WHIRLing Away!

As you all know by now, WHIRL stands for What Have I Read Lately.  Sometimes I read a book and I don’t have time to post at length about it, but I don’t want you to miss out on a really good read.  So I WHIRL and tell you just a little bit about what I’ve read lately.  But you should know–often these are some of the best books I’ve read in a long time.  Here goes:

The True Deceiver by Tove Janssen.  This is an odd yet thoroughly compelling book.  It won the 2011 Best Translated Book Award, which is how it came onto my radar.  I checked it out of the library and was surprised to find that it was written in 1982 but wasn’t translated into English until 2009.  Thomas Teal is the translator and my edition has an introduction by Ali Smith.

The story takes place in a snow-laden village where everyone pretty much knows everyone else’s business.  Or so they think.  Katri Kling, always brutally honest and ferociously protective of her younger brother Mats, has earned the villagers fear and respect.  Caring nothing for anyone but Mats, Katri sets out on a relentless mission to secure his future.  And so they befriend Anna Aemelin, a children’s book illustrator who sees the world as she paints it–full of lovable, fluffy bunnies.

What happens to these individuals as they get closer to each other makes for a thought-provoking and page-turning read.  I was very grateful for Ali Smith’s introduction, which I read after I finished the book.  Her insight into the novel gave me much more to ponder than I would have done on my own.  It was like being in a Literary Masters book group!

Senselessness by Horatio Castellanos Moya.  Wow.  What a book.  I want others to read it so I can talk about it with them, but I hesitate to have my Literary Masters book groups read it because it is, how do I say this, not for everyone.  It’s a short, dense book, and I know it will stick with me for a while.  I look forward to reading more from this author.

The narrator tells us his story in a kind of stream-of-consciousness ramble, with long, convoluted sentences that have lots of repetition and end up circling back on each other.  He is editing a report that the Catholic Church has pulled together from the testimony of victims of military brutality during the country’s civil war.  We don’t know exactly which country they are in, but from outside reading I’ve done, I understand the place to be Guatemala, and the events to have taken place in the 1960’s.  The narrator is fearful of the repercussions from his work; after all, the military whose crimes he is exposing is still in power.

His fear turns into paranoia, but what do paranoid people say? “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me.”  Perhaps that’s a clue to this book, which is alternately hilariously funny and horrifically shocking.

This is, without a doubt, one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

The Privileges by Jonathan Dee is also an excellent read.  This is similar to Carol Edgarian’s novel Three Stages of Amazement in that it follows the lives of two people who decide to grab their piece of the American Dream, but with vastly different results.  I found this novel very literary in how it is crafted, and I would love to discuss that aspect of it with a Literary Masters book group, but even if you read it on your own, it’s a terrific story.  Very compelling.  The kind of book I couldn’t wait to get back to.

Perhaps you’ve heard by now that Philip Roth is the fourth writer to have won the Man Booker International Prize, awarded every other year.  He’s joined Alice Munro, one of my favorite authors, as well as Chinua Achebe, and Ismail Kadare.  So…I went to my local library and checked out The Ghost Writer, the first of a series of novels with Zuckerman as the narrator.  Now, you may know that one of my all-time-most-hilarious-fall-off-the-couch-laughing books is Portnoy’s Complaint, and I like Philip Roth in general, so I was looking forward to this book.

I really enjoyed it.  Many themes are in it that will surface in other Roth novels, and I even thought about picking up The Finkler Question, a book I disliked, again.  Something in Roth reminded me of the best bits of Jacobson…

Montana 1948 by Larry Watson won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, and it is a wonderful little book.  I read it in a day.  Narrated by a grown man who is looking back on the summer of his twelfth year, the story manages to be both lyrical and riveting.  I couldn’t help thinking of To Kill A Mockingbird while I read it, although the two stories are nothing alike.  I think it is the coming of age quality of it, as well as the unforgettable voice of the narrator that reminded me of Harper Lee’s masterpiece.

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