Robert Low

The Wolf Sea, Robert Low’s second book of the Oathsworn series, continues where The Whale Road (Oathsworn #1) left off. The novel opens with young Orm, the Viking leader of the Oathsworn, with his scruffy, battle-weary band of men stranded in Constantinople. When Orm’s sword, the Rune Serpent, is stolen by Starkad, the Oathsworn embark on a perilous mission to retrieve the sword and rescue their captured brothers. Their mission takes them across the 10th Century lands of Cyprus, Syria, and Jerusalem.

Along the way, the Oathsworn get embroiled in battles between rival factions of east and west for control of land and resources. Orm has to forge alliances with various groups to ensure the survival of his followers as they advance toward their goal. They encounter Muslims, Christians, Greeks, Bedouins, and Danes. They cross deserts and seek shelter from unremitting sand storms. They enter into fierce battles and witness the gruesome horrors of torture and decapitated bodies in an atmosphere saturated with the smell of blood and haunted by flies hovering over dismembered limbs. The descriptions are vivid; the brutality graphic.

Orm emerges as the most fully developed character. He wears the mantle of leadership with a heavy heart, haunted by the responsibilities of being the leader of the Oathsworn. Thrust into unfamiliar territory, he navigates his followers through an alien land, through strange alliances and senseless killings, and through betrayals by men who were once deemed blood brothers, all the while straddling between the old-world beliefs in Odin and the Norse gods and those of the Christ-followers.

Robert Low has written another exciting work of historical fiction. It is action-packed; skillfully integrates historical fact with historical fiction; and offers a vivid description of the locations, battles, and culture clashes of the 10th Century eastern Mediterranean. It moves at a galloping pace. And, perhaps, therein lies a shortcoming. We barely have time to accommodate to one location and its inhabitants before we are thrust into yet another battle in a different location with yet another enemy. The plethora of characters, some of whom are sketchily developed at best, is another shortcoming.

Although not as strong as The Whale Road, The Wolf Sea is, nevertheless, an enjoyable read for aficionados of historical fiction and all things Viking.

Recommended.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Elif Shafak

The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak is an engaging blend of historical fact with fiction. The novel opens with an elderly Jahan briefly recalling his life as the architect’s apprentice in 16th Century Istanbul, the center of the Ottoman Empire. It then flashes back to his youth and his years in Istanbul.

At the age of twelve, a naïve Jahan enters Istanbul with Chota, a splendid gift of a white elephant sent from the Shah of Hindustan for the menagerie of Suleiman the Magnificent. Jahan’s original intention is to run away as soon as he gets Chota situated, but he ends up staying in Istanbul for the next couple of decades as Chota’s friend, trainer, and care-taker. Eventually taken under the wing of the architect Mimar Sinan, he trains in architecture while absorbing some of Sinan’s spiritual wisdom. Mimar Sinan serves under three sultans, rising to the position of Royal Architect and building some of Istanbul’s magnificent mosques. Jahan becomes skilled in designing and building mosques, bridges, schools, aqueducts, as well as in renovating existing structures.

The intriguing world of the 16th Century Ottoman Empire is seen through the eyes of Jahan. He describes in vivid detail the opulence and barbarism of the palace and its inhabitants, the intrigue and rivalry within the palace, the crowded and narrow streets of Istanbul, and the cosmopolitan nature of its inhabitants.

Because Chota is frequently called upon to amplify the sultan’s grandeur, as her trainer, Jahan participates in parades and other ceremonial functions, fights in battles, and entertains the sultan and his entourage. He falls in love with the Princess Mihrimah during her frequent visits to Chota. He interacts with foreign dignitaries and meets historical figures, including Michelangelo. He even spends time in the dungeon when he defies the powerful Grand Vizier Rustem Pasha. Eventually, Jahan is forced to flee Istanbul and ends up in Hindustan where he meets the Shah and becomes one of the two Chief Royal Architects working on the Taj Mahal to commemorate the Shah’s deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

The structure is episodic in nature, unfolding as it does through a series of incidents revolving around the central character, Jahan. Rather than having a coherent plot from beginning to end, the narrative meanders, taking detours that occasionally lead nowhere, much like some of the streets in Istanbul. Just as a snake biting its tale, the novel ends where it began—with a century old, frail Jahan, now married to a woman some sixty years his junior, physically deteriorating, and longing for the release of death.

Shafak has written an entertaining and imaginative novel that takes place over a period of several decades. Her extensive research on the subject is evident. The atmosphere, sights, sounds, smells, and people of 16th Century Istanbul are described in vivid detail and have the ring of authenticity. Mystery and magic are woven into the tale. Epic in scope and skillfully integrating historical fact with fiction, The Architect’s Apprentice is an entertaining read, especially for lovers of a historical fiction situated during the time of the Ottoman Empire.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Anita Desai

Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day has a quiet strength that slowly creeps up on you. Against the backdrop of the political upheaval and turmoil in pre-partition India is the story of the four children of the Das family. The novel opens with the four siblings as adults. Raja, the eldest son, has moved away, married the Muslim daughter of their former landlord, and lives in Hyderabad. Tara, the youngest daughter, has come home with her husband to spend a few days in her childhood home visiting her sister, Bimla, and their mentally challenged brother, Baba. Bimla, a single, middle-aged college professor, assumed the care taking responsibilities for Baba and for the aging Aunt Mira while she was alive.

Tensions surface between Tara and Bimla. Although Bimla claims she is satisfied with her life, she harbors a torrent of anger and resentment toward her siblings, especially Raja because she feels abandoned by him, and Tara because she married a diplomat and has become a well-traveled socialite. As the tensions smolder between the two siblings, we are thrust back to their childhood.

We discover the children were neglected by parents totally absorbed with themselves and their own activities. In many ways, the children were orphaned long before their parents died. With the arrival of Aunt Mira, the children are finally wrapped in a cocoon of love and acceptance. An aging, balding woman, Aunt Mira’s affection for the children is evoked with gentle, loving detail. The description of her arrival to the Das household is particularly poignant. She earns the devotion of the children by mothering, nurturing, and loving them in ways their mother never did.

