Review: Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Like Washington Black, Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues is a mix of highs and lows. It has some pacing problems, but the main story has a lot of potential. Summary from Goodreads:

The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymus Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, is arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He is twenty years old. A German citizen. And he is black.

Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there’s more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled.

In Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong. read more

Review: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez

Sometimes I like short story collections less when I read them too quickly. Groff’s Florida, Ferris’s The Dinner Party, and even Dahl’s “best of” collection are first to mind. When stories are read back-to-back, common themes are soon spotted and ideas that would have been individually brilliant are made to feel repetitive or predictable. Mariana Enriquez’s The Dangers of Smoking in Bed does not fall into this trap. The horror in these twelve stories comes from different angles: supernatural sources, jealous people, physical ailments, and so on. They’re ordered such that each story pushes a new boundary and produces ratcheting tension. Several left me queasy or unable to sleep. read more

Review: Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

I’ve read half of the 2020 International Booker Prize shortlist and Daniel Kehlmann’s Tyll is my favorite. It’s easier to write a negative review than a positive one because it’s easier to say what’s wrong with a book than what’s right. Often, a negative quality can be demonstrated with a couple quotes, but what’s most satisfying about Tyll is the number of payoffs and connections between its narrative voices and you can’t demonstrate this with anything shorter than the whole book. read more

Review: What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

The best collection of short fiction by a single author. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah not only contains individually compelling stories, but also captures an impressive range of complex family relationships, cultural differences, magical realism, and a touch of science fiction. The first comparison to mind is The Interpreter of Maladies for the way it shows a variety of relationships across and between two cultures; in this case, stories take place in Nigeria or America. read more

Sunday Short: “Who Will Greet You at Home” by Lesley Nneka Arimah

My superlative-laden review for Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky will be posted on Tuesday, January 5. In the meantime, one story from that collection is available on The New Yorker website: Read “Who Will Greet You at Home” in the October 26, 2015 issue

The opening lines of “Who Will Greet You at Home” establish a layer of magical realism:

The yarn baby lasted a good month, emitting dry, cotton-soft gurgles and pooping little balls of lint, before Ogechi snagged its thigh on a nail and it unravelled as she continued walking, mistaking its little huffs for the beginnings of hunger, not the cries of an infant being undone. By the time she noticed, it was too late, the leg a tangle of fibre, and she pulled the string the rest of the way to end it, rather than have the infant grow up maimed. If she was to mother a child, to mute and subdue and fold away parts of herself, the child had to be perfect.

read more