Moody Scandinavian thrillers and Asian coming-of-age seem to be the big themes.
A professional boxer and a family man meet by chance on a journey to the Pamplona Bull Run. The boxer is fleeing an unhappy love. The father hopes to escape his dull routine. Both know that, eventually, they will have to return to the place each calls “home”.
Written in the 1940s, this novel by the Egyptian Nobel laureate Mahfouz deals with the plight of impoverished classes in an old quarter of Cairo. The lives and situations depicted create an atmosphere of sadness and tragic realism. Indeed, few of the characters are happy or successful. Protagonist Hamida, an orphan raised by a foster mother, is drawn into prostitution. Kirsha, the owner of a cafe in the alley, is a drug addict and a lustful homosexual. Zaita makes a living by disfiguring people so that they can become successful beggars. Transcending time and place, the social issues treated here are relevant to many Arab countries today. With this satisfying tale, Mahfouz, often called the Charles Dickens of Arabic literature, achieves a high level of excellence as a novelist and storyteller. Highly recommended.
Nobel laureate Grass's deft new collection of stories thoroughly and intimately marks the passing of the 20th century. Comprising 100 monologues, each named after a year of the century and spoken by characters who represent a broad spectrum of German society, the work becomes the literary equivalent of a choral symphony. The stories include the reminiscences of ex-Nazis about their activities in 1934; a dead woman's perspective on Germany after the crumble of the Berlin Wall (1999); a delirious letter by the turn-of-the-century poet Else Lasker-Schüler (found by the story's narrator in a used book), in which she imagines herself to be 20 years younger than she is (1901); and the author's descriptions of his beleaguered personal life (1987). Several entries establish some continuity from year to year, while other segments clash brilliantly with each other. The volume progresses less like a narrative than like an argument, each year's oral history advancing the thesis that history and personal identity are inextricably linked. . . Grass (The Tin Drum) concludes with the memories of a 103-year-old woman who has been brought back to life by her novelist son for the purposes of his fiction. As she says: "I'm also looking forward to the year 2000. We'll see what comes of it... "
Eric Winter, at 40, is Sweden's youngest chief inspector, but his brow is already starting to furrow in the manner of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander. In this American debut of what promises to be a superior procedural series, a plethora of seemingly insoluble problems contribute to Winter's sense of growing discontent: his father is dying in Spain; his pregnant girlfriend is moving into his apartment; and a bloody double murder suggests a serial killer. As in the Wallander series, the focus here lands not only on the hero but also on his entire team, as Edwardson details the slow grind of the investigative process. The action, beginning in fall 1999 and extending into spring 2000, effectively uses the Y2K panic to heighten the sense of troubled waters approaching that grips Winter and those around him. The comparison to Mankell is obvious, but in many ways, this series harkens further back, to Sjowall and Wahloo's early Martin Beck novels, in which another youngish Swedish inspector was beginning to realize that sometimes a crime's solution solves nothing.
A stunning literary thriller in the tradition of Gorky Park and the novels of John Le Carré.
Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen is the daughter of a Danish doctor and an Inuit woman from Greenland. Raised in Greenland, she lives in Copenhagen and, as befits her ancestry, is an expert on snow. When one of her few friends, an Inuit boy, dies under mysterious circumstances, she refuses to believe it was an accident.
She decides to investigate and discovers that even the police don't want her involved. But Smilla persists, and as snow-covered Copenhagen settles down for a quiet Christmas, Smilla's investigation leads her from a fanatically religious accountant, to a tough-talking pathologist, to the secret files of the Danish company responsible for extracting most of Greenland's mineral wealth. Finally, she boards a ship with an international cast of villains - and a large stash of cocaine - bound for a mysterious mission on an inhospitable island off Greenland.
In this translation of a best-selling novel first published in Japan in 1987, the young narrator, Mikage, moves into the apartment of a friend whose mother is murdered early in the tale. What seems like a coming-of-age melodrama quickly evolves into a deeply moving tale filled with unique characters and themes. Along the way, readers get a taste of contemporary Japan, with its mesh of popular American food and culture. Mikage addresses the role of death, loneliness, and personal as well as sexual identity through a set of striking circumstances and personal remembrances. "Moonlight Shadows," a novella included here, is a more haunting tale of loss and acceptance. In her simple and captive style, Yoshimoto confirms that art is perhaps the best ambassador among nations.
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