jeudi 21 août 2008

Halfway through August and people are starting to trickle back into town. Just in time for the great new books that have just arrived in store...

New in Hardcover Fiction
1. From A to X A Story in Letters by John Berger
2. Man in the Dark by Paul Auster
3. The Private Patient by PD James
4. A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
5. The Lazarus Project by Aleksander Hemon

New in Paperback Fiction
1. The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa
2.Right Livelihoods by Rick Moody
3. Good to be God by Tibor Fischer
4. By George by Wesley Stace
5. Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
6. Nina Todd has Gone by Lesley Glaister
7. Drive Time by James Meek

mercredi 20 août 2008

After having read the excellent Uwem Akpan’s debut novel, I turned my attentions to Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger. It is another first novel, this time from an Indian writer and like Akpan’s novel has been drawing a lot of attention. It is even in the Booker Longlist for this year. It is an impressive debut and I was curious to see what the fuss was all about.
The first lines immediately drew me in. It is in fact written as a series of letters over a period of seven days to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Through these letters, Balram Halwai wants to tell the story of how he rose from the position of lowly servant to respectable entrepreneur. And it is quite a tale. Be prepared to be hooked. From the beginning he is different from the rest of his family in his desire to be something else than what has been planned for him. And he is prepared to take the necessary steps to achieve his goals. So he eavesdrops on people, resorts to blackmail and finally, commits murder. As I said it’s quite a tale.
Balram is an amoral and deeply cynical character but despite this, he is an oddly charismatic one. One can’t help but be fascinated by him and his story. He commits murder yet still honors the memory of the man he killed. He saves his nephew yet ponders the thought that it might one day be necessary to do away with him. Perhaps the trait he possesses, which we can all identify with, is his enormous will to make something of himself despite all the odds against him. And the India described in this tale certainly stacks the odds against him. There is the caste system or in Balram’s words the Rooster Coop that prevents anyone from getting out. It is the kind that is self perpetuating and perpetual because the family conspires to keep its members in it in order to survive. How to get out? Only someone prepared to see his family destroyed will be able to fly the coop, as Balram points out. Then there is the immense poverty and pervasive corruption that eats away at everything and anyone. This India is brutal, corrupt and downright ugly. In Adiga’s hands, this India is fascinatingly drawn and more importantly his prose rings with the uncomfortable ring of truth. Given all of the above who is to say that Balram’s act was perhaps the only way to be free?

There is no shortage of African writers, some notable examples being J.M.Coetzee and Andre Brink. One of the newcomers on the literary scene worth watching is Uwem Akpan whose debut book Say You’re One of Them has been reaping rave reviews from critics everywhere. It is a collection of novellas which takes as its primary theme the different experiences of the children of Africa. However these are not gentle children’s tales but rather harrowing tales of poverty, abuse and racial conflict escalating into violent murder. Akpan doesn’t flinch at the gruesome details and instead relates them dispassionately and almost with a clinical detachment. Word to the wise, this book is not for the squeamish. But you’ll be drawn in immediately as I was. From the first story, I realized that this was not going to be an easy read yet the prose is compelling and I was almost unable to surface for air till the last word. There is a masterly grasp of first, the subject matter and second, of the language.
These stories take place all over Africa. From Kenya where a child’s sister turns to prostitution to send him to school and to put food on the table, to Rwanda where the tribal conflict forces parents to do the unimaginable and finally to Nigeria where to my mind, the best story of the collection is set. Luxurious Hearses is by far the longest story in the bunch and can pretty much stand on its own as a novella. What is interesting about this tale is the way it shows a microcosm, through the interaction of the characters , the different aspects of the country itself. All sorts of issues arise and the characters interact in myriad ways with each other. At times they are antagonistic against each other (two women battle for space) at times they band together to come against another (such as when they defend Jubril against the Chief who usurps his seat). When tragedy does befall the principal character, it comes so swiftly that you are left feeling bereft that it could not have been otherwise.
All these stories are heartbreaking in their own way and they bring the desperateness and brutality that are the everyday conditions of these countries in a way that cold hard news doesn’t. If news doesn’t move you, I’m pretty sure these stories will.

lundi 4 août 2008

At long last, one of the year's most awaited books, if not THE most awaited book is finally available! After its stateside release on the 2nd of August, RWB is proud to announce that Breaking Dawn is now available at the store. The fourth and concluding volume in the ongoing Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, this book promises to finally reveal the fates of Bella, Edward and Jacob.

Get a copy while you still can! Watch out for future reviews of Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse here in the blog.