Four Novels

So I boldly said on this site that I don’t read a lot of novels, and then I plowed through four in a row recently. Be careful the claims you make, I guess.

But all my many reasons aside for not reading a lot of novels, I’m still enchanted by a good story and accomplished writing. The following books were worth every page.

City of Thieves by David Benioff. Awhile back I watched Benioff on a random little show called The Writer’s Room, and from that I learned he’d written a couple of novels before he got into the writing-for-television business. I looked him up, read some reviews, and decided to give City of Thieves a try. It’s about two young men in World War II Russia who are thrown together and forced to go on a strange little quest that doesn’t turn out to be so little. I’m not usually drawn to plot-based fiction—and there I go with another claim—but this one was so well-crafted that I couldn’t put it down. Then I gave it to my boyfriend and he couldn’t put it down either. Apparently Benioff had to do a lot of research for this, and I’m thankful that he did, because now I realize there’s a whole section of history I never knew about, and it makes me sad all over again for what I was taught—or not taught—in school. Sigh.

Lemongrass Hope by Amy Impellizzeri. You won’t find this on the shelves…yet…but I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader’s copy from my friend and fellow writer Amy. Lemongrass Hope is both an exploration of contemporary love and a tale of time travel, which poses these questions: If we had the chance to go back and make different choices, would we? And what if life is simply about what you do with the choices you make—good, bad, or indifferent? I was honored to read her touching and thought-provoking work. But here’s a really interesting thing about Amy. She was a total stranger until a few months ago, when she sent me an email out of the blue and told me she was reading my first novel. We started exchanging emails, and from this I learned that she was finishing her first novel (the very same Lemongrass Hope). She inspired me to keep writing—renewing this blog is, in fact, a direct result of her—and is now at the beginning of her own journey as a published author of whom you should take note. Lemongrass Hope will be released in October of this year.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. One afternoon I was walking through a book store on my way out when I passed by a shelf with a sign saying something like “Staff Recommends.” Constellation was front and center. I was leaving on vacation in a few days and already had a lot of reading material to take with me, but thought, “What the hell.” Not only is the book divinely wrought, it is also, like City of Thieves, about war-time Russia and unlikely partnerships, set during the Chechen wars in the 1990s and early 2000s. When I got to the end, I read the author’s notes and found out that Marra had read City of Thieves prior to writing Constellation. Marra considered Benioff’s novel a kind of green light to launch into the unearthing of his own unique story in a country and during a time in which he had no particular background (more history that escaped me…what was I doing all those years?). Anyway, after I was done falling off my chair, I realized I was grateful to have been one of the many anonymous third points in this reader/writer triangle, and to have stumbled upon the connection between these two authors.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. I read an interview with Kingsolver a couple of months ago in The Sun, and was intrigued by her, even though I’d never particularly taken to her fiction before. I bought The Lacuna and dove in. The protagonist is a boy from two worlds—the U.S. and Mexico—who comes of age in the 1930s when the art and political influences of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and their friendship with Leon (Lev) Trotsky, pressed upon the sensibilities of both countries. He eventually grows up and moves back to the States from Mexico, where he becomes a popular writer and then, true to the times, suffers accusations of anti-American activities. It was the Mayan part that made my skin prickle (when he makes a trip to the Yucatan peninsula to research the Mayans for one of his books), because a few weeks earlier, before I’d ever even considered reading The Lacuna, I had written a blog post about my adopted brother and his Mayan roots. As well, the window into history, the blind hysteria around communism, and the pulse of revolution present in City of Thieves and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena culminated in a great crescendo for me there in The Lacuna. The book is close to genius and I now have a newfound respect for Kingsolver.

It’s not an accident that I read these novels. I’ve learned to pay close attention to those small coincidences, the lines drawn between seemingly unrelated things, and the people who come into my life with insistent messages. Many times books have cracked open the world just a little bit more for me, and I’m always in awe of what authors can do when they tell the truth—the truth as they see it, anyway.

And I shall now officially stop telling people that I don’t read novels.

