Saturday, July 10, 2004

July books

Here are some books I'm talking about now.

The Hamilton Case by Michelle de Kretser a new hardbound novel from Little Brown. This deeply ironic tale of Sri Lankha when it was Ceylon, told from the viewpoint of an amusing if unreliable Sinhalese lawyer known as Sam. Under the British Raj, a native can be anything he wants to be except English, which is of course all Sam really wants. He pretty much ruins his life and those of the people he tries to love to slake this unslakable thirst. I've read no better fiction about the Raj since the much longer Raj Quartet by Paul Scott--you may remember the BBC series on public TV. de Kretser has created a nearly perfect piece of ironic fiction, serving up many small comedies in the service of a deeply sad tale.

Tim Tyson's thrilling Blood Done Sign My Name is not called a memoir; simply "A True Story". It begins "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger." The setting is a tiny North Carolina town in 1970. The speaker is a friend of the ten year old Tim Tyson and at the time, Tim hardly knew what to make of such a dramatic statement. It did send a shiver up his spine and Blood Done Sign My Name is one of the many destinations of that shiver. Tyson(white, if you must know) is a professor of African-American studies at the University of Wisconsin was changed forever by his families boyhood connections to that murder, and believe me Tyson knows how to tell a story. His father was an "Eleanor Roosevelt Liberal" Methodist minister, who did some brave things, and Tim with a child's observant eye caught every detail of a racial crisis which shook Oxford, North Carolina to its heart in the early seventies. Tyson revisited Oxford as student and scholar over the next decades and these revisitations have made a deeply thoughtful man of him as well as a respected scholar in his field. The book is vivid enough to leave you thinking about it long after you've finished it. It's a Doubleday hardback and is 25% off at Prairie Lights.

In November Marilynne Robinson's second and long, long awaited novel will be published by Farrar Strauss and Giroux. Houskeeping was recently chosen by some prestigeous group or other as one of the 100 greatest novels of the 20th Century. Her new novel will be Gilead and it is a doozy. Three generations of Iowa ministers as they seek answers to religion's deepest questions as they inhabit the heartland from the days of John Brown to the 1950s. I'll say more about it when it comes out(November), but anyone open to a spiritual view of life will likely be moved beyond measure by the exquisite prose and deep understanding of one of our greatest writers.

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