Here’s the second batch of my book purchases from the 2020 Big Bad Wolf book fair. Happy reading everyone!
Title: The Dream of the Celt
Author: Mario Vargas Llosa
Translator: Edith Grossman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publishing Date: 2012
No. of Pages: 358
Synopsis: “In 1916, the Irish Nationalist Roger Casement was hanged by the British government for treason. Casement had dedicated his extraordinary life to improving the plight of oppressed peoples around the world – especially the native populations in the Belgian Congo and the Amazon – but when he dared to draw a parallel between the injustices he witnessed in African and American colonies and those committed by the British in Northern Ireland, he became involved in a cause that led to his imprisonment and execution. Ultimately, the scandals surrounding Casement’s trial and eventual hanging tainted his image to such a degree that his pioneering human rights work wasn’t fully reexamined until the 1960s.
In The Dream of the Celt, Mario Vargas Llosa, who has long been regarded as one of Latin America’s most vibrant, provocative and necessary literary voices – a fact confirmed when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010 – brings his complex character to life as no other writer can. A masterful work, sharply translated b Edith Grossman, The Dream of the Celt tackles a controversial man whose story has long been neglected, and, in so doing, pushes the boundaries of the historical novel.”
Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Author: Lisa See
Publishing Date: 2017
No. of Pages: 364
Synopsis: “In their remote Chinese mountain village, Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. For the Akha people, ensconced in ritual and routine, life goes on as it has for generations – until a stranger appears at the village gate in a jeep, the first automobile any of the villagers has ever seen.
The stranger’s arrival marks the entrance of the modern world in the lives of the Akha people. Slowly, Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, begins to reject the customs that shaped her early life. When she has a baby out of wedlock – conceived with a man her parents consider a bad match – she rejects the tradition that would compel her to give the child over to be killed, and instead leaves her, wrapped in a blanket with a tea cake tucked in its folds, near an orphanage in a neighboring city.
As Li-yan comes into herself, leaving her insular village for an education, a business, and city life, her daughter, Haley, is raised in California by loving adoptive parents. Despite her privileged childhood, Haley wonders about her origins, and across the ocean, Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. Over the course of years, each searches for meaning in the study of Pu’er, the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for centuries.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is an unforgettable portrait of a little-known region and its people and a celebration of the bonds of family.”
Title: The Sky Over Lima
Author: Juan Gomez Barcena
Translator: Andrea Rosenberg
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publishing Date: 2016
No. of Pages: 275
Synopsis: “Jose Galvez and Carlos Rodriguez are poets. Or, at least, they’d like to be. Sons of Lima’s elite in the early twentieth century, they scribble bad verses and read the greats: Rilke, Rimbaud, and, above all others, Juan Ramon Jimenez, the Spanish maestro. Desperate for Jimenez’s latest work, which is unavailable for purchase in Peru they decide to ask him for a copy directly.
They’re certain Jimenez won’t send two dilettantes his book – but maybe he’ll favor a beautiful woman. They write to him as the lovely, imaginary Georgina Hubner, and their trick works; Jimenez responds with a letter and an autographed book. Elated, Jose and Carlos write back. Their correspondence continues, and the boys abandon poetry for the pages of Jimenez’s life. But as the months go by, and each barge docked in the Lima harbor brings with it a new emblem of the Maestro’s growing affection, Jose and Carlos are forced wo reckon with their romance’s inevitable denouement.”
Author: Akwaeke Emezi
Publisher: Grove Press
Publishing Date: 2018
No. of Pages: 226
Synopsis: “We came from somewhere, everything does. When the transition is made from spirit to flesh, the gates are meant to be closed. It’s a kindness. It would be cruel not to. Perhaps the gods forgot – they can be absent-minded like that.
Ada has always been unusual. As an infant in southern Nigeria, she is a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents successfully prayed her into existence, but something must have gone awry, as the young Ada becomes a troubled child, prone to violent fits of anger and grief.
But Ada turns out to be more than just volatile. Born “with one foot on the other side,” she begins to develop separate selves. When Ada travels to America for college, a traumatic event crystallizes the selves into something more powerful. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these alters – now protective, now hedonistic – move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dangerous direction.
