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Everlasting : Final novel from a romance legend

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Last summer, just as the Romance Writers of America conference rolled into Dallas, the news leaked through the ranks: Kathleen E. Woodiwiss had died. Some sources hint that her heart was broken after the untimely death of her son, Dorren, who died weeks before she did; others say it was simply the more prosaic, but no less tragic, cancer. Romance readers only know it was too soon. The beloved author had just turned 68.

Woodiwiss is widely regarded as the mother of the modern historical romance, and her 12 novels (beginning with 1972's The Flame and the Flower) boast a staggering 30 million copies in print. Her strong-willed heroines are beautiful, her heroes devastatingly handsome, and the pair finds adventure and romance on the way to their happy ending. Woodiwiss sparked a passion in readers and writers alike, flinging open the doors to what has become a thriving genre offering work to hundreds of (mostly) female writers. In a tribute to Woodiwiss, New York Times best-selling historical romance author Teresa Medeiros wrote, "I am humbled by what a great debt of gratitude we all owe Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. At the conclusion of The Flame and the Flower, she should have written not 'The End,' but 'The Beginning.' "

One consolation is that Woodiwiss left a final completed manuscript for her devoted readers: Everlasting, a sumptuous story set in the turbulent aftermath of the Crusades. Abrielle's beloved fiancé has died, leaving her to find a husband who will help save her mother and step-father from ruin. Cornered by the specter of poverty, Abrielle agrees to a union with the loathsome Desmond de Marle, despite her conflicted attraction to a Scotsman, Raven Seabern. Raven is powerfully drawn to the beautiful and spirited Abrielle, and when her husband meets a fitting death, he becomes Abrielle's champion. Abrielle must sort out the truth of her feelings—and Raven's—if the pair is to find lasting happiness. This lushly written last offering is classic Woodiwiss, and every romance collection should include this final chapter in a brilliant career.

Colorado writer Barbara Samuel is the author of several historical romances.

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Gods Behaving Badly: These gods must be crazy

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By Marie Phillips
Little, Brown, $23.99
304 pages
ISBN 9780316067621


So whatever happened to the Olympians? You know, the 12 Greek immortals who lived on Mount Olympus: Dionysus, god of wine. Aphrodite, goddess of love and fertility. Apollo, god of prophecy. Ares, god of war. Artemis, goddess of the hunt. And the rest of the gang. Turns out, since they fell out of vogue, they've been living in a decrepit London townhouse and, quite frankly, after all these years they're starting to get on each other's nerves.

That's the premise of the intriguing debut novel Gods Behaving Badly by English author Marie Phillips. Devastatingly beautiful Aphrodite works as a phone sex operator. Dionysus is a nightclub DJ on a never-ending search for debauchery. Apollo is a cheesy television psychic. Artemis walks dogs.

All those gods and goddesses living under one roof can really take its toll on a place. Their house is in shambles, so Artemis hires a housekeeper. Alice is a mousy, shy woman who was recently fired from her job cleaning the television studio where Apollo films his TV program. She's not sure what to make of her new employers, but she needs the paycheck. When a scheming Aphrodite convinces Eros, the god of love, to cast a spell, Apollo falls deeply in love with Alice. They make an unlikely pair, complicated by the fact that Alice already has a devoted secret admirer in her equally timid friend Neil.

The battle of wills between Aphrodite and Apollo intensifies, and Alice and Neil are caught in the crossfire. What follows is a surreal journey by the two mortals into the underworld (via the London tube, of course) in a bid to save mankind.

It's silly, to be sure, but what's wrong with silly? And somehow, with brisk writing and sly humor, Phillips spins this whimsical tale into something bigger. She gets at the heart of what it means to be needed, and why all of us—even immortals—crave it.

Amy Scribner writes from Washington

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Most Westerners have a mental picture of Saudi Arabia that's hardly more than a mélange of clichés featuring white-robed sheiks climbing into Rolls-Royces to survey vast oil fields. Yousef Al-Mohaimeed's haunting and enigmatic novel, his first published outside Saudi Arabia after being banned there, offers a stark picture of that society.

The central character of Wolves of the Crescent Moon is Turad, a Bedouin and former desert bandit who, as the novel opens, finds himself in the Riyadh bus station with no destination other than one that will take him out of the city he has come to loathe. After losing his ear in a desert incident that's described in wrenching detail at the novel's climax, he has migrated to the capital, moving through a series of menial jobs until he finds a position as a servant at the finance ministry.

Like Turad, the other principal characters of Wolves are physically damaged. Tawfiq is an elderly man who exists on the fringe of Saudi society. Captured in Sudan as a young boy, he is sold into slavery and then castrated. Eventually he drifts into the finance ministry, where he and the Bedouin discover a surprising connection. Nasir is an orphan who mysteriously loses his eye shortly after he's abandoned at birth. In the bus station a stranger hands Turad a government file whose contents recount the mundane facts of Nasir's existence, facts Turad uses as the springboard for an imaginative re-creation of the boy's life. Employing a nonlinear narrative that shimmers with a certain dreamlike quality, Wolves interweaves the lives of these characters in complex and unexpected ways.

It's easy to imagine this tale being narrated by an ancient storyteller to a group of rapt listeners gathered around a blazing desert fire. Al-Mohaimeed's prose is taut and yet lyrical, evoking the harsh beauty of the desert landscape in spare sentences rich with vivid imagery. While his name will be unfamiliar to most American readers, his talent deserves serious attention.

Harvey Freedenberg writes from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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Life's Wisdom: From the Works of the Nobel Laureate

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Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt's Nobel laureate for literature, was born in an old quarter of Cairo in 1911. His study of philosophy at what is now Cairo University greatly influenced his works, as did his wide readings, and his work in the government and in the Cinema Organization. Life's Wisdom is a unique collection of quotations selected from this great author s works, offering philosophical insights on themes such as childhood, youth, love, marriage, war, freedom, death, the supernatural, the afterlife, the soul, immortality, and many other subjects that take us through life s journey. Naguib Mahfouz's works abound with words of wisdom. As Nadine Gordimer states in her foreword to one of his earlier books: "The essence of a writer's being is in the work, not the personality, though the world values things otherwise, and would rather see what the writer looks like on television than read where he or she really is to be found: in the writings." In keeping with Gordimer's comment, Mahfouz's true nature can be found in his writing. The quotations included here offer a broad, yet profound, insight into the writer s philosophy gained through a life's journey of experience and writing.

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Poetry: Reflections & After the Bath

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After reading days of 1908 by Constantin Cavafy
Had I been there then and seen for myself
That young man still and nude on the beach front,
I would not have remembered perhaps but the thrill
Of having seen such faultless beauty
And perhaps I might have recalled
That he did not seek my glance
But only that his eyes rested
On the sea
(as faultless as he . . .)

But Cavafy retained much more
Much more
He had seen the unworthy clothes, cast aside,
the garments of a poor man without work
But for the games of cards he found to play in cafés
For a dollar
For a shilling

“The shabbiness of his clothes was tragical”
and the Poet saw and suffered this as clearly as he saw the sunburnt limbs,
the tossed, uncombed hair,
the faultless beauty.

After the Bath
Bouake - Ivory Coast

Days of tourmoil
her friend in bouaké
is in danger
evening came
and still no news
after her bath
her skin
still flushed
filled the small room with its perfume
she asked, "what is going to happen?"

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Balancing the Prophet

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By Karen Armstrong*

Financial Times - April 27 2007

Ever since the Crusades, people in the west have seen the prophet Muhammad as a sinister figure. During the 12th century, Christians were fighting brutal holy wars against Muslims, even though Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. The scholar monks of Europe stigmatised Muhammad as a cruel warlord who established the false religion of Islam by the sword. They also, with ill-concealed envy, berated him as a lecher and sexual pervert at a time when the popes were attempting to impose celibacy on the reluctant clergy. Our Islamophobia became entwined with our chronic anti-Semitism; Jews and Muslims, the victims of the crusaders, became the shadow self of Europe, the enemies of decent civilisation and the opposite of ”us”.

Our suspicion of Islam is alive and well. Indeed, understandably perhaps, it has hardened as a result of terrorist atrocities apparently committed in its name. Yet despite the religious rhetoric, these terrorists are motivated by politics rather than religion. Like ”fundamentalists” in other traditions, their ideology is deliberately and defiantly unorthodox. Until the 1950s, no major Muslim thinker had made holy war a central pillar of Islam. The Muslim ideologues Abu ala Mawdudi (1903-79) and Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), among the first to do so, knew they were proposing a controversial innovation. They believed it was justified by the current political emergency.

The criminal activities of terrorists have given the old western prejudice a new lease of life. People often seem eager to believe the worst about Muhammad, are reluctant to put his life in its historical perspective and assume the Jewish and Christian traditions lack the flaws they
attribute to Islam. This entrenched hostility informs Robert Spencer’s misnamed biography The Truth about Muhammad, subtitled Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion.

Spencer has studied Islam for 20 years, largely, it seems, to prove that it is an evil, inherently violent religion. He is a hero of the American right and author of the US bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. Like any book written in hatred, his new work is a depressing read. Spencer makes no attempt to explain the historical, political, economic and spiritual circumstances of 7th-century Arabia, without which it is impossible to understand the complexities of Muhammad’s life. Consequently he makes basic and bad mistakes of fact. Even more damaging, he deliberately manipulates the evidence.

