Tag Archives: picador books

365 Stories: Day 8: The Crease by Ben Sonnenberg

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Today’s story was a strange one, rather sublime as well – “The Crease” by Ben Sonnenberg is a story of a man and his many loves and what happens to him at the end, when most of them are revealed to one woman.

The pace is fast, the story is established quickly and it isn’t a long one – so you can read it fast and then mull over it. It is the kind of story that will take some time to sink in, but when it does, you will enjoy it thoroughly. I read it twice – not because I couldn’t understand it but because even with sparse writing Sonnenberg shows what can be done and it is fantastic. A treat for every reader.

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Book Review: Alice in Bed by Cathleen Schine

Title: Alice in Bed
Author: Cathleen Schine
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 9781250002402
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Alice in Bed by Cathleen Schine is the debut novel of the writer, and for that reason alone it shines, without getting too sentimental. I normally am petrified of reading a debut novel, for two reasons alone: I might end up loving it, which means that if the second novel disappoints, I would not read the author again or I might end up not liking it and then that is the end of it anyway. In both the cases, it is a loss-loss situation. Having said that, I am looking forward to reading all of Schine’s books (Alice in Bed was first published in 1983) – To the Birdhouse, The Love letter, The Evolution of Jane and The Three Weissmanns of Westport.

Alice in Bed, as the title suggests is about Alice in Bed. Her legs are stiff and she cannot walk, nor can she move them. Pain is a part and parcel of her life and she has somehow gotten used to it. She is prodded and poked in the hospital by doctors – engulfed by her ailments with no hope in sight. She is at the hospital and that is her life. The doctors do not know what is wrong with her and Alice is pissed. The transformation occurs when Alice gets around the hospital (in its hallways and outside) and gets to know more people and their lives and analyses her own with that funny wit and sardonic humour. She also falls in love (temporarily though) with a blond surfer before she returns home.

Hospitals are not the happiest places to be at. Schine knows how to portray “hospital life” with such clarity that the reader is sometimes taken aback. The book is morbid and funny at the same time. There was something odd and crazy at the same time about the characters in the hospital and yet there were times that I caught myself warming up to them.

The most interesting part about the book is that it is not narrated in the whiny tone which could have been possible. Instead it is refreshing (given the hospital in question) and hilarious. It takes a look at life with a “tongue-in-cheek” approach and “in-your-face” writing style. Cathleen Schine is such a good writer that even if there are parts you do not agree with (which was the case when I was reading it) or not like, it doesn’t really matter. My favourite characters were Alice’s distracted mother to Dr. Davis and Simchas Fresser. There is wit, pathos, and sometimes sex as well in the book. Alice in Bed sparkles on almost every level.

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Book Review: The Druggist of Auschwitz by Dieter Schlesak

Title: The Druggist of Auschwitz: A Documentary Novel
Author: Dieter Schlesak
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1250002372
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Druggist of Auschwitz is the title of this book, and for most the title is enough to either want you to read this book or stay away from it. For me it was the former. I had to read it. I have been interested in the Holocaust since forever now and that is only to understand how human nature works. The violence it is capable of and sometimes what lengths it can go to.

The author Dieter Schlesak was only 10 years old when the Russians invaded his town of Sighisoara in German Transylvania (now Rumania) in August 1944, and since then he has been trying to understand the Holocaust and how it happened ever since. The Druggist of Auschwitz is an attempt at that – to create something monumental about the possible paralyzing horror that occurred – and in this book Schlesak does a brilliant job by providing both sides of the story, that of the victim and that of the perpetrator.

On one hand in the book, you have the Jew who is safe from the horrors, a collective narrator, called, “Adam Salmen” – who is the Sondercommando of the Jewish “Special Action Squad” under the German Rule. His job is to report on the deaths in the gas chambers and tally them against the list and the cremation ovens. In his spare time, he maintains a diary describing the horrors and his state of mind and emotions.

The other side of the story is of Viktor Capesius, formerly a pharmacist in Sighisoara, whom the author knew personally. He was in charge of the SS dispensary and had control over Zyklon B that was used in the gas chambers. He also participated in the selection process of spring of 1944 of choosing who was fit to work and who wasn’t, and would ultimately meet their death. Capesius did a lot in his role – from stealing money from the Jews and stripping them to their very last valuable to converting their gold teeth to gold for his personal benefit, this book says it all. It also tells the reader of how the pharmacist met his end.

