Various Authors – the first Fiction Desk anthology

Source – review copy

The Fiction Desk is a blog and twitter feed run by Rob Redman ,an Editor based in Italy in Roma ,I ve spoken to Rob via twitter  and followed his blog for a couple of years so think I have an ear for what he likes book and writing  wise ,so was so pleased to be sent this collection of 12 short stories by new and upcoming writers .Rob describes the books experience as being a dj  and making compilation cds for the nights he dj ,so I sat back and read his choices .

There isn’t a theme to this collection some stories are similar a number about family ,we follow a Scottish lad on the bus to his parents only to discover his father in a stat of chaos and his mother gone .

“What are you on about ”

“You see ,your mum ,she’s saying …its the drink.” the balls thud and spin on the Tv and ger’s heartbeat makes him stay very still .

Gerry find out his Ma is gone .(almost like a Glasvegas song as a story )

In another a younger boy set out on an ill fated journey to find a long-lost father who is in Wales ,firstly trying the train then walking and meeting people .Another explains the joys of trying to catch and fall in love with an Air hostess over the course of a flight told as a basic guide of how too ,a story by Windmills books PR person Marcus Harvey .A man pretends to be a dog called rex in another ,this story is very surreal .as a family falls apart rex is a the centre of the action .There is a story following an office, a high-powered executive working in the US for the government  is concerned about his  new assistant she seems to leave the office early every day ,he confronts her and she tells him about how she is playing in a small play ,he is interested she says he could join her and he does .

The last thing he heard as Brutus set him down on the floor was the voice of Sadie

“I think we have a caesar”

he stood up and felt like he could probably die all night .

Daniel the executive discovers the joy of acting .

I leave you there with the stories if you want to know more go out and support Rob ,there isn’t a bad story in this collection to use the time-worn phrase they are all page turners .and to take it back to Rob’s starting point of a dj ,well this book is like the semi legendary NME MIXTAPE C86 ,which collected a group of acts in 1986 ,some were couple of hit wonders and some went on to be huge ,this collection has tha feel anyone here could be huge and sure someone from this collection will but who or when is hard to say but if this is Rob’s mix of new writing in English ,well it looks like we re in good health .here is collection and writers with links to the fiction desk bio of every writer .

Do you like new collections of stories ?

The tigers wife by Tea Obreht

Source – review copy (requested by me)

Well I very rarely want get caught up in Hype books but read about this book and it writer Tea Obreht made me .Tea was born in Former Yugoslavia,lived there til she was 7 the in cyprus and Egypt .Before settling with her family in the us were eventually she took  a  MA  in creative writing at Cornell university ,she is teaching there now this is her first novel .I was amazed that someone so young could write a book that by the blurb seems to have been written by some one that is older .

Well what is the tigers wife about ,its set in Yugoslavia ,it is about a grandfather and his granddaughter Natalia ,her grandfather has disappears she is away doing vaccination in a distant town ,  so she rushes off and decides to find him .Whilst doing this we discover her childhood and the fact he always carried a volume of Rudyard Kipling’s the Jungle book and told the young  Natalia  ,stories from this book which he loved .This reminded me of my friend Rob of Rob Around books and his hunt for a book that can be a constant companion to the reader ,rob found this in part with the Essays of Michel de Montaigne ,also in the book the english patient the main character count Alamsy  has a copy of histories by Herodotus that he has loved and kept things in ,so here the grandfather had enchanted his young grand-daughter with tales from Jungle book mixed with local history like the tale of the tigers wife of the title of the book a tale of a mysterious silent women from the second world war ,also the man she thing her grandfather is looking for the deathless man ,a man who has lived forever and wanders the backlands where her grandfather lives .There is also tale of the tiger that escaped from the zoo during the war ,that enthralled her grandfather as it seemed th book he ;loved had come to life .to find out what happens to Natalia and her grandfather you better read the book .

Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between the two stories : the story of the tiger’s wife and the story of the deathless man .These stories run like  secret rivers through all the other stories of his life – of my grandfathers days in the army ; his great love for my grandmother ; the years he spent as a surgeon and a tyrant of the university .One ,which i learned after his death ,is story of how my grandfather became a man ,the other which told to me ,is of how he became a child again .

opening of the second chapter .

This book is filled with love ,it is a story of generations ,of Tea’s homeland the Balkans .We get a heady mix of folkish tales and magic realism .I find hard and disheartening that this is a book written by a 25-year-old if you didn’t know you would think it was a much older writer ,it has echos of a lot of great books a bit of the English patient ,a bit of  life of pi and maybe some magic realism of marquez and Okri .I m happy I asked for this book does it live up to the Hype yes it does .If your at Hay festival Tea is there talikg about this book .

The Possessed by Elif Batuamn

Source – review copy

Elif Batuman is a new york born writer ,her parents are turkish ,she studied literature at university in american and the a summer in Uzbekistan ,which forms the largest part of this book .she has published pieces for various magazines in the US .

Now this book is about obsession with russian literature and how it drives people ,now here is a shock I m very afraid of classic russian literature and have spent most of my life avoiding it ,but in recent times the realization is that I ve missed out on a lot ,so when the offer to read this book came I jumped at the chance to do so .Hoping it would inspire me to read more russian lit .The book is a collection of short essay and a longer piece divide into three sections .The short piece focus on obsession with certain russian writers ,the first is Babel the writer who was killed by Stalin leaving little behind but what he left behind has had scholars talking since his death ,a visit to an exhibition of his possessions in california sparks a journey into his world with the joy of Elif who obviously loves these characters so much ,another dealt with a group visiting Yasnaya Polyana Tolstoy’s home ,a group of  Tolstoy scholars and the wild fantasies about the writer was this book influenced by that book ,Alice in wonderland was the book they were arguing and did it influence anne Karenina ,This started a heated debate ,Elif tells this with humour and love .The main piece is about here summer in Uzbekistan studying Uzbek language ,as a former soviet state she discovers a lot about their intertwine history with its larger neighbour by a charismatic young Man called  Muratbek .

Muratbek was very tan with bleached hair and a fixed grin .To his every utterance in every language ,he appended the exclamation “awesome !” “Turkcha gapirasizmi ” he asked me. Do you speak Turkish ? awesome !

The first meeting in summer in Samarkand of Muratbek .

So did the book do what I want yes I ve moved russian books up my tbr pile and need get war and peace back on track ,this tied in with the recent BBC show about Tolstoy where they were at Yasnaya Polyana  ,this tied together brought Elif book more to life .So if you love russian lit this is a must read ,if your like me a novice this will inspire you to take that road that involves Pushkin ,Tolstoy ,Chekov and Babel ,vis her humour and love of these writers .I love Granta’s cover a retroesque homage to leather-bound covers the orginal russian books we re published in .

Have you read this book ?

Do you like russian literature ?


The gospel of Anarchy by Justin Taylor

source – review copy

Justin Taylor is a young American writer ,this is his debut novel last year he published a collection of short stories “everything here is the best thing ever ” ,which I have but have only read the first couple of stories but style wise this is just as good as his short stories .He has written for a number of american magazines and appeared on public radio .

The book is set in 1999 and goes through millennium in is David story from dark nights on the internet trading Pornographic images to meet an old friend leads to an alternate world the hippy alternative universe an anarchist collective ,this is a story of youth and growing up and what happens when you take the wrong path ,it can be fun but at times very dark .all this is sparked by David meet old college buddy Thomas and going to fishgut this is an old house full of people  ,that is the collectives heart and base .This is maybe the dying embers of a sixties dream gone bad ,I love music from big pink and the idea\ of communal living has appeal to me the ability  to swap ideas and feed of other people’s creativity would be great ,but Fishgut isn’t like this the morals are lost in some ways I m remind of Garlands beach what happens when paradise turns bad ,this tackles people’s dream searching for religious belief ,identity and in particular a place in society or in this case in  a group .

