Monday, May 14, 2007

GARCIA'S HEART by Liam Durcan (2007)

Durcan's first novel is now on my list of top ten contemporary novels. I had only intended to dip into it this weekend and instead dove headfirst, reluctant to come up for air.

Dr. Hernan Garcia is on trial for crimes against humanity committed in the 1980s in Honduras. Patrick Lazerenko, a neurologist with previously close ties to Garcia's family, finds himself taking a leave of absence and travelling to the Hague where he tries to reconcile his understanding of this man who had been so kind and generous to him in the past.

The book appealed to me on many levels--as an exploration of a complicated man; as a travelogue of the Hague (where I roamed last March); as a bildungsroman; as a lesson in medical terminology...I am particularly interested now in neurological terms because a dear friend has been recently diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer; as a riff on man's inhumanity to man.....and the kindness of strangers.

Really, it's such a brilliant book. And beautifully written. All discerning readers should pick up a copy of Liam Durcan's GARCIA'S HEART.

THE FALLS by Ian Rankin (2001)

As part of my newfound obsession in reading everything Rankin before October 17th (including the newly serialized story OPEN DOORS in this past weekend's Sunday New York Times Book Review), I devoured THE FALLS. What I've come to expect with Rankin in his storytelling are broad allusions to poetry and witty use of music and lyrics to amplify mood and character development.

The daughter of a banker disappears and a bizarre little coffin is found at the fall near her family estate. Both Rebus and his partner DC Clarke are put on the case and they discover a creepy online correspondence between "Flip" and someone who refers to himself only as "Quizmaster." Siobhan contacts him and is led on an eerie journey that finds her combing the Edinburgh streets for the next cryptic clue, hoping to reveal the truth about what has happened to Flip.

A dottering retired pathologist, a dissheveled ex-boyfriend, a loopy potter, a godfather with a questionably close relationship to the victim and a medical student with a likely grudge round out the cast of potential suspects in this typically gripping narrative.

I WAS A CHILD OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS by Bernice Eisenstein (2006)

This graphic memoir distills, through text and illustration, Eisenstein's memories of her 1950s childhood in Toronto with her Yiddish-speaking parents, whose often unspoken experiences of war were nevertheless always present. Remarkably, her parents met in Auschwitz , near the end of the war and were married shortly after Liberation.

With poignancy and searing honesty, Eisenstein explores with ineffable sadness the bittersweet humour her childhood growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust.I was especially moved by her mother's account of what happened to her at Auschwitz as transcribed by Eisenstein from the videotape interview made for Steven Spielberg's Shoah project.

This haunting, visually ravishing graphic memoir speaks universally about memory, loss and recovery of the past through storytelling.

Bernice Eisenstein will talk about her book and show accompanying images on Tuesday May 15th at 7:30 p.m. at Royal St. George's College in Toronto.

OUTCAST by Jose Latour (2007)

In this hard-boiled, crime novel Havana is beautiful, rundown and home to Elliot Steil, an English teacher barely eking out a living in Cuba. As much as he loves his country, it frustrates and disappoints him. So, when a man claiming to be a friend of his estranged American father offers Elliot a way off the island, he reluctantly agrees.

Steill makes it to Miami, but not as he had planned. You would think the difficulties were well behind him by the time he washes ashore, but not so. He combs Miami's mean streets for the man who deceived him and the reason why he was so horribly betrayed. He finds that the new world is a dysfunctional free-market flipside of communist Cuba-- both brimming with greed, corruption and explosive violence, but also with the kindness of strangers so unexpected that it's wrenching.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

RESURRECTION MEN by Ian Rankin (2001)

Since Ian Rankin has agreed to appear in a PEN Canada event I am co-chairing in October 2007, I am reading as many of his novels as I can. His Inspector Rebus appeals to me immensely with his penchant for writing poetry, drinking single malt and listening to The Stones.

In RESURRECTION MAN, Rebus is sent to be "re-trained" at the police college for having tossed a cup of coffee in the direction of his boss Gil Temple. There, he works on a cold case with other miscreants throughout the force. It soon becomes clear that Rebus is there undercover to try to expose some dirty cops.

In the subplot, Rebus's partner, Siobhan gets close to a prostitute who is slashed by her ex-boyfriend and dies in her arms. She thinks that mobster Gerry Cafferty is behind it all, but this time, he's not.

Typically engaging and provocative, RESURRECTION MEN is worth a weekend.