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February 05, 2005


Here are the top nominations for March's Discussion:

[Voting is below book descriptions. You can only vote once. Thank you!]

Choice #1: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
In The Namesake, Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations. Here again Lahiri displays her deft touch for the perfect detail -- the fleeting moment, the turn of phrase -- that opens whole worlds of emotion.

The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name.

Choice #2: Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Following years of lonely political exile in Western Europe, Ka, a middle-aged poet, returns to Istanbul to attend his mother's funeral. Only partly recognizing this place of his cultured, middle-class youth, he is even more disoriented by news of strange events in the wider country: a wave of suicides among girls forbidden to wear their head scarves at school. An apparent thaw of his writer's curiosity — a frozen sea these many years — leads him to Kars, a far-off town near the Russian border and the epicenter of the suicides.

No sooner has he arrived, however, than we discover that Ka's motivations are not purely journalistic; for in Kars, once a province of Ottoman and then Russian glory, now a cultural gray-zone of poverty and paralysis, there is also Ipek, a radiant friend of Ka's youth, lately divorced, whom he has never forgotten. As a snowstorm, the fiercest in memory, descends on the town and seals it off from the modern, westernized world that has always been Ka's frame of reference, he finds himself drawn in unexpected directions: not only headlong toward the unknowable Ipek and the desperate hope for love — or at least a wife — that she embodies, but also into the maelstrom of a military coup staged to restrain the local Islamist radicals, and even toward God, whose existence Ka has never before allowed himself to contemplate. In this surreal confluence of emotion and spectacle, Ka begins to tap his dormant creative powers, producing poem after poem in untimely, irresistible bursts of inspiration. But not until the snows have melted and the political violence has run its bloody course will Ka discover the fate of his bid to seize a last chance for happiness.

Choice #3: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.

But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England's magical past and regained some of the powers of England's magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French.

All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative — the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington's army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. For Mr Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all. Eventually Strange's heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.

Choice #4: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present.

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father's servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption, and it is also about the power of fathers over sons-their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

The first Afghan novel to be written in English, The Kite Runner tells a sweeping story of family, love, and friendship against a backdrop of history that has not been told in fiction before, bringing to mind the large canvases of the Russian writers of the nineteenth century. But just as it is old-fashioned in its narration, it is contemporary in its subject-the devastating history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years. As emotionally gripping as it is tender, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful debut.

Choice #5: Cloud Atlas: A Novel by David Mitchell
A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified "dinery server" on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilization — the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other's echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

In his captivating third novel, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre and time to offer a meditation on humanity's dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.

[All of the book links lead to Powells, which has more information, including links to reviews.]

Voting will close on Wednesday, February 9th. Thank you!

And the winner is...

Posted by Knit One Read Too at February 5, 2005 02:03 PM


Still reading the January book, but looking forward to the next one!

Posted by: Lu at February 5, 2005 04:51 PM

I vote to read them all at some point during the year. They all sound interesting.

Posted by: Deb at February 5, 2005 07:05 PM

Interviews about the books The Namesake and Cloud Atlas with the authors and Michael Silverblatt on Bookworm can be heard at KCRW.


Posted by: JBB at February 6, 2005 12:23 AM

I agree with Deb - this is a really good list of books, and I think we should definitely revisit (and build on) this set for April!

Posted by: Terby at February 6, 2005 11:13 AM

Since I read The Namesake for my in real life book club last month, I voted for a different book. That would make for a good discussion though. It is a wonderful book.

Posted by: Christy at February 6, 2005 12:41 PM

Wow, yeah, I agree, I think they all sound good. I work in a bookstore and have heard good things about all of them. Also, all but one are being read by local bookgroups here in the Bay area so they're popular group books. The one that isn't on the local list is the one I voted for, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, because it seems quirky and surreal (also because I already have an old advance reading copy of it), but be warned this is a HUGE book --over 700 pages. It might make for TWO months.

p.s. apparently they're talking about a whole new genre called "knit lit" --books with knitting themes I guess, playing off the new popularity of knitting. I got an advance copy of a book coming out in April called simply "Knitting" (I forget the author) so I read it to see if it might be something good to recommend for this group but unfortunately it was very superficial and the characters very flat. It's not enough to make a book interesting that one throws some knitting terminology in it. Hopefully others will break through that.

Posted by: barb at February 6, 2005 01:01 PM

This was a tough choice! Lot of good books to choose from, so regardless of which is chosen I think I'll try to read them all at some point.

Posted by: Lisa B at February 7, 2005 02:14 PM