Books & Fiction

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.

Navigating the Mostly Difficult World of Chang-Rae Lee

Lee Polevoi

The decision proves to be a masterstroke, since one of the chief pleasures of On Such a Full Sea is the anxious, reflective, self-questioning and cautiously prideful “chorus of We” that tells the story of Fan, a 16-year-old fish-tank diver in a highly stratified, post-apocalyptic America. The collective voice emanates from B-Mor, “once known as Baltimore,” whose inhabitants are charged with raising fish and vegetables to feed the elite Charter villages, located across a vast, lawless territory called the “open counties.” 

Corruption, Greed in the Roaring ‘20s Set the Tone for ‘Truth to Power’

Rebekah Frank

The roaring Twenties, organized crime, crooked politicians, the assault on the newspaper industry by big money, sex, love, romance; Truth to Power by J.S. Matlin has it all.  Only it still manages to fall flat.  The book, broken into three subsections, begins in 1924 with the central character, David Driscoll, pulling into a town called St. Luke in the American Midwest.  Humiliated by the discovery of his dalliance with the editor-in-chief’s wife and an unethical arrangement with an advertiser, he is sent packing from his first job at The St. Louis Star to a smalltown newspaper called The St. Luke Bugle.

In Search of Scotland’s National Poet

Hal Gordon

Why should a sober, respectable and hard-headed people like the Scots choose for their national poet a romantic rebel who thumbed his nose at all authority and was as free with liquor as he was with women? Instead of Burns Night suppers, asks Morton, shouldn’t we expect the practical-minded Scots to have founded Macadam Societies, to honor the pioneer of improved roads? Or Mackintosh Societies, to honor the inventor of the waterproof? 

The Story of the Joads Still Matters, 75 Years Later

Benjamin Wright

As an historical novel, The Grapes of Wrath is rooted in the events that took place three-quarters of a century ago, which may make it seem dated to some readers. But though times have changed, many of the troubles that the Joads confronted are (unfortunately) still with us – economic injustice, the struggle for human worth, corruption. Of equal significance, the work deals with nearly universal themes – human dignity, the struggle for survival and, more than anything else, hope – that make it as pertinent today as it was 75 years ago. 

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