Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The UnAmericans - Molly Antopol

In this auspicious debut, Molly Antopol cuts a wide swath through the fabric of time and place, exploring people from different cultures who are all painfully human in their joys, desires, tragedies, and heartaches. An actor, phased out of Hollywood for his Communist ties during McCarthyism, tries to share a meaningful moment with his son. An Israeli soldier comes of age when his brother is maimed on their communal farm. A gallerist, swept up by the 1970s dissident art movement, begins smuggling paintings out of Moscow and curating underground shows in her Jerusalem home. This is a rare collection as accomplished at capturing our soaring triumphs as it is our crippling defeats--a hopeful reminder that we are all closer and more capable than we sometimes feel.
The premise of this book was really fascinating to me and Antopol was recognized as a writer to watch.  What I didn't realize until I started to read this book, that the book was a collection of short stories.  These stories all have a shared theme of an immigrant making their way in a new country, but the stories don't relate to each other.  At times, it was hard to switch and relate to new characters every 10 pages or so.

That aside, Antopol captures the immigrant and even second-generation immigrant life really well.  Each story ends with a small twist that usually I didn't see coming. The prose is just beautifully written and draws the reader in.  I highly recommend this book!

Visitation Street - Ivy Pochoda

Summer in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a blue collar neighborhood where hipster gourmet supermarkets push against tired housing projects, and the East River opens into the bay. Bored and listless, fifteen-year-old June and Val are looking for some fun. Forget the boys, the bottles, the coded whistles. Val wants to do something wild and a little crazy: take a raft out onto the bay. But out on the water, as the bright light of day gives way to darkness, the girls disappear. Only Val will survive, washed ashore semi-conscious in the weeds. June's shocking disappearance will reverberate in the lives of a diverse cast of Red Hook residents. Fadi, the Lebanese bodega owner, trolls for information about the crime. Cree, just beginning to pull it together after his father's murder, unwittingly makes himself the chief suspect although an elusive guardian seems to have other plans for him. As Val emerges from the shadow of her missing friend, her teacher Jonathan, Julliard drop-out and barfly, will be forced to confront a past riddled with tragic sins of omission.

This book reminded me a lot of Let the Great World Spin- all the different story lines and characters end up coming together into one story at the end.  Pochoda captures the Red Hook neighborhood well and how that neighborhood adapts and changes with the potential of economic development.  

The relationship between Jonathan and Val felt strained to me and wasn't expected.  Pochoda weaves together characters from different parts of the neighborhood and allows them to grow and change because of these relationships.  Fadi and Cree are two examples of characters that grow by the end of the book because of the new relationships they make.  

Underneath the neighborhood changing and the new relationships, there is a simple mystery about what happened to Val and June.  The reader doesn't learn what happens until near the very end, but the mystery doesn't disappear from the first chapter to the last chapter. 

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

An international sensation, this hilarious, feel-good novel is narrated by an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love. Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver. Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don's Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.
This book definitely grew on me as I read more and more.  The main narrator is quirky and has an interesting outlook on life, but underneath is just a regular guy wanting some companionship.  I could definitely see this book being turned into a romantic comedy movie.  

Simsion captures true humility in the relationships within this book. He challenges the readers to look at their own relationships and see why we are friends or lovers or partners with other people. While science and math are themes in this book, Don must learn to trust his instincts in order to grow and blossom in his relationship with Rosie.