PositiveThe New York Review of BooksMcGregor’s carefully composed dialogue, filled with the repetition of so few words, had an eerie effect on me: for several days my own inner dialogue was often composed of the same words, as though I, too, was discovering how they could express drastically different emotions yet remain unreadable to the world. I wanted to put the right words into Robert’s mouth, to speak for him, to expedite his thinking process, and I was conscious that in those moments I was in the same predicament as Anna ... Readers impatient with the slowness of the group’s progress won’t be alone: Anna and other caretakers in the room feel the same. By not creating a shortcut either for the characters or for readers, McGregor makes us experience their confusion, frustration, and shifting moods between despair and hope ... In the end it is the other aphasia patients, with the help of the supporters, who begin to gain access to Robert’s mind. Together they put on a theatrical production—limited by their physical and linguistic capacities—recounting how Robert’s last day in Antarctica went wrong. It is a different kind of storytelling, imagined from the center of the storm, with Robert and the other patients all trying to achieve the near impossible in the aftermath of near-fatal events. Inside their damaged brains and hampered bodies they can sense, as a memory so vividly relived, their healthy and eloquent selves. The beauty of their minds, like that of the girl waving at the bus at a street corner without being seen, is preserved.
Carmen Boullosa, trans. by Samantha Schnee
MixedThe New York Review of BooksBoullosa ingeniously gives Sergei and Anya a different kind of existence: they retain their fictional origin and are known to the other characters in the novel as the Karenina siblings given birth to by Tolstoy’s pen ... The historical figures in The Book of Anna—Kollontai, Father Gapon, the sailors on board the Potemkin—fulfill their roles in the historical narrative of 1905, but they, like wax figures in a museum, don’t inspire imagination or curiosity. One wishes that Boullosa’s inventive touch extended to them, so that Kollontai were not only history’s Kollontai, but also Boullosa’s ... there is a risk in writing a self-indulgent novel. It is not that the novel might be misunderstood or rejected by indifferent readers—who among us wants our children to befriend people who don’t care for them at all? The risk of writing a self-indulgent novel is that the author’s certainties may replace the characters’ uncertainties, and it is the latter that make up that illusory reality of fiction ... Sergei and Anya...are the two characters in The Book of Anna that come most alive on the page—a cliché that perhaps can be allowed this once. The siblings’ adult existence is invented by Boullosa. Their psychology, however, is not. Their psychology is not even invented by Tolstoy. Their childhoods are. Their psychology, like yours and mine, can be described and dissected, but, like yours and mine, it remains elusive ... The risk Boullosa takes in writing a novel featuring Tolstoy’s characters pays off because underneath the slim Book of Anna is Anna Karenina, a novel that encompasses life, from haymaking to ballroom dancing, with characters in high society and the servants’ quarters. Her novel is filled with impish touches that reminded me, as I read, of watching dragonflies next to a pond when I was a child ... yet when a book is so deeply rooted in Tolstoy’s work, the bar is inevitably set at Tolstoy’s, rather than Gorky’s, height.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"An astute observer of both the mundane and the inexplicable, Levy sketches memorable details in just a few strokes...What makes this book stand out, however, is that Levy doesn’t allow herself to linger over these details. There’s no stretching every moment to an unnecessarily prolonged beat ... She’s like an expert rafter, and the river she travels is full of encounters and emotions. While another writer might give us a lengthy tour of this turbulent water, Levy doesn’t slow down. There’s joy in her maneuvering through the rapids, difficult though they may be. And there’s joy for us in watching her.\
Viet Thanh Nguyen
RaveThe GuardianTwo of the most touching pieces, both about siblings separated by geography and history, bookend the collection ... The theme of doubleness – choice and inevitability, home and homelessness, starting afresh and being stuck – is present not only in the stories of Vietnamese refugees, but also of those who have become refugees from their own homes and loved ones ... The collection is full of refugees, whether from external turmoil – natural or manmade disasters – or from a deeper, more internal conflict between even those who are closest to each other. With anger but not despair, with reconciliation but not unrealistic hope, and with genuine humour that is not used to diminish anyone, Nguyen has breathed life into many unforgettable characters, and given us a timely book focusing, in the words of Willa Cather, on 'the slow working out of fate in people of allied sentiment and allied blood?.'
Juan Gabriel Vásquez
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe novel’s brilliance is that we, wanting to know what happened to that sleeping girl, become Mallarino’s accomplices; the novel’s genius is that we, greedy for certainty, become Mallarino’s prey. Like Samanta we are left with something unforgettable ... Reputations can be read and enjoyed on many levels: for its reflections on art, memory and fate; for its account of recent Colombian history at a slant, which is Vásquez’s trademark approach; for its Jungian exploration of lives intersecting ... a masterly book.