken places, as if they are punishing themselves for crimes they haven’t committed. Despite Sayrafiezadeh’s great success as a writer, teacher, and husband, we sense that there is still a part of him, at 52, that remains lost, and this lostness is reflected back to us in his stories ... Sayrafiezadeh has claimed that writing is difficult for him, and it is apparent, judging by the stories in this collection, that he pulls from the deepest parts of his wounded psyche for inspiration. His prose has a rhythm that is startlingly original and an intense quirkiness that catches you unaware. But I had the sense that this extremely talented author is holding back somewhat, rehashing already mined material. It feels as if he is stuck at a crossroads of sorts and needs a push, like many of his characters, out of his comfort zone and into new territory where his imagination can soar.
Mieko Kawakami, tr. David Boyd and Sam Bett
RaveWorld Literature TodayMieko Kawakami refuses to trivialize the agony of adolescence; instead she bears witness to it ... The author’s ability to mimic the rhythmic disturbances of a teenage mind is mesmerizing; she is a master of the interior voice. She instinctively grasps how one can feel silly and light one moment and be in the throes of anguish the next ... Kawakami keeps a cool control over her protagonist, allowing him some leeway but never permitting him to see the promised land of adult perception, freedom, and reflection. There is something about her prose that is so immediate and pressing it blocks out the future almost as if it were a threatening force.
PositiveOn the Seawall... a haunting chronicle of an old, embittered man ... The intensity of the prose suggests to me that the story mirrors Ozick’s biography ... But what really floored me is how Cynthia Ozick transforms this angry and rigid malignity, that clearly holds a solid marker within her, into exquisitely wrought prose filled with insights about the fallibility of the human condition and the blind spots that hold us captive.
PositiveOn the SeawallThe novel centers around the tension of a precocious little Jewish boy named Alessandro who senses the strained currents running through his household ... Levi is a skilled narrator. We sense her quiet restrained presence on every page. She feels ghost-like, translucent, a wisp of a shadow lingering behind the curtains of a dark, gloomy room watching things play out. She never questions her characters’ acquiescence or mourns for their fate. One detects no grief in her expression ... She refuses to indulge in any remote fantasies about ways they might escape; it is as if she has already accepted what fate or God or simply man’s evil has put in place for them simply because they are Jews. She deems herself to be only their transmitter describing the shock waves that run through them ... Lia Levi has a good ear for the chaotic disorderliness of Jewish family life with its endless undertow of grievance, bitterness, and uncertainty that wreaks havoc on the most vulnerable. She understands that the Jewish psyche has been maligned for centuries where Jews have, for the most part, been used and abused and discarded. But what is absent from Lia Levi’s finely wrought narrative voice is anger; an emotion she seems to negate by parsing it into bits of small matter. This weakens her characters’ accessibility to us. They often seem entombed inside a second skin that is impassable — lost in a world without transcendence or liberation or even a sliver of light. There is too much numbness present — perhaps a prerequisite for the author’s own survival, and a means of checking our desires for happy endings.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksAlexander Nemerov never pretends he’s an objective observer in his masterful new biography ... He seems to take pleasure in throwing caution to the wind. His narrative combines an intense infatuation for his subject with his own autobiographical confessions, and the result is a dazzling collage of impressions and interpretations that leaves the reader spellbound ... Nemerov is not hampered by a desire to remain impartial, and that is his strength. He has a unique sensibility that allows him to imaginatively show us not only the person Helen might have been but also who he is or was, and what they both might become together. It is their collision, even with its blind spots, that takes center stage here, setting off brilliant sparks of perception and recognition.
Yaniv Iczkovits, trans. by Orr Schar
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Yaniv Iczkovits’s brilliant, sweeping novel The Slaughterman’s Daughter is set in tsarist Russia during the late nineteenth century, but it feels highly relevant and resonant today. It is filled with exquisitely drawn characters often seeking some sort of redemption that remains out of reach ... Iczkovits...ultimately seems to recoil from ideas of Jewish insularity and exclusivity, preferring to focus on how Jews can live alongside others without all the fascination. It is a bold, provocative move on the part of the author.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of Books... compelling ... there was something unsinkable about Stokes’s life force that Hochschild never really explains satisfactorily ... Hochschild...sticks to a traditional narrative path in his handling of Rose’s biography ... a solidly researched and impressive biography that leaves us with a clear picture of Rose Pastor Stokes[.]
