The Prank: The Best of Young Chekhov by Anton Chekhov, Maria Bloshsteyn (Translator)

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In 1882, he decided it was time to establish his name and claim to fame properly, and so he picked and carefully put together the twelve stories he considered his best work, intending to publish them with illustrations by his brother Nikolay, a gifted artist himself. The Prank, as Chekhov entitled the book, was all set to go to the printer when a Tsarist censor suppressed the book. Why? Because, as Chekhov wrote to a friend, “my best stories uproot the foundations.”

Satires, send-ups, tales of student life, artistic ambition, hunting parties, troubled families, love and betrayal, these twelve stories, accompanied by Nikolay’s illustrations, display the zest, energy, humor, and unsparing insight that were Chekhov’s from the start.

A depiction of Russian life through humor, candor with a subtle gritty rawness, innuendo only the talented Chekhov achieves with intellectual insight. Descriptive and original, full of verve, relationships paraded with their flaws.  Quite entertaining, I’m biased given I am a huge Chekov fan and of Russian literature in general, a favorite genre. Entertaining collection of twelve short stories, all appealing.

Artists Wives
A satire on Russian bohemian lifestyle from an artist apartment complex. Funny.

Papa
Addresses corruption of Russian society as a father attempts to bribe his sons arithmetic teacher for a passing grade.

St Peters Day
A hunting trip with an eclectic group of men. The harsh treatment towards others demonstrated, social class explored.


Paperback, 168 pages
Expected publication: April 7th 2015 by NYRB Classics (first published March 3rd 2015)
ISBN13: 9781590178362

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Blood-Drenched Beard by Daniel Galera, Alison Entrekin (Translator)

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The mesmerizing story of how a troubled young man’s restorative journey to the seaside becomes a violent struggle with his family’s past.

An incredibly rich read in intricate atmospheric details, a narrative requiring the reader to enjoy the journey not just the destination. Beautifully written combining, mystery, existentialism, complexities of relationships, love, self discovery, myth, legend, memories, YES! Somehow is all meshes together creating a memorable reading adventure with an unforgettable protagonist.

Despite the hodgepodge the narrative offers, it possesses a subtle complexity, rather captivating and hypnotic. The protagonist digs deep without dragging casualties down with him. Heavy in meaning, yet obtainable in exteriority.

Simplistically potent best describes the lush prose, challenging the reader until the very end. Those craving a true literary experience offering a tableau of cerebral engagement – this author along with his accomplished work is for you.

Daniel Galera, a rising voice in Brazilian literature, remember the name, savor his work.


Hardcover, 384 pages
Published January 22nd 2015 by Penguin Press
ISBN13: 9781594205743

The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon

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Dirty, drunk, unloved, and unloving, Hector Loursat has been a bitter recluse for eighteen long years—ever since his wife abandoned him and their newborn child to run off with another man. Once a successful lawyer, Loursat now guzzles burgundy and buries himself in books, taking little notice of his teenage daughter or the odd things going on in his vast and ever-more-dilapidated mansion. But one night the sound of a gunshot penetrates the padded walls of Loursat’s study, and he is forced to investigate. What he stumbles on is a murder.

Simenon has a knack for noir, at least for this reader. I appreciate his emotionally cerebral approach and find all his stories appealing.

Loursat is a difficult character to warm up to. I found myself wanting to slap and embrace him. Just when you sense Loursat has finally emerged from his stupor he slips back into old habits while acknowledging his error, he’s apathetic and pathetic. He’s not just an absent parent, he’s absent from life. You have hope as he somewhat cleans up his act but you soon realize it’s only temporary although far from the recesses where he first started his decline. As all of Simenon’s characters, Loursat is heavily flawed, with few redeeming qualities. Forced into a self discovery journey his missteps continue without remorse or regret. Redemption unattainable as his relationship with his daughter is negatively cemented, the damage irrevocable.

The courtroom scene was rather sterile. Simenon’s writing pulls the reader through once again creating the edge solely relying on Loursat. His affecting characterization in tandem with solid writing conveys the atmosphere perfectly.

Loursat’s years of drinking should have killed him, his road to sobriety seems a miracle given his history and short time without drink, plausibility heavily questioned. Despite my dislikes it’s still a worthwhile read, writing alone makes the effort gratifying.


Paperback, 194 pages
Published October 24th 2006 by NYRB Classics (first published 1940)
ISBN13: 9781590171943

The Door by Magda Szabó, Len Rix (Translator)

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The Door is the story of friendship between two very different women in post-war Hungary.

Post war Hungary – two very different women forge a friendship. A writer and a housekeeper develop a complicated bond, a intricate psychological dependency of sorts – healthy and unhealthy.

The women are explored in tremendous detail. The narrator is mute but her thoughts vocally seep through the narrative as she reveals herself and her feelings and thoughts of Emerence. We are privy to the many relationships surrounding Emerence and we witness the narrator stumble upon her own success as she is somewhat removed from Emerence’s intimate circle.

The story is presented in the form of memory, reflection, therefore lacking an abundance of dialog. It is tragic, brilliant and sad. It’s a narrative requiring the reader to slowly enjoy the complex layers as they are revealed, it is slowly thoughtful and meant to be savored in this exact manner.


Hardcover, 262 pages
Published October 20th 2005 by Harvill Secker (first published 1987)
ISBN13: 9781843431930

The Sabi by Diane Brown

imageBorn in South Africa when apartheid was in full throttle Diane Brown shares her story. Diane suffered through violence and racism slashing her sense of self which lead to a failed suicide attempt.

“I was born into a violent world. I grew up in violence. I live in a violent world. I experienced and witnessed violence in my home, in my school, on the playgrounds, in the streets, among siblings, in relationships, on the television, among parents and everywhere else. In South Africa violence is pandemic, and it is as common a phenomenon and part of our culture and psyche as boerewors, biltong and sunny skies.”

Her father was both physical and verbally abusive towards Diane as well as the entire family. He was a overzealous disciplinarian, no doubt sole ruler of his castle.

Despite Diane being born with both African and European heritage, her looks resembled more of an African woman. She suffered a tremendous amount of violence and racism based on her looks. Unfortunately her skin color and hair texture caused her grief within her family, siblings possessing lighter skin and silkier hair deemed more attractive. Thus being treated in this manner incited a path towards depression.

“The people in my life have done unthinkable things and said hurtful things to me; I try to step outside of my pain and let things go, and once again embrace them, because we all make mistakes. But it has been my experience that I am not allowed to make mistakes or have flaws, which is an impossibility of course, because I am flawed. But the retaliation and punishment that I receive in these times I feel do not fit the flaws or the perceived crime. Sometimes I could just be presumed to be flawed and then I am punished. Those punishments, particularly when they attack who I am naturally, my character and life decisions, are painful beyond measure.”

Diane was fortunate to discover her essence and accept herself and change for the better. Listening to her inner voice “The Sabi” the reader joins her in her self-discovering sojourn.

“It was their turn to realise any value in me and treat me like I was important to them, and if they could not do that I did not want them in my space, no matter how much I loved them.”

Reading of Diane’s treatment was tough at times, often I closed the book and stepped away. She is brave and unselfish in telling her story and it is greatly acknowledged. An array of emotions will be tested reading this story.

The Sabi is insightful, the apartheid regime is explored – including color classification. Diane’s story is inspiring beyond words. This is not just a story of violence and abuse, this is a story of one amazingly strong woman’s healing. A story of a courageous woman with incredible staying power overcoming injustices.

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Paperback, 254 pages
Published July 1st 2013 by New Generation Publishing (first published June 13th 2013)
ISBN13: 9781909740846

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi

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“A man does not know a woman’s value, Firdaus. She is the one who determines her value. The higher you price yourself, the more he will realize what you are really worth.”

Saadawi brilliantly describes the predicament of Firdaus, a woman sentenced to death for a slaying in self-defense.


“Everybody has to die. I prefer to die for a crime I have committed rather than to die for one of the crimes which you have committed.”

Firdaus tells her life story which is heartbreaking, a story often retold in many regions throughout the world. A woman’s independence in a patriarchal society, female circumcision and subjugation of women are unfolded in the telling of Woman at Point Zero. Saadawi an accomplished feminist author creates a self-analysis on why males behave they way they do. She points the story in the direction of how men view women. This story should not be looked upon strictly towards third world countries but the entire world.

“Every single man I did get to know filled me with but one desire: to lift my hand and bring it smashing down on his face.”

An emotional story, a courageous heroine giving insight to issues frequently ignored as well as a hard look at attaining respect, and the nature of power.

Firdaus is an incredible woman, a steady voice of strength for women suffering oppression and senseless abuse in the name of religion or cultural traditions. A woman defining heroine.

“Yet not for a single moment did I have any doubts about my own integrity and honour as a woman. I knew that my profession had been invented by men, and that men were in control of both our worlds, the one on earth, and the one in heaven. That men force women to sell their bodies at a price, and that the lowest paid body is that of a wife. All women are prostitutes of one kind or another.”

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Published September 15th 1997 by Zed Books (first published 1973)
Paperback, 112 pages
ISBN13: 9780862321109

The Garden of Evening Mists by Twan Eng Tan

The Garden of Evening Mists

The Garden of Evening Mists is an eloquently written book of memory – remembering and forgetting. Tan Twan Eng invites us to discover the relationship between Yun Ling Teoh, who was a Japanese prisoner during World War II, and later served as an apprentice of a Japanese gardener Nakamura Aritomo.

The meat of the story takes place in Malay during World War II while the story is actually told in three different time periods: the late 1980s, when the main character writes down her story, the early 1950s when the main action takes place, and World War II, which provides the backdrop for the story.

The Garden of Evening Mists covers a lot of territory. Tan Twan Eng incorporates existential gardening concepts such as shakkei, “borrowed scenery”; which “every aspect of gardening is a form of deception”;  the “Art of Setting Stones” is back-breaking;  a garden is the expression of spiritual states. Eng also explores archery, which Aritomo practices as a form of meditation. Tea-growing, and about the sexually charged practice of horimono (Japanese tattooing), as well as the disturbing details of Japanese war camps where Yun Ling and others were “guests of the Emperor”, a disgusting term.

The Garden of Evening Mists is a sobering story of war and its impact on survivors lives. Heartbreaking as well as inspiring with the strength of Yun Ling. The setting of Malay adds to this historical fiction novel. I suggest you add this to your reading list.

image Hardcover, 350 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Myrmidon
ISBN13: 9781905802494