The four siblings are depicted as unique individuals, each struggling in his or her own way to find a path out of their stifling environment. Baba doesn’t speak. We are never sure if he understands what’s happening around him since he doesn’t react. He withdraws into a bubble by continuously playing old songs on a windup gramophone. As a young girl, Bimla competes with her brother Raja. She is an exemplary student, athletic, accomplished, popular, ambitious, and a high achiever. Raja is restless, torn between his Hindu identity and his desire for acceptance by his Muslim neighbors, especially the Muslim landlord whose daughter he eventually marries. Tara struggles with school. Bullied by classmates and her older siblings, teased mercilessly, friendless, and desperately lonely, her only comfort comes from snuggling up to Aunt Mira. She eventually finds a way out of her environment by marrying a diplomat.

This is a story about family, about the sibling rivalries, guilt, frustrations, petty jealousies, and cruelties experienced during childhood continuing to haunt well into adulthood. As Tara says to Bimla, “…but it’s never over. Nothings over, ever.” It is also a story about childhood aspirations and dreams and the disappointments we experience as adults when those dreams fail to materialize. And, finally, it is a story about aging.

Skilled in evoking a sense of time and place and in capturing the tensions and frustrations of childhood, Desai is a master storyteller. Her prose is lyrical as she slowly draws you in to the lives of her characters. Themes introduced early in the novel recur as it progresses, shedding light on the divergent paths taken by the siblings. Desai shows the childhood baggage we carry into adulthood will never leave us until we make a conscious effort to let it go. The novel ends on a suggestion of acceptance and forgiveness—a glimpse at the clear light of day. Bimla indicates a willingness to reconcile with her estranged brother by recognizing that no matter how their paths have diverged, they are all inextricably linked by a past rooted in the same soil:

That soil contained all time, past and future, in it. It was dark with time, rich with time. It was where her deepest self lived, and the deepest selves of her sister and brothers and all those who shared that time with her.

A beautiful novel told with sensitivity and compassion. Highly recommended.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Kamila Shamsie

What would you do if your love of family violated the dictates of government, especially if those dictates appear unnecessarily harsh and devoid of compassion? This is the situation Kamila Shamsie explores in her novel, Home Fire, based on the classical Greek play, Antigone.

Shamsie clothes the story of Antigone in contemporary garb. The setting is England after 9/11. The story is of three grown children of Pakistani origin, orphaned at a young age. Ali Pasha, their jihadist father, died under mysterious circumstances at Bagram. The lives of his children intertwine with another Muslim family of Pakistani origin, the family of Karamat Lone, the newly appointed British Home Secretary. 

Isma Pasha, the eldest, assumes care-taking responsibilities for her younger twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. Aneeka studies law while her twin is aimless, lacks ambition, and grapples with understanding the legacy of his father. His vulnerability and connection to a jihadi father attracts the attention of terrorists. They systematically and methodically recruit him to join their ranks.

The families’ lives intertwine when Eamonn, the son of the British Home Secretary, is seduced by Aneeka. Her initial intent is to exploit her influence on him to facilitate her brother’s return to England. But Parvaiz is killed by terrorists while making his way to the British Consulate. It is at this point the parallels with the story of Antigone become very evident.

Because Parvaiz’s British citizenship has been revoked due to his terrorist activities, Karamat Lone denies permission for his body to be returned to England for burial near his mother. Aneeka decides to take matters into her own hands and flies to Pakistan to force the issue by defiantly holding vigil near her brother’s corpse. Her stance garners widespread media coverage. Although both Karamat Lone’s wife and son urge him to show compassion and allow the burial to take place in England, he insists upon strict adherence to the law. Eamonn defies his father by flying to Pakistan to be with the woman he loves. Both Eamonn and Aneeka die wrapped in each other’s arms in an explosive ending.

Shamsie explores the issue of how much of what we are and what we do is contingent upon our family background. The novel opens with Isma pursuing her education in America. She is portrayed as a complex character who informs government officials about her brother’s activities to protect her sister. Unfortunately, her character recedes to the background as the novel progresses, giving prominence to her two siblings.

Parvaiz and Eamonn have in common their lack of ambition and indeterminate focus. But because one is the son of a jihadi and the other the son of an important government official, their lives take completely different paths.

Unlike her sister, Aneeka is uncompromising in her loyalties and flaunts her defiance of the state. She shows no hesitation in taking a very visible and provocative stand in support of her brother’s right to be buried near his mother in England.

This is a powerful book about the obligations of family, the fractured experience of Muslim immigrants living in the West after 9/11, and the politics that embroil and ultimately destroy two families. The prose was unremarkable, and the characters’ motivations could have been explored in greater depth. Plot-driven and slow to start, the novel gradually picks up pace and increases in intensity until the climactic, explosive ending.

Shamsie gives contemporary relevance to the age-old clash between familial love and loyalty versus adherence to civic law. Her exploration raises profound questions about the choices young immigrants make and the forces that drive them toward those choices.

A compelling read.

 

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead tells the story of Cora, a slave in a Georgia cotton plantation. Abandoned by her mother, Cora eventually decides to make a run for freedom with a fellow slave, Caesar. They escape to South Carolina by riding on a literal Underground Railroad, a network of tracks and tunnels under the ground, built and operated by former slaves and their sympathizers. Eventually they are hunted down by a ruthless slave catcher. Cora manages to escape and flees from one state to the next in search of freedom. The novel ends on an optimistic note in that it appears as if Cora is well on her way to finding the freedom she has long sought.

The novel begins on a strong note. We meet Cora as a young girl trying to survive in a brutal environment. We witness the horrors of slavery, and we see the impact of institutionalized oppression both on the oppressor and the oppressed. The descriptions are vivid and graphic and cause one to recoil in horror.

After Cora’s escape to South Carolina, however, the novel seems to lose focus. We are introduced to a host of new characters, which is understandable. But we are also given fairly extensive background on each of the characters, even the minor ones—their families, their upbringing, why they are the way they are, etc. etc. All of this tertiary information is problematic, redundant, and detracts from the main narrative. Why give us so much background information on a minor character, especially since such material slows the pace of the narrative and interrupts its progression?

