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Review-a-Day

Monday, December 29th


 

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Adventures in the Opium Trade

A review by Cathleen Schine

Amitav Ghosh, an Indian anthropologist, historian, and novelist who lives and teaches in New York and India, is the author of ten books. His new novel, Sea of Poppies, which is the first in a projected trilogy and has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, is set in India in 1838, in the days leading up to the Opium Wars. Ghosh tracks the lives, and the language, of an unlikely collection of men and women -- princes, sailors, merchants, pirates, peasants, and runaway girls -- all of whom eventually converge on an American schooner called the Ibis.

It is a rollicking tale, or rather collection of tales -- politically forceful, historically fascinating, and rarely subtle. Ghosh may not be a stylistically exciting writer, sentence for sentence, and the discipline and freshness of his earlier, less extravagant books seem to have been abandoned; nevertheless, this new work is a linguistic triumph. For if the prose is sometimes commonplace, the dialogue never is. Ghosh has taken all ...



The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo

A China Rabbit Grows a Real Heart

A review by Jenny Sawyer

True confessions. On a forlorn little shelf in a dark closet, deep in the recesses of my parents' basement, sits a family of dolls. My dolls. Because, well, even these many years later, I can't quite bear to give them up.

Unlike the character at the center of Kate DiCamillo's newest offering -- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane -- my beloveds aren't handcrafted or made of china or in possession of an extraordinary wardrobe. But just like Edward (who happens to be a rabbit, not a doll) they were, for years, the center of my universe. Magical. Loyal. And infinitely lovable.

The...



Office of Innocence by Thomas Keneally

Confusions and confessions

A review by Ron Charles

With Schindler's List, Thomas Keneally documented the saintly work of a hedonistic man at the center of the 20th century's most ghastly crisis. The Booker Prize-winning book and the Academy Award-winning film raised the sort of awesome questions about our own moral courage that, thankfully, few of us will ever have to answer.

Office of Innocence, Keneally's latest work is set in World War II also, but it's far from the heat of battle or the furnaces of genocide, way off on the periphery of crisis where most of us make the decisions that will redeem or doom us.

Frank Darragh, a new young ...



Lost Echoes (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) by Joe R. Lansdale

What's That Sound?

A review by Snowden Wright

In recent years, the merits of crime noir have been praised, understandably and justifiably, by the likes of Michael Chabon, Patrick Anderson, and Barry Hannah. It would seem that crime noir, a genre so long looked down at by high-minded writers, is due for a literary rebirth. Unfortunately, Joe R. Lansdale's Lost Echoes -- boiled hard and written soft -- is not the book to do it.

Want a few examples why? Well check out the way people die: the neck of a Bible salesman is snapped by a stack of falling Bibles; a mother and her child are pulverized by a dump truck load of gravel; the body of...



On Truth by Harry Frankfurt

Up From Bullshit

A review by Simon Blackburn

I.
In his prime, and without benefit of a keyboard, Samuel Johnson could write twelve thousand words a day. I doubt that there are many more than half that number in Harry Frankfurt's diminutive book On Bullshit, which was an unexpected best-seller for Princeton University Press last year, shyly peeking out next to the cash registers in bookshops everywhere. Evidently the commercial giant Knopf wanted to get in on the act, and the result is this almost equally tiny book, nicely positioned for a similar success this Christmas, since there is an announced first printing of 200,000 copies. ...



Anthony Powell: A Life by Michael Barber

A review by Benjamin Schwarz

Anthony Powell (pronounced "Pole") wrote the twentieth century's greatest English novel of manners, the twelve-volume A Dance to the Music of Time, along with a group of sparkling and sadly neglected novels of the 1930s. He also wrote a lot about himself: four books of memoirs and three of journals. Although the memoirs are, characteristically, elaborately unrevealing and the journals blusteringly so, his life has been thoroughly recorded, which eliminates the immediate need for a biography. And Barber can't dig deeper, because Powell, who died in 1998, rejected him as his official biographer ...



My Mentor: A Young Man's Friendship with William Maxwell by Alec Wilkinson

A Slender, Tender Tale

A review by Adrienne Miller

The novelist and editor William Maxwell became a friend of Alec Wilkinson's father when Wilkinson was a young man. Over the course of many years, Maxwell, a courtly, gentle, quiet man of letters, became a surrogate father to Wilkinson, one whose influence in both art and matters of the heart was perhaps more profound than his own father's. Maxwell and his wife Emmy, who lived up the road from the Wilkinsons in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, exposed the young man to the culture of art and ideas, to the world of, as Martin Amis would have it, thought and fascination. Maxwell had a distinguished...



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