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THE SNIPER ENCYCLOPAEDIA: AN A–Z GUIDE TO WORLD SNIPING by John Walter (@penswordbooks). A must for researchers and a fascinating book for anybody interested in the topic #referencebook #militaria

Hi all:

I’m coming a bit left field with this book. I’m not a big fan of firearms, although I’ve used them in some of my books (no personal experience beyond a BB-gun my dad used to have when I was younger), but I was fascinated by this book.

The Sniper Encyclopaedia: An A–Z Guide to World Sniping by John Walter
The Sniper Encyclopaedia: An A–Z Guide to World Sniping by John Walter

The Sniper Encyclopaedia: An A–Z Guide to World Sniping by John Walter.

The Sniper Encyclopaedia is an indispensable alphabetical, topic-by-topic guide to a fascinating subject.

This is a comprehensive work that covers virtually any aspect of sniping. The work contains personal details of hundreds of snipers, including not only the best-known — world renowned gurus such as Vasiliy Zaytsev and Chris Kyle — but also many crack shots overlooked by history. Among them are some of more than a thousand Red Army snipers — men and a surprising number of women, who amassed sufficient kills to be awarded the Medal for Courage and, later, the Order of Glory. Some of the best-known victims of snipers are identified, and the veracity of the most popular myths is explored.

The book pays special attention to the history and development of the many specialist sniper rifles — some more successful than others — that have served the world’s armies since the American Wars of the nineteenth century to today’s technology-based conflicts. Attention, too, is paid to the progress made with ammunition — without which, of course, precision shooting would be impossible. The development of aids and accessories, from camouflage clothing to laser rangefinders, is also considered.

Finally, The Sniper Encyclopaedia examines significant locations and specific campaigns — the way marksman have influenced the course of the individual battles and places which have played a crucial part in the history of sniping, from individual sites to sniper schools and training grounds. The book contains authors’ biographies, a critical assessment of the many books and memoirs on the world of the sniper, and a guide to research techniques.

https://www.amazon.com/Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Z-Guide-Sniping/dp/161200721X/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Z-Guide-Sniping/dp/161200721X/

https://www.amazon.es/Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Z-Guide-Sniping/dp/161200721X/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Hardback/p/16001

About the author:

John Walter, born in Glasgow in 1951, is among the world’s most prolific writers on small arms—author of seventy books, translated into more than a dozen languages. Walter has worked with edged weapons, bladed tools, firearms, railway locomotives, warships, scientific instruments and even heraldry. Among his published works have been several studies of the Luger pistol; four editions of Rifles of the World; The Airgun Book; The Rifle Story and The Handgun Story; Guns of the Elite and its current successor, Guns of the Elite Forces; The German Rifle; and The Greenhill Dictionary of Guns and Gunmakers.

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback review copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Let me be clear about this: I know next to nothing about weapons in general, and I only know about snipers and their weapons of choice what I’ve picked up in TV series and documentaries, movies, and books. So this is not an expert’s review, rather the opposite.

You’ll probably ask why I was interested in this boo. Partly, because I’ve watched movies and news items about snipers (both modern and historical), and it’s impossible not to recall certain events and think about the people and the weapons behind them. Also, because I’m a writer, and I know how important it is to have reliable sources to research topics we want to write about. I’m also a translator, and after dedicating a fair amount of my time to working on books by other writers, I’ve discovered how complicated it can be to find the right word or term to refer to an object or device you know little about, and how complex it can get to describe an action that might come natural to an expert on the field, but is anything but for somebody totally new to it. Of course, you also have to think that not all readers are going to be experts either. How do you explain something that you don’t understand yourself? After trying to make sure a fight scene in a petrol tanker sounded accurate without having any idea what it looks like inside, I can tell you it’s not easy.

So, beyond my personal curiosity, (and yes, I must confess I’ve always wondered about the kind of training and personality required for somebody to be able to focus on such a task and not think… well, you know what I mean), I thought this sounded like a great resource for researchers and writers, and the reviews from people who knew about the subject reassured me that it wouldn’t disappoint.

And it didn’t. The book is fascinating and, as you can imagine, packed with information. The author explains his methodology, and clearly states that although he has tried to include as much information as possible, the sheer numbers of people and weapons made it necessary to scale down the size of the project. The availability of data was another difficulty. The book refers mostly to USA, UK, German and Russian snipers, and mostly those in the military (Simo Häyhä, a Finnish sniper credited with somewhere between 505 and 542 kills, depending on the sources, and who proved to be a nightmare for the Russians, who called him ‘the White Ghost’, is also included, and his memoir, called The White Sniper, sounds fascinating, I must say) and/or security forces, and Walter explains that in some cases (for example when having to choose weapons and manufacturers), his personal taste has played a part. He has also included more detailed entries about snipers whose biographies have been published, as people can easily access more information. (There have been, and are, many snippers in the armies of other countries, but their details are not available to outside researchers).

