Thursday, 28 November 2013

Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch by Dai Sijie

Having enchanted readers on two continents with Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie now produces a rapturous and uproarious collision of East and West, a novel about the dream of love and the love of dreams. Fresh from 11 years in Paris studying Freud, bookish Mr. Muo returns to China to spread the gospel of psychoanalysis. His secret purpose is to free his college sweetheart from prison. To do so he has to get on the good side of the bloodthirsty Judge Di, and to accomplish that he must provide the judge with a virgin maiden.

This may prove difficult in a China that has embraced western sexual mores along with capitalism–especially since Muo, while indisputably a romantic, is no ladies’ man. Tender, laugh-out-loud funny, and unexpectedly wise, Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch introduces a hero as endearingly inept as Inspector Clouseau and as valiant as Don Quixote.


 About the Author
Born in China in 1954, Dai Sijie is an award-winning author and filmmaker. Caught up in China’s Cultural Revolution, he was "re-educated" between 1971 and 1974, and spent time working in a camp in a rural part of Sichuan province. After his re-education, he completed high school and university in China before departing for France in 1984 on a scholarship. He directed his first film in 1989. His first novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was published in France in 2000. The translation became a national bestseller in America.

Sijie currently lives and works in Paris, France. 


The New York Times
The Guardian

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women is a novel about a woman named Mildred Lathbury who is living in London in the 1950s. A self-proclaimed spinster, virtuous almost to a fault, intelligent, and entirely without family, Mildred is alone and content to be so. As the story begins, she is leading a quiet life of churchgoing and part-time charity work, with the Malorys—Julian, a pastor and single man, and his frazzled, sweet sister, Winifred—as her dearest friends.

However, as Mildred herself notes, “An unmarried woman, just over thirty, who lives alone and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people’s business” (p. 5). And so upon her too-comfortable existence enter a host of unsettling and decidedly unvirtuous characters: the Napiers—Helena and Rockingham—a glamorous and unconventional couple who become Mildred’s housemates; Allegra Gray, the calculating widow who destabilizes Mildred’s relationship with the Malorys; and Everard Bone, the aloof anthropologist who befriends Mildred against all of her expectations.

The Napiers’ marriage is  the rocks, due to Helena’s fierce dedication to her anthropological fieldwork and to dashing Rockingham’s effortless romancing of every woman he encounters. As their go-between and confidant, Mildred suddenly finds herself swept into their milieu of romantic drama and self-important science. Two love triangles develop: between the Napiers and Everard Bone, and between Allegra Gray, Julian Malory, and, to her surprise, Mildred herself. Even as she expresses her intent to preserve her independence, a number of potential suitors present themselves. The more Mildred tries to extricate herself, the more involved she becomes, as each of her friends depends on her to sort out the unflattering messes they make for themselves.

Yet behind her plain and patient facade, capable Mildred turns out to be a more ruthless social observer than even the anthropologists whose job it is to “study man.” Excellent Women is a romantic comedy that makes the decidedly unromantic suggestion that its narrator might be happiest alone. Mildred’s wit and independence subvert the stereotype that “excellent women” are dull. Set against the backdrop of postwar London, a city sorting through the disruptions of wartime bombing, the beginnings of feminism, and the end of colonialism, the novel offers effortless social critique that is as entertaining as it is enlightening.

About the Author

Born Barbara Mary Crampton Pym at Oswestry in 1913, the daughter of a solicitor, Frederic Crampton Pym, she was educated at Liverpool College, Huyton, and read English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. There she developed her passion for literature and church ritual and also formed her habit of cherishing ‘unrequited attachments to unresponsive men’ (C. A. R. Hills, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ), notably for one Henry Harvey who appears as the archdeacon, Henry Hoccleve, in her first published novel, Some Tame Gazelle. Disappointment in love is the inspiration for her thirteen novels, humorous and gentle satires on English parish and suburban life.

She had a long struggle to get the first novel into print, eventually succeeding in 1950, and up to 1961 six were published, including Excellent Women and A Glass of Blessings. Then she received a crushing blow when, in the changed climate of the nineteen sixties and seventies, publishers rejected An Unsuitable Attachment as unfashionable and she remained in the wilderness until 1977. In that year both Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin named her in the TLS as the most underrated writer of the century and reawakened the publishers’ interest. Her books began to be published again, beginning with Quartet in Autumn and she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Four manuscripts which had been gathering dust for years were published posthumously, including Crampton Hodnet, set in North Oxford.
During the war years she served in the WRNS and was posted to Naples. In 1946 she began research and editorial work at the International African Institute and the rest of her professional life was spent there. She lived with her sister Hilary Walton in various parts of London and then in 1972 they settled in Finstock at Barn Cottage. There Barbara remained, writing and participating in village life, until her death from cancer in 1980. Her final days were spent in the Oxford hospice, Michael Sobell House. She is buried in Finstock Churchyard.



Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Canada by Richard Ford

First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then the murders, which happened later.”

So begins Canada, the unforgettable story of Dell Parsons, a young man forced by catastrophic circumstances to reconcile himself to a world rendered unrecognizable. Spirited across the Montana border into Saskatchewan and taken in by Arthur Remlinger, an enigmatic man whose own past exists on the other side of the border, Dell struggles to understand what his future can be even as he comes to understand the violence simmering below the surface in his new life.

In this brilliant novel, set largely in Saskatchewan, Richard Ford has created a masterwork. Haunting and spectacular in vision, Canada is a novel rich with emotional clarity and lyrical precision, and an acute sense of the grandeur of living. It is a classic-in-the-making from one of our time’s greatest writers.

About the Author

Richard Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1944, the only child of a traveling salesman for a starch company, and was raised in Mississippi and in Arkansas. He went to college at Michigan State University, where he met Kristina Hensley, to whom he has been married since 1968. Ford attended law school very briefly before entering the University of California at Irvine, where he received his M.F.A. in writing in 1970.

After publishing two novels, A Piece of My Heart (1976) and The Ultimate Good Luck (1981), Ford took a job writing for Inside Sports Magazine. When the magazine was sold, he decided to write a book about a sportswriter; the resulting novel, published in 1986, received widespread acclaim: it was named one of five best books of 1986 by Time magazine. The Sportswriter was followed by Rock Springs (1987), a highly praised book of short stories, and in 1990 by a novel set in Great Falls, Montana, called Wildlife. His previous novel, Independence Day, won the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction, the first novel ever to win both awards. In 2012 he published Canada, his first stand-alone novel since Wildlife.

In addition to his steady production of fiction, Ford has also taught writing and literature at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, at Princeton University, and at Williams College.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Lilac Moon by Sharon Butala

WHAT DOES IT MEAN to be a Westerner? What is the Western experience and, by extension, what makes up the Western soul? In Lilac Moon, Sharon Butala inspires, delights and challenges us to think about the West in fresh ways. Beginning with a day in the life of the real West, she transports us to her Saskatchewan ranch, where a soft lilac moon lights the vast rolling landscape. Then, in a series of wide-ranging chapters that ponder the question "What makes a Westerner?" she considers the myths, the history, the peoples of the three prairie provinces.
 From the pioneer past to Western stereotypes, from racial and ethnic inequalities to party politics, from rural myths to urban realities,  Lilac Moon effortlessly interweaves strands of history, family, politics and culture. Butala’s intense personal connection -- her blended English/French roots run five generations deep in the Western landscape -- and her elegant style combine to create a book rich in insight and an abiding love for the vast region she knows so well.
Published on the centennial anniversary of the entry of Alberta and Saskatchewan into Confederation, this is a book not just for Westerners, but for all Canadians who want to know -- and understand -- one of the seminal dreams of our nation.
About the Author 
SHARON BUTALA is an award-winning and bestselling author of both fiction and non- fiction. Her classic book The Perfection of the Morning was a #1 bestseller and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. Fever, a short story collection, won the 1992 Authors’ Award for Paperback Fiction. Butala is a recipient of both the Marian Engel Award and a Member of the Order of Canada. She moved from their ranch at Eastend, Saskatchewan to Calgary to be near her son and his family following the death of her second husband, Peter Butala, in 2007.


Monday, 12 August 2013

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Saul Indian Horse has hit bottom. His last binge almost killed him, and now he’s a reluctant resident in a treatment centre for alcoholics, surrounded by people he’s sure will never understand him. But Saul wants peace, and he grudgingly comes to see that he’ll find it only through telling his story. With him, readers embark on a journey back through the life he’s led as a northern Ojibway, with all its joys and sorrows.

With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he’s sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement.