Thomas took me on a tour of fishgut ,not that there was much to show .There were three bedrooms – his , Kathy ,and one outfitted with two sets of bunk beds as a guest room or travellers rest .They were all scenes from the same low-budget disaster movie .the linoleum in the kitchen was faded past pigmentation ,but held on to a hazy hangover memory of having once been green

the first site of fishgut .by David shown round by his old friend Thomas .

David gets caught up in affairs with the women at Fishgut ,as he sleeps with them and  get caught up in a five way love triangle ,there is a found journal that leads to a cult left by old guest of the house a man of the road .I enjoyed this book Taylors writing is playful and dark at same time he draws you into this crazy youthful world like he did in the shorts I ve read by him .

 

My dead dad was in ZZ top by Jon Glaser

source – from Publisher due out Feb 8th

Jon Glaser is an actor comedian writer and director ,he has appear in a number of films such as be kind rewind  and comedy shows ,as well as live tours he wrote an earlier book Adult swim’s .

The book follows Jon as he goes through his late fathers belongings and uncovers a lost world of his father as he was a member of an early version of the band ZZ top but left as he couldn’t grow a beard and disliked the direction the band was taking .Now this of course is 100% fake as it says on the cover but this book then goes into nearly every well-known America star of rock and roll from the 60’s onwards .I whole cornucopia of found items from the belly aching born to brunch original version of Bruce Springsteen born to run with a photo showing a ring from a drink thus giving Born to run the song we all know and love .I read this over the space of an evening and was in floods of laughter I know most of the people we have piece’s from within the book so loved Glaser’s with at subtle changes and well thought out version of people’s songs .The rewritten Prince titles for his performance at Steven Spielberg sons bar mitzavahed .

Thank you : steve ,kate

Mah- zel tahv to Rachel

I could never take the place of your Rabbi

Raspberry Yarmulka

when Doves Ketch

little red Draidle

I would die 4 your Gefilte fish

Theives in the synagogue

sexy potato Latke

Some of pince Bar Mitzvah set list .

This remind me of Mark and Lard from British radio in the early nineties with their band the Shirehorses where the took well-known songs and rewrote the lyrics .so if you want know where the name B***hole surfers comes from I choose this or what bands like Boston ,Creedance Clearwater revival  did before they were famous  Jon will give you a great version of what they did before they were famous .a glimpse behind the curtain at what might make certain bands tick and what may happen if the had sold songs to advertise things .I choose this from Harper perennial as a change I want to try some more lighthearted thing this year and this was a perfect choice I perfect gift for any rock or pop lover .

Winston’s score –

It has be the Shirehorse’s David Bowie spoof ,this book reminded me so much of this cd and the way it made me laugh in the 90’s when it came out .As I always say a book the bring back happy memories is a book worth reading and this one did !!!

THE PEARL BY JOHN STEINBECK

source – personal copy

John Steinbeck was probably on of Americas greatest writers in the middle period of the twentieth century ,his books caught the character of America in the depression .He won the Nobel prize for literature in 1962 .He is a name that makes many people jump after being made to read of mice and men at school ,but would ask people to give him another try this very short novella is a perfect book to get yourself reaquainted with him or discover him .

The book is set in a small Mexican fishing village and follows a poor Mexican fisherman Kino   .He finds a huge wonderous Pearl .

And the beauty of the pearl ,winking and glimmering in the little candle ,cozened his brain with its beauty .So lovely it was ,so soft ,and its own music came from it -its music of promise and delight guarantee of the future ,of comfort ,of security .

Kino looking at the pearl .

The pearl has his fortune in it but as it turns out his downfall as well ,at the same time .the book was a retelling of a Mexican folk tale ,Kino his wife Junna and son Coyotito are all effect by the finding of the pearl .The book has a moral theme running through it that is we should be happy who we are and that greed and wealth ,which is what the pearl represents isn’t all it is meant to be .The story remind me of a quote from a Basil Rasthbone Sherlock Holmes film the pearl of death about a famous pearl the bourgeis pearl he said for its beauty it is cover in the blood of many a man and should really be thrown back in the sea .That is what Kino should have done but instead he Kept the pearl got greedy want more and more money for it and eventually when his wife decided the pearl was too much of burden it led to a shocking  conclusion .The book is very short ninety pages long and can easily be read in an evening .The book shows Steinbeck powers of writing taking a simple folk tale and expanding it to a full novella .