The author uses the druggist as the central voice in the book for exploring the horrors of Auschwitz. There is only a thin fictional gloss to the entire book. Otherwise all of it is true and real and maybe that is what makes it what it is. The Druggist of Auschwitz uses a new way of chronicling the lives of individuals who participated in the world’s greatest horror. The victim’s nature and role and the torturer’s aspect are clearly laid out. The writing is not easy. There will be times when the reader will be tempted to shut the book and not read further. At the same time, the writing style is hypnotic and totally worth a read. The amazing combination of fact and fiction makes it up for everything that you have read earlier about the Holocaust. I would highly recommend this one.

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Book Review: The Terracotta Dog (Montalbano 2) by Andrea Camilleri

Title: The TerraCotta Dog (Inspector Montalbano 2)
Author: Andrea Camilleri
Genre: Detective Fiction
ISBN: 978-0330492911
Publisher: Picador
PP: 352 pages
Price: Rs. 330
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Terra-Cotta Dog is an extremely rewarding police procedural with deep cultural and historical roots that provide a delightful complexity for the reader. I would award this book six stars if I could. If you have not yet read any of the Inspector Montalbano books, I suggest that you take the time to read The Shape of Water first. That book helps set up the context of the characters and makes The Terra-Cotta Dog far more interesting.

This book has Inspector Montalbano solving several mysteries before he is done. In a fascinating way, each mystery leads unexpectedly into the next one. And so on. It’s like opening the Russian nesting dolls to find another treasure inside. I can rarely recall such fine plotting and seamless connections between disparate story elements in one police procedural.

As the book opens, Montalbano has been invited to meet secretly with a dangerous killer. Is it a trap? Why would the killer want to meet with a police inspector? The answer leads to a merry-go-round of public relations activities to cover up the real motive. Then, the charade collapses and Montalbano finds out about an unknown crime. More public relations follow . . . and from them Montalbano gets a clue to other hidden crimes. The rest of the novel reminded me of an archeologist’s work in uncovering earlier civilizations that built on the same site.

The main contexts for these mysteries are the Sicilian Mafia, the Fascist era, the American invasion of Sicily during World War II, and the Christian and Moslem religions. How’s that for an unusual combination? Montalbano emerges as an even more interesting character in this book than in The Shape of Water, especially as his relationship with his girl friend Livia develops. As before, the food references are a delight and add a warm human touch to offset the evil that coils throughout the story.

As I finished the story, I was reminded how important it is to be dogged in chasing down details that don’t seem to make sense. There’s always an explanation for mysteries, but the explanation will never be revealed unless you follow the path to the answer wherever it takes you.

Book Review: The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom

Title: The Paperbark Shoe
Author: Goldie Goldbloom
Publisher: Picador Books
ISBN: 978-0312674502
Genre: Literary Fiction
PP: 384 pages
Price: $15.00
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Set in Australia during World War II, “The Paperbark Shoe” is ostensibly the story of Gin Boyle Toad, an Albino woman, who has married beneath her social class in order to escape being institutionalized for life. Although a trained classical pianist and a member of the moneyed class, Gin is an outsider because of her pigmentation. Her husband, Mr. Adolphus Toad, is a crude farmer of short stature who has some unusual proclivities; his size and oddities place him outside conventional society. Antonio and John, two Italian prisoners-of-war, are participants in a worker program designed to aid Australian farmers. Outsiders because of their nationality and because they are the enemy, the two integrate their lives into those of the Boyle household. Yet, they are never fully accepted as part of the family unit and remain aware of their outsider status. As outside observers, the two surviving Boyle children, Mudsey and Alf, are affected by and comment on the adults’ interactions.

Goldbloom’s command of language is extraordinary. In relating his story, she is able to make the reader empathize with even the despicable Toad. Goldbloom’s description of the things Gin has learned since coming to Wyalkatchem, page 35 in the ARC, is a powerful testament to the strength required to survive in the harsh Australian ranchlands. One can feel the pride Gin takes in her accomplishments, though that pride is tinged with despair. Even as Toad and John, and Gin and Antonio establish relationships, they remain outside the conventions of polite society. Goldbloom draws the reader into those relationships, their joys and their sorrows.

This novel flows smoothly from beginning until it reaches its final chapter. Only there do the scenario and plot seem to become disjointed from that of the main text. It is almost as if the chapter had been written at another time and tacked onto the book’s end. While it is a powerful text, in and of itself, I do not think the book would have suffered without the inclusion of that final chapter. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful novel and richly deserves a five-star rating. If you are looking for an interesting, character driven book which will keep your attention from beginning to end, I urge you to read Goldie Goldbloom’s “The Paperbark Shoe.”