Tuesday, April 14, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Wonderful World by Javier Calvo

"There're always kneecaps that are screaming out, begging for us to shoot them, of course." – Wonderful World

Thirty years ago, Lorenzo Girault was imprisoned for questionable activities in his antiques business. An undiagnosed pathology, referred to by his family as his "window problem," led Lorenzo to live in rooms without windows and to membership in the "Down with the Sun Society." After Lorenzo's death, his son Lucas struggles to become the man he is sure his father wished him to be. Compelled by a need to understand the legacy left by his father, and determine exactly who was responsible for his father's downfall, Lucas searches for clues in his Lorenzo's secret apartment.

Lucas's quest places him at odds with his mother and in the midst of two gangs in Barcelona's seedy underworld. His best friend is Valentina, a 12-year-old girl who has fashioned herself as Europe's top expert on Stephen King and who indulges in violent fantasies of retribution against her school chums. As Lucas sorts through the detritus of his father's life, Valentina struggles with growing up, while all around them swirls a surreal cast: a giant, comic book obsessed gang enforcer; a strip club owner with a fondness for women's coats; a dreadlock-sporting Russian underling with Rastafarian leanings; and an uptight art dealer for whom thoroughness is next to godliness.

Wonderful World, Javier Calvo’s first novel translated into English, if a film would be David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino’s love child; Lynch for the indescribable plot and Tarantino for the surreal, shocking violence. A feverish verbal joyride, Wonderful World pulls no punches. The quote at the beginning of this review is a typical line of dialogue; rapid-fire and edgy.

At times family drama, mob story, mystery and Hero's journey, Wonderful World is a dizzying, multilayered construction that even includes excerpts from a fictitious Stephen King novel. Calvo's cast is massive and the numerous plot lines almost requires story mapping to keep straight. Yet the quirky characters and chaotic plots are adeptly controlled by this talented author. Not for everyone, Calvo's "open conception of narration" owes much to the Free Cinema movement, developed in the late 1950s and characterized by a deliberate lack of box office appeal.

ISBN10: 0061557684
ISBN13: 9780061557682

480 pages
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: March 17, 2009


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal

Pinky Mittal grew up in the home of her maternal grandmother Maji, after the death of her mother Yamuna during the violence surrounding the partition of India. Shortly before infant Pinky’s joined the Mittal household, her Aunt Savita lost her infant daughter in a freak accident. The arrival of Pinky is a constant reminder to Savita of what she lost, and she falls more and more into a world of superstitions and secret charms, convinced her daughter’s death was not an accidental drowning but due to wicked spirits. She demands that the children’s bathroom be bolted at dusk in case the evil still lurks within.

Thirteen years later, Pinky knows she’s despised by her aunt but idolizes her older cousin Nimish, longing for him as young women long for pop or film stars. Everything changes one stifling summer evening when Pinky awakes and discovers Nimish’s secret relationship with Lovely, the beautiful next-door neighbour. In a fit of despair, Pinky unbolts the bathroom door and unleashes the ghosts within. As monsoons batter Bombay, the ghosts unleash chaos on the family and long held secrets are exposed.

Shilpa Agarwal’s debut novel Haunting Bombay is the richly detailed story of a family in crisis. Three generations of the Mittal family live together in a bungalow in 1960s Bombay. Maji, the matriarch, lives by the daily rituals which have governed her life for decades. Savita, slave to her superstitions, is in constant competition with her friends for the “Most-Number-One-First-Class-Life.” Jaginder, Maji’s son, has retreated into an alcoholic stupor rather than face the loss of his daughter.

Agarwal’s ghosts are vengeful spirits, violently exacting payment for the wrongs perpetrated upon them in life. The Mittal family, by refusing to face the tragedy in their midst, have kept Chakori’s sprit from the afterlife and have existed in a purgatory of their own making. And hidden within Haunting Bombay are deeper secrets, ones which Agarwal slowly unfurls one by one and ones that help readers understand the mysteries of this ancient culture.

ISBN10: 156947558X
ISBN13: 9781569475584

368 Pages
Publisher: Soho Press
Publication Date: April 1, 2009
Author Website: shilpaagarwal.com