THE TIGER’S WIFE by Téa Obreht

tigers-wifeThis 2011 debut novel sure was an interesting read.  It is set in an unnamed Balkan country, which seems to be near the Turkish border, so maybe Bulgaria?   Well, not important.   The time is the present, told in first person narrative by a young woman doctor, on her way with her friend to give inoculations and other health care to children in a remote city, across the border that separates what was once their single country.

She receives a call from her grandmother who has learned that her husband (the grandfather) has died in some also remote area.   This sets off a long episodic reminiscence by the young woman of her girlhood with her grandfather.  These memories include tales told to her by her grandfather of his boyhood in a far village, which revolve around a tiger escaped from a bombed out zoo who managed to get to this area searching for food and shelter, and a deaf mute girl, the abused young wife of the local butcher, who befriends the tiger by secretly providing meat she has taken from the butcher’s hanging shed.    The villagers eventually become very wary of this girl, and begin to call her the tiger’s wife. Being uneducated villagers, they start to come up with tales that claim that she turns into a tiger at night, or that the tiger visits her in the house every night.  You know, the kind of stuff that got women labeled as witches and burned at the stake in days of yore.

The other story he tells is of the deathless man, the man who cannot die, who can predict a person’s demise in a tea cup, and whom the grandfather meets  three times.

The young doctor’s memories are constantly interspersed with her journey and the happenings in the little village she goes to, where some foreign family is digging digging digging in the orchard of the family of the local priest.  It turns out that during the war, the older digger had to leave his dead brother in that area, being forced to flee.   He buries the brother, intending to come back for his remains so that the proper rituals can be conducted so that the deceased man can go to the crossroads and his soul taken up to heaven.

Her childhood activities included weekly visits to the local zoo with her grandfather, to see the tiger.   The tiger figures prominently throughout the book, acting as some kind of metaphor for something.  No Sparknotes, so how am I to know what to think?

It is something of a coming of age book, but not much, something of historical fiction, but not overwhelming, and a lot about relationships — the grandparents’ relationship, the relationship of the grandparents to the narrator, the relationship of the grandfather as a young boy with the elusive tiger in the village environs, and with the mute girl bride.  There are secrets, deaths, apparent murders, the relating of old old customs and rituals connected with death and dying, and just a soupçon of paranormal, just enough to leaven a fairly dense loaf.

Some call it a YA book, but for me, it did not feel like that at all.  It felt all grown up, complete with the unsolved mysteries that plague all our lives.   It might be thought of as chick lit, because of the female narrator, but not really,  (maybe because the grandfather and his life figures so prominently), and perhaps with not enough gravitas to be fully considered literary fiction, what with the deathless man who could not die.  I don’t know.  Good thing I am not in charge of declaring genres for books.  I would be in a constant dither.

I really liked this book.  Well worth reading

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THE RINGS OF SATURN by W. G. Sebald

ringsYou might think, by the title, that this is a sci fi novel. But you would be wrong.   After reading a few pages, you might think this is a non-fiction account of the author’s walking trip through Suffolk, England.  Again, you would be wrong.

W. G. Sebald is a German author, and this is a translation of his novel Die Ringe des Saturn: Eine englische Wallfahrt,  and no, Wallfahrt is not ….well, you know.  It is pilgrimage in English.

A narrator whom we assume is the author sets off on a walking journey through Suffolk.  As he (and why do we assume it is a he?  Probably because women ain’t got time for that sh*t)  comes to various locations, they are described, which leads him on to muse on other topics which they bring to mind.   At first, the reader … OK, me ….. thinks, hmmm just a teensy smidge boring.  But really, it is somewhat hypnotic, and you say, OK, just a couple more pages, and on and on you go, all caught up in the journey and the thoughts.