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksA good biography holds your attention; a great one transcends its subject and sheds light on the myriad forces bearing down on an individual at a particular point in time ... John Loughery and Blythe Randolph’s Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century belongs, luminously, to the second ... compelling ... John Loughery and Blythe Randolph veer off the map, sometimes with an excess of abandon, in trying to understand the complexities of Dorothy Day ... The authors brilliantly try to make sense of Dorothy’s complicated worldview. They focus on her transition to Catholicism and the questions she must have been forced to ask herself ... Loughery and Randolph do a strong job depicting the urgency and intensity of her thinking, but they also reveal the blind spots that prevented her from seeing her own serious shortcomings, particularly regarding her daughter Tamar, whom she rarely saw and of whom she was extremely critical ... Loughery and Randolph go beyond traditional biography to give us not a singular, cohesive portrait of Dorothy Day but several overlapping and mutually inconsistent ones.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of Books... gripping ... Frankel wants us to know that he is making steady progress toward healing, crediting the audacious act of writing this memoir as part of the reason why. But we sense otherwise. Frankel has been pretending to be other than he truly is for so long that it comes naturally to him, and his proclamations of improvement seem forced. It is not that he is trying to be deceitful, but abandoning pretense in favor of authenticity is a new skill for him, and he has trouble relinquishing his old habits of trickery ... In many ways, Frankel seems like a man still haunted by two distinct voices competing for dominance in his mind, both of which he reveres ... Frankel is troubled by these whispered decrees, with their accompanying guilt and shame. He clearly sees merit in both arguments, which is why figuring out what kind of man he should be remains an elusive task. His bewilderment is evident on every page of this captivating work.
Sarah Abrevaya Stein
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of Books... remarkable ... rigorously researched ... Readers eager to understand the emotionally fraught history of Jewish Sephardim would be wise to familiarize themselves with the topic before tackling Stein’s study ... Stein seems hesitant to address the many mysteries that permeate the identity of Sephardic Jews ... Readers will rejoice at every miraculous story of survival, of which there are a few, and will mourn every death, of which there are many ... The book is graced with stark black-and-white photographs of Sa’adi’s descendants, usually dressed in their finest clothes, staring solemnly at the camera as if they knew something precious was expiring.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleThe fictional patriarch comes across as distant and stern, a man bloated by his own sense of entitlement and power. It is apparent that the author is mining his own complicated childhood for material, and there is much to uncover here … It often feels as if Mueenuddin's tendency to empathize with the desperately poor and powerless, illiterate servants he writes about is drowned out by his own attraction to power and dominance and to archaic notions of clan and caste. He shows us suffering but does not seem to suffer, and this creates a disturbing tension … A resignation to life's blatant unfairness permeates Mueenuddin's prose. There are no cries of exasperation or outbursts of anger, but always the steady hand of an exquisitely original writer.
RaveThe Washington PostSeaman’s list of artists is sure to introduce most readers to figures they don’t know ... What makes Seaman such an enchanting biographer is her willingness to embrace uncertainty, often stopping mid-narrative to pose questions regarding an artist’s possible intentions ... in this captivating book, she has resuscitated their complex and accomplished lives.
MixedThe Washington Post...a quirky, somewhat disquieting meditation on disengagement ... There are many rambling pages throughout this narrative that have no apparent purpose. Empty discussions with friends, acquaintances and teachers seem inserted for mere distraction ... Both Batuman and her alter ego seem not to have learned that there is no sanctuary — not in the outside world and most certainly not in the deepest recesses of our minds. Both realms are fraught with unseen dangers. Batuman’s book is a somewhat agitating contemplation about what it feels like when you choose to take yourself out of the world and live inside your thoughts. In some ways, her novel mirrors a growing and upsetting trend among so many young people who seem to have given up on the possibility of love and jubilation and euphoria before they have even tasted it.
PanThe Washington PostBeam tries valiantly to examine such a relationship in his new book, The Feud, about the critic Edmund Wilson and the novelist Vladimir Nabokov, but he seems thwarted by his own congenial evenhandedness that avoids the dark clouds and hidden spaces that can fuel intense friendships ... Unfortunately, Beam struggles to integrate these details into an engaging narrative about their friendship and its demise. He seems averse to the psychological inquiry required to penetrate the turbulence that engulfed both men ... Beam’s assessments are intellectually plausible, but the reader can’t help but feel that the keenest insights have been left unexplored.
MixedThe Washington PostAbramovic’s narrative is most compelling when she writes about her childhood ... Her memoir reveals a chaotic and fractured psyche, and, unfortunately, some of her New Age digressions border on incoherent. In some ways her writing style mirrors her performance pieces; the reader feels like a victim to the force of her blunt trauma ... One senses she has difficulty considering the needs of anybody else; she is mercilessly self-involved. The insights and reevaluations we look for in a thoughtful memoir simply aren’t present ... one can’t help but sadly recognize that the more optimistic part of her spirit has surrendered to the enveloping darkness.