None of the main characters are fully developed. They are portrayed in a detached, clinical manner, so we never become emotionally invested in any of them, not even in Cora. We should feel immersed in her experiences and see what she sees, hear what she hears, and feel what she feels. Instead, we observe her from a distance, which prevents us from forging a connection with her.

The absence of a cohesive structure in a narrative that jerked from one event to the next with little to no transitions coupled with a lackluster character portrayal made this a somewhat disappointing read. It is certainly not up to the level of previous Pulitzer Prize winners. But it is worth reading if, for no other reason, because of its depiction of the horrors and dehumanizing impact of slavery in its opening sections.

Recommended with reservations.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Kent Haruf

Benediction by Kent Haruf is the third book in a series about the residents of Holt, a fictional town in Colorado. The novel lives up to the very high standard established by its predecessors, Plainsong and Eventide.

As with Haruf’s other novels, an atmosphere of quiet simplicity pervades Benediction. The language is simple and straightforward. The absence of quotation marks in the dialogue gives the impression of speech conducted in low keys and subdued, hushed tones. Haruf’s ability to depict true to life characters with simple language and little embellishment is truly amazing. We know these people. They are engaging and heart-warming. We recognize them as honest, generous, reliable, and genuine.

Different life stories weave their way in and out of the narrative. There is the eight-year-old orphan girl who recently lost her mother to cancer and now lives with her grandmother; the retired teacher who has moved back home to live with her mother; the gay son estranged from his family; the preacher whose sermon on love and forgiveness of one’s enemies incurs the wrath of many in his congregation. At the center of it all is Dad Lewis, an elderly man in the final stages of terminal cancer. Wrapped in a cocoon of love, tenderness, and support from his wife, daughter, neighbors, and employees, Dad Lewis reflects on his life and prepares for his death.

There is little action or conflict in the novel. So if you enjoy fast-moving, action-packed thrillers, Benediction is not for you. But if you enjoy reading the words of a consummate artist of “the precious ordinary,” a keen observer of human behavior who reveals the complexity of ordinary people in a prose style defined by its elegance and simplicity, then you will love what is yet another masterpiece by Kent Haruf.

Highly recommended.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

A young man runs for his life in the streets of Nairobi, chased by unnamed assailants. Bullets whiz in all directions. As he runs, he flashes back to his girlfriend and his sister, Ajany. A bullet finds its target and he crumbles. He bleeds on the sidewalk. He coughs up blood. He stops breathing. Odidi Oganda is dead.

This is the dramatic opening of Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. Serving as the focal point, Odidi’s death catapults us down labyrinthine paths that intertwine the tragedy of a family with that of a nation. Its many disparate threads weave in and out of the narrative, frequently returning to the focal point of Odidi’s death.

An Englishman comes to Kenya in search of his father; a father mourns for his son; a sister returns from Brazil to bury her brother and to learn the mysterious circumstances of his death; a mother runs away in a burst of uncontrollable rage. Each character is haunted by a past; each character wrestles with demons that won’t release their grip.

Threaded intermittently throughout this family tragedy is the story of Kenya: the political upheavals, the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s, assassinations, murders, violence, torture, unidentified mass graves, secrets, lies, unspeakable crimes, revenge, smuggling rings, and corrupt officials.

This is a difficult book to read, not only because of its content. Adhiambo Owuor’s writing style presents some challenges. Much of the novel is written in fragments, one word sentences, shifts in time with no transitions, references to past events and people that leave the reader clueless, the occasional stream of consciousness in which a character shifts from the present to the past because a memory is triggered, and a smattering of Swahili which may or may not be followed by an English translation.

All this can be bewildering. But as we get accustomed to Owuor’s writing style and learn to read the novel, we may find it easier to decipher and piece together the disparate threads. Owuor captures the truncated language of trauma and recovery on behalf of a nation and its people, the fragmentary nature of memory, the struggle to deal with the violent death of a loved one, a speech that reveals only half-truths, secrets that refuse to stay buried, a country ravaged by violence and political turmoil, and an all-encompassing thin layer of dust covering the land and its people—a dust which blows this way and that at the slightest provocation to reveal the horrors that lie beneath.

What emerges from this complex work is a challenging read but one that is worth the effort for those willing to grapple with its style.

Recommended.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Ian McGuire

Coarse language? Yes. Vulgarity? Yes. Violence? Yes. Brutality? Yes. Graphic references to bodily functions and smells? Yes. Murder? Yes. Greed? Yes. Animal cruelty? Yes.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what you’ll find in The North Water by Ian McGuire. It is definitely not a novel for the squeamish. But if you enjoy reading about the gritty, harsh reality of life on a whaling boat in the late 1850s; good versus evil fought against the expansive backdrop of the Arctic with its inhospitable climate; man against beast; and the struggle for survival in nature at its harshest, you will enjoy this novel.

Ian McGuire holds nothing back in descriptive detail. His extensive research on the whaling industry is on full display in the novel. With unflinching honesty, he evokes the sights, sounds, smells, and activities of men on a whaling boat and their efforts to survive amid Arctic snow drifts and blizzards. There are echoes of the work of Jack London, Melville’s Moby Dick, and William Faulkner’s short story, “The Bear.”

Through their coarse, vulgar dialogue and the descriptive detailing of their appearance and behavior, the characters emerge as well-rounded figures who are all too real. McGuire provides a stunning example of evil personified in Henry Drax, a man without a conscience or moral compass. He takes what he wants and slits the throat of man or beast without batting an eye. Pitted against him is Patrick Sumner, a flawed hero struggling with his past and hiding in a fog of laudanum addiction. The narrative clips at a rapid pace with an unremitting suspense that grips the reader from the first page to the last.

Historical accuracy, attention to detail, the portrayal of complex characters, a vernacular that captures the coarse speech of men on a whaling vessel, and the use of present tense to generate immediacy combine to immerse the reader in a real time, in a real place, and with real people.  

