samedi 28 juin 2008

Book Launch

RWB is pleased to invite everyone to the book launch of Michael Genelin's debut novel on the 8th of July. Michael is a long time friend of RWB. In fact it is worth mentioning that it was RWB's own Penelope Le Masson who suggested Soho Press as publisher for his book.
Siren of the Waters is the story of Jana Matinova, now Commander of the Slovak police force. The story takes place all over Europe as she tracks down the mastermind of an international crime ring involved in human trafficking. It is the first of a planned series of mystery stories set in Slovakia.
Get your copy now at RWB!

A novel for our times

The US has undoubtedly seen its fair share of tragedy but nothing in recent memory has done more to change the face of America than the horrific events of September 11. Several years after this date, its safe to say that the US is still dealing with its repercussions. Given the immensity of such event it is no wonder that recent literature has had to deal with it. One notable example would be Sorrows of An American by Siri Hustvedt and a notable other is Don Delillo’s Falling Man which tackles the aftermath of the tragedy through the lives of a dysfunctional family.
The novel opens with the day itself. A man is covered in blood and ashes and the whole world seems remade in smoke and fire. The story goes on to trace the aftermath of this event in the lives of Keith, his estranged wife Lianne and Nina, Lianne’s mother. They deal with 9/11 in their own different ways. Keith goes on to reconcile with Lianne yet embarks on an affair with a fellow survivor. Lianne is bothered by all the Islamic references that are seemingly everywhere and even confronts a neighbor over the playing of Middle Eastern music. Nina breaks up with her old lover whom she fears was once connected to a terrorist group.
Delillo has always been renowned for prose that has proven to be prescient. Readers won’t help but remember his much earlier novel Players published over 24 years ago which described the twin towers as temporary presences in the landscape. How unfortunate that this has proven to be true. Falling Man is written in a prose that is spare and measured. There is no excessive hysteria, just steady measured writing that somehow captures more tellingly the scope of the human tragedy and the changes it brings about. The subject being so potentially incendiary, Delillo’s writing ensures that the story doesn’t descend to melodrama or pander towards prurient interest. The wreckage of the towers is something indelibly carved into our collective modern consciousness regardless of which side of the fence we are sitting on. And while the characters struggle to rebuild their lives, they are aware, as are we, the readers that things cannot be and are in fact, no longer the same. The idea of home and safety is forever changed and we all must live with it.

jeudi 26 juin 2008

The weekend is coming up and what better time than now to pick up a few titles to read....

New in Non Fiction
1. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
2. Goose Fat and Garlic by Jeanne Strang
3. Post American World by Fareed Zakaria
4. Terror and Consent by Philip Bobbitt
5. The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky

New in Fiction
1. The Road Home by Rose Tremain (Winner of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2008)
2. Siren of the Water by Michael Genelin (Watch out for the upcoming book launch at RWB!)
3. The Missing Person's Guide to Love by Susanna Jones
4. De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage
5. Say You're One of Them by Uwen Akpan
6. Luxe by Anna Godberson
7. Before by Irina Spanidou
8. America America by Ethan Canin
9. Guide to the Bird's of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson
10. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland

samedi 14 juin 2008

Sometimes you come across a small gem of a book that hits all the right notes. Alan Bennett’s novella The Uncommon Reader is one such book. It takes as a premise the idea of the Queen of England discovering a travelling library within the grounds of the Palace. From such an inauspicious beginning start a surprising love affair with books and its often unwanted consequences for those around her. For her this appetite for reading is all the more powerful because she discovers it a bit late in the day, so to speak.
Much like everyone else, what I know of the Queen depends on what’s in the news or movies, notably the Queen (where Helen Mirren played the role to eerie perfection). Reading this book however one gets a real sense of her character. This is perhaps attributable to Bennett’s skills as a writer or it could be because he really does know the Queen. But what is marvelous about this book is the sheer unalloyed joy it conveys about the pleasures of reading and the universality of the reading experience. To paraphrase, books don’t care who’s reading them, whether it is a great personage or a person like you or I. And more importantly, it is not about passing time, but about discovering other lives and other worlds. That to my mind has to be one of the greatest things about spending your time with a good book in hand.

jeudi 12 juin 2008

An invitation to a reading

On Tuesday, the 17th of June, Clayton Eshleman will be reading from his newest book The Complete Poetry, Cesar Vallejo at the Red Wheelbarrow. Mr. Eshleman has previously published other translations of Cesar Vallejo’s poetry but it is only in his latest book that all his previous works are included in one volume. It includes The Black Heralds (1918), Trilce (1922), Human Poems (1939), and Spain, Take This Cup from Me (1939). It is a forty year labor of love for Mr. Eshleman as he has consistently strived over the years to “translate, but never interpret” the works of Vallejo in the most accurate manner. Since its publication the book has garnered critical praise. Mr. Eshleman is also the acclaimed writer of Archaic Design, a collection of his own poetry, essays and notes as well as Juniper Fuse, his book on the Upper Paleolithic Caves in southwestern France.
Everyone is invited to join us in what surely must be one of the most interesting events of the summer. The event starts at 7pm at Red Wheelbarrow at 22 rue St. Paul 75004. We look forward to seeing you there.

mercredi 11 juin 2008

One for the girls

This past week seems to have been devoted to girl power! I had the pleasure of watching Sex and the City with a girl friend and now I’ve just finished with the Girls of Riyadh, the debut novel of Rajaa Alsanea. And while the girls of the aforementioned book, are likewise fans of Sex and the City (and probably would’ve watched the movie too) the book deals with much more than sex and the city. Pun intended! Back to the book, it is all about a group of 4 university friends from Riyadh, trying to gracefully make their way through the tangled weave of modern love and life. Their lot is complicated by the fact that they have strict cultural and religious traditions to contend with.
The story unfolds through a series of emails sent every week after Friday prayers. The four girls are Gamrah, Michelle, Sadeem and Lamees and they are pretty much like other modern girls everywhere. They are preoccupied with finding their place in society and leaving their mark on it. Of course it goes without saying that they are deeply preoccupied with love, specifically the search and finding of the One. And maybe because I’ve just seen Sex and the City, but the girls predicament is so cannily echoed by Charlotte’s plaintive cry that she’d been dating since 15 and was tired of not finding the ONE!
What easily lifts this book out from the pile of easily dismissed chick lit genre is that it is one of the few books written by a distinctly modern Arabic female writer that is available to us non-Arabic readers. And if it seems that much emphasis is placed on the writer’s gender, it cannot be emphasized enough that it is a rare enough occasion that readers are treated to a an insider’s account (albeit a literary one) of women’s lives in a part of the world that remains veiled, pun unintended, to non Western eyes. If its only achievement is to open our eyes to the daily struggle, frustrations and even triumphs of young Arabic women, then it is more than enough. But as it is, the Girls of Riyadh is also funny, smart and well written with plenty of things to say about women that is worth listening to.
RWB Question: Women’s friendships are a thematic staple in literature, what is the book (or books) that you and your group of girls love?

mardi 3 juin 2008

The new one on the block

Just as there are always foreigners moving to Paris, there will always be brave souls willing to put their experiences to pen and paper. Let’s see, there’s the whole gamut from Ernest Hemingway, to John Baxter to Adam Gopnik who all have written about their sojourn to Paris. The Johnny come lately on to the scene is Bryce Corbett, a transplanted Australian. Bored to tears in London, with no prospects (either in love or career), he decides to accept a job offer, and it’s a rather cushy one at that, in Paris. He embarks on his new life with great gusto and his book A Town Like Paris essentially details his adventures and scrapes in the city of light.
His writing style is quick and breezy and I have the impression that he writes exactly as he speaks. Nothing is safe from his frequently acerbic observations of French life or foibles and if the tone is at times arrogant and knowing, his obvious affection for the city of Paris and even life in Paris somehow makes up for it. Readers will certainly appreciate that he has made the effort to present his experiences in a humorous way given that moving to a new country where one has neither family nor friends is not the easiest thing.
Reading the book made me recall my initial experiences when I first moved to Paris. And it was interesting to note the differences between them. One of the things that struck me was the anecdote about the French attitude towards alcohol at dinner parties. He found it strange that at French parties, no one ever made the first move to pour drinks and as a consequence all the bottles were waiting at the table while people mingled and circulated without drinks. Needless to say, he soon succumbed to pouring his own drink at such parties despite the frequent gasps of horror he heard when he did it. Funnily enough my problem in the beginning was that copious amounts of alcohol always flowed so freely that it was all I could do to refuse the umpteenth refill of my drink!
Whatever differences in experience we might have, I do agree with Bryce on one thing. We share the inescapable experience of the expatriate in Paris. Neither he nor I will ever be Parisian, but our home now is Paris.

And now a Question for all RWB readers, what has been your most memorable expatriate experience in Paris? Email or post a comment and share it with us!