Articles

A Mother’s Name

When I was 5 month’s pregnant with my son, I went to a dinner party in Florence, where my husband, Luca Passaleva, is from. The conversation briefly left politics when someone suggested that I name my son Silvio, after Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister at the time.”No,” a friend said, “Silvio Passaleva sounds terrible.”
“Actually,” Luca responded, “his last name will be McPhee.”

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The Perversity of Everyday Life

Ines Arredondo’s collection of short fiction, Underground River and Other Stories (University of Nebraska, cloth, $30; paper, $12), is nothing short of spellbinding. Mostly set in a small town in northwestern Mexico at the beginning of this century, it provides a stunning expression of the erotic perversity found in seemingly ordinary lives in each story, hovering just below the placid surface of daily existence, lurks a tragicomic opera of battling desires…

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THE LONE MAN by Bernardo Atxaga

The writings of Marx, Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg provide a theoretical backdrop to his laborious thriller by the eminent Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga. Carlos, the lone man of the title, is part owner of a hotel on the outskirts of Barcelona, and a former Basque terrorist. The story unfolds during the 1982 World Cup, when the Polish soccer team is staying at the hotel…

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Not Your Average Beach

There is nothing unusual about the guests staying at the Almayer Inn, a seaside hotel “perched on the last narrow edge of the world” and the main setting for Alessandro Baricco’s euphoric new novel, Ocean Sea (Knopf $23), splendidly translated by Alastair McEwen. In Room 3 resides Professor Bartleboom, who is compiling an encyclopedia of limits, including an entry for where the sea ends…

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THE OFFICERS CAMP by Giampiero Carocci

The Italian historian Giampiero Carocci’s memoir of the two years he spent in the German military concentration camps is a small masterpiece. His story begins in 1943, after the fall of Mussolini, when Carocci and another officer were captured by the German Army.

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MONKEY’S UNCLE by Jenny Diski

If Freud, Marx and Darwin were set adrift together in a boat, what would they talk about? Food, according to Charlotte Fitzroy, the protagonist of Jenny Diski’s overwrought sixth novel. Charlotte, 49 years old and unlikeable, has gone mad…

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ESAU AND JACOB by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

Rushing to meet the steamship carrying their beloved Flora, the twins Pedro and Paola Santos are so eager to reach her that while boarding the ship they nearly fall into the sea. “Perhaps that would have been the best ending for this book,” muses a diplomat named Aires, who is both the exquisitely unreliable narrator and peripheral character in the penultimate novel by the renownded Brazilian author Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908)…

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How Not to Let Your Family Ruin the Holidays

Every year as December approaches, I find myself longing to return to the family hearth, where I might encounter chestnuts roasting on an open fire; a goose roasting in the oven; Rudolph, Donner, and Blitzen prancing on the rooftop; and piles of brightly wrapped presents waiting to satisfy every heart’s desire. Although those details (minus the reindeer) genuinely describe my childhood yuletide seasons, Christmastime at home was always a nightmare…

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A Feminist Redefined

The other day, I was having lunch in a croissant ship in midtown Manhattan and eaves dropping on the people sitting at the next table. A twenty-something college-educated woman was describing her wedding plans in detail to a friend. Between discussing how much the caterer would cost and what color the bridesmaids’ dresses would be, she said, with considerable embarrassment, “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this, that I’m talking about me doing this. But if I don’t get excited about it, who will?”…

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Otherworldly Stories

In “The Brew,” a powerful story from Karen Joy Fowler’s new collection, Black Glass (Marian Wood/Hold, $23), a women stands in a hotel lobby staring at an aquarium. “Sometimes,” she tells herself, “we can find a smaller world where we can live, inside the bigger world where we cannot…”

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BITTERSWEET JOURNEY by Enid Futterman

When Charlotte was a little girl, her father would often hide a Hershey bar in his pocket for her to find. Later, as Charlotte nears 40, she discovers that her taste for chocolate is the only thing that turns her on…

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Generation IX: How an Act of Congress Changed the Lives of Thousands of American Girls

The previous summer, Congress had passed Title IX, the law prohibiting gender discrimination in educational activities that receive federal money, but the effects of Title IX had not yet reached us. For our half sister, Joan, however, who was born that summer of 1973, childhood was something quite different…

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Happiness

Imagine in some future world that you go to your doctor because you’re feeling down, and she hooks you up to a brain-imaging device, watches a screen while she asks you a few questions and shows you images, and then send you on your way with a prescription for, say, tickets to the philharmonic or a large slice of Junior’s cheesecake…

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TELL ME EVERYTHING by Joyce Hinnefeld

Joyce Hinnefeld’s strong debut collection portrays in spare, haunting prose the lives of women of different ages and backgrounds, all of whom feel ttapped in various female roles…

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FUNERAL AT NOON by Yeshayahu Koren

In limpid, elegant prose, Yeshayahu Koren’s first novel unfolds in a small Israeli village in the 1950’s. Hagar, a young housewife whose husband often works late, restlessly fills her days by wandering in an abandoned Arab village that us used as a training ground by the Israeli Army.