A compelling read. Highly recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction with the grit and authenticity of the period.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Ismail Kadare

The counselors and High Priest gasped. The Pharaoh Cheop’s had just announced his intention to deviate from tradition by refusing to have a pyramid erected in his honor. His announcement sent his counselors in a panicked frenzy to research the issue. They finally found their answer. The pyramid, they told Cheops, serves multiple purposes. It is not just the future burial site of the Pharaoh. It also serves to keep the multitudes under control through oppression and forced labor. Give them busy work, they argued. The higher the pyramid, the more arduous the task of building it, the less time the rabble will have to make trouble. It would be an obsession for decades, keeping the masses distracted from their other concerns. Once completed, it would stand as a symbol of the Pharaoh’s power and majesty, dwarfing everything and everyone in its surroundings.

Cheops was convinced.

So begins Ismail Kadare’s The Pyramid, a tour de force depicting the brutal tactics a totalitarian regime will employ to sustain its powers. The pyramid snuffs out people by the hundreds. Kadare chronicles in elaborate detail the hauling of thousands upon thousands of giant stones from far away quarries, their positioning in the pyramid, and the numbers of people who lost their limbs or were crushed to death in the process.

The construction of the pyramid precipitates periodic purges in which people are disfigured, tortured, and executed. It chronicles theories of internal and external conspiracies; the ubiquitous spread of superstition, rumors, and lies; the tedium and mind-numbing boredom of the work; the silencing of speech; paranoia; the fear and trembling with which the Pharaoh’s closest advisors approach him; and the rush to fulfill the Pharaoh’s every whim even at the cost of the maiming and killing of innocents.

The pyramid comes to represent different things to different people throughout the decades of its construction, its completion, and beyond. It symbolizes a tool of oppression wielded by authoritarian governments whose goal is to magnify the power of the regime and diminish all else in their wake. At the end of the novel, Kadare explicitly draws a parallel between the construction of the pyramid and modern tools of oppression:

Pyramidal phenomena occurred in cycles, without it ever being possible to determine precisely the timing of their appearance; for no one has ever been able to establish with certainty whether what happens is the future, or just the past moving backward, like a crab. People ended up accepting that maybe neither the past nor the future were what they were thought to be, since both could reverse their direction of travel, like trams at a terminus.

The Pyramid is an allegory of life under any authoritarian regime at any time and in any place. The atmosphere is haunting, eerie, and terrifying. This may not be a novel for everyone, but it is a remarkable achievement, prescient and relevant to our time.

Highly recommended.

 

 

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Alina Bronsky

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky tells the story of three generations of women: Rosalinda (Rosa) Achmetowna; her daughter, Sulfia; and Sulfia’s daughter, Aminat. Their story is told through the voice of Rosa, an unreliable narrator who shares her unvarnished opinions on life, love, marriage, and a host of other issues, including her supposedly good looks and impeccable taste in food and clothes.

Rosa emerges as an unsavory character with a distorted self-image and tyrannical tendencies. Convinced her daughter is too stupid and too ugly to find a husband for herself, Rosa successfully orchestrates the terrain for her. Sulfia marries and divorces twice. Rosa then navigates a third husband for her, a German enthralled by Aminat, Sulfia’s young daughter. Undeterred, Rosa insists he cannot have the one without the other two. Besotted with the young girl, the German agrees to the deal, and the three women move to Germany to live with a man who reluctantly marries Sulfia while obsessing over Aminat.

That is just the tip of the iceberg of Rosa’s devious machinations. Her interference in the life of her daughter and granddaughter has no limits. Convinced she is only doing what is best for them, she hounds them, threatens them, and bullies them into submission. She exploits the weakness of anyone she encounters to further her agenda, resorts to blackmail at the earliest opportunity, maneuvers people like pawns in a chess game, and engages in the most bizarre behaviors.

In spite of her many unsavory qualities, Rosa is enterprising, industrious, and determined to make a better life for herself and her family, no matter the cost. She perceives every obstacle as a challenge. To save herself embarrassment in front of her daughter’s future in-laws, she sets a tablecloth on fire to divert their attention from her husband who has shamelessly fallen asleep on the dinner table. Armed with her stockpile of chocolates and other goodies, she bribes her way to get what she wants. We sympathize with her daily struggles to obtain even the most basic necessities in a communist country. But we also cringe at the ridiculous extremes she goes to in order to advance her agenda.

Rosa’s outrageous behavior and attitude is exaggerated, almost bordering on caricature. This cartoon-like portrayal of Rosa and an ending that is inconclusive weaken an otherwise engaging read.

Recommended with some reservation.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Mariana Enriquez

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez is a collection of twelve short stories set in the backdrop of an Argentina plagued with heat, poverty, and stench. The stories are unnerving. In one form or another, each story deals with a jarring event that defies explanation. The stories are replete with mysterious disappearances, brutality, violence, addiction, and characters (either real or imagined) that are misshapen and physically or mentally damaged.

Violence and brutality occur with regular frequency: the corpse of a young boy is found with cigarette burns on his torso and a decapitated head; a young girl (possibly a victim of child sexual assault) self-mutilates; a priest kills himself after warning of something demonic residing in the polluted black river of a nearby slum.

And then there are the mysterious disappearances and appearances that defy explanation: two girls are accosted in a room by the sounds of cars, heavy pounding on window shutters, running feet, screaming men, shining headlights—all of which terrify the girls but none of which is either seen or heard by adults; the ghost of a brutal child-murderer appears to a tourist guide on a bus; a husband disappears while on a road trip; two teenagers witness the disappearance of their friend behind a door in an abandoned house. Never seen again, her ghost supposedly haunts the house. A woman sees a young boy in her neighbor’s courtyard. His legs are chained and he looks barely human. When he shows up in her bedroom and devours her cat, we are not sure whether what she sees is real or a hallucination.

Finally, there are disturbing activities: a young woman’s obsession with a human skull she finds tossed among a pile of garbage. Taking the skull to her bedroom, she decorates it with beads, a wig, lights for eyes. Determined to “complete” the skull, she decides to dig for human bones. And then there is the story of a young boy who withdraws from the world and becomes obsessed with the deep web. And in another story, a clandestine organization helps women set themselves on fire so they can serve as visually potent protests of male violence against women.

