Clearing the Backlog

I’m so far behind in reviewing that I’m almost paralysed by it. So there’s only one solution: a mass review of books I’ve read over the last 3 months. Here goes:

You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt. I really liked this one. Coming of age against the backdrop of Communist Russia. So many good things about it, if only I could remember it more clearly.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I was disappointed in this one as I am normally a fan of Ann Patchett. It gets off to a really slow start, in my opinion. It does, however, find its footing by about halfway through. If you’re an Ann Patchett fan, you’re going to read this regardless of what I say, but if you’ve not read Patchett before, I might not start here.

Peacekeeping by Mischa Berlinski. In the beginning I loved this book, but ultimately it was a little too long. Set in Haiti, it had a really interesting look at local politics and NGOs. The cover is great though, and i do plan to go back and read Feildwork, one of Berlinski’s earlier novels that I remember loving.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch. I really liked Koch’s two previous novels. They had a very Koch feel to them. That feel is lacking in Dear Mr M.  That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, but if you’re looking for that distinctive Koch uncomfortableness, it isn’t so apparent here. The one thing i did like about it though, is that it’s about a writer. That always gets me.

The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah. If Orange is The New Black were set in a Zimbabwean prison, you might get this book. It is a great book and one that I highly recommend. Propulsive story, great characters, skilled writing.

So there, it’s done. Backlog cleared. Hopefully this means I can get back into the groove.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

An Untamed State by Roxane GayAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay should be issued with a warning. It is a deeply troubling and powerfully written novel. It recounts the tale of Miri’s kidnapping and captivity while she is visiting her parents in Haiti with her husband and son, and her attempt to return to a normal American life afterwards. It is utterly heartbreaking, not least because much of it is written in the first person and feels like a memoir, not a novel. Continue reading

A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon

a dual inheritanceA Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon is a big book. At first it appears to be a rather simple story of two unlikely friends during their university years, but as the story proceeds it grows into much more. It spans two generations of two families and deals primarily with issues of money: how to get it and if you have it how it determines your life path. The perspective on money is quite unusual. For those who have it in spades it is almost seen as a limiting factor. The moneyed are expected to go to certain schools, have certain interests and work in certain fields, such as law, finance or medicine. But what happens when one steps outside of these prescribed roles?

However, A Dual Inheritance is more than just a university novel, a good chunk of it is set in for away places. In addition to good old America, parts of the narrative are set in Africa and Haiti. I am a sucker for stories about people in foreign places so this really appealed to me. In some ways it may have detracted from the major trajectory of the novel, but I think Hershon is a skillful enough writer to keep things in check.

Who would like this book? A Dual Inheritance has been compared to both The Marriage Plot and Rules of Civility. For me, these comparisons do not hold up. But having said that, I do not know what I would compare it too. Like The Marriage Plot, A Dual Inheritance takes place in an university setting for at least half the story. Aside from that I would argue that they are very different sorts of novels. I do highly recommend A Dual Inheritance. It took me some time to get into, perhaps 100 pages, but it was worth it. It will go down as one of my memorable books of 2013.