Archive for the ‘farrar straus and giroux’ Tag

When imagination becomes real   Leave a comment

In a small, post-war French village, two young teenage girls, Agnes and Fabienne, are the main characters in Yiyun Li’s The Book of Goose. Yes, it’s a strange title, more unusual than the story itself.

As an adult married woman living in the U.S., Agnes learns of Fabienne’s death whom she hasn’t seen in more than 10 years and reflects on their friendship.

Out of boredom, the girls played games relying on Fabienne’s imagination and rules. The two were opposites in personalities, with Agnes always willing to follow her friend’s directives.

Fabienne devises a plan for the two to write a book; she dictates and Agnes, who has better penmanship, puts it down on paper. They enlist the help of the old widowed postmaster, who ultimately fine tunes the book before contacting a publisher in Paris.

Thus the game takes on a new dimension with unsophisticated Agnes recognized as a child prodigy. This farm girl is scrutinized and celebrated as she goes beyond Paris eventually to a finishing school in England, unhappily leaving her friend behind.

Although Fabienne often called her friend an idiot or imbecile, Agnes is more than she appears. Agnes could have other friends, but chooses Fabienne. They fill an unspoken need in each other.

The novel’s essence is grounded in the meaning of friendship with an underlying thread of deceit, loss and discovery. The adult characters are one-dimensional in sharp contrast to the multilayered portrayal of the young girls.

As for the title, Agnes has geese.

The Book of Goose

Four Bookmarks

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2022

348 pages


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