The anthology is dark and disturbing. Many of the stories are inconclusive, ending on a chilling note that contributes to the atmosphere of unease. Enriquez juxtaposes bizarre events with routine concerns and a resigned tone—as if to suggest Argentina, having barely emerged from a brutal dictatorship, continues to be haunted by its past horrors, blurring the lines between reality and illusion, between the normal and the insane.

Recommended for those interested in tales of horror and the macabre.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Rabih Alameddine

"You could say I was thinking of other things when I shampooed my hair blue, and two glasses of red wine didn’t help my concentration.

Let me explain."

With those words, we are introduced to Aaliya Saleh, a seventy-two-year-old Lebanese woman and the narrator in Rabih Alamaddine’s novel, An Unnecessary Woman. Her culture may classify her as unnecessary because she is elderly, divorced, and childless. But Aaliya is anything but “unnecessary.” She is precocious, sassy, eccentric, witty, resilient, socially recluse, introverted, brilliant, and an absolute delight.

The novel unfolds in the form of Aaliya’s monologue. She reveals details about her childhood, her loveless marriage at the age of 16, her subsequent divorce, her tense relationship with her mother, her friendship with Hannah, her employment in a bookstore, her aging body, her three neighbors (“the three witches”), and a consuming passion to which she has devoted fifty years of her life. This passion consists of translating translations into Arabic. Specifically, she translates novels that have already been translated into French or English. She completes a translation, crates the manuscript, and ferrets it away in an empty room to be hidden from prying eyes. Each January 1, Aaliya embarks on a new translation. By the time we meet her, this small room is bursting with crates. 

Her monologue is full of witticism, inspirational gems and insights, her voice vibrant and engaging. She has a way with words. When her husband divorces her and walks out of their apartment, she says, "I did not wait for the smell of him to dissipate on its own. I expunged it." Convinced she will remain unloved and unattractive all her life, she says of herself, “I was already different: tall, not attractive at all. Mine is a face that would have trouble launching a canoe.”

To say Aaliya is an avid reader doesn’t begin to do her justice. Aaliya lives and breathes books. She speaks of characters in novels as if they are old acquaintances. She peppers her musing about life with lines from poetry. She drops names of artists effortlessly in her sentences. She is erudite, knowledgeable about music and composers, and shares interesting tidbits about their lives. And she does all this while navigating the streets of Beirut during lulls in the civil war with its decimated buildings, crumbling infrastructure, shell-shocked population, and intermittent power outages.

This is a wonderful novel. Rabih Alameddine uses his immense talent to craft an endearing portrait of an unforgettable woman. The last scene was particularly moving. Aaliya’s storage room with all her crated manuscripts has been flooded due to a leak in an upstairs bathroom. Fifty years of labor is reduced to a soggy mess. Devastated, Aaliya weeps uncontrollably. But all is not lost. Rescue comes in the form of her three neighbors, clad in dressing gowns and slippers, who begin the painstaking task of salvaging the manuscripts armed with hair dryers and clotheslines. This is a beautiful image of sisterhood and community to end what is a remarkable novel.

Highly recommended, especially for those of us who share Aaliya’s passion for snuggling up between the covers of a book.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Zadie Smith

White Teeth by Zadie Smith tells the story of the turbulent interaction of three dysfunctional families living in England: an Englishman, his Jamaican wife, and their daughter; a couple from Bengal and their twin boys; and an English couple, Joyce and Marcus Chalfen, and their children. Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, who served together in the military, link the first two families. The Chalfens are drawn into the foray through the children.

Smith vividly details the internal and external conflicts plaguing the families. There are the obvious generational conflicts and the conflicts between the colonizer and the colonized. Additionally, the immigrant parents and their children struggle to locate themselves in a culture that is racist and exclusionary. Samad Iqbal wages and ultimately loses the battle to instill in his children pride in their culture and adherence to their religion. Meanwhile his wife, Alsana, constantly undermines and ridicules him. Irie, the daughter of Archie and his Jamaican wife, Clara, struggles with her identity and exhibits signs of internalized racism. Add into the mix an Iqbal son who becomes radicalized; a Jehovah’s witness grandmother; a lesbian cousin; an English woman (Joyce Chalfen) disguising her unwholesome obsession with the handsome, young Millat Iqbal in the garb of “I’m only trying to help him;” her husband incurring the wrath of religious communities for performing genetic experiments on a mouse; stir the pot gently with the struggle for cultural and racial identities, sprinkle generously with institutionalized racism, derogatory language and behaviors, and one begins to get an inkling of the abundant story-lines in the novel. Smith skillfully weaves the disparate threads together uniting them in the crescendo of the final scene.

Two qualities in the novel are particularly impressive. The first is Smith’s uncanny ability to capture the dialect, intonation, accent, and diction of each of her characters to reflect their ethnicity, racial heritage, and age group. Smith has an impressive ear for replicating the ebb and flow and pacing of dialog so much so that one can almost overhear the conversations and easily recognize the speaker. But even though some of her characters may share the same cultural heritage, they don’t necessarily express the same concerns. Each emerges as a fully rounded, well-developed, flesh and blood individual with a unique personality and distinct voice.

The second impressive quality lies in the voice of the omniscient narrator—sharp, witty, funny, and perceptive. The novel is replete with instances of laugh out loud hilarity. The narrator pokes fun at her characters, punctures their grandiose, ostensible motives for pursuing a course of action or embracing a cause when their real motives usually have to do with feelings of guilt and/or sexual desire. There are plenty of asides to the reader as invitations to share the joke. But while we may laugh at the quirky personalities and their dilemmas, what emerges is the narrator’s love for her characters in spite of—or maybe because of—their struggles, their foibles, their weaknesses, their delusions, and their search for belonging—in other words, those very qualities that make us all human.

White Teeth is an engaging, funny, entertaining, and well-crafted multi-cultural novel with true-to-life dialog and flawed characters stepping off its pages in all their richness and diversity.

Highly recommended.

