by Julie HaleNovember, 2001
Best bets for book clubs
The month of November offers a trio of excellent novels for reading groups. BookPage's selections, all newly published in paperback, should inspire lively discussion in your book club.
An Obedient Father By Akhil Sharma
Debut novelist Sharma won the PEN/Hemingway Award for this tale of a licentious civil servant in contemporary India who seduces his own daughter. Overweight and full of self-loathing, Ram Karan is a narrator that readers will love to hate. As a financial extortionist for the powerful political candidate Roshan Gupta, his life is founded on moral corruption, and his rape of Anita, his 12-year-old daughter, seems the deed of an unregenerate criminal. It's an act that years later has horrific consequences for the family. Thanks to the skill of the author, Ram's story also has touches of humor and beauty, and these give the book a surprising sensitivity. The political tumult that sweeps India, the poverty of New Delhi and the destructiveness of Ram's actions combine to make this a powerful debut. A reading group guide is included in the book.
Master of the Crossroads By Madison Smartt Bell
The second volume in Bell's Haitian trilogy follows Toussaint Louverture, the passionate black general who led the slaves in their fight for independence during the 18th century and was imprisoned by the French Republic on charges of treason. Building tension through its examination of the conflicting political forces at work in the country, the book opens in 1794, three years after the slaves' uprising. Against a tense backdrop of rebellion, voodoo and violence, the lives of the characters Bell introduced in All Souls' Rising continue here: French doctor Antoine and his mulatto love Nanon return, as do Riau, a former slave; the bold, big-hearted Creole, Isabelle, and Claudine, a remorseful slave owner. Bell skillfully shifts the point of view between the members of this sharply etched cast. With explosive incidents and unforgettable characters, he has concocted a hypnotic mix of history and fiction.
When We Were Orphans By Kazuo Ishiguro
This national bestseller from the author of The Remains of the Day tells the story of Christopher Banks, who is orphaned in 1920s Shanghai at the age of nine when his parents disappear. Sent to London, Christopher attends school, becomes a fan of Sherlock Holmes and establishes himself as a private detective. Years later, he returns to China, determined to find his parents, who were mixed up in the opium trade at the time of their disappearance. Reality and fantasy blend as Christopher, a narrator whose account is colored by obsession, tries to solve the mystery of his childhood in Shanghai, a city rife with crime. Capturing the elegant era between world wars, the book employs the techniques of the traditional crime novel, but transcends that genre through Ishiguro's penetrating psychological exploration of the tormented Christopher. A reading group guide is available at www.vintagebooks.com/read.