There’s nothing flashy or flamboyant in Graham Swift’s finely wrought new novel, Wish You Were Here. Its pace is moderate, its tone restrained, but its elegiac mood, so wonderfully evoked by John Lee’s darkly lyrical reading, draws you into the life of Jack Luxton, the last of a dairy-farming family in rural England. A big, rough man, “mild as a lamb,” he sold the family farm at the urging of his wife, a farmer’s daughter he’s known all his life, and moved with her to the Isle of Wight to run a successful caravan park. The news that Jack’s younger brother, who joined the army years before, has been killed in Iraq turns Jack’s narrow existence upside down. It’s a jolt that unleashes a flood of memories and as he mulls them over again and again, you have a sense of this stolid man’s raw emotions, the ache his brother’s loss leaves, his regrets for all that might have been said, all the “ifs” and “shoulds,” and how hard it is for him, as for all of us, to make sense of life and of death.
THANKFUL FOR EVERYTHING
Alice Herz-Sommer is 108 years old, the oldest Holocaust survivor and the oldest living concert pianist. She still plays the piano every day, she still laughs and still believes that life is a gift. Through interviews she had with Alice over the last seven years, Caroline Stoessinger, a concert pianist herself, has captured her essence in A Century of Wisdom. Alice grew up in Prague in a music-loving, intellectual family—she called Kafka “uncle Franz,” sat on Mahler’s knee and was a well-known concert pianist when she, her husband and small son were deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943. She and her son survived; her mother and husband and countless friends were murdered. An eyewitness to the horrors of the 20th century, Alice is never bitter. She remains optimistic, rejoicing in the things she has, especially her music; she’s a model for living a richer life. There’s a lot to learn from this extraordinary woman and this audio presentation is a good place to begin.
TOP PICK IN AUDIO
Ciao, Guido, how wonderful to have you back! And thank you, Donna Leon, for giving us another Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery, read again by David Colacci with just the right hint of an Italian accent. Beastly Things revolves around the murder of a kind veterinarian who unwittingly got enmeshed in the sordid, illegal doings at a slaughterhouse and, like all its 20 predecessors, is set in Venice. Though Leon is a clever crafter of plot and amazingly knowledgeable about Italian police procedure and the internal machinations of Questura, other qualities also make this series shine: her ability to conjure up this beautiful sinking city, with its calles and canals, her skill in creating a detective with affecting humanity and a love of humanism—a man we’d all like to spend time with, whether sharing a glass of prosecco or a discussion of his beloved Marcus Aurelius—and her subtle way of weaving real political concerns into her novels.