He discusses people he has met, the silk industry,  the region where Joseph Conrad lived as a young immigrant prodded him to discuss at some length the real life horrors of the Belgium Congo colony that was the basis for Heart of Darkness, talks of the situation in Ireland, both now (well, in 1995 when the book was written), and its history, and discusses the involvement of Roger Casement, an Irish-born civil servant who worked for the British Foreign Office as a diplomat, and later became a humanitarian activist, Irish nationalist, and poet. Described as the “father of twentieth-century human rights investigations”, he was honoured in 1905 for the Casement Report on the Congo and knighted in 1911 for his important investigations of human rights abuses in Peru. He then made efforts during World War I to gain German military aid for the 1916 Easter Rising that sought to gain Irish independence.  Casement was finally to be hanged for treason.  Long story and sad.

The narrative circles back several times to the issue of slavery of one kind or another, and there is a long meditation on the large estates of England and how they came into being.  There is quite a bit on Sir Thomas Browne, whom the author admires a great deal, and a sizeable chunk of Chinese history.

It really is a tour de force, as they say,  one that doesn’t quite hit you until after you have finished it and it sticks with you and rattles around in your head for a while.

Do read it.  It has a style and rhythm to it that is just so soothing.

MY PLANET by Mary Roach

my-planetI love Mary Roach.  I am totally a Mary Roach fan.  I have already read three other books by her,  Six Feet Over  – Adventures in the AfterlifeStiff, about bodies and dead people, and Packing for Mars – The Curious Science of Life in the Void.

My Planet is not a one topic book.  It is actually a collection of her articles from Reader’s Digest over the years, and yeah, it is funny as all get out.  I was reading it in my horizontal office (that would be my bed where I also check email and Facebook on my laptop),  with the Kindle perched on my stomach, and had difficulties keeping it in focus as my innards went up and down as I literally LOL’d.

As the intro tells us,

What you can expect from Roach is a curious curation and condensation of life’s little mishaps — all of which are filigreed with her humor.  She details first dates, rants about marital differences, and dissects the stellar process that is getting older (or, as Roach puts it, entering “the Age of Skirted Swimwear”).

I usually am disappointed in varying degrees of disappointment with books purporting to be humorous.  Generally, I find they try too hard,   especially the ones touted as Laugh Out Loud Funny!.  I almost never laugh out loud when I read them.  But I do laugh out loud with Roach’s books.  Must be she has a sense of humor which taps my funny bone.

Want a couple of examples?  I’m glad you asked.

I bought Ed [her husband] earplugs and a black satin sleep mask. “It’s dashing,”  I said of the mask. “You look like Antonio Banderas in Zorro.”  This was a lie.  He looked like Arlene Francis in “What’s My Line?”

And about automated commercial answering services:

Thank you for calling VeriCom Customer Care.  Your call is important to us, though not as important as it is to you.  If you are calling from a touch-tone phone, press or say 1.  If you are calling from a rotary-dial phone, please stay on the line while a customer care representative makes mocking, derisive faces.  Para assistencia en español, go to South American and try your call again.

On men competing for fastest arrival time:

“You know if you take Clipper Street,” Dan is saying, “you can shave six minutes off the drive”.  These minutes go into a special account, where they can be redeemed for chest hair, leather gloves with holes cut out of the back, and other bonus masculinity awards.

Lots of fun.

I still have Bonk – The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex Gulp – Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, and Spook in my queue.  (Don’t you just love the word ‘queue’?  Sounds so much classier than ‘Books I Hope To Get Around To Reading Before I Die List.’

 

 

WHOSE BODY? by Dorothy L. Sayers

whosebodyIt’s 1923, and Mz. Sayers introduces the world to Lord Peter Wimsey.  You know, it is only in 1923 mysteries that a person can discover an unknown person dead in their bathtub,naked except for pince nez on his nose, and be like, “Oh, drat.  Now where will I take my bath?  Oh, bother.”

The police are inept, as they must always be when we have an amateur sleuth, (and incidentally,  they are only sleuths in first-quarter-of-the-20th-century mysteries.  Later they morph into P.I.s, or else dithering females in cozy mysteries).

