Photo by Madasor used under a Creative Commons license.

Roberto Bolaño, By Night in Chile (New Directions, 2003).
On his deathbed, in the course of a single night, Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix, an Opus Dei priest, reconsiders his life, as if to justify to himself his collaboration with the Pinochet regime and his own literary career. Bolaño, a supporter of the Allende government, was imprisoned after Pinochet seized power and then went into exile. Beautiful writing; an excellent book.

Reviews: Richard Eber (The New York Times), Ben Richards (The Guardian (UK)), Waggish. Marcello Balvé writes about Bolaño in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Scott Esposito writes about By Night in Chile and his other works in The Quarterly Conversation. Bloggers viswanathan and alok post about it. MDD offers a long quotation, as do Cooper and Mrs. Biggs’ Reading Club.

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Natsuo Kirino, Out (Kodansha Int’l, 2003).
Crime fiction in the Tokyo suburbs. A young mother who works the night shift at a dead-end job strangles her neer-do-well husband, and enlists her co-workers to help her dispose of the body. Such things rarely go smoothly. Kirino won Japan’s Grand Prix for Crime Fiction, the top prize for a mystery, for this, her first. Kirino’s Tokyo is one that few tourists will see.

The Complete Review links to various reviews and offers its own (scroll down). Andrew Duncan interviews Kirino. So do Metro.co.uk and JapanReview.net. Blogger silk stocking read it recently.

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Peter Demetz, The Air Show at Brescia (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002).
In 1909, Louis Bleriot, Glenn Curtiss and other early pioneers of aviation flew to Brescia for the Circuito Aereo — the Air Show. Other attendees included Franz Kafka, on vacation from his job with a Prague insurance company, as well as authors Max Brod and Gabriele D’Annunzio, and composers Arturo Toscanini and Giacomo Puccini. Demetz, a professer emeritus at Yale University, captures something of the excitement and novelty of early flight and of an Italy before the Great War that now seems like another world.

Richard Bernstein reviewed the book for The New York Times. Radio Praha interviewed Demetz. Back on August 31, 1909, The New York Times previewed the show.

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Paul Theroux, Kowloon Tong (Houghton Mifflin, 1997).
A novel of Britain’s 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China, but written before the event rather than after it, perhaps in an effort to capitalize on it. If Hong Kong sheds its colonial past like Macau has, this novel will be a historical document of sorts showing what the British there were like by the late 1990s, and those who’ve read Theroux’s other work will not be surprised that the picture is not flattering. Few of Theroux’s characters are particularly sympathetic, which does not prevent the novel from carrying out its own vision but may detract from a reader’s enjoyment. The whiff of allegory is sometimes hard to ignore as well.

Theroux’s site describes the book. The Atlantic‘s Anthony Grant interviewed Theroux upon the novel’s publication. Michael McCaughan reviewed the novel for Slate. Thomas Keneally reviewed the novel for The New York Times. So did Richard Bernstein. Dwight Garner reviewed the book for Salon. Paul Gray reviewed the book for Time. Maria Noëlle Ng wrote about the book in Canadian Literature. Hong Kong blogger Richard H didn’t care for it. Migs Bassig doesn’t like what the novel says about Manila. James P. Rice of The Chinese University of Hong Kong writes about Kowloon Tong as one of “four allegories of the colonial experience in Hong Kong,” downloadable in what seems to be an excerpt from Thomas Y.T. Luk and James P. Rice, eds., Before and After Suzie: Hong Kong in Western Film and Literature (The Chinese University Press, 2002).

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Suketu Mehta, Maximum City (Vintage, 2005).
Impressive reportage from Bombay (which, as Mehta explains, he does not call “Mumbai”). Maximum City was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and won a variety of other honors. Mehta has a talent for insinuating himself into a variety of milieus and getting people from all walks of life to talk to him. Among the subjects getting sustained treatment are Bombay’s politics, crime, slums, show business, and bombings.

Mehta’s web page links to a wealth of reviews and other materials. Metacritic.com aggregates reviews and links to some of them. C.W. Thompson reviews the book at PopMatters. Uday Benegal reviews it for The Village Voice. Listen to this review on NPR’s Fresh Air. Akash Kapur reviews it for The New York Times. Karan Mahajan interviewed Mehta for The Believer. Steve Portigal, Shiva and Santosh like it. Sunshine is not a fan, nor is Jaya Jha.

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Tim Parks, Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence (Atlas Books, 2005).
This is an account of the rise and fall of the Medici family during the fifteenth century, with an emphasis on the banking activities that made the family’s fortune. The family’s financial acument let them buy political power, and the demands of power eventually came at the expense of the bank. Park’s explanations of fifteenth-century banking are quite good. With the Church’s ban on usury, rewards must be earned through exchange and trading instead of interest. Notwithstanding the sub-title, there is much more about banking (and politics) than there is about metaphysics, and he discusses art mostly to document Medici donations. The subject matter is enough for several longer books, but this is a worthy introduction for those unfamiliar with Republican Florence. Parks, who has written many novels and lives in Italy, writes in an easy style which might strike some readers as too colloquial.

On his website, Tim Parks writes about how he came to the project. Parks discussed the book with Andrew Lawless at Three Monkeys Online. Wikipedia provides a short biography of Cosimo de’ Medici. Simon Young reviews the book at The Independent and Blogcritics Magazine. The former review is longer; the latter less critical. Alexander Rose reviews the book for the National Review. James Buchan reviews the book for The New York Observer. Edmund Fawcett reviews the book for The Guardian (UK). Mark Bernstein blogs about it, as does Wilson Hsieh.

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Photo of Mumbai by willem velthoven used under a Creative Commons license.

Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games (Viking, 2007).
An massive, sprawling novel set in Bombay. The narrative alternates between the competing perspectives and intertwined stories of a gangster kingpin, Ganesh Gaitonde, and a police detective, Sartaj Singh. Like the city, the book bursts at the seams with food, crime, smells, buildings, traffic, show business, cramped circumstances, grand designs. I have read that Chandra does not consider this a Bombay novel, but I certainly would read it before visiting the city.

Here is the book’s site. Garth Risk Hallberg reviews Sacred Games at The Millions. Adams Mars-Jones reviews it for the Guardian (UK). Jonathan Yardley didn’t care for it. Ahmad Saidullah reviews it in The Quarterly Conversation. Edward Nawotka interviews Chandra, as does Tony Dushane, and Sonia Faleiro, and some sort of UC Berkeley PR program. Patricia Leigh Brown profiles him for the New York Times. Listen to NPR’s piece here. Or if you have an hour, you can watch Chandra on Story Hour at UC Berkeley with Chandra.

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