Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Review: Voltaire's Calligrapher by Pablo De Santis

Voltaire's CalligrapherVoltaire's Calligrapher by Pablo de Santis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Voltaire’s Calligrapher,” is an owlish historical novel, as well as part thriller. It is also a philosophical novel, full of adventure. Dalessius is a twenty year old calligrapher and archivist, who goes to work for the famous Voltaire. Mechanical writing is already on the scene, but the talent of the calligrapher is still needed in a world where invisible and poisonous varieties of ink still have place among enjoyable cat and mouse games, filled with conspiracies, individual manuscripts, libraries, and booksellers. He is raised by an uncle, who makes his living transporting corpses. But once in the services of Voltaire, Dalessius is set out as a spy to look into the case of the suspiciously condemned Jean Calas, but ends up in a web of far greater intrigue between the Dominicans and the Jesuits. At a deeper level, you could say, he finds himself in the middle of the intrinsic struggle between the mephitic remnants of the Dark Ages and its collateral ingredients. The stage is filled with life-like automatons, graveyards, executioners with their ingenious devices, huge homes where it easy to get lost, back alleys, bordellos, henchmen, and poisonous fish. How can you go wrong? The best part—it’s not too long. It is short, amusing, and very, very smart.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Award

The Prophet of Sorrow by Mark Van Aken Williams
Lucky Press, LLC, has been named a finalist in the The National "Best Books 2010" Book Awards.”--Fiction & Literature, Historical Fiction.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book Review: Speak, Nabokov by Michael Marr

Speak, NabokovSpeak, Nabokov by Michael Maar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Speak, Nabokov, Michael Maar gives us literary criticism that digs into the fiction of Vladimir Nabokov like a cabalist seeking out the hidden truths. Because we are led to believe that Nabokov is so intelligent, absolutely everything in his fiction is detail and put there on purpose. Nothing is left to chance. And Maar, combining biography with the fiction, also combines different people in Nabokov’s life with the persons that inhabit the fiction. But what of the author is in here? To me, much of it is speculation, much like a detective’s case--a hint here, a clue there. With footnotes galore, we are painted a picture of the philosophical nature of Nabokov’s work being Gnosticism, by aegis of Schopenhauer. I am not a scholar; so much of the jargon was lost foreign to me, both in the text and footnotes. I also have no pretentions of being a metaphorical Holmes. In fact, I tend to get uncomfortable when these guys steer towards literary “outing.” Surly Nabokov must have been homosexual, because of clues left in his fiction. But if this is the way you prefer your analysis, here is a wonderfully slim volume for you. As Maar puts it, “Nabokov is fully present everywhere in his work; even the tiniest sliver contains the whole. And that is why each of these slivers scintillates with a dazzling spectrum of colors—a magic that is hard to convey in analysis.”

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Review: The Death of the Adversary by Hans Keilson

This novel is set in Nazi-occupied Europe, although it is never mentioned. There is no guessing here. The adversary is the F├╝hrer (referred to as “my enemy”) and the word Nazi is never used. All of this creates an atmosphere where the protagonist fails to come to grips with the reality of the ascendance of National Socialism and the relationship between subject matter and context. Written as memoir, we see how a person who is just as caught up in the culture of his homeland as those who seek to make him an enemy, can only see himself with detachment as a way to protectively shield himself from certain truths, not only about himself but about the horror in the making. This dichotomy is never clearer than when the protagonist (unknown to be a Jew) is sitting with the friends (Nazi thugs) of a girl he has a crush on and them talking about an assignment to desecrate a Jewish cemetery. This is as haunting a scene as you will ever come across in fiction. The prose is astonishing: part philosophy, part psychology, and part poetry—combined to point out the failure of coming to grips with reality. Because of the anonymous nature of the people and places, I was able to transpose this story to a new time, here in America, where the hatred toward Muslims could have the same effect on a young Muslim man who also grew up an American. Certainly a masterpiece!