Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Broadening our horizons

Colm Toibin
We Americans can be somewhat insular in our embrace of world literature. Although I consider myself fairly well read, I had to admit to a huge dose of ignorance when I first encountered the lineup of best-selling novelists featured on the monthly "BBC World Book Club" podcast. Familiarity with ~20 percent of the authors is not a statistic to crow about!
Questions for these acclaimed writers come from the live audience and from the farthest reaches of the globe via e-mail and phone. It's a rare experience of global unity and honest-to-god cross-culturalism. I have learned so much and been so enriched by the readings from the books and the dialogues that ensue. When I saw that we had paperbacks by two authors I heard on the program, I snapped them up.
The first is Brooklyn, by Irish writer Colm Toibin. The BBC listeners (especially the female element) were quite taken with his perceptiveness toward his main character, an immigrant. Toibin grew up in a household of women, and admitted to being all ears and soaking up a lot. He also excelled at the period aspects of his tale (although a few hardcore fans critiqued him for having someone put ketchup on a hot dog!).
Boris Akunin
The second book is also historical fiction—two mystery novellas called Special Assignments by Russian writer Boris Akunin that feature his suave and brainy series detective Erast Fandorin.  I am in the middle of the first story, involving a master of disguise; and as the rain pours down and the mist rises to cloak the mountains in the distance, I long to be in bed devouring it at this very moment. Happy reading, y'all!

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