I loved the openness and insights of the narrator of this Jamesian novel, looking back years later on the life changes he underwent as a foreign-born graduate student at Harvard. The unnamed (I think) narrator longs to be part of both the elite Cambridge community and the working class taxi-driving community of North Africans and other exiles. The narrator is drawn to the brash, vulgar, impulsive Kalash, feeling as foreign (at times) as his hard-to-control friend. The changes in his attitude to Kalash, to Cambridge and to the Harvard community provide the book's momentum. There are moments of laugh-out-loud humor that subside to the deepest sadness. Beautiful portraits of the immigrant community within a very special American subculture.
The narration by Sanjiv Jhaveri left me with mixed feelings. At first, I thought his accent (assumed for the book, based on his accent-free introduction and a few other characters' voices) was a caricature, something you might find in a comic foil on a network sitcom. But as we got to know the narrator, elements of Jhaveri's voice became appealing--a longing quality, a wistfulness, an eagerness to please. I was very sorry to "miss" his voice when the book ended.
All in all, an enjoyable listening experience that made me want to read more by this author.
These three novellas capture a melancholy but intriguing sense of the past in and around Paris. The narrator--who seems the same person in all three tales, an alter ego of the author--relates incidents from his childhood and early adulthood, when he was thrown in with mysterious characters, some shady, others alienated, all fascinating. He is something of an observer, more than a participant, in their lives. He's the young fellow who catalogs the amazing photographs of Jansen, as Jansen disengages from Paris and his friends and lovers. He's the 10-year-old, dropped by his traveling parents for a year in a Paris suburb with three rough women, women with male callers who do little favors for him and his brother and who create a loving ersatz household around him. And then in the third novella, he sits alone at a restaurant table on Sundays observing a group of glamorous but unsavory regulars at the table nearby, thinking about an unsolved possible crime from the 1930s.
Listening to the novellas, sometimes you miss important details because the narrator drops them in deadpan fashion and moves on. He is like a puddle-jumper, landing briefly on exotic islands and taking off again, with just a few important scenes before he shifts to another anecdote.
But the stories are so well written! The narrator is very likeable, and you root for him as he grows up and tries to make his way.
The three readers were all excellent. Bronson Pinchot reads the last novella with a heavy French accent. For those of us who watched him on television as Cousin Balki in the sitcom Perfect Strangers, you might think it's the same goofy character, his accent is so thick.
I chose this book because Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) recommended it in an interview. It provides a sentimental view of Midwestern America (mostly Chicago and Champaign-Urbana) in the 1920s, viewed from the 1940s. The first half reminded me of early Scott Fitzgerald stories (Bernice Bobs her Hair) and Sinclair Lewis (Babbitt). Teenage boys in high school deal with their families and classmates and pretend to be more grown-up and sophisticated than they are. Two boys, Limey and Spud, opposites in every way, become super-close friends. A girl comes between them, sort of.
But the second half becomes melodramatic and banal. Limey and Spud follow different routes in college, testing their friendship. The girl remains fond of both. But Limey becomes weak and simpering, while Spud grows increasingly angry and a bit dense.
Are the young men lovers? Hard to say, as the novel reflects an age when that love really did not dare not speak its name. But it begins with a bunch of naked teenage boys playing water polo in the school pool, college boys share beds snuggling warmly and there is even a chaste lip-to-lip guy kiss. Secondary characters include a bachelor professor living with his party-loving mother and an affected antique dealer who runs a men's rooming house with his little dog. But despite all that, there is never a hint that any characters--male or female--actually have sex.
The book is fun as a historic artifact, and the first half is kind of charming. The narration was good, with nice choices for the voices of the various characters.
This novel captures the pain and tragedy of war through the interactions of about a dozen keenly drawn prisoners of war and their Japanese and Korean captors, all forced to build a railway in the wet jungles of Siam. The men are stripped of everything--often including their lives--for the glory of an imperial power. Both the prisoners and their guards suffer, during the war and after. Some of the most remarkable scenes take place late in the book, tracing the postwar experiences of those who were on both sides in the camp. Occasional horrendous scenes are drawn with moving detail. (The recollections of a Japanese surgeon, shared with the camp leader late in the book, are appalling in their passive acceptance of sadistic cruelty.) The love story is the book's weak link, and I failed to understand its impact on the character and strength of Dorrigo Evans, the protagonist. But overall, this was a compelling read, narrated with an intense control by David Atlas.
This novel explores the power of secrets, both to harm lives and to lead to a greater truth. Two misfit boys become friends in grade school, then lose touch after a reckless mistake leads to tragedy. (The narrator doesn't seem like a misfit, but as you learn more about his messed-up 20s, he is not doing well.) The secret of that tragedy leads both boys to troubled adulthoods, and only by ultimately confronting their mistake can they move on. The novel deals with some great young-adult themes, like bravery, loyalty and duty. And the last third includes some great adventures, suspenseful and stirring.
Ben Dolnick writes with flair. His similes and metaphors are underplayed but well done, all in the right tone for the narrator.
Having said all that, the novel turns on several absurd coincidences. It is not especially believable. Thomas, the narrator's friend, is not always credible either. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the story.
Chris Patton did an excellent job narrating the novel. He had the right tone of wonder and enthusiasm that kept the reader's interest throughout.