The traditions of any religion are multifarious. It is easy, therefore, to quote so selectively that the main thrust of the faith is distorted. But Spencer is not interested in balance. He picks out only those aspects of Islamic tradition that support his thesis. For example, he cites only passages from the Koran that are hostile to Jews and Christians and does not mention the numerous verses that insist on the continuity of Islam with the People of the Book: ”Say to them: We believe what you believe; your God and our God is one.”

Islam has a far better record than either Christianity or Judaism of appreciating other faiths. In Muslim Spain, relations between the three religions of Abraham were uniquely harmonious in medieval Europe. The Christian Byzantines had forbidden Jews from residing in Jerusalem, but
when Caliph Umar conquered the city in AD638, he invited them to return and was hailed as the precursor of the Messiah. Spencer doesn’t refer to this. Jewish-Muslim relations certainly have declined as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but this departs from centuries of peaceful
and often positive co-existence. When discussing Muhammad’s war with Mecca, Spencer never cites the Koran’s condemnation of all warfare as an ”awesome evil”, its prohibition of aggression or its insistence that only self-defence justifies armed conflict. He ignores the Koranic emphasis on the primacy of forgiveness and peaceful negotiation: the second the enemy asks for peace, Muslims must lay down their arms and accept any terms offered, however disadvantageous. There is no mention of Muhammad’s non-violent campaign that ended the conflict.

People would be offended by an account of Judaism that dwelled exclusively on Joshua’s massacres and never mentioned Rabbi Hillel’s Golden Rule, or a description of Christianity based on the bellicose Book of Revelation that failed to cite the Sermon on the Mount. But the widespread ignorance about Islam in the west makes many vulnerable to Spencer’s polemic; he is telling them what they are predisposed to hear. His book is a gift to extremists who can use it to ”prove” to those Muslims who have been alienated by events in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq that the west is incurably hostile to their faith.

Eliot Weinberger is a poet whose interest in Islam began at the time of the first Gulf war. His slim volume, Muhammad, is also a selective anthology about the Prophet. His avowed aim is to ”give a small sense of the awe surrounding this historical and sacred figure, at a time of the
demonisation of the Muslim world in much of the media”. Many of the passages he quotes are indeed mystical and beautiful, but others are likely to confirm some readers in their prejudice. Without knowing their provenance, how can we respond to such statements as ”He said that he who plays chess is like one who has dyed his hand in the blood of a pig” or ”Filling the stomach with pus is better than stuffing the brain with poetry”?

It is difficult to see how selecting only these dubious traditions as examples could advance mutual understanding. The second section of this anthology is devoted to anecdotes about Muhammad’s wives that smack of prurient gossip. Western readers need historical perspective to understand the significance of the Prophet’s domestic arrangements, his respect for his wives, and the free and forthright way in which they approached him. Equally eccentric are the stories cited by Weinberger to describe miracles attributed to the Prophet: the Koran makes it clear that Muhammad did not perform miracles and insists that he was an ordinary human being, with no divine powers.

It is, therefore, a relief to turn to Barnaby Rogerson’s more balanced and nuanced account of early Muslim history in The Heirs of the Prophet Muhammad. Rogerson is a travel writer by trade; his explanation of the Sunni/Shia divide is theologically simplistic, but his account of the
rashidun, the first four ”rightly guided” caliphs who succeeded the Prophet, is historically sound, accessible and clears up many western misconceptions about this crucial period.

Rogerson makes it clear, for example, that the wars of conquest and the establishment of the Islamic empire after Muhammad’s death were not inspired by religious ideology but by pragmatic politics. The idea that Islam should conquer the world was alien to the Koran and there was no
attempt to convert Jews or Christians. Islam was for the Arabs, the sons of Ishmael, as Judaism was for the descendants of Isaac and Christianity for the followers of Jesus.

Rogerson also shows that Muslim tradition is multi-layered and many-faceted. The early historians regularly gave two or three variant accounts of an incident in the life of the Prophet; readers were expected to make up their own minds.

Similarly, there are at least four contrasting and sometimes conflicting versions of the Exodus story in the Hebrew Bible, and in the New Testament the four evangelists interpret the life of Jesus quite differently. To choose one tradition and ignore the rest - as Weinberger and Spencer do - is distorting.

Professor Tariq Ramadan has studied Islam at the University of Geneva and al-Azhar University in Cairo and is currently senior research fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford. The Messenger is easily the most scholarly and knowledgeable of these four biographies of Muhammad, but it is
also practical and relevant, drawing lessons from the Prophet’s life that are crucial for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Ramadan makes it clear, for example, that Muhammad did not shun non-Muslims as ”unbelievers” but from the beginning co-operated with them in the pursuit of the
common good. Islam was not a closed system at variance with other traditions. Muhammad insisted that relations between the different groups must be egalitarian. Even warfare must not obviate the primary duty of justice and respect.

When the Muslims were forced to leave Mecca because they were persecuted by the Meccan establishment, Ramadan shows, they had to adapt to the alien customs of their new home in Medina, where, for example, women enjoyed more freedom than in Mecca. The hijrah (”migration”) was a test of intelligence; the emigrants had to recognise that some of their customs were cultural rather than Islamic, and had to learn foreign practices.

Ramadan also makes it clear that, in the Koran, jihad was not synonymous with ”holy war”. The verb jihada should rather be translated: ”making an effort”. The first time the word is used in the Koran, it signified a ”resistance to oppression” (25:26) that was intellectual and spiritual rather than militant. Muslims were required to oppose the lies and terror of those who were motivated solely by self-interest; they had to be patient and enduring. Only after the hijrah, when they encountered the enmity of Mecca, did the word jihad take connotations of self-defence and armed resistance in the face of military aggression. Even so, in mainstream Muslim tradition, the greatest jihad was not warfare but reform of one’s own society and heart; as Muhammad explained to one of his companions, the true jihad was an inner struggle against egotism.

The Koran teaches that, while warfare must be avoided whenever possible, it is sometimes necessary to resist humanity’s natural propensity to expansionism and oppression, which all too often seeks to obliterate the diversity and religious pluralism that is God’s will. If they do wage
war, Muslims must behave ethically. ”Do not kill women, children and old people,” Abu Bakr, the first caliph, commanded his troops. ”Do not commit treacherous actions. Do not burn houses and cornfields.” Muslims must be especially careful not to destroy monasteries where Christian
monks served God in prayer.

Ramadan could have devoted more time to such contentious issues as the veiling of women, polygamy and Muhammad’s treatment of some (though by no means all) of the Jewish tribes of Medina. But his account restores the balance that is so often lacking in western narratives. Muhammad was not a belligerent warrior. Ramadan shows that he constantly emphasized the importance of ”gentleness” (ar-rafiq), ”tolerance” (al-ana) and clemency (al-hilm).

It will be interesting to see how The Messenger is received. Ramadan is clearly addressing issues that inspire some Muslims to distort their religion. Western people often complain that they never hear from ”moderate” Muslims, but when such Muslims do speak out they are frequently dismissed as apologists and hagiographers. Until we all learn to approach one another with generosity and respect, we cannot hope for peace.

* Karen Armstrong is the author of ”Muhammad: Prophet For Our Time”.

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Soul Mountain by Nobel winner Gao Xingjian

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The following are excerpts from "Soul Mountain," Gao Xingjian's novel based on his travels in central China in the 1980s and translated from Chinese by Mabel Lee. The novel was cited by the Swedish Academy in awarding the Chinese author the 2000 Nobel Prize in literature.


The rich, the famous, and the nothing in particular all hurry back because they are getting old. After all, who doesn't love the home of their ancestors? They don't intend to stay, so they walk around looking relaxed, talking and laughing loudly, and effusing fondness and affection for the place. When friends meet they don't just give a nod or a handshake in the meaningless ritual of city people, but rather they shout the person's name or thump him on the back. Hugging is also common, but not for women. By the cement trough where the buses are washed, two young women hold hands as they chat. The women here have lovely voices and you can't help taking a second look.

* * * * *

In the North, it is already late autumn but the summer heat hasn't completely subsided. Before sunset, it is still quite hot in the sun and sweat starts running down your back. You leave the station to have a look around. There's nothing nearby except for the little inn across the road. It's an old-style two-story building with a wooden shop front. Upstairs the floorboards creak badly but worse still is the grime on the pillow and sleeping mat. If you wanted to have a wash, you'd have to wait 'til it was dark to strip off and pour water over yourself in the damp and narrow courtyard. This is a stopover for the village peddlers and craftsmen.

* * * * *

At the time every city along the way had gone mad. Walls, factories, high voltage poles, man-made constructions of any kind, were all covered in slogans swearing to defend with one's life, to overthrow, to smash, and to fight a bloody war to the end. As this train roared along there was the singing of battle songs on the broadcast system on board and on the loudspeakers outside in every place the train passed. [source:]

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Book Notes: Stories of Hans Christian Andersen

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Summary: Literary essay about Andersen's whimsical sense of storytelling. But was he better than Kafka?

