J. R. R. and Christopher Tolkien
Mariner Books, August 2015
A thousand years on, the sharpness of Beowulf‘s images still strikes us. Longships cruise amid icy spray. A king stares with fear amid the riches of his hall. Then comes the fiend Grendel stalking across the moors. Tolkien’s translation weds to these visions the rhythm and grandeur of language that rumbles even as it exults, which rolls like the swells of the sea. Continue reading
A FORTUNATE AGE
Bloomsbury, July 2015, RRP $32.99
I took up A Fortunate Age under considerable misapprehension as to the time period in which it is set. Somehow missing both the details in the blurb and the first line, which literally features the word “1998″*, I launched into it believing it was about my generation. I am 26 right now and was interested to “see what an author some twenty years my senior thought about it all. Would it involve angering stereotypes? Would I find it self-deprecatingly humorous? Despite very quickly correcting the flaws in my understanding, and after fighting a bout of cynicism about reading a book about 20-somethings in the late 90s, I decided to persevere. And admittedly, I expected to hate this book. I didn’t.
On the face of it, Joanna Rakoff’s novel about coming of age is not something I would have chosen to read. It is contemporary fiction, a genre I generally dislike, and once the immediate connection with myself had gone**, I expected I would despise the characters in all their trust-funded, New York whininess. Yet something in Rakoff’s confiding, urgent tone, which reminded me a little of 19th century novelists, kept me going. Though I found most of the characters irritating and some themes and elements troubling, I enjoyed A Fortunate Age. I enjoyed it rather a lot.
WHAT IFS? OF AMERICAN HISTORY
Cowley, Robert (Berkley, September 2004, ISBN 9780425198186)
My contribution to the genre:
1050: Fifty years after Leif Ericsson’s discovery of North America, Norse colonists build a permanent settlement on the island of Newfoundland. Continue reading
Current Affairs: With Pope Gregory V dying, Holy Roman Emperor Otto III seals the Sacred Palace. As Christendom awaits the end of the world, rival Cardinals plot their ascendency to the papacy.
Divergence Point: 974 A.D.: A Christian prophet in Rome introduces toothbrushes, proper sanitation and a form of the underarm deodorant. Continue reading
THE BLUE BETWEEN SKY AND WATER
Bloomsbury, June 2015, RRP $29.99
The Blue Between Sky and Water is one of those rare novels that takes devastating themes and events, but fills them all with a sense of hope. Set in Palestine during and after the Naqba, up until the mid-2010s, the novel could very easily have been many things. While its bias is obvious*, Abulhawa avoids diatribe and sentimentality in building her story of a family and a country torn apart.
FLOOD OF FIRE
John Murray, May 2015, RRP $29.99; eBook RRP $16.99
Flood of Fire is the final book in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy and concerns the first Opium War, the eventual Chinese defeat, and the seizure of Hong Kong by English forces. Sorry, um, spoilers I guess? It introduces some further new characters in Kesri Singh, the brother of Deeti, Bahram Modi’s widow Shireen, and Neel’s son Raju. We also catch up again with Zachary Reid, who’s had a bad time of it since last we saw him, after taking the fall for events at the end of Sea of Poppies.