2014 International Book Club Selections:
My Brilliant Friend
Author: Elena Ferrante
From Amazon: A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.
Shalimar the Clown
Author: Salman Rushdie
Set in Kashmir, WW II Europe and modern day US, Shalimar delves deep into the roots of terrorism and explores the turmoil generated by different faiths and cultures attempting to coexist. How can nations, Rushdie asks, go from near-peaceful ethnic and religious acceptance to violent conflict within a mere generation? Critics agree that Rushdie has brilliantly unraveled the construction of terrorists: some of them fight for ideas; others fight to fulfill vows or, if they are men, to reclaim their wives. Shalimar is at once a political thriller, folk tale, slapstick comedy, wartime adventure, and work of science fiction, pop culture, and magical realism. In shimmering (if sometimes baroque) language, Rushdie invokes clever satire and imaginative wordplay. Yet, despite its diverse genres and styles, Shalimar is, at heart, a story of love, honor, and revenge—and the global consequences of such emotions and actions. In the 21st century, Shalimar’s painful, terrifying themes are both fantastical and devastatingly real. To evidence otherwise, Rushdie offers a note of cautious optimism: people can work out their differences if left alone by ideologues or fanatics. Shalimar provides a timely, ultimately idealistic, message for our times.
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun
Author: Peter Godwin
In this exquisitely written, deeply moving account of the death of a father played out against the backdrop of the collapse of the southern African nation of Zimbabwe, seasoned journalist Godwin has produced a memoir that effortlessly manages to be almost unbearably personal while simultaneously laying bare the cruel regime of Mugabe. Godwin's narrative flows seamlessly across the decades, creating a searing portrait of a family and a nation.
In 1996, as Godwin’s father suffers a heart attack and his health deteriorates, Mugabe, self-proclaimed president for life, institutes a series of ill-conceived land reforms that throw the white farmers off the land they've cultivated for generations and consequently throws the country's economy into free fall. There's sadness throughout—for the death of the father, for the suffering of everyone in Zimbabwe (black and white alike) and for the way that human beings invariably treat each other with casual disregard.
The memoir contains three concurrent stories - the story of a man trying to take care of his elderly parents from half way around the world; the unexpected discovery of old family secrets and coming to terms with new origins; and a firsthand account of the collapse of a country as it plunges into madness.
Dear Life: Stories
Author: Alice Munro
"In Dear Life, her 13th collection, Munro again breathes life--real, blemished, nuanced life--into her characters and settings (usually her hometown in Huron County, Ontario). Her empathy is the greatest weapon in her arsenal, and it is on full display here. But the most satisfying part of the new collection is the last four stories, bundled together in what the author calls “Finale,” the closest she’ll ever come to writing about her own dear life. --Alexandra Foster "
This collection is AM's latest publication and has been well received. As AM has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, it might be appropriate to honour her life and achievement by reading this book."
When the Emperor Was Divine
Author: Julie Otsuka
"On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family's possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans they have been reclassified, virtually overnight, as enemy aliens and are about to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert.
In this lean and devastatingly evocative first novel, Julie Otsuka tells their story from five flawlessly realized points of view and conveys the exact emotional texture of their experience: the thin-walled barracks and barbed-wire fences, the omnipresent fear and loneliness, the unheralded feats of heroism. When the Emperor Was Divine is a work of enormous power that makes a shameful episode of our history as immediate as today's headlines."
The House of Spirits
Author: Isabel Allende
In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies. Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future.
The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate.
100 Years of Solitude
Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of the 20th century's enduring works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement of a Nobel Prize winning career.
The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.
Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility -- the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth -- these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel Garcia Marquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.
Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves the political, personal, and spiritual to bring a new consciousness to storytelling. Translated into dozens of languages, this stunning work is no less than an accounting of the history of the human race.
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
From Amazon: Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling author of The Namesake comes an extraordinary new novel, set in both India and America, that expands the scope and range of one of our most dazzling storytellers: a tale of two brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn by revolution, and a love that lasts long past death.
Born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other in the Calcutta neighborhood where they grow up. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead. It is the 1960s, and Udayan—charismatic and impulsive—finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty; he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.
But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he goes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind—including those seared in the heart of his brother’s wife.
Masterly suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland is a work of great beauty and complex emotion; an engrossing family saga and a story steeped in history that spans generations and geographies with seamless authenticity. It is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers.
The Orphan Master's Son
Author: Adam Johnson
In this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Adam Johnson has masterfully rendered the mysterious world of North Korea with the soul and savvy of a native, from its orphanages and its fishing boats to the kitchens of its high-ranking commanders. While oppressive propaganda echoes throughout, the tone never slides into caricature; if anything, the story unfolds with astounding empathy for those living in constant fear of imprisonment—or worse—but who manage to maintain their humanity against all odds. The book traces the journey of Jun Do, who for years lives according to the violent dictates of the state, as a tunnel expert who can fight in the dark, a kidnapper, radio operator, tenuous hero, and foreign dignitary before eventually taking his fate into his own hands. In one of the book’s most poignant moments, a government interrogator remembers his own childhood and the way in which his father explained the inexplicable: ‘...we must act alone on the outside, while on the inside, we would be holding hands.’ In this moment and a thousand others like it, Johnson juxtaposes the vicious atrocities of the regime with the tenderness of beauty, love, and hope.