Indian Horse unfolds against the bleak loveliness of northern Ontario, all rock, marsh, bog and cedar. Wagamese writes with a spare beauty, penetrating the heart of a remarkable Ojibway man. Drawing on his great-grandfather’s mystical gift of vision, Saul Indian Horse comes to recognize the influence of everyday magic on his own life. In this wise and moving novel, Richard Wagamese shares that gift of magic with readers as well.
About the Author

Richard Wagamese is a 51 year-old Ojibway from the Wabasseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario. Following a distinguished journalism career in which he became the first Native Canadian to win a National Newspaper Award for Column Writing, he moved into the realm of fiction writing.
  The result was the award-winning bestseller Keeper’n Me in 1994, published by Doubleday Canada Ltd. This was followed by an anthology of his newspaper columns, The Terrible Summer in 1996 from Warwick Press and his second novel, A Quality of Light, in 1997 from Doubleday. A memoir entitled For Joshua: an Ojibway Father Teaches His Son arrived in October 2002. His third novel, Dream Wheels, was published by Doubleday in 2006 to be followed by a fourth, Ragged Company, in 2007.

  Richard is listed in Canada's Who's Who. He has been a lecturer in Creative Writing with the University of Regina's Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, a writer for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, a faculty advisor on Journalism for Grant MacEwen Community College and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and a scriptwriter for the CBC-Alliance production North of 60. Recognized for his free flowing style, Richard has been a book, film and music reviewer, general reporter and feature writer for numerous newspapers and journals across Canada. He has also worked extensively in both radio and television news and documentary.
Reviews                                                                                  Author Website

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Following their father’s sudden death, the Van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where she will be trained to enter the famous Ballet and meet Edgar Degas. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds employment—and the love of a dangerous young man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s Naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change,The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.”

      About the Author    

The second of five children, Cathy Marie Buchanan was born and bred in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Her father was a teacher, and her mother, a   former  teacher, was a homemaker.

A defining feature of her childhood was the two-month camping excursion the family made each summer in their VW camper van. By her early teens, she had seen most every province in Canada and most every state in the U.S., and had swum in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. Her family made the first of these journeys―driving from Niagara Falls to the tip of Mexico and then on into Belize―in 1976, well before Mexico was set up for tourism, and with her two-year-old sister in tow. She believes that her parents’ tendency to throw caution to the wind helped shape her into an adult who would one day exchange the trappings of the corporate world for the writing life.

Often asked if she grew up wanting to be a writer, she answers with a definitive no and will tell you she spent her teenage years disgracing herself in high school English, often getting upwards of 20 percent deducted for spelling mistakes on exams. When it came time to head off to university, one of the criteria she used for selecting courses was not having to write—that is, spell—a single thing. She graduated with a BSc (Honours Biochemistry) and then an MBA, both from the University of Western Ontario, and spent the bulk of her non-writing work life at IBM, at first in finance and then in technical sales.  Author Website


The National Post
The Washington Post
National Public Radio Interview

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking

Our lives are driven by a fact that most of us can't name and don't understand. It defines who our friends and lovers are, which careers we choose, and whether we blush when we're embarrassed.
That fact is whether we're an introvert or an extrovert.

The introvert/extrovert divide is the most fundamental dimension of personality. And at least a third of us are on the introverted side. Some of the world's most talented people are introverts. Without them we wouldn't have the Apple computer, the theory of relativity and Van Gogh's sunflowers.

Yet extroverts have taken over. Shyness, sensitivity and seriousness are often seen as being negative. Introverts feel reproached for being the way they are.

In Quiet, Susan Cain shows how the brain chemistry of introverts and extroverts differs, and how society misunderstands and undervalues introverts. She gives introverts the tools to better understand themselves and take full advantage of their strengths.

Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with real stories, Quiet will permanently change how we see introverts - and how you see yourself.

About the Author

Susan Cain is a writer whose work on introversion and shyness has appeared in the New York Times, Time, O Magazine, and She has taught negotiation skills at corporations, law firms, and universities and practiced corporate law for seven years. Recently she was selected to speak at the TED2012 conference in Long Beach, California. An honors graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, Susan lives in the Hudson River Valley with her husband and two sons.

Author Website
TED Talk


The Washington Times
The NY Times

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Book of Negroes

Abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea in a coffle—a string of slaves— Aminata Diallo is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. But years later, she forges her way to freedom, serving the British in the Revolutionary War and registering her name in the historic “Book of Negroes.” This book, an actual document, provides a short but immensely revealing record of freed Loyalist slaves who requested permission to leave the US for resettlement in Nova Scotia, only to find that the haven they sought was steeped in an oppression all of its own.
Aminata’s eventual return to Sierra Leone—passing ships carrying thousands of slaves bound for America—is an engrossing account of an obscure but important chapter in history that saw 1,200 former slaves embark on a harrowing back-to-Africa odyssey. Lawrence Hill is a master at transforming the neglected corners of history into brilliant imaginings, as engaging and revealing as only the best historical fiction can be. A sweeping story that transports the reader from a tribal African village to a plantation in the southern United States, from the teeming Halifax docks to the manor houses of London, The Book of Negroes introduces one of the strongest female characters in recent Canadian fiction, one who cuts a swath through a world hostile to her colour and her sex.

