Two books tossed at me are on the April Indie Next List.
The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau
Blue Rider Press
No surprise here. I firmly expect this culture clash (West/Middle East) salvation story to be in every freshman college lit program in a few years. Again, I will call it a modern classic. The timelessness of the issues Dau explores (cultural differences, fluidity of memory, faith and guilt) makes this novel a must have in hardback.
See my full review here: http://www.tossedinmylap.blogspot.com/2012/03/book-of-jonas.html.
The Book of Madness and Cures: A Novel by Regina O’Melveney
Little, Brown & Company
What could possible be more interesting than a novel about the exploration of madness in Renaissance Europe? The tapestry of this novel is woven with the lush setting across two continents, a brilliant woman’s navigation through patriarchal society and a journey in search of a missing father lost in a mental abyss. Each of these elements gives The Book of Madness and Cures wide appeal.
My complete thoughts: http://www.tossedinmylap.blogspot.com/2012/02/book-of-madness-and-cures.html.
Three voices speak in The Book of Jonas. The primary voice is that of Jonas, once Younis, the Muslim teen orphaned by an American military unit blitzing an unknown Middle Eastern village. As told through his personal notes, the second voice belongs to Christopher, an American soldier Missing in Action from the same unit. Christopher’s mother, Rose, offers the final voice of the grieving mother searching for the truth about her son’s disappearance.
This novel is not an indictment of the American military presence in the Middle East, nor is it a comparison of Christianity and Islam. Dau deftly avoids these politics in two ways. Jonas’ homeland is anonymous, so the reader is unaware of whether the region is extreme in its religious politics or on the brink of Western modernity. Furthermore, religious experiences and impressions are enumerated, not emotionally interpreted. Jonas’ host family, for example, is quoted as attempting to save Jonas through Jesus, but the offensiveness of such attempt is not expressed. Dau keeps the novel factual, as factual as memory will allow, and circumvents a book centered on the emotions of the Middle Eastern conflicts.
Instead, this novel focuses on the three voices’ search for truth and salvation. What each finds is that the very traditional construct of salvation, religious faith, fails them all. Dau rocks the notion that proclaiming faith in God, whatever the religion, will lead a traumatized soul to peace. Salvation occurs through choice and action, not through proclamation.
I can physically feel the restraint Dau required to write this novel. The temptation to write an emotionally charged bestseller (and perhaps one hit wonder) must have been unreal. How easy it would be to play on the current politics — and how timely it’s release would have been with Staff Sgt. Bales’ coincident breakdown. Perhaps the first modern classic, The Book of Jonas takes a modern setting and keeps it in the background in order to present a good bit of timeless philosophy.
The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau
Penguin Books 2102
Now available in paperback.
Luminarium by Alex Shakar
Soho Press, 2011
What do Hacky Sack, Zulu shamans, Gandalf, Jedi knights, Ginko baloba, Pac Man, La-Z-Boy and the Czech Republic have in common? They are all referenced in this novel — along with every other political and popular culture element since the early 70’s. When merged with the plot-relevant references to 9-11, the dot com bust and Hindu mythology, the read was heavy. This unbelievably engaging plot was bogged down with clutter — I was sprinting to the finish wearing a fully loaded flak jacket. For the last hundred pages, I wasn’t sure if I would make it.
Fred Brounian can’t sink much lower into his depression. His twin brother is dying, and he makes a string of terrible life-altering decisions in his grief. Like the depressed, philosophising college freshman in college, Fred wanders aimlessly through what is left of his New York city life and enrolls in a clinical trial. He is haunted by strange electronic messages and cyber-visitations. Are they real or are they part of his mental state?
While this novel is definitely not a light pool-side read, it is not lacking in interest. Boring it is not. Every day I pined to discover: what does the brain stimulation experiment do, does the Reiki work, and what is the significance of the gripping hand tattoo. There were a thousand more questions, all which were answered in a modern, artful crescendo. Despite the burdens of clutter, Luminarium goes in my stack of novels to re-read.