A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi – Book Review

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi, translated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari
Published by Other Press

Kabul, 1979. It is the early days of the Soviet invasion, but for Farhad life does not yet seem particularly different. This happy naivete does not last long, however. Something happens while Farhad is out carousing with a friend preparing to flee to Pakistan, and the young man is severely beaten. When Farhad finally awakes, grievously  injured, he finds himself in the house of a young widow Рa woman whose life has already been greatly impacted by the presence of the Soviet soldiers.

Typically when I read, I like big meaty paragraphs, with lots of words to latch onto. Spare pages make me a bit nervous; “can this author really impart enough in these few words?” I wonder. Oftentimes, the answer is no. However, with “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear,” the answer is yes. Some rudimentary knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan in the late 1970s is necessary to understand what is going on, but even knowing something so simple as the fact the Soviets invaded is, really, sufficient. With that firmly in mind, the atmosphere of a country at war is incredibly evident as Farhad drifts in and out of consciousness, as well as the reality he finds in the young widow’s house when he wakes up.

The prose is simply gorgeous, and incredibly evocative. This is all the more stunning as “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear” is a translation. Maguire and Yari are very skilled indeed, to take Rahimi’s stark, poetic prose and render it lovely in English, without losing the sense of place and import.

This may not be a book for every reader, but for those who revel in writing and the power of language to evoke emotion, as well as those interested in feeling what it might be like to live in an occupied country, I highly recommend “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear.”

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Amazon.*

Source: Publisher, for BOOK CLUB.
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http://www.powells.com/biblio/9781590513613?&PID=34002

Voltaire’s Calligrapher by Pablo De Santis – Book Review

Voltaire’s Calligrapher by Pablo De Santis
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins

After his parents die, Dalessius is raised by his distant and somewhat unfeeling uncle, a man whose business it is to transport corpses across France to reunite dead soldiers with their families and people who can pay with their birthplaces. He has quite a good racket going, having collaborated with the Church to make people believe that being buried near zone’s place of birth increases one’s chance of heaven. His uncle’s influence helps Dalessius secure a place as a calligrapher to Voltaire, the famous Enlightenment thinker now living in exile on the Swiss border. Dalessius is not in Voltaire’s employ very long, however, before he is sent from the house on an important secret mission involving a court case against a Protestant man accused of killing his son who has converted to Catholicism. The son is being widely regarded in France as a martyr, and it seems that Voltaire worries about this case unduly increasing the power of the Church. While on his mission, Dalessius meets a number of odd characters, including a beautiful young girl he hopes to save from her father’s imprisonment.

Although quite short, “Voltaire’s Calligrapher” is a complicated little book. There is quite a lot packed into these pages: love, murder, religious corruption and conspiracy, and automaton. It was this last category of things that I really did not expect, I must say. Although not quite the main thrust of the book, “Voltaire’s Calligrapher” definitely must be considered to be.steampunk, as the automaton had a surprisingly large and integral role in the story.

In “Voltaire’s Calligrapher” Pablo de Santis has created an historical fiction steampunk thriller. The translation seems to be quite good, but that doesn’t mean it is an easy read. De Santis plots his story in a way that necessitates paying close attention to every word. I confess, by the time I realized just how closely I needed to attend what he was telling me to fully understand what was happening I was well into the book, so I’m sure I missed some things. Even so, I never felt frustrated, or really anything less than captivated.

I would definitely recommend “Voltaire’s Calligrapher” to those willing to work for a fascinating piece of speculative historical fiction set in Enlightenment France. I think those who like to reread would find it to be especially interesting, as I suspect it is one of those books that requires multiple readings to be fully understood.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

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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Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky – Book Review

Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky, translated by Tim Mohr

Sascha’s life is…complicated.

She is a teenage Russian girl living in the slum Broken Glass Park in Germany with her little sister and brother and her ex-stepfather’s cousin. Saschas’s mother is no longer around because Sascha’s ex-stepfather brutally murdered her and her boyfriend.

Despite the fact that her family is now shunned by neighbors superstitious that Sascha’s family tragedy might rub off on them, Sascha has big plans for her life. She believes these plans make her unique in Broken Glass Park, where most people’s dreams are either shallow or non-existent.

The opening lines of “Broken Glass Park” both summed up Sascha’s character perfectly and sucked me immediately into the book:

Sometimes I think I’m the only one in our neighborhood with any worthwhile dreams. I have two, and there’s no reason to be ashamed of either one. I want to kill Vadim. And I want to write a book about my mother. I already have a title: The Story of an Idiotic Redheaded Woman Who Would Still Be Alive If Only She Had Listened to Her Smart Oldest Daughter.

I loved “Broken Glass Park.” Translations can be awkward at times, if the translator isn’t well versed in idioms and nuances of both languages. Happily, that was not the case here. “Broken Glass Park” was both beautifully written and beautifully translated. Sascha was a compelling character, her murderous dreams not withstanding. Although she and I have very different backgrounds (and I have no plans to murder anyone), Bronsky and Mohr made Sascha absolutely real to me, and I empathized with her completely.

Sascha’s world was a difficult one, which meant that this was not always an easy book to read in terms of subject matter, but I also wasn’t able to put it down. This is my first book from Europa Editions and if they are all nearly this good, I can’t wait to read more. Highly recommended.

Note: There is some sex, drug use, and domestic violence.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from Regal Literary.
* 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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