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Tag Archives: book review

REVIEW: Karan Mahajan’s “The Association of Small Bombs”

by Charles Ellenbogen This Anisfield-Wolf award winner is absolutely stunning. From its riveting opening pages until the truth of its conclusion, Karan Mahajan takes us through a stunning story of small bombs, both the ones used by terrorists and the ones encountered in everyday life. I think what’s new here is that Mahajan, as the perfectly designed cover demonstrates, connects the bombs in ways we rarely get access to, let alone appreciate. What’s also new and both bold and necessary is that Mahajan takes us inside the lives of these terrorists. He accomplishes the seemingly impossible task of making us, if not like them, then at least understand them, both on a personal and political level. It is in these sections that he asks the most difficult and urgent questions, and I hope... Read More →

REVIEW: Mohsin Hamid’s “Exit West” Blazes Fresh Ground In Hot Political Climate

The blazing new novel from Mohsin Hamid opens with this sentence: “In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.” In “Exit West,” Nadia is “always clad from the tips of her toes to the bottom of her jugular in a flowing black robe,” a garb she will wear throughout her life. When Saeed meets her, they are taking an evening class on corporate identity and product branding, which seems like a sly reference to Hamid’s marvelous 2013 book “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.” Saeed watches the robed Nadia don a motorcycle helmet and swing a leg over her motorbike before rumbling off. Later, over their first coffee, he is surprised to learn she doesn’t... Read More →

Coretta Scott King’s Posthumous Memoir Details The Woman Beyond The King Name

Coretta Scott King begins her posthumous new memoir with a terrific metaphor: "Most people know me as Mrs. King. The wife of, the widow of, the mother of, the leader of. . .Makes me sound like the attachments that come with my vacuum cleaner."  When she died in 2006 at age 78, 12,000 people came to her eight-hour Georgia funeral, including four U.S. presidents. In this sweeping memoir "My Life, My Love, My Legacy" King details her rise from a restricted childhood in Marion, Alabama, to become one of the most visible leaders of the Civil Rights movement. But as King plainly states, most people were still unable to separate her legacy from her husband’s, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She writes that this never bothered her: "We did not have a his-and-hers mission. We were one... Read More →

REVIEW: Laird Hunt’s “The Evening Road”

The Evening Road returns Laird Hunt to Indiana, where the Anisfield-Wolf winner lived on his grandmother’s farm during his high school years, and where his feel for the rural Midwest and its uncelebrated people has few equals in American literature. This seventh novel springs from one of the nation’s most troubled wells. Hunt tells it over a single summer night, anchored in the bloody lynching of two men – Abram Smith and Thomas Shipp -- in Marion, Indiana August 7, 1930.   “The events of that evening gave rise to the poem ‘Strange Fruit’ by Abel Meeropol, which was made famous as a song by Billie Holiday,” Hunt, now 48, writes about the source of his new novel. “At least 10,000 people (some put the number as high as 15k) flooded into the medium-sized town to attend the... Read More →

“Hidden Figures” Is Getting A Lot Of Hollywood Buzz, But Don’t Forget About The Book

Type "scientist" into Google and what images do you find? As author Margot Lee Shetterly would describe it, the results are pretty pale. They are "mostly male. Usually white." But the Virginia writer knew this convention to be false. She grew up surrounded by blacks in STEM. Her father spent 40 years working in NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Her aunts and uncles overwhelmingly made their way into engineering and technology. To Shetterly, "the face of science was brown like mine."  It makes sense, then, that her first book, "Hidden Figures," was sparked by a visit home, when her father casually mentioned that her former Sunday school teacher, Kathleen Land, worked for NASA as a mathematician. Shetterly, 47, followed that thread and spent the next several years... Read More →

REVIEW: “Delicious Foods” Makes For A Very Satisfying Literary Meal

by Charles Ellenbogen Eddie has just escaped from the farm; Eddie also has no hands.Those are among the first two things we learn in James Hannaham's outstanding, tense and underappreciated novel, Delicious Foods (underappreciated despite winning the 2015 PEN/Faulker Award). Having established that frame, Hannaham recounts the events that led to that point using the voices of three narrators: Eddie, his mother Darlene and Scotty. I am going to avoid explaining who Scotty is.It suffices to say that Hannaham takes a risk here that in other hands might have come across as a gimmick; here, it works. Darlene, having lost her husband Nat to a brutal act of racist violence (an act for which Darlene blames herself), spirals downward and severs the relationship with her son.Darlene's obsession... Read More →

REVIEW: Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout” Deserves The Man Booker Prize And Then Some

 Paul Beatty's "The Sellout" took home the Man Booker Prize for 2016, making him the first U.S. author to win the British award. The satirical novel, whose plot kicks off from an absurd trial that puts resegregation and slavery before the Supreme Court, was a unanimous choice for the judges. Historian Amanda Foreman, jury chair of the prize, called Beatty's work "a novel for our times." “The Sellout is one of those very rare books: which is able to take satire, which is a very difficult subject and not always done well, and plunges it into the heart of contemporary American society with a savage wit of the kind I haven’t seen since Swift or Twain," Foreman said. “It manages to eviscerate every social taboo and politically correct nuance, every sacred cow. While making us... Read More →

REVIEW: “Another Brooklyn” By Jacqueline Woodson

Do you remember being fifteen? Let Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson’s first adult novel in 20 years, jog your memory. In this gritty, coming-of-age tale, Woodson transports readers to sweltering 1970s Brooklyn, New York, as a young girl grapples with unbearable grief, friendship and lost memories.When we meet August, she’s an anthropologist in her mid-30s who has returned to Brooklyn after a long absence to bury her father. She has an accidental run-in with an old friend — more like a sister, really — that triggers memories of days past. The rest of the novel is a flashback to early adolescence. August narrates her own story.We begin with eight-year-old August moving from a dilapidated Tennessee farm to New York City with her father and younger brother. The Vietnam War claimed... Read More →

REVIEW: “The Underground Railroad” By Colson Whitehead

by Charles EllenbogenWith all of the recent discussion about the changing faces on U.S. currency, some controversy emerged over a seemingly safe and definitely popular choice – Harriet Tubman. How many people, some asked, did she really lead to freedom? Do we really want the story of slavery memorialized on money? And, most persuasively, would Tubman herself have wanted this honor?By not bringing up her name in his breathtakingly great new book, The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead, winner of the 2002 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for John Henry Days continues this conversation. Like most movements, the Railroad was made up of both the heroic conductors such as Tubman and the many nameless others who aided escaping slaves. Cora, Whitehead's protagonist, and Caesar, who inspires Cora to... Read More →

REVIEW: “The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race”

There are 108 tally marks on the cover of The Fire This Time, the new essay collection that brings forth 18 perspectives from a new generation of writers, working in the tradition of James Baldwin. Each mark represents a black life lost too soon, a visual representation of the urgency of #BlackLivesMatter. In the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in 2013, Jesmyn Ward went to Twitter to share her frustration, but found the platform too ephemeral. She was much more struck by the pertinence of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Ward, editor of this anthology, decided she wanted a book that “would reckon with the fire of rage and despair and fierce protective love currently sweeping through the streets and campuses of America.” The results are mostly successful. The Fire Next... Read More →
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