The author includes a page on bibliography and sources, dividing it into general studies, genealogical details, weapons and equipment, and tactics and training. Those include online resources and books that will delight people keen on digging deeper into the topic.

The encyclopaedia is, of course, organized in alphabetic order and full of illustrations, mostly photographs, but also drawings with details of sights and weapons. There are also lists of snipers, some about specific conflicts (WWI, for example), or even battles (Leningrad snipers is one of those), but also lists of male and female top snipers (they are both Russians, as it seems the Russian army uses snipers far more than any others). As an outsider it is a bit strange to think of what these numbers actually mean (the top male “scorer” has over 700 “scores”) and reading this book one’s mind boggles at times. I was fascinated, at the same time, by the female snippers, their pictures, and their stories. Among them, one that will stay with me is the story of Nataliya, or Natasha, Kovshova who fought during WWII and died with Mariya Polivanova after being badly injured, by pulling the pin of a grenade and taking some of the enemies with them. They were made Heroes of the Soviet Union posthumously and, although it seems there have been some questions as to what exactly happened, the basic facts are correct.

As I said, there is especial attention given to snipers who have written books about their experiences or have had books written about them, and that makes this encyclopaedia interesting to those trying to explore or find personal accounts on the topic, as it provides biographical information and also information about the content of the book, if available in English. As the back cover summarises, this book includes: 750 standard entries, 100 extended features and ‘top 20’ lists, over 400 biographies and 200 illustrations, and I recommend it to anybody who wants to gain a solid basis in the knowledge about sniping, the people involved and their weapons. Another great book by Pen & Sword.

Thanks to Rosie, the team of Pen & Sword and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling! 🙂

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog JUSTICE GONE by N. Lombardi Jr. (Mystery, police procedural, and an in-depth look at the US judicial system. A great read.

Hi all:

I bring you a book that might tick boxes for many of you.

Justice Gone by N. Lomardi Jr.
Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr.

Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr. Mystery, police procedural, and an in-depth look at the US judicial system. A great read.

When a homeless war veteran is beaten to death by the police, stormy protests ensue, engulfing a small New Jersey town. Soon after, three cops are gunned down. A multi-state manhunt is underway for a cop killer on the loose. And Dr. Tessa Thorpe, a veteran’s counselor, is caught up in the chase. Donald Darfield, an African-American Iraqi war vet, war-time buddy of the beaten man, and one of Tessa’s patients, is holed up in a mountain cabin. Tessa, acting on instinct, sets off to find him, but the swarm of law enforcement officers get there first, leading to Darfield’s dramatic capture. Now, the only people separating him from the lethal needle of state justice are Tessa and ageing blind lawyer, Nathaniel Bodine. Can they untangle the web tightening around Darfield in time, when the press and the justice system are baying for revenge? Justice Gone is the first in a series of psychological thrillers involving Dr Tessa Thorpe, wrapped in the divisive issues of modern American society including police brutality and disenfranchised returning war veterans. N Lombardi Jr. is the author of compelling and heartfelt novel The Plain of Jars.

https://www.amazon.com/Justice-Gone-N-Lombardi-Jr/dp/1785358766/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Justice-Gone-N-Lombardi-Jr/dp/1785358766/

Author N. Lombardi Jr.
Author N. Lombardi Jr.

About the author:

N. Lombardi Jr, the N for Nicholas, has spent over half his life in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, working as a groundwater geologist. Nick can speak five languages: Swahili, Thai, Lao, Chinese, and Khmer (Cambodian).

In 1997, while visiting Lao People’s Democratic Republic, he witnessed the remnants of a secret war that had been waged for nine years, among which were children wounded from leftover cluster bombs. Driven by what he saw, he worked on The Plain of Jars for the next eight years.
Nick maintains a website with content that spans most aspects of the novel: The Secret War, Laotian culture, Buddhism etc. http://plainofjars.net

His second novel, Journey Towards a Falling Sun, is set in the wild frontier of northern Kenya.

His latest novel, Justice Gone, was inspired by the fatal beating of a homeless man by police.

Nick now lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

https://www.amazon.com/N.-Lombardi-Jr./e/B00CHHHWK0

My review:

I am reviewing this book as a member of Rosie’s book review team (if you’re an author looking for reviews, check here) and thank her, NetGalley, and Roundfire for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, ahead of its publication, that I freely chose to review.

