Plot Tanks as Characters Speak in Foreign Idioms

September 24, 2005 | ,

On Beauty
By Zadie Smith
Viking Canada. 400 pages. $34.

In September, 2002, Zadie Smith, the British novelist, went to Harvard. She was 27, and had published her first novel, White Teeth, not long after graduating from Cambridge to acclaim and huge sales on both sides of the Atlantic. A follow-up, The Autograph Man, appeared a month after she moved to Boston, where she was offered a fellowship at Harvard University to write a collection of essays, The Morality of the Novel. The book does not appear to have been published.

Smith’s third novel, On Beauty, describes a year in the life of the Belsey clan, who orbit a university called “Wellington,” which may not be Harvard but looks, smells and sounds a whole lot like the Ivy League school. (more…)

Tearing Down Walls

September 17, 2005 | , , ,

A Wall of Light
By Edeet Ravel
Random House Canada. 256 pages. $36.95.

Imagine having to hold your breath every time you ride a bus or sit down at a restaurant, for fear of an explosion. Or being born in the same stinking refugee camp where your grandfather was born. If this were your life