Archive for September, 2009

Lots Of Light In These Shadows

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

In The Shadows Of The Sun, by Alexander Parsons, paints a searing portrait of man, not only against the elements, but also against his fellow man in parallel stories that separate time and place but intertwine the binds to home, family and each other that tug at us all.

Parson takes us along on the Bataan Death March with a young man struggling both to survive and to continue desiring to do so. His realistic portrayal of this inhumanly brutish chapter of World War II is stunning in its ability to evoke hideous conditions with tantalizingly soothingly prose.

The young man’s family, back in the New Mexico badlands, are struggling to hold onto each other, their way of life, the very soil they’ve labored over and loved for generations. The same unforgiving sun that shines on the Philippine jungle, shines on the American west. None of us can escape it.

Parson’s hero lives to return to his family. But that’s certainly not the end of either story. Reunion, while exhilarating, is only a temporary substitute for the broken dreams that separated them in the first place. And overcoming one battle, is no guarantee of victory in another.

In The Shadows Of The Sun takes you back to a war and its aftermath that we were all foolish enough to believe would make the world right for all mankind. The trials of those who bore the brunt of that war, both stateside and abroad, give us reason to hope we’ll overcome the tribulations that beset us. That’s one of the rewards of Parson’s novel, but it’s far from the only one.

If, like the Fiction Fortune Hunter, you revel in the opportunity to be swept away to times and places not like our own, yet similar in the hopes and fears and dreams and wonder that affect us all, find and read Alexander Parsons’ In The Shadows Of The Sun. You just may see your own reflection there.

Shadowy Killer In A Shell-Shocked City

Monday, September 14th, 2009

In 2003, Pierre Frei penned a thoroughly engrossing serial murder mystery with the straightforward title, Berlin. He apparently knew instinctively that it was the one city name that, alone, conjured visions of nightmarish deeds without need of embroidery. Especially when he set the story at the end of the second world war, and brought to life a city of rubble, occupied by satiated victors, starving losers and innumerable inhabitants rummaging like rats to survive. The pity was, it was the survivors who were now being picked off one by one.

You can’t read Berlin without hearing a bit of Zither music in your head. Yes, that strangely bizarre tune (Third Man’s Theme) that so perfectly captured the intrigue of another divided city in Carol Reed’s famous movie. But Frei doesn’t have the light and shadows of cinema to play tricks with your eyes, or the repetitiveness of melody to insert itself in your head. He has only the printed word, and your own imagination, to bring you into a world dark, jittery, electric with the promise of danger.

Frei’s Berlin is a world where cigarette butts are legal tender, fought over, traded on the black market, sought after like precious jewels. They buy everything from sex to suits to education. It’s a world turned inside out, where women make love to men who killed their husbands and lovers, seniors take in soldiers who obliterated their sons, and policemen work with recent enemies to find and stop a serial killer.

The characters are finely drawn and disturbingly real. The plot is wholly believable and frighteningly etched. And the author uses an interesting technique to tell his victims stories. You only learn their life histories after they’ve been killed, not before. Each is a tale of resilience and survival. Survival of the Nazi’s, the war, each other.

Berlin is a mix of mystery and history, at times funny, sobering, repellent. It reminds us that Hitler’s appalling attempt to subjugate Europe may have done the most harm to Germany itself.

Berlin is Frei’s first novel. But here’s a surprise. It was written and published when the author was in his seventies.

If you like your whodunits steeped in atmosphere and anxiety, buy a ticket to Pierre Frei’s Berlin. You won’t be disappointed.

Bleak And Trending Darker

Friday, September 4th, 2009

If you’re the type of reader who takes solace from a relatively unsympathetic protagonist whose life is far worse than yours, you just might be attracted to J. M. Coetzee’s 1999 Booker Prize winner, Disgrace. On the surface, it tells the story of a fifty-something college professor who has an affair with one of his young students. This ill-conceived misadventure starts a series of events that go predictably (as the title obviously gives away) down hill. But the plot of Coetzee’s searingly brilliant novel is merely the skeleton that holds the blood, bone, marrow, muscle and flesh of a look into the darker recesses of aging, loneliness, withdrawal and alienation. You’ll notice I didn’t add “fat” to my metaphor. That’s because there isn’t an ounce of it in Disgrace.

Coetzee’s unsparing chronicle of David Lurie’s downward spiral takes him from Cape Town’s spectacularly beautiful coast to the hauntingly sterile vastness of South Africa’s interior. And in so doing, it also delineates Lurie’s wholly inadequate ability to make any real connection to his young lover, his lesbian daughter, or the potential friends and real enemies he meets along the way. What is it that isolates an individual even when he’s surrounded by those who wish him well? What is it that keeps him from
appreciating happenstance? Or makes him recoil from those who might help him even though they have precious little reason to do so. Coetzee wastes no adjectives exploring these questions as psychology. He is more than content to simply select his verbs with such precision that behavior alone achieves what mere moralizing never could.

A South African native, Coetzee lived in England prior to moving to the United States. After graduating with a PhD in English from the University of Texas in Austin, he taught English in Buffalo, New York before returning to his homeland. He left for the states again in the early eighties and held positions at Johns Hopkins University, Stanford, Harvard and the University of Chicago. In 2002 he emigrated to Australia. And in 2003 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Disgrace was actually one of the books that influenced the Fiction Fortune Hunter’s novel The Blunder. J. M. Coetzee’s work has been an inspiration to many an author and a joy (realizing joy can often be found in the deepest, darkest places) to readers around the world.

If stark landscapes, sparse prose, incisive wit and an abundance of intelligence whets your fiction appetite, bite into Disgrace. The initial shock might be bitter, but the aftertaste will be sweet.