Well, the hunt is on to find out who whacked the guy on the back of the head, then carried him across the roof tops to enter through the bathroom window and deposit the guy in the tub.

On another front, a financier is reported missing.  He was seen returning home, and his clothes were left in his room, but when his man came to wake him, he was absent.  Could the two be one and the same?  Thanks be to Hercule Poirot, they were not, or else it would have been an awfully short book.

I must say that I thought Lord Peter was a lot more fun before he met that Vane woman and got married in the later  volumes.

Sayer is a funny, clever writer, and if you like early 20th century mysteries, you will naturally love her.

death_of_socrates_painting

 

THE ORION PROTOCOL by Gary Tigerman

orion-protocolSci fi, going where no man or woman has gone before.  I sure do love a good hard sci fi story.  They tend to be a combo of barely disguised current events, scarily accurate prognostications, and a whole lotta imagination.

This one is barely disguised current events, scarily accurate prognostications, and a whole lotta imagination.   I found it to be fascinating because it is about government coverups, (and Buddha knows we sure do have enough of those), aggression disguised as surveillance, and a clueless President of the US trying to become less clueless.

The basic premise is that the government is actually run by a cadre of shadow figures, and has been for decades, which nobody knows about, with Congress thinking they are pulling the strings, and each successive President thinking he is in charge.

1958: The Eisenhower-commissioned Brookings Report recommends that any future discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence be kept secret from the public.

1968: Congress grants NASA the power to indefinitely”quarantine” anyone exposed to alien life or artifacts.

That stuff is true;  did you know that?

1993: Just 48 hours from the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars Observer probe inexplicably disappears and is declared “lost.”

That is not true, it is part of the fiction so don’t get all hyped up over it.

A high profile science journalist is sent anonymously a packet of photos of non-natural artifacts on Mars.  I want to say man-made, but who knows.  Is ‘alien-made’ a phrase?   The journalist takes it to a computer whizz who confirms the photos are real and not tampered with, and of the location they purport to be.  You know — stuff like that face and the pyramid we see on posts from IDontMakeThisStuffUp.Com.  I personally am keeping my fingers crossed that those artifacts are true, and not just Light and Shadows.   I so want there to be aliens.

Two NASA astronauts, one retired from NASA and teaching, and one still in the program, get involved.  You know why?  Because back when they were moon walking, they saw stuff.  Stuff the government hushed up.  But it is all now coming back to bite them in the butt.

Great storyline. I am not telling you any more of the plot because if you don’t read sci fi, you don’t care, and if you do read sci fi, I don’t want to ruin it for you.  Interesting twists, some thriller aspects, heart pounding finish.  OK, maybe not heart pounding.  Very little in fiction actually makes my heart pound.  The sound of the dinner bell?  Now that makes my heart pound.

martian_face_viking_rotatedpyramid-on-mars

WISE BLOOD by Flannery O’Connor

wise-bloodThis is Flannery O’Connor’s first book, written in 1952.   It has Sparknotes, Enotes, and goodness knows how many other Notes, none of which I bothered with because I am so done with literary evaluation and all that jazz.  I just read to read, for the enjoyment, and sometimes I actually learn something, too.  That is always a bonus.

O’Connor, like so many of the other Southern gothic writers of the period, creates, at least for us Northerners, a somewhat surreal world of eccentric characters, and situations that are juuust that much off kilter.  You know what I mean, not quite plumb,  a smidge hinky.

In this story, a young man with the unlikely name of Hazel comes back from the war (and we are assuming it is the Second World War),  to find his parents dead and his home deserted.  He had wanted to be a preacher man like his grandfather, but the war convinced him there was no god, he becomes an atheist and sets off for the nearby town to start a new life.

He is bitter and lost, and is dismayed that everyone he meets seems to think he is a preacher, and so he decides to create a new church,  The Church Without Christ.