A writer like Hans Christian Andersen changes the fundamental question "what is literature?" into that of "what is a story?" Of course, all of us claim to appreciate good storytelling. But after the English courses, MLA conferences and controversies about canon, the learned reader develops a preference for the meaty stuff. Simplicity is fine, but complexity is better. A good story is not enough. Great works have to be more than just great stories.
Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen--Enjoying the childish things

Andersen's great contribution to literature is recognizing how little is needed to produce a story and how little a great story really needs to say. Andersen seems capable of turning anything into a story. One story relates the dialogue between an ancient tree and a day old fly. Another images the private thoughts of a dying match girl . One of my favorites, "Top and the Ball " tells of a chance meeting and spurned friendship between two toys in a drawer. The amazing thing about Andersen's stories is that they seem made up at the spur of the moment. (Unlike the Brothers Grimm, who merely collected popular folk tales, Hans Christian Andersen really did make up most of his stories!). I can imagine Andersen at his desk deciding to write a story with a top and a ball, then embellishing it with personalities and a romantic situation. The success of these minimalist stories derives not from plot development but the wit and snappy dialogue. Other stories belonging to this form ( animal fables of Phaedrus, Buddhist jatakas , Krylov's fables and Kafka's anti-fables) require little more than a paragraph to describe the consequences of greed or deception. Phaedrus" fable of the wolf who devises ridiculous pretexts for attacking the sheep hardly contains suspense or development or denouement; it is less than a hundred words long. The function of this miniature form is to uncover motives, give each side a parting shot before one gobbles the other.

Andersen and Kafka embody the two poles of imaginative writing. Andersen has a natural mastery of story forms and a perfect dramatic sense. He churns out stories without really caring if its elements are hackneyed or contrived. Everything is spontaneous and done in good fun; if it works, the story glides a foot off the ground; if it doesn't, the story is still readable, but empty calories for the reader. Andersen chases after magic, love and laughter; if beauty and insight happen to tag along, so much the better. But if they don't, it's not going to spoil the show.

Andersen is a sloppy writer, but Kafka attends to every detail. Andersen could care less about his world making sense. Kafka will do anything to make the absurd seem perfectly sensible. Andersen, however melancholy, avoids dwelling on an event or situation and focuses on changing with it; if the ugly duckling spent the whole time pondering his own ugliness in a mirror, there would be no change, no possibility of transformation. For Andersen it is the distracting external world that makes a final epiphany possible. Kafka is the master of stasis and self-absorption; for a glacier, even a single inch of movement is of terrifying significance.

The beautiful but unsettling "Little Mermaid" contains one of Andersen's most Kafkaesque endings. Forget the Disney version; it is completely different. One commentator takes the didacticism at face-value; he writes:

The purpose of the romance is to get the children involved in the fate of someone beside themselves. After the mermaid makes her selfless decision and receives the old choice of rewards for not being good , the last paragraph puts responsibility for her fate and others into the hands of the reader, teaching us that our most personal actions have an effect beyond us, and that whether we are good or bad is material not merely to the state of our own soul and happiness but to people we don't even know and will never see.

The analysis of the ending is exactly right. But it misses the point. It overlooks the dramatic value of such a narrative rupture. The ending changes the terms of the whole discussion. It surprises in a convincing way. It widens the scope of possibilities and eliminates the dichotomy between the two choices open to the little mermaid.

Every writer has to choose between giving a story a good ending or a bad one. It is a terrifying choice sometimes. A reader could potentially absorb the story's perspective and values. If Andersen gave his story the upbeat Disney ending, he would be extolling self-sacrifice and expressing a faith that love triumphs over everything. If he chose the tragic ending, he would be crushing love's illusions and comparing love to the sharp knives that wound the mermaid's delicate feet.

The nobility of giving up one's life for the sake of love has been one of fiction's most enduring messages. It is also one of fiction's most dangerous and self-deceiving. Andersen's solution is to create a magic that neither repudiates the romantic feelings nor affirms them. This solution acknowledges that the conflict is irresolvable, that a good or bad ending would be equally unrealistic. The jolting and otherworldly end of this story is reminiscent of Sophocles' "Philoctetes," where a demigod's intervention keeps the Greeks from attacking a single virtuous citizen.

Instead of killing the mermaid, Andersen allows her to be transformed into a new type of species. The Little Mermaid records a series of transformations from innocence to the yearning for incarnation to the yearning to transcend yearning itself. The transformed mermaid is told by the daughters of the air:

A mermaid has no immortal soul and can never have one unless she wins the love of a mortal. Eternity, for her, depends on a power outside her. Neither have the daughters of the air an everlasting soul, but by good deeds they can shape one for themselves. We shall fly to the hot countries, where the stifling air of pestilence means death to mankind; we shall bring them cool breezes. We shall scatter the fragrance of flowers through the air and send them comfort and healing. When for three hundred years we have striven to do the good we can, then we shall win an immortal soul and have a share in mankind's eternal happiness. You, poor little mermaid, have striven for that with all your heart; you have suffered and endured, and you have raised yourself into the world of the spirits of the air. Now, by three hundred years of good deeds, you too can shape for yourself an immortal soul.

This fateful pronouncement permits the possibility of mercy without promising anything. Mercy and redemption is possibly, but ultimately the power to bestow these gifts lies beyond that of individuals.

The ending is thus a tentative affirmation. A century later Kafka would duplicate this same tentativeness and suspension of hope in his enigmatic endings. In "Before the Law," the doorkeeper informs the waiting traveler that the door he guards was meant only for him. In the unwritten last chapter of the "Castle," the castle was to have informed K. on his deathbed that he would be permitted provisional residence in the village while the castle considers his claim to live there. Endings in real life are never simple, and a simply one-dimensional good or bad ending calls into question the legitimacy of the story process itself. A beautiful ending conveys neither finality nor closure but a sense of beginning; it lets us soar above the preceding conflict and see new possibilities for living. It neither paralyzes nor sedates, but invigorates the yearning for the unknown and unexpected. A good ending doesn't resolve a character's problems; it renders them irrelevant.

One Danish critic said that Andersen wrote more self-portraits than Rembrandt ever painted. Almost anyone could see his own portrait in "Ugly Duckling". Who has not been taunted one time or another for being ugly or stupid or different? A duckling who cannot understand the innocence of the taunts has to survive them somehow, even if he years for exoneration. My name once turned up on a list of the "10 Biggest Jerks on Campus"(or something to that effect), a notoriety I later learned to cherish. One moves on. Self-images change. Life becomes so busy and hectic that one forgets to notice the changes in onself. Obsession with one's own inadequacy is a sign one is not fully grown, nor will one ever be. An ugly duckling is a swan afraid to face the mirror. [source:]

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Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

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Are you a writer longing to be discovered? Submit your manuscript for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. It’s the perfect opportunity to become the next great novelist: the winning author will receive a publishing contract from Penguin Group, including promotional support for their book on, and a media suite from Hewlett-Packard. All entrants are eligible to self-publish their novel with CreateSpace and sell it on Enter your manuscript for consideration by November 5, 2007.

Contest Process and Timeline is accepting unpublished English language works of fiction for entry in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award through November 5, 2007.

Once the submission period ends, Amazon editors and top Amazon customer reviewers will read submissions and select authors for the semi-final round, beginning January 15, 2008. Each semi-finalist will receive a full review of their manuscript by Publishers Weekly and a book page on featuring a short excerpt from their novel that customers can download, read, and review. Penguin will select manuscripts to read from the semi-final round based on customer feedback and Publishers Weekly reviews and announce the Top Ten finalists on March 3, 2008. customers will then select the winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Award, to be announced on April 7, 2008.

Register now and break through! Only the first 5,000 submissions will be accepted. The registration deadline is November 5, 2007.


The winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award will receive a full publishing contract from Penguin Group, including promotional support for their novel on, and a media suite from Hewlett-Packard. The nine remaining finalists will receive a free Total Design Freedom self-publishing package from BookSurge and a media suite from Hewlett-Packard. Semi-finalists will receive a review of their manuscript by Publishers Weekly. Upon conclusion of the contest all entrants will be eligible to make their books available for sale to customers via the CreateSpace self-publishing service at no charge. In addition, all entrants will receive discounted self-publishing services from BookSurge for custom cover design, formatting, and editing.

Visit Amazon to get the detail information

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Anna Politkovskaya's A Russian Diary

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A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia

Translated by Arch Tait
(Random House, 2007)

Reviewed by Michelle Risley

Anna Politkovskaya’s brutal murder reveals the incredible risks and the dangers she faced as a journalist reporting on the limitations of Russian democracy. A Russian Diary, her blow-by-blow catalogue of power abuses by and under Putin's government was being translated when, on October 6, 2006, she was shot pointblank in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. Although the government has denied blame, suspicions against it remain high. Since Putin’s 2000 election, independent reportage has withered as Russian journalists have been threatened, beaten, and murdered. Politkovskaya stood out as one of the few who continued to relentlessly investigate the government's human rights abuses, especially in its war against separatists in the mostly Muslim Chechen Republic.

Politkovskaya includes dismaying examples of these abuses into her diary, and ably folds intricate, complex histories into cogent and readable entries. In a section devoted to the murder of Aslam Maskhadov, Chechnya’s former (and democratically elected) president who later led the resistance against the Russian Army, the details are gruesome. The FSB, successor to the Soviet KGB, announced that it paid $10 million for information on his whereabouts before he was killed. Afterwards, “(h)is stripped dead body was shown all day in close-up on television.” Whatever his faults—and Politkovskya shines a more glowing light on Putin’s opponents than they seem to deserve—Maskhadov restrained extremist factions who considered the Beslan murders of over 335 hostages, including 200 children, to be justified. His assassination at the hands of Russian special forces was praised by government officials.

