My Feminist Sensibility vs. Love In The Time Of Cholera

Have you read Love In The Time Of Cholera? Have you been as enchanted by it as so many people and big reviewers seem to have been? The Christian Science Monitor thinks it’s boldly romantic, profoundly imaginative, fully imagined work of fiction that expands our sense of life’s infinite possibilities. I don’t quite grasp the difference between “profoudly imaginative” and “fully imagined” but “life’s infinite … Continue reading My Feminist Sensibility vs. Love In The Time Of Cholera

One Hundred Years of Solitude: A Literary Chameleon About Life

MANY YEARS LATER as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world … Continue reading One Hundred Years of Solitude: A Literary Chameleon About Life

Diving Into Magical Realism: Two Morsels

Without a doubt, Like Water for Chocolate is a tasty read. It  opens with the ingredients for Christmas Rolls,  Mexican style. But it goes beyond the usual food in fiction novel. A little further down, it reads: Tita was literally washed into this world on a great tide of tears that spilled over the edge of the table and flooded across the kitchen floor. That … Continue reading Diving Into Magical Realism: Two Morsels

Emile Zola’s L’Œuvre (The Masterpiece): Fine Line Between Artistic Genius and Mental Illness?

Why Emile Zola’s title has been translated as The Masterpiece isn’t very clear to me. Literally, l’œuvre means “the work;” “masterpiece is “chef d’œuvre.” Zola’s main character, artist Claude Lantier, actually fails to produce a masterpiece. It isn’t even obvious that Claude thinks of the large piece he’s been working on as a potential chef d’œuvre. He is obsessed by it—that’s clear enough. But as … Continue reading Emile Zola’s L’Œuvre (The Masterpiece): Fine Line Between Artistic Genius and Mental Illness?

Emile Zola’s The Belly of Paris: Celebration of Food or Satire?

Les Halles in Paris—do you know it? Unless you’re into a bit of French history, you may not. It doesn’t exist anymore, demolished in 1969/70, its centennial year. It was a huge market, much of it housed in at least ten pavilions of glass and iron designed by Victor Baltard. Plus a big domed central pavilion that later became the Bourse de Commerce, the French … Continue reading Emile Zola’s The Belly of Paris: Celebration of Food or Satire?

Adam Johnson’s North Korea: Fiction as Trauma Narrative 

Disbelief. That’s my initial reaction as I follow the life of orphan master’s son, Jun Do, in Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. Is this really what life is like in North Korea? Lives subjected to unrelenting propaganda from its one radio station, and unrelenting trauma, probably almost from birth if you’re an orphan? As he grows up, Jun … Continue reading Adam Johnson’s North Korea: Fiction as Trauma Narrative 

War Stories: Why they may be worth your time

“War is nasty; war is fun, War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.” Harvard University President Drew Faust borrows this quote to illustrate that war fascinates because it is a paradox. The remark actually comes from Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien about the “awful majesty of combat.” For films and books, war is a readymade but challenging setting … Continue reading War Stories: Why they may be worth your time

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 I see a thread running through the two books by Yasunari Kawabata that I’ve read? Maybe, I should read at least one more before I 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 … 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