Reviews

June 21, 2012

A Matter of Life and Death: Jill Lepore’s The Mansion of Happiness 0

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The fact that we are living does not distinguish us as human beings. But the fact that we can think, talk, and write about living does.

June 21, 2012

Nanny Noir: Wolf Haas’ Brenner and God 2

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Simon Brenner is an ex-detective, a man in middle age who has decided after trying out more than fifty professions that he was born to be a chauffeur. Although actually, “chauffeur” doesn’t seem exactly the right word for his current employment: he’s almost, when you come right down to it, a sort of Autobahn-based nanny.

June 19, 2012

Our First Jadak President: David Maraniss’ Barack Obama 3

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Barack Obama is a wholly new kind of American president, part white, part African, who wears sarongs and is fluent in Hawaiian pidgin.

June 11, 2012

More News from Nowhere: John Lanchester’s Capital 0

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Capital is a novel in almost entirely discrete segments and many of the characters never have cause to meet. Their parallel lives are tied together by a subplot that starts with mysterious postcards being found on the doormats of every resident. On one side a picture of their house, on the other an ominous message: “We Want What You Have.”

June 5, 2012

The Maturation of Etgar Keret 2

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Suddenly, a Knock on the Door encapsulates the tenor of much of the best of Keret’s short fiction: The striving to chronicle the human situation, to get beyond the partisan politics, anger, and fear of the contemporary Middle East even while struggling (knowingly struggling) within those constraints.

June 5, 2012

Rural Prisons: Hamlin Garland’s Stories of the American Midwest 6

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Downtrodden and oppressed women resonate in Main-Travelled Roads. There are no easy solutions for these characters, and certainly no political ones.

May 24, 2012

The Hunt for Hyper-Condensed Sperm Whale Poop: Christopher Kemp’s Floating Gold 2

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It’s hard not to fall in love with ambergris. Here is a solid lump of whale feces, weathered down to something that smells, depending on the piece and whom you’re talking to, like musk, violets, fresh-hewn wood, tobacco, dirt, Brazil nut, fern-copse, damp woods, new-mown hay, seaweed in the sun, the wood of old churches, or pretty much any other sweet-but-earthy scent.

May 24, 2012

Where the Heart Is: Toni Morrison’s Home 2

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But for all its strengths, Home still falls short. This is partly due to its length. The result is a busy cast bursting with potential, but characters who are so hamstrung in their tight confinement, so seldom on the page, that their tales are only half-told.

May 23, 2012

Across the Border: Richard Ford’s Canada 8

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One comes away from Canada feeling as though a less gifted author was trying to write a knock-off of a Richard Ford novel, and has made a hash of it.

May 23, 2012

Librarian, Distressed 3

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Should libraries buy scads of the hottest bestseller? Or should they break themselves upon the rocks of serious scholarship? Cheeseburger in Paradise or Paradise Lost? Perhaps, somewhere in between?