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E S Pittenger has commented on (8) products.

The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy Bhattacharya
The Storyteller of Marrakesh

E S Pittenger, January 6, 2013

In order to live, a story requires a teller and an audience. In the case of Hassan, the storyteller of the Djemaa el Fna, the central square of the fabled city of Marrakesh, he involves his entire audience in the recreation of the night two foreign visitors disappeared from that very square, involving Hassan’s brother, Mustafa, a man who has sworn to pursue beauty no matter the cost and who has been swept up in the crime that seems to surround the incident.

We often hear that stories are the means we have invented for exploring and finding life’s truths, but in this case we see that the story’s truth may be a compilation of everyone’s lies. Roy-Bhattacharya gives us an enigmatic tale, richly symbolic, and overflowing with the exotic variety of the inhabitants of northwest Africa. The mysterious young couple are so thoroughly described by the various eye-witnesses to the events of that night that they become ironically unknowable except, perhaps, as symbols of Truth and Beauty much as the Djemma becomes a symbol and an unknowable entity in its function as a nexus or navel of the world.

India’s Roy-Bhattacharya creates a modern Arabesque reminiscent of A Thousand and One Nights in this compilation of vignettes around a central themes of what is truth and the unreliability of memory. This story about storytelling is a memorable book that will, no doubt, resonate within me for a long time after I have put it down.
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The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
The Vagrants

E S Pittenger, August 4, 2012

Told through the eyes of the townspeople of Muddy River on the day of Shan’s execution for being a political dissident, Li provides a vivid and condemning picture of China’s post-Maoist era. All the characters are sharply drawn, their personalities are strong and varied. They are alive on the page: the good --Teacher Gu, Shan’s father; the not so good -- a sexual pervert who lures a hapless girl crippled by birth defects; the want to be good --Kai, the broadcast personality blessed with a perfect but dull husband and her lover. And the almost holy -- an old couple, once homeless, who rescue and foster abandoned Chinese baby girls. Kai and her tubercular lover both tremble on the verge of dissident activism on the heels of the Democracy Wall Movement in Beijing. They, along with Shan's mother create a heroic martyr out of Shan, much to the distress of Teacher Gu. Soon, Muddy River feels the stirrings of rebellion and yearnings for reform. What will be their fate?

It’s impossible for me to know, but I feel an authenticity in this depiction of that period of recent Chinese history. As fiction it also rings true. The reader feels like she is “living under the volcano” as socio-political tension seems to be mounting toward another revolution. But it’s a tension countered by a lassitude that also makes the reader feel that nothing will ever bring change because the grip of tyranny is too strong. Yiyun Li embeds his realistic tale in this allegorical novel that ranges from intimate portraiture to considerations of humanity and morality, as well as the political dynamics of a China teetering under the weight of oppression.
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The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon by Tom Spanbauer
The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon

E S Pittenger, September 28, 2011

“If you’re the devil, then it’s not me telling this story.” is the first line of this novel. The author’s credo is to write dangerously. The book’s contents are full of brutality, beauty, love, sex, death and life. Dense, rich, and vivid is the story of stories, the human-being tellings that unfold in this novel. Dazzling is probably the best adjective to describe the novel, since my mind feels like it’s looked directly at the sun while I’m reading about the moon.

The narrator is Shed, aka, Duivichi-un-Dua, a half-breed berdache (Indian word for 'holy man who fucks with men') who lives and whores at the Indian Head Hotel in not so Excellent, Idaho, a town nestled in the shadow of Not-Really-a-Mountain. Shed pursues killdeer, the concept of staying hidden and secret, and the tangled skeins of the story about who his father might be. "Being killdeer" allows Shed to engage in his hobby: scrutinizing.

Love and acceptance, the freedom to be who you are is what Ida Richelieu, the madam and owner of the shocking pink hotel who wears blue when she ovulates, believes in. “Oh, the humanity,” is one of her favorite sayings and one that encompasses what this book is about. Shed believes the green-eyed Dellwood Barker is his father. Dellwood may be more important than a father, he is a philosopher. He tells Shed the story of what it means to be alive. . . "Smoke and wind and fire are all things you can feel but can't touch. Memories and dreams are like that too. They're what this world is made up of. There's really only a very short time that we get hair and teeth and put on red cloth and have bones and skin and look out eyes. Not for long. Some folks longer than others. If you're lucky, you'll get to be the one who tells the story: how the eyes have seen, the hair has blown, the caress the skin has felt, how the bones have ached. What the human heart is like. How the devil called and we did not answer. How we answered."

