Here, for your pleasure, is a collection of EXTREMELY SHORT Catch-up BOOK REVIEWS taking you to the gritty streets of Calcutta, Limerick, Tehran, and elsewhere.
Interpeter of Maladies-- Jhumpa Lahiri's debut story collection (Pulitzer-winning!) is full of sorrowful breakups, cultural confusion, and quiet desperation. These stories take place in India and in the US and are less tightly focused on family and immigration than her other work, although these are still the dominant themes. Her prose here is tight and crisp, without a word out of place, and her stories slowly suck you in with their quiet everydayness and then snap your heart in two with perfect misery. Unforgettable.
Angela's Ashes--I can't believe I didn't read this narrative of Frank McCourt's impoverished upbringing in Limerick the first time around. I wrote about it briefly before, but it's really a wonder. An entire memoir narrated in the unwavering perspective of a child, innocent and full of wonder, poetic and uproarious without being treacly. McCourt never veers too far into sentimentality even through soaring and depressing moments. The benevolence of the narrator towards a world that treated him terribly is perhaps the most astonishing thing. And if you want to get at the pathology and beauty in the Irish relationship to history and the church, this is the book for you.
Marjane Satrapi's beloved "graphic memoir." A long delayed book on my list. It's very similar tonally to McCourt's in the way it mixes riotous, irreverent, laugh-out-loud humor with absolute tragedy. She gives us an incredibly intimate look at the large and small costs of living under political repression. Although Satrapi's anger sometimes intrudes into a narrative that could speak for itself, this humanizes her. Her sparing words and stark illustrations grab your attention and emotional investment right away. She also succeeds in her goal of opening a window into a society that is hard to see otherwise because of political and media distortion.