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Tag Archives: book review

Laird Hunt’s Latest Novel Is A Stunning Mystery, Setting Readers Up For A Harrowing Ride

The new novel from Laird Hunt, “In the House in the Dark of the Woods,” has the feel of a hymnal. It is palm sized and red, and it contains a story nestled in the Puritan Colonial era. Hunt, 50, won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2013 for “Kind One,” a haunting Civil War novel inspired by a short passage in Edward P. Jones’ masterpiece “The Known World.” Hunt is drawn to fable and journeys and psychological complexity. The new novel wastes no time entering the woods. The first two sentences, in the voice of the narrator, are “I told my man I was off to pick berries and that he should watch our son for I would be gone some good while. So away I went with a basket.” The woman goes missing, and Hunt excavates the ancient fears of women who abandon their families and... Read More →

Walter Mosley Tackles the Elusiveness of History in His New Novel, “John Woman”

“John Woman,” the newest novel from prolific and philosophical Walter Mosley, arrives today telling the story of a fugitive genius. It begins with Shakespeare’s Sonnet XVII – “Who will believe my verse in time to come” – and ends 36 chapters later with a mystery, its central character missing. Detectives find blood of more than one type on a New York City park bench. In between is the story of a character born Cornelius Jones, the son of an Italian-American sensualist and an older, self-taught black intellectual. The novel opens as Lucia Napoli is describing her youthful wanton desires to her 12-year-old son, whom she calls CC. The boy mostly lives with his father Herman, a silent film projectionist in New York’s East Village. As Herman’s health fails, Cornelius takes... Read More →

In New Harvey Milk Biography, A Portrait Of A Man Gone Too Soon

In 1970, Harvey Milk, a boisterous, restless New Yorker, turned 40 without a sense of having accomplished much. But in the handful of years that remained to him, Milk moved to San Francisco and remade American politics and identity. Posthumously, his grin landed on a postage stamp, and the U.S. Navy, in which he served, is scheduled in 2021 to christen a logistics ship after him. Even before these two honors, Barack Obama in 2009 awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying, with a smile, “His name was Harvey Milk, and he was here to recruit us – all of us – to join a movement and change a nation.” Obama was slyly riffing on Milk’s political catch-phrase – “I’m Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you!” – itself a clever subversion of the long-standing... Read More →

Kevin Powers Delivers A Gritty, Poetic Novel With “A Shout In The Ruins”

A Shout in the Ruins has a ring to it – both as a book and as a title that a poet would craft. Novelist Kevin Powers spent six years writing his lyrical and violent story set in “the ruins” of Richmond, Virginia, the place where he was born and raised. The author anchors one narrative strand in the ruins of the Civil War; the second unspools 90 years later, during the ruins of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike construction that knocked apart the old Jackson Ward neighborhood of the city. Readers can glimpse a thematic through-line from Powers’ fierce and luminous first book, The Yellow Birds, an elegiac story centered on a U.S. soldier named John Bartle returning from the Iraq war. It won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction, as well as the PEN/Hemingway award. “I... Read More →

REVIEW: “When They Call You A Terrorist” Takes Readers Inside The Black Lives Matter Movement

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, is no stranger to resistance. Her searing new memoir, “When They Call You a Terrorist,” makes that plain. Khan-Cullors, along with organizers Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, created the call to action after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager Zimmerman killed as the adolescent walked alone back to his father’s home from a trip to a convenience store. The author was the one to punctuate their grief with a three-word hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter. Her story begins in Van Nuys, the largely Mexican Los Angeles neighborhood notorious for an overbearing police presence. Born third of four children, she writes of growing up as her mother worked... Read More →

REVIEW: “Sing Unburied Sing” Fits Perfectly Into Jesmyn Ward’s Canon Of Southern Literature

The pages of Jesmyn Ward's third novel, "Sing, Unburied, Sing," smell of Mississippi. Set in the same fictional town, Bois Sauvage, as her 2011 National Book Award-winning novel, “Salvage the Bones,” her latest fiction returns to tell again of family bonds, tested by unresolved trauma and unrelenting Southern poverty. She undergirds the sense of place with a seven-line epigraph from Derek Walcott’s “The Gulf.” At the heart of “Sing” is Jojo, a 13-year-old narrator focusing on his budding manhood. His role model? Pop, whose days are spent taking care of his cancer-stricken wife, Mam, Jojo’s toddler sister Kayla, and to a lesser extent, his daughter Leonie, Jojo’s mother. Ward, a Mississippian and Tulane University professor, excels with a narrative that knits... Read More →

REVIEW: Zinzi Clemmons Is A Strong Voice To Watch With “What We Lose”

Viking, 207 pp, $22 In Zinzi Clemmons’ debut novel, “What We Lose,” grief shadows every page. But like Elizabeth Alexander’s “The Light of the World,” another examination of life amid a death, it is compelling.     A loosely autobiographical story, this book is about the pain of losing a mother. Like her protagonist Thandi, Clemmons, 32, is the child of a South African mother and African-American father, born and raised in Philadelphia with summers and long vacations spent in Johannesburg. And just like Thandi, Clemmons left college to help with her mother’s care in her remaining days.  “What We Lose” explores grief, cultural identity, politics, colorism, and love through stream-of-consciousness vignettes. A creative writing professor at Los Angeles’ Colburn... Read More →

REVIEW: Tyehimba Jess’ “Olio” Puts Him In A Genre Of His Own

by Charles Ellenbogen Every once in a while, someone comes along – think Garrison Keillor, Richard Pryor, Spalding Gray – who defies any of our conventional notions of genre, so something has to be invented for them. Meet the newest member of the group – Tyehimba Jess. Jess, who this spring won both an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and a Pulitzer for poetry, has definitely written a book that contains pieces that seem like poetry, but even that term, as expansive as it is, seems limiting here. This book also contains artwork, posters, interviews, music (the Fisk Jubilee Singers) and history. This book is so full of life that at more than 200 pages, I still never wanted it to end. Even Jess’ author notes are marvelous. We meet Scott Joplin, Henry “Box” Brown and Booker T.... Read More →

REVIEW: t’ai freedom ford’s “how to get over” Is An Urgent Reckoning With The Past

how to get over  -- the debut poetry collection from t’ai freedom ford -- is part instruction manual, part black culture guidebook and part handing the mic to everyone from Harriet Tubman to Rodney King. “Every single word I write is under the auspices of my ancestors,” ford declares.  The Cave Canem graduate gives them their say in 57 poems covering nearly 250 years of pain and beauty. ford, who teaches English in a New York City high school, leans into poetry with urgency—read this and read it now. She divides her book into four sections – Live, Lie, Love, and Die – each building on the architecture of the segment before. The 16 poems that comprise “Die” are the strongest of the collection. If you pick up how to get over, read “autopsy of a not dead father”... Read More →

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 →
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