lundi 22 décembre 2008
The book traces the lives of three people caught in the middle of the war. There is Kenan, a father of three who must make his way across the dangerous streets of the city to fetch water for his family and a cantankerous old neighbor. Then there is Dragan, a baker whose wife and son were able to leave the city for the safe shores of Italy and finally there is Arrow, a young woman recruited by the city’s defenders to shoot the snipers. Her latest mission is to save the cellist from being killed as he plays his tribute.
In the hands of a less skilled novelist, a story like this has the potential to become melodramatic and overwrought. Fortunately, Galloway is skilled enough to let the story tell itself. And it is a moving one. It brings home the horrors and alienation caused by war and the toll it takes on every individual. One of the most touching moments of the book comes when Dragan sadly realizes that the beautiful Sarajevo of his memories is fast being degraded by the current war torn state of his city. It is one of the most heartrending parts of the book. Reading it made me marvel at our collective capacity to make war when it exerts such a high toll.
Despite the grimness of the story, there are flashes of hope. Incongruous as it may seem, we see in Arrow’s character, the promise of a better future (clichéd as that may sound) when she refuses to forget the decent person that she once was and by choosing to be this person despite the ultimate sacrifice this entails.
Many books on all the different wars that have blighted our history have been undoubtedly been written but Cellist of Sarajevo is a worthy addition to our shelves and is a definite must read. And after reading it, I'm sure you will have the same urge I had to pass it on.
jeudi 4 décembre 2008
Robert was in fine form tonight. For this event, we had several wine growers in the audience (as well as Le Figaro, so watch out for an article on Monday's issue) so to start things off, he made a nice little introduction. Then it was on to the serious business of signing his books and chatting with all the folks who came by.. you can see how seriously he did it!
You can tell its a nice little wine bar with all the crates of the heady stuff stacked up along its walls...
Corkscrewed is going to be one of those great holiday gifts so we suggest dropping by RWB to get hold of a copy. We've also prepared a little list of holiday reads you might like for your friends. Before anyone notices, it'll be Christmas!
dimanche 30 novembre 2008
RWB is proud to invite everyone to the book launch of Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country by Robert V. Camuto on the 4th of December (Thursday) from 6-8 pm at Juveniles (47 rue Richelieu 75001). And because this will take place in a cosy little bar a vins, there will also be wine tasting for all oenophiles. We at RWB are looking forward to this event and we hope to see everyone there!!
jeudi 27 novembre 2008
So the poetry began with Jonathan, who read from his book Three Years from Upstate. He also took time to explain a little bit about the structure of his poems...
jeudi 20 novembre 2008
Before the weekend comes upon us, I just wanted to send you all a reminder of our upcoming Night of Poetry on the 25th of November 2008 (7PM) with poets Beverley Bie Brahic, Elizabeth Haukass and Jonathan Regier. As with all our other readings at the RWB, this night promises to be a stimulating and exciting one and we are very much looking forward to seeing you all there!
Louise de la Valière was born into a humble family. Early in life, she tames a wild horse through bone magic, an act which haunts her throughout her life. She believes that this act of transgression against her faith marks the beginning of her family’s disastrous descent starting with the untimely death of her father. After a series of events, she finds herself in the unlikely position of lady in waiting to the Princess Henriette, King Louis XIV’s sister in law. And such brings her to the attentions of the young Sun King, though their first meeting takes place long before she comes to court in a forest with either of them unknowing of the other’s real identity. When they meet again at Court, the King becomes enamored of the virtuous Petite, as she was known. Slowly she succumbs and they embark on a long affair resulting in four children. Despite the happiness their love affair brings her and the privileges her position affords her and her family, Petite is forever haunted by her conscience. In the end she must learn to find peace in the midst of her royal life.
