Foreword Reviews

Bridges to New Worlds


Great books are bridges to new worlds, and gifted translators make our far-flung literary journeys possible, offering passports to places and experiences that even the most intrepid travelers will never know: the Bardo, where Tibetans believe the newly dead wander until they find the Clear Light or their next reincarnation; the brooding landscape of Sweden, where a vengeful killer stalks his victims; the endless blackness of a Japanese copper mine where a young man finds light for his journey; the perilous world of a high-profile Egyptian Muslim televangelist caught in the snares of political intrigue , and more. Enjoy your journey!

The Defenceless

Book Cover
Kati Hiekkapelto
David Hackston, translator
Orenda Books
Softcover $14.95 (320pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Denied asylum in Finland after fleeing certain death at the hands of radical Islamists in Pakistan, young Sammy goes underground and lives on the streets, hoping for a chance at a new life. The second of bestselling author Kati Hiekkapelto’s series of crime stories (the first was The Hummingbird) follows police officer Anna Fekete as she attempts to unravel the web of drugs, crime, and murder that has entangled Sammy as competing gangs vie to become lords of the drug trade in Finland.

Set in the darkly brooding Nordic landscape, the tightly woven, fast-paced tale is much more than a gripping crime story—Hiekkapelto’s deft hand also blends social commentary, the plight of stateless refugees, insight into the minds and motives of drug addicts, and the inner workings of crime investigation into the mix. She caps it all off with an adrenalin-fueled quest to bring the guilty to justice.

Her complex, troubled characters—on both sides of the law and in that ambiguous space between—are drawn with delicacy and skill, and the relationships between them dance between tension and understanding. The dialogue is pointed and powerful and the scene shifts are unfailingly smooth and natural. With The Defenceless, this masterful storyteller has brewed up a savory tale of crime and police methodology that, seasoned with friendship, compassion, and hope, satisfies on all levels.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2016)

Bardo or Not Bardo

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Antoine Volodine
J. T. Mahany, translator
Open Letter
Softcover $13.95 (162pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

According to The Tibetan Book of the Dead, souls wander for forty-nine days in a place called the “Bardo,” guided by readings from the sacred book, before finding their way either into the Clear Light or being reborn. But Antoine Volodine’s newly dead all manage to screw up their chances at enlightenment, and those still on Earth who are entrusted with reciting from the book to help them on their way might just as well be reading from a Tibetan cookbook for all the help that they provide.

The seven vignettes that make up Bardo or Not Bardo range from hysterical to pathetic as the wandering souls stumble their way through strange, dark landscapes, bumping into unseen obstacles, friends and acquaintances from their previous lives, and the contents of their own minds. Volodine shines a light on “the strange pointlessness of existence” as his quirky protagonists, ranging from failed revolutionaries to Buddhist monks to actors and clowns, prepare to meet, or look for ways to escape, the fate that awaits them in their next life.

Grappling with the topic we most want to avoid, the fact that we all will die makes everything, even what we consider most important, meaningless, Volodine puts us all—overachievers and slackers, religious and decidedly not—“in the same boat, balanced between the dreadful and the useless, obligated to pretend not to care.”

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2016)

The Miner

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**Natsume Sōseki **
Jay Rubin, translator
Aardvark Bureau
Softcover $15.95 (264pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In this unusual offering by one of Japan’s greatest novelists, a nineteen-year-old has run away from his Tokyo home and is walking through an endless pine forest in a “fog of unsettling anxiety,” accompanied only by familiar thoughts of suicide and goaded on by a voice that tells him to “go into the dark.” One thing, he feels, is certain: he can never go home again.

Though he has the soul of a poet-philosopher, he is still too young to know it, and too confused about life to care. On his trek through the woods, he meets an old man who entices him to embrace the life of a miner. Though warned about what such a life would entail, the proud young man, son of a prominent family, is stubborn in his commitment to the miner’s life “precisely because of the work’s similarity to death.” But despite his supposed longing for silence, blackness, and self-obliteration, a short time in Earth’s dark depths soon brings him to the realization that he was in a “terrible place.”

Alternating between fear, despair, and a “pale happiness,” he encounters an older miner, an educated man, who shares some hard-won truth with him. One day, abandoned underground by his team, he comes face-to-face with death in the bowels of the mine, and must choose whether to live or die.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2016)

They Were Coming for Him

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Berta Vias-Mahou
Cecilia Ross, translator
Softcover $15.95 (260pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

On January 4, 1960, Nobel Laureate, existentialist thinker, and dedicated pacifist Albert Camus died in a tragic, and highly suspicious, car accident. Camus was just forty-six years old.

Berta Vias Mahou’s sensitive and probing novel combines fact, fiction, and excerpts from Camus’s own writings to illuminate the French-Algerian writer’s life and death through the story of his alter ego, Jacques.

Growing up amidst the violence in Algiers, young Jacques is haunted by recurring nightmares of his own death by execution. Even awake, he imagines the feel of the forty-five pound blade dropping to sever skin, nerves, bones and arteries.

As a writer, Jacques’s outspoken stance for peace and justice has put him at odds with the powers that be. With Stalin and Franco in control and Algeria fighting for independence from France, the simplest of words and phrases “cost their weight in freedom and blood,” and even fictional works could end up spelling death. Spies could be anywhere, and Jacques is aware that his executioners could come for him at any time. Death threats increased after his last visit to Algiers, where his proposals for reconciliation made him enemies on all sides.