This is not an easy book to categorise, and it could fit into a number of classifications, but it goes beyond the standard examples many of the readers of some of those genres are used to come across. When I heard about this book, my interest was piqued by several elements: the book features as one of its main characters a female therapist who has specialised in counselling war vets (many of them suffering from PTSD), and as a psychiatrist (and I did work with military personnel, although not from the US) I’m always intrigued by the literary portrayals of psychologists and psychiatrists and of mental health difficulties. There is a mystery/thriller element, and because I’m an eager reader (and writer) of those genres, I’m always keen to explore new authors and approaches. The novel also promised a close look at the US judicial system, and having studied criminology and the British Criminal Justice system, that aspect of the book was also intriguing. Could the novel deliver in so many levels?

Dr. Tessa Thorpe is an interesting character, and it seems that the author is planning to develop a series of novels around her. She is described as insightful and compassionate, with strong beliefs (anti-war), morals, and a trauma of her own. She is not the perfect professional, and at times her trauma affects her behaviour to a point that I thought would have got her into trouble if she were working in a different environment. We are not given full details of what has happened to her before, but the hints we get through the novel (where other characters in possession of that information refer to it) give us a fair idea. She is much better at dealing with others and understanding what moves them to act as they do than she is at dealing with her own issues, but that is a fairly realistic aspect of the book (although considering how insistent she is in getting others to talk about their difficulties, it is surprising none of the colleagues take her to task). What I was not totally convinced about was the fact that at some point she decides to support the vet going to trial accused of murder, and she leaves her practice and patients unattended for weeks. As she works in a private clinic and we only meet one of her patients, we don’t have sufficient information of her day-to-day tasks, and it’s quite possible that this is not a problem, but it felt counterintuitive to me. Tessa plays a central part in the plot in more ways than one, because although she is an expert in some aspects, she is totally new to what happens in other parts of the novel, like court procedures, and at those points she works as a stand-in for the readers, asking for clarifications and being walked through the process in detail.

The mystery and thriller elements, as I said, are dealt with differently to in many other books. The novel starts at an earlier point than many of the books that give advice to writers would recommend. It does not start in the middle of the action, or the crime (what the real crime is here is one of the main questions). We get the background to the events, down to the phone call to the police about a homeless man, which gets the ball rolling at the very beginning of the book. The police, who have been fed the wrong information, end up beating the man, a war-vet, to death. This causes a huge uproar, and we hear about the way the authorities try to sweep it all under the carpet, then the apparent revenge killing of the three policemen, the chase of a suspect, the hair-raising moment when he gives himself up (with some help from the doctor and others), and then we move onto the court case. There are moments where the book leans towards the police procedural, and we get plenty of details about the physical evidence, the investigation and those involved, we witness interrogations, we are privileged to information even the police don’t have, we get red herrings, and dead ends. The ending… there is a twist at the end, and although some might suspect it is coming, I was so involved in the court case at that point that I had almost forgotten that we did not know who the guilty party was.

I think this is one of the books I’ve read in recent times that best manages to bring to life a US court case, without sparing too many details and at the same time making it gripping. I will confess that the defense attorney, Nathaniel Bodine, is my favourite character, one of those lawyers who will happily cross the line for their client, and he seems, at times, a much better psychologist (and manipulator) than the doctor is. The judicial process is realistically reflected and at times it reads as if it were a detailed film or TV script, with good directions and fantastic dialogue.

And, we also follow the deliberations of the jury, in a few chapters that made me think of Twelve Angry Men, a play I remember watching many years back, although in this case we have a more diverse jury (not twelve men and not all Caucasian) and a more complex case. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the novel as well, and I could clearly see the interaction between the sequestered jury in my mind’s eye. (It would make a great film or series, as I have already suggested).

The story is told in the third person by an omniscient narrator that at times shows us the events from the point of view of one of the characters, mostly from Tessa’s perspective, but at times from others, like her co-workers or members of the police force. At some points, the story is told from an external and fairly objective perspective (like the jury deliberations); although at times we glimpse the personal opinions of that unknown narrator. I know readers dislike “head-hopping”, but I was never in any doubt about whose point of view I was reading, and the alternating perspective helped get a more rounded view of events and characters. Although the style of writing is factual and to the point (some of the descriptions reminded me of police reports, in their matter-of-factness), that does not mean the book fails to produce an emotional reaction on the reader. Quite the opposite. Rather than emphasising the drama by using over-the-top prose, the author lets the facts and the characters’ actions talk for themselves, and that is much more effective, in my opinion.