Have you a favourite Steinbeck ?

THE END BY SALVATORE SCIBONA

SOURCE REVIEW COPY FROM JONATHAN CAPE .OUT NOV 4

Salvatore Scibona is an american writer ,he was named on the recent New Yorker twenty under forty list .He grew up in Cleveland Ohio and went to the creative writing course at university of Iowa ,he is from an Italian american family

The End is his debut novel it is set in his native Ohio in the early fifties ,well 15th august 1953 mainly .we focus on Elephant park an Italian community we open meeting Rocco the local baker who has just received word that his son has died in a Korean P.O.W CAMP  ,the day is Assumption day a carnival is due as the novel progress we see Rocco meet people and also we are sent back to Rocco’s youth in Scilly .We see poverty community and also a crime ,we meet a number of characters a seamstress ,a jeweller .as Rocco comes to terms with his loss whilst the is this carnival and other things happening in his life .

He was Five feet one inch tall in his street shoes ,bearlike in his round and Jowly face ,hulking in his chest and shoulders ,nearly just as stout around the middle but hollow in the hips and lacking a proper can to sit on (though he was hardly ever known to sit ) and wee at the ankles and girlish at his tiny feet ,a man in the shape of a lightbulb .

the opening and we meet Rocco .

This is a stunning debut novel ,assured with a unique voice ,he has been compared to the greats Joyce ,Faulkner and Bellow ,some are deserved, setting most of your events on a single day will always be compared with Joyce but in reality they are two completely different books this is about a community .Bellow is probably nearest to him of the comparisons in a lot of ways it is like bellows early books ,like seize thew day which follows a similar aged man over a day I wonder if part of this comes from stories Salvatore heard growing up around the dinner table .The characters in this book are beautifully drawn and realistic.Its nice to read a book about the Italian american community that avoids the obvious clichés of that community .He richly deserves to be on the new yorker list and also for this to be a national book award shortlisted book in 2008 .This is like a Edward hopper painting come to life or the kiss photo that is so famous it evokes the fifties and the struggles of that time for a working class community post WW2 struggling with another war .

The imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

I first heard about this six months ago on a Abc book show podcast and interview with Tom Rachman ,it really appealed to me as the short stories in the book are interlinked around the fact that all the people in the stories work for an international paper Based in Rome ,Rachman himself is an ex pat american that lives in Rome having worked for a number of years as a journalist in particular for the international herald tribune which must be a slight template for the novel .In the book we meet the staff of the newspaper eleven of them in all in between each story you get a little bit of history of the paper from its early days in the fifties to modern-day ,the staff range from the work shy obituary writer who lurks and tries to avoid work as much as possible .foreign correspondents ,my favourite is the old arabic correspondent based in Cairo Winston ,from his name you know this guy is very old school he only speaks in english and is unwilling to chase down  his stories .Rachman has an eye for detail in the modern world and through the constant mentions of Blackberries is an obvious crackberry guy . As the stories testify the world of newspapers is a shrinking world and for a small paper like this one a real struggle to get by sometimes in the increasing world of web-based news where the information is on hand straight away .

1954 Corso Vittorio Rome

The paper was established on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele a broad East West thoroughfare lined with dirty white travertine churches and blood orange Renaissance palazzi .many of the buildings in central Rome were coloured as if from a crayon box: dagger red ,trumpet yellow ,rain cloud blue .

At the start of the first notes the are between the chapters illustrating the papers history ,here its base in Rome .