This is a great piece of historical fiction and a worthy addition to your shelves. Sandra Gulland shows a meticulous eye towards the details of this period. And she paints a vivid picture of Paris under the Sun King. Her lively descriptions of city life and the traffic among the barges as they wait their turn to cross the Seine gives us an extremely rich picture of Paris as it must have been. As the love affair between the King and Petite begins quite early on in his reign, we also see how Versailles is transformed from a humble hunting lodge to the immensely extravagant palace it is now. Rich descriptions aside, what elevates this book from romantic fiction (though I have to admit that there’s nothing wrong with a good romance, now and then) is the portrait Gulland paints of Petite. As portrayed under Gulland’s skillful hands, Petite is a conflicted person who struggles to do her best according to her convictions. While she loves the King greatly, she is unable to reconcile this love with her religious convictions. And it doesn’t help that she is told by court priests that giving in to the King involves a higher moral duty that takes precedence over the simple tenet of respecting marital vows. Unfortunately for Petite, she lived at a time when the King’s word was paramount and there were very little options open to women. It is a triumph of her own personal will when Petite is finally able to make her way towards the peaceful life that long eluded her. “Sin was in her, she knew that, but she would not give way this time.”
dimanche 16 novembre 2008
After Anne, Agnes took the floor.....she read out one of the funniest passages from her book...
All in all a great evening! And if you missed last Friday, no need to fret, we have a Night of Poetry coming up. Don't forget to write down this date in your agenda---25th of November (Tuesday) at 7PM with Beverley Bie Brahic, Jonathan Regier and Elizabeth Haukass!
jeudi 13 novembre 2008
Now, as you know your favorite Anglophone bookstore is always stocked full of new and lovely books. Here's the latest stack to carry you through the second half of November:
New in Fiction Hardcover
1. Lulu in Marrakech by Diane Johnson
2. A Mercy by Toni Morrison
3. Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland
4. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
5. The Unpossessed City by Jon Fassman
6. The Journey by H.G. Adler
7. Stray Dog Winter by David Francis
8. The China Lover by Ian Buruma
9. The Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones
10. Eunoia by Christian Bok
New in Fiction (Trade and Paperback)
1. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
2. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (see review below)
3. The Fire Gospel by Michael Faber
4. Them by Nathan McCall (see Renee's review by clicking on the link below
5. Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes
6. Blank Gaze by Luis Peixoto
7. A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell (see Renee's review by clicking on the link below)
New in Non Fiction
1. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
2. Annie Leibovitz at Work by Annie Leibovitz
3. The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon Reed
4. In High Fashion by Edward Steichen
5. Delta Blues by Ted Gioia
6. Music at the Limits by Edward Said
7. Stories Done by Mikal Gilmore
8. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
9. The Mexican Dream by J.M.G. LeClezio
mardi 11 novembre 2008
From the bare yet known facts about the Sarajevo Haggadah, Geraldine Brooks has fashioned a richly imagined tale of its creation and travel till it comes to rest under the auspices of the Sarajevo National Museum. The story is told through Hanna Heath, a young Australian restorer of ancient manuscripts who is selected to restore the Sarajevo Haggadah. As Hanna works on the manuscript, she discovers several tiny artifacts embedded within ---a wing fragment, a strand of white hair, salt and wine. From here the narrative splits into two directions, with one strand unfolding the tale behind each ancient fragment while the other strand tells Hanna’s story.
While the story is told through Hanna, there is no doubt that the main protagonist of this book is the Sarajevo Haggadah. It is clear from the writing here that Brooks has done an enormous amount of research in order to imagine the tale of this important book. In vividly tracing the trajectory of the book from its creation in 14th Century Seville by a young African woman illustrator, to the time of the Jewish Expulsion, through its sojourn in Venice in the 17th century and 19th century Vienna and the harrowing years of WWII and the Saravejan war, Brooks has crafted a rich tapestry of stories that will beguile any reader. “Saltwater and White Hair” are especially moving. I had to pause after these chapters to recover my breath before I continued on.