I recommend this book to anybody who enjoys a mystery/thriller/police procedural novel which does not obey by the rules and is keen to engage readers in controversy and debates that go beyond a standard genre novel. (The author explains he was inspired to write this book by an incident not dissimilar to the death of the veteran at the hands of the cops at the beginning of the novel). The novel goes into more detail than most readers keen on those genres will be used to, and also follows the events from the very beginning to the very end. This is not a novel only interested in thrilling readers by highlighting the action scenes and ignoring the rest. Readers who always feel there are aspects of a story missing or underdeveloped will love this book, and also those who like complex characters (plenty of grey areas here) and a story that lives beyond the page. I also see book clubs enjoying a great discussion after reading this book, as there is much to debate and ponder. An accomplished novel and the first of a series that we should keep a close eye on.

Thanks to Rosie, to NetGalley, and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and keep smiling!

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview EXIT WEST by Mohsin Hamid (@mohsin_hamid) #ManBookerPrize A novel not for everybody that everybody should read #migration

Hi all:

I bring you my review of another one of the novels that have made it into the Man-Booker Longlist. Here is it.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West: Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017 by Mohsin Hamid

Longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize

“It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… At once terrifying and … oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman, The New York Times Book Review

“Moving, audacious, and indelibly human.” –Entertainment Weekly, “A” rating

“A breathtaking novel…[that] arrives at an urgent time.” –NPR.org
 
As featured in the Skimm, on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Fresh Air, PBS Newshour, the cover of the New York Times Book Review, and more, an astonishingly visionary love story that imagines the forces that drive ordinary people from their homes into the uncertain embrace of new lands.

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . .

Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of March 2017: When Nadia and Saeed fall in love in a distant unnamed city, they are just like any other young couple. But soon bullets begin to fly, fighter jets streak the sky, and curfews fall. As the spell of violence spreads, they flee their country, leaving behind their loved ones. Early in Exit West, the author Mohsin Hamid explains that geography is destiny, and in the case of his two young lovers, geography dictates that they must leave. Hamid offers up a fantastical device to deliver his refugees to places: they pass through magic doors. Rather than unmooring the story from reality, this device, as well as a few other fantastical touches, makes the book more poignant and focused, pointing our attention to the emotions of exile rather than the mechanics. Surrounded by other refugees, Nadia and Saeed try to establish their places in the world, putting up different responses to their circumstances. The result is a novel that is personal, not pedantic, an intimate human story about an experience shared by countless people of the world, one that most Americans just witness on television. —Chris Schluep , The Amazon Book Review

Review

“Hamid exploits fiction’s capacity to elicit empathy and identification to imagine a better world. It is also a possible world. Exit West does not lead to utopia, but to a near future and the dim shapes of strangers that we can see through a distant doorway. All we have to do is step through it and meet them.” —Viet Thanh Nguyen, TheNew York Times Book Review (cover)

“In spare, crystalline prose, Hamid conveys the experience of living in a city under siege with sharp, stabbing immediacy. He shows just how swiftly ordinary life — with all its banal rituals and routines — can morph into the defensive crouch of life in a war zone. … [and] how insidiously violence alters the calculus of daily life. … By mixing the real and the surreal, and using old fairy-tale magic, Hamid has created a fictional universe that captures the global perils percolating beneath today’s headlines.” ––Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

“Lyrical and urgent, the globalist novel evokes the dreams and disillusionments that follow Saeed and Nadia….and peels away the dross of bigotry to expose the beauty of our common humanity.” —O, the Oprah Magazine

“A beautiful and very detailed look at what it means to be an immigrant…An incredible book.” –Sarah Jessica Parker on Read it Forward

“A little like the eerily significant Margaret Atwood novel, this love story amid the rubble of violence, uncertainty, and modernity feels at once otherworldly and all too real.” —New York Magazine’s The Strategist

“This is the best writing of Hamid’s career… Readers will find themselves going back and savoring each paragraph several times before moving on. He’s that good. … Breathtaking.” —NPR.org

“Nearly every page reflects the tangible impact of life during wartime—not just the blood and gunsmoke of daily bombardments, but the quieter collateral damage that seeps in. The true magic of [Exit West] is how it manages to render it all in a narrative so moving, audacious, and indelibly human.” –Entertainment Weekly, “A rating”

“Hamid rewrites the world as a place thoroughly, gorgeously, and permanently overrun by refugees and migrants. … But, still, he depicts the world as resolutely beautiful and, at its core, unchanged. The novel feels immediately canonical, so firm and unerring is Hamid’s understanding of our time and its most pressing questions.” —NewYorker.com

“No novel is really about the cliche called ‘the human condition,’ but good novels expose and interpret the particular condition of the humans in their charge, and this is what Hamid has achieved here. If in its physical and perilous immediacy Nadia and Saeed’s condition is alien to the mass of us, Exit West makes a final, certain declaration of affinity: ‘We are all migrants through time.’” —Washington Post

“Brilliant…Its intelligently deployed surreal elements are also the best examples I’ve seen lately of how the nonrealistic is sometimes the best way to depict how an experience feels, as opposed to just the facts of what it is.” –Vulture

