by Julie HaleApril 2008
Best bets for book clubs
The Savage Detectives
Bolaño, a native of Chile who died in 2003, is considered one of the leading Latin American writers of recent years. His sprawling, unconventional novel tells the story of a group of spirited young Mexican poets called the Visceral Realists. The Realists are on a quest to find their literary idol, a writer named Cesarea Tinajero, and the journey is a wild one, to say the least. Set in the 1970s, the book's funny, colorful first section is composed of diary entries written by Juan Garcia Marquez, a 17-year-old poet who becomes part of the group. The following section is a shifting kaleidoscope of narratives contributed by writers, friends, and acquaintances of the Visceral Realists, each of whom shares personal impressions of the poets. The final portion of the narrative recounts the journey of Marquez and two fellow poets as they continue their search for Tinajero. Covering two decades and hopping from Mexico to Spain to France and Israel, among other places,
Bolaño's big-hearted book is, in the end, a tribute to ambitious young writers everywhere. Funny, raunchy and poetic, it's a madcap novel that teems with detail and a diverse set of characters. Selected by the New York Times as one of the 10 best books of the year for 2007, this unforgettable work has earned the author comparisons to Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Faulks' chilling historical novel examines the development of psychiatry during the late 1800s through the story of two doctors who were ahead of their time. Thomas Midwinter and Jacques Rebiere - friends as well as colleagues - are at the forefront of the profession. A follower of Darwin, Midwinter, who is from England, has formulated theories about neurology and the development of the brain. Rebiere, a Frenchmen, is interested in the unconscious workings of the mind and allies himself with the Viennese school of psychoanalysis. Together, the pair embark on a quest to establish a standard approach to psychiatry - an ambitious project that takes them to Africa and America, France and Austria. Faulks humanizes this science-based story through the development of characters like Sonia, Midwinter's sister, whom Rebiere eventually marries, and Olivier, Rebiere's troubled brother. When the doctors found an asylum of their own, Midwinter takes on Olivier as a patient. Olivier, as it turns out, is schizophrenic, a condition that has tragic consequences for the young man. Spanning three decades, this meticulously detailed period piece is written in the spirit of an old-fashioned 19th-century novel. Faulks, the best-selling author of Birdsong and Charlotte Gray, has written a finely nuanced narrative about the nature of human mind and the workings of the human heart.
A reading group guide is available online at readinggroupcenter.com.
A Far Country
The author of the best-selling novel The Piano Tuner (2002) returns with a compelling tale about a poverty-stricken family set in an unidentified Third World country. The main character, 14-year-old Isabel, lives with her parents on a sugarcane plantation. Beleaguered by drought and cheated by the local government, her family and their fellow villagers are struggling to survive. In hopes of improving Isabel's prospects for the future, her parents send her to the city to live with her cousin and her older brother, Isaias. Determined to make a living as a musician, Isaias had departed for the city some months before. When Isabel arrives, however, he is nowhere to be found. Her cousin, who works as a maid, has a baby, whom Isabel cares for when she isn't out hunting for her brother. Full of noise, crowded with people, dirty and unwelcoming, the city itself - always a place Isabel equated with opportunity, wealth and hope - proves a disappointment to her. To make matters worse, the search for Isaias leads her into a bureaucratic maze. No one is in the Department of Missing Persons seems concerned about her case. Meanwhile, Isabel meets a charming photographer and experiences for the first time the magic of attraction. Mason uses this and other subplots to flesh out the book, and the result is a complex and full-bodied novel that should satisfy his many fans.
A reading group guide is available in print and online at readinggroupcenter.com.