Written with stylistic brilliance and based in the author’s realities, this raw and extraordinary debut explores the metaphysics of identity and being, plunging the reader into the mysteries of self. Unsettling, heart-wrenching, dark and powerful, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.”
Author: Amos Oz
Translator: Nicholas de Lange
Publisher: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt
Publishing Date: 2016
No. of Pages: 305
Synopsis: “Jerusalem, 1959. Shmuel Ash, a biblical scholar, is adrift in his young life when he finds work as a caregiver for a brilliant but cantankerous old man named Gershom Wald. There is, however, a third, mysterious presence in his new home. Atalia Abravanel, the daughter of a deceased Zionist leader, a beautiful woman in her forties, entrances young Shmuel even as she keeps him at a distance. Piece by piece, the old Jerusalem stone house, haunted by tragic history and now home o the three misfits and their intricate relationship, reveals its secrets.
At once an exquisite love story and a coming-of-age novel, Judas offers an illuminating perspective on the state of Israel and the biblical tale from which it draws its title.”
Title: The Light and the Dark
Author: Mikhail Shishkin
Translator: Andrew Bromfield
Publishing Date: 2014
No. of Pages: 312
Synopsis: “In this lyrical novel, two young lovers, Vladimir and Alexandra (known fondly to each other as Vovka and Sashka), are separated. A soldier, Vovka has gone off to help quell the Boxer Rebellion, forcing the two to keep their love alive through a passionate exchange of letters.
But as their correspondence continues, it becomes clear that the couple’s separation is chronological as well as geographical – that their extraordinary romance is actually created out of, as well as kept alive by, their yearning epistolary exchange, which defies not only space but time. With this contrapuntal literary testament to the delirious transcendent power of love, Mikhail Shishkin – the most celebrated Russian author of his generation – has created a masterpiece of modern fiction.”
Title: Sing, Unburied, Sing
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Publishing Date: 2017
No. of Pages: 285
Synopsis: “In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing journeys through Mississippi’s past and present, examining the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Back grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his grandfather Big Joseph who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.
His mother, Leonie is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.
When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the state penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He, too, has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an unforgettable family story.”
Title: Hard Times
Author: Charles Dickens
Publishing Date: 2016
No. of Pages: 253
Synopsis: “The backdrop to this campaigning novel is the grim industrial centre of Coketown, with its belching chimneys, purple-dyed river, and hordes of downtrodden mill hands. Here headmaster Thomas Gradgrind sternly prepares his pupils for their pre-determined fate as industrial fodder. Facts and figures are all that he will tolerate because he scorns ‘fancy’ and forbids any use of the imagination.
Gradgrind’s own children are brought up on the same bleak doctrine. There will be tragic consequences, both for his submissive daughter Louisa and degenerate son Tom, before their father acknowledges the value of the human heart.”
Title: The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
Author: Angela Carter
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 2011
No. of Pages: 271
Synopsis: “Desiderio, an employee of the city, which is under a bizarre reality attack from Doctor Hoffman’s mysterious machines, has fallen in love with Albertina, the Doctor’s daughter. But Albertina, a beautiful woman made of glass seems only to appear to him in his dreams. Meeting on his adventures a host of cannibals, centaurs and acrobats, Desiderio must battle against unreality and the warping of time and space to be with her as the Doctor reduces Desiderio’s city to a chaotic state of emergency – one ridden with madness, crime and sexual excess.”
Title: Crossing the Mangrove
Author: Maryse Conde
Translator: Richard Philcox
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publishing Date: March 1995
No. of Pages: 208
Synopsis: “In this beautifully crafted, Rashomon-like novel, Maryse Conde has written a gripping story imbued with all the nuances and traditions of Caribbean culture.
