Posts Tagged ‘Novel’

Hannah Tinti’s debut novel, The Good Thief, is a marvelous adventure story that has been hailed as Dickensian and embodies a rich sense of mystery and magic. The novel features a young boy who has grown up in an orphanage as a crippled outcast. Ren desperately desires to know who his parents are and how he lost his hand as an infant. When a mysterious man comes to the monastic orphanage claiming to be a long lost brother Ren feels hope for the first time. Unfortunately, he quickly discovers that Benjamin Nab, his ‘brother,’ is a con artist and a magnificently convincing storyteller—he discovers that Benjamin’s fantastic tale of Ren’s conception is false. Despite Ren’s disappointment, he enjoys the scandalous adventures that he and Benjamin embark upon. Ren treads carefully between his rigorous Catholic upbringing and Benjamin’s corrupt code of ethics, and discovers how to become a good thief.

Tinti, who is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of a non-profit literary magazine One Story, found her inspiration for The Good Thief in a oft forgotten word: Resurrection Men. Graveyards had long been a place that held Tinti’s interest, and the idea of men who robbed graves, a hideous endeavor, juxtaposed with their desire to save lives through science brought to life Ren’s fears and dreams and helped him realize his identity. Ren kept his stump of an arm hidden in his shirt, just as his personal identity was hidden from himself. He waited his entire life to discover who his mother was and why she would abandon him, and he believed that until he discovered his history he would not be whole. This tale explores the wholeness of body and mind, and delves into the pain, loneliness, and confusion experienced by all children as they grope for explanations and a greater understanding of the meaning of their own existence.

Tinti skillfully weaves a tale that is wrought with tension through the eyes of a child, and she uses just enough magic and mystique to pique the reader’s interest without stepping into the world of fantasy. These subtle moments are told through Ren’s perspective as realistic, yet the reader is able to intuit the notions as fictitious as in Benjamin’s story of Ren’s birthplace; “The birds that lived in those branches were as large as donkeys and would take away dogs and children to feed their young a mile high in the sky’ (31). These moments spark the imagination inherent in children and so often forgotten by adults, and it transports readers of all ages into a world where anything is possible, both good and bad. The idea of a story inside of a story is also a truly delightful technique, and Tinti wields it with mindful craft.

The Good Thief is fast paced and difficult to put down. The setting is vivid and well conceived from the little wooden door that abandoned infants are passed through at the orphanage, to the graveyard, and to Mrs. Sand’s complex and homey boarding house. Tinti uses suspense and intrigue that leaves the reader wanting more after they’ve finished the novel. The chapters are short, which adds to the fast paced feeling of the story. This story is captivating and entertaining. Every little detail is utilized in more than one aspect of the story, and because they are so skillfully woven into the action, these details never feel like plot devices. Tinti spent six years working on her debut novel, and it is an extraordinary contribution to modern adventure that both young adults and adults will enjoy for years to come. Bravo!

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The Quiet American is a vibrant novel about love, obsession, murder, redemption, politics, and war. Graham Green was an English writer and the protagonist (Thomas Fowler) is naturally English. The Quiet American was not originally well received in the US because it was perceived as demonizing the American presence in Vietnam. But today it is recognized for beautiful prose and different approach to structure than is typical of a novel.

The structure of the Quiet American is fascinating because it operates like a flashback, except that the majority of the novel is a flashback. Thus the present experiences are like a flashpresent if there were a term for this structure; the tense flashes from the past into the present rather than from the present into the past. This structure is fascinating because the audience already knows the plot, they know Pyle has been murdered, and it quickly becomes clear who is responsible for his death. We even know the motivation, but Graham has used his structure of time and setting in such a way that it feels confessionary.

The entire novel is told through Fowler’s memory. This technique is intriguing partially because fiction-writing books always warn developing writers to use the flashback sparingly. The feeling of movement is created by Greene’s usage of short sections that each comprises a memory. While the time of the novel elapses over a couple of years it feels like Fowlers’s musings occur in a single evening.