This thoughtful, if somewhat slow-moving, story holds messages for us today, among them that the “practice of goading people on in their antagonism of one another” is both abhorrent and dangerous and that what will remain of most of our precious lives are impalpable memories, “the weightless ash of a butterfly wing consumed in a forest fire.”

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2016)

Killer Deal

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Sofie Sarenbrandt
Paul Norlén, translator
Stockholm Text
Softcover $16.95 (400pp)
Buy: Amazon

An abused wife with a small, strange child; real estate agents with plenty to hide; a pregnant cop with a complicated love life; a shadowy stalker, and several gruesome murders make this third book in Sofie Sarenbrandt’s Emma Sköld series of crime novels a gripping, chilling read.

Cornelia Göransson, longing to escape her abusive husband, Hans, has their upper-end house listed for sale. Waking up the day after an open house, six-year-old Astrid discovers her father’s mutilated body in the guest room. When there is no evidence of a break-in, and the murder weapon proves to be a knife from the family’s own kitchen, Cornelia becomes a prime suspect, despite Astrid’s claim that a strange man was in her room, gently stroking her cheek, on the night of the murder. Detective Emma Sköld, who should be rejoicing in her pregnancy but instead is in a complicated relationship with the baby’s father, is called to work the case. After Cornelia is in custody, more murders, all associated with open houses in the area, prove that the killer is still on the loose, and Emma, stalked by a former lover, finds the web of suspicion drawing frighteningly close to home.

While Sarenbrandt’s multivoice approach takes us deeply into the minds of her characters, including that of the psychopathic killer, the cliffhanger ending still comes as a surprise.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2016)

Hunting for the Mississippi

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Camille Bouchard
Peter McCambridge
Baraka Books
Softcover $19.95 (210pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Twelve-year-old Eustache Bréman and his widowed mother, Delphine, are living in abject poverty in La Rochelle, France, when their neighbors, the Talon family, invite them to join an expedition to America to be led by René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle. The goal: to establish a colony to secure France’s claim to the Louisiana Territory. On July 24, 1684, the expedition—300 people including 100 soldiers, a group of artisans, six Recollect missionaries, and ten women with their children—set sail for the New World in search of the Mississippi River. Told in the voice of Eustache, and based on historical records, this gripping fictional coming-of-age story reveals the violence and horrors of the voyage and the lusts and pride of the men who fought to survive in a strange new land.

Though told in the voice of an adolescent, the novel’s disturbing subject matter, including rape and the victimization of women and Indians, makes it more appropriate for adult readers. Eustache, hardened by the brutal deaths of those he loves, is transformed from a child into a strong and capable young man who deals with the dissention, mutinies, and betrayals among the group’s leaders by becoming become “the worst, the most vicious of men”—a man burning to avenge the loved ones he has lost and to protect those who remain.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2016)

The Bad Mother

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Marguerite Andersen
Donald Winkler, translator
Second Story Press
Softcover $19.95 (208pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In this award-winning fictionalized autobiography, eighty-nine-year-old writer and educator Marguerite Andersen shares her struggles with the choices she made when love for her children came into conflict with her longing for freedom, adventure, and meaning.

Born in Germany, Andersen saw the whole world “exploding with joy” at the end of World War II. But for the women returning to Berlin with their malnourished children, nothing would ever be the same. Pregnant and eager to escape the memory of wartime horrors, she married the father of her child, one of the liberators returning to his home in Tunis. The abusive, loveless marriage and life in her “blood-drinking Corsican” mother-in-law’s home ignited dreams of escape.

Aided by her mother, she fled to Berlin, leaving her two sons behind for a time. Custody battles and feelings of guilt that she had not defended her children from their father’s violence—“The Nazis had taught me to beware of those whose role it was to enforce the law”—burdened her spirit.

Though she maintained her relationship with her sons, and found happiness with her second husband and their daughter, Andersen never stopped questioning her choices. Her story, told with power and grace, is that of all women who wonder whether, by longing for lives of their own, they have earned the label of “bad mother.”

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2016)

The Televangelist

Book Cover
Ibrahim Essa
Jonathan Wright, illustrator
Hoopoe, an imprint of AUC Press
Softcover $17.95 (480pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Sheik Hatem el-Shenawi is accustomed to both the magic and madness of life in the limelight. As an Islamic televangelist with a large following, he’s right up there with film stars and soccer players in the eyes of the viewing public. But his glamourous job and the upper-crust lifestyle it provides have a dark side. He finds himself being drawn into the dangerous web of Egyptian politics, religious rivalries, and the complex strategies and power-plays that the elite must employ if they are to survive in a society where even a hint of disagreement with the powers-that-be can bring on disaster.

A prisoner of his self-created image, and vulnerable to the battle for TV ratings, Sheik Hatem is dismayed by the gap between what he must say and what he really wants to say, even to those closest to him. In a state in which “politics has been permeated by religion, and religion has been politicized,” everyone is afraid of tipping the balance by saying something “incorrect.” Lonely and friendless, he has become pawn in a corrupt system that values obedience above freedom, and tradition above reason.

The tension grows as Sheik Hatem’s livelihood and life are put in jeopardy when he is given a commission he cannot refuse, and for which failure is not an option.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2016)

Kristine Morris

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