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NewPages Book Reviews

Posted October 1, 2013

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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Janet Lewis
  • Date Published August 2013
  • ISBN-13 9780804011433
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 112pp
  • Price $9.95
  • Review by Patricia Contino
Life choices were nonexistent for Bertrande Guerre (née Rols) in sixteenth century France. Her marriage to Martin was arranged between their wealthy peasant families when they both reached puberty. A distant husband, Martin grudgingly comes to respect Bertrande when she sides with him against his cruel father. To prove her love, she covers for Martin when he runs away. “Eight days” turns into eight years, and Martin returns a changed man . . . that is, if it really is him . . .
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Kathryn Miles
  • Date Published January 2013
  • ISBN-13 9781451610130
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 256pp
  • Price $26.00
  • Review by Courtney McDermott
All Standing is history with a pulse. Kathryn Miles, in a heroic feat, attempts to unravel the threads that lead to the success of the Jeanie Johnston, a famous Irish famine ship that never lost a passenger.
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  • Book Type Anthology edited
  • by Robert F. Lawson and Carol S. Lawson
  • Date Published March 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-87785-244-5
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 272pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Cheryl Wright-Watkins
The Swedenborg Foundation’s annual Chrysalis anthologies were first published in 1984, for the purpose of examining themes related to the universal quest for wisdom according to the teachings of scientist-turned-spiritual-visionary and writer Emanuel Swedenborg. This, the final volume of the series, contains essays, stories, poetry, and illustrations focused on the theme of patterns. It contains more than seventy pieces and numerous illustrations by poet laureates and prominent and award-winning authors, as well as some new voices, and is divided into five sections: “Breaking Patterns,” “Perpetuating a Pattern,” “Stuck in a Pattern,” “Patterns in Progress,” and Making New Patterns,” in addition to the preface and epilogue.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Jonathan Lethem
  • Date Published September 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0385534932
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 384pp
  • Price $27.95
  • Review by David Breithaupt
Dissident Gardens begins in Queens during the post-war years, when the romance with Communism was still fresh. There was a brief window of time before McCarthyism when, as Allen Ginsberg wrote in his famous poem America, “everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party was . . .” In some circles, revolution was in the air. There were cell meetings, communiques from Moscow, Bolsheviks in the bathroom. However, the narrative informs us:
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Anthony Marra
  • Date Published May 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-7704-3640-7
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 400pp
  • Price $26.00
  • Review by Olive Mullet
Against the background of bad press about Chechnya—from violent rebel attacks like that on a Moscow theater and, more recently, the Chechen connection with the Boston Marathon bombers—Anthony Marra’s novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena manages to right the balance on Chechen/Russian violence. For those of us who know little about the Chechens’ struggle for independence, from the first page on, we see the brutality of the “Feds” (the Russians) and their continuing efforts to obliterate any chance of the country’s unification. The two main female characters, sisters Natasha and Sonja, are Russians; their family was encouraged to move to Chechnya to help keep the country Russian.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Stephen Burt
  • Date Published June 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1555976446
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Elizabeth O'Brien
While it is generally a mistake to assume the speaker of a poem is the poet himself, Belmont is an introspective book featuring many overtly autobiographical gestures. Taking its title from the Massachusetts town where poet Stephen Burt lives, the collection explore the pleasures of adulthood and the security of home through poems that are fixed in definite times and recognizable places and often refer to specific people. Objects, even, have specificity; in “Over Wingaersheek Beach,” readers are told that “Nathan’s kite shows a pattern of angelfish, coral, and sea stars,” taking the vivid description so far as to denote possession—the kite in question is Nathan’s—and in fact Nathan and other family members are mentioned by name frequently in the book, lending the collection the narrative specificity of a memoir.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Marosa Di Giorgio
  • Translated From Spanish
  • by Adam Giannelli
  • Date Published October 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1-934414-97-2
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 169pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Patrick James Dunagan
Despite a several-decades-long history of publication in the poet’s homeland of Uruguay, prior to the publication of Diadem: Selected Poems the only published translations into English of Marosa Di Giorgio’s work were her 1965 collection The History of Violets (Historial de las violetas) (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010) and a selection of her work in the anthology Hotel Lautréamont: Contemporary Poetry from Uruguay (Shearsman, 2011). This is slim representation for a poet who, as translator Adam Giannelli relates in his introduction, “like Whitman . . . expanded the same work throughout her career,” ultimately gathering fourteen books as her collected poetry in Los papeles salvajes (“The Wild Papers”) which in “the most recent version appeared in 2008, and gathered in a single volume nearly seven hundred pages of poetry.”