Occasionally the device of using Hanna’s story as a jump of point for the more ancient tales is a bit jarring but the Haggadah narrative is so compelling that it more than makes up for it. And perhaps, because the stories behind the Haggadah are so compelling, it makes it difficult for Hanna’s story to be as compelling. Nevertheless she is a greatly likeable character and it is through her that we get a real insight into the work that goes into restoring precious old manuscripts. “Of course, a book is more than the sum of its materials. It is an artifact of the human mind and hand. The gold beaters, the stone grinders, the scribes, the binders, those are the people I feel most comfortable with. Sometimes, in the quiet, these people speak to me. They let me see what their intentions were, and it helps me to do my work.” It would be hard to resist such a heroine and you'll come to root for her as I did.
samedi 8 novembre 2008
The story is told in alternating chapters between Roseanne McNulty, née Clear and Dr. Grene. When the book opens, we learn that Roseanne has been confined for the past 60 or so years in the Roscommon Regional Mental hospital. Due to the building’s age, it has been slated for demolition and it falls upon Dr. Grene to determine who among the old patients can be transferred to the new hospital. He tries to elicit from Roseanne the story of how she came to be confined, all the while suffering from his own personal crisis. Unbeknownst to him, she has started to write down her story, secreting the pages of her life under a loose board in her room.
It is a bit slow going in the beginning and you need to be patient in order to reap the fruits of Barry’s writing. But, as the story progresses, the reader is rewarded by the mastery he has over language. Barry is able to turn in the most fetching of phrases even for the most mundane details. To wit, the town of Sligo is described as “a cold dark town, assaulted by rain so brutal, it makes the houses shiver and huddle like people at a football match.” What finally engages the reader however is the character of Roseanne who is very much a modern heroine but has the misfortune of being born during the wrong era. It’s a tale of woe as she suffers deprivation and marginalization at the hands of the cruel and the prejudiced. At this point you might be wondering why bother with such a story, and the answer is that we come to care for this character whose will to survive and to believe in inherent goodness remains intact.
What is interesting as well in this novel is the way Barry captures the vagaries and shifting nature of truth. There is no one objective truth in this novel (as in life), just the different facets of it, as viewed from different points of view and by different individuals. And if truth is a slippery ever shifting thing, memory and history which is supposed to rely on it, can never be fully reconciled. As Roseanne points out, “No one has the monopoly on the truth, and that is vexing and worrying thought.”
So much of the characters personal history must as well be evaluated against the canvass of history. In this novel, this is an Ireland ravaged by war with deep and lasting enmities. Against such a backdrop, the characters can never escape and are condemned to struggle perpetually against the weight of their own history. It makes it all the more remarkable that Roseanne is able to reach for her own happiness, fleeting though it may be.
mardi 4 novembre 2008
The book takes as its focal point the parallel lives of Lagerfeld and St. Laurent who are arguably two of the most influential designers in fashion. It paints in vivid and rich details their respective careers, from their auspicious beginnings, to their full blown unrelenting rivalry against the backdrop of 70s Paris and all the way until the emergence of Lagerfeld at the head of Chanel. In Drake’s hands, Paris, as it emerges from the restrained post war years to a more exuberant and reckless mood is the crucial third character to the duo of Lagerfeld and St. Laurent who certainly used the city as the staging ground of their artistic aspirations and their more personal undertakings. There is no shortage of controversial details in the book. But such controversial facts never distract from what is clearly a well researched portrait of two figures that couldn’t be more different from the other. Drake paints in careful brushstrokes the heady parties, the excessive relationships and the simmering jealousies that surrounded Lagerfeld and St. Laurent and you come away with a sense of being immersed in a completely different world, one that is normally off limits to mortals like you and I. More importantly we come away with a much greater understanding of these two gigantic personalities. Whatever else we might think of them, this book allows us to have a much greater appreciation of their enormous talent, their verve and yes, survival skills. Equally intriguing are the stories behind seemingly well known facts about various famous personages. Just one example would be what we learn about Pierre Bergé who emerges as a much more sympathetic figure. This book contains a veritable who’s who in the fashion world.
