Every so often a book comes along that manages to be both wonderfully mystical yet still grounded in realism and humanity. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is a book that melds worlds, cultures and literary genres seamlessly. The setting of the novel, New York City in 1899, is a prefect locale to tell a story that deals with a multicultural and magical events. The story revolves around two magical creatures from different cultures as they learn to live transplanted into a city packed with danger.
The Golem and the Jinni is a book that refuses to be easily classified. On the surface the story is a historical fiction and fantasy novel, but there is more to it than that. It’s certainly a fantasy novel, dealing with a Golem, created out of clay to be the perfect wife for a Jewish immigrant and a Jinni, trapped for centuries and unknowingly transported to America by a Syrian family, the novel is also deals with history, religion and culture in a strong and realistic way that lands the story firmly in the literary fiction tradition. (more…)
The latest novel from Chris Bohjalian, The Light in the Ruins is an amazing accomplishment: historical fiction, suspenseful who-dun-it and a compelling character study meshed into a fascinating novel. Moving effortlessly between 1943 and 1955 Florence, Italy, the story follows police investigator Serafina Bettini as she investigates a series of grisly murders involving the Rosati family. The Rosati’s history intersects with Serafina’s own mysterious past and the actions of many in the waning days of WWII.
As an avid reader of historical fiction, I have read countless novels set during WWII in various countries: England, France, the US, and Germany, but this is the first work of fiction that I can remember reading set in Italy. Bohjalian does a wonderful job of bringing history to life through his characters and events without devolving into a history lesson or list of events and characters. Italy in 1943 was facing the reality that that their German allies had become their occupiers. The variety of feelings and reactions to the Germans from the Italians in the novel reminds the reader of the depth of confusion and complexity of the ever-changing dynamics of WWII. (more…)
Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence by David Samuel Levinson has all the qualities of a stellar debut novel: strong characters, interesting setting, complex plot and a hint of suspense. Set in the small college town of Winslow, New York, Levinson depicts the town vividly and the reader gets to know the town and its inhabitants through several engaging characters.
Catherine Strayed has lived in Winslow for several years but has never felt completely settled there. After leaving her own academic pursuits behind to move with her new husband, Wyatt to Winslow, where he received an offer to become a professor of creative writing at the small liberal arts college., Catherine settles into life working at the local bookstore. Catherine is a complex character, and her relationship with Wyatt is revealed throughout the story from her own memories and those of other characters. (more…)
The Book of Secrets by Elizabeth Joy Arnold is a book for book lovers. The novel tells the story of Chloe Sinclair as she struggles to understand both her past and her present. Her husband Nate has disappeared, leaving only a note behind saying he has returned to his childhood home; the last place Chloe would ever go. The mysteries and tragedies under the surface of their marriage are always present in the story, and each glimpse into the past makes Chloe’s current feelings more understandable. (more…)by Kate
Sisterland, by Curtis Sittenfeld, has a population of two. Sittenfeld, author of Prep and American Wife, is no stranger to characters dealing with inner turmoil and struggling to be accepted by others, and the characters in Sisterland are no exception. Twins Kate and Violet (Vi) share a lonely childhood, with a largely absent mother and a father who is loving but distracted by work and his depressed wife. Added to normal teen angst and a dysfunctional family, the twins have a secret: they are psychic.
The characters are at the heart of the novel. The story is told from Kate’s point of view, in both the present timeline and in flashbacks to various times in the girl’s lives. Kate is the sister who longs to fit in with the other kids at school, who wants a normal family, who doesn’t want to be psychic… Except when she does; when it can help her get what she wants. Vi is wild, rebellious and welcoming of the “senses” that give the girls the ability to have premonitions through dreams and visions. (more…)by Kate