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  • Shanley McConnell

Week Twenty One: The Monday Review

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1. The Little Virtues, Natalia Ginzburg


A glowing light of modern Italian literature. Ginzburg’s magic is the utter simplicity of her prose, suddenly illuminated by one word that makes a lightning streak of a plain phrase. As direct and clean as if it were carved in stone, it yet speaks thoughts of the heart.

—The New York Times Book Review


Natalia Ginzburg's The Little Virtues, translated by Dick Davis, is a poignant collection of eleven, vivid short essays on life. Written between 1944 and 1960, Ginzburg explores the backdrop of postwar Europe ---- and the loneliness of exile under fascist rule, from the Italian countryside to melancholy streets of 1960s London.


In The Little Virtues, Ginzburg imbues articles ---- worn-out shoes, money boxes, childhood memories --- with morals of wonder and significance. With definitive voice and untethered honesty, Ginzburg writes about the delicate human natures that shape and define our response to politics on both international and local levels.


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2. Waiting, Ha Jin


Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and Pulitzer Prize Finalist, Waiting is an intrepid novel written by Chinese-American author Ha Jin. With universal resonance and nuanced voice, Waiting is about both the bonds and bounds of love.


Lin Kong is a doctor in the Chinese Army who is in an arranged and loveless marriage with a woman named Shuyu, whose meek and faithful character is touching. Concurrent is the loyalty of Lin's girlfiend Manna Wu, whose education and modern knowledge mirror Lin's.


The novel's greatness --- its atmosphere and depth --- comes from Jin's characterization; despite their interwoven promises, Kong, Shuyu and Manna Wu adamantly pursue chastity.


Ha Jin profoundly understands the conflict between the individual and society, between the timeless universality of the human heart and constantly shifting politics of the moment. With wisdom, restraint, and empathy for all his characters, he vividly reveals the complexities and subtleties of a world and a people we desperately need to know.

—Judges' Citation, National Book Award


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3. Uzumaki, Junji Ito


Uzumaki (うずまき, lit. Spiral) is a Japanese horror manga series written and illustrated by Juji Ito. From 1998 to 1999, Big Comic Spirits released the series in segments until Shogakukan compiled the chapters into three bound volumes. The novel - in its collected chapters - is set in the fictitious city of Kurouzu-cho. The citizens become obsessed with The Spiral; and one after another they begin to face its curse.


It is said that Junji Ito was inspired to write Uzumaki with this focus after attempting to place his characters in a spiraled terraced house. Ito believes that the idea of a mysterious force is what makes the horror of Uzumaki so stark and spirituous.


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4. The Rain in Portugal, Billy Collins


Billy Collins, the former U.S. Poet Laureate, brings readers this twelfth collection of poetry ----- with convincing generosity and wit, imagination and grace. This New York Times Bestseller is charming and considered. It moves between objects --- travel and art, cats and dogs --- to the abstract concepts of loneliness and love, beauty and death. Collins demonstrates tact in the way he uses metaphor and enjambment, leading readers to lines of great beauty and prowess. I especially liked the poem called --- Dream Life.


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5. A Children's Bible: A Novel, Lydia Millet


Lydia Millet's A Children's Bible was one of the most unusual books I read this year. Finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction, named one of the best novels of the year by Time, Washington Post, NPR, Chicago Tribune, Esquire, BBC, and many others, A Children's Bible follows a group of 12 prococious children through a tsunami, or a hurricane, or the end of time.


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Contemptuous of their parents, who pass their days in a stupor of liquor, drugs and sex, the children feel neglected and suffocated at the same time. When the destructive storm descends on their summer estate, the group leaders ---- including Eve, who narrates the story --- decide to run away, only to find the world outside deadened with apocalyptic chaos and disarray.


A Children’s Bible is a prophetic, heartbreaking story of generational divide―and a haunting vision of what awaits us on the far side of Revelation.

---- Amazon, back cover.


In the beginning, A Children's Bible reminded me of Emma Cline's novel The Girls. As the novel progressed, the narrative shed its cult-like intimacy and entered into the grandeur of universal terror.



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