In these times of living with a pandemic, everywhere that isn’t right next door seems far away.
Nonetheless, when I read these books I felt that they were set particularly far away, either geographically, historically, or in a magical realm.
The Night Circus by Morgenstern
A story set inside a magical, very magical, circus. Lovely descriptions, a love story, suspense, good triumphs evil. I enjoyed it, but I think it would have been even better if it had been a bit shorter.
The Convenience Store Woman by Murata
The story is set inside a Japanese Convenience store, which seems to be quite different from convenience stores I have encountered. I never imagined salespeople being instructed to shout their polite responses to customers!
While I understand that the book is presenting a critique of pressure to conform in Japanese society (at the workplace, the pressure to get married and “fit in”), to me the book is set inside the mind of a woman with “autism spectrum disorder”.
I kept wanting to say to people in the book: “Leave her alone! She has worked at this store for so many years because a predictable environment with clear-cut ways to behave in every situation feels comfortable and safe to her!”
Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon
I almost didn’t read this book as I’m not much a fan of “swashbuckling adventure” – you know, the horseriding bandits with the heart of gold who save the day? But it was a short audiobook, an intriguing setting with a great reader and I’m glad I did.
It is set in Khazaria (Southwest Russia today) and takes place around AD 950. It was a period where Judaism was more widely spread, including some of the warring factions in the region. Our two tough, dangerous, brave, and generous “bandits” are Jewish, a fact which was important to the author, as Chabon himself expands on in a very interesting endnote to the audiobook.
Aquarium by Ya’ara Shehori
Place markers of any kind are hardly mentioned in this book – the story could have taken place anywhere, everywhere, and nowhere. It was written in Hebrew and but readers of the English translation could place the story in their town just as easily.
It’s a story of girls brought up in isolation and what happens after they are no longer secluded from the world.
It’s a story of a Deaf family trying to escape the intervention of the “hearing world”, but ends up denying reality. Such denials come with a heavy price.
At first, I was concerned about some aspects of the behaviors of some of the Deaf characters and wondered how well the author had researched the subject of Deafness. But all anomalies were explained and made complete sense later on in the book. I was amused to see that the author studied Sign Language with a former student of mine!
It isn’t an easy read. There are whole passages trying to be poetic or philosophical and too drawn out in my taste. I found some parts tiresome and rather boring.
The Pier Falls – by Haddon
Each story is set somewhere else – the first one is set in Britain while the next one takes you straight into Greek Mythology.
While the writing is excellent and gripping, I did not finish the book. Besides my habitual difficulties in reading short story collections by the same author (the basic style is too similar), the stories all seemed to be about people in hopeless situations facing horrible outcomes. There’s only so much of that I can take, even if it is well written.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
A clever, engrossing book that takes familiar fairy tale tropes (particularly Rumplestilskin) and gives them a completely new twist.
A feminist twist.
With lots of other messages.
A book supposedly set in “fantasy land” but it sounds a great deal like places I know of from history lessons (or genealogy research!). To me, it seems to be set in Lithuania, or the vicinity of, with forests lurking with danger, poor hamlets with fraught relations between the peasants and the Jews, the noblemen in the city killing each other for power, and more…
Strong women who come together, ignoring class and religion, save the day.
That’s not a spoiler – there’s much to read here (it’s a bit too long, I admit)!