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Eloise Klein Healy
  • Date Published March 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-59709-759-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 248pp
  • Price $19.95
  • Review by Emily May Anderson
The beauty of a “new and selected” book is that it can provide a wide-ranging introduction to readers unfamiliar with a poet while serving to remind familiar readers of all the reasons they loved the poet’s work in the first place. The risk sometimes is that drawing from a poet’s entire career can yield too diverse a book, one which lacks cohesion. That is not the case in A Wild Surmise. Although it includes poems from throughout Healy’s long career, the tone of the book is consistent—from the opening acknowledgments to the closing poem, the tone is celebratory, grateful, and entirely current. Whether a reader is already familiar with Healy’s work or not, the poems are engaging, the presentation is savvy, and the subjects (love, death, nature, urban life) are both timely and timeless.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Andrew Lam
  • Date Published March 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-59709-268-5
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 216pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Michael Caylo-Baradi
While reading Andrew Lam’s Birds of Paradise Lost, I kept thinking of novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED speech, back in 2009. It was titled “The Danger of the Single Story”; the subject echoed the project of challenging master narratives from the previous century. That challenge germinated revisions in university reading lists, back in the late seventies, as the war in Vietnam approached its final phase. Adichie underlines the role of power cultivated in a single story, and how it insinuates, then calcifies, subterranean borderlines through stereotypes. On a Virgin flight from Lagos before her talk, Adichie heard an announcement about charity work in “India, Africa, and other countries”; however unintentional this categorization of Africa as a country was, the remark was not isolated. Adichie was clear about that, that the comment signaled pernicious perceptions about Africa, the kind that framed the continent in a stereotype: that its economic situation is prime destination of numerous charities from the First World. On the other hand, Adichie’s problem with stereotypes “is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete[;] they make one story the only story.”
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Brandon Shimoda
  • Date Published February 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-935639-51-0
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 100pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Patrick James Dunagan
Witty to no end, Brandon Shimoda writes smart-ass hipster poems. The title of his latest collection, Portuguese, stems from a first day of first grade childhood teasing incident on the school bus when he was mocked by a “a fourth grader, skinny, with grassy blond hair and the face of a horse” who drawled out “in a squealing voice, Portugueeese, Portugueeese!” Shimoda is not in the least Portuguese. However, the incident not only gives him the title of this collection but clearly shapes the irony and humor that run throughout, along with for better or worse contributing to his larger views regarding humanity. One way or another, the event led as well to his researching “words of Portuguese origin introduced into the Japanese language, mostly by Portuguese Jesuit priests.” The list is a curious wonder in itself, at once as much practical as fanciful: 
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  • Book Type Essays
  • by James Longenbach
  • Date Published March 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-55597-637-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 192pp
  • Price $14.00
  • Review by Julie Swarstad Johnson
Critic and poet James Longenbach has a mission: to call writers back to the study of great poems. Although this mission has motivated Longenbach’s critical writing previously, it comes through most clearly in his newest book, The Virtues of Poetry, a series of twelve essays that each consider the qualities a successful poem might possess. Weaving together research, close reading, and unmitigated passion for the poems and poets he admires, Longenbach’s arguments prove convincing and insightful in this lively essay collection.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Thomas Heise
  • Date Published July 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-936747-57-3
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 165pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Trena Machado
Moth; or, how I came to be with you again, by Thomas Heise, is a poetic narrative of three- to six-page chapters, by a fictional narrator writing his memoir who “may” be under doctor’s care for an illness in which he is unable to distinguish between “what was real and what was not”—a condition the doctors were so concerned about that perhaps “they might be diagnosing themselves.” These prefatory remarks likewise state that the manuscript had been lost and found and perhaps altered by himself or another and, once translated from the German into English, the original was burned. The book begins with an unreliable narrator and text.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Kathryn Davis
  • Date Published September 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-55597-653-8
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 208pp
  • Price $24.00
  • Review by Wendy Breuer
Kathryn Davis begins her novel Duplex with a tableau of children at play at summer’s end on a safe suburban street at dusk. Perhaps this is the early 1960s: no internet, television watched on a “console.” To immediately insert into this landscape robot neighbors and a Mephistophelean sorcerer complicates suspension of disbelief. Questions arise: if this place is not what it seems, what is it? What are the rules here? Who’s making the rules?
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Juan Gelman
  • Translated From Spanish
  • by Hardie St. Martin
  • Date Published November 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1934824689
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 187pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Lydia Pyne
Dark Times Filled with Light is a brilliant collection of poems, spanning four decades, by Argentinean poet Juan Gelman. Virtually unknown to English-speaking literary audiences, Gelman is the recipient of relatively recent international acclaim, including a Cervantes Prize and Argentine National Poetry Prize, and his work continues to be translated into English. More impressive, however, than Gelman’s vitae is the sheer poetical power and pull of his work. Gelman’s poetry negotiates the boundaries between politics and history, between voice and borders, and gives an enigmatic narrative thread to the life and times of a poet in exile. It is impossible to not appreciate the sophistication and pathos that is etched in the work.
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