RaveChristian Science MonitorOne needn’t have read Dickens to appreciate Kingsolver’s novel, as the book stands well on its own ... Undeniably, the book can be challenging to read and, frankly, it is not going to suit everyone. Aside from the profanity and compromising situations, it depicts heartbreaking circumstances imposed upon people already beset by severe challenges ... Kingsolver...gives the community a voice as she infuses the bleak tale with a depth that brings warmth, humor, and dignity to the characters. She empowers them to speak for themselves as she illuminates the motives and goals that allow some to succeed while others perish ... For many readers, sticking with the book is time well spent: Her exquisite writing takes a wrenching story and makes it worthwhile. The details are difficult, but they are never gratuitous.
Ai Weiwei, Trans. by Allan H. Barr
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorOriginally intended to be an accurate account that Ai Weiwei could pass along to his own son, the book stands as a tangible record and proof of his resistance to the efforts of the Chinese government to \'disappear\' both him and his father. We simply become the beneficiaries of his documenting this remarkable story ... a historical account as well as a work of art ... A fascinating biography, it documents the history of modern-day China in which the son of a dissident could grow up to consult with the Chinese government on the \'Bird’s Nest\' stadium constructed for the 2008 Olympics. And though the iconic work drew the world’s attention to Beijing, Ai continues to live abroad to ensure his own artistic freedom. What began as an account of two lives emerges as exquisite evidence of the invincibility of truth and creativity.
PositiveChristian Science MonitorFranzen unwinds the experiences of the Hildebrandts – a Midwestern pastor, his wife, and their four children – to examine the profound social upheaval of the 1970s ... The novel teems with human foibles and missteps, with characters who pray for guidance but lack sufficient patience to wait for an inspired response ... Readers should be aware that Franzen minces no words as his characters deal with such issues as arson, rape, adultery, and drug use, to name a few. Some might find the language and the situations to be offensive and may wish to pass on this title. But for those willing to delve into the nearly 600 pages, they will discover individuals facing their crises of faith, sometimes drawing upon the same family bonds they once wished to sever.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThere is nothing particularly special about this family or their experiences, but the book’s plot and circumstances are not what make it shine. Instead, it’s the literary quality of the story: Readers will be captivated by scenarios and dilemmas that seem familiar even if the details are different from their own lives. With engaging characters and lovely prose, Morse reminds us that it is the simple, everyday experiences that become treasured memories. And she fully captures what it means to be a family.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... weird and wonderful ... unwinds a story that illumines the ways that past experiences continue to impose upon the present, shaping what each of us accepts as reality ... It is fair to say this book will not appeal to everyone. Some readers might be put off by the manner in which the story wanders through a string of seemingly nonsensical experiences that evoke many unanswered questions. Be aware, too, of the coarse language sprinkled throughout. In the hands of a less talented writer, it all might seem like a surreal soup of imaginings ... But Oyeyemi skillfully crafts a most creative story that evokes life’s deeper questions. She infuses the tale with references to music, photography, and painting, and with cultural touch points as seemingly random as the Brontë Sisters, the Beach Boys, and Converse sneakers ... In the midst of this delightful concoction, she examines the enduring power of experiences and the impressions that we make upon one another. Through the seemingly random adventures of Otto and Xavier, she illuminates how past experiences seldom remain in the past. They become part of who we are in the present and, to look upon the union of the two protagonists, part of what binds us to one another ... For those willing to let go and follow this story wherever it leads, floating through the parts that appear without explanation, stringing together details as they are revealed, the reward will be worth the adventure.