All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani – Book Review

All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Press

Maddalena came to the United States with her husband Antonio 50 years ago, and by now she has given up any idea of ever returning to Italy. After all this time, most of the people she knew and loved are either dead or sick; Maddalena would prefer simply to remember them as they were. Unfortunately for the Grasso family peace, Antonio and Maddalena’s strong-willed daughter Prima has decided that it is in everyone’s best interest for the whole family – her parents, her husband and sons, and her younger brother Frankie – to return to her parents’ ancestral home. Antonio wants this trip just as badly as Prima does, but Maddalena and Frankie are dead-set against it.

It took me awhile before I connected to the story in All This Talk of Love. The novel opens on Frankie, and I found the story of him and his married lover to be the least compelling part of the novel. I continued reading, however, and before long I found myself completely caught up in the Grasso family. There is so much more to their story than meets the eye: illnesses, the loss of a child, even issues of sexuality. The farther you get into All This Talk of Love, the more realistic and fully formed the characters become. Some of the family members – particularly Antonio – hold views that bothered me. I’ll admit that this put me off a bit when I first encountered them, but they are very true to who he is, the age in which he was raised, and his background, all of which just makes him feel like an even more realistic character.

Ultimately All This Talk of Love is a realistic and moving book. Recommended.

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Source: Publisher.
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All Woman and Springtime by Brandon W. Jones – Book Review

All Woman and Springtime by Brandon W. Jones
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Press

Il-sun and Gi are North Korean orphans, factory workers, and best friends despite their differences. Gi is somewhat introverted, loyal, a math wizard. She is the kind of girl who always produces more than her quota in the factor, doing her duty for the Dear Leader, but always willing to share her extras with Il-sun, a girl who rarely meets quota and has the gall to spit on Dear Leader’s portrait when alone in the dark. Unlike Gi, though, Il-sun is beautiful, and her beauty covers a multitude of sins. The fact that she is also naive and an orphan, though, makes Il-sun’s beauty dangerous, and the two girls end up smuggled into South Korea and sold into sexual slavery, where they are particularly vulnerable thanks to their North Korean brainwashing.

Mr. Choy took on a hard, stern look, the hint of a dangerous rage rippling across his eyes. It was a look that said his friendly, accommodating exterior was a thin crust over a far more volatile core. He smiled wryly and said, “If you refuse to work for me, I will have no choice but to hand you over to the American army, who will rape, torture, and kill you. Of course the choice is yours.” –p. 161

All Woman and Springtime is beautifully written, both in prose and plotting. The story is almost immediately engrossing. Particularly effective is Jones’s method of occasionally switching to the point of view of more minor characters, whichever is currently most important to the story. This does not work in all narratives, but in All Woman and Springtime it adds layers of depth to the story, by highlighting the variety of North Korean mindsets and situations. In fact, Jones does a wonderful job in general giving his readers a background to the North Korean cultural setting without becoming overly didactic. He walks a line well, giving enough information to those who have little or no knowledge of recent North Korean history beyond the death of Kim Jong Il but not succumbing to an info dump that will bore readers who have done further reading on North Korea.

In addition to the rich setting, Jones has  created realistic and well-rounded characters who will stay in the reader’s mind for some time to come. Not only does All Woman and Springtime give readers a peek into the lives and vulnerabilities of some North Korean woman, but Jones’s story and characters are so compelling that the story becomes universal. Very highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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