Books & Fiction

Life by the Pen: Portrayals and Perceptions of Writers in American and British Pop Culture

Sophia Dorval

Unlike Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, an exploration of a literary figure as flawed as Twain is a tough sell to both social media-centric, smartphone-owning Millenials and Baby Boomers brought up during the Civil Rights era.   On both sides of the spectrum, there will be Americans who could care less about his groundbreaking use of American vernacular in literature, who would wince at his minstrel-style portrayal of slaves,  who need to believe that the words and thoughts of Twain belong to an America that is no more.   

Victim and Accuser Clash in David Bezmozgis’ ‘The Betrayers’

Lee Polevoi

The setup of David Bezmozgis’ second novel is refreshingly simple. Baruch Kotler, a prominent Israeli politician (and former political prisoner in the USSR) has fled Tel Aviv in disgrace with his much younger mistress, Leora. They come to Yalta, a resort town in the Crimea, where, after a mix-up over hotel reservations, they rent a room in an apartment owned by a Russian woman, Svetlana. As we quickly discover, Svetlana’s aged husband, Chaim Tankilevich, is the man who long ago denounced Kotler to the KGB, which led to Kotler’s 13 years of exile and imprisonment.    

Why Anne Rice’s Vampirical World Is the Next New Hollywood Trend

Megan Walsh

Anne Rice's popular vampire series, known collectively as The Vampire Chronicles, was recently acquired by Universal Pictures with the intention of relaunching the series as a new film franchise. Following on the heels of that announcement was the news that Televisia USA acquired another of Rice's series, the (questionably) erotic Sleeping Beauty trilogy, with plans to bring it to television. In many ways, this sudden return of Anne Rice to current pop culture comes as no surprise. 

Joshua Ferris Examines the Life of a Cyberstalking Victim in New Book

Lee Polevoi

The plot, such as it is, kicks in when Paul discovers that someone, perhaps a former patient, has begun to impersonate him online. First, a new company website appears (not of Paul’s doing), with more or less accurate staff bios for everyone but him (which instead of facts about his life promulgates strange notions about religion). Then there’s a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a Wikipedia entry—every upsetting development reported to Paul by Connie or Mrs. Convoy while he’s hard at work deep inside the mouths of his patients.

The Story of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses: From Contraband to Masterpiece

Lee Polevoi

Modern-day readers of a novel published in 1922 and banned as “obscene” in Europe and America might legitimately wonder what all the fuss was about. Almost a century later, in a culture saturated by explicit references to sex, masturbation and everything in between, the international uproar over references to sex and bodily functions in James Joyce’s Ulysses seems hard to imagine. But, as Kevin Birmingham illustrates in his engagingly written “biography of a book,” the 720-page, epoch-defining work changed both the way novels are written and the way novels are read. 

Covert Attempts at Mideast Peace Detailed in ‘The Good Spy’

Lee Polevoi

That long intelligence war is the focus of the book, which goes into considerable detail about Ames’ comings and goings throughout the Middle East (and in the Washington, D.C. area). Bird writes at great length about many clandestine meetings Ames arranged and conducted with PLO members at that time, an account that comes to have, for the reader, gradually diminishing returns. The fact that he had so many unauthorized encounters with the PLO is significant for the time, but is not in itself terribly interesting. 

Smuggling Guns and Battling Fascism in Alan Furst’s ‘Midnight in Europe’

Lee Polevoi

No one can accuse Alan Furst of veering away from a successful formula. In Midnight in Europe, he once again sets his spy drama in the perilous realms of various European countries just before the Second World War. As any faithful reader will tell you, Furst has carved out a unique niche in espionage fiction, with an emphasis on deeply researched details of those times. But by now, in his 14th novel, a sort of underlying familiarity has set in, which the talented author does little to up-end in the course of the story. 

‘Resistance Man’ Is Latest Addition to Martin Walker’s ‘Bruno’ Series

Lee Polevoi

The story is set in motion by the death of a former World War II resistance fighter. In rapid succession, Bruno is called on to investigate a rash of summer home burglaries, as well as the murder of a gay British antiques dealer. As these investigations unfold, we meet several important people in Bruno’s personal life, including Pamela, his on-and-off-again lover, an old flame named Isabelle and a forensic specialist, Fabriola, who assists him in his police work. It’s a large, not to say unwieldy, cast of characters, especially for those of us new to the Bruno series.

 

Ayelet Waldman Goes In Search of Lost Treasures in New Book

Kaitlyn Fajilan

The year is 1945. The setting, the outskirts of Salzburg, Austria. Newly victorious American soldiers approach a series of over 40 passenger and freight wagons from Hungary. To their surprise, inside the wagons are the countless possessions of Hungary's displaced Jews--from gold watches, to silver candlesticks, to silk bedsheets, to old manuscripts--they number in the hundred thousands, their records of ownership tenuous at best. This mass of abandoned items will become known to history as the Hungarian Gold Train.

Love, Loneliness Are Focus of David James Poissant’s' The Heaven of Animals'

Melinda Parks

If a purpose of literature is to expose universal truths about life and human nature, then David James Poissant’s The Heaven of Animals has done its job. Poissant, a celebrated young writer whose stories have appeared in such publications as The Atlantic Monthly, The Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times, and whose work has already garnered impressive literary awards and critical praise, presents layered storylines and realistically flawed characters in his first collection of short stories.

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