Because her commentary is more screed than analysis, it would be a relief to credit the reportage to Politkovskaya. Her sweeping and reductive generalizations are meant not to transmit facts, but to convince readers that Russia and Russians are imperiled. "It's as simple as that" seems to sum up her explanation of how Putin’s Russia reached its current array of political, social, and economic crises, but Yeltsin skips off scot-free. "Re-Stalinization is a reality," she asserts. Facets of it have undoubtedly resurfaced, yet the differences in how tyranny was wielded in Soviet Russia and today are as relevant as the similarities. Politkovskya glosses over these. She equates the battle against Chechnya, a war fought in a republic bordering Georgia, against non-ethnic Russians, and which Putin has used as a pretext to slowly consolidate power, with the Great Terror, a top-down, nationwide inquisition that led to the destruction of whatever civil society existed in 1937. Meanwhile, Europe overlooks Putin’s authoritarian tendencies because it "unfortunately, is tired of hearing how evil Putin is," preferring instead "to be fooled by how good he is." More likely to be at the root of Europe’s tolerance is its dependence on Russian oil.

Interspersed between these diatribes and her capricious assessments of what ails the Russians, who are in turn blighted, lazy, self-absorbed, and cynical, she sympathetically presents disturbing evidence that their lives are becoming ever more precarious. While Russia scaled to third place on this year’s Forbes breakdown of billionaires-by-country, Politkovskaya reports that "(f)orty percent of the population live below even our dire official poverty line." (She goes to great lengths to stress that even oil oligarchs have had to toe Putin’s political line.) The substantial benefits that swathes of Russians—the disabled, soldiers, retirees, victims of the gulag—were accustomed to, and which were possibly the Soviet Union’s only positive legacy, have been virtually extinguished. Putin’s administration sharpened this economic divide by revoking tax privileges for charitable giving in 2002. As a result, the giving halted. Conscripted teenage soldiers are often sent to Chechnya and return to their mothers either maimed or unstable. The government won’t investigate the "suicides" among them, a classification many parents believe is a cover-up for manslaughter. In the Russian Army, hazing can be deadly.

A Russian Diary is wildly uneven and often exasperating. Yet it is also a terrifying, brave, and broad exposé of Putin's metastasizing grip on a people who don't seem to know how to react, or why they should endanger themselves by bothering. To Anna Politkovskaya, indifference was merely self-interest. For all of her cynicism, she genuinely believed that democracy was worth the risk, if not for her, or for her children, then for her grandchildren. Her murder will inspire few to follow suit.

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Paradise Travel by Jorge Franco

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Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006

Reviewed by Harry Morales

Paradise Travel, the entrancing new novel by Jorge Franco, offers a heartbreaking and illuminating glimpse of the multi-faceted and confusing world of illegal immigrants in the U.S. For Franco, the Medellín-born prize-winning author of Maldito Amor, Mala Noche, and Rosario Tijeras, the underside of society is familiar ground. An integral member of the gritty realist literary movement known as "McOndo," he is one of a number of Colombian authors in their late 30's and early 40's whose work focuses on the country's problems with drugs, corruption and violence.

In Paradise Travel, Franco turns his lens from his own country outward to examine the life of an illegal Colombian immigrant in New York City. The narrative unfolds in two alternating time frames, shifting back and forth between lower-middle class Colombia and immigrant New York, a storytelling technique which is handled quite aptly by Franco.

As the story begins, Marlon Cruz, a teenager living with his parents in Medellín and trying to gain entry into the local university, is seduced by his obsessive girlfriend Reina into emigrating into the U.S. with her. When their request for the elusive visas is denied, Reina steals $10,000 from a relative and pays a conniving travel agent from the "Paradise Travel Agency" to arrange illegal passage through Mexico. Extorted and abused at each leg of their hellish journey up Central America and through Mexico, the pair finally arrive in New York without documentation or money. Then, their first night in Queens they accidentally become separated. Unable to find Reina, Marlon is left alone to cope with an unfamiliar, confusing and unforgiving land.

After suffering through a period of homelessness, Marlon eventually learns how to survive and fit into the growing Colombian community in Queens. Franco's exploration of the inequalities between the U.S. and South America, specifically Colombia, is quite vivid, as is his accurate and charming portrayal of expatriate Colombian life, especially in the scenes involving Roger Pena, a wanna-be dandy and professional shoplifter who only chooses to steal from Macy's and Bloomingdale's -- articles of clothing, mostly, that are later given to Marlon as gifts; Patricia, a strong-willed and compassionate restaurant owner who helps Marlon believe that he can survive in New York; and Caleña, a stripper/hooker Marlon first meets in Medellín through the Paradise Travel Agency and again later in New York who promises to help Marlon locate Reina and keeps her word.

The second time frame encompasses Marlon's narration during a bus trip from New York to Miami to see Reina whom he has located after a 15 month feverish search. During this bus trip, he remembers his now seemingly distant past life in Medellín, his initial infatuation and eventual love affair with Reina, and his subsequent struggles in Queens.

Marlon's journey through the underbelly of Queens and his transformation is revealing and his climatic reacquaintance with Reina is saddening. Franco's typical harsh realism is balanced by humor and a sharp but sensitive eye for the constantly shifting panorama of life in the U.S. and in Colombia. Cinematic and unforced, Franco's voice is wonderfully preserved in Katherine Silver's accomplished translation.

Paradise Travel is a fine urban novel which successfully informs the reader about what it is like to enter the U.S. illegally, not for the promise of elusive riches, but for the love of a woman. For Mr. Franco, it is an intriguing creative departure which explores the experience of love and loss as the core of what it is to be human.

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Lost Paradise by Cees Nooteboom

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Translated from the Dutch by Susan Massotty
(Grove Press, 2007)

Reviewed by Robert Buckeye

"The Darkness of the Lived Moment"

One does. She, someone, she is not sure, leaves her home in a wealthy neighborhood of Sao Paolo and drives, she does not know why, perhaps it had been the car or Bjork on the tape deck that had done the driving, to "the very worst favela of all, a hell rather than a paradise," where the engine dies and the favela dwellers come out of the night, "a hate and rage so deep that they could swallow you up forever" and leave her behind, "as if she were rubbish." "It had been like a black cloud," she tells police of her violation. Afterwards, she has to get away from the mystery of why she had gone into the favela and goes with her friend Almut to Australia, a secret talismanic site from their teenage years, to locate Aborigine Dreamtime, "the time before time and memory began," where she meets an Aborigine artist and stays with him for a week, "a man who has taken nothing of mine."

One doesn’t. He is middle-aged and out of sorts. Divorced, a literary critic increasingly disappointed and dyspeptic, out-of-touch with the new generation of writers, his girl friend, Anja, half his age, tells him. He no longer has a future, and the novel he writes he consigns to the trash can. "It was too late to learn Norwegian," he notes, "or emigrate to Australia." ("Too much past can kill you," Cees Nooteboom comments in All Soul’s Day.) His friends and Anja advise him to go to a spa in Austria—he will come out a new man they say— and force him out the door against his will. Once he arrives at the spa he questions his decision. At dinner the first evening—a potato with thick drops of linseed oil on it—he is reminded of "the cod liver oil he had been forced to swallow as a child."

One does. At the spa, the substitute masseuse is the woman he met as an angel in Perth, Australia, three years before. He had been at a literary conference—the usual kind—and out of boredom had gone on a tour whose aim it was to discover how many angels could be found in Perth. He tells her at the spa that he fell in love with her the moment he saw her in Australia, but after the tour at the angel party at a beach—"Tonight we’re being expelled from Paradise," she tells him—just as they are about to make love, police arrive and she flees because she has no work permit. He cannot find her and returns to a life he no longer wants. When he sees her at the Austrian spa, this time he does not want to lose her.

One doesn’t. She has found a lost paradise in the Aborigine’s world, but it is not hers. His painting will never be hers no matter how much she identifies with it; his silence returns her only to her own; his gestures may point but do not explain. Her black cloud can never be his nor his hers ("All past time is present time"). She must seek the Indian in herself, the shadow that her friend Almut sees in her, "as if you always have someone with you, and be "a wanderer, so I can make the world my desert" (as the limitless expanse of Australia is the Aborigine’s desert because it is his). She has put Brazil behind her for Australia, a gig as an angel instead of one in the fast lane of the affluent, trained as a masseuse, surfaced for the moment in Austria. At the spa, she reminds him of the last words she said on the beach in Australia before she fled from the police, "Angels and people aren’t meant to be together." "See you next time," she adds, reminding him (and us, perhaps her) that our efforts to regain paradise never cease.

The epigraph for Nooteboom’s novel, Lost Paradise (Grove Press, 2007), comes from Walter Benjamin’s meditation on Klee’s painting, Angelus Novus, whose angel faces the past and sees the catastrophe of events pile up into wreckage at his feet while a storm from Paradise rushes him towards a future he cannot see, since his back is turned, and thus he cannot warn anyone about what is coming. "This storm," Benjamin notes, "is what we call progress."

