Sunday, May 5, 2024

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa


The cherry blossoms might be blooming right outside his window but the Professor in this delightful novel wants none of it. Ever since a car crash took away most of his memory, he’s most secure in his single shed-like home and doesn’t want to venture out into the world. But the titular housekeeper draws him out and makes space for him in the universe. From him she learns the meditative beauty of math and works around his handicap of being able to have a memory span that lasts only 80 minutes. Without a hint of melodrama, this novel is magical.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Creation Lake by Rachel Kushner


Sadie Smith’s mission is to infiltrate Pascal Balmy’s radical farming cooperative, Le Moulin, in the remote French countryside and to use it as a vehicle to sow chaos. By befriending a Parisian filmmaker, Lucien, she gains access to his family home in Vantome from where she can execute her plan. Balmy himself is a disciple of Bruce Lacombe, an anti-civver, who believes capitalism is the sure path to the end times. While the forays into philosophy are convincing, the central thesis as to why Sadie is planning subversion and under whose command, remains less certain. Passionate but needs more cohesion.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Help Wanted by Adelle Waldman

Movement is responsible for breaking up pallets off the delivery truck early in the morning before customers hit Town Shop in Pottstown, New York. The division’s boss, Meredith, is universally reviled so when a chance shows up to get her a promotion and off their backs, the store workers hatch a plan. The character portrayals of low-wage workers, each with their own back stories and motivations, is the best part of this engaging novel. A brilliant description of work in the age of Amazon, the immense readable novel is proof you don’t need a murder mystery to make things gripping.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Martyr! by Kaveh Akbar


When Cyrus Shams was barely a toddler, his mother died in an Iranian flight shot down by an American missile. Now an American recovering from addiction, Cyrus is determined to explore the meaning of death, to make it matter. A performance artist who’s dying at a New York museum might provide answers. As the plot builds its tension, reveals included, what emerges is a necessary ray of hope amid despondency. It’s not just that Martyr! is one of the most beautiful meditations on death, it’s also one on life. The superbly crafted sentences only add to the luminous transporting experience. 

Mina's Matchbox by Yoko Ogawa


I’ve not read such a heartwarming capture of childhood friendship in a long time! Tomoko spends a crucial middle school year with her mother’s aunt’s family in a stunning manor in the hillsides of Ashiya. She quickly strikes up a deep friendship with her sickly cousin Mina, with whom she tries to learn about life’s truths. The house has a favored pet, a Pygmy hippopotamus, who adds a touch of whimsy to the readable story. From the gorgeous Japanese countryside, to the subtle portrayals of class, to the wistfulness that imbues every page, this is a coming-of-age novel worth savoring.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Great Expectations by Vinson Cunningham

“A national campaign was a great unfathomable whale, with all kinds of subsidiary life flourishing on its skin and between its strands of baleen,” writes Cunningham in an impressive debut chronicling a young volunteer’s growth through the Obama Presidential campaign. The novel has a Gatsbyesque touch in its evocation of fundraising parties and the milieu of the hopeful times. The story shines when the narrator frames the story from his own experiences, a memoir of sorts. At times the story gets a little too ornate. Nevertheless, a different twist to the coming-of-age story told from a ringside seat of history.

Choice by Neel Mukherjee

Riddled with climate anxiety, battling obsessive-compulsive disorder, Ayush can’t get over capitalism’s oversized destructive effect on the lives of ordinary people. Economics is life, life is economics, is a mantra that surfaces over and over again in the first long short story of three. Equally compelling is the final story in which the well-intentioned gift of a cow to a rural impoverished mother systematically unravels the family unit until the unexpected ending. Startling and dark, the stories are a perfect snapshot of life lived under the yoke of capitalism today. Choice is but an illusion, we all bear our burdens.