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Tuesday, July 20th


Four Souls by Louise Erdrich

Laff Tracks

A review by Jon Zobenica

At the end of Louise Erdrich's Tracks (1988), the fearsome, fetching, dangerously divine Fleur Pillager — a Chippewa earth mother so idolized by the author as to seem a form of creative self-caricature — finally walks away from her beloved patch of Dakota forest, abandoning it to the whim and destruction of white loggers and tribal sellouts. Erdrich's latest finds the indomitable Fleur trudging all the way to Minneapolis, where she hires on as a laundress in the home of a wealthy timber baron simply in order to take his life in revenge. Fortunately or not, however, Erdrich doesn't like her dishes served cold, and soon a bedroom farce breaks out amid the tragedy. Thus Four Souls juxtaposes the silly and the somber, the ribald and the elegiac. Nuance heeds the DO NOT DISTURB sign and generally stays away.

In one of the most chilling scenes in Tracks, Fleur joins a card game with ghosts and is forced to wager on her young daughter's soul. The gambling theme returns here, as...

Fury by Salman Rushdie

The Nobu Novel

A review by James Wood

Fury, a novel that exhausts negative superlatives, that is likely to make even its most charitable readers furious, is a flailing apologia. It tells the story of an Indian professor, Malik Solanka, who has recently left his English wife of fifteen years and their three-year-old son, and flown from London to Manhattan. Professor Solanka, who has made a lot of money by inventing and marketing a puppet, comes to America desperate to erase his past, to start over again, and to bury the guilt he feels not only about his separation but about a moment of "fury" in which he had held a knife over his...

The First Poets: Lives of the Ancient Greek Poets by Michael Schmidt

The Plonking Muse

A review by Emily Wilson

In the beginning of the Theogony, the poet tells us that the Muses taught Hesiod glorious song while he was tending his sheep at the foot of Mount Helicon. They spoke to "me," says Hesiod, insulted the current occupation of Hesiod and his fellow shepherds ("Rustic shepherds, wretched, shameful creatures, mere stomachs!"), and boasted about their own mysterious powers: "We know how to say many false things like the truth,/and whenever we wish, we know how to tell the truth." Then the Muses presented Hesiod with a scepter and a laurel branch, and breathed inspiration into him, commanding him to ...

A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967 by Rachel Cohen

Brief encounters

A review by James Atlas

Rachel Cohen's A Chance Meeting has attracted a good deal of positive attention in the United States. The first book by a young American writer who has spent a decade engaged in her research, it chronicles, in thirty-six brief chapters, encounters between American writers, artists and photographers over roughly a century, from the Civil War through to the 1960s. They met in ordinary ways, she writes in her introduction: "A careful arrangement after long admiration, a friend's casual introduction, or because they both just happened to be standing near the drinks".

Her book takes its title...

Beijing Coma by Ma Jian

Beijing Coma

A review by John Leonard

Bejing Coma (Picador, $18.00) is two thousand years of Chinese history and mythology-from the classic Book of Mountains and Seas in the second century A.D. to the murder of students and workers in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Although Ma Jian, author of Stick Out Your Tongue and The Noodle Maker, was a decade older than most of the Tiananmen student protesters, he left Hong Kong immediately to join their hunger strike in April, to sing along with Simon and Garfunkel in May, and to just miss the massacre because of family business on June 4. Since official China has sought to erase all memory of...

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

A review by Laura Miller

You could label some elements of John Harwood's ghost story hokey: It's got veiled specters, accursed paintings, a big old deserted house with a sinister basement. But like one of those gifted cooks who can somehow turn a can of tuna and a handful of rice into a savory dish, Harwood knows how to spin shivers and nerves out of unpromisingly familiar material. The Ghost Writer is the first-person account of Gerard Freeman, who spends his 1960s boyhood in a remote Australian town plagued by millipedes and red dust, his father distant and his mother scared of her own shadow. The only time her...

The Queue by Vladimir Sorokin

The Wait

A review by Elaine Blair

A few years ago during a family visit in St. Petersburg, my grandmother, who has never been outside Soviet borders, asked me if Russians now had, in their stores, everything that you could buy in the United States. I thought, for some reason, of shampoo and the eight or ten different kinds of it for sale at the Western-style supermarket in my grandmother's unassuming neighborhood. And I thought of the department stores and boutiques on Nevsky Prospect, where, if you wanted to spend more money on your shampoo, you had a choice of another eight or ten different European and American luxury...

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