Posts Tagged Harvard Square

STEELE Picks: 20 Best Books of 2013

woman upstairs

1. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud [Knopf]
–a brilliant novel about anything but that typical woman upstairs. It’s about aspirations present and past, realized and forsaken.

cari-luna-cover

2. The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna [Tin House Books]
–an intense book about squatting, community and political activism in the 90s

ghana must go

3. Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi [Penguin]
–a beautifully written book. haunting and lyrical. family, race, country, belonging.

MenWeReaped-HC

4. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward [Bloomsbury]
–this memoir. raw. upsetting. the author mediates on the poverty in Louisiana and the black men she lost in its depths.

claire-of-the-sea-light_original

5. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat [Knopf]
–another novel in which I’m in awe of the writing style. gorgeous mystical tale about Haiti.

FEVER

6. FEVER by Mary Beth Keane [Scribner]
-wondrous historical fiction about “Typhoid Mary.” fascinatingly imagined.

inbetween people

7. The Inbetween People by Emma McEvoy [The Permanent Press]
–stunning, powerful novel. Avi Goldberg writes from military prison because he refuses to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF]. He writes about his friend Saleem, an Israeli Arab he met. Their lives intertwine despite cultural differences and past troubles.

in the body of the world

8. In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler [Metropolitan]
–not only a memoir about Ensler’s personal journey with cancer but it’s a call to community, to get involved. so powerful I cried when I finished reading it.

valley of amazement

9. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan [ECCO]
–sweeping story about mothers and daughters set in turn-of-the-century Shanghai

Harvard Square

10. Harvard Square by Andre Aciman [W.W. Norton]
–melancholic, nostalgic autobiographical novel about belonging and assimilation that focuses on immigrants finding their place in America in the 70s.

sister mother husband dog

11. Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron [Blue Rider]
–the this essay collection, Delia tackles the profound to the superficial with wit, perception and charm. She maintains a steady wisdom-filled tone. She’s a woman who’s experienced plenty and shares mistakes, some secrets and reflects upon life-lessons with those willing to listen.

vampires in lemon grove

12. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell [Knopf]
–This collection of stories transports you to places you never imagined going to. Russell writes stories about variations on monsters. Beautiful, peculiar, unusual and tragic monsters. She creates bizarre, macabre and funny settings. Complete with vivid imagery, creepiness and potent emotions without an excess of verbiage. She writes dark, funny and tender.

freuds mistress

13. Freud’s Mistress by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack [Amy Einhorn]
–long rumored to have had an affair with his wife’s sister, Kaufman and Mack vividly imagine this sister’s character and life with the Freuds.

montana

14. Montana by Gwen Florio [The Permanent Press]
–MONTANA drew me in immediately with its stellar page-turning plot, terrific characters and stunning descriptions of Montana scenery. Also Lola’s an independent feminist journalist determined to uncover the truth at any cost.

dirty love

15. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III [WW Norton]– author interview
–one of my all-time favorite authors writes vignettes about love, sex, relationships and the gritty, sticky, messy aftermath.

Lillian-Dash-Sam-Toperoff-Cover-200x300

16. Lillian and Dash by Sam Toperoff [Other Press]
–What a charming novel that delves into the long affair between playwright Lillian Hellman [Little Foxes, The Children’s Hour] and noir author and screenwriter Dashiell Hammett [The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man].

big brother

17. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver [Harper Collins]
–Lionel Shriver expresses so many thoughts about obesity epidemic, how we indulge, how food is a treat, a central focus for holidays, outings, dates, meetings etc. Dazzling writing, vocabulary and character creation up until the ending.

together tea

18. Together Tea by Marjan Kamali [ECCO]– author interview
–insight into the immigrant experience. Humor, love, respect and mother-daughter bonding make this a book you’ll long remember after finishing the last page. It’s a love story to Persia as well as an acceptance for the United States.

hypothetical girl

19. The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen [Other Press]– author interview
–in this astute story collection, Elizabeth Cohen writes about dating in the digital age.

nothing serious

20. Nothing Serious by Daniel Klein [The Permanent Press]
–brilliant meditation on print media and its changing format and relevance.

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Harvard Square: book review

Harvard Square

Harvard Square by Andre Aciman. Publisher: W.W. Norton (2013). Fiction. Hardcover. 304 pages. ISBN 9780393088601.

“I hated almost every member of my department, from the chairman down to the secretary, including my fellow graduate students, hated their mannered pieties, their monastic devotion to their budding profession, their smarmy, patrician airs dressed down to look a touch grungy. I scorned them, but I didn’t want to be like them because I knew that part of me couldn’t, while another wanted nothing more than to be cut from the same cloth.”

A melancholic, nostalgic autobiographical novel about belonging and assimilation that focuses on immigrants finding their place in America in the 70s. It’s set amidst the privileged enclave of the most elite academic environment. A place filled with the most intelligent, the wealthiest, the preppiest, the best of the best, the elite. A place where one looks down on the commoners who will never be able to emulate or understand a Harvard graduate’s life.

At Café Algiers, an Egyptian graduate student at Harvard meets Kalaj, a Tunisian cab driver, struggling to keep his green card. They have one commonality: both come from Arab states in the Mediterranean. For the homesick graduate student he’s happy to speak French with fellow exiles. The café serves as a place to meet new friends. For the Tunisian, the café’s his home apart from his miserable marriage and his cab. [“He was proud to know me, while outside of our tiny café society, I never wanted to be seen with him. He was a cabdriver, I was Ivy League. He was an Arab, I was a Jew. Otherwise we could have swapped roles in a second.”] Over the next several months these two men will test friendship’s bonds.

“He had as little patience for Islam as I for Judaism. Our indifference to religion, to our people, to the never-ending conflict in the Middle East, to so many issues that could easily have driven a wedge between us, our contempt for patriotism, for flags, for causes, or for any of the feel-good ideologies that had swept through Europe since the late sixties, left us with little else than a warped sense of loyalty—what he called complicite, complicity—for anyone who thought like us, who was like us.”

Andre Aciman lovingly describes Harvard Square through minute sensory detail, various meeting spots—Café Algiers, Casablanca, Harvest, street names and students versus year-round inhabitants. The reader will feel like she’s walking around with him on every page. His Middle Eastern characters are rich with background. In Kalaj he creates an explosive and derisive character to play off the graduate student. Does the reader want him to get his green card or be kicked out of the United States forever? He’s rather a cad. A player. He seduces women and brags about his conquests in the café the next morning. Women cry about him. He’s been married several times. He complains about America while waxing nostalgic about the pristine beaches of his native Tunisia yet yearns for a green card. Merely for the money or does he have a darker motive? And why does a Harvard doctorate student become both enamored and disgusted with Kalaj?

As much as our graduate student feels he’s an Egyptian, he’s also becoming comfortable at Harvard. He wants to succeed and belong. While he enjoys this new scene he never knew existed at Café Algiers, he understands that his future belongs to academia and his Ivy League education. He’s nothing to feel ashamed about.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from W.W. Norton.

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