This well-received quasi-novel focuses on a guy a lot like Ben Lerner, I guess. Other readers found it brilliant, but I found it too self-satisfied and too self-indulgent. There are lots of scenes around New York that show off his cleverness and sensitivity, at dinner parties and natural history museums and lunch with his agent and fertility clinics. But only one character struck me as real: Mr. Lerner himself. The others were one-dimensional mirrors for the narrator, not much more. (One exception: his colleague at the Park Slope Food Coop, who tells the narrator a surprising and suspenseful story about her family history, interrupted by Ben's having to deliver the dried mango he's been packing to the sales floor.)
I have one suspicion, that a story late in the novel about an intern at a literary retreat in Marfa whom the narrator comforts through a bad drug trip...was this based upon an adventure in which Mr. Lerner was the intern and not the comforting older figure? But a bad trip, was that too cliched and uncool for our narrator? Who knows. It's a novel.
The book was well-read by Eric Michael Summerer.
This rich and entertaining novel begins with the residents of a gentrifying London street receiving anonymous postcards, stating only, "We Want What You Have." The novel follows many of the residents, who live amazing lives, and who are troubled by but generally oblivious to the postcards. These include the ambitious but lazy banker and his giddy wife, who lives to spend; the Pakistani family that owns the shop on the corner; the elderly widow whose family has lived in their house for generations, and the young Senegalese soccer star, living with his father in his agent's house. And then there are the non-residents, like the middle-class detective charged with finding the source of the postcards, the Banksy-like anonymous artist, the Zimbabwean refugee meter maid, the Polish handyman and the Hungarian nanny. And various assistants, friends and family. All the characters are well-drawn and believable.
Despite this melange, the plot is clear and well-constructed. There is humor throughout, and suspense and some surprisingly moving scenes. The author makes fun of some of the characters and their ambitions, but he also likes them all (I think). Personally, I liked the characters and rooted for most of them throughout the book.
The narrator was excellent, speaking with the right tone of bemusement. Frankly, I loved this book.
I thoroughly enjoyed this post-apocalyptic tale of traveling actors and musicians after a flu pandemic wipes out most of the world's population. Kirsten Potter did an excellent job of narrating the novel, easily differentiating the characters' voices without overly dramatizing them.
The book may be difficult to read for those fearful of ebola, enterovirus and the many other potential pandemics traveling the globe. But it is optimistic, showing the importance of art, music, history and ultimately cooperation and caring for others--the essence of civilization. The resilience of the survivors, orphans living and creating new art in a world surrounded by corpses and disease, is moving. The novel is told through the adventures of several interlocked characters, all connected to the actor/celebrity Arthur Leander, who dies onstage at the start of the novel, playing King Lear in Toronto, just before the plague strikes. There is romance, danger, murder and even a false prophet. While it's not always believable, it's always compelling.
This was one of my favorite recent books.
This is an excellent, absorbing novel nearly ruined by a poor narrator.
The story focuses on a young law professor in Bogota who grew up uncomfortably through the violent years when Pedro Escobar's drug gang imposed random violence on all levels of society--even blowing up a passenger plane in flight to kill a politician who was not on board.
There are several plane crashes in the course of the novel, but the "things falling" include more than airplanes--the professor's life gradually disintegrates after a mysterious older man, a friend he met shooting billiards, is shot dead on the Bogota street. The professor had tried to stop the shooting, but he is also shot and seriously wounded. The story turns to the professor's increasingly obsessive search to understand the friend's life. Along the way, we learn the family history of the murdered man--his grandfather was a prominent pilot for the Colombian military, his daughter raises bees in the countryside. We also learn much about recent Colombian history.
But the narrator is the worst. He reads the novel indifferently, as if he were reading a cookbook. You get the impression as he reads that he has not himself read the material in advance. He makes no effort to differentiate the voices of characters or to put any feeling into their conversation. At times, it's hard to tell which character is speaking because they all use the same resigned monotone.
While the poor narration makes it hard to stick with the book, it's worth the effort. "The Sound of Things Falling" is a thoughtful and moving, if tragic, tale of ordinary people trying to get by in extraordinary times.
Euphoria presents a classic love triangle among three anthropologists in New Guinea between the world wars. The main charcter is Nell Stone, modeled after Margaret Mead, a free-thinking, insightful, deeply empathetic student of native cultures. Her husband Fen is her opposite, cynical, greedy and dismissive of local sentiments. Between them comes Bankson, the narrator, looking back years later on their brief time together in a small village, trying to control their lusts but not their ambitions. The story is well told, more absorbing and suspenseful as the book progresses. The author, like Nell, has a quick feel for other characters. Minor characters are well drawn with a few telling details. You especially feel for several of the villagers whose lives are changed by their observers.
The audiobook has a serious flaw, namely, the drab narration by Simon Vance. Bankson should be an energetic, passionate, vibrant young force of nature, despite his failed suicide attempt at the novel's start. Instead, Vance reads as a depressed and weary old man. This drains the novel of much of its excitement. Xe Sands, reading as Nell Stone, is far better, with the right enthusiasm and wonder in her voice. Overall, however, this was an excellent book.
This was a beautifully written, thoughtful book about the very different lives taken for granted by natives of two continents, a troubled region in Africa and a complacent midwestern America. The story follows Isaac, an impoverished African who flees civil war to become a curious, lonely student in Illinois. He is befriended by the equally isolated social worker Helen, and they slowly build a relationship. The best chapters take place in Africa, during the student uprising that inspired Isaac's closest friend. But the most memorable scene takes place in a small-town American luncheonette. Isaac expects little, and in her own way Helen also has muted ambitions. There are many moving moments on both continents. And both narrators are excellent, with the right voices of tenderness and regret. A strongly recommended novel.
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