- December 6, 2011
Snapshots showcases short reviews of recently published fiction and non-fiction.
Welcome to SNAPSHOTS, an album showcasing short reviews of recently published fiction and non-fiction. This inaugural column highlights three books: two debut novels that strongly draw on the autobiographical, and a timely look at the importance of T.E. Lawrence for the 21st century. SNAPSHOTS will be a recurring feature highlighting recently released books.
by Ismet Prcic
Black Cat Press
Using a powerful conceit, Prcic pieces together fragments of broken lives through broken texts, diaries, dreams, and notebooks, to reveal the causes and effects of post-traumatic stress on the eponymous author, his alter-ego, Mustafa Nalic, and his ill-fated parents and brother, all of whom lived in Tuzla, Bosnia in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Ismet, through his attraction to art (in this case experimental theater), escaped to America, LA, where the second half of this story commences in the mid-1990s. Izzy’s adjustment to the US ends with his squatting in a house he’s already been kicked out of while his erstwhile roommates are away for a weekend. He breaks their telephone. It’s bad, and Prcic’s rendering is so gripping and shaking, that there will be no casual readers of this book. It even comes with a reading group guide in the back!
Guerrilla Leader: T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt
by James J. Schneider
If you don’t believe that the swashbuckling and scholarly life of T.E. Lawrence has any bearing on American history, in the first chapter, on the first page, Schneider introduces Vo Nguyen Giap, the Viet Cong general who defeated both the French and the Americans, who swears that Lawrence’s masterwork, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, is his “fighting gospel … I am never without it.” Schneider investigates all the roles Lawrence played, Arabic scholar, diplomat, politician, warrior, and statesman, and the mark that he has left. Schneider suggests that Lawrence’s were the first and best military formulations to gain the independence of the Arabs from the Turks after World War One. Those formulations are the pattern upon which the underdog has based their tactics in their fights against greater powers ever since. Sounds like useful information at the start of the 21st century? Put this book on the shelf next to your copy of The Seven Pillars.
A Meaning For Wife
by Mark Yakich
The unnamed narrator brings his wife a treat, and it kills her (ground cashews caused anaphylactic shock). At almost 40 years old, the husband is left with an infant, grief, and a huge need to search for some meaning for his wife, which for him is the meaning of life in its most personal and intimate terms. The novel opens and closes on an airplane, the beginning and end of a trip to the heartland, Chicago. The narrator, whose last name “rhymes with jock itch” — as does that of the author — travels with his almost two-year-old son, Owen about a year after his wife’s death. He journeys not to the middle of a dark wood, but to its contemporary equivalent, his twentieth high-school reunion and continues with a visit to his schizophrenic father, eccentric mother, relatively normal sister and 300-pound brother-in-law. The novel and narrator are brutally honest, painfully sad, and very funny. All is told in the second-person, here not an affectation but a necessity. That impersonal distance, along with terrific humor, numbs the narrator’s regrets and pain. Otherwise, this worthwhile tale of “significance rubbing up against triviality” would be too painful to relate, too heart-breaking to read.