Each section is a complete scene. Either the cast of characters or the setting changed entirely in each section. On a structural level this helps keep the pace moving quickly, but it also gives a rich landscape for the novel. By giving us so many memories we witness an apartment, a government facility, a spiritual church, a rice patty, a watchtower, the home of a Vietnamese family, a city street, a restaurant, a scene of mass death, bombings, a club, an opium den, and a brothel (I may have forgotten a couple of places). This myriad of settings gives a realistic glimpse of the life of an expatriate during the Vietnam War.

The only scene that was repeated was the first and second to last chapters in which Pyle and Phuong meet outside his room the night of Pyle’s death. Even though this scene is repeated it is told differently so that it is more of a reminder of the first chapter than a repeat, and it is only a small section of the first chapter. The repetition of this section could mean that Phuong and their relationship is the most important part of the story for Fowler. This statement does not indicate that this novel is a love story; Fowler’s obsession with Phuong might be better categorized as a concern for his loss of stature and pride, and a fight over a woman who he considered as a possession rather than as a human he had deep sentimental connection with. But that is really for the reader to decide.

I highly recomend taking the time to read this beautifully written novel!

Graham Green as told by Wikipedia

Tortilla Flat was among Steinbeck’s first published novels. He attempts to mimic the Arthurian legend of the nights of the round table in the spirit of the Paisano population of Monterey Bay, California. After the novel was published Steinbeck was horrified that readers looked down upon the characters who he had meant to be seen as heroic in a simple fashion; Steinbeck stated, “I wrote these stories because they were true stories and I liked them. But literary slummers have taken these people up with the vulgarity of duchesses who are amused and sorry for a peasantry. These stories are out, and I cannot recall them. But I shall never again subject to the vulgar touch of the decent these good people of laughter and kindness, of honest lusts and direct eyes, of courtesy beyond politeness.” Steinbeck was able to see the good in humanity, even when it was disguised behind alcoholism, thievery, violence, and lust.

Steinbeck uses archaic language like “dost thou and hast thou” to emphasize the Arthurian feel. Unfortunately this technique was counter productive for me. Each time I read a comment like this, it pulled me out of the story. I’m not sure if this dialect was still used in the early twentieth century, but it feels out of context, and unnatural coming from these men who steal food and wine, and whose base concerns are keeping gallons of whine in the house. While they do many good deeds for the community, there is always an underlying greed that gets in the way of the reader recognizing their humanitarian efforts. Only Danny, the main character who represents King Arthur, can come close to being considered selfless, because he offers his home to anyone in need and hardly bothers to wake when he’s told his friends have burned down his second home.

Additionally there were several references to the “miserly Jew” and I wonder if Steinbeck was anti-Semitic, or if this was merely a cliche concept that he was portraying. Overall the book was a decent and quick read.

My Latin professor recommended that I read Treasure Island. He said that Stevenson always ended a chapter on a cliffhanger and he also mentioned that the writing exhibited Stevenson’s knowledge of Latin. I’ve chosen to learn Latin because I believe it will be immensely helpful in my writing endeavors, and so I had to check out Treasure Island. And Bert was right. This book was difficult to put down because the conclusion of each chapter was a tease for the next. It turns out that this is because Treasure Island  was originally published as a serialized novel between 1881 and 1882 in the magazine, Young Folks, under the title The Sea Cook. Unfortunately I was in entering the last two weeks of the quarter when I picked this up, so I read it much slower than I would have at any other time. Even so, I would catch myself thinking about the last bit I’d read, wondering what would happen next even if I had set the book down for two or three days. This book really is a treasure.

Many people think of Treasure Island as being a children’s book, but this is simply not true. Jim, Flint, Silver, and the Doctor will intrigue a reader of any age. Their relationships shift and show the depth and importance of empathy, forgiveness, and salvation. And this novel has created many of the pirating caricatures that we still think of today. A one-legged pirate captain and his parrot, buried treasure (a rags to riches motif), and sayings like “shiver me timbers” or “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.”

