mardi 27 janvier 2009

The newest Newberry Medal winner

We had some exciting news today when the winner of the Newberry Medal was announced. Drumroll please….the John Newberry Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature was awarded to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Despite the great number of excellent children’s books out there, I think the Graveyard Book totally deserves its award and all the praise that’s come its way.
It’s the story of a young boy who survives the assassination of his family by a talented murderer. He finds sanctuary at a graveyard where its denizens decide to adopt him. They name him Nobody (Bod for short) and he is given a guardian to ensure that he will be fed and educated properly as the only living boy in the graveyard. But this is only the beginning of his story.
When we first received the book, I thought that its premise was one of the most unusual ones I’d ever come across in awhile and I thought to myself that I had to read it. I’m so glad I did as it is clearly the work of a master storyteller. In some ways, it reminded me of Kipling’s Jungle Book which I loved when I was a kid. Like Jungle Book, Gaiman’s tale has all the necessary elements to take away the reader from the mundane –a smart and loveable hero, exciting plot twists and turns and huge heapings of humor. It is also wonderfully inventive and I wonder how Gaiman comes up with all his ideas. And if that weren’t enough, the book is illustrated by the very talented Dave McKean and his illustrations capture perfectly the spirit of the story.
If you’ve never read Gaiman before, this is a great introduction to his universe and if you are already acquainted with him, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

lundi 26 janvier 2009

A difficult question

Long before Hollywood set its sights on The Reader, it had already attracted much attention when it was first published in 1995. The Reader or Der Vorleser (“one who reads aloud") by Bernhard Schlink was the first German book to hit the NY Times Best seller list and was heaped with much critical praise in Germany. The story begins when 15 year old Michael Berg falls ill with hepatitis and is helped by the then 36 year old Hanna. After his recovery he returns to thank her and they embark on a passionate affair. Later on she disappears mysteriously from his life. He meets her again when he attends the trial of several women, including Hanna for war crimes during WWII.
In framing the story against the WWII and its aftermath, Schlink poses one of the most difficult questions –what would you do if the person you love is guilty of doing horrific things? There are no easy or definite answers to such a question and it is one that Michael grapples with all his life. And in posing this question, Schlink doesn’t limit the question to the crime to which Hanna is accused of and later incarcerated for. He poses this question to the generation that was present during the war. “Our parents had played a variety of roles in the Third Reich. Several among our fathers had been in the war, two or three of them as officers of the Wehrmacht and one as an officer of the Waffren SS. Some of them held positions as in the judiciary or the local government. We all condemned our parents even if the only charge we could bring was that after 1945 they had tolerated the perpetrators in their midst.” And if this is the case, what should the second generation (the children and their children) do with the knowledge of such crime? Do they stop loving the person? Or are they too condemned because they continue to love this same person?
This novel is not by any means an easy read. But I can't recommend it enough to other people. Schlink doesn’t provide easy answers neither for his character nor for us readers. What he has done is to write his novel with great sensitivity and insight that allows for much reflection. The objective is not so much to assign guilt or blame to specific people but to make us understand that there are some crimes especially those born out of hatred and prejudice that transcend the specific perpetrators. And while there aren’t any answers, there is room for the possibility of redemption and even love. In the end, this is perhaps the great lesson to be learned.

mercredi 21 janvier 2009

New year, new stack of books....

New in Hard Cover Fiction
1. Lark and Termitte by Jayne Anne Phillips
2. The Size of the World by Joan Silber
3. The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough
4. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
5. Once on a Moonless Night by Dai Sijie
6. The Last Bachelor by Jay McInerney
7. The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

New in Trade Paperback Fiction
1. The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
2. My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates
3. The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark
4. Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth

New in Paperback Fiction
1. The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller
2. Trauma by Patrick McGrath
3. The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz
4. Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell
5. The Other Hand by Chris Cleave
6. Cost by Roxana Robinson
7. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
8. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
9. 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo
10. My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead edited by Jeffrey Eugenides

lundi 19 janvier 2009

These gray gray days require uplifting reading material. I initially picked up Mediterranean Summer by David Shalleck and Erol Munuz from my shelves because its bright yellow cover stuck out invitingly. And I love my copy with its beautiful cover containing scenes of the French and Italian Riviera. It was with a sense of snuggling down for a light read that I started the book. I have to say it exceeded my expectations in the most wonderful way.

Essentially it distills David’s experiences while working as a chef on board a luxury sailing yacht owned by one of Italy’s most prominent couples. In the book Il Dottore and La Signora as he calls them, hire him to for the summer as they cruise their way from the French Cote D’Azur all the way to Italy’s Emerald Coast and then back again for the summer season ending Regatta Cup at St. Tropez. And lest you think these are regular folks who want regular meals, they are not. As instructed, David is to prepare three to four course lunches and dinners, taking care not to repeat a single dish for the entire duration of the vacation and using only the freshest local ingredients to make traditional cucina italiana. No mean feat. And let me tell you, as someone who can barely plan a week’s menu, I can fully understand David’s reservations about being able to fulfill the stringent requirements. But fulfill them he does and he passes with flying colors.

This is a book to get deliciously lost into. It is not merely a travelogue detailing the various places they visit, neither is it merely a book on food. It is that wonderful blend of travel and food, that captures with an accurate eye the essence of the places and people that he encountered. It helps enormously that David is a more than an able writer. He writes with genuine flair and even honesty. There is no disguising the fact that his sojourn was mostly work with barely enough time for rest or recreation but through his writing you get a sense of the real love that he has for his work. And if you love to read up on food, this one is full of mouthwatering dishes that make you dream. As an added bonus, he includes recipes of the most memorable dishes at the end of his book.

I closed the book with a sigh, sad that I finished it too quickly. I went to bed dreaming of Positano and red tomatoes ripening in the sun.