 

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Madeleine Thien

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien is a novel of epic proportions. It tells the story of two families whose lives intersect during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in China, culminating in the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The novel opens with Marie (Jiang Li-Ling), the daughter of Chinese immigrants, living in Canada with her mother. Her father has abandoned them and returned to Hong Kong where he later commits suicide. When the daughter of one of her father’s former friends arrives at their home seeking refuge, Marie begins a fractured odyssey to learn of her roots. Her odyssey unveils an intricate web of connections with family and friends who lived through China’s Cultural Revolution. Woven within the shifting time lines and different generations are actual historical events that lend authenticity to the novel.

Thien portrays a memorable array of characters with colorful names like Big Mother, Knife, Old Cat, Swirl, Wen the Dreamer, Ling, Sparrow, Ai-ming, and Flying Bear. Each character struggles to maintain a semblance of personal dignity and authenticity while living within the severe restrictions of the Cultural Revolution. Against the backdrop of famine in the countryside, portraits of Mao Zedong and Zhou EnLai glaring from city street corners and inside buildings, forced separation of families, “re-education” in labor camps, random accusations of “counter-revolutionary” activities, neighbors betraying neighbors to save themselves, the parroting of the latest government sponsored slogans, castigation of students and faculty for their embrace of European music and musical instruments, and government sanctioned torture and executions, Thien details how a repressive regime instills fear by invading every aspect of people’s daily lives.

The characters pursue a variety of paths to survive the onslaught of repressive measures. Some take to hiding their libraries in secret, underground cellars; some communicate secret messages encoded in The Book of Records; some transport themselves to different worlds by composing and/or playing classical music; some acquiesce to the demands of the regime; while others refuse to submit and are punished accordingly or go into hiding. For some the daily humiliations and beatings are too hard to tolerate, and they commit suicide.

The characters meditate on the nature of time; the many uses of language to hide, reveal, betray, and coerce statements of self-incrimination; the definition of art; and the power of literature to link past, present, and future. But it is music that plays the most prominent role in the novel. References to classical music and the compositions of Bach, Beethoven, and Prokofiev infuse the novel and stitch together the lives of the characters, providing them with solace and a temporary means to escape the brutal reality of their lives. The characters immerse themselves in and have an intimate relationship with music. Young Zhuli is a gifted violinist who takes her own life after suffering a demoralizing humiliation and severe beating; her uncle Sparrow, on the faculty at the Shanghai Conservatory, is a brilliant composer who experiences a shut down of his creative juices for decades; and the talented pianist Kai eventually takes his own life, unable to forgive himself for betraying friends and colleagues.

Thien has crafted a novel deeply rooted in the politics of China, but its detailed depiction of life under a repressive government is universal. The location may change; the players may change; but the nature of oppression does not. As Old Cat says to Zhuli:

If they want to come for you, they will come, and it doesn’t matter what you read or what you failed to read. The books on your shelves, the music you cherish, the past lives you’ve lived, all these details are just an excuse. In the old days, spite and jealousy drove the eunuchs in all their power struggles. Perhaps we live in a new age, but people don’t change overnight.

A powerful novel, complex in execution, panoramic in scope and depth, profound in insight, and universal in applicability.

Highly recommended.

 

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Manda Scott

Boudica: Dreaming the Serpent Spear is the fourth and final book in the Boudica series by Manda Scott. This has been a captivating series about the warrior queen Boudica as she spearheaded the Celtic struggle to defeat the Roman occupation of Britannia. This final book coalesces the threads from previous books and brings them to a culminating, climactic battle in which Boudica is killed and the Celtic warriors are forced to retreat in defeat. Although history tells us the Boudica does not live to see the expulsion of Rome from Britannia, nevertheless, Scott’s masterful and tension-filled description of the final battle keeps us hoping until the last page for an alternative outcome.

The characters are vividly portrayed and show growth. Bán/Valerius is reconciled with his dual identity and is no longer conflicted about where his allegiances lie; Cunomar shows his maturity by putting the needs of the people above his own need to prove himself worthy. Although still a young child, Graine shows a maturity and understanding well beyond her years but one that perhaps borders on implausibility considering the physical and emotional trauma she experienced at the hands of the Roman conquerors. And, finally, there is Boudica, a mother, a sister, a warrior, a hero, and a leader. Through her portrayal of Boudica, Manda Scott shows that a leader transcends her physical limitations because she represents something larger than herself. By the end of the series, Boudica the warrior is no longer capable of being the warrior she once was, but Boudica as a symbol and representative of her people’s aspirations remains untarnished.

The final book of the series veers more toward historical fantasy than historical fiction in that gods and spirits of the ancestors intrude in the affairs of humans with greater frequency than in previous books. And animals continue to be endowed with an uncanny connection with humans, anticipating their thoughts, actions, and emotions.

Scott draws the reader into a world in which men and women willingly sacrifice themselves for the greater good; in which to die in battle is considered the highest honor; in which the spirits of ancestors are seen to receive the dead; and in which dreamers are honored and relied upon to manipulate nature, send their thoughts across great distances, and give direction and guidance to the people.

The battle for control of Britannia is depicted as a clash of cultures. The invading Roman army is technologically advanced, disciplined, organized, eager to pillage natural resources, and brutal in its treatment of the indigenous population. The indigenous population consists of feuding tribes, which eventually unite to fight a common enemy. They communicate with nature and with the world of the spirit just as easily as they communicate with each other. Viewed by their Roman conquerors as primitive, they paint their bodies, run around naked, and engage in an elaborate system of mystical beliefs that baffle and scare the invading army. But they behave according to a strict code of honor, placing loyalty to family, friends, and tribal affiliations above all else.

The novel is not without its shortcomings. Descriptions of the battles can be confusing and some passages are obscure and unnecessarily drawn out. But the biggest drawback lies in the conclusion. The intense tumult of the final battle, replete with clashing armor, screams of vengeance and death, blowing trumpets and horns, thrashing horses, and dismembered limbs was a thrilling page-turner. By contrast, the final scene with the dying Breaca feels inconclusive and disappointing, as if the novel fizzled out with a whimper.

In spite of these few shortcomings, however, Boudica: Dreaming the Serpent Spear is a crowning achievement in an entertaining and exciting series.