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWith an academic’s eye for detail, Adamson examines the ways that crafts like needlework or carpentry provided opportunities for many Americans to achieve a measure of independence. But he also expounds upon the dark side of that trade: When a product that originates in individuality is subsumed by industry, it often leads to the exploitation of workers, including children ... And while Adamson delineates the tension between crafts and business, including the destruction of natural resources and other challenges that persist today, he highlights the effectiveness of crafting within social movements.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorGeller uses her training as an archivist to mine the mementos in search of a better understanding of her mother and her conflicted life. Along the way, Geller also gains insight into her own life and identity. With a deft touch, she weaves together the plotlines of her mother’s life and of her own ... In less capable hands, Geller’s story might be too grim to read, as both her mother’s life and her own have been exceedingly difficult...Geller does does not settle into the mire, though she shares her own experiences with remarkable candor. Instead, she brings a professional objectivity to the narrative and illustrates how the threads of addiction can weave through generations. These powerful incidents need no elaboration. With her simple, direct writing style, Geller lets them stand on their own ... Interspersed across the pages of the book are images of the actual contents of the suitcase, including children’s drawings, photos of Geller as a child, and pictures of her parents and her sister. The camera captured smiles and laughter – the faint promise of hope. Geller never lets go of that light.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe narrator of Michelle Gallen’s debut novel Big Girl, Small Town, Majella tends to her daily responsibilities with dedication and a dry sense of Irish humor that make for a delightful story ... Against this gray backdrop, she perseveres with a dogged sense of decency, eventually achieving more than most everyone else in town. It’s impossible not to cheer for her ... there’s no grand apotheosis: The townspeople tend to their daily lives, and Majella sticks to her routines. But the slow, mundane pace is one of the book’s greatest strengths ... There may be no other novel where the purchase of a new duvet takes on such significance and leaves the reader cheering for Majella’s growing confidence.
RaveChristian Science MonitorWhat confers identity, and what gives a sense of belonging? Is it family? Locale? Community? In her charming novel, A Lover’s Discourse, Xiaolu Guo explores these universal questions through the experiences of a man and woman who meet and fall in love despite their considerable differences ... it is a credit to Guo’s talent as a writer that this slim volume succeeds so beautifully in addressing [these questions]. Her prose possesses qualities of poetry, and her plot is structured just enough to make the story cohesive while still managing to evoke the ethereal quality of memories ... The story is told in brief chapters, some only a page or two long ... Guo uses the couple’s struggles as a microcosm of a national conversation ... While Guo asks timely questions about societal division, she is not prescriptive in her answers. She leaves it to readers to discern their own truths.
Peace Adzo Medie
RaveChristian Science MonitorWriter and professor Peace Adzo Medie puts a wonderfully contemporary spin on a fairytale trope. Set in Medie’s native Ghana, His Only Wife begins with a familiar premise: A sweet but poor young woman marries a prince – well, in this case, he’s a handsome, wealthy businessman. Against this familiar plot, Medie explores the complexities that strong women face as they learn to effectively navigate a patriarchal society. At the center of the novel is young Afi Tekple... In this very contemporary story, Afi gets her fairytale ending, just not the one that generations of girls have been told to expect. Afi rescues herself.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorA master of descriptive prose, Mason structures many of the stories to complement the content ... Mason uses the ring as a metaphor for life, cycling through Burke’s thoughts about freedom and joy, sin and humiliation, each emotion landing with the speed and the blow of a well-placed punch ... A thread that runs through most of the stories is Mason’s fascination with science – not surprising, given his day job as a practicing doctor. But while his scientific training clearly informs his writing, it’s apparent that Mason has also never relinquished his sense of wonder. Mason demonstrates tremendous respect for his characters, even though his stories are set in times when the world often did not leave room for such considerations.