Francis Sancher – a handsome outsider, loved by some and reviled by others – is found dead, face down in the mud on a path outside Riviere au Sel, a small village in Guadeloupe. None of the villagers are particularly surprised, since Sancher, a secretive and melancholy man, had often predicted an unnatural death for himself. As the villagers come to pay their respects they each – either in a speech to the mourners or in an internal monologue – reveal another piece of the mystery behind Sancher’s life and death. Like pieces of an elaborate puzzle, their memories interlock to create a rich and intriguing portrait of a man and a community.
In the lush and vivid prose for which she has become famous, Conde has constructed a Guadeloupean wake for Francis Sancher. Retaining the full color and vibrancy of Conde’s homeland, Crossing the Mangrove pays homage to Guadeloupe in both subject and structure.”
Title: Inherent Vice
Author: Thomas Pynchon
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 2014
No. of Pages: 369
Synopsis: “It’s been a while since Doc Sportello has seen his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly out of nowhere she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Do knows that “love” is another one of those words going around at the moment, like “trip” or “groovy,” except that this one usually leads to trouble.
In this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there… or… if you were there, they you… or wait, is it…”
Title: Fear of Flying
Author: Erica Jong
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Publishing Date: 2013
No. of Pages: 354
Synopsis: “Fear of Flying is the story of Isadora Wing, a compulsive daydreamer, a seeker of saviors and psychiatrists, the author of a book of supposedly erotic poems, and a full-pledged phobic who fears flying but will not allow that fear to keep her off planes. Isadora relates to her adventures and misadventures with wit, exuberance, and the sort of absolute candor that for centuries before her was permitted only to men.
On a trip to Vienna to attend a psychoanalytic congress with her psychiatrist husband, she meets an uninhibited Laingian analyst who seems the embodiment of all her steamiest fantasies. He lures her away from her husband on an existential jaunt across Europe, sleeping by roadsides, changing partners with people met at campsites, and she reevaluates her life in some painful and funny ways. But the trip proves to be a journey backward in time as well as a reshuffle of the present. Increasingly, Isadora is haunted by ghosts of the past: a conductor who loved his baton; a Florentine philanderer; a professor of philosophy; any number of miscellaneous lays in the night; and her ex-husband, the graduate student who thought he could walk on water and almost tried it in Central Park. She is also haunted by her outrageous and amusing family: an artist mother who adores and resents her children; a father who makes wisecracks and money in abundance; and three sisters who have fled the family to marry a black man, an Arab, and an Israeli, respectively, and are now raising their polyglot children from Boston to Beirut.
Thus Isadora fears flying (in all possible senses of the word), she forces herself to keep traveling, to risk her marriage and her life, until she finds her own brand of liberation.
Originally published in 1973 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Fear of Flying, the internationally bestselling story of Isadora Wing by Erica Jong, coined a new phrase for a sex act and launched a new way of thinking about gender, sexuality, and liberty in our society. “
Title: The Fishermen
Author: Chigozie Obioma
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Publishing Date: 2015
No. of Pages: 295
Synopsis: “In a Nigerian town in the mid-1990s, four brothers encounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family.
Told from the point of view of nine-year-old Benjamin, the youngest of the four brothers, The Fishermen is the Cain and Abel-esque story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the ominous, forbidden nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings.
What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact – both tragic and redemptive – will transcend the lives and imaginations of the book’s characters and its readers. Dazzling and viscerally powerful, The Fishermen never leaves Akure, but the story it tells has enormous universal appeal. Seen through the prism of one family’s destiny, this is an essential novel about Africa, with all its contradictions – economic, political, and religious – and the epic beauty of its culture.
With this bold debut, Chigozie Obioma emerges as one of the most original new voices of modern African literature, echoing its older generation’s masterly storytelling with a contemporary fearlessness and purpose.”
Whew! That was quite a lot! In title, I bought 25 books from this year’s edition of the Big Bad Wolf sale. I must say, I am quite satisfied with my purchase even though my wallet and my bank account has a lot to say against it. Haha! It is just now that I’ve noted that apart from a score of African authors, I was able to cop some decent South American works. Maybe a Latin/South American month is in line some time?
That’s it for now. I guess Big Bad Wolf is going to be a tradition for me now. Not that I am complaining! I hope everyone had a blessed Sunday!