Monday, May 31, 2010

Prairies of Fever by Ibrahim Nasrallah

This short book is replete with questions that remained in my mind—past the last page.

Ibrahim Nasrallah lives in Jordan; however, his story is not simple. His parents were uprooted from their home in Al-Bruji “near Jerusalem in Palestine and took refuge at Al-Wehdat refugee camp in Jordan… He was raised in a refugee camp.” He “studied at the UN agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), then at the UNRWA Teacher Training College in Amman.. After graduation he spent two years as a teacher in the “Qunfunda region in Saudi Arabia.”This background is important in understanding the novel.

Two young teachers teaching in an isolated village on the Arabian Peninsula not only live together, but share the same name and look alike. One day five individuals show up and tell one Muhammad Hammad that he owes money for his burial. His explanation of not being dead and therefore not being responsible for paying for his burial is unacceptable.

Rather than deal with these men who are threatening, he disappears—but the other Muhammad Hammad remains. While he’s seeking his roommate he becomes the target, and suspect, of the police and the five men This is really a book about identity and how tenuous it becomes in an alien environment. If your name no longer belongs to you then who are you and what is your identity? It is unclear as to how many Muhammad Hammads exist.

Nasrallah’s character deals with the claustrophobic village, the relentless sand that refuses to turn into dirt, his loss of self, the demands of a society that treats him as if he is already dead.

The chronology in the novel at times moves about in a non-linear manner. Often dialogue balances between logic and hallucinatory phrases out of context or between conversation and illusion.

Toward the end of the book, in a second person voice, the narrator says, “In these days and seasons which undifferentiatedly intermesh one with the other, united by a thread of flame, and in the chaos induced by self-disintegration and dissociation, your search was for a reality that would let your feet tread the ground, or a dream that projected beyond the continuous nightmare.”

Muhammad Hammad desperately wants to know how the other , perhaps his dual self, disappeared. “Did he go clean through the wall or the door or … was he still here?”

This search for self in a strange environment permeates the book. Any one who has left their home —not out of choice—deals with the anguish of discovering an identity. It is an exile within an exile.

Linda Frances

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Tim Winton is an Australian writer and his novel Cloudstreet is infused with the setting and vernacular of Western Australia.

This is powerful writing with an ear for the poetry of language in prose.

Cloudstreet takes place between 1943-1963 and tells the story of two
working class families who live in the same house—albeit in separate
sections of the house. The families are a study in contrasts—the
Lambs are industrious and religious. The Pickles, the owners of the
house, believe in luck.

Tragedy, or ill luck, touches both families. Sam Pickles lost a
handful of fingers in an accident. Fish Lamb, the brightest of the
Lamb children, almost drowns and while his life is spared he is left
impaired and will remain childlike his whole life. Fish remembers
the other world—the world he was saved from when he almost drowned
and it is to that world he wants to return.

Throughout the book, Winton creates situations and characters that
are totally engaging. The themes are substantial—redemption, guilt, community, love.

Some of the scenes remind me of Latin American magic realism and some of the characters remind me of Flannery O”Connor’s characters. Tim Winton celebrates the ordinary in the extraordinary.

Fish is the moral compass of the book—but every character must work out life’s meaning. The book abounds with love and grace.

Linda Frances

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

I've delayed reading this book, in part because the number of people waiting for the book at our local library was way too long. 

Last week I finally received a copy. I read somewhere that over three million Americans had read this book. There's always the curiosity factor—what intrigued people?

The book is created out of improbable incidents, possible incidents, and one incredibly fascinating woman—Lisbeth, whose life is an enigma, but whose skills as an investigator are impeccable.  

The major plot line involves Harriet Vanger who disappeared many years before and now the case is being reopened by her elderly uncle. I felt that the story line that involved the Vanger family moved and held my interest. Save for Lisbeth and Blomkvist, the journalist hired to find out what happened to Harriet, too many of the other characters are flat. 

I was enthralled with the details involving Lisbeth's hacking. Larsson creates suspense around this character and a desire to know more.Larsson does a good job with the setting of the story.

This is a plot driven book; however, it flags after the mystery of Harriet's disappearance is solved. The macinations involving tracking down a financial giant are rather implausable.

Did I like the book? I was caught up in the story and thought it a real page turner; however,Larsson's writing lacks the depth and style I usually enjoy.  

Linda Frances