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Interviews | March 17, 2014

Shawn Donley: IMG Peter Stark: The Powells.com Interview

Peter StarkIt's hard to believe that 200 years ago, the Pacific Northwest was one of the most remote and isolated regions in the world. In 1810, four years... Continue »
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Andrew Daily has commented on (8) products.

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
In the Skin of a Lion

Andrew Daily, May 10, 2007

Ondaatje's "The English Patient", winner of the Booker Prize and adapted into a wildly popular (and unfairly melodramatic) movie, is his best known and most popular novel. Those who have come to love his prose, however, almost always point to "In the Skin of a Lion" as his greatest work.

It is in this book that we first meet Hannah, Hannah's father Patrick (only alluded to, in death, in "English Patient") and the thief Caravaggio. In spare, poetic prose, Ondaatje traces Patrick from his boyhood in a rural lumber camp through his life, loves, and eventual fatherhood in Toronto's immigrant community of the interwar period. In the process, through Patrick's loves, friends, job, and eventual desperate act, Ondaatje also weaves the story of Toronto's rise as a city, the joys and pains of its multi-ethnic working classes, and its history of radical politics.

"In the Skin of a Lion" is Ondaatje's finest book, and forms a pair with "The English Patient." It in truth lends "EP" a greater resonance and depth, filling in some of the allusions and passions that go unexplained in the latter novel.

It is my suspicion that Ondaatje won the Booker on the strength of this novel, and that the award to "EP" was to make up for the previous slight.
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Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald

Andrew Daily, April 4, 2007

Theodor Adorno once speculated whether there could be any art after Auschwitz. After having stared deep into the abyss, was there enough light left for humanity to stagger forward? Was beauty still possible and the sublime still accessible?

Primo Levi's books on his experience immediately put paid to that speculation by rediscovering humanity in the struggle against horror, whether through the occasional instances of solidarity between victims or the overwhelming resilience of Levi himself in resisting annihilation. Sebald's books continue this tradition: attempting to discover what enables men and women to keep on going in the face of, or haunted by the memory of, unspeakable horror.

Austerlitz tells the story of a man who wanders across Europe searching for his true origins. A beneficiary of the 'kindertransport' - the organized evacuation of Jewish babies from Central Europe to 'safe' Western European homes - Austerlitz works to uncover the fate of his family. His search stands in for Europe's collective difficulty in dealing with its past.

Sebald's style is spare and crystalline; his works of fiction resemble works of non-fiction, puncuated by his own status as the narrator of his fictions, and buttressed by the pictures that accompany the text, underlining his observations with visual evidence. The book is achingly beautiful and expresses a style of comportment, current among many intellectuals, a melancholy, that Americans frequently misinterpret as weakness, but is ultimately thoughtful and memorial, facing fully up to Europe's 'dark century.'
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Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
Wanderlust: A History of Walking

Andrew Daily, February 28, 2007

Solnit's book is a masterpiece in sustained mediatation on a single, seemingly inconsequential topic: walking. Beginning with recent discussions among primatologists and anthropologists that the bipedal walking is not only typical of, but fundamental to what it means to be human, Solnit launches into a cultural and political history of walking. She veers from the English romantics to Parisian flaneurs, from religious pilgrimage to protest marches, with diversions such as the history of English parks and gardens, and the regulation of prostitution. Personalities as diverse as Wordsworth, Austen, Baudelaire, Breton, Jack the Ripper, Moses, Frank O'Hara, and Solnit herself make appearances.

This book was unfairly lost in the crowd of micro-microhistories that flooded shelves a few years ago - of salt, of cod, etc. - but it stands above the rest as Solnit blends personal account, literary history, and political passion into a fascinating and compelling homage and plea for ambulatory culture and ethics. Read this book as the precursor to her more recent "A Field Guide to Getting Lost."
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