He comes upon a blind beggar who threatens to preach unless people give him money, and he is followed by a young girl.  Hazel becomes enamored of this girl and starts following them around.  He meets a young man who has some kind of ability to know things, ‘wise blood’, like his daddy.  He works at the local zoo, and one day takes Haz to see an exhibit which includes a shrunken and preserved small man.

Strange stuff.  It turns out the blind preacher is not blind.  He claimed he would blind himself with lye but couldn’t bring himself to do it, and was left with scars, but his sight in tact.  Haz learns of this, and decides that he himself would actually do it, and does.

Lots of goofy characters and strange encounters, and it all makes a kind of frail sense while you are reading it, and it is only when you are finished you scrunch your nose up and say, “Eh?”    O’Connor writes in Notes to the Second Edition, 1962:

It is a comic novel about a Christian malgré lui, and as such, very serious, for all comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death.

Free will does not mean one will, but many wills conflicting in one man.  Freedom cannot be conceived simply.  It is a mystery and one which a novel, even a comic novel, can only be asked to deepen.

Yeah, I know, I had to look up malgré lui too.  It means ‘in spite of himself’.   You’re welcome.

So… comic?  For me, not so much.  Well, maybe a little.   See what you think.

 

 

CRYER’S VIEW, THE DCI JONES CASEBOOK by Kerry J. Donovan

cryers-viewThis is the latest in the DCI Jones Casebook series, a British police procedural written by an Irishman living in France, and read by an American living in Mexico.

I really like this author and this series, and while I enjoyed the others in the series,  I think in this one, Donovan really hit his stride.  Instead of featuring DCI David Jones, it features his Sergeant, Detective Sergeant Phillip Cryer.  Cryer is recovering from a fall through a rotted roof in a previous book, at home on forced medical leave, nothing to do and is bored out of his gourd, when the top cheese Knightly, comes to visit, and offers him a chance to use his rather spectacular IT skills and his eidetic  memory (shades of  Criminal Minds) by going undercover with the British equivalent of the FBI in London, the NCA (National Crime Agency)  to ferret out the dirty cop who has been operating out of that agency, and has caused the death of one of its officers.  Although Cryer is not cleared for street duty, he can sit at a desk and review files and do some serious IT snooping.

One reason I liked this book more than the others is because Cryer is a lot more interesting than DCI Jones.  Jones is an older fart, dour and particular, with a tragic past.  For me, this does not make him interesting, only makes him dour and sour.  Maybe that is because I am on the downward slope of Elderly, and by this time, everybody has a tragedy in their past and I am, like, get over it and get on with it, because there are only so many miles of the tarmac left in front of us and I don’t intend to spend those miles weeping or feeling sorry for you.

Written in the first person, Cryer is funny, genial, and intelligent, all excellent qualities in a male, I always think.  The plot is good, the mystery gripping, and…….   sound the trumpets!!! … I actually guessed correctly on the who dunnit, but not because it was too simplistic but because I am getting better at this, and that is my story and I am sticking to it.

My only pissy complaint is that there are a ton a references  in the book to the previous novels in the series, without much in the way of explanations.  Without those constant references, this is an excellent stand-alone,  but the references make the reader feel like you do when you get dragged along by your Significant Other to a dinner attended by his/her work colleagues and their S.O.s,  where all the conversation is about people and situations you don’t know, so you sit there with one of those smiles you hope comes across as pleasant pasted on your face, wishing secretly you were home in your sweats which double as your jammies, reading and drinking something cozy, while everyone is laughing at the 27th anecdote about Harvey in Accounting.

The problem for me is that I DON’T have an eidetic memory, nor, frankly, much of a memory at all, which I attribute to my hippy days when I left brain cells in the bottom of various bottles and herbitory products,  and although I read all those previous books in the series, I have only a foggy recollection of them, which the references did little to improve.

So anyway, loved the book, and frankly am hoping that DS Cryer plays a more prominent role in future volumes, and maybe that DCI Jones will cheer up a bit.