Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

New York Times:

  • Sunday Book Review cover: Olen Steinhauer on Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith: "Apologies to Russian tourism, but long live Renko. I don’t care how he lays waste to Moscow package tours, for without this despairing seeker of truth, what would that heightened Russia of our imagination be left with? Convenient truths, still-buried secrets and tales that end abruptly before they’ve gotten started. We’d all be the worse for it."
  • Kakutani on Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: "Jonathan Franzen's galvanic new novel, 'Freedom,' showcases his impressive literary toolkit — every essential storytelling skill, plus plenty of bells and whistles — and his ability to throw open a big, Updikean picture window on American middle-class life. With this book, he’s not only created an unforgettable family, he’s also completed his own transformation from a sharp-elbowed, apocalyptic satirist focused on sending up the socio-economic-political plight of this country into a kind of 19th-century realist concerned with the public and private lives of his characters."
  • Stacey D'Erasmo on I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson (a beautiful review): "Arvid, like many of Petterson’s narrators, is much more astro­naut than cowboy, an emotional rocket man floating through a life he no longer understands, searching the past for clues. It sounds bleak, but instead it’s rather dreamy and tenuous, like the thoughts one has in the brief moment between sleeping and waking. Clean sentence after clean sentence, Petterson conveys both the melancholy and the demi-­pleasurable sensation of being fundamentally untethered."
  • Johann Hari on Churchill's Empire by Richard Toye: "In the end, the words of the great and glorious Churchill who resisted dictatorship overwhelmed the works of the cruel and cramped Churchill who tried to impose it on the world’s people of color. Toye teases out these ambiguities beautifully. The fact that we now live at a time where a free and independent India is an emerging superpower in the process of eclipsing Britain, and a grandson of the Kikuyu 'savages' is the most powerful man in the world, is a repudiation of Churchill at his ugliest — and a sweet, unsought victory for Churchill at his best."
  • Vendela Vida on Everything by Kevin Canty: "I always find myself holding my breath as I approach the final pages of novels. If they’ve been good, I’m afraid the writer will let me down — the ending will be too neat or sentimental or vague. I should have known, though, not to worry about what would happen at the end of 'Everything.' Canty is a master of wrapping things up.... When I arrived at the end of 'Everything,' I, too, thought: That’s it. That’s it exactly."

Washington Post:

  • Patrick Anderson on I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman: "I've read hundreds of thrillers in the past 10 years, and some have been excellent, but only a handful -- thanks to their insights, their characterizations and the quality of their writing -- could equal the best of today's literary fiction. Those few certainly include 'What the Dead Know' and 'I'd Know You Anywhere.' In both cases, Lippman began with a real crime and then used the magic of her imagination to produce novels that are not only hypnotic reading but serious meditations on the sorrows and dangers of this world. Some people would segregate Lippman as a crime or thriller writer. That's a shame. She's one of the best novelists around, period."
  • Ann Louise Bardach on The Sugar King of Havana by John Paul Rathbone: "John Paul Rathbone, an editor at the Financial Times, has pulled off a splendid trifecta. He has produced a long overdue biography of Lobo along with a perceptive and unsentimental rendering of pre-revolution Cuba as well as Rathbone's own family story -- tracing his mother's trajectory from dazzling Havana debutante to toy store clerk in London. Rathbone's nuanced blending of familial and national history lends this work poignancy and depth."

Los Angeles Times:

  • David L. Ulin on The Jokers and A Splendid Conspiracy by Albert Cossery: "Albert Cossery, who died in 2008 at age 94, ought to be a household name. He's that good: an elegant stylist, an unrelenting ironist, his great subject the futility of ambition 'in a world where everything is false.' ... 'The Jokers' is a small masterpiece, the story of a group of pranksters who conspire to bring down the governor of the unnamed city in which they live. They do this not by direct action or revolution but rather by a subtle subversion, initiating a campaign to overpraise the official so lavishly that his credibility is destroyed.... [In 'A Splendid Conspiracy'] Cossery achieves a magnificent amorality, devastating and subversive at a level that few works of literature (or any art) ever achieve."
  • Michael S. Roth on Encounter by Milan Kundera: "The artists and writers with whom Kundera keeps company in 'Encounter' produce counter-currents to the tide of kitsch and sentimentality in which we swim. They offer not only intellectual challenges but strong emotional attachments, no matter how crazy powerful feelings may seem in a world warped by banality, easy irony and noise. 'The ludicrous element in our feelings,' he writes of composer Leos Janácek, 'does not make them any less authentic.' Embracing the ludicrous without denying the possibility of deep emotional connection has marked Kundera's writing from the very start."

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