THE IDIOT- Elif Batuman
Comparable to LESS, in that I often laughed aloud. The novel was quite an intellectual romp, making fun of theory linguistics, the intellectually elite in an insightful and occasionally sympathetic way. The naive protagonist made a great guide through a freshman year at Harvard; a summer in Paris, and as an “English teacher” in a small Hungarian town. Batuman was able to sketch in character depth with a light touch. We shared her confusion, heartbreak, insights, bewilderment and adaptability. I was thinking that, to avoid the Dostoevsky confusion (which may have entirely been the point of the title), the novel could have been called “The Freshman.” Which brought up the wonderful movie starring Matthew Broderick and Marlon Brando. That movie was so good and seemingly seen by so few.
THE REFUGEES - Viet Thanh Nguyen
Not nearly as powerful as THE SYMPATHIZER, this collection of stories was uneven, but well imagined. Lots of diversity, among them, and interesting POVs. Yet, writing about the stories, a couple months later, I can’t recall any one story distinctly and almost feel I should read the book again. I do know the writing was very fine. Right now it doesn’t seem memorable, but neither does my memory.
THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN- Anne Fademan
A really intriguing non-fiction book examining the clash between Western Medicine and the Hmong people. The story centered on a little girl with extreme epilepsy. The writer was brilliantly fair and I think the story was a great many years in the writing. The sympathetic insights into the western doctors, several—to their great credit—deeply, and long, affected by the decisions they made concerning the care of a little girl the reader meets at age four. Her Hmong family and then their larger community were remarkable. What a culture!
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING-Delia Owens
Not good literature and in deep need of an editor (Galway Kinell is quoted in a time period he could not have yet been published, the dialect was uneven and sometime the same character dropped it altogether) still the nature writing was just wonderful and the story captured me. I loved, loved the place where the ‘Marsh Girl’ lived. Think this is the year’s most popular ‘beach’ novel. It is also the first novel of an 80 year woman who has been writing nature books for years.
LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE- Celeste Ng
Stayed up past midnight to finish this interesting story. Maybe a little stereotyping here & there, but the characters grabbed me, as did the story line. A couple plots within plots, wonderful descriptions of the creative process, the conundrum of nature/nurture (who should have the Chinese baby girl?) and the heart being a Lonely Hunter. So much better than Ng’s EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU.