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The Banquet Bug

The Banquet Bug

Yan Geling

Yan, whose short fiction was the basis for the movie Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl, offers a pointed critique of capitalism's rise in her native China. A multifaceted mistaken-identity farce, Yan's novel chronicles the adventures of Dan Dong, a laid-off factory worker who wanders into a lavish banquet where journalists are wined and dined and receive "money for your troubles" fees for listening to - and hopefully reporting on - the presentations of corporations and charities. Dan quickly orders business cards that "said he was a reporter from some Internet news site," and hops aboard the banquet gravy train. Yan revels in the absurdity of her premise, and her over-the-top descriptions of banquet fare underscore her outrage at the few who gorge themselves on 'animals from remote mountains and forests' while millions starve. The story changes gears, though, when Dan's reportage leads him into a dangerous, far-reaching scandal and he is arrested during a crackdown on 'banquet bugs.' Yan's concept is clever, but wooden dialogue and some awkward descriptions make it clear that English is not her mother tongue, though this also leads to some seductively nuanced moments ('He smells rather than hears her words carried on her smoky breath') that hint at her enormous potential.

Suite Francaise

Suite Francaise

Irene Nemirovsky

Celebrated in pre-WWII France for her bestselling fiction, the Jewish Russian-born Nemirovsky was shipped to Auschwitz in the summer of 1942, months after this long-lost masterwork was composed. Nemirovsky, a convert to Catholicism, began a planned five-novel cycle as Nazi forces overran northern France in 1940. This gripping "suite," collecting the first two unpolished but wondrously literary sections of a work cut short, have surfaced more than six decades after her death. The first, "Storm in June," chronicles the connecting lives of a disparate clutch of Parisians, among them a snobbish author, a venal banker, a noble priest shepherding churlish orphans, a foppish aesthete and a loving lower-class couple, all fleeing city comforts for the chaotic countryside, mere hours ahead of the advancing Germans. The second, "Dolce," set in 1941 in a farming village under German occupation, tells how peasant farmers, their pretty daughters and petit bourgeois collaborationists coexisted with their Nazi rulers. In a workbook entry penned just weeks before her arrest, Nemirovsky noted that her goal was to describe "daily life, the emotional life and especially the comedy it provides." This heroic work does just that, by focusing-with compassion and clarity-on individual human dramas.

The Alchemist

The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

Translated into 61 languages, and sold to more than 30 million people worldwide, The Alchemist is a classic of the modern age. A simple, wise and enchanting fable, The Alchemist has inspired readers the world over to listen to their hearts and follow their dreams. In the story we follow the quest of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd, as he journeys to North Africa in the search for missing treasure and spiritual fulfillment It is the simplest things in life that are the most extraordinary: only wise men are able to understand them,a fortuneteller explains to Santiago at the beginning of his quest: the philosophy seems to have worked for Paul Coelho himself, now practically presiding over a literary genre all of his own. A must-read for travelers, soul-searchers, dreamers, and philosophical alchemists.

The Master And Margarita

The Master And Margarita

Mikhail Bulgakov

When the devil sweeps into Moscow wearing a fancy suit and accompanied by a gun-toting, human sized tomcat, it's hardly surprising that havoc is set to ensue. A thorough rampaging through the city follows, involving death, destruction and debauchery, despite the devil's protestations that his intentions are entirely admirable. A twentieth century Russian classic, The Master and Margarita is bizarre, surreal and wonderful. Suppressed by the Stalinist authorities during Bulgakov's lifetime, the novel is both a hilarious romp, and a sharp satire on the cultural and political climate in Soviet Moscow. Fans of the Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez will delight in this masterpiece of the imagination, although make no mistake - The Master and Margarita is very definitely one of a kind.

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini

Interest in The Kite Runner has refused to die down in the three years since its publication. A haunting and beautiful novel, at its heart is the biggest and most unresolved of conflicts - the desire of men to rule one another, whether domestically or on the stage of world events. Amir and Hassan are best of friends, and spend their days playing in the grounds of Amir's beautiful home in Kabul. But the boys are also slave and master, a relationship that becomes increasingly complex and difficult to sustain as the boys grow and the affairs of their native Afghanistan begin to effect on their lives in ever more pressing and dangerous ways. A terrible event tests the strength of the friendship between Amir and Hassan, but before the boys are able to recover, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan whisks Amir off to America to pastures new and to the unsettled life of an emigre. When he finally returns, the country is barely recognizable, and Amir struggles to dig the remains of his childhood, and his dignity from the rubble of the shattered city. The Kite Runner is beautifully written, raw and evocative, and not to be missed.