The Original Book of Negroes
The Book of Negroes borrows its title from a 1783 British document. It listed the names of the blacks who were awarded passage out of New York after the American Revolutionary War. These individuals had to prove they had served the British army for at least a year and that they were free. Copies of the book are available at a handful of libraries, with the original held in London, England. It contains the names and descriptions of 3,000 black men women and children.

About the Author
 Lawrence Hill was born in Toronto in 1957 to an interracial American couple, the civil rights activists Daniel and Donna Hill. The pair came to Canada just after marrying, wishing to raise a family in a less racially hostile environment. Lawrence's background is black and white and Canadian and American, and this range of experiences and perspectives informs his writing.
He has written several books, including two previous novels: Some Great Thing (1992) and the immensely popular Any Known Blood (1997), a fictionalized account of his family history that crisscrosses the U.S./Canada border.
The Book of Negroes, a national bestseller, won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for overall best book and has been widely acclaimed in Canada and internationally.
Lawrence's non-fiction works include a memoir, Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada and The Deserter's Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq , co-written with Joshua Key.
Lawrence has a B.A. in economics from Laval University and an M.A. in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. He has worked as a reporter for the Globe and Mail and the Winnipeg Free Press and has won numerous awards, including a National Magazine Award for an article that appeared in Walrus magazine: "Is Africa's Pain Black America's Burden?" and an American Wilbur Award for best television documentary for Seeking Salvation: A History of the Black Church in Canada .
Lawrence's father, the late Daniel Hill, Sr., was the director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and, later, Ombudsman of Ontario. His brother is the singer/songwriter Dan Hill.
Lawrence grew up in the suburb of Don Mills, Ontario, and currently lives in Burlington, Ontario, with his wife and their five children


The Guardian
The NY Times

Saturday, 2 February 2013

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larsen

In the Garden of Beasts tells the story of the build-up to World War II from the point of view of people who experienced it first hand: the American ambassador to Germany in the 1930s, and his family. William Dodd was a history professor by training, not a diplomat, and may have seemed an unlikely choice for the representative of U.S. interests in Germany during such a pivotal time. Arriving in Germany a few months after Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933, Dodd and his family, particularly his lively socialite daughter Martha, had a front-row view of the building popularity of the Nazi party… and the growing climate of suspicion and fear that was slowly co-opting the glorious vision of “New Germany.”

About the Author

 Erik Larson is the author of four New York Times bestsellers, most recently In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, which hit #1 and remained on the printed list for 35 weeks. It was published in Britain, France, Italy, Poland, Australia and a number of other countries and will be published in paperback in the U.S. on May 1, 2012. Movie rights were optioned by Universal Studios and Tom Hanks’ Playtone.  Erik’s book The Devil in the White City remained on the Times‘ hardcover and paperback lists for a combined total of over three years. It won an Edgar Award for nonfiction crime writing and was a finalist for a National Book Award; the option to make a movie of the book was acquired in November 2010 by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Erik’s research has taken him to far-flung locales, and down innumerable strange alleys. For his 2006 bestseller, Thunderstruck, Erik traveled to London, Munich, Rome, Nova Scotia, and Cape Cod, as he sought to chronicle the strange intersection in the careers of Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of wireless, and Hawley Harvey Crippen, England’s second most-famous murderer (after Jack the Ripper). To broaden his understanding of Marconi and his roots, Erik studied Italian; he achieved an elementary grasp of the language while developing an advanced appreciation for Italian red wines.
Erik also wrote Isaac’s Storm, published in September 1999. In addition to becoming an immediate Times bestseller, the book won the American Meteorology Society’s prestigious Louis J. Battan Author’s Award. The Washington Post called it the “‘Jaws’ of hurricane yarns.”
Erik graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied Russian history, language and culture. He received a masters in journalism from Columbia University. After a brief stint at the Bucks County Courier Times, Larson became a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal, and later a contributing writer for Time Magazine. He has written articles for The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Yorker, and other publications.
Larson lives in Seattle with his wife and three daughters. Numerous beloved rodents are buried in his back yard.


The Seattle Times
The New York Times