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Review-a-Day

Wednesday, June 23rd


 

Purge by Sofi Oksanen

Purge

A review by Larissa Kyzer

Although still much an unknown in the English-speaking world, Finnish-Estonian playwright, novelist, and activist Sofi Oksanen has become something of a household name in northern and central Europe. Declared Estonia's "Person of the Year" in 2009, Oksanen is the first to win both of Finland's prestigious literary prizes -- the Finlandia and the Runeberg -- as well as winning this year's Nordic Council Literature Prize for her virtuosic novel Purge. At once a daring exploration of the Soviet occupation of Estonia, as well as a wrenching consideration of the irrevocable effects of trauma on an individual, Purge navigates the tragedies, petty betrayals, and reverberating guilt of three generations of Estonian women, all struggling to survive their own violent circumstances, no matter the cost.

The novel opens in 1991 -- the year after Estonia reclaimed its independence from Russia -- with the elderly and isolated Aliide Truu stoically weathering childish torments (rocks thrown at her ...



Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly by Michael D. Gordin

The First Proliferation: Waiting for the Soviet Bomb

A review by Frank N. von Hippel

At a time when the world is reluctantly learning to live with North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons and is trying to keep Iran from joining the club, it is useful to be reminded of how it felt to be waiting for nuclear proliferation the first time around.

In Red Cloud at Dawn, Michael D. Gordin describes the key decisions made with regard to nuclear weapons policy during the period when the United States had a monopoly on such weapons after World War II. Topics covered include U.S. expectations regarding how long that monopoly would last, the extent to which spies advanced the Soviet ...



Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia by Jeff Parker and Mikhail Iossel

Russian Short Stories Capture Brutal Realities, Literary Renaissance

A review by Katie Schneider

Tolstoy. Dostoevsky. Chekhov. Pushkin. The greatest names in Russian literature cast a long shadow. Their novels, plays, short stories and poetry captured the political, social and spiritual context of the 19th century. Now in the 21st, a young crop of Russian writers is interpreting their culture and times.

Rasskazy: New Fiction From a New Russia offers translated works from authors who have come of age since the collapse of the Soviet era. These modern stories, edited by Mikhail Iossel and Jeff Parker and published by Portland's Tin House Books, build on and expand the country's rich...



Shalimar the Clown: A Novel by Salman Rushdie

From L.A. to Kashmir: A world gone mad

A review by Erik Spanberg

As Kashmir collapses into chaos, one beleaguered onlooker croaks, "We are no longer protagonists, only agonists." That bit of dialogue says much about Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie's new novel, a devastating if at times heavy-handed examination of a doomed love and doomed region.

Mr. Rushdie embraces big themes, endless allusions and puns, folklore, and anything else handy in his estimable arsenal while exploring everyone and everything from Clytemnestra and the Koran to Bretton Woods and Bugatti.

His style conjures up a blazing rock group, say, The Who, rather than contemporary...



Exit Ghost by Philip Roth

Zuckerman Undone

A review by Christopher Hitchens

Having assumed the title of this very slight novel to be drawn from the famous stage direction in Hamlet, I was quite braced for some Rothian reflections on the Oedipal, with plenty of reluctant and dutiful visits to wheezed-out Jewish fathers in the wilderness of postindustrial New Jersey, and to the grisly wives and mothers who had drained them dry and made them into husks. But the reference is actually to another sort of father figure: a dead and almost-forgotten writer called E. I. Lonoff, who had been a hero and mentor to the young Nathan Zuckerman. According to Lonoff's relict, a...



House of Meetings by Martin Amis

Big Book of the Month: House of Meetings

A review by Benjamin Alsup

If gulags don't sound like your idea of fun, be forewarned: Martin Amis's new novel, House of Meetings, is not a fun book. It's something of a labor, actually -- forced labor, collective labor, the labor of love. And as Amis tells the story of two brothers locked in a slave camp, he labors mightily to make real the nightmare of Russian history. Often he succeeds. Sometimes the characters get stuck in the fog of tragedy, the prose turning didactic and portentous. (Stalin bad. Got it.) But even when Amis fails, he says things better and more beautifully than anybody else playing the game. He...



Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald

The Rubble Artist

A review by John Banville

For a novelist, the Holocaust is at once a safe subject and a dangerous subject. Safe, because the emotional reaction of practically all readers will be already primed; dangerous, because almost any attempt to deal imaginatively with a crime that is well nigh unimaginable is likely to result in bathos. There is also the moral question of whether an artist has the right to turn such horrors into the stuff of art; Adorno was sure he knew the answer to that one, while even the supremely scrupulous Celan was criticized for the musical beauty of his death-camp poem "Deathfugue." Perhaps the most...



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