When the civil war broke out in Lebanon in 1975, teacher, director and story collector Najla Jraissaty Khoury founded a traveling theater company in the hopes of preserving oral folk tales of older generations.
Performing on stage as well as in air raid shelters, refugee camps and isolated villages, Khoury collected stories from women in urban and rural centers across Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. This was no easy task. Many of the narrators were women over 60 who were distrustful of strangers — particularly during wartime.
But Khoury’s patience paid off, and as she collected more tales she began to notice themes emerging, as she explains in the introduction: “Certain stories told by women were for women only. In these tales, women play the lead roles to the disadvantage of men, especially husbands. Was this revenge for their situation in life? In a society where men dominate, women use 1,001 wiles to assert themselves.”
One hundred of the stories were published in Arabic in 2014, and Khoury whittled the collection to 30 tales, which are collected in Pearls on a Branch, the first English translation. Read full review
The star of Norwegian author Hanne Ørstavik's arresting novel, Love, is 8-year-old Jon, a child who is both average and unusual: he loves snow and sausages and meeting new people, but he also has great anxiety about blinking, going so far as to cautiously wedge broken match sticks into his eye sockets to keep his eyelids from closing.
After dinner on the eve of Jon’s 9th birthday, he and his mother go their separate ways: she to the library and the carnival, and he to sell raffle tickets door-to-door for the local sports club. Both their journeys take them out of the snow and into the warm domiciles of a variety of characters: an elderly sports legend, a carnival worker, an agreeable young girl with mittens. As mother and son move in and out of these new spaces, a sense dread begins to loom: will they find their way back to one another, or will their individual quests for love and acceptance pull them apart? Read full review.
Hotel Silence, the latest novel from Icelandic author Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, is a quirky, uplifting book about suicide and depression. That’s right: Did I mention it was quirky?
After learning from his ex-wife that his daughter isn’t his, Jonas falls into an existential tailspin. Convinced of the meaninglessness of it all, Jonas decides on suicide. But to spare his family the chore of finding his body he buys a one-way ticket to an unnamed country where war is a recent memory and landmines pepper the tourist sites. Armed with just a change of clothes and a toolbox, Jonas gives himself one week to complete his task. Read full review.
For more reviews, please check out the archive.
An immensely entertaining novel, Down the River Unto the Sea is more than a fine hard-boiled mystery. Here Mosley confronts some of the largest issues in our country today, including institutionalized racism and the hard grip of loneliness that takes hold thanks to division and isolation. King is no saint, but he keeps his eye toward what is right and just. “The dollar is my master,” he says, “but I ain’t no slave.”
A welcome new work from one the American greats, Down the River Unto the Sea is not to be missed. Read full review