Saturday, December 21, 2013

Before I Burn: Gaute Heivoll

Yes, Before I Burn is about a pyromaniac on the loose in remote, rural Norway in the 70s. But it’s also about much more. The fragile child’s drawing on the cover, curled up and ready to burst into flames, speaks to deeper meanings: about adult expectations set during childhood, and the pervasive melancholy that can accompany stifling parent-child relationships. The dark Lake Livannet, painted hauntingly, is a perfect metaphor for the many anxieties the good people of Finsland bottle. As debut author Gaute Heivoll arrestingly shows, release might not always be forthcoming and if it does, is often ugly.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

The Flamethrowers is an exquisitely crafted bildungsroman about Reno, a young woman coming of age in 70’s New York. A formative experience in Italy additionally pupils her about the manifestations of class and the activism that tries to shake its yoke (the book cover is from a magazine released by one of Italy’s leftist organizations, Autonomia Operaia). Through Reno’s attachment to motorcycles, Rachel Kushner effectively works the metaphor of speed -- the exhilarating ride that is youth, the life that passes by in a blur and what we eventually save of it, a few frozen still-frames to learn from and perhaps even love.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pig's Foot by Carlos Acosta

Pig’s Foot is the translation from the Spanish of Pata de Puerco, a small village in Cuba back to where Oscar Kortico can trace his roots. Trying to make do under desperate conditions in a barrio in Havana, Oscar makes a charming (if brash) narrator as he paints an idyllic picture of the town from the 1800s to more contemporary times. Weaving in splashes of magical realism and snippets of history from the island nation, the author Carlos Acosta, who is also a world-famous dancer, writes an engaging tale that affirms the continued relevance of history in crafting our identities. 

A longer review of this title is at

Friday, December 6, 2013

Orfeo by Richard Powers

A contemporary retelling of the myth of Orpheus, Orfeo traces the path of an aging nondescript music composer who inadvertently finds himself in a maelstrom of negative media attention. Switching back and forth from the present to the past, Richard Powers outlines the trials of a life spent searching for an ever-elusive objective. Along the way, protagonist Peter Els loses much that he values, yet gains a subtle wisdom. The saying “it takes a lifetime to learn how to live” is truly applicable here. The discrete washes of "color" fluidly merge into one grand composition. Orfeo is a breathtaking performance with nary a discordant note. 

A long review of this book was published in the January 22 issue of The BookBrowse Review. Thank you to the publishers for an ARC.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter

One look at the heap of scrap on the cover and it would be easy to assume that Junkyard Planet is filled with preachy directives about consumption. But it’s this book’s subtitle that’s closest to what Adam Minter so adroitly achieves. Minter tracks our recyclables (including paper and even Christmas tree lights) as they are shipped to countries like China satisfying its insatiable demand for raw materials. While I would have loved learning more about the hows of the business, Junkyard Planet emerges nevertheless as an insightful look at an industry that is one of the many byproducts of consumerism.

A longer review of this title is at