It’s been a while since I did a round up of the books I have reviewed recently for Foreword Reviews. The novels that are included in the round up this time couldn’t be more different, from meditations on the Jewish tradition of sitting shivah, to trolling Marcel Proust, to presenting a new take on a nineteenth-century murder.
The text within quotation marks are excerpts from the reviews. The reviews can be read in full on Foreword Reviews’ website and in the July/August 2022 issue of the Foreword Reviews magazine.
Lisa Solod, Shivah (Jaded Ibis Press, 2022)
“In Lisa Solod’s novel Shivah, family relationships are turned upside down after an abusive matriarch is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. During shivah—the seven-day period of Jewish mourning that follows the death of a close family member—each day is designated its own focus to help with the mourning process. Inspired by this custom, the novel is divided into seven chapters, one for each day. It is steeped in Jewish spirituality, numerology, and theology, and it turns the commandment of honoring your parents inside out. Returning to the same situations, but from different perspectives each time, Leah struggles with questions of how to honor a parent who never honored her children; how to mourn the cognitive loss of a parent who never showed her true self; and how to hold someone accountable when that person has no memory of their actions.”
Hermann Burger, Adrian Nathan West (transl.), Brenner (Archipelago, 2022)
“Hermann Burger’s Brenner is an autobiographical novel about childhood traumas and the pleasures of smoking a cigar. Hermann Arbogast Brenner is the heir to a Swiss tobacco empire who is approaching his own end. Wrapping up his affairs, Brenner drives in his newly purchased sports car to visit friends in the Swiss countryside. He wants to talk about life while also smoking his way through a case of cigars. In a mocking celebration of Marcel Proust and his madeleine cookie-triggered involuntary memory, Brenner chooses which cigar to smoke in the hope of conjuring a particular event. Complicated but rewarding (just like a fine cigar), the novel Brenner takes its time to get to where it is going.”
Steve Sem-Sandberg, Saskia Vogel (transl.), W. (The Overlook Press, 2022)
“W. is an immersive, intricate historical novel about the alienation experienced by those who struggle to find their places in life. Inspired by George Büchner’s play “Woyzeck,” about a man who murders his wife and is driven insane by medical experiments, the novel also offers a possible backstory to the play’s real-life protagonist, who was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Johanna, in 1824. It involves both research and speculation as it sets Woyzeck on his adventures across Germany, Sweden, Lithuania, and Russia, all in search of a place to fit in.”
In the words of my friend, the Australian I shall return.
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