8 thoughts on “Four Novels

  1. Thank you, Amanda. It’s so humbling to read YOU talking about ME inspiring you. I’m grateful for our serendipitous connection and your beautiful feedback about Lemongrass Hope. Adding your other recommendations to my own nightstand pile …

  2. Hallo, Hallo Ms. Mininger!

    🙂 I was thankful to have received “Lemongrass Hope” myself from the author, as I am on her Progressive Blog tour! I love the serendipitous way in which Ms. Impellizzeri is finding each of us to read her novel. She has a kinetic and intrinsic sense about which of us might be willing to take the leap of faith needed to soak into the very heart of Lemongrass Hope ! I could not stop musing about the layers and parallels of the story itself, nor of how impactful this novel was to me as it arrived at a moment in time of my own life by which it would have a greater meaning to be read. I personally loved how she achingly asks the reader to propose those questions (the ones you relay here) inside their own hearts, minds, and souls as they read her words. She dares you to think past your own conventions and trains of thought, to breach through what is expected or known, and to settle inside the beauty of living through an experience that can not be charted but felt by the full essence of what makes us individualistically unique.

    I am visiting the blogosphere today, seeking out others who have had the honour of reading this story ahead of it’s publication date and finding myself thinking over the bits of the novel that have still left an echo effect on my mind. There are certain novels that we read that etch themselves into our being; they leave fingermarks on our very DNA; and this is the latest one to leave such a strong impression on me. I have been blessed like you recently to read back-to-back stories that not only illuminate my mind with an enriched narrative but leave me blissful with thoughts that arch back over the story-lines and re-settle alongside the footsteps of the characters!

    The Four FIVE Books I’d Select would be:

    My Review of The Ghost Bride by Yangze Choo

    My review of Sweet Water by Christina Baker Kline

    My review of Lemongrass Hope by Amy Impellizzeri

    My Review of Go Away Home by Carol Bodensteiner

    My review of Losing Touch by Sandra Hunter

    And, now I am going to read your recollections of the other three novels you selected and pull up their author websites before letting you know which one(s) I will be placing on my next reads list! 🙂

  3. My second reply is a bit delayed as I’ve been reading other posts on your lovely blog, Ms. Mininger!

    The entire connection to being mindful of the little threads of where time and life lead us to picking up a particular novel in a particular sequence of reading leads us all to finding a bounty of unexpected mirth! I am a reader who has always practiced mindfulness — of being aware of these little orbs of connective truism. I oft mention it on my blog (you will find that I etch a lot of my own reflections in conjunction to each particular book I am reading), how a novel will alight in my hands at precisely the ‘right’ time for it to soak into my heart? There is something to be said for books finding us when we need to read them. Such as how there are moments within our timescape of living where experiences knit into our hours at the moments in which we were meant to arrive into them.

    Such a powerful observational awareness — and how keen that you notice these little moments of clarity as much as I do! 🙂 I personally am opting out of reading the two bookended novels (on behalf of WWII) as I think my reading of “Citadel” by Mosse this year proved that although I am drawn into World War dramas, I need to take a breathier between the harder hitting ones — of course, I am not sure how wise I chose my next readings, as I do have more World War narratives to be read next under my “Bookish Events”! Time shall reveal, eh!? 🙂

    Ooh dear! Lightning is on the footsteps of my typing of this comment! 😦 I wanted to say that of all the choices given, I am going to see if I can borrow Kingsolver’s novel from my library! The reason being!? I, too, hold a deep appreciation and connection to the Mayans; although I was not blessed with adopted siblings I elected to travel to Mexico as a teen on an 8 day tour of the Mayan sites and ruins. The one that touched me the most was Uxmal. The wanderings of the artifacts at the Museum of Archaeology also touched me deeply, but it was the essence of feeling a tangible nearly invisible thread of connective ‘something’ not quite visible or explainable whilst climbing pyramids and spending ‘time’ at Uxmal is where I felt something I cannot quite explain. The culture, traditions, food, etc of the Mayans (and of Mexicans & Ecuadorians) were always ones that I appreciated, yet to be there in person was a gift beyond anything I could have hoped to receive.

  4. Pingback: This Is One of Those List Thingies | Amanda Mininger

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