Archive for the ‘farrar straus and giroux’ Tag

Self-inflicted Isolation   1 comment

All the Living by C. E. Morgan is one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve read; unfortunately, the story doesn’t reach the same level as the words that embrace it. It’s not bad; it just doesn’t rise to the same level as the well-crafted images. I must admit that the opening sentence immediately grabbed me with its element of intrigue: “She had never lived in a house and now, seeing the thing, she was no longer sure she wanted to.”

She is Aloma, a young woman, who spent her early years living with relatives in a trailer before being sent, at age 12, to a “mission school” – essentially an orphanage. There, she discovers a talent (and passion) for the piano. Otherwise, there is little to set her apart.

The house, on a tobacco farm, is Orren’s. When his mother and brother are killed in an accident he asks Aloma, whom he had recently met, to join him as he tries to maintain the homestead. A young preacher who befriends Aloma is added to the mix, which also includes the harsh, isolated landscape.

There’s no time frame but basic amenities are evident; it’s clear this is not a back-in-the-day tale. The house has an old, hopelessly out-of-tune piano. Orren has the farm and a reticence that comes from grief and the responsibilities he’s inherited.

Possessing little, but more than they realize, Aloma and Orren’s story isn’t just about being lonely even when others are present, but about love and self-awareness.

All the Living
Three-and-a-half bookmarks
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2009
199 pages

Hitler’s Henchman Horrifies Historian (and everyone else)   Leave a comment

The title of Laurent Binet’s debut novel, HHhH, is troublesome. Not so much what it means, which is “Himmlers Hirn heiBt Heydrich” or “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich,” but how to say it. The quartet of Hs is baffling. Fortunately, Binet’s writing is not. While it is not entirely comfortable being amused by Hitler and one of his main henchmen, Reinhard Heydrich, Binet provides a work that is rich with historical perspective and editorial comments interjected in a humorous and sarcastic voice.

The narrator’s purpose is to tell the story of Jozef Gabcik, a Slovak, and Jam Kubis, a Czech, who were primarily responsible for Heydrich’s assassination in Prague. The pair was part of a scheme concocted by the British secret service, and, in the narrator’s opinion, nothing short of heroes.

Binet’s approach is to blend historical fact with conjecture. Occasionally, after describing an incident in vivid detail, he writes, “That scene, like the one before it, is perfectly believable and totally made up.” He even apologizes for spending much of the novel detailing Heydrich’s background and rise through the Nazi ranks. He writes, “Heydrich is the target, not the protagonist.” In fact, the heroes do not even appear until one-third through the book. Even then, it’s hard to avoid returning to Heydrich, the man known as “the Butcher of Prague,” among other monstrous adjectives.

Heydrich’s fate, like that of his assassins, is fodder for the history books. Nonetheless, Binet’s strong storytelling ability creates suspense and satisfaction as the events unfold.

Four Bookmarks
Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2012
327 pages