Carlos Fonseca, Trans. by Megan McDowell
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... wonderfully enigmatic ... delivers a conundrum of a story, one that depends upon neither events nor characters for its substance. Reading each page requires unwinding a riddle of themes to discover hints and clues hidden in familiar history. Fonseca presses the reader to grapple with such issues as authenticity and subterfuge, challenging the idea that anyone can truly know about the world and its inhabitants. It’s helpful to remember that the story begins with a shared appreciation of naturally occurring camouflage ... With lush prose that owes a debt to translator Megan McDowell, Fonseca weaves the fictional threads of Giovanna’s life into a fabric of real history ... Yet no matter how seemingly obscure a reference may appear to be, no detail in this book is superfluous. Fonseca ties each one into recurring motifs that illustrate his interpretation of perception and reality, faith and irony, tragedy and farce. Though sometimes inscrutable, he presses the reader to consider the ways that societies communicate – and how, in turn, perspectives shape perceptions in the arts and in politics.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorIn fewer than 150 pages, Our Riches reminds readers of the printed word’s ability to impart new ideas and shape public opinion. And the book shares an appreciation for the artistry within the publishing industry, whether it be the discovery of an emerging writer or the decision to prioritize beautiful bindings in the midst of wartime rationing ... Readers looking for a remarkable plot twist aren’t going to find one. Adimi is focused on the deep ties that multiple generations of neighborhood families have with Charlot’s bookstore. Throughout all time, of course, books and the spaces that support them have fostered community. Charlot knew that. Decades later, the people of his neighborhood still know that.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorHadlow gives us a book that is satisfyingly evocative of the earlier novel and yet strikingly contemporary ... this time we see everything through Mary’s eyes. Hadlow paints her as a far more sympathetic and understandable character ... As her book diverges from the original, Hadlow grafts a contemporary coming-of-age story onto a literary masterpiece and she does it in a manner that is not only faithful to the original, but also respectful. She builds upon what Austen had achieved—writing boldly and honestly about women’s lives ... Hadlow captures Austen’s voice ... The Other Bennet Sister stands on its own as a literary work. One needn’t be familiar with Austen’s novels to appreciate the book, but it helps ... It meanders at a pace reminiscent of the earlier era, giving readers license to settle in and get lost in a story that might be about characters from another century but, like all enduring classics, offers truths just as relevant today.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorLily King unwinds an insightful story ... Much of the success of this story lies with King’s wonderful writing style. Her vivid descriptions make even mundane settings come alive, including the bustle of a competent wait staff during a busy restaurant dinner shift. Even so, some readers might want to pass on this book. The dialogue is often sprinkled with language not generally spoken in polite company. The events include references to medical procedures as well as a disturbing backstory that explains Casey’s estrangement from her father. King avoids details and never sensationalizes, but these events are integral to the plot ... But for readers who dive in...this book will offer a full examination of creative life ... King shares these insights with a fresh perspective and an authenticity that suggests she draws upon personal experience.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWith a near-effortless writing style, Adiga conveys the daily life of an immigrant in a manner that builds empathy for Danny’s real-life counterparts—the hidden community members present almost everywhere in the world. And Danny is an enormously likable character. When he and the alleged killer spar in cat-and-mouse cellphone conversations, the reader experiences his anxiety. While Danny knows the killer’s identity, Prakash knows Danny’s immigration status, and the equivalent weight of the two pieces of information effectively communicate the high stakes involved. Amnesty stands as a timeless reminder that what is legal is not the same as what is ethical.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWith the topic of immigration dominating the news, we are bombarded with statistics but have little sense of the human beings involved ... Though flawed, this book adds to that discussion ... Whether or not readers personally identify with the storyline about a frantic escape to another country, almost everyone will find glimpses of shared experiences, of the times when everyday life changed in a flash as the result of events beyond one’s control ... Does the plot over-simplify some of the people and many of the situations, as critics argue? Yes ... But those arguments do not negate the merits of this book. Rather, they highlight the need for more books on the issue, ones written by Mexican and Central American writers.