Posts Tagged Other Press

best books of 2016 so far

Best Books of 2016 so far. I read a lot of historical fiction and memoir so not surprisingly that’s mostly what makes my list. These are listed more or less in the order read.

the other woman

The Other Woman by Therese Bohman [Other Press]

–from my review: This novel bursts with intellectual prowess. It’s witty, provocative and thoughtful about money, class, what it is to have less and desire more, to be educated and smart but not particularly suited to anything. Swedish author Therese Bohman examines societal expectations of what makes a complete life: a good job; a happy coupling; a nice place. All the things by which we define ourselves but realize the innate superficiality of it all.

alligator candy

Alligator Candy: a memoir by David Kushner [Simon & Schuster]

Through compelling prose and devastating emotion this memoir potently addresses murder and its effect on the family. review.

rare objects

Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro [Harper]

–Author Kathleen Tessaro adeptly describes both the immigrant North End and wealthy mansions with vivid detail. Superb writing and research merge to tell this wonderful story. Rare Objects is a page-turner about class, friendship and the things and people we value most. full review.

lazaretto

Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone [Harper]

–Set in post-Civil War Philadelphia, this historical novel beautifully explores race, class, gender and family. complete review.

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The Vegetarian by Kang Han [Hogarth]

The Man Booker International Prize 2016 Winner It’s dark and suspenseful. Entirely original and engrossing. I’ve been a vegan for nearly 10 years and am not too thin.  I stopped eating red meat at 12 and everything but fish at 18. So the being deprived and malnourished because she’s not eating meat is bothering me a tad.

modern girls

Modern Girls by Jennifer Brown

Clear your schedule and make a big pitcher of iced tea. Once you start this wonderful, detailed novel you’ll want to read straight through. review.

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We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge

We Love You, Charlie Freeman stands out as a thoughtful and provocative novel which effectively and creatively winds together numerous subjects from coming-of-age, first love, adolescence, sisterhood, race, anthropology, history and family dynamics. complete review.

heat and light

Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh [Ecco]

At turns fascinating, sad, infuriating, provocative and authentic, Heat & Light pulls in the reader from the jump. This well-researched, impressive novel exposes many angles of fracking. In order to capture this present day dilemma, Haigh effectively dips into the past with the Three Mile Island disaster as well as coaling. The novel generously addresses an important hot-button topic with sharp prose and a stellar cast of characters as well as an intriguing story-line. complete review.

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An Abbreviated Life: a memoir by Ariel Leve [Harper]

–stunning memoir about an adult daughter coming to terms with her childhood and relationship [or lack of] with her mother..

sun in your eyes

The Sun in Your Eyes by Deborah Shapiro [William Morrow]

–from my review: Shapiro delves into the women’s college friendship and its connection to the present. She offers insight, detail and vivid descriptions that allow the reader to understand each woman, their bond and reliance upon one another. Women’s bonds often become broken due to relationships with men (or marriage and families). To this many women (and likely men) will relate. Vivian’s relationship and later marriage to Andy created a rift between the friends. The road trip allows the women to examine their friendship and determine whether or not they should rekindle their friendship, however tumultuous it may have been at times. Jealousy and differing goals certainly pushed and pulled at its core.

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book review: Lacombe, Lucien (the screenplay)

lacombe lucien

Lacombe Lucien: the screenplay by Louis Malle and Patrick Modiano. Other Press| May 2016| 160 pages | $14.95| ISBN: 978-159051-765-9

RATING: ****/5*

I adore books and film but I don’t often read screenplays. Lacombe Lucien is a film about the evils at play among French Nazi collaborators during WWII. It’s an early work by Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano and director/screenwriter Louis Malle. Apparently the film was quite controversial at its release as it depicted the dark underside of war, showing some French nationals doing despicable things to other French nationals. It’s harsh and raw.