Lest you think that this book is all glitter and gossip, it must be pointed out that it is also an invaluable resource for appreciating in far greater detail the giant steps taken by fashion at the hand of these two masters. Women now take for granted the ease of the trouser suit but this was a highly daring and innovative move when St. Laurent first debuted the “le smoking” in the late 60s. Nor should we underestimate how much Lagerfeld changed the way people viewed fashion by nimbly adapting trends even before people knew what they wanted. More importantly, he was the first to realize the almost global impact that fashion could have. As a master of endless reinvention, Lagerfeld is the best and Madonna is not fit to holds candle to him.
So the next time you have the urge to read a good biography, a fashion book, or one set in Paris, I suggest you go with The Beautiful Fall. You won’t regret it.
vendredi 31 octobre 2008
mercredi 29 octobre 2008
We have just confirmed that Agnes Desarthe will be joining Anne Marsella for our reading on the 14th of November (Friday). She will be reading from her latest book Chez Moi (Mangez Moi in french). Along with Anne Marsella's book Remedy, Chez Moi is one of our most recommended books. Penelope and I loved this book! To read a review of her book, please click and scroll down here. Needless to say, we are very excited and happy to welcome Anne and Agnes on the 14th of November at RWB!
When he was 16 years old, while working at Buenos Aires’ Pygmalion bookstore, Manguel was asked by Borges if he would like to be his reader. Borges had already gone blind by the time he asked, and in fact had gotten into the habit of asking any and everyone. And so for four years, Manguel would visit three or four times a week to read to him. His book, With Borges, distills those years.
While his sessions with Borges were reading sessions, it was enough for an astute observer like Manguel to capture Borges’ essence as a writer. For fans of Borges, myself included, this is an invaluable addition to his writings. There is no doubt that Borges was a prolific and more importantly, a beautiful writer but short of having access to academic works or his biography, it is rare to find a volume that discusses his philosophy of writing in such a succinct yet elegant manner. We can never underestimate Borges influence on writing or other writers and even on his country. As Manguel points out, “Borges renewed the Spanish language…that his generous reading methods, allowed him to bring into Spanish felicities from other tongues: English turns of phrase or the German ability to hold until the end of a sentence its subject.” But more than refreshing the Spanish language, Borges’ writings have fixed Argentina permanently into the collective consciousness. “When Borges began writing, Buenos Aires (so far from Europe, the perceived center of culture), felt vague and indistinct, and seemed to require a literary imagination to impose it upon reality. Now Buenos Aires feels more real because it exists in Borges’ pages.” That’s quite a feat if you think about it.
My favorite passage, is that which talks about books. “For Borges, the core of reality lay in books, reading books, writing books, talking about books. In a visceral way, he was conscious of continuing a dialogue begun thousands of years before and which he believed would never end. Books restored the past.” As someone who lives and breathes books on a daily basis, this is one credo to live by.
lundi 27 octobre 2008
New in Fiction (in Trade edition and paperback)
1. The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
2. The American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
3. The Widows of Eastwick by John Updike
4. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
5. World without End by Ken Follett
6. Almost Moon by Alice Sebold (currently no 1 in the best seller lists in UK)
7. Biografi by Lloyd Jones
8. The Collection by Gioia Diliberto (one of my favorite books on Chanel, and to read the review I wrote, click and scroll down here)
9. Breakdowns by Art Spiegelman
New in Non Fiction1. Payback by Margaret Atwood
2.The Anglo files by Sarah Lyall
3. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Fergunson
4. In Tearing Haste by Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor
5. Angler: Inside the Shadow Presidency of Dick Cheney by Barton Gelman
6. Sartre's Sink by Mark Crick
7.Out of the Shadows by Francois Maspero
8. Chagall by Jackie Wulschlager
And for all Francophiles...
1. French Milk by Lucy Knisley
2.I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do) by Mark Greenside
3. Journal by Helene Berr
lundi 20 octobre 2008
14th of November (Friday)--RWB reading with Anne Marsella. She will be reading from her book Remedy, which was included in the Telegraph's article of 50 Most Worth Talking About Books. For more details on the article, see... http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/3212732/Most-worth-talking-about-books.html. Anne will also be presenting Patsy Boone her first book in French.
