CategoryOther Reviews

Haymaker in Heaven by Edvard Hoem

Dorothy recommended (and loaned me) this book and I thank her for it. It begins with the author explaining that Nesje, the haymaker, was his great-grandfather, born in 1838, and that though he heard many stories about Nesje and had some documents relating to his life, he would have to “invent him out of air and nothingness.” This he did, using “the light over Molde and...

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Before I began to read this book set in Cyprus, I read the part of the Wikipedia entry for that country about the long struggles between the Greeks and Turks, especially the events of 1974 and found that background very helpful. Many elements make this a pleasing book. First, the familiar story of teenagers from opposite sides of a conflict in love; Romeo and Juliet leap to mind. Kostas, Greek...

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

This account of a fictitious popular interracial music duo begins in the 1970s and ends with their revival in 2016 and is a tour de force. Opal and Nev are an unlikely twosome; when they met, Opal was an amateur with barely any experience and Nev had recently arrived from Britain with more expectations than promise in his musical ambitions. The story is told from the vantage point a year or so...

The Promise by Damon Galgut

This 2021 Booker Prize winner is set in South Africa and spans the time from deepest apartheid years (mid-1980s) through the euphoric times of the mid-1990s when South Africa was allowed to rejoin the community of nations and for some years beyond that time. Each chapter centers on the funeral of a member of the Swart family until the only member left is Amor who checked out of the family as soon...

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

This book features a person who works in a bookstore having to deal with the ghost of an annoying former customer who was haunting the store. Anyone who has worked with the public can identify with such a scenario, imagining someone so troublesome that even death would not stop them. And it’s true that when Flora comes to the store, she knocks over stacks of books, rustles around, and even...

Matrix by Lauren Groff

I expected that a book set in 1158 which begins with the main character Marie on her way to the abbey where she has been sent by Eleanor of Aquitaine was going to be hard-going. And to be sure there were countless words I had to look up, but it was certainly worth the effort. The story was of an undervalued woman sent to an impoverished nunnery who overcomes many obstacles and brings wealth and...

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart

Having loved some of his previous books, especially Super Sad True Love Story, I was eager to read this one that is set in early pandemic times. After I finished it, I read what I’d written about his other books and the terms  “over the top” and “exhausting” come up. So you can assume those are the starting point here. An expat Russian couple (he’s a writer)...

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

Kim described this as “a quietly understated novel that brims with a slow-moving rage and a gentle, long-lived grief.” Nevertheless I decided to read it and from the first page I found it oddly comforting and calming. Set in the Netherlands, it is the story of a man in his mid-50s whose twin died as a young man, forcing Helmer to give up university and help his father with the farm...

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

This book of short stories by a woman who teaches art in Charlottesville is a debut book. The short stories are well-done and arresting but the novella that gives the book its title will be my focus. After reading the first 10 or so pages, I found that when I wasn’t reading I had a vague feeling of impending doom. Of course in these times, that’s not unreasonable, but the cause of my...

The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff

It was Reading Matters’ recent review that took me to this 1931 British novel. The edition I read has a helpful excerpt from the author’s autobiography. There I learned that R.C. Sherriff,  having had a successful play produced, struggled to write a novel, getting all balled up in words that were unfamiliar. He took a new tack and decided to write for his own pleasure. He says, I...

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