Feb 24, 2010

h/t to Ruth Ross

A bit of trash now and then is good for the severest reader. It provides that necessary roughage in the literary diet.
- Phyllis McGinley

Feb 19, 2010

h/t to Ruth Ross

Forget the internet, forget all that stuff. Who we are, the best way to get it, is in a book. 
- Timothy Findley


Her description is unhurried, accurate and vivid, an artist's vision... The sentences are beautiful in structure, movement and cadence. They have inevitable rightness. And this is a translation! Thomas Teal deserves to have his name on the title page with Jansson's: he has worked the true translator's miracle....the most beautiful and satisfying novel I have read this year.
                    - Ursula K. Le Guin

Feb 16, 2010

Everyone Comes Back to Jerusalem

originally posted on International Crime Authors

by Matt Beynon Rees

Everyone comes back to Jerusalem. I don’t know why, I really don’t.

It’s too hot. The people can be offhandedly mean, and they drive as though they want to kill you. It isn’t a very pretty place once you look close. Oh and, yes, sometimes it gets violent. With shocking self-obsession, it thinks the eyes of the world are turned admiringly upon it all the time.

Jerusalem sometimes seems like that inexplicably popular idiot everyone knew in high school. Exerting a stupefying magnetism over people with otherwise solid judgment.

I’ve been in Jerusalem 14 years. I’m under no illusions as to what keeps me here. I’ve made a good life for myself with good friends, and the place provides me with the material for my writing.

But I’m rather immune to its other supposed charms. It’s no Tuscany.

Yet all my journalist pals have come and gone – and come back again. I’ve been here so long, everyone to whom I’ve said goodbye ends up dropping in for dinner once more. It wouldn’t happen if I went back to live in Wales. No one is drawn there with idealistic visions of its sublimity…

I spoke to a writing group in the center of Jerusalem last week. Lovely people the lot of them. Mostly young Americans or Canadians, Brits and South Africans who’ve immigrated recently to Israel and want to get together with writers of a similar background. All of them so devoted to Jerusalem.

To some degree, each of them has to live here a while to see beyond the newness. They’re experiencing the same happiness I recall when I arrived at university and discovered a kind of freedom I’d only before imagined. Until then, they’ll write about Jerusalem in the tones of the biblical psalmist, making of the city a personified lover, the object of desire and devotion.

That isn’t how I see the place. I’ve lived through an intifada, seen Jerusalem mangle the bodies of its peoples and accept the spray of hateful slogans on its walls. I’ve been called all kinds of names by all kinds of people and sued by some particularly unreasonable ones. I’ve come close to being run down on crosswalks by angry Israeli drivers and shoved aside in the Old City by angry hashish-raddled Palestinians.

For a while all that made me angry too. Not so angry that it overcame the feelings of creativity it gave me. There’s a certain anger – spun forward and made pro-active, positive – at the heart of Omar Yussef, the hero of my Palestinian crime novels.

Why not? Because I discovered I liked the hash-tokers of the Muslim Quarter rather better than I enjoyed the company of their politicians or their professional classes.

It isn’t that I take a negative view of Jerusalem and its environs. I long ago realized that I continue to live here because there’s something I like about it, and its people. Just not in a romanticized way. It’s simply because I’ve come to understand the ways in which the people and their city push each other to the edge of existence. It’s when they’re on the edge that I find out what really counts for them.

And for me.

Feb 14, 2010

INVOLUNTARY WITNESS by Gianrico Carofiglio

Everyone loves Gianrico Carofiglio's three Italian anti-Mafia crime novels. I can't recommend them highly enough. The following is a review, from The Observer, of Involuntary Witness.

'Humane courtroom dramas: the anti-mafia judge who writes legal thrillers. Involuntary Witness is as much about a man going through a midlife crisis as it is a legal thriller, as much a love story as an Italian whodunit, un giallo. The central character is Guido, a 38-year-old defence lawyer with a neat line in deadpan, self-deprecating humour who suddenly realises that his life so far hasn't amounted to much. He's been dumped by his wife, underwhelmed by his career - the future looks as lacklustre as a plate of bloated, overcooked ravioli. When he starts bursting into tears in front of his secretary and having panic attacks in the office elevator, the last thing on his mind is the case of a Senegalese illegal immigrant arrested for murdering a child whom he had befriended on the beach. When I tell the author, Gianrico Carofiglio, that the book - his first work of fiction - made me cry, he is quietly delighted. 'Thank you,' he smiles, shyly. 'I told my friends I wanted to write a book about love and sadness and the absurdity of life. I want readers to laugh and to cry. They thought I was crazy. "It's a stupid idea," they said. "You have never even written a novel before."' In fact, what Carofiglio did was to use some of his own midlife crisis as inspiration. By profession he is a high-profile prosecuting magistrate in Bari, a port city on the coast of southern Italy which is also the setting for the novel. Yet as he approached 40 he began to feel despondent. 'It was a very difficult time in my life,' he says. 'Since I was a boy I had always wanted to be a writer, but I'd begun to realise that it might never happen. I really had the idea that my life was over and I was almost destroyed by the thought.' He recalls the symptoms typical of a crisis: anxiety, nervousness, insomnia.