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorIt is fair to say that, with depictions of casino gambling and quests through the seedier parts of towns, this book won’t appeal to everyone. But to confine it to those images or to paint such scenes with a broad brush that automatically casts them in a negative hue misses the author’s point. Writing in a lush prose that deserves to be savored, Pufahl respects her characters. She illuminates their goals as well as their fears, making each of their decisions understandable to the reader. Their choices might not be wholly appropriate, but given the conditions they face, those decisions are likely the best under the circumstances. That is the author’s point: The conditions of the time did not really allow for those who did not fit the mainstream narrative. She seeks to write them back into the history.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorGappah poured years of research into her novel, which is apparent in the rich detail found in its pages. Her vibrant story exposes not only Livingstone’s hypocrisy, but also the growing doubts of Halima and Jacob. She shines a light on colonial Africa and the evils of the slave trade, but in the midst of this darkness, she gives voice to those whose sacrifices were unheralded. While Livingstone\'s heart was buried in Africa, it was the generous hearts of his servants that helped his work survive.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorOne needn’t have read The Handmaid’s Tale to get lost in the sequel ... Atwood, a masterly storyteller, spins a chilling tale ... As readers confront the horrors of Gilead, many of them will unquestionably see parallels to our contemporary society.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorAlan Lightman examines freedom and obligation, heartache and forgiveness, and ultimately imparts a sense of hope ... Sometimes charming and sometimes heartbreaking, Lightman’s novel is an accessible bridge into Cambodian culture for Western readers.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorBy its very definition, a collection of stories will offer variety, but Smith takes this promise to a new level. The 19 tales of Grand Union make up a remarkably diverse collection. Written in a range of styles, her stories capture the complexities of contemporary life through multifarious voices. It’s all here – explorations of race and class, gender roles and generational differences, and a myriad of political debates ... When finishing one story and turning the page to start another, the reader is never sure what will come next. Still, Smith brings her powers of description and her astute observations to each entry, skillfully modifying the language and syntax to match the perspective. The talent that has attracted her loyal following is on full display ... It goes without saying that not every story will appeal to every reader. Smith’s candor is unapologetic. Her descriptions can be explicit in ways that some readers might find offensive. Her choices in this area are not gratuitous, but she does include depictions of some of the harsher aspects of the world, and she does so unflinchingly ... Thisbeing said, when a reader finds the stories that resonate...Smith’s stories seem golden.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWith his exquisite writing, Coates delivers an adventure tale steeped in American history ... Hewing close to these historical facts brings an authenticity to the story ... Through his weaving together of these stories, Coates brings a sense of humanity to the history. His alternative terminology might seem like simple changes in vocabulary, but the effect is to lift the story above the one we read about in our history books, the one we all think we know so well ... As Coates imparts a tale that is richer and fuller than the one gleaned from schoolbooks, he implores the reader to approach it with a fresh eye and an open heart. He lays open the ramifications of this history and its impact on both the Quality and the Tasked, for both were affected by the corrupt system.
Jokha Alharthi, trans. by Marilyn Booth
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor... it can be challenging to keep tabs on all the characters, absorbing their fears and hopes, before jumping to the next chapter after only a few pages. While the book does provide a family tree, the author does not spoon-feed the tale ... But the effort is worth it. The story is beautifully told with credit extending to Marilyn Booth, the translator, who spins exquisite English descriptions from Alharthi’s original Arabic ... reveals an expansive view of a culture that most of us in the West know nothing about ... The book is full of strong women characters. Alharthi, though, avoids clichés and stereotypes. The women do not buck the patriarchy in a predictable fashion. Rather, Alharthi reveals the nuances within domestic life, especially the possibilities to be discovered in everyday occurences, an experience that readers everywhere will recognize.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorIn the hands of a writer less talented than Whitehead, this might have been a book too difficult to read. But with discernment and integrity, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author shares a compelling story that never crosses over into gratuitous detail ... The Nickel Boys offers a provocative tale as Whitehead bears witness to lives that were forgotten and some, no doubt, that were never noticed. But he brings much more to the novel, infusing it with glimpses of hope.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWhile the book offers a glimpse into the lives of the Miltons, it also reveals much about America – a place of such wildly disparate experiences ... Gliding back and forth across the generations, she captures the consequences of decisions, of buried secrets, and of shifting societal norms ... Some readers might find it difficult to garner sympathy for the Miltons, buffered as they are by wealth and privilege. Instead, they might want to look upon the book as a timely metaphor for the American story.
