By Beth Johnson, Boekhandel Van Rossum
Talk about putting me back in touch with my roots! The brilliant, hilarious, heart-warming and heart-wrenching novel by J. Ryan Stradal brings new insight to my own Midwestern youth and values as it simultaneously highlights the abyss which has developed between the chic, urban lifestyles and the farming and hunting communities of this huge region of the U.S. Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a sprawling tale of overcoming adversity without losing sight of one’s past…. But that sounds supremely pompous while the book is down-to-earth, compassionate – and manages to skewer all levels of society. On top of that, it is about great food and great wine and includes amazing recipes. What more could you ask for?
(The following two reviews are written by Frieda Jacobowitz)
The Heart Goes Last
by Margaret Atwood, 2015
Margaret Atwood’s impressive and most recent book (with another already on the way!), The Heart Goes Last, continues in her vein of speculative fiction which started in 2003 with Oryx and Crake. Nothing described in the book, politically, technologically and personally is not here already, it’s just that the way she combines it and takes it to a new level is confronting, to say the least.
Looking for some safety and security in a world of drug barons, gang rapes, homelessness and little to no employment Charmaine and Stan sign themselves up to take part in a “model” community which is completely self-contained and privately run. This for-profit venture, where those who have committed themselves for life spend one month in prison and one month in their “own” home, becomes a riveting thriller when greed quickly gets the upper hand in determining the illegal, inhumane and unscrupulous behavior of the community’s planners.
by Salman Rushdie, 2015
Salman Rushdie’s Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights is a fanciful tale set in the past and the future. It’s like reading a modern day Scheherazade with rich, delectable language that melts in the mouth. With a critical eye aimed at what’s wrong in the world now, Rushdie has written an exciting modern-day fairy tale, which includes some ideas about what we might want to consider changing to avoid the destruction we’re headed for.
Anne Tyler’s Spool of Blue Thread is an accessible and many-layered family saga which justifiably made the short list for the Man Booker Award. Within the confines of the perfect family house sheltered by its veranda and swing, the story of three generations unwinds – not quite like a spool of thread – but comfortably and recognizably showing us the victories and tragedies of life as well as the foibles of its many characters. This is a charming and moving book which the reader can savour and thoroughly enjoy.
Sebastian Faulks has been for years a master of describing war and its effects on those afflicted by it, whether in the trenches or in the villages surrounding the battlefields. His latest novel, Where My Heart Used to Beat, shows us how the life of a 20th century man is impacted by war. The book opens with a series of scenes which indicate that Robert Hendricks, a renowned British psychiatrist, is beginning gradually to unravel under the pressures of modern society. A rather austere intellectual who has worked to modernize the field of psychotherapy, Hendricks takes on his past, in a series of flashbacks which show us to the camaraderie and desolation of fighting in World War II in France and Italy, the love of his life in Naples, his professional efforts to break through the clouds of the mentally ill, his sense of the meaningless of a peripatetic life of world travel and grinding loneliness. While occasionally quite bleak, Faulks never fails to set his readers thinking. This is a beautiful, if somewhat uneven, reflection on coming to grips with and transcending life’s traumas. The beauty of his work lies in the author’s ability to define a century through its smallest details.
For children aged 8 to 12, Louis Sachar, famed for his book Holes, has now written Fuzzy Mud, a story of biological disaster. Tamaya and her older neighbor Marshall walk to school together daily yet ignore each other at school so that Marshall will not be tormented by the bully Chad. But when they choose another route through the woods to avoid Chad, they run through a strange, oozing substance which turns out to produce violent rashes on human beings. The crisis which ensues is not quite believable but the theme of bullying is skillfully handled.
Beth Johnson is the owner of Boekhandel Van Rossum (Beethovenstraat 32 in Amsterdam). Beth writes about and sells a wide range of Dutch and English books for children, young adults and mature readers.