Highly recommended.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Alina Bronsky; translated from the German by Tim Mohr

So you live in the northern Ukrainian village of Tschernowo. Your village has been evacuated because of its proximity to the nuclear power plant accident in Chernobyl. In spite of dire warnings from your physician/daughter and government officials, you decide to move back to your village. You prefer to live in your own home in your own village on your own terms and not worry about radioactive contamination. You are a feisty octogenarian, fearless, full of grit, compassionate, kind, fiercely independent, and fiercely determined. Meet the delightful Baba Dunja in Baba Dunja’s Last Love by Alina Bronsky, translated from the German by Tim Mohr.

Baba Dunja lives in her once abandoned village with a handful of elderly neighbors, all of whom lead quiet, simple lives, unfazed by the radiation that has seeped into their bones or into the contaminated, misshapen fruits and vegetables they grow and consume. They form a small community, isolated from the outside world with occasional visits from reporters or from people in white protective suits who arrive periodically to take samples of insects, vegetables, and bodily fluids from the intrepid residents. The residents’ peaceful existence is temporarily interrupted when a stranger shows up with his young daughter to take up residence.

Into this improbable setting of a radioactive village, Alina Bronsky thrusts a motley crew of unique, quirky characters. There is the terminally ill Petrow who refuses to eat certain foods because they are hazardous to his health; the overweight but beautiful Marja who keeps company with a goat; the doll-like Lenotschka who is quick to smile as she knits her endlessly long scarf; the almost 100-year old Sidorow who proposes marriage to Marja after Baba Dunja declines his overtures; and the Gavrilow couple who keep to themselves.

At the center of it all is their de-facto leader, the endearing Baba Dunja. By choosing to tell the story through the first person point of view of Baba Dunja, Bronsky gives us intimate access to the mind of this feisty, lovable woman. She is strong, resilient, and calmly accepts whatever life throws her way. She has raised two children, survived an abusive and alcoholic husband, been exposed to lethal doses of radiation. Now all she wants is to be left alone to live a humble life in her radioactive village. And no amount of reasoning with her will change her mind.

Baba Dunja exudes wisdom, generosity, and equanimity. Her gentle spirit touches all who come in contact with her. She can sum people up in a few short, pithy sentences and loves them in spite of—or maybe because of—their foibles. The image of this diminutive figure, not more than five feet tall, with her wrinkled face, liver-spotted hands, billowing head scarf, limping slowly back to her home in a virtually abandoned radioactive village is an image not soon to be forgotten.

Highly recommended.

 

 

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Bahiyyih Nakhjavani

The Woman Who Read Too Much by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani is based on the life of the 19th century Persian poet, theologian, radical thinker, and staunch advocate for women’s rights, Tahirih Qurratu’l-Ayn. The novel pays homage to Qurratu’l-Ayn for challenging orthodox interpretations of Islam and for her insistence on a woman’s right to literacy. Qurratu’l-Ayn, referred to throughout the novel as the poetess of Qazvin, is a courageous, brilliant, and stunningly beautiful woman who refuses to compromise her principles or submit to the role of a subordinate female as dictated by her patriarchal culture.

Grounding her advocacy of women’s rights on Islamic texts, the poetess of Qazvin debates the clerics and mullahs sent to interrogate her, outsmarting them at every turn. She incurs the wrath of her husband because of her superior intelligence. She challenges the cultural precepts designed to restrict a woman’s intellectual development by citing Islamic religious texts, which impose no such restrictions on women. In short, the poetess of Qazvin defies cultural norms and threatens the status quo by being a woman who is not only literate but is also educated, intelligent, articulate, outspoken, fearless, and a religious scholar.

The men responsible for her incarceration and brutal murder are threatened by her intelligence and ability to unmask their motives and behaviors. In times of famine, public executions, assassinations, torture, and the Shah’s callous indifference to the suffering of his people, the all-consuming focus of those in power is what to do with a woman who reads and who teaches other women to read to provide them with tools to think for themselves.

Nakhjavani is to be credited for recognizing that opposition to pioneers frequently comes from the very people they are trying to elevate. The Shah’s mother is particularly virulent in her opposition to the poetess of Qazvin because she understands a literate female with the unmitigated gall to think for herself poses a serious threat to the status quo. The younger sister who ultimately betrays the poetess is fueled by vindictive jealousy.

The novel is in four parts: The Book of the Mother (the Shah’s mother); The Book of the Wife (the mayor’s wife); The Book of the Sister (the Shah’s sister); and The Book of the Daughter (the poetess of Qazvin). Nakhjavani employs interesting techniques in telling the story. None of the characters are named. Instead, they are identified by their roles, perhaps to suggest their universality. The non-linear narrative shifts backwards and forwards in time. The movement is spiral, circling back to the same event but moving upward as it does so with the addition of details, layers of meaning, and differing perspectives.

Nakhjavani sustains the readers’ attention with her storytelling technique and beautifully crafted sentences. Her words create patterns by weaving in and out through shifting time sequences. With irony and humor, the narrative voice exposes the hypocrisies, contradictions, willful ignorance, greed, and sheer brutality of those persecuting the heroine.

This is a novel about the power of literacy to subvert authority by undermining systemic efforts to oppress a people. It is about who has control over whom. Political events of the past and present are replete with examples of oppressive regimes exerting power over others by demonizing, persecuting, ridiculing and eradicating the opposition; engaging in censorship; curbing debate; stifling freedom of expression; seeking scapegoats for political unrest; and curtailing the education and movement of women. Nakhjavani’s novel about the struggles facing a pioneering advocate for women’s rights in 19th Century Persia is as relevant today as it was then. Ultimately this novel is about the struggle for autonomy and self-determination.

An inspiring and compelling read. Highly recommended

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Manda Scott

Boudica: Dreaming the Hound by Manda Scott is the third book in a four-book series about the Celtic warrior Boudica who led the tribes of Britannia against their Roman invaders.

This is the most exciting book in the series so far. It lacks the long, drawn out, complex battle maneuvers of Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle (#1) and the unconvincing transformation in Boudica: Dreaming the Bull (#2) of Bán of the Eceni tribe into Julius Valerius of the Roman military.