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MATTANZA by Theresa Maggio

Depicted in 4,000 year old cave paintings, their image stamped on Phoenician coins, written about by Aristotle and prized by modern-day Japanese gourmets (who will pay more than $100 a pound for it), the giant bluefin tuna is a fish with a mystical aura…

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NARCISSUS ASCENDING by Karen McKinnon

I was in the waiting room of the Florence airport recently, eavesdropping on the cell-phone conversation of a young American woman. My flight was delayed, and although I had the International herald Tribune and an issue of the New Yorker with me, I listened, riveted, to the entire conversation about the petty slings and arrows of my fellow traveler’s not so outrageous fortune…Reading Karen McKinnon, Narcissus Ascending, I was immediately transported back to that sinfully pleasurable voyeuristic space…

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THE WONDER SPOT By Melissa Bank

If Holden Caulfield had been a middle-class Jewish girl, he might have sounded something like young Sophie Applebaim, the protagonist of Melissa Bank’s hilarious and clever first novel, The Wonder Spot. About a parental tic, Sophie observes: “My mother told the same stories over and over — maybe twenty-five minutes in all; if you added them all up, there were only about two hours of her life that she wanted me to know about.” The Catcher in the Rye comparison ends, however, with the first chapter. Thereafter Bank favors Sophie — and us — with what J.D. Salinger denied Holden: adulthood…

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A Chevelle Comes to Paradise

Wondeerful Women by the Sea (New Press, $25), a first novel by the Finnish short-story writer Monica fagerholm, is itself wonderful. Written in an impressionistic style and subtly translated from the original Swedish by Joan Tate, the story follows the summer escapades of two families during the early 1960’s…

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My Mother the Feminist

Until I was seven years old, my mother was a housewife in New Jersey. She had wanted to be a writer but was persuaded by her family and 1950s mores to marry one instead. (My father, John McPhee, was actually working for a shipping company when they married, but his ambitions were clear.) When my father left my mother in 1969, the early call of feminism was barely making itself heard in our suburban town. By my mother, alone and reflecting on her life, began listening to what “liberated” women were saying, and she repeated it to me and my sisters. “There si nothing you can’d do,” she would tell us. “Nothing you can’t be.”

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OUT OF THE DARK by Patrick Modiano

The unnamed narrator of the French Novelist patrick Modiano’s latest book is so successful at escaping his past that he barely remembers he has one. Only Jacqueline, a fellow drifter whom he met on the Left Bank i paris when they were both very young, remains vivid in his memory…

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A FLEETING SORROW By Francois Sagan

When it comes to concentrating the mind on the meaning of life, nothing works like a death sentence. Paul Cazavel, the 39-year-old protagonist of this brief novel by the author of, “Bonjour Tristesse,” is told that he has lung cancer and has six months to live…

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Where London Gets the Bird

When I first moved to London, one of the worries foremost in my mind was whether I could find a butcher who sold turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t worry long. Every American I asked had the same response: “Lidgates.”

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The Pursuit of Happiness

I have had my share of struggles with depression, but my greatest battle has been with happiness. Growing up one of four sisters, I was deemed the “happy” child. My father and mother called me their Sunshine Girl. I had such an easygoing disposition, the family used to wake me up after my sisters were asleep just to have a little fun after a stressful day. Cousins and friends told me in confidence that I was the “nicest” of the sisters…

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THE POLLEN ROOM by Zoe Jenny

When the mysterious title of the Swiss writer Zoe Jenny’s first novel is explained, it only creates more mystery. In her affectless voice, Jenny’s narrator, a young woman named Jo, tells of her mother’s reaction to her stepfather’s death: everything that had belonged to Alois, who was a painter, is carted off to the dump; in the aftermath, Lucy, Jo’s mother, goes into his studio and spreads the pollen from masses of flowers allover the floor.Then she locks herself in and won’t come out…

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