Book Reviews The New York Times Book Review

All Souls Rising

It was an art critic who coined the term “magic realism,” to describe a new wave of painting in 1920s Ger­many. The work departed from the moody Expressionism of the day, emphasizing material reality even as it unlocked an elusive otherworldliness in the arrangement of everyday objects. Sometimes, though, the fantastic rubbed elbows with the real: in one painting, a fat general nonchalantly shares a table with headless men in tuxedos.

In literature as in art, the genre has been dominated by men. So critics devised the label “magical feminism” just for Isabel Allende’s multigenerational family chronicles featuring strong-willed women, usually entangled in steamy love affairs against a backdrop of war and political upheaval. These elements are all present in her new novel, “Island Beneath the Sea,” but its approach is traditional. Where, you wonder, are the headless men — or, in Allende’s case, headless women? Where is the magical realism?

Continue reading in the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

Read an excerpt from the book here.

ALL Book Reviews The National

A Master of the Art

Among the many things about democracy that annoyed the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville during his 1830s tour of America was the shape-shifting quality of language under its influence. He complained, in his classic treatise Democracy in America, that the restless spirit of citizens under this political system led to the constant creation of new words and new meanings at every turn. There was a chaos and a swagger to these linguistic innovations that the nobleman, happier with the changeless hierarchies of the ancien regime, could not bear. “Thus rope dancers,” he wrote, “are turned into acrobats and funambulists.”

Peter Carey – whose new novel, Parrot and Olivier in America, fictionalizes Tocqueville’s American field trip – is an accomplished and unapologetic funambulist when it comes to prose. His sentences walk tightropes, and the thrill to be had from them can be described as verbal vertigo. Consider how Ned Kelly, the hero of his True History of the Kelly Gang, sums up his displaced forefathers: “our brave parents was ripped from Ireland like teeth from the mouth of their own history.” Carey proves Tocqueville’s point about language in America; his writing is rambunctious and innovative. Continue to read my review in The Abu Dhabi Review, the arts and ideaa section of The National.


ALL Book Reviews Migration The National

A Way in the World

In Neel Mukherjee’s first novel, a young Calcuttan hiding out in 1990s London reimagines the life of an English spinster in turn-of-the-century Bengal. Read my review of this ambitiously transnational debut in The Abu Dhabi Review, the arts and ideas section of The National.



ALL Book Reviews Ms. Magazine

Dead Woman Talking

Read my review of Till We Can Keep An Animal by Megan Voysey-Braig in the Fall 2009 issue of
Ms. Magazine.

ALL Book Reviews The New York Times Book Review

Song of India

Amit Chaudhuri’s new novel, a comedy of manners set in 1980s India, centers on the teenage scion of a corporate family who neither dresses nor acts the part. Read my review of The Immortals in The New York Times Book Review. And read an excerpt from the book here.