Since Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise, the storm we call progress has been one train wreck after another. "What started out as a misunderstanding," the author (Nooteboom and not Nooteboom) says in an epilogue, "has gone on to repeat itself over and over into infinity." If Milton’s title refers to the Paradise that has been lost, Nooteboom’s calls attention to the one we seek.

"There are perhaps paths,"—it is Benjamin once again—"that lead us again and again to people who have one and the same function for us: passageways that always, in the most diverse periods of life, guide us to a friend, the betrayer, the beloved, the pupil, or the master." In Australia, she finds her teacher and he his angel, though they cannot stay with them. The only paradise we can have is the one we cannot regain, though we may find it at moments in the ineffable, the lost and forgotten, silence.

In a prologue, the author on a flight to Berlin-Templehof sees a woman look over a thin volume which nevertheless has numerous chapters and thinks the author "has taken considerable risks." When she holds the book up so that he can see the title, he realizes, "It’s this book," the one we have just read. In an epilogue, he sees the same woman on a train to Moscow still carrying, "the book I thought I had written, the book I still have not been able to shake off," and this time talks to her about it. A world where the prose is dense, demanding, the intellect rigorous, a challenge, the detail that of the polymath, the form answerable only to itself. The world of Nabokov, Gass, McElroy—"those cobwebs of yours"—Anja tells him no one reads any more. Today, she adds, "They're used to a fast pace."

Robert Buckeye has had two works of fiction published, Pressure Drop and The Munch Case and has written on film and art as well as literature.

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Press Release of "Reminder"

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Every now and then, in the depressing mass-market orientated and behemoth-dominated publishing world of today, we hear a story of rightly-earned success and true talent duly vindicated. Tom McCarthy’s quick rise from cult-novelist to the big-time scene couldn’t offer a better example. His debut novel, Remainder, had been sent around to the usual suspects of the UK’s publishing establishment, and although many editors loved it, sales and marketing departments were sceptical about its commercial potential. As a consequence, it never saw the light of day.

But as it’s a well-known fact that no prophet is honoured in his own country, McCarthy didn’t give up, and sent a copy of the manuscript to underground French publisher Metronome Press – a latter-day equivalent of legendary ’50s publisher Olympia Press – who fell in love with it and decided to take the risk and publish it. Without any real marketing, publicity or distribution beyond the art circuit, and with a modest print-run of 750 copies, it made its tortuous way into the wide, wide world – yet, somehow, rave reviews started to pour in from the most prestigious UK magazines and newspapers, like the TLS, the London Review of Books and the Independent, who even argued about the “classic status” of this book.

In the meantime, Jonny Pegg of Curtis Brown, who had championed the author from the very beginning and made it his mission to have this book published by a good UK publisher, sent it to new independent publisher Alma Books. Within a couple of weeks, Alma snapped up the UK rights for Remainder and planned an immediate release, just in time for the 2006 Man Booker Prize submission.

Alma has an uncanny habit of such timely strikes – they bought the UK rights to William T Vollmann’s Europe Central just before it won the high-profile National Book Award for Fiction in the US, and they went for two Paola Kaufmann novels, The Sister and The Lake, just before the former landed the prestigious Casa del las Américas Prize and the latter took the Planeta Prize.

When things started to look good for Remainder in the UK, Jonny Pegg also received an offer from US publishing giant Vintage. Somehow they had heard about the book through the publishing grapevine, and after getting hold of one of the last (and now almost collectable) Metronome copies, Vintage’s Editor in Chief Marty Asher got so enthusiastic about the novel that he decided to take up personal editorship of it. ‘Remainder is a complete original. A novel so strange and unpredictable that once I started it, dishes went unwashed, cats unfed, work stopped until I got to the end, which was both surprising and inevitable. It’s a stunningly accomplished piece of work which defies categorization and which Vintage is thrilled to be publishing.’

The strange rags-to-riches fate of Remainder echoes that of its nameless protagonist, whose life takes a strange turn after he’s hit by a never fully explained object falling from the sky and receives a fortune in compensation – money which he puts to increasingly psychotic effect, paying for his own memories to be reconstructed and replayed in microscopic detail.

And the title? “The hero, his body and his mind are a remainder, what the accident leaves,” explains McCarthy. “The world he reconstructs is a remainder, made up of fragments left over from his ideal ‘remembered’ world. And I love the provocation of calling a book Remainder.”

Alma publisher Alessandro Gallenzi is jubilant at the coup: “This is a major catch, and together with Anthony McCarten’s Death of a Superhero will make for a very strong Alma Books submission to the 2006 Booker.”

REMAINDER by Tom McCarthy
ISBN: 1-84688-015-7, Hardback, £10.99, 336 pp.
Publication Date: July 2006

SIGNED EDITION AVAILABLE - Please call us on +44 (0)20 8948 9550 for further details

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Complete Reviews of "Reminder"

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'A splendidly odd novel... a refreshingly idiosyncratic, enjoyably intelligent read.' The Guardian

'Remainder is an intelligent and absurd satire on consumer culture.' The Times

‘McCarthy’s prose is precise and unpretentious. His anti-hero is a sympathetic Everyman, and it is difficult to resist the dominion of his obsession... its minatory brilliance calls for classic status.’
The Independent

‘...strangely gripping... Remainder should be read (and, of course, reread) for its intelligence and humour.’

'The storyline mesmerizes in its imaginative brilliance... the novel explores complex philosophical ideas about "being" in a simple and direct way. And through McCarthy’s attention to detail, the fantastical plot always retains a feeling of plausibility. The story raises fascinating questions about whether human experience is ever really original or always in some ways an imitation or performance. And in the dark denouement, we are left feeling that there is something integral to human identity that can’t be rationalized, summoned up, or manufactured.'
The Sunday Telegraph

'Enthralling, dotted with dark humour and undoubted originality… it really sticks around in the mind, nagging at one afterwards, and the most complimentary thing that can be said about this novel of repeating scenes is that it really does deserve to be read a second time.'
The Irish Times

‘This isn’t how we expect a novel to be, but it’s why it’s a very good novel indeed. It trains you out of a certain way of thinking.’
London Review of Books

‘...a seamless work of fiction infused with dark humour and echoes of Heidegger, Camus and Burroughs.’
Dazed & Confused

‘Remainder, with seamless prose, endlessly probes the surface of the ‘event’, its infinite elements, angles, perspectives, how it comes about, how it can be brought about again, then lived and relived in Ballardian orbits and Beckettian vibrations... It will remain with you long after you have felt compelled to re-read it.’
Time Out

'Remainder is one of the quirkiest books I’ve read in a while. In a feat of almost Beckettian precision and austerity, McCarthy conjures this absurd and darkly funny vision seemingly from the air.'
The Melbourne Age

‘A masterpiece waiting to happen - again and again and again.’
3:AM Magazine

'Remainder is a triumph and probably one of the most refreshingly brilliant novels you will read for a very long time to come. You will treasure this novel, it will sit on your book shelves with pride, you will hold it in your hands and grin like a child at Christmas. It will be passed onto friends and family. You will read this remarkable novel again and again and again.'

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Book Review: "Remainder" a novel by Tom McCarthy

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About The Book
Title: Remainder
Author: by Tom McCarthy
ISBN: 1-84688-015-7, Hardback, £10.99, 336 pp.
Publication Date: July 2006

Reality studio
Patrick Ness finds much to admire in Tom McCarthy's refreshingly idiosyncratic word-of-mouth hit, Remainder
by Patrick Ness, Guardian, Saturday August 12, 2006

Tom McCarthy's splendidly odd novel has finally reached bookshop shelves via an unnecessarily protracted route. Unable to get past the sceptical marketing departments of the large UK publishing houses, Remainder was first printed in France last year by underground imprint Metronome in a run of just 750 copies. Savvy literary types in this country sought it out, hailing the book's originality and voice, and in turn catching the eye of brand-new UK independent publisher Alma Books, which snapped it up as one of its first titles. A deal with US publishing giant Vintage followed, this hardcover version is now out here, and lo, a quirky, word-of-mouth hit is born.

If the ultimate outcome is inspirational, the need for it is depressing. How many other pleasingly off-kilter books are out there, unknown and unpublished? Surely the price of having to put up with Jordan as a "novelist" ought to be that her profits should provide major publishers with the resources to take chances on books intelligent people might actually want to read?

Remainder - hurrah - is one of those books. Its unnamed narrator has suffered a traumatic event. He can't describe the event - though it involves "something falling from the sky" - both because he can't remember it happening and because his £8.5m settlement from the company involved prohibits him from discussing it. He has spent months in a coma, then more months relearning how to move his body, losing in the process the art of "just being". At a loose end, he goes to a party and sees a crack in a wall. Filled with overwhelming déjà vu, he copies the crack on to a piece of paper and takes it home with him, his hands tingling in "a mixture of serene and intense". He realises that for a brief instant he has "been real - been without first understanding how to try to be".

The crack triggers memories of a building where he may or may not have lived, and he sets about recreating it in every last detail, including cats on a neighbouring roof lounging in the sun and the woman below him who cooked liver all day. Using his settlement and enlisting the help of a logistics expert, he buys two whole buildings, moves out every tenant, recreates the exact interior design of his memories, and - with the help of an ever-increasing staff - hires actors on 24-hour call to re-enact small, insignificant actions such as the setting down of a rubbish bag.

