Les livres de 2010, round 3

Yesterday I finally finished my 8th book of the year and added it to my official list. "Boo," I thought to myself. "When the hell will I ever finish my 9th book?" I was in the mood to write another one of these book reviews and my golden rule is to publish those in groups of threes.

Then I picked up some stuff at the library on my way home from work and got into one in particular. I read 25 pages in the subway on the way home. Then I sat on the couch and read a bunch more pages. Then I made ravioli and read more while it was cooking. Then I spent the last part of my evening reading until all 261 pages were done. And suddenly, I had finished #9.

7. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Dave Eggers has a great quote on the back of this book, something like "leave it to an Irishman to write the best book about New York." And you know what? That's kind of true. This novel flips between a bunch of characters who all live in New York in the 70s. There are hookers and drug addicts, mothers whose sons fought and died in Vietnam, Irish immigrants and famous tight-rope walkers. It's really, really good.

Let me also take this opportunity to say that it's masterful in the way it deals with narration. The same characters appear in different sections (as a reader, it's fun to realize "hey! that's him!") and the book is broken into several sections, each that serves almost as its own mini-novel.

8. What You Call Winter by Nalini Jones
Nalini was my teacher for the class I just finished at the 92-Y and I got this book from the library when the class started. For various reasons (other things I was reading, minor concern about being intimidated, etc), I didn't start reading this collection of short stories until the class was almost over.

There's some fun cross-story character recognition that goes on here too and I liked that a lot. I also felt as though I was back in India reading these stories. I pictured every story happening in Tejal's family's home, which has been my only Mumbai home experience. I found it interesting that I often forgot these were written by someone I knew; the stories themselves sucked me in so that I was able to avoid thinking about how Nalini approaches perspective or character or flashbacks. Long story short, if you like Jhumpa Lahiri and India, you might like these.

9. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
I don't know what it is about awesome Irish writers and New York history, but here we go again. Colm Toibin wrote this great little book about a woman who immigrates to Brooklyn from Ireland in the 50s. We follow her as she gets a job, takes classes and meets an Italian boyfriend (whose name is, obviously, Tony). Colm Toibin succeeds in making me fall in mega-love with Tony, who is funny and kind and smart.

One of the best things about this book was how much I learned about what Brooklyn was like 60 years ago. One of the department stores started carrying darker-colored stockings (thus catering to the non-white crowd), the main character takes a boat from Ireland to America (travel time = 1 week) and the mix of Jews and Irish and Italians in Brooklyn just rang so true.

But my favorite aspect of this book is how well Toibin writes about the experience abroad. Certain passages in the book reminded me of the first few lonely nights that inevitably come with moving somewhere totally different. For example:

She was nobody here. It was not just that she had no friends and family; it was rather that she was a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor. Nothing meant anything. The rooms in the house on Friary Street belonged to her, she thought; when she moved in them she was really there. In the town, if she walked to the shop or to the Vocational School, the air, the light, the ground, it was all solid and part of her, even if she met no one familiar. Nothing here was part of her. It was false, empty, she thought. She closed her eyes and tried to think, as she had done so many times in her life, of something she was looking forward to, but there was nothing. Not the slightest thing. Not even Sunday. Nothing maybe except sleep, and she was not even certain she was looking forward to sleep. In any case, she could not sleep yet, since it was not yet nine o'clock. There was nothing she could do. It was as if she had been locked away.

He also totally nails the feeling you get when you're home, the place you've been yearning for, and it's just not right anymore:

Eilis loved closing the door of her old room and drawing the curtains. All she wanted to do was sleep, even though she had slept well in the hotel in Rosslare Harbour the night before. She had sent Tony a postcard from Cobh saying that she had arrived safely, and had written him a letter from Rosslare describing the journey. She was glad she did not have to write now from her bedroom, which seemed empty of life, which almost frightened her in how little it meant to her. She had put no thought into what it would be like to come home because she had expected that it would be easy; she had longed so much for the familiarity of these rooms that she had presumed she would be happy and relieved to step back into them, but, instead, on this first morning, all she could do was count the days before she went back. This made her feel strange and guilty; she curled up in the bed and closed her eyes in the hope that she might sleep.

NAILED IT, Colm Toibin. Nailed it.

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