Books & Fiction

Greed, Piracy, and Murder at Sea in Ian Urbina’s ‘Outlaw Ocean’

Lee Polevoi

The scope of reporting in The Outlaw Ocean is remarkable. Urbina covers a wide swath of oceangoing banditry and mayhem, and delivers his findings in clear, transparent prose that brings this sordid activity to life. Often the conditions in which he’s present are serious, if not potentially life-threatening. On a Ghanaian port police boat, for example, “the waves swelled to fifteen feet high, and I sensed that the men, not without reason, were getting scared.”

James R. Stewart’s ‘Deep State’ Analyzes FBI Role in 2016 Election and Beyond

Lee Polevoi

In Deep State, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and columnist James R. Stewart offers a blow-by-blow account of how this all came to pass, and how the storm around the FBI lasted long into Trump’s presidency. The clash between Comey and Trump symbolized “an unprecedented and potentially mortal combat between two vital institutions of American democracy: the presidency and the ... investigative arm of the Department of Justice.” In his balanced, well-researched account, Stewart lays out the unique dilemma James Comey faced in 2016.

The Best Books of 2019

Lee Polevoi

For me, The Volunteer is the most accomplished work of fiction published in 2019. The story of Vollie Frade (the “Volunteer”) spans numerous generations, zigzagging from the American Midwest to the war in Vietnam, from the borough of Queens, New York, to New Mexico and Latvia. The intriguing opening chapters don’t prepare the reader for Vollie’s brutal ordeal as a POW in Vietnam, which he barely survives. That’s when the novel becomes something genuinely special.

Reliving the Old West in Téa Obreht’s ‘Inland’

Lee Polevoi

In a second narrative strand, a Turkish refugee and outlaw named Lurie Mattie finds his fortunes inextricably linked with the U.S. Camel Corps, a little-known (and real) adjunct of the military around the time of the Civil War. Throughout his part of the story, spanning some 40 years, Lurie addresses his dromedary pack animal, Burke, as they make their way across the Wild West. Lurie, too, speaks with the ghost of a fellow renegade. Inland is saturated with the realm of the occult and more than a hint of magical realism.

The American Sublime Was Discovered by a Chicana

Angelo Franco

To my chagrin, of course, I immediately realized that I had really just read translations of García Marquez’s and Bolaños’s works. In their own right, these two are literary giants the world over, but most definitely not American; their writings may be cannon of freshman college classes and even literary theses, but part of the American Sublime they are not. And that’s mostly the way it is. Our celebrated Latin-American authors are in abundance: Vargas Llosa, Allende, Borges, Mistral, and the list goes on. But there are very few Hispanic-American authors who are as widely read and studied as T. S. Elliot or Pablo Neruda – if any, really.

Discovering the Origins of the Tube: The Lifeblood of London

Oliver Green and Benjamin Graham

The Metropolitan Railway was a novel attempt to solve a slightly different transport problem: how to get around or across the congested city quickly and conveniently. At the Parliamentary Select Committee on Metropolitan Communications in 1855, one witness who gave evidence complained that it took longer to get across town, navigating the crowded streets from London Bridge to Paddington, than it did to travel up to London by train from Brighton. Some might argue that the situation has not improved much, but the growth and development of London’s underground railway system over more than 150 years have been phenomenal

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Sleuthing American Landscapes With Suzanne Lessard in ‘The Absent Hand’

Lee Polevoi

Armed with a self-proclaimed mission to “sleuth” American ground (“to understand the change in landscape form and meaning and what it could tell us about ourselves as a society now”), Lessard embarks on numerous journeys, described in the series of essays that make up The Absent Hand. Destinations range from her home village of Rensselaerville, New York, and the Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg to King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

The Genius of Author Bahram Sadeqi, Iran’s Answer to Kafka

Tara Taghizadeh

“Gabriel Garcia Marquez said it was Kafka who showed him that it was possible to write in a different way. In the words of Milan Kundera, “a different way” means to put a crack in the barrier of the plausible….That is Sadeqi’s major accomplishment: to seriously analyze the world and, at the same time, to give free reign to his imagination.” And what an imagination it is. Reading Sadeqi’s stories, one gets the sense that a number of his characters inhabit worlds from which most of us are removed – or that simply do not exist.

‘Shoot for the Moon’ Charts Space Race from Sputnik to Apollo 11

Lee Polevoi

James Donovan’s Shoot for the Moon, along with a plethora of other moon-landing-related books during this anniversary year, carries readers back to that more or less distant era. In brisk, workmanlike prose, Donovan details the space race from the USSR’s electrifying launch of the Sputnik satellite and the early days of the Mercury and Gemini space programs, culminating with Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind.

7 Authors Whose Works Will Enrich Your Life

Lee Polevoi

Tessa Hadley has published many books, including a remarkable recent novel, The Past. For me, her talents shine brightest in the arena of short fiction, as in her most recent collection, Bad Dreams and Other Stories. Without resorting to prose that calls attention to itself, she tells stories in precise detail and with considerable narrative economy—often to shattering effect.

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