The re-enactment is a success, giving the narrator a brief but potent connection to reality. So begins a re-enactment addiction, starting with events as banal as a trip to a petrol station through to the recreation of a shooting in his Brixton neighbourhood. He even starts re-enacting the re-enactments. It can only be a matter of time before things veer out of control.

But is all as it seems? The narrator is haunted by the smell of cordite; there are characters who might not be real; and he begins to fall into catatonic trances brought on by the re-enactments. Is this purgatory? Did he in fact die in the traumatic event? McCarthy wisely lets the question remain open, finding instead a marvellous closing image of a plane flying a figure of eight - which, of course, is also the symbol for infinity.

There are some bumps on the way. The randomness of the re-enactments may be philosophically sound, but it drains more momentum than it should. And the final re-enactment of a bank robbery, while asking interesting questions about perceived reality, drifts too far into blunt Chuck Palahniuk territory to be as satisfyingly subtle as what has gone before. Still, this is a refreshingly idiosyncratic, enjoyably intelligent read by a writer with ideas and talent. And even after McCarthy's non-fiction success this year with Tintin and the Secret of Literature, it's a novel that could so easily have missed out on being published here. It's a forgotten axiom that pre-Harry Potter no one was looking for books about boy wizards. One publisher took a chance, et voilà, the biggest success in modern publishing history. Surely the trick lies not in finding yet more Dan Brown or Cecelia Ahern derivatives to shove on us, but in being the one who introduces us to the first Tom McCarthy.

· Patrick Ness's latest book is Topics About Which I Know Nothing (Harper Perennial)

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Giraffe explores science, secrets

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Image Description: Ledgard tells his tale of killing and dreams from many points of view — including that of a reticulated giraffe cow.

By Will Tizard
Staff Writer, The Prague Post

About The Book
Title: Giraffe
Publishers: Jonathan Cape, UK, Penguin Press, U.S., Edition Heloise D'Ormesson, France
336 pages
Price: £16.99 ($32/700 Kč)

A state cover-up forms the basis for a sinister fairy tale in Jonathan Ledgard's novel

Jonathan Ledgard's first novel, Giraffe, is a many-faceted work that reads like a dark Central European bedtime story at times and like a spare Cold War thriller at others. The book, which grew out of his discovery of a secret 1975 operation involving the extermination of the largest captive herd of giraffes in the world in a zoo in Czechoslovakia, is also an impressive piece of journalism.

Ledgard, a longtime correspondent for The Economist who is based in Prague but covers Central and East Africa for the respected British news magazine, answered questions about his book while on break from an assignment in Ethiopia, where he is working and trying to keep up with his toddler son, Hamish.

Giraffe, published this year, has already created an international sensation and is currently being released in its U.S. and French editions.

The Prague Post: Where did the idea for Giraffe first take root?

Jonathan Ledgard: I was a Central and Eastern Europe correspondent of The Economist at the time. One day, around 2001, I came across a snippet in one of the Czech papers. It was just a line in an interview with someone who later defected, to the effect that he had filmed the birth of a giraffe for Czechoslovak state television, but that the footage had disappeared after secret police had shot dead all the giraffes in that zoo. Could this be true? I was captivated. I spent a couple of years researching the book, then got sent to Afghanistan to look for Osama bin Laden, which is where I started to write it.

The research was a kind of three-dimensional journalism: I wanted the facts, but I also wanted the feelings. The feelings were more important. I managed to track down many of those involved. I interviewed zookeepers, veterinarians, retired secret police officers, butchers, former dissidents, biochemical warfare specialists and others. The highlight came right at the end when, quite by chance, I met with the hunter who was brought in by the secret police to shoot the giraffes.

We spent a day in his cabin in the mountains talking through what happened. He had never spoken about it before. He still had nightmares about it. I asked him, for example, what kind of rifle strap he had, how he wore it, how the moonlight played on the corrugated iron roof of the giraffe house, and what was the exact sound of the body of a giraffe hitting concrete.


- Publishers: Jonathan Cape, UK, Penguin Press, U.S., Edition Heloise D'Ormesson, France
- 336 pages
- Price: £16.99 ($32/700 Kč)

He answered everything, thoughtfully, and although he did not wish to be identified, he spoke with a great sense of relief, as if he had been waiting to unburden himself. We walked away from his hut. It was summer, the grass in the meadows was high, all the snow melted, even in the shadows, and I felt moved almost to tears because I knew that I had finally got under the skin of that one single suffering.

TPP: Is the phrase 'communist moment' something commonly used, or did you coin it for Giraffe? If so, why do you think it works?

JL: It's a phrase I coined. I'm interested in time and space. The ČSSR in 1975 was a communist moment. I was trying to get at the brevity of communism and yet how it seemed, in 1975, that it would go on for a long, long time.

TPP: There's a lot of melancholy and resignation in your main character, Emil, the haemodynamicist, that is, as you describe, someone who specializes in blood flow in vertical creatures like giraffes and man. Was that a function of the time or is that something still in the atmosphere of Prague?

JL: Both, I think. In writing terms, there's a deliberate flatness about Emil. You can't really say if he's good or bad, successful or failing: He's compromised and he's haunted — just like Prague.

TPP: What's your writing routine? Walks, gallons of coffee, must put it on paper by hand first, can only write standing in a closet, etc.? How many hours a day can you go on this stuff (not counting your journalism, just the book work)?

JL: There's the seed, then the germination of the seed, then the hard research, and finally the writing itself. I tend to write on the move. I travel everywhere with two notebooks. One is green, the other is blue. The green is for reporting, the blue is for writing. I took some months out at the end of Giraffe to write, at the rate of 10 to 12 hours a day, for six days a week, with occasional breaks for tennis and fishing. It's pretty antisocial, but that's the way I do it.

TPP: What substories on giraffes and communist animal husbandry had to be left out (perhaps for length or relevance)?

JL: For instance, how British spies went undercover as salesmen of milking machinery to Czechoslovak collective farms?

TPP: You seem equally fascinated by science and myth. Is there some relation between the two? Perhaps in the questing?

JL: Truth is indivisible. If there are angels, powers, principalities, then they are also subject to science, a certain biology; if there are not, then the absence is a mystery every bit as tantalizing.

TPP: You shift point of view often in Giraffe, from Emil, the scientist, to Amina, a village sleepwalker, and Jiří, the sharpshooter — you even get inside the head of Sněhurka, a giraffe. How did you go about that?

JL: I try to visit the local zoo wherever I travel. I am drawn to the otherness of animals in those places. Most of the zoos are dire, a few are excellent; I wrote several pieces for The Economist in front of the polar bears at Prague Zoo. I tend to dwell on just one or two beasts on a visit (most often polar bears). It's the opposite of studying a painting or a sculpture, in that the longer you regard a beast, the more removed from your understanding it becomes.

I spent days staring up at giraffes. I wanted to find out the similarities between them and us. At the same time, I wanted to be true to their unknowability. Sněhurka is anthropomorphic, but she's at the far end of anthropomorphism from Mickey Mouse. What I've written of her is drawn from observations, from talking to giraffe keepers, and from reading the zoological literature.

TPP: Sleepwalking emerges as a theme in the story, connecting all of the characters. Giraffes sleep standing up; there's Amina, and, of course Czechs under Normalization. How did this motif emerge?

JL: I interviewed Václav Havel. He spoke of himself as being a character in a fairy tale who had broken through a wall into a world where anything was possible, even a playwright becoming president. He and other former dissidents sometimes described communist Czechoslovakia as a nation asleep. I developed that. It wasn't just a nation asleep, it was a nation of sleepwalkers.

Will Tizard can be reached at

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The Snows of Kilimanjaro short stories by Ernest Hemingway

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The Snows of Kilimanjaro is a collection of short stories by Ernest Hemingway. The title story is sometimes considered the best story Hemingway ever wrote.

The collection includes the following stories:

* The Snows of Kilimanjaro
* A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
* A Day's Wait
* The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio
* Fathers and Sons
* In Another Country
* The Killers
* A Way You'll Never Be
* Fifty Grand
* The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

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"The Sun Also Rises" a Novel by Ernest Hemingway

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The Sun Also Rises is considered the first significant novel by Ernest Hemingway. Published in 1926, the plot centers on a group of expatriate Americans in Europe during the 1920s. The book's title, selected by Hemingway (at the recommendation of his publisher) is taken from Ecclesiastes 1:5: "the sun also ariseth." Hemingway's original title for the work was Fiesta, which was used in the UK and Spanish edition of the novel.

Plot Summary
The novel is a powerful insight into the lives and values of the so-called "Lost Generation", chronicling the experiences of Jake Barnes and several acquaintances on their pilgrimage to Pamplona for the annual fiesta and bull fights. Barnes suffered an injury during World War I which makes him unable to consummate a sexual relationship with Brett Ashley. The story follows Jake and his various companions across France and Spain. Initially, Jake seeks peace away from Brett by taking a fishing trip to Burguete, deep within the Spanish hills, with companion Bill Gorton, another veteran of the war. The fiesta in Pamplona is the setting for the eventual meeting of all the characters, who play out their various desires and anxieties, alongside a great deal of drinking. The novel ends ambiguously, with the characters going their separate ways and Jake about to free himself from Brett's lure.
The Sun Also Rises is considered Hemingway's best novel by a majority of critics, with A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls as runner-ups. It is considered ground-breaking in its economic use of language for creating atmosphere and recording dialogue. Upon its publication, many U.S. critics denounced its focus on aimless, promiscuous, and generally licentious characters. On the other hand, it was extremely popular with a young and international readership. Since then, the novel has gained general recognition as a modernist masterpiece.