25th of November (Tuesday)---a night of poetry with Beverly Bie Brahic, Elizabeth Haukass and Jonathan Regier. Beverly will be reading from "Against Gravity," and her translations of Hélène Cixous’s "Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint," "Manhattan," "Dream I Tell You" , as well as from "Unfinished Ode to Mud," her new selection of prose poems by Francis Ponge. Elizabeth will be reading from her new poetry collection, Leap which won the Walt McDonald First-book Award for Poetry. Jonathan Regier will be reading from his debut collection of poems titled Three Years from Upstate.
4th of December (Thursday)---RWB will be at the official Paris launch of Corkscrewed:Adventures in the New French Wine Country by Robert V. Camuto at Juveniles Wine Bar 47, rue de Richelieu, 1e, Mº Pyramides. There will be a book signing and, since its all about wine, set in a wine bar, its only fitting that there will also be wine tasting.
Eh voila..marvelous things coming up! Keep reading us for further details about all the exciting things going on at your favorite bookstore!
jeudi 16 octobre 2008
mardi 14 octobre 2008
lundi 6 octobre 2008
We are looking forward to seeing everybody at RWB on the 13th of October for Joe Ashby Porter's reading!
New in Hardcover Fiction
1. The Whiskey Rebel by David Liss
2. Happy Families by Carlos Fuentes
3. The Wednesday sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
4. The Dancer and the Thief by Antonio Skarmeta
5. A Good Husband by Anne Cherian
New in Paperback Fiction
1. Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee
2. The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
3. The Pyramid by Henning Mankell
4. The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
5. The Comfort of Saturdays by Alexander McCall Smith
6. Tales from the Town of Widows by James Canon
7. Anathem by Neal Stephenson
8. Taxi by Khaled Al Khamiss
9. The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perotta
10. Sweetsmoke by David Fuller
11.Confessions of a Fallen Angel by Ronan O'Brien
12. A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven by Karl O. Knausgaard
13. The Other Hand by Chris Cleave
14. Me and Kaminski by Daniel Kehlmann
15. The Bend Boys by Richard Lange
mardi 30 septembre 2008
The story is told in alternating chapters between Madame Renée Michel, the concierge at no 7 rue de Grenelle and Paloma Josse, the precocious daughter of one of the bourgeois families of the building. Renée hides a fierce intelligence, love of literature (notably of Leo Tolstoy) and love of Japanese culture. But, she is forced such shining facets of her personality under the veneer of what the French have come to expect from a concierge—stupid, old, ugly and sour. She only has her friend Manuela, to relieve the tedium and penury of her existence. Paloma on the other hand, is an extremely intelligent (in her own words) young girl who is disillusioned by her family and their privileged, if pointless, way of life and as such has decided to end her existence in a fiery blaze on her 13th birthday. Each seem set on their respective course till an elegant Japanese gentleman comes to live in their building. From such a random occurrence their collective lives change as they discover that there is more to the other than meets the eye.
I have to admit that my main problem with the book was its basic premise that a person, deemed lowly in social station, could not possibly be more than what society thinks the person should be. This book assumes that its (French) readers would take it as a matter of course that a concierge would be lacking intelligence and culture. Even worse was the way it was repeated all throughout the text. Barberry takes pains to drive home the lowliness of Renee’s station every so often that it jars the reader from the text. It was quite disturbing for me, but perhaps as an Anglophone reader, there is a cultural context here that I am missing. The fact that the whole story hinges on this presumption undermines what Barberry set out to do—which in essence is to write a meditative tale on philosophy, art and unlikely friendships. There are passages in the book that are quite lovely especially her philosophy musings on art and beauty and what these concepts mean to us. Or how beauty can be found in the most fleeting of moments. To wit, “the most noble concepts often emerge from the most coarse and commonplace things….Beauty is consonance [but] if you think about it at all seriously, esthetics is really nothing more than an initiation to the Way of Consonance, a sort of Way of the Samurai applied to the intuition of authentic forms. We all have knowledge of harmony, anchored deep within. It is this knowledge that enables us, at every instance, to apprehend quality in our lives and on the rare occasions when everything is in perfect harmony , to appreciate it with the apposite intensity. ..Those who feel inspired as I do by the greatness of small things will pursue them to the very heart of the inessential where, cloaked in everyday attire, this greatness will emerge from the certainty that all is as it should be, the conviction that it is fine this way.” Barberry is in her element when it comes to writing these parts of the book and to my mind, they are the best parts.