“Skillful and panoramic from the outset… [A] meticulously crafted, ambitious story of many layers, many geopolitical realities, many lives and circumstances…Here is the world, he seems to be saying, the direction we’re hurtling in. How are we going to mitigate the damage we’ve done?” –The New York Review of Books

“Like the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but set in the real world. You’ll be hearing about it, so get into it now.” —TheSkimm

“Spellbinding.” –Buzzfeed

“A short, urgent missive in which each detail gleams with authorial intent….Exit West is lit with hope. Hamid has said that “part of the great political crisis we face in the world today is a failure to imagine plausible desirable futures,” and that “fiction can imagine differently.” “Exit West” does so, and beautifully. May Hamid’s hopes turn out to be as prescient as his concerns already are.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“[An] ambitious and far-roaming tale of migration and adventure…which feels like something quite new.”  –The New Republic

“Hamid graphically explores a fundamental and important ontological question: Is it possible for us to conceive of ourselves at all, except in juxtaposition to an “other”?… What is remarkable about Hamid’s narrative is that war is not, in fact, able to marginalize the “precious mundanity” of everyday life. Instead — and herein lies Hamid’s genius as a storyteller — the mundanity, the minor joys of life, like bringing flowers to a lover, smoking a joint, and looking at stars, compete with the horrors of war.” –Los Angeles Times

“In an era when powerful ruling groups — often in the minority — are gripped by a sense of religious and ethnic nativism, Mohsin offers these two, the millions they represent, and us, comfort: that plausible, desirable futures can be imagined, that new tribes may be formed, and that life will go on…  If we are looking for the story of our time, one that can project a future that is both more bleak and more hopeful than that which we can yet envision, this novel is faultless.” –Boston Globe

“In gossamer-fine sentences, Exit West weaves a pulse-raising tale of menace and romance, a parable of our refugee crisis, and a poignant vignette of love won and lost… Let the word go forth: Hamid has written his most lyrical and piercing novel yet, destined to be one of this year’s landmark achievements.” –Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A remarkable accomplishment….not putting a human face on refugees so much as putting a refugee face on all of humankind….Hamid’s writing—elegant and fluid…—makes Exit West an absorbing read, but the ideas he expresses and the future he’s bold enough to imagine define it as an unmissable one.” –The Atlantic

“Terrifying, hopeful, and all too relevant.” —People Magazine

“A thoughtful, beautifully crafted work that emphasizes above all the ordinariness and humanity of people who become refugees… Its language and ideas might have a particular resonance today, but they would be worth reading at any time.” —Vox

“It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… This book blew the top off my head. It’s at once terrifying and, in the end, oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman, New York Times Book Review

“Brilliant….[Hamid] highlights the stark reality of the refugee experience and the universal struggle of dislocation.” –Newsday

“If there is one book everyone should read ASAP, it is Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West…Short, unsentimental, deeply intimate, and so very powerful.” —Goop

“Spare and haunting, it’s magical realism meets the all-too-real.” –W Magazine

“With great empathy, Hamid skillfully chronicles the manic condition of involuntary migration… ‘Exit West’ rattles our perception of home.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Taut but haunting.” –Vanity Fair

“Powerfully evokes the violence and anxiety of lives lived ‘under the drone-crossed sky.’” —Time Magazine

“Hamid’s timely and spare new novel confronts the inevitability of mass global immigration, the unbroken cycle of violence and the indomitable human will to connect and love.” —Huffington Post

“Hamid doesn’t avoid or sugarcoat the heartache and hurt accompanying contradiction and change, as people ‘all over the world were slipping away from where they had been.’ But he also has the courage to … see change as an opportunity.” — Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

“A dark fable for our turbulent time, Exit West…portrays a world of transience, violence, and insecurity that rhymes with our world of porous borders and rabid tribalists.” – Dallas Morning News

“Reading Mohsin Hamid’s penetrating, prescient new novel feels like bearing witness to events that are unfolding before us in real time.” –Seattle Times

“I have not been this emotionally moved by a book in years… By the end … I was in tears and had to sit still for a bit to reflect. This timeless and timely love story is one we need; right now and forever.” –Sarah Bagby, KMUW Wichita

“A great romance that is also a story of refugees; this couldn’t be more timely.” —Flavorwire

Exit West is a compelling read that will make you think about the times we are living in right now.” –PopSugar

“A sly and intelligent book, written with Hamid’s extraordinary eye for character—their desires, hopes, grudges, and disappointments—all those ‘faulty human things’ that keep us alive and make us real. But what truly sets the book apart, both in Hamid’s oeuvre and contemporary fiction, is it’s warmth and generosity to its readers—something we need more of from books in our morally exhausting times.” –Guernica