While most critics tend to take the characters seriously, some have argued that the novel is satirical in its portrayal of love and romance.[4] It shows Jake and Cohn, the two male protagonists, vying for the affections of Brett, who is clearly unworthy of the naive praise they heap on her (Cohn openly, Jake implicitly). On the whole, however, the text does not offer sufficient evidence to support this reading.

In The Sun Also Rises, gender issues are dealt with very seriously by critics, though there is little consensus among them. Some critics charge that the depiction of Brett as a 'liberated woman' is intrinsic to her divisiveness in relationships throughout the novel, and therefore that Hemingway saw strong women as causing trouble, particularly for the men who otherwise dominate the novel.[5][6] Others have argued that Brett signifies the castration of Jake, meanwhile defenders suggest that Brett actually becomes the main character by being the only person Jake is truly interested in.[7] Although the reasons vary significantly from critic to critic, the majority of critical opinion still labels Brett's character as an expression of misogyny.

Another point of criticism is Hemingway's depiction of character Robert Cohn, a Jewish man who is often the subject of mockery by his peers. Though some critics have interpreted this as anti-Semitism on the part of Hemingway, defenders of the book argue that Cohn is depicted in a sympathetic manner, mocked not due to his religion but due to his failure to serve during World War I. Interestingly, Hemingway is reported to have said that Cohn was the "hero" of the book, and Harold Loeb, the Jewish writer who served as a model for Cohn, defended Hemingway from charges of anti-Semitism. [find more information about this book, click here]

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"Wuthering Heights" a Novel by Emily Brontë

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Wuthering Heights is Emily Brontë's only novel. It was first published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, and a posthumous second edition was edited by her sister Charlotte. The name of the novel comes from the Yorkshire manor on the moors on which the story centres. (As an adjective, wuthering is a Yorkshire word referring to turbulent weather.) The narrative tells the tale of the all-encompassing and passionate, yet thwarted love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and how this unresolved passion eventually destroys both themselves and many around them.

Now considered a classic of English literature, Wuthering Heights's innovative structure, which has been likened to a series of Matryoshka dolls,[1] met with mixed reviews by critics when it first appeared.[2][3] Though Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was originally considered the best of the Brontë sisters' works, many subsequent critics of Wuthering Heights argued that its originality and achievement made it superior.[4] Wuthering Heights has also given rise to many adaptations and inspired works, including films, radio, television dramatisations, musicals and songs (notably the hit Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush) and opera.

Plot Summary
The narrative is non-linear, involving several flashbacks, and involves two narrators – Mr Lockwood and Nelly Dean. The novel opens in 1801, with Lockwood arriving at Thrushcross Grange, a grand house on the Yorkshire moors he is renting from the surly Heathcliff, who lives at nearby Wuthering Heights. Lockwood spends the night at Wuthering Heights and has a terrifying dream: the ghost of Catherine Linton, pleading to be admitted to the house from outside. Intrigued, Lockwood asks the housekeeper Nelly Dean to tell the story of Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights.

Nelly takes over the narration and begins her story thirty years earlier, when Heathcliff, a foundling living on the streets of Liverpool, is brought to Wuthering Heights by the then-owner, Mr. Earnshaw and raised as his own. Earnshaw's daughter Catherine becomes Heathcliff's inseparable friend. Her brother Hindley, however, resents Heathcliff, seeing him as an interloper and rival. Earnshaw dies three years later, and Hindley (who has married a woman named Frances) takes over the estate. He brutalizes Heathcliff, forcing him to work as a hired hand. Catherine becomes friends with a neighbour family, the Lintons of Thrushcross Grange, who mellow her initially wild personality. She is especially attached to the refined and mild young Edgar Linton, whom Heathcliff instantaneously dislikes.

A year later, Hindley's wife dies,apparently of consumption, shortly after giving birth to a son, Hareton; Hindley takes to drink. Some two years after that, Catherine agrees to marry Edgar. Nelly knows that this will crush Heathcliff, and Heathcliff overhears Catherine's explanation that it would be "degrading" to marry him. Heathcliff storms out and leaves Wuthering Heights, not hearing Catherine's continuing declarations that Heathcliff is as much a part of her as the rocks are to the earth beneath. Catherine marries Edgar, and is initially very happy. Some time later, Heathcliff returns, intent on destroying those who prevent him from being with Catherine. He has, mysteriously, become very wealthy, and has duped Hindley into making him the heir to Wuthering Heights. Intent on ruining Edgar, Heathcliff elopes with Edgar's sister Isabella, which places him in a position to inherit Thrushcross Grange upon Edgar's death.

Catherine becomes very ill after Heathcliff's return and dies a few hours after giving birth to a daughter also named Catherine, or Cathy. Heathcliff becomes only more bitter and vengeful. Isabella flees her abusive marriage a month later, and subsequently gives birth to a boy, Linton. At around the same time, Hindley dies. Heathcliff takes ownership of Wuthering Heights, and vows to raise Hindley's son Hareton with as much neglect as he had suffered at Hindley's hands years earlier.

Twelve years later, the dying Isabella asks Edgar to raise her and Heathcliff's son, Linton. However, Heathcliff finds out about this and takes the sickly, spoiled child to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff has nothing but contempt for his son, but delights in the idea of him ruling the property of his enemies. To that end, a few years later, Heathcliff attempts to persuade young Cathy to marry Linton. Cathy refuses, so Heathcliff kidnaps her and forces the two to marry. Soon after, Edgar Linton dies, followed shortly by Linton. This leaves Cathy a widow and a virtual prisoner at Wuthering Heights, as Heathcliff has gained complete control of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. It is at this point in the narrative that Lockwood arrives, taking possession of Thrushcross Grange, and hearing Nelly Dean's story. Shocked, Lockwood leaves for London.

During his absence from the area, however, events reach a climax; Cathy gradually softens toward her rough, uneducated cousin Hareton, just as her mother grew tender towards Heathcliff. When Heathcliff realizes that Cathy and Hareton are in love, he abandons his life-long vendetta. He dies broken and tormented, and Catherine and Hareton marry. Heathcliff is buried next to Catherine (the elder), and the story concludes with Lockwood visiting the grave, unsure of what to feel.[source: wikipedia]

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Native Son a Novel by Richard Wright

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Native Son (1940) is a novel by American author Richard Wright. The novel tells the story of 22-year old Bigger Thomas, an African-American of the poorest class, struggling to live in Chicago's South Side ghetto in the 1930s. His life is doomed from the outset: after Bigger accidentally kills a white woman, he runs from the police, kills his girlfriend and is then caught and tried. "I didn't want to kill", Bigger shouted. "But what I killed for, I am! It must've been pretty deep in me to make me kill."

Written mostly in the third person, Wright gets inside the head of "brute Negro" Bigger, revealing his feelings, thoughts and point of view as he commits crimes, is confronted with racism, violence and debasement—the name "Bigger" both is a play of the word "Nigger", and a nod to the bigger social forces behind his actions. While not apologizing for Bigger's crimes, Wright is sympathetic to the systemic inevitability behind them. The story is a powerful statement about the inevitable fate of African-Americans as a result of racial inequality and social injustice. As Bigger's lawyer points out, there is no escape from this destiny for his client or any other black American, since they are the necessary product of the society that raised them. "No American Negro exists," Wright once wrote "who does not have his private Bigger Thomas living in his skull."

Literary significance & criticism
Wright's protest novel was an immediate best-seller, selling 250,000 hardcover copies in its initial run. It was one of the earliest successful attempts to explain the racial divide in America in terms of the social conditions imposed on African-Americans by the dominant white society. It also made Wright the wealthiest black writer of his time and established him as a spokesperson for African-American issues, and the "father of Black American literature".

In 1993 the novel was for the first time published in its entirety by the Library of America, together with an introduction, a chronology and notes by Arnold Rampersad, a well-regarded scholar of African-American literary works. This imprint also contains Richard Wright's 1940 essay How 'Bigger' Was Born.

It is number 71 on the American Library Association's list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.[1] The Modern Library named it #20 on their list of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century. [source: wikipedia]

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"Animal Farm" a Novel George Orwell

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Animal Farm (full title: Animal Farm: A Fairy Story) is a novella by George Orwell, and is perhaps the most famous satirical allegory of Soviet totalitarianism. Published in 1945, the book reflects events leading up to and during the Stalin era. Orwell, a democratic socialist, and a member of the Independent Labour Party for many years, was a critic of Stalin, and was suspicious of Moscow-directed Stalinism after his experiences with the NKVD during the Spanish Civil War.

The novel was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 to present)[1] and was number 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels.

The plot is an allegory in which animals play the roles of the Bolshevik revolutionaries and overthrow and oust the human owners of the farm, setting it up as a commune in which, at first, all animals are equal, but soon disparities start to emerge between the different species or classes. The novel describes how a society's ideologies can be changed and manipulated by individuals in positions of power.

Plot summary
Old Major, the old boar on the Manor Farm (or "Willingdon Beauty" as he is called when he is exhibited) calls the other animals on the Farm for a meeting, where he compares the humans to parasites and teaches the animals a revolutionary song, "Beasts of England."

