Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cruelty, corruption, death and despair

Posted on Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 6:11 PM

Upcoming books with topics like those promise hours of depressing reading. Or so a quick glance would suggest. But while these are dark books for the darkening days of fall, isn't the point that the characters in them face problems and try to find solutions? Which is better than just giving up and snarking at everyone and everything — or escaping into Happy-Face Blank-Mind Land. 

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The Boy: A Holocaust Story, by Dan Porat (Hill & Wang, 270 pages, Oct. 26)   Warsaw, 1943, the Jewish ghetto. Nazis hold a frightened little boy at gunpoint, his hands raised and trembling in the air. Using the famous photograph as his launch pad, Parat explores the lives of the boy, his sister, and the Nazi soldiers and generals who terrorized them.

Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America, by Matt Taibbi (Random House/Spiegel & Grau, 270 pages, Nov. 2)
Alan Greesnpan is an asshole. Here's why: He worships Ayn Rand and the deregulation of financial markets. That's one of Rolling Stone journalist Taibbi's repeated conclusions. Here are some more of Taibbi's assertions: The U.S. has become a kleptocracy. Also a casino — in which advances in technology make it easier for Wall Street to siphon off millions before anyone realizes it. Also, the Tea Party is mistaken in demonizing government. Legislators have been corrupted, and their pockets lined, by the actual enemy: the grifters who are massively shifting American wealthy toward the top 1 percent while the rest of us struggle.

Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices, by Noah Feldman (Twelve, 530 pages, Nov. 8)
Japanese internment; Truman's seizing the steel mills; the demolishing of "separate but equal" — FDR's court found a way to make far-reaching decisions. Today's judicial climate — liberal president, conservative court; pro-business vs. pro-regulation — creates some echoes of the backstage arguments that Feldman details. 

Sunset Park, by Paul Auster (Henry Holt, 320 pages, Nov. 9)
A novel about squatters, trash collectors, actresses and publishers during the 2008 economic crisis. Four twenty-somethings squat in a Brooklyn apartment while dealing with estranged parents, the demands of their art, and the odd collection of objects that people leave behind when their homes have been foreclosed on.

Life Times: Stories, 1952-2007, by Nadine Gordimer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 560 pages, Nov. 9)
Fictional observations of apartheid from the South African Nobel winner.

Love in Complete Sentences, by Mary E. Mitchell (St. Martin's Griffin/Thomas Dunne, 300 pages, Nov. 23)
A novel about a widow with two rebellious kids; she's a high school guidance counselor. Kate's husband suddenly died two years ago; now her daughter is a sullen teenager and her 4-year-old son is going through pain that he doesn't understand. Plus the support groups don't help, and then there's an additional tragedy at the high school. Sound like a weepie? Mitchell writes with literary flair and insight, according to Kirkus Reviews.

Galileo, by John L. Heilbron (Oxford U.P., 350 pages, Dec. 1)
Exactly four centuries ago, Galileo used his telescope to tell everybody they were wrong. The Earth was not at the center of the universe; the universe itself had visible imperfections. The Roman Catholic Church didn't particularly like hearing about that, but the church was up against more than just a nerdy scientist. Because Galileo knew a lot about music and poetry and the arts, Heilbron argues, he was that much better at being a popularizer of his unsettling scientific discoveries. 
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The Diver, by Alfred Neven DuMont (St. Martin's Press, 220 pages, Dec. 7)
A novel about an elderly man with Parkinson's whose beloved but depressive daughter has just died in a scuba diving accident, and how he tries to repair his marriage. This the first English translation of a novel by Neven DuMont, 83, who's famous in Germany (and whose 28-year-old son died in 1995) — and yes, it's full of dark Teutonic topics like grief, depression, aging, loss of religious belief, skeptical philosophy and despair.

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