“Timely and original.” –Business Insider

“Beautiful.” –The Rumpus

“Urgent and much needed… an antidote of sorts (one can only hope) in this moment of xenophobic fear and mistrust.” –Mother Jones

“Eerily prescient.” Joyce Carol Oates, The New Yorker.com

“Brilliant… If you’re numb to the unending talk relating to migration policy, the platitudes and the protest slogans, this book provides a way to reignite much-needed empathy because, above all, Hamid reminds us that no matter hard governments try, they can never really close doors.” –Toronto Star

“A commanding yet fanciful outlook on the current climate of global immigration and international xenophobia, as told through the poignant love story of those caught in between… A beautiful rendering of the lives hidden in the folds of war.” –AV Club

“Every so often, the right author, the right story, and the right moment converge for an altogether perfect reading experience— I’m happy to tell you Mohsin Hamid is that author, Exit West is that story, and this is the moment.” –Parnassus Musing

“While we’ve permitted ourselves to go soft, we can be thankful for the writers in the rest of the world who continue to write in the tradition of our greatest literary works. No surprise, then, that Mohsin Hamid belongs in that pattern… a writer celebrating the possibility of hope. That’s what makes his latest novel so profound.” –Counterpunch

“Political without being didactic and romantic without being maudlin… Exit West is a richly imaginative work with a firm grip on what is happening to someone somewhere right this minute.” –BookPage

“[A] thought experiment that pivots on the crucial figure of this century: the migrant… Hamid’s cautious, even fastidious prose makes the sudden flashes of social breakdown all the more affecting…Evading the lure of both the utopian and the dystopian, Exit West makes some rough early sketches of the world that must come if we (or is it ‘you’?) are to avoid walling out the rest of the human race.” –Financial Times

“[Q]uietly exquisite… A masterpiece of humanity and restraint, it is an antidote to the cruelty of a present in which those who leave the places of their birth seeking a better life are routinely demonized, imprisoned or left to die… There’s a lightness to the author’s lyricism, his every sentence fit to be whispered. It’s the language of daydreams, where the deeply desired intermingles with the plainly surreal.” –The Globe and Mail

“Hamid shows how determination cannot be crushed, that people have hope in desperation, and that their circumstances alter their lives immeasurably.” –Winnipeg Free Press

“Exit West operates on another plane… Beautiful and poetic even at its most devastating.” Book Riot

“Remarkably current and timeless … A haunting and heart-piercing novel that reminds us to be courageous and to handle our shared humanity with great care. This is required reading.” –Uli Beutter Cohen, Eye Level

“Raw, poetic, and frighteningly prescient.” BBC.com

“Spellbinding.” —Booklist (starred) 

“Timely and resonant.” Publisher’s Weekly, Top 10 Most-Anticipated Literary Fiction of 2017

“One of the most bittersweet love stories in modern memory…a book to savor.” Kirkus Reviews

“[H]eartbreakingly relevant.” Library Journal

 

https://www.amazon.com/Exit-West-Longlisted-Booker-Prize/dp/0241290090/ (I couldn’t find the e-book version in Amazon.com, the Dutch version kept coming up…)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Exit-West-Longlisted-Booker-Prize-ebook/dp/B01LXKLSQ0/

Author Mohsin Hamid
Author Mohsin Hamid

About the author:

Mohsin Hamid is the author of three novels, MOTH SMOKE, THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST, and HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA, and a book of essays, DISCONTENT AND ITS CIVILIZATIONS.

His writing has been featured on bestseller lists, adapted for the cinema, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, selected as winner or finalist of twenty awards, and translated into more than thirty languages.

He was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and has spent about half his life there and much of the rest in London, New York, and California.

https://www.amazon.com/Mohsin-Hamid/e/B001J3MU1Y/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is another one of the books longlisted for the Man-Booker Prize (now I only have one left of the ones I discovered sitting on my list. I might even finish reading it before the short-list is announced, I believe on the 13th of September). In this case, like in a few of the previous ones, although the author, Mohsin Hamid, is fairly well-known, this is the first of his books I read. Some of the reviews compare it to his previous books, especially to The Reluctant Fundamentalist (I don’t know about the book, but I love the title, for sure), but I can’t comment on that. I can tell you that having read this book, I am curious to read more of his works.

This is another fairly peculiar book. Let me tell you beforehand that I really enjoyed it. Like many of the other books selected, the author seems to go out of his way to ignore most of the rules that those of us who read articles and books on writing are so familiar with. He tells a fair bit more than he shows (although there are some bits of showing that make up for it), he uses run-on sentences and paragraphs that sometimes go on and on (if you read it as an e-book, full pages). The punctuation of the said paragraphs is ‘alternative’ at best (quite a few reviewers have taken issue with the use of commas). And the genre is not well-defined.