When Major dies three days later, two young pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, assume command, and turn his dream into a full-fledged philosophy. The animals revolt and drive Mr. Jones from the farm, renaming it "Animal Farm."

The Seven Commandments of Animalism are written on the wall of a barn for all to read. The most important is the seventh, "All animals are equal." All animals work, but the workhorse, Boxer, does more than others and adopts the maxim — "I will work harder."

Snowball the pig attempts to teach the other animals to read and write (though few besides the pigs learn to read well), food is plentiful, and the farm runs smoothly. The pigs elevate themselves to positions of leadership, demonstrating their elitism by setting aside special food items for their personal health. Meanwhile, Napoleon takes the pups from the farm dogs and trains them privately. When Mr. Jones tries to retake the farm, the animals defeat him at what they call the "Battle of the Cowshed." Napoleon and Snowball begin a power struggle for leadership. When Snowball announces his idea for a windmill, Napoleon quickly opposes it. Snowball makes a passionate speech in favour of the windmill, then Napoleon summons his nine attack dogs, which chase Snowball away. In Snowball's absence, Napoleon declares himself leader and makes changes. Meetings will no longer be held and instead a committee of pigs will decide what happens with the farm. Resembling a bourgeois ruling class, a social class classification which functions as a highly important feature of the philosophy of Marxism.
Screenshot from Animal Farm (1954 film)
Screenshot from Animal Farm (1954 film)

Napoleon, using a young pig named Squealer as a mouthpiece, announces that Snowball stole the idea for the windmill from him. The character of Squealer in this instance may be seen as an allegory for a political spin doctor. The animals work harder with the promise of easier lives with the windmill. After a violent storm, the animals find the fruit of their labour annihilated. Napoleon and Squealer then manage to convince the animals that Snowball was the one who destroyed windmill, although it is suggested through the scorns of the neighbouring farmers that the destruction of the windmill was in fact due to the walls being too thin. Once Snowball is made to be a scapegoat, Napoleon begins to purge the farm, killing many animals he accuses of consorting with Snowball. Meanwhile, Boxer takes up a second maxim, "Napoleon is always right."

Napoleon abuses his powers, and life becomes harder for the animals; the pigs impose more controls while reserving privileges for themselves. The pigs rewrite history to villainize Snowball and glorify Napoleon, for example stating that Snowball fought for the humans in the Battle of the Cowshed, and that Napoleon bit Snowball, when Snowball was actually hit by a pellet from Jones' gun. Squealer justifies every statement Napoleon makes, even the pigs alteration of the Seven Commandments of animalism. "No animal shall drink alcohol" is soon changed to "No animal shall drink alcohol to excess" when the pigs discover the farmer's stash of whisky. The song "Beasts of England" is also banned as inappropriate, as according to Napoleon the dream of Animal Farm has been realized. It is replaced instead by an anthem glorifying Napoleon, who appears to be adopting the lifestyle of a man. The animals, though cold, starving, and overworked, remain convinced through subtle psychological conditioning that they are still better off than they were when ruled by Mr. Jones, the human owner of Manor Farm. Squealer abuses the animals' poor memories and invents numbers to show their improvement.

Mr. Frederick, one of the two neighbouring farmers, swindles Napoleon by buying lumber with forged money, and then attacks the farm, using blasting powder to blow up the recently restored windmill. Though the animals of Animal Farm eventually win the battle, they do so at a great cost, as many of the animals, including Boxer, are wounded. Squealer was mysteriously absent from the fight. Boxer continues to work harder and harder, until he finally collapses while working on the windmill. Napoleon sends for a van to take Boxer to the veterinarian, explaining to the worried animals that better care can be given there. However, Benjamin notices as Boxer is loaded up that the van really belongs to "Alfred Simmonds, Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler", but the animals' last desperate attempts are futile. Squealer quickly reports that the van had been purchased by the hospital and that the writing from the previous owner had not been repainted yet. He recounts a dramatic and tear-felt tale of Boxer's death in the hands of the best medical care. In reality, the pigs sent Boxer to his death in exchange for money to buy more whiskey. They soon get drunk from all the whiskey.

Many years pass, and the pigs learn to walk upright, carry whips, and wear clothes. The Seven Commandments are reduced to a single phrase: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Napoleon holds a dinner party for the pigs and the humans of the area (in the adjacent Foxwood Farm, run by Mr. Pilkington), who congratulate Napoleon on having the hardest-working animals in the country on the least feed. Napoleon announces his alliance with the humans, against the labouring classes of both "worlds". He then abolishes practises and traditions related to the Revolution, and reverts the name of the farm to "Manor Farm".

The animals, overhearing the conversation, notice that the faces of the ruling pigs have begun changing. During a poker match, an argument breaks out between Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington when they both play the Ace of Spades, and the animals realize that the faces of the pigs now look almost exactly like the faces of humans and they can no longer tell the difference between them. [more information about this book, click here]

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"The God Of Small Things" novel by Arundhati Roy

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Stories are being told, because among people there is always an unquenchable thirst for more and more human experience.

It may be the bed time story that you would have heard as a child, or a story that your teacher told during moral science class, or as a good morning thought, or a cover story in a magazine, or a gossip story about a film star, or a story about some incident that happened to somebody, or watching a story being enacted in silver screen or small screen, the fact remains undeniable that we all are drawn towards some kind of human experience apart from our own lives in the form of a story.

This sort of experience is something that every story promises, but only a few satisfy. One among of few such stories is, ‘The God Of Small Things’ . I was lucky that I came across this book and I love it not for the story, but the way the story was been told.

It was this book that made me fall in love with words. A proof of how a small sentence made with the right words can have a unique meaning that resonate weird feelings, beyond other forms of expression.

Reading this book was like following someone’s train of thoughts, going forward and backwards, like going inside someone’s mind, like living someone’s memories and like seeing things in the same someone’s point of view, while comparing this with that.

Arundati Roy’s masterpiece has a slight biography like touch. She is surely a very gifted writer. Her style of writing is unique. But what she writes is like a vomit of words. Yeah! Vomit; though not disgusting. For it follows absolutely no rules of story telling. On the contrary it is filled with unexpected similes and sudden short funny sentences.

It was one of sincerest book I have ever read. Judging by the style, I was sure that it was the unedited first attempt. For, though the book is wonderful, it is also an unorganized sequence of words. And I was right. She did say that in an interview.

This book had originated from sudden flow of ideas that came in to Ms. Roy’s head from nowhere, that she felt the sudden passionate urge to regurgitate it all on paper through ink. Just that! Unedited.

Someone who considers books only as a source of entertainment and want to read only for passing time may not be able to appreciate this book’s unique splendor.

Such people may find the words pointless and the story going no where. They might even wonder how this book won the Booker prize. (I wasn’t surprised to find a couple of negative reviews on this book.)

But for me, this book is a treasure, for it satisfies my need to read a story that would, in some sense, matter. It is this book that I take up before cuddling in my bed everyday. As I read it and re-read it, I find myself falling more and more in love, with the words and the emotion behind it.

To describe it using Ms. Roy’s words, I should say that this book was ‘sick sweet’. No wonder the book won rare honors to Ms. Roy. Moreover it is a source of inspiration for people like me whose life ambition is to write a book.

Hope, someday I will write a book, and win a Booker prize for it :)

*Suzanna Arundhati Roy (born November 24, 1961) is an Indian novelist, writer and activist. She won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her first novel, The God of Small Things, and, in 2002, the Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize.

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Poems from Guantánamo

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“At last Guantánamo has found its voice.”—Gore Vidal

“Poetry, art of the human voice, helps turn us toward what we should or must not ignore. Speaking as they can across barriers actual and figurative, translated into our American tongue, these voices in confinement implicitly call us to our principles and to our humanity. They deserve, above all, not admiration or belief or sympathy—but attention. Attention to them is urgent for us.”—Robert Pinsky

“Poems from Guantánamo brings to light figures of concrete, individual humanity, against the fabric of cruelty woven by the ‘war on terror.’ The poems and poets’ biographies reveal one dimension of this officially obscured narrative, from the perspective of the sufferers; the legal and literary essays provide the context which has produced—under atrocious circumstances—a poetics of human dignity.”—Adrienne Rich

Since 2002, at least 775 men have been held in the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. According to Department of Defense data, fewer than half of them are accused of committing any hostile act against the United States or its allies. In hundreds of cases, even the circumstances of their initial detainment are questionable.

This collection gives voice to the men held at Guantánamo. Available only because of the tireless efforts of pro bono attorneys who submitted each line to Pentagon scrutiny, Poems from Guantánamo brings together twenty-two poems by seventeen detainees, most still at Guantánamo, in legal limbo.

If, in the words of Audre Lorde, poetry “forms the quality of light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change,” these verses—some originally written in toothpaste, others scratched onto foam drinking cups with pebbles and furtively handed to attorneys—are the most basic form of the art.

Marc Falkoff is an assistant professor at the Northern Illinois University College of Law and attorney for seventeen Guantánamo prisoners. Flagg Miller is a linguistic and cultural anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Ariel Dorfman is a Chilean American poet, novelist, playwright, and human rights activist who holds the Walter Hines Page Chair of Literature and Latin American Studies at Duke University.

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