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies

William Golding

When a plane crashes on a deserted island, with the only survivors a pack of adolescent schoolboys, what follows is at first a riotous testing of the limits of their new found freedom. However, soon their exuberance gives way to something much darker, as fear begins to seep in, and as rescue seems a more and more distant hope, the fragile society the boys have created plunges into chaos. The ultimate novel of dystopia, Lord of the Flies ticks as many boxes as it defies attempts to classify it. At once a thriller, an adventure story, an allegory, and a political treatise, the novel is disturbing, unpredictable, and terrifying in it's exposure of the basest of human instincts. A true classic, this edition of Lord of the Flies contains a new introduction from E.M Forster.

THE SEA

THE SEA

John Banville

So you think your vocabulary is extensive? Put your money where your mouth is with John Banville's ridiculously lavish 2005 Booker Prize winner 'The Sea'. Set in a bleak, old fashioned seaside town on the West coast of Ireland, the novel flits between the distant childhood past and the alcohol soaked adulthood present of art historian Max Morden, as he attempts to reconcile the death of his wife and come to terms with a childhood trauma that irrevocably altered his future. A joyous romp the novel is not, but as a work of art it can hardly be faulted. Elegant, disturbing and absolutely remarkable in it's realization of character, place and pure, difficult, raw humanity, The Sea is a novel that will haunt both new readers and Banville fans alike.

My Name is Red

My Name is Red

by Orhan Pamuk - Reviewed by Austin M. Kramer

Unlike many of his characters, Orhan Pamuk has never lived beyond the city where he was born, but in a city like Istanbul there are already hundreds of lifetimes of stories yet to be told. Still, at the bridge between Europe and Asia it can seem that almost much of the far away worlds has already passed through these famous narrows, and traces still lay collecting in the cities Byzantine alleyways. My Name Is Red is a ruminating mystery haunted by love, art, religion, and politics. It is infused with cultures, legends, history and philosophy that all drift through the narrative like wisps of smoke. The tense interplay between ancient traditions and human passions is brilliantly illustrated through intersecting stories of painting, romance, faith, and murder. Slowly, piece by piece, a variety of highly subjective first-person narrators build the story out of beguiling dialogue and enchanting tangents. Fascinatingly, the fragments all begin to fold in upon each other, gradually fusing into a single dramatic conclusion. Desolate winter in the ancient city profuse with rich textures and disparate voices comes to life with the passion, melancholy and elegant, evocative complexity of an Arabesque illumination or Byzantine mosaic.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer - Reviewed by Austin M. Kramer

Although a spare four years has passed since the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001, ream upon ream has been written on the events and their consequences. Much, if not all of it makes no lasting contribution to the literary cannon. Perhaps the definitive book of these times has yet to be written, but among those that have been, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close stands out as a light of style and compassion. It is not an over-wrought elegy, nor a cynical political manipulation, but in rejecting these neither does it cheapen the tragedy simply because it has become a symbol. Al Queda, various governments, protesters, and indeed much of the world has fixated on the attacks as a symbol, or a catalyst, some kind of means, but Jonathan Safran Foer reminds us that the deaths of thousands can also be a very potent and devastating ends in and of itself. The book follows a sensitive prodigy, 9 years old and manically absorbed in a plethora of intellectual pursuits, as he embarks on the surreal, mystical and quixotic quest to find the lock that fits a key his father had left for him after he died in the towers. It provides a rich landscape of grief - lives now defined by the contrast of death - and shows the world in an ironic new light, reevaluating everything with a new point of view unavoidably affected by tragedy.

Embers

Embers

Sandor Marai - Reviewed by Austin M. Kramer

As traditions scatter on the winds of change and nations shift beneath our feet, the quintessential crisis of modernity is one of definition. Modernity, however, is not a single moment in time so much as every moment in time. In this way, Sandor Marai's lost novels from the first part of the 20th Century are prescient today as they were then. With the glittering age of the Austro-Hungarian Empire long past, two old men meet for a single, vital, and final survey of their lives, filled with love and friendship, but also loss and betrayal. Embers is a slim novel, a single claustrophobic dialogue in an isolated forest estate, but it ranges all across the world and the human experience over the course of a single night. Marai is a master of prose on par with or exceeding his peers Kafka, Hesse, and Mann. His style is brisk, fresh, and dazzlingly vivid. His mastery of the unsaid infuses the book with a sense of mystery and dark drama. With clarity and emotional force, Embers transcends its own generation and cuts to the core of what is modern life.

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