Lucien Lacombe, a poor boy in Nazi occupied France, becomes involved with Fascist collaborators who join the Gestapo and inform on their fellow countrymen in horrific ways. There’s torture, murder, imprisonment. Lucien wanted to join the Resistance but his teacher rejected him. He told him he was too young. He added: “And anyway, this is serious business. It’s no lark, Lucien, like going out and poaching . . . . It’s like being in the army, you know. . . .” So Lucien joins up with the bad guys. He carried out small tasks for the Gestapo. This makes the young man feel powerful and indomitable. He’s rather content with the brusque lifestyle and its payouts until he falls for a Jewish girl named France. Will Lucien betray her and her family?

There are some callous remarks about Jewish people. Jean-Bernard: “There are some Jewish girls who are incredibly beautiful. . . . Compared to them, other women look like mares. . . . (Turning to Lucien) That’s right, old boy: mares. . . . I had a Jewish fiancée once, some time back. . . . Incredibly stacked, and incredibly wealthy. . . .” Marie: “Dirty Jew! . . . They all have the syph! . . . Do you hear that? . . . She’s going to give you a case of syph!” Then France herself, likely echoing the sentiment of those persecuted at that time: “Lucien. . . I’m so tired. I can’t stand it anymore. . . .I’m so tired of being a Jew. . . .”

Reading the screenplay definitely makes me want to watch the film. Seeing the film will add vividness. I need to see these characters interacting. The arch in which Lucien and France fall in love seems incredibly quick although I cannot judge without seeing the actors chemistry.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

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book review: mon amie americaine

mon amie americaine

Mon Amie Americaine by Michele Halberstadt. Other Press| April 12, 2016| 160 pages | $14.95| ISBN: 978-1-59051-759-8

RATING: ***/5*

This is the story about a friendship between two women who work in the film industry—one a Manhattanite named Molly and the other a Parisian named Michele. Molly suffers a brain aneurysm which puts her into a month-long coma. Michele would rather not think of Molly in a coma at all. Not think of her with a serious health concern. The entire novel unfolds as one long confession in which Michele expresses her fears, regrets, selfishness and blame toward Molly. She writes: “I’d rather think you’re away on some assignment, out covering a story; and that you can’t wait to tell me what you’ve found out as soon as you get back.” Denial. Of Molly’s smoking (maybe the cause of the aneurysm): “You should to say you’d stop smoking when you found a man to give you children, since a pregnancy was, you’d maintain, the only way to make yourself give up your three packs a day. You didn’t know that illness was another way to achieve abstinence.” Guilting Molly. I thought the French smoked all the time. Of course as with anything there are exceptions.

Apparently Michele was that healthy woman lacking any bad habits. The perfect European. Is Michele going through the stages of grief for a lost friend although Molly isn’t dead? Perhaps. Michele considers their friendship in its past imperfect perfection, as it stands in the present and as she pictures it would or would not be in the future. It’s an easy read but definitely doesn’t depict Americans kindly. Here’s how she describes Molly: “You, the city rat who’ll startle at the slightest noise, get hysterical when an insect comes near; you, climbing onto a chair the moment you see a mouse. You, scared of the dark, heights, flying, bridges and elevators. Shunning exercise, jogging, sports, the slightest physical exertion. You, the American who gobbles vitamins, never eating right, the confirmed frozen-food user, eating yogurt a month after the expiration date, worshipping the sun to an outrageous extent, forgetting whether you’ve had a tetanus shot, sucking down aspirin like it’s mint candy, abusing cheesecake and chocolate milkshakes. You, doping yourself with one cappuccino or Diet Coke after another.” Not super positive. She sounds like a junk-food craved, sedentary southern suburbanite not a Manhattan executive who travels the world on business.

What attracted the two to each other in the first place? Why did they become such close friends? Sure they both worked in the same industry, likely composed of mostly men. Women would form bonds and if there were enough commonalities a bond would grow. One of Molly’s friends asks Michele why the two are even friends and Michele writes a long list in response. She includes that Molly makes her laugh; brings her souvenirs; knows how to give unbelievable presents; loves soul music, hot water bottles and earrings; she can fix Michele’s telephone and computer; she can put on nail polish in the back of a moving car without issue. Also: “Because you never wear eye makeup but do put on lipstick, and I do the opposite.” And “Because your French is nonexistent, and I love to speak to you in English.” So this sounds sort of one-sided. Does not sound like a solid basis for friendship. It’s a rather symbiotic relationship it seems: each takes from it what she needs. Isn’t that often how one can boil down friendship? When visiting Molly in the ICU, Michele writes: “I’ve found you again, incredibly fragile and battered, but still near and still so familiar. I’ve missed you so much.”