Read the Elegance of the Hedgehog if you want to have an insight into the French psyche with its deep and abiding interest in philosophical musings on art, beauty and truth.
samedi 27 septembre 2008
Brisinger by Christopher Paolini is the concluding volume to the Inheritance Cyle (Eragon and Eldest being the first two). Paolini had quite a memorable debut since Eragon was published when he was just 17. Pretty impressive and his book has since been turned into a movie! Brisinger promises to be another exciting addition to the fantasy genre.
jeudi 25 septembre 2008
Last night we were privileged to have the wonderful Amy Bloom with us at the RWB. We never tire of telling everyone that her book Away is one of our favorites and its true too. It was with great excitement that we asked Amy to come for a reading and luckily she accepted right away. In person, she is smart as a whip and despite her jet lag was witty and funny. I loved how the way she read Away gave an extra dimension to Lillian, its memorable heroine. And I’m glad that she didn’t kill her off because we learned that she actually contemplated killing Lillian while writing the novel. Lucky for us that her editor talked her out of it! Because we were a rather intimate group last night, we were able to have a good discussion with her. Our questions ranged from what inspires you to advice on the writing process. I thought it was really interesting how she made the distinction between sentimentality and romanticism. The line between the two is clearly a blurry one and a less skilled writer can’t or doesn’t always distinguish between the two. If you think about it, there are a great number of sentimental novels passing themselves off as romantic ones. What’s great about Amy’s work, whether in the short story form or the novel, is that she is able to cut out all the extraneous sentimentality to leave the bare bones of feeling in the stories that make them even more unforgettable. Before we closed our evening with her, we asked her who her favorite authors are and we were surprised (though I don’t know why it should be surprising) to learn that she is a great fan of mystery novels ,P.D. James and Ed Mcbain being some of them. I thought that was a nice segue into the next author to have a reading with us who just happens to be a great mystery writer!
It is none other than Cara Black who was with us tonight. She is famous for her Aimeé Leduc mystery novels. Eight novels so far, each set in different arrondissements of Paris. Despite her cold, Cara was en plein forme, wonderfully entertaining and lively. She is a great raconteur and we were treated to stories behind her books. She did a great job whetting the audience’s appetite for Murder in the Rue de Paradis which is set in the 10th arrondissment of Paris. And while I knew that an enormous amount of research goes into each of her books, it was clear from tonight just how much really goes into each one. We are fortunate for her attention to detail because the books really come alive for their authenticity and richness of details. It was a lively group tonight with people peppering Cara with questions on how she came to write about a female detective. And it was interesting to learn that she in fact based Aimeé on a family run detective company, whose office is in a street on Rue du Louvre. A switch of the syllables and from Deluc we have Leduc. One of the most interesting things to come out of our reading tonight was something Cara said. She said that a mystery novel is a really great way of telling a story. Why? For the simple reason that there is a neat and tidy resolution to it that we rarely have in real life.
dimanche 21 septembre 2008
The running theme through this collection is love, in all its forms and all the ways by which we seek, destroy and nurture love. But this is by no means a fairy tale collection of maidens and princes with their happy ever after stories. Instead we have stories of flawed people struggling with death and crippling grief (Love is not a Pie, Sleepwalking and Semper Fidelis), madness and illness (Silver Water) and loneliness (Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines and When the Year Grows Old). What leavens the potential for despair is the luminous prose and the palpable sense of hope that permeates these stories. Underlying each story is the rich empathy with which Bloom writes. In this day and age where a true happy ending begins to seem like a myth, Bloom offers us stories of the next best thing—the possibility of happiness and that all important second chance.