The novel is full of interesting twists and turns, allegiances and betrayals, disguises, confrontations with the Romans, acts of heroism, sacrifice, and spiritual quests. Scott skillfully builds each scene to its inevitable climax/confrontation. The characters are more fully developed: Cunomar, Boudica’s son anxious to step out of the shadow of his parents by proving himself a battle-hardened warrior; Graine, Boudica’s youngest daughter, frail, delicate, and a powerful dreamer; Bán/Valerius struggling to come to terms with his identity and define his allegiances; and Breaca/Boudica bearing the heavy mantle of leadership. The novel ends with Boudica and Valerius amassing an army to fight the onslaught of Rome’s battalions.

The novel leans more toward historical fantasy than historical fiction since the voices and spirits of the ancestors play a prominent role and influence events more so than in previous books in the series. Animals, notably hounds and horses, exhibit a refined sensibility and connection with humans bordering on the unreal/magical. Dreaming becomes paramount as gods and spirits of dead ancestors communicate regularly with the living. The characters rely heavily on lucid dreaming to guide their actions, nudging the series more toward historical fantasy and further away from historical fiction.

Although Scott depicts the actions of the Roman military as brutal and savage and their alliance with slavers as driven by an unquenchable thirst for profit, not all Romans are painted with the same sordid paintbrush. Some behave with honor and are quick to condemn the gang rape of young girls and the slow deaths by torture and crucifixion. An intriguing aspect of the novel lies in its depiction of allegiances and loyalties to individuals with a shared history that transcend allegiances to the Roman military. We see this with the Roman prefect Corvus who chooses not to betray Breaca even though he recognizes her as Boudica. His loyalty to and feelings for Valerius are unwavering. We also see this loyalty in Longinus who fought along side Valerius against the rebels while both were in the Roman military but who now stands at his side with the rebellion.

Manda Scott combines extensive research on the era with a creative imagination to craft another page-turning, entertaining novel that continues the intriguing saga of Boudica, the Celtic warrior who took arms against the invading army of an empire.

Highly recommended.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit is a collection of previously published essays. The topics address “mansplaining” (the irrepressible need some men have to “explain” things to women); the systemic and ubiquitous instances of violence against women; the devastating impact of the IMF on the economies of developing countries; why gay marriage is perceived as a threat to traditional marriage; the ways in which women are erased, silenced, and/or rendered invisible; a discussion of Virginia Woolf’s embrace of the unknown; the attack on women’s credibility; how some men’s feelings of entitlement impact women’s bodies and women’s voices.

In spite of the dire circumstances Solnit discusses, the collection ends on a positive note with the essay, “Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force.” In it Solnit argues although we still have a long way to go, now that feminists have let the djinns out of the bottle, there’s no going back. We are slowly but surely making progress.

Solnit’s essays are loosely connected with overall themes of gender equality and global justice. With an unabashed feminist lens, Solnit writes in an engaging style, peppering her points with humorous anecdotes when appropriate. But this is far from being a light-hearted, rose-colored view of the world. Solnit is unrelenting in exposing the global war against women and in drawing parallels between that and the exploitation of developing countries by their wealthier and more powerful neighbors. She draws on specific current events to buttress her case. Her chapter on “The Longest War” includes sobering statistics revealing the extent to which women are victimized by sexual harassment, sexual assault, battery, and murder. She argues for a need to examine the link between the social constructs of masculinity and male violence.

There are gaps in Solnit’s analysis. For example, she fails to address intersectionality: how racism, classism, and sexism create overlapping systems of oppression. She also tends to paint developing countries with the same homogeneous paintbrush. But to address these issues systematically would have required a more extensive work. Presumably her intention was more limited in scope.

As a work that advances the goals of feminism and one that engages in feminist analysis within its established parameters, Solnit succeeds admirably in putting together a collection of essays that introduce the reader to some of the basic tenets of feminism.

Recommended.

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review

Colm Tóibín

Based on the Greek myth of Agamemnon, House of Names by Colm Tóibín retells the story of Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia to appease the gods; Clytemnestra’s revenge; and Orestes’ eventual murder of his mother to avenge his father’s death. Tóibín deviates from the original myth by minimizing the role of the gods and placing the action squarely on the shoulders of his characters. The point of view alternates between Clytemnestra, Orestes, Electra, and the ghost of Clytemnestra. The sacrifice of Iphigenia unleashes a cascade of catastrophes in which there is no shortage of political intrigue, blood-spilling, betrayal, and murder.

The opening section, told from Clytemnestra’s first person point of view, is the most riveting part of the novel. We share in her excitement as she prepares her daughter for the impending nuptials. We experience her anxiety and rage when she discovers Agamemnon’s deception. We hear her screams until she is forcibly silenced, gagged, and thrown into a pit while her daughter is dragged to the sacrificial altar. And as the novel progresses, we witness her descent into a cruel, violent monster.

Electra and Orestes are not portrayed as convincingly as is their mother. They seem to lack motivation and, in the case of Orestes, are more acted upon than acting. Orestes is portrayed as weak, hesitant, and submissive. He is a follower rather than a leader, taking his direction from Leander when they escape from their kidnappers and from Electra when he murders his mother. Electra is stronger and more capable of leading than is her brother. She shares her mother’s capacity for plotting and scheming and has assumed many of her mother’s mannerisms by the end of the novel. Interestingly enough, both Orestes and Electra refuse to hold their father responsible for Iphigenia’s death. But they have no qualms about blaming their mother for avenging her death.

Tóibín is at his best in his portrayal of Clytemnestra. He skillfully depicts her as larger than life, as the axis around which everyone revolves. She is a mother consumed with rage at a father who willingly sacrifices his daughter. She plots her revenge with meticulous care and relish. Her anger is augmented by her belief in the futility of the sacrifice since for her either the gods no longer exist or, if they do, they are indifferent to the actions of humans. Whatever sympathy one may initially feel for Clytemnestra rapidly dissipates, however, as we witness her plummeting in a vortex of cruelty, corruption, loneliness, paranoia, deception, and murder.

House of Names is an engaging read in spite of some of its drawbacks. Tóibín’s imaginative retelling of the story is compelling in many ways, especially in his portrait of Clytemnestra and in his depiction of the political intrigue and devious machinations plaguing the dysfunctional house of Atreus.

Recommended

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review