For Michele, Molly may never be that “fun” American friend again: “You look a little like a rag doll. All of your movements occur in slow motion. But I see no spark in your eyes. Only the weight of an indescribable fatigue.” Michele, your friend went through an extremely traumatic life-threatening experience and she survived. This is your friend. You adapt to the changes or you move on and readers likely can guess your decision. As Molly begins to recover many of her American friends stop spending time with her as they find her demanding and perhaps too in need of assistance. Michele herself cannot handle this fractured Molly. She states: “With all my strength I’ve wanted our friendship to remain intact. I’ve got to face facts: that’s far from being the case. I lack courage. There have been times when I’ve been in New York and haven’t told you.”

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book review: Incarceration Nations

incarceration nations

Incarceration Nations by Baz Dreisinger. Other Press| February 2016| 241 pages | $27.95| ISBN: 978-159051-727-7

RATING: ****/5*

“Privilege cannot be discarded when convenient, however many barbed-wire fences one crosses. In fact, denial of privilege is the ultimate mark of it.”

Our criminal justice system needs a substantial overhaul. People receive lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent crimes and first-time drug offenses. It’s rather ridiculous. Death row wastes time and money. Solitary confinement deprives people in a cruel manner. The death penalty itself remains inhumane and barbaric.

Does prison work? Author Baz Dreisinger wanted to answer the question: She decided to examine what works and what does not work in prisons throughout the world. She also wanted to use these varied prisons to compare and highlight what’s wrong with the United States penal system, Dreisinger traveled to Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Jamaica, Thailand, Brazil, Australia, Singapore and Norway to find out what works, what doesn’t work and the state of the prisons throughout the world.

Dreisinger helps establish a prison visiting program in Rwanda, a country torn apart by genocide. People practice forgiveness. Dreisinger writes: “Ultimately, revenge cannot undo; it merely does again. It arises from a feeling of helplessness, from the need to re-create a painful situation with roles reversed.” She teaches a creative writing class in Uganda. She examines the music program in Jamaica. She notes: “Singing along, I come to the depressing conclusion that music in prisons is the sweet sound of a salve. Because ultimately Uganda’s prison library and Jamaica’s prison music studio add up to the same thing: a Band-Aid on an amputated limb.”

In South Africa at the Pollsmoor prison, Dreisinger assists with a restorative justice program. South Africa remains an extremely violent country in the aftermath of colonialism and apartheid. “South Africa’s rate of violent death for men—in 2012, some 16,000 cases were reported—is eight times the global average, while the female homicide rate is six times it. Over 40 percent of men report having been physically violent to a partner and more than one in four report having perpetrated rape, three-quarters of them before age twenty.” The prisoners focus on forgiveness in the restorative justice program. “Restorative justice literature outlines the four needs of victims: truthful answers; empowerment; restoration of respect, usually achieved by the repeated telling of their stories of harm; and restitution, what can be a statement of responsibility or a literal payback.” She observes the prisoners practicing scenarios in which they speak with their victims and assists in writing narratives about their crimes and the consequences of the crime.

She works on a drama workshop for female prisoners in Thailand. Globally more than 625,000 women are in prison and 70% incarcerated in the United States are in prison for nonviolent offenses. Dreisinger notes: “In Thailand about 21,000 of the 25,231 convicted women in prison are in for drug charges and a mere 550 for violent offenses.” “Thailand is a major transshipment point for heroin from neighboring Myanmar, the world’s second-biggest producer of opium, after Afghanistan.” There are vocational training classes in food catering, sports, beauty and arts. Prisoners can access yoga, massage, salons and meditation. She notes that this prison “has in some ways managed to piece together a sisterhood– a commune and community. It’s a fragmented family, rife with cracks and haphazardly glued together but a kind of family nonetheless.”