Spanbauer has written a tale that exposes intolerance set against a pansexual West, unknown to Hollywood depictions. The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon is a novel in which the characters (and the reader) are entangled in a struggle to find out the answer to the questions of what makes family, are there limits to love, and how does one set the self (after it’s been identified) free. Freedom is what the devil would deny us and this is a book that does battle with the devil.
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Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
Parrot and Olivier in America

E S Pittenger, January 1, 2011

Peter Carey, two-time Booker Prize winner and a nominee again in 2010, has written an improvisational "what-if" novel based on Alexis de Tocqueville. Olivier de Garmont ("Tocqueville") sets off with his reluctant side-kick and traveling companion, Parrot (aka John Larrit) to explore the New World.

Through their eyes, Carey recreates the young democracy and fledgling power, America of the mid 19th C., for us to discover at the same time as they do.

Olivier is the last heir of French aristocrats who kept their heads following the Revolution but fear for their son's safety under Napoleon. To protect him, they send him to America to undertake an examination of its penal system and the extraordinary idea behind it: that criminals can be reformed in prison. The mysterious one-armed Monsieur, the Marquis de Tilbot, a family friend, introduces Olivier to his protege-servant, Perroquet, or Parrot, a sublimely arrogant individual who trained as an engraver when he was apprenticed among a den of forgers in England, who were put out of business in a gory manner. The child Parrot fled into the woods, dodging Lord Devon's bullets.

Years later, Parrot and Olivier are United under the conspiratorial eye of Monsieur. After some arm twisting and manipulation, it is agreed that Olivier, accompanied by "secretary" Parrot, will set sail for America to write a book on prison reform, complete with engravings by Parrot, of course.

That Olivier and Parrot are opposite personalities, with nothing in common except their shared escapes from premature death, and that they are antagonistic yet dependent upon one another, drives the tale forward. Because of their antipathy, we see the new country from two points of view (not always from a positive aspect), and witness the changes in the heroes who labor under the influence of new American ideas and prosper among new American acquaintances.

Both men awaken, but in different ways and to differing resolutions: Olivier to the love of a particularly independent young American woman; Parrot to the bounteous prospects entrepreneurship offers, which he dreams will lift him into independence.

Carey's latest novel reads like a Dickensian picaresque. It is a book rich in characterization, atmosphere, theme, and language; it is vigorous, brilliant, original, and superbly entertaining. It is a book I would read again and again, desert island or no, and one that I can recommend to readers without reservation.
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Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
Parrot and Olivier in America

E S Pittenger, September 28, 2010

Confess! One of the most delicious reasons we read is because once in a while a book is so good that we don't want it to end. Here is one of them.

Peter Carey, two-time Booker Prize winner and a nominee again this year, has written an improvisational "what-if" novel based on Alexis de Tocqueville. Olivier de Garmont (as Tocqueville) sets off with his reluctant side-kick and traveling companion, Parrot (aka John Larrit) to explore the New World. Through their eyes, Carey recreates the young democracy and fledgling power, America of the mid 19th C., for us to discover at the same time as they do.

Olivier is the last heir of French aristocrats who kept their heads following the Revolution but fear for their son's safety under Napoleon. To protect him, they send him to America to undertake an examination of the American penal system and the extraordinary idea behind it: that criminals can be reformed in prison. The mysterious one-armed Monsieur, the Marquis de Tilbot, a family friend, introduces Olivier to his protege-servant, Perroquet, or Parrot, a sublimely arrogant person trained as an engraver when he was apprenticed among a den of forgers in England who were put out of business in a gory manner. The child Parrot fled into the woods, dodging Lord Devon's bullets. United under the conspiratorial eye of Monsieur, it is agreed that Olivier and "secretary" Parrot will set sail for America to write a book on prison reform, complete with engravings.

That Olivier and Parrot are opposites, with nothing in common except their shared escapes from premature death, antagonistic yet dependent upon one another, drives the tale forward. Because of their antipathy, we see the new country from two points of view (not always from a positive aspect), and witness the changes in the heroes who labor under the influence of new American ideas and prosper among new American acquaintances. Both men awaken, but in different ways and to differing resolutions: Olivier to the love of a particularly independent young American woman; Parrot to the bounteous prospects of entrepreneurship that he dreams will lift him into independence.

Carey's latest novel reads like a Dickensian picaresque. It is a book rich in characterization, atmosphere, theme, and language; it is vigorous, brilliant, original, and superbly entertaining. A book I would read again and again, desert island or no, it's my selection to win the 2010 Man Booker Prize when it is announced Tuesday, October 12th.
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(3 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)



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