The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant
A Tiger in Russia Turns Its Predators into Prey
A review by John G. Rodwan Jr.
Amur tigers do not usually eat people, but in late 1997 one in the Russian Far East started doing exactly that. In The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, John Vaillant tells a cross-species true-crime story in which the perpetrators of violence, both human and non-human, are also victims of desperate circumstances.
Vladimir Markov, a struggling beekeeper, is compelled by poverty into illegal hunting of tigers. Shooting a tiger -- perhaps because it attacked his dogs, perhaps to meet demand for such cats' meat across the border in China -- transforms the two-legged predator into ...
Long for This World by Michael Byers
A review by Thomas Mallon
Michael Byers published his first book, a collection of short stories, five years ago, at the age of twenty-eight. The Coast of Good Intentions was so precociously accomplished almost weirdly mature that it somehow makes sense for this still young author to have chosen a medical rarity he calls Hickman syndrome (his version of Hutchinson-Gilford disease) as the subject of his first novel. The brief lives of Hickman patients look like time-lapse photography: "arthritis at ten, osteoporosis for the girls at eleven, straight into senility before hitting puberty, and death from...
The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation by Richard Vinen
The Path of Least Resistance
A review by Benjamin Schwarz
At worst murderous and at best tawdry, the history of France under German occupation remains the great stain on that nation, an episode that consistently provokes bitterness, evasion, and recrimination -- and occasionally rigorous, even masochistic, self-examination. For the past few decades it's also been intensely probed by historians, who have recently moved from bureaucratic and political matters (the best study of which is Julian Jackson's France: The Dark Years) to the mean and messy subject of everyday life. In so doing they've confounded those who like their history neat. "Resistance,"...
American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting by Steven Biel
Thousands of Words on a Picture
A review by Anna Godbersen
There are a few paintings -- the Mona Lisa, say, or that Van Gogh self-portrait with the hat and the bandage -- that are so reproduced and instantly recognizable that they have become unmoored from their origins, and now seem to live more in coffee cups and mouse pads than in the museums where they are physically stored. Grant Wood's American Gothic, with its often-copied man, woman and pitchfork triumvirate, is such a picture. Steven Biel's brief but thoroughly researched book about the painting does a little to restore American Gothic's history; we are told, for instance, that Wood was a...
The Good Apprentice by Iris Murdoch
A look back:
A review by Merle Rubin
[Ed. note. This review originally appeared in the September 3, 1986 edition of The Christian Science Monitor]
As if to bridge the gap often presumed to exist between realism and romance, between the novel of manners and the novel of ideas, the formidable body of Iris Murdoch's fiction interposes itself: 22 novels ranging through the realms of realism, romance, allegory, myth, symbolism, history, and social comedy.
Of the moral purpose that informs her work there is little doubt, or of the intellectual energy that animates it. Few go so far as to question the quality of her thought...
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
A review by Nick Bredie
Looking at the stacks of mystery titles in the airport, a friend of mine said, "I think they’ve solved 'em all." I couldn’t help but think that he was right, in some visceral way; no matter how convoluted the crime, no matter how unlikely the twist, few readers will be genuinely surprised by the mystery's solution. Mystery writers, understanding this, seem to adopt one of three approaches. First: rely on the pleasure of formula and familiarity, presenting a heroic detective doggedly searching for the novel's final page. Second: displace the genre's conventions, placing the sleuth in...