Bridgett M, Davis
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorWhile Fannie Davis shines as the central figure, and deservedly so, the Davis family story reads like a chapter of the American experience. But theirs is a story usually left out of history books or glossed over with little attention paid to the lives of the people who lived these experiences. This book corrects that omission ... For readers who crave the richer, fuller history of America than is usually imparted by school books, Davis emerges as a valuable and needed voice...But mostly her book stands as a loving tribute to a remarkable woman, her mother.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor\"... immensely readable ... Kingsolver alternates chapters between the two eras and anchors the narratives by using the last words of each chapter as the apt title of the next, an enjoyable technique to watch unfold ... While Unsheltered is not a fanciful tale offering a respite from contentious issues of our day, it does remind of us that truth and compassion help us adapt and endure. We’ve been here before and we managed to find our way to better times. If Kingsolver is correct, stories like these might help us get there.\
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThrough these clashes of perspective, Edugyan illustrates the complexity of identity and explores what defines us. Is it what surrounds us, such as family? Or is it what is inside us? ... In her elegant, nuanced writing style, Edugyan unfolds Wash’s experiences as he realizes his freedom ... Throughout the story, Edugyan weaves the quality of artistic talent.
Maria Dahvana Headley
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThe Mere Wife brings new life to a classic ... Knowledge of the classic poem is not essential before reading The Mere Wife. The novel stands on its own as both an adventure tale and a social commentary. But a passing familiarity with the original, even a faint memory from a high school English class, illuminates detail that brings texture and layers to the story ... Headley plays with language as much as she plays with the plot of the epic poem ... The Mere Wife paints an acerbic view of contemporary society.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorIn her new memoir, Rough Beauty, the award-winning poet recounts her struggle to rebuild her life after a devastating fire left her with nothing but the opportunity to begin again ... In the opening pages, Auvinen recounts the experience from years before, the day she drove her truck up a mountain road in the Colorado Rockies, her beloved dog Elvis riding shotgun beside her. That warm glow of a fire that she spotted up ahead – it was coming from her isolated mountain cabin. Rather than cozy and inviting, this fire was destroying her life. It had ravaged her home, consumed her belongings, and obliterated all traces of her daily life ... Fighting back against the grief, Auvinen confronted her choices. With no physical remnants of her life, she realized she could easily disappear. Or, she could craft a new life. Ever the fighter, she started over. But this time, as if tempered by the fire, Auvinen surrendered to those powers beyond herself – the rhythm of nature, the change of seasons, the simple kindnesses expressed by those around her ... Hers is a voice not found often enough in literature – a woman who eschews the prescribed role outlined for her by her family and discovers her own path. Refined by the fires of her experiences, Auvinen discovers her authentic self.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorInstead of the usual chapters, he structures the book as a series of vignettes, 65 of them that reveal imagined glimpses into Rhys’s experiences. Phillips counts on the reader to string them together. Under his deft hand, the prose subtly implies more than it tells. Rather than a consistent narrative style, Phillips shapes the prose to reflect the stages of her life, from the powerless demimondaine to the outspoken feminist writer ... Though records indicate Rhys made such a journey [back to her home in the Caribbean], she never wrote about her experiences. This void provides Phillips with a fertile foundation on which to delve deeper into the themes of race, gender, and power ... Like each of the themes that Phillips examines, the struggles echo through the decades, never resolved, always recurring.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorWith his debut novel, There There, Tommy Orange interjects a voice that has been missing from the literary conversation ... The 12 tales unfold and overlap as each of Orange’s characters prepares for the Big Oakland Powwow to be held at the Oakland Coliseum. Halfway through the book, Orange pauses to include an Interlude. Like the Prologue, it provides context ... Resuming their stories, Orange brings them all together, including Tony Loneman. With his distinct facial features and impaired abilities, Tony is shaped forever by his mother’s drinking. Fetal alcohol syndrome, prevalent in many indigenous communities, is as much a part of his identity as his Cheyenne blood. Tony has his own reasons for attending the powwow, ones that take the story in a direction that is as contemporary, tragic, and American as a breaking news alert. That might be the point. In this tremendously diverse country, is it not our shared experiences that make us American? Orange simply makes the conversation more authentic.