The novel seemingly starts as a love story between two young characters, Nadia and Saeed, who live in an undetermined Middle-Eastern country. He is shyer, more serious, and has certain religious beliefs (although he is not obsessed or particularly orthodox). She wears a long, black robe, possibly as a protection (although her explanation of it varies throughout the story) but never prays. He comes from a happy and learned family; hers was well-off but not particularly supportive. They meet at a time when the political situation of their country is getting complicated, they almost lose each other and eventually, due to a tragedy, end up together, but never formally so. At some point, life becomes so precarious and dangerous that they decide they must leave.

The story, told in the third-person, that most of the time shares the point of view of one of the two protagonists (and briefly that of Saeed’s father), at times becomes omniscient, interspersing short interludes, which sometimes are full stories and sometimes merely vignettes, of characters that appear extraneous to the story. (And they are, although perhaps not).

The story up to that point, apart from these strange interludes, appears fairly realistic, if somewhat general (no specifics are shared about the country, and the narration is mostly circumscribed to the everyday experiences of the characters). Then, the characters start to hear rumours about some ‘doors’ that allow those who cross them to arrive at a different country. There is no explanation for this. It simply is. Is this fantasy, science-fiction (but as I said, there is no scientific explanation or otherwise, although the setting appears to be an alternative future, but very similar to our present. Extremely similar), or perhaps, in my opinion, a touch of magic realism?

People start migrating en masse, using the doors, most to remove themselves from dangerous situations, and despite attempts from the richest nations to control it, more and more doors are appearing and more and more people are going through them, and that changes everything. Many of the western nations end up full of people from other places, squatting in empty houses (like the protagonists do in London, Chelsea and Kensington to be precise), setting up camps, and the political situation worsens, with confrontations between the natives and the new arrivals, before a sort of equilibrium is reached. The two main characters move several times, and their relationship develops and changes too. (I am not sure I could share true spoilers, but I’d leave it to you to decide if you want to read it or not, rather than tell you the whole story).

The book deals with a subject that is very relevant, although it has been criticised for using the allegory of the doors to avoid discussing and describing one of the most harrowing (sometimes lethal) aspects of the experience of illegal immigrants, the passage. Nonetheless, this novel sets up a fascinating hypothetical situation, where there are no true barriers to the movement of people between countries and where all frontiers have effectively disappeared. What would actually happen if people were not waiting outside to come in, waiting for governments to decide what to do with them, but suddenly found a back door, and were here, there, and everywhere? What if they refused to leave? What would happen then?

I enjoyed some of the interspersed stories, some magical, some of discovering amazing possibilities, some nostalgic. I also loved the language and some of the more generalised reflections about life, people, and identity (like the different groups of people who claimed to being ‘native’ in the USA, for example). We observe the characters from a certain distance at times, but we are also allowed to peek into their inner thoughts and experiences at other times. Although we might not have much in common with either of them, we can easily relate to them and put ourselves in their shoes. We don’t get to know much about some of the other characters, but there is enough for the readers to imagine the rest and fill in the gaps.

The book meanders and at times seems to stay still, just observing the new normality, as if it was trying to tell us that life, even in the most extreme circumstances, is made of the small everyday things. A few quotations from the book:

Nadia had taken one look at Saeed’s father and felt him like a father, for he was so gentle, and evoked in her a protective caring, as if for one’s own child, or for a puppy, or for a beautiful memory one knows has already commenced to fade.

Every time a couple moves they begin, if their attention is still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable colour, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us.

…and when she went out it seemed to her that she too had migrated, that everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.

…the apocalypse appeared to have arrived and yet it was not apocalyptic, which is to say that while the changes were jarring they were not the end, and life went on, and people found things to do and ways to be and people to be with, and plausible desirable futures began to emerge, unimaginable previously, but not unimaginable now, and the result was something not unlike relief.

 

This is a book that questions notions of identity, beliefs, nationhood, family, community, race… It is dark at times, full of light at others, sad sometimes, and sometimes funny, and it is hopeful and perhaps even utopic (not something very common these days). I am not sure everybody would define the ending as happy (definitely is not the HEA romance novels have us accustomed to) but perhaps we need to challenge our imagination a bit more than traditional storytelling allows.

This is another novel that is not for everybody but perhaps everybody should read. If you are prepared to cross the door of possibility you might be amazed by what you find on the other side.

Thanks very much to NetGalley, to the author and to the publisher for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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Book reviews

#Bookreview HERE I AM by Jonathan Safran Foer. Family, nation, religion, identity and writing with an inimitable style. And authors answer the question, What does your writing look like?