There were a couple of bits that I found mildly bothersome. Racism. I really abhor reading comments, even with understanding that Treasure Island was written in a time when the thoughts about race were very different than they are now. Although initially turned off when young Jim assumes that the reason one of the sailors (I believe it was the Cook, AKA Silver) liked to always be sailing was because he was married to a black woman. But I was surprised at the end of a the novel when they were anchored and found the black natives coming to sell food to be a pleasant surprise and a soothing boon to their spirits that were beleaguered with blood and treachery. I also found the fact that Jim told the pirates that he’d moved the ship to be a bad maneuver; the pirates knew the island better than young Jim, and they could have easily deciphered where the ship was and left on it. And the final cowering three pirates left ashore, clearly knew where the ship was, and if they were smart they would have tried to obtain control over it during the days that the treasure was being transported. And further, how does one person located in a single outpost protect them against three desperate pirates with loaded guns, while the haul the treasure several miles. But despite these inconsistencies, the novel was still an absolute pleasure to read. I will most certainly give this to my sister when my nephew gets old enough that she can read it to him.

Ray Bradbury is my hero.

This novel was first published (as a shorter version in Galaxy Magazine) in 1950, before we had the Internet, video games, and satellite television. Some people might even say that this novel was prophetic. We may be in the age of information, but this would more aptly be described as the age of information overload. And too much information results in lots of data but very little contemplation and careful consideration of that data. We fill our days with media of many different sources, and now many people even carry phones that operate as miniature computers, so that they never have to be too far from their beloved information. We have forgotten how to sit on the front porch and chat with our neighbors. We have forgotten how to spend family time other than sitting next to each other watching the TV and eating microwaved dinners. Maybe it’s not quite that bad, but I do know many people whose lives are very similar to what I’ve just described.

Most importantly, we’ve forgotten about the importance for reading. It takes too much time, the classics are hard to understand, reading shouldn’t be work it should be fun, why read when we can just watch a movie?

Bradbury’s vision of people burning books, of not being allowed to read is terrifying because it really does happen. Why does it happen? Because books create lasting impressions, books teach us to think, books teach us diversity, humanity, compassion, and respect. Books are influential. That is why they are burned. But there are always rebels who will risk their lives to preserve artwork, and I’m not talking about books alone. I watched a documentary earlier this year that showed a group of men who strategically walled off a room in a building that housed a voluminous collection of Afghan films. They protected the artwork from being destroyed by the Taliban. Several years ago I was in Cambodia and made a comment about all of the ancient statues whose heads were missing or faces destroyed, my motorbike driver told me that the Thai army had done that damage during the war, but according to my lonely planet that damage was actually done by the Khmer Rouge. I’m more likely to believe that latter after reading Luong Ung’s memoir First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers. Ung explained her first hand accounts of the people’s need to throw away items like prescription eye glasses and jewelry as they were marched from their homes to the labor camps. The soldiers killed anyone who appeared educated before even getting to the labor camps.

The point from my rambling is that Bradbury’s novel may be 59 years old, but it is still just as fresh and contemporary today as it was the day he wrote it. Teaching our children to read is how we teach them to be human. And I absolutely LOVE the fact that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 while sitting in a public library.

Ray Bradbury’s Website

You’ve driven by Home Depot and seen scores of men standing about willing to work for whatever you’re willing to pay. But have you ever wondered what their home was like? Did you ever sneer at them, spit at them in your mind? Have you ever taken advantage of an immigrant? Forced them to work, unprotected, with toxic chemicals then skimped them on their pay? Have you ever wondered what desperate conditions would drive them to sneak into your country and beg to work in jobs that you are unwilling to do?

The Tortilla Curtain takes a good look at the struggles illegal immigrants face when they risk their lives to come dig for gold in the US. This novel explores immigrant life not from the perspective of a naturalized citizen, but of a foreigner in a world confusing, scary, and far more dangerous than imagined. Boyle does an excellent job depicting the difficulties any foreigner faces in a country who’s tongue wiggles in different patterns.

This novel is well worth reading, if only to gain a sense of a different type of struggle you may have never imagined.

Author’s Website

This is an absolutely beautiful novel! A story of humanity, of choices and consequences, of love and family,  and of grief all rendered in elegant prose. Not only is this story unforgettable, but it deserves a second read. Bravo!