mardi 16 septembre 2008
New in Hardcover Non-Fiction
1. The Definitive Guide to Stuff White People Like by Christian Lander
2. Eat Me--The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin
3.Turkemeniscam by Ken Silverstein
4. An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
5. Churchill's Wizards by Nicholas Rankin
6. Left in Dark Times by Bernard-Henri Levy
7. The Terminal Spy by Alan Cowell
8. Moving to Higher Ground by Wynton Marsalis
9. The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank
10. Mrs. Woolf and the Servants by Alison Light
New in Hardcover Fiction
1.Indignation by Philip Roth
2. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry
3. Fine Just the Way it is by Annie Proulx
4. The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent
5. Home by Marilynne Robinson
6. Spook's Mistake by Joseph Delaney
New in Paperback Fiction
1. The Believers by Zoe Heller
2. Doors Open by Ian Rankin
3. The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam
4. An Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
5. The Night Villa by Carol Goodman
And if you haven't written down the dates, here they are again--Amy Bloom on the 24th of September and Cara Black on the 25th. Readings start at 7pm!
jeudi 11 septembre 2008
It tells the story of a group of disparate strangers, brought together by fate in the guise of the workings of the British Empire in the Far East to one place, the Ibis. The Ibis is an old slave ship, newly out fitted for its new purpose of trading opium from India to China. But before it commences its opium journey, it must first transport a group of slaves destined for the islands of Mauritius.
With this premise, Ghosh carefully lays in place the stories of the principal characters. There is Deeti, with the clear gray eyes of a witch who loses her husband to opium addiction and is forced to flee her abusive brother in law. Paulette Lambert, an orphan who seeks a way of returning to Mauritius, her mother’s birthplace after she learns that she is to be engaged against her will. Then there is the disgraced Raja Neel Halder, who unwittingly loses all his property to his British partner Benjamin Burnham. And finally there is Zachary Reid, a free mulatto man seeking to make his fortune in the Far East. Despite their different stories they are all forced to flee their circumstances and somehow end up in the Ibis. In the hands of a less skilled writer, the weaving together of these different tales might well seem implausible, even contrived, but such is Ghosh’ skill that he is able to do so in a perfectly convincing way. It is to our benefit that he takes his time to tell each tale so that they blend together seamlessly. There is also a strong narrative structure that propels the story forward. Length ceases to matter as the story takes you irresistibly along. Don’t be put-off by the shipping jargon and free use of the Bhojpuri language. This is an epic and addictive tale and you will be swept along.
More than the engaging story however and the irresistible narrative, what really elevates Ghosh’ work is the way he perfectly captures the sense of displacement that is engendered by colonialism. He is able to describe in heartbreaking detail the callousness with which the British overlords enriched themselves at the expense of their Indian colonies. Set in the 1830’s when opium was the primary trading good of the British, these were the days when Indian farmers were forced to grow poppy, and only poppy. For me, what was most galling was the idea that the natives were supposed to be grateful for being on the receiving end of civilisation and religion as brought to them by the British. But at what price?
As Deeti puts it “in the old days, the fields would be heavy with wheat in the winter, and after the spring harvest, the straw would be used to repair the damage of the year before. ..But now, the factory’s appetite for opium never seemed to be sated. Come the cold weather, the English sahibs would allow little else to be planted; their agents would go from home to home, forcing cash advances on the farmers making them sign asami contracts. It was impossible to say no to them.”
Little wonder then that hundreds would be forced to take desperate measures to save their lives and their families, even such measures that would take them far away from all that they know and love. One of the most beautiful passages in the book comes almost to the end, when the characters have crossed the line into the Black Water, the great unknown…"How had it happened that when choosing men and women who were to be torn from this subjugated plain, the hand of destiny had strayed so far inland, away from the busy coastlines, to alight on the people who were, of all the most stubbornly rooted in the silt of the Ganga, in a soil that had to be sown with suffering to yield its crop of story and song? It was as if fate had thrust its fist through the living flesh of the land in order to tear away a piece of its stricken heart.”