In Singapore, she learns about the prison reentry program. In Singapore prisons, the prisoners work in the bakery or the laundry which serves many hospitals in Singapore. “The result is a movement and, conveniently, a labor force. Prisoners have been the backbone of Singapore’s labor force since the country’s inception.” In Australia she visits private prisons. She investigates solitary confinement in Brazil and model prisons– focused on correction–in Norway.

A few facts about United States prisons culled from Incarceration Nations:

–2.3 million people are incarcerated

–25% of the U.S. prison population is mentally ill

–160,000 people are serving life in prison in the U.S.

–73% of incarcerated women are mentally ill

–75% of imprisoned women are mothers

–2.7 million children have parents in prison

–80,000 live in solitary confinement

–recidivism is 60%

In her travels, she meets and converses with prisoners in each country. Dreisinger shares some moving and surprising stories and interactions. In volunteering at these prisons she examines the prison structure and system in these countries. She writes: “My journey has taken me to global hellholes, and being a witness there has changed me irrevocably. It’s made me a far better teacher, enabling me to connect the dots and map injustice from one side of the world to another.”

Dreisinger is an Associate Professor in the English Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY and the Academic Director of the Prison-to-College Pipeline [P2CP] program. The P2CP program offers college courses and re-entry planning to incarcerated men in New York State. Incarceration Nations explores humane treatment, redemption, rehabilitation and re-entry into society and the workforce. It’s fascinating and intense. A must-read.

–review by Amy Steele

 FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

Baz Dreisinger will be at Brookline Booksmith on Wednesday, April 13 at 7pm.

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purchase at Amazon: Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World

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book review: The Other Woman

the other woman

The Other Woman by Therese Bohman. Other Press| February 2016| 201 pages | $15.95| ISBN: 978-1-59051-742-7

RATING: *****/5*

This novel bursts with intellectual prowess. It’s witty, provocative and thoughtful about money, class, what it is to have less and desire more, to be educated and smart but not particularly suited to anything. Swedish author Therese Bohman examines societal expectations of what makes a complete life: a good job; a happy coupling; a nice place. All the things by which we define ourselves but realize the innate superficiality of it all. If we focus on the having and not the feeling and the experiencing then we lack integrity, depth and strength of character.

A young woman works at the bottom of a hospital hierarchy as a kitchen aide. Of interacting with her co-workers, she comments: “To them I am someone who has been to college, unlike them, and that creates a distance.” She meets and begins an affair with an older married doctor named Carl Malmberg. While there’s passion and connection, she knows that he thinks her beneath him and will always feel that way. While this independent woman remains resolute in her thoughts and convictions, the relationship causes her to doubt herself and her future goals.

“Perhaps I ought to become a teacher or a librarian, surely not everyone who follows those career paths can feel passionate about them, they have simply chosen a route and followed it through, that is how people live: they make a choice and stick to it, whether it is a matter of education and training or a job or a partner. I have never been able to do that. I always think that I have an uncompromising attitude to life in that respect, an attitude that makes things difficult to me, but which I cannot talk myself out of. I have the same attitude about everything: people, clothes, literature.”

In embracing and exploring her femininity, this young woman questions feminism. Understandable that many young women think that to be a feminist one cannot also be feminine. She seems at odds with her peers in their revolt of certain “feminine” things. By such conscious questioning she’s defining her own version of feminism as every woman should do. It’s a myth that’s been carried throughout the years. She notes: “Femininity was an intricate network of rules with a minimal amount of leeway, where everything was unspoken in the bargain.” Then she says this: “I am a failure as a feminist woman. I am a failure as a perfectly ordinary woman as well, I am too clever—I said that to Emelie once when I was drunk, she got angry with me, really angry, she looked at me as if I was a traitor.” She may think this but in living as she’s living and in desiring equality and certain standing she’s without doubt a feminist. When a woman questions herself and her feminism, she’s inherently a feminist.

She makes an intriguing new friend named Alex. She confides in her about the affair. She remarks: “Talking to her about it feels sexy too, I like Alex’s smile because it is hungry and inviting, not in terms of eroticism perhaps but in terms of life, or adventure . . .” In both the affair and this friendship she’s discovering herself and blooming. Perhaps re-thinking her present situation and contemplating a writer’s lifestyle.

