Joyce Carol Oates—Mudwoman

A story of a woman full of angst. A woman whom modern, educated women can relate to. But only to some extent. Meredith Ruth (MR) Neukirchen is the first woman president of an Ivy League university. That alone makes her totally unique. She’s achieved the pinnacle, a plum usually denied women, even those with her background and ambition. But what’s more remarkable about MR is … Continue reading Joyce Carol Oates—Mudwoman

Fate in Fiction: Antoine Laurain’s The Red Notebook

How much of life is made up of coincidences? And is coincidence Fate? Or is it Chance? I think these questions are at the heart of Antoine Laurain’s novel, The Red Notebook. When a guy called Laurent finds a discarded stolen bag on top of a bin, a bag that he later learns belongs to a woman named Laure—is that fate or chance? On the … Continue reading Fate in Fiction: Antoine Laurain’s The Red Notebook

The Cellist of Sarajevo’s Tribute to Victims of Ethnic Hatred

I picked up the Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway because of my interest in music. But I find that it’s more like a meditation on the senselessness of war than a story on some theme regarding the power of music. The novel has no clear beginning, middle and end. Maybe, that’s how it should be. The story happens during a real war, when Sarajevo … Continue reading The Cellist of Sarajevo’s Tribute to Victims of Ethnic Hatred

Cruelty Knows No Bounds: In The Country of Men by Hisham Matar

The telling of a terrible event seems somehow more compelling when done from the point of view of a child. We often assume that a child does not have the biases of an adult to color his perception. We also assume that he’s less likely to lie when recounting what he sees. On the other hand, lack of a life history may mean a child … Continue reading Cruelty Knows No Bounds: In The Country of Men by Hisham Matar

Fiction as History: Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace

Myanmar—does that ring a bell? You guess that, maybe, it’s the same as Burma. And maybe you’ve even heard of its most famous citizen, Aung San Suu Kyi. Or, maybe, you have no idea whatsoever what Myanmar is. And you couldn’t care less. Myanmar is fascinating—rich in resources, diverse, exotic, unique, complex. Once a monarchy, invaded by the British, then terrorized by a military regime … Continue reading Fiction as History: Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace

Vietnam War, A Retrospective: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer

Forty years after the end of the war in Vietnam comes a widely-acclaimed, generously awarded début novel—The Sympathizer: A Novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen, published by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. in 2015. I’m going to throw in my two-cents worth among the throng of gushing admirers of this 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning novel (plus at least five other awards), because this work says something essential to me. … Continue reading Vietnam War, A Retrospective: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer

Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas by Patrick Modiano

I’m waxing nostalgic. I can’t help it in these last few days of official summer in the Bay Area. If you don’t know what that means, think heavy clouds, high humidity, and 64⁰ F — warm in most areas, but not here. For us, it’s winter weather. But what does this all have to do with the three novellas in this collection by Patrick Modiano, … Continue reading Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas by Patrick Modiano

Kawabata’s Beauty and Sadness: Love, Sex, and Revenge

Is it merely coincidence that a thread runs through the two books by Yasunari Kawabata that I’ve read? Maybe, I should read at least one more to conclude that this 1968 Nobel Prize winner, who writes about obsession, is himself obsessed with the issue of older Japanese men preying on vulnerable young Japanese women. I understand Kawabata’s obsession better, after a quick Google survey on … Continue reading Kawabata’s Beauty and Sadness: Love, Sex, and Revenge

Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata

I continue my romp into world literature with Yasunari Kawabata, the first Japanese to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1968). In awarding him the prize, the Nobel Committee gave special mention to Thousand Cranes, along with Snow Country and The Old Capital among the many novels he had written. When I first read this novel, I wondered what about it merited special mention. Granted, … Continue reading Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata

Two Short Books Set In France

What accounts for tastes? The appeal to your senses or sensibilities? The pressure to be a la mode, maybe? Or, because something helps the image of you that you want to project to the world? There are a few things billions of people like for obvious reasons. Those, we have no need to explain. People’s fascination with Paris, for instance. I’ve never actually met anyone … Continue reading Two Short Books Set In France

The Real Jane Austen, A Life in Small Things: A Review

Reading The Real Jane Austen, A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne, I understood more clearly why Austen novels appeal to me. And, more than ever, I’ve come to appreciate these novels for their artistry. Not just as a reader—but maybe more importantly—as a writer. Once again, this book proves “God is in the detail.” But for details to serve fiction well, they must … Continue reading The Real Jane Austen, A Life in Small Things: A Review

Cultural Duality: With Downcast Eyes

In affluent Western countries, those that aren’t “us,” the “Others,” are minority, often disadvantaged groups. In France, the Other usually comes from North Africa (the Maghreb). Like Fatma, a Berber girl, in Tahar Ben Jelloun’s With Downcast Eyes. Fatma, like the male narrator in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, moves from her home. In this case, it’s from the hills of Morocco to France where her father … Continue reading Cultural Duality: With Downcast Eyes

Two Novels With Indian Roots by C.B. Divakaruni

The Palace of Illusions A woman with five princely warrior husbands–how cool is that? I didn’t read this book; I listened to it. I borrowed it from the local library while recovering from a vitrectomy (an eye operation). The two-week tedious down time—literally had to keep my gaze on my feet—became so much more bearable. The dramatic reader was a delight and I appreciated the … Continue reading Two Novels With Indian Roots by C.B. Divakaruni

Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See

All The Light We Cannot See is a modern day existentialist novel. A book in the tradition of Dostoevsky, although that may not be obvious right away. The title alludes in different ways to the juvenile main protagonists of the novel, Marie Laure and Werner. For Marie Laure, the allusion is more literal. She is blind, from a congenital vision disorder. Nurtured by a loving … Continue reading Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See

Fiction Based on Some Fact: Cædmon the Lord’s Poet

How far must writers go to infuse their fiction with that invaluable ring of authenticity? A fiction writer gives meat to her story and makes it credible by describing events, settings, practices of the time and place, and—of course—speech use and patterns. I intend to write about this topic for my author site, but here I present my review of a historical novel for which … Continue reading Fiction Based on Some Fact: Cædmon the Lord’s Poet

Meet Elizabeth Taylor, the British Writer

About three months ago, I got a copy of The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor. No, not that Elizabeth Taylor. The other Elizabeth Taylor. These are a couple of published reactions when articles are written about that other Elizabeth, a British writer in the mid-1900s. Unfortunately, that shared name may be one big reason so many people have not heard of her. I, for instance, … Continue reading Meet Elizabeth Taylor, the British Writer

Butting Heads With A Different Writing Style

I picked up this book mostly for the way it’s written, with vivid language and a jaunty almost staccato cadence that could leave you breathless just skimming through it. This writer has a way with words. And as I read, I thought—this must be the new way of writing. The way I write would be stodgy compared to it because I’m of the old school. … Continue reading Butting Heads With A Different Writing Style