 

 

The characters seem real enough and would imagine Rachman has taken bits of people he has met over his time as a journalist .A stunning debut is let down slightly by a dreadful cover on the uk version ,That I feel doesn’t represent the book at all .The book mirrors in style if not content Tsiolkas the slap which I reviewed a few days ago on the blog ,both use different narratives and characters centred round a central theme in this case the paper ,Rachman’s characters on the whole are more even than Tsiolkas but the subject matter maybe a lighter in this book than in the slap .The book is also promote on Rachmans beautiful site .The book is published in the uk by Quercus .

The reconstructionist by Nick Avrin

Nick Arvin has written two books before the Reconstructionist ,he grew up in Michigan ,studied engineering at university ,also worked in forensic engineering  like the main character in the book .Nick also graduated from Iowa writing workshop .To find out more about nick I d visit his website here .The book focuses on 4 main characters 3 living and one dead there is Ellis Barstow an engineering grad that has drifted back to his home town and fallen into his job with John Boggs where they recreate accidents or more precisely events  ,then there is Bogg.s wife Heather that Ellis is also having an affair with ,and then in the background there is Ellis dead brother Christopher who Ellis doesn’t believe died in a straight forward accident ,and wants to find the truth but his boss and friend Boggs did the report on his accident .

Two boxy American sedans  a Chevy and a Plymouth have a startling appearance : the lie in unnatural postures ,pointed in oblique directions ,damaged in dark inversions ,their black guts exposed ,their glossy surfaces crushed and twisted and torn .

as a nine Ellis year old  caught his first accident .

 

As the book unfolds it becomes like a car crash ,as they investigate each crash the story unfurls a little more ,Nick Arvin has  written the guy’s job really well not too technical as too bore the reader but enough to keep you fascinated in this interesting job ,along the way Ellis get more clues and insights in the crash that took his half-brother Christopher whilst growing closer to Heather all the time .He and Boggs are great friends but there is always an unspoken tension in that friendship .The novel has been sold to Fox tv as a drama series ,which I can see it being great for the accidents all have their own little story attached to them and then there is the main storyline I for one will eagerly be awaiting this as a series it has the potential to be great .

WINSTONS SCORE –

I ve always loved watching chimps like them this book is visual and social as you see the realtionships of the charcaters inter play with one another .

the book is published by Hutchinson

The queen of palmyra by minrose gwin

 

 

The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin

Minrose Gwin is the professor of english at North Caroline ,she has publish numerous non fiction books mainly about the women’s role in the south of america and southern writing also editing the literature of the american south .she has also done a lot on the civil rights movement in the sixties .This is her debut novel and is out on harper perennial this week .she grew up in a small town in Mississippi in the sixties .so tackle some of the ground that is in the novel

The book –

the book follows florence Forrester and one summer in 1963 ,Flo ‘s home life is rocky a disappointed mother Martha  who is the towns cake lady making wonderful smelling cakes the wonderful lemon cake is her specialty .there is Flo’s bigoted father a burial insurance salesman and a racist that has rub off a little way on his daughter  , Flo escapes at her grandparent and with their servant Zenie thus named after the queen of Palmyra ,Flo spends time with zenies family then one day a catalyst arrives in the form of Eva Green a relative of Zenie ,Eva studies and is educated and works for naacp ,this causes stirrings in the town and Eva is attacked in a graveyard ,the police are unwilling to help .Flo and Eva grow close and Flo escapes the trauma of every day life with the stories of Zenie and love she gets from her .all this against major even ts in mississipi itself .

My view –

Minrose has written a truly wonderful book you can sense that Minrose  herself must have walked in Flo’s shoes at some point and have had friends from both sides of the town she grew up in  ,she is amazing with details describing Martha cooking the cakes the wonderful lemon cakes they just float of the page and left me wanting to taste this masterpiece of a cake .The violence is handle just  right not over the top but enough to make you realise how hard it was from african americans in the south in the sixties ,I think everyone should have a copy of this on their bookshelves to sit next to kill a mockingbird and why the caged bird sings ,it is that good unbelievable for a debut novel to be so complete and well written .

Links –

harpers  page

Minrose Gwin talking

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