This is the best novel I’ve read so far this year. As someone who has yet to find her path, I completely relate to this character. She’s somewhat stuck at the moment but not accepting and not giving up. Isn’t that why we often read novels? If not to escape, then to find kindred spirits. She notes: “I am an expert when it comes to being alone. I have always been alone, because no one else is like me.” I think to myself: me too. It’s not the standard, predictable novel about an affair. It’s twisty and existential. I dare not give away too many details.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

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book review: Willful Disregard

willful disregard

Willful Disregard by Lena Andersson. Other Press| February 2016| 196 pages | $15.95| ISBN: 978-1-59051-761-1

RATING: ****/5*

“Since realizing at the age of eighteen that life ultimately consisted of dispelling melancholy, and discovering language and ideas all by herself, Ester Nilsson had not felt any sense of unhappiness with life, nor even any normal, everyday depression.”

Another wonderful, challenging novel that’s difficult to adequately describe. This witty, novel delves into a careful examination of Esther Nilsson after she meets artist Hugo Rask. Quite the intellectual, existential read about unrequited love. It should be quite relatable to many readers. We envision certain situations in our minds. We misinterpret signals. In this modern age everything and anything remains open to interpretation. The course of love doesn’t travel a straight path. Swedish Author and journalist Lena Andersson won the 2014 August Prize for Willful Disregard, her ninth novel.

Ester is quite a meticulous academic while Hugo Rask is a laid-back artist and long-standing bachelor who surrounds himself with young admirers. Of Ester, Andersson writes: “She would rather endure torment than tedium, would rather be alone than in a group of people making small talk. Not because she disliked the small-talkers, but because they absorbed too much energy. Small talk drained her.” When Ester lectures on Hugo, they get together a few times to talk and that progresses into a physical relationship. Ester latches on to this more than Hugo. She doesn’t embark on sexual dalliances lightly. Now she’s questioning the minutiae of their connection. Are they dating? Does he care for her? Should she make any assumptions about anything?

An early indication that it was purely a sexual tryst: “Hugo never followed up anything Ester said. Ester always followed up what Hugo said. Neither of them was really interested in her but they were both interested in him.” At another times there’s this: “They asked each other what they had planned for the day, in the way you do when you don’t belong together even though you are sleeping with each other, that is, when one party has decided how things are to be on that score but not said so openly, believing it is meant to be inferred.” Also this: “But why did he want to be physically intimate with her if he did not want to be close? And why those long, intense conversations over the proceeding months?”

I found myself marking many sections due to the sparse impressive phrasing and strong meditative nature. It’s fascinating to follow how Ester navigates her relationship with Hugo as well with her disposition and desires. A thoughtful novel about love’s consequences and perceptions.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

purchase at Amazon: Willful Disregard: A Novel About Love

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book review: Katherine Carlyle

katherine carlyle

<em>Katherine Carlyle</em> by Rupert Thompson. Other Press| October 2015| 304 pages| $16.95| ISBN: 9781590517383

<strong>RATING: *****/5*</strong>

“If I’m to pay proper attention, if this is to work, there’s no option but to disconnect, to simplify. From now on, life will register directly, like a tap on the shoulder or a kiss on the lips. It will be felt.”

Didn’t know what was sometimes happening and why but wanted to keep reading because of the writing quality. Rather haunting and definitely unusual. Katherine Carlyle was born through IVF. This haunts her throughout her life [“I tell him about my conception in a London hospital. I was an IVF baby. Does he know what that means? He nods. I tell him I was frozen. I was stored for eight years before I was finally implanted in my mother. I was put together– formed– but then I had to wait in the cold, with no knowledge of how long that wait was likely to be, or whether it will ever end.”] and as a college freshman she decides she’s going to disappear in an attempt to come to terms with this. Katherine leaves Rome for Berlin as a stop point to her end point. She’s not merely going to disappear, she plans to travel to an intensely cold climate in an attempt to get close to her own frozen, isolated beginning. It’s tough to describe except to say it’s part mystery and part personal exploration. A strange story –in a good way– with gorgeous writing and an intriguing story-line.

<em>FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press. </em>

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