Today I bring you both a new book and a review. I’d been curious about this writer for a while and this is one of the few reviews where I’ve got feedback on the review itself in Amazon (at first somebody complaining about a spoiler, although it is not that kind of novel, and later recommendations and good words).

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

Literary FictionGeneral Fiction (Adult)

Description

A monumental new novel about modern family lives from the bestselling author of Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, and Abraham replied obediently, ‘Here I am’.

This is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. Over the course of three weeks in present-day Washington DC, three sons watch their parents’ marriage falter and their family home fall apart. Meanwhile, a larger catastrophe is engulfing another part of the world: a massive earthquake devastates the Middle East, sparking a pan-Arab invasion of Israel. With global upheaval in the background and domestic collapse in the foreground, Jonathan Safran Foer asks us – what is the true meaning of home? Can one man ever reconcile the conflicting duties of his many roles – husband, father, son? And how much of life can a person bear?

Links:

Hardcover: https://www.amazon.com/Here-Am-Jonathan-Safran-Foer/dp/0374280029/

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Here-Am-Jonathan-Safran-Foer/dp/1250135753/

Audible: https://www.amazon.com/Here-I-Am/dp/B01K7S49BK/

(I haven’t found an e-book version available yet).

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin Books UK Hamish Hamilton for offering me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I had not read any of Jonathan Safran Foer before, so I can’t really compare it to his previous work. I’ve checked comments about the novel, as I felt quite overwhelmed when I finished its reading and I wanted to check if I was the only one. The opinions by people who’d read his previous novels varied widely, although ‘ambitious’ is one of the words most often used in all the comment, positive and otherwise. Yes, the novel is ambitious. The story is about the disintegration of an upper-middle-class Jewish-American marriage. Jacob, the main character, writes a TV comedy, is married, with three children, a dog, and relatives both in the United States and in Israel. The story is told mostly from his point of view, although there are fragments also told from other characters’ viewpoint, like his grandfather, his wife, his oldest son… Later in the novel there are also inserts that purport to be news articles or news reports about an earthquake that affects most of the Middle-East and has terrible consequences for the region, resulting in what is referred to in the book as ‘the destruction of Israel’. The attempts at equating the family’s fortunes to that of Israel itself are clear when reading the book, although how successful they are it’s open to the individual reader (for me, the situation provides a good way to test the main character’s beliefs and is a good way of offering the reader a better understanding of him, but how literally we’re supposed to take it is a different matter).

This is not an easy book to read, for a variety of reasons. The quality of the writing is excellent, although I found it difficult sometimes not to get lost as to who is talking in very long dialogues with few tags (but I am aware that different readers feel differently about this). Although there is action in the novel, most of the time this is observed and described through the subjectivity of different characters, making it appear slower than in most books. All the characters are highly intellectual and articulate, even Sam, Jacob’s teenage son who does not want to have a Bar Mitzvah. Often, we see the same events from different points of view in different chapters and the actual time frame of the story might become confused. Towards the end of the novel we discover that the famous TV programme Jacob has been privately working on is, in reality, a retelling of his family’s story, so I wondered if this was a book, within a book… There are also many Yiddish terms used that although have been incorporated into English in the US might not be so familiar to readers in other places (although they might be known from TV, and if reading the electronic version there’s always the dictionary at hand).

The characters are easily identifiable but not necessarily that easy to empathise with and might not have much in common with a large part of the readership. They all try their best, but fail often, find excuses for themselves, give up, and are less than heroic. They also lie and feel sorry for themselves, but at times are truly amazing and insightful. Overall. in the book there are funny and witty moments, there are sad moments, and there are moments that made me think. There are images and vignettes I don’t think I’ll ever forget, and reflections I’ll keep thinking about.

There are moments when reading this book that I was gripped by the power of the writing (and yes, at times it reminded me of other writers, like Philip Roth, but perhaps an older version of some of Roth’s earlier novels), and others when I wondered exactly where we were going, but I didn’t mind to be taken along for the ride.

This is not a novel for those who like functional writing that gets out of the way of the story and moves along at a good pace, rather than contemplating itself. But if you enjoy deeply subjective and introspective writing, and in-depth explorations of identity, relationship and what makes us human, I’d recommend it to you.

Thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publishers for providing me with a copy of this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, like, share, comment and CLICK!

Oh, and the wonderful Marie Lavender has organised another of her multiauthor events, this time asking a number of writers: What does your writing look like? She’s been kind enough to ask me to take part. Here is the link to her post. I’m aware it will go live on the 11th of November afternoon (Eastern US coast time), so depending on when you’re reading this you might not be able to read it yet, but visit it later if you can, as I’m sure both readers and writers will find it interesting. Thanks!

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