'I tried everything to find a cure. In the end I began to write. I had no choice. I don't want to sound so emphatic, but I had to begin. Otherwise nothing had any meaning.'

It seems appropriate that he has written a curiously gentle thriller. It may be set in a courtroom, but its theme is our power to change. 'The crime is lateral - it is not the most important thing for me. It's the tool to keep the reader going until the end. To use the trial as a metaphor. What the novel is really about is transformation,' he says. 'Someone who crosses a border from one part of their life to another one which is totally different.'

Despite his early success, there's little chance that he's about to give up the day job. We meet in Bari's New Justice Building, which overlooks a graveyard. As we make our way up to his office, everyone seems to know him. I wonder what his colleagues thought when an insider had the audacity to reveal both a flawed legal system and debunk the myth of the macho Italian man. 'The thing about Guido is that he believes in justice. He understands that the legal system is imperfect but he decides - and this is something I believe in, too - to fight inside the system, not outside. My books are about never surrendering. Understanding that this is an imperfect world, but that we need to fight.'

His is, he says, 'a very powerful job'. In Italy, the prosecuting magistrates work with the police to combat crime. A week earlier, he masterminded the arrest of more than 40 mobsters in the city of Barletta, 40 miles away. 'They are very dangerous men. Homicides, drug trafficking, arson... They ran the city.' Three years ago he was instrumental in the conviction of Nadia Tkachenko, a Ukrainian woman at the centre of a child-trafficking case who sold unborn babies for £200,000. In a surreal moment he looks up the word for 'bazooka' in his Italian/English dictionary - he once discovered an Italian gang had one aimed at him. Other Italian writers, such as Massimo Carlotto, are currently gaining a reputation for savage 'reality crime' novels. But for Carofiglio the process of writing, often in a spare half-hour snatched at the end of the day, is perhaps an antidote to some of the horrific details he is party to at work. 'I'm interested in characters who are human and imperfect,' he says. 'Sometimes weak, sometimes strong. I like to mix them up.' And as though to illustrate his point, this anti-mafia magistrate who drives around town in a dinky Smart car, the scourge of the local criminals who likes to write books that make his readers cry, tells me how he prefers to relax. He stands up, locks the door to his office, and gives me a wonderful display of another of his talents - juggling.'

- Observer

Feb 12, 2010

Does literature of the homeless exist?

originally published at guardian.uk

I used to see a homeless man perched on a curb out the back of Safeway in Camberwell. Although it looked as if he hadn't had a bath or a square meal in a while, I'm ashamed to say the thing that always elicited the most sympathy from me was that he was a passionate reader. His head was always buried in a book. Any book. Horror, science fiction, romance – he was always reading.

Writing while homeless, however, may be tougher to sustain. Doing it at a desk in a warm room can be hard enough: literature is surely the last thing on your mind when you've no food or money.

According to his book, The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, WH Davies managed it. You'd think that the predicament of homelessness would vary little from epoch to epoch – food and shelter being timeless basic human needs – but The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, published more than 100 years ago, reminds us that today's homeless have a whole extra set of problems, including the stigma of being one of society's displaced.  READ MORE....

Feb 10, 2010


description by goodreads

Literary legend Jim Harrison's latest
collection of novellas, The Farmer's Daughter, finds him writing at the height of his powers, and in fresh and audacious new directions. The title novella is an uncompromising, beautiful tale of an extraordinary fifteen-year-old girl whose youth intersects with unexpected brutality. In the second novella Harrison's beloved recurring character Brown Dog, still looking for love, escapes from Canada back to the United States on the tour bus of a Native rock band. And in the final novella, a retired werewolf, misdiagnosed with a rare blood disorder brought on by the bite of a Mexican hummingbird, attempts to lead a normal life but is plagued by hazy, feverish episodes of epic lust, physical appetite, athletic exertions, and outbursts of violence under the full moon.

Feb 3, 2010

THE MAN FROM BEIJING by Henning Mankell

Publisher Comments:

The acclaimed author of the Kurt Wallander mysteries, writing at the height of his powers, now gives us an electrifying stand-alone global thriller.

January 2006. In the Swedish hamlet of Hesjovallen, nineteen people have been massacred. The only clue is a red ribbon found at the scene.

Judge Birgitta Roslin has particular reason to be shocked: Her grandparents, the Andrens, are among the victims, and Birgitta soon learns that an Andren family in Nevada has also been murdered. She then discovers the nineteenth-century diary of an Andren ancestor--a gang master on the American transcontinental railway--that describes brutal treatment of Chinese slave workers. The police insist that only a lunatic could have committed the Hesjovallen murders, but Birgitta is determined to uncover what she now suspects is a more complicated truth.

The investigation leads to the highest echelons of power in present-day Beijing, and to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. But the narrative also takes us back 150 years into the depths of the slave trade between China and the United States--a history that will ensnare Birgitta as she draws ever closer to solving the Hesjovallen murders.