• April 27, 2012

We showcase a stunning debut short story collection, Monstress, and a period novel, Gillespie and I, that cleverly explores manipulative love. The Forest Laird is a fictional biography of William Wallace. And for a biography of the greatest photo-documentarian of our generation, read A Different Light, The Photography of SebastiĆ£o Salgado.

We showcase a stunning debut short story collection, Monstress, and a period novel, Gillespie and I, that cleverly explores manipulative love. The Forest Laird is a fictional biography of William Wallace. And for a biography of the greatest photo-documentarian of our generation, read A Different Light, The Photography of Sebastião Salgado.

by Lysley Tenorio
240 pp.

For someone who grew up in San Francisco hearing Tagalog spoken by a playmate’s father and his friends, Monstress, a debut collection of short stories by Lysley Tenorio, is a gift: a chance to understand what those Filipino émigrés might have been saying about their lives, loves, disappointments and sense of being the other. The cover art of a tropical bird, upside down, talons with a precarious grip on a branch, gives a clue of what to expect. Inside, we’re in a world populated by outsiders and eccentrics. Tenorio’s writing ― assured, economical, often lyrical ― zings from the outrageous to the hilarious to the tenderly wise. The eight stories take the reader from the Philippines to America and back. Throughout, the characters experience longing and ambivalence for the place left behind and for their lost illusions. In “The Brothers” we meet a transgendered son; in “The View from Culion,” a lonely young woman in an island leper colony; in “Felix Starro,” a legendary Filipino “healer” who performs ritualized cures involving fake blood and chicken livers; and in “Superassassin,” a comic book-addicted outcast. “Help” is a slapstick look at what happens when the Beatles play Manila and Uncle Willy plots to take revenge for a slight against the woman he loves, none other than Imelda Marco. “Save the I-Hotel,” a haunting tale of forbidden love, tells of a lifelong friendship between Vincente and Fortunado, now in their 60s, who are evicted from San Francisco’s International Hotel. In “L’Amour, CA” love is not what the child narrator or his adored older sister finds in Lemoore, Calif., when their family moves from a rural village in the Philippines. Fog shrouds the barren streets of this godforsaken town, and the terrible end is a bleak finish to this original and satisfying work. Don’t expect happy endings, but do expect to be moved, dazzled and surprised.
~ Ellen B. Kwatnoski

Gillespie and I: A Novel
by Jane Harris
Harper Perennial
502 pp.

From her London home in 1933, elderly Harriet Baxter begins the first book ever written about Ned Gillespie, “artist, innovator and forgotten genius; my dear friend and soul mate.” She hopes that committing pen to paper will lay to rest certain confusing and tragic events of the past. Harriet will set the record straight, for she was connected to the painter, she tells us, “through the most intimate of friendships.” Harriet’s narrative begins in 1888 when, after the death of her aunt, she moves to Glasgow to take in the first International Exhibition. In a chance encounter on the street, she saves Ned’s mother from choking. She then learns that the Gillespies live a few doors down, and coincidentally she remembers that she and Ned already met some months before in London. Harriet insinuates herself into the family by commissioning Ned’s wife, Annie, to paint her portrait. She observes the lively and chaotic Gillespie household with the disapproving eye of a spinster outsider who longs to believe her relationship to Ned is close. But soon the disturbing behavior of daughter Sybil and an episode with Gillespie’s brother Kenneth make the family indebted to Harriet, and she becomes a central figure in the home when tragedy strikes. Jane Harris’ clever storytelling is rich with period detail, and she keeps her reader thoroughly engaged through all 500 pages.
~Amanda Holmes Duffy

The Forest Laird
by Jack Whyte
477 pp.

After Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart,” we all know of Scottish patriot William Wallace, but do we really know the flesh-and-blood man behind the legend? Jack Whyte’s well-written historical novel explores the man and his world as seen through our narrator, Wallace’s ecclesiastic yet worldly ― and, fortunately, eloquent ― cousin. Whyte shows 13th-century Scotland as an uneasy society in which class, ethnicity, religion, circumstance and the new developments of nationalism and a rising bourgeoisie conspired to replace medieval normalcy with, as the proverb goes, a misfortune of “interesting” times. The book brings to life how personal torments and outrages transformed a somewhat simple, brawny bowman into an outraged, though reluctant, revolutionary. Wallace tries to escape the binds of the corrupt forces around him by absconding with his wife and child to an idyllic, somewhat Robin Hood-esque utopian society in the Scottish woods but is drawn back onto a historical playing field of largely malevolent, and certainly far stronger, forces by honor and outrage. The Forest Laird ends before the climactic battle begins, and a bit abruptly. Still, the prelude to the fight is a journey worth taking.
~David Tobenkin

A Different Light, The Photography of Sebastião Salgado
by Parvati Nair
Duke University Press
376 pp.

Sebastião Salgado, universally recognized as a world-class photographer, is one of the most significant and respected photo-documentarians of this generation. As an educated economist, Salgado has applied his understanding of the destructive and creative power of positive (“what is”) and normative (“what should be”) economics through the lens of modern photojournalism.  Author Nair (a professor at the University of London) has applied her analytical, interdisciplinary rigueur to defining Salgado’s photographic life’s work. Within each chapter, Nair dissects Salgado’s visual records of the peoples and environments of the “Third World,” variously described as underdeveloped, disconnected, uneducated, diseased, impoverished, backward, environmentally degraded and politically repressed. However, Nair emphasizes Salgado’s capabilities as humanitarian and master photographer, as he perceives the beauty and dignity of the people and places that he meticulously studies and captures in his photographs.  Nair articulates Salgado’s significance as an editorial visual commentator, contrasting his aesthetic approach to that of photography-as-art. This book announces Salgado’s importance as a global visual and humanitarian commentator. Read the book and look at the photos. Salgado transcends the definition of “photographer” as a mere observer.
~Michael Kingsley

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