Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen

As the Second World War played out, the small country of Estonia saw multiple occupations by the Germans and the Soviets. Amid these rapidly shifting geopolitical realities, allegiances were difficult to forge but not so for the duplicitous Edgar Parts. Parts will stop short at almost nothing to plant himself on the winning team and Oksanen’s high-voltage prose, translated seamlessly from Finnish by Lola Rogers, unravels his cat-and-mouse games to stunning effect. The overlapping betrayals by multiple parties and shifting time settings can get confusing, but the story is a triumphant portrayal of the will to survive at any cost.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Black River by S. M. Hulse

The rugged Montana countryside serves as a perfect backdrop for this emotionally wrenching story about a prodigal son holding on to vestiges of faith in the wake of devastating tragedy. Wes Carver has a troubled past that is seared into him -- quite literally. Early on he loses the anchor in his life, his wife Claire. Worse, he must wrestle with the concept of forgiveness. At times Wes and his son Dennis veer too close to the strong and silent stereotype but the relationships that form the crux of this debut are beautifully rendered and a joy to watch evolve.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland And the Transformation Of Rural China

In the vast tundra of Manchuria, in China’s Northeast, farming is still very much a part of the landscape, the biting winters affording just enough of a window for harvesting rice. The small town of Wasteland is where Frances, the author’s wife is from, and it is where Meyer spends a year chronicling not just the farming season but the impending irreversible changes soon to come knocking. This is a breathless and lively tour of Manchuria’s history and China’s evolving agrarian policies told through the eyes of a veteran investigative reporter. A side of the Asian behemoth not often seen.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Man Of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg

Blikkiesdorp, might be Cape Town’s “asshole, the muscle through which the city shits out the parts it does not want,” but for Somali refugee, Asad Abdullahi, Tin Can Town is a step up compared to the hell he has been through. Just eight when violence in Mogadishu split his family asunder, the young and enterprising Asad moved from city to city, country to country, forever pursuing a dream of stability. This is a brilliantly reported story of hope against overwhelming odds, and survival in the bleakest circumstances. It brings home the refugee’s plight like no news bite can. A must-read.

Thanks to Knopf for an ARC.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? by Andrew Lawler

The chicken’s footprint might be tiny but its impression on humanity remains large. Science reporter Andrew Lawler expertly traces its movement from early domestication and the jungles of south Asia, to today’s production of billions of pounds of broiler meat for world consumption. Even if at times it seems as if Lawler packs way too much information into its pages, this is an engaging look at man’s big bird and its impact on almost every aspect of our lives: religious, cultural, medicinal and more. Think the dog is man’s best friend? Well, the chicken really makes a more compelling case.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Don't Let Him Know by Sandip Roy

Three generations of the Mitras are captured through revealing vignettes in Roy’s moving and brilliant debut. Those high walls hold not just the outside world at bay, they lock in a way of life that suppresses individuality in favor of societal expectations. This is a remarkable analysis of the ripple effects of a secret coming to light, and of lives spent regretting lost chances. A reliance on fate as crutch makes the quotidian bearable for these sharply drawn characters who manage large doses of grace despite a nagging sense of longing for a life that is forever out of reach.

Full disclosure: The author is an acquaintance.
Thanks to Bloomsbury for an ARC.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc

The vast tundra of Lapland is the perfect setting for this thriller that shines a spotlight on tensions between the native Sami peoples and the Norwegians. On the fortieth day without shadow, a drum that is of symbolic importance to the Sami, is stolen from a local Kautokeino museum. When a Sami reindeer herder is also found murdered in a day, the Reindeer Police know more’s at stake. The mystery checks all the right boxes but it’s the setting that truly elevates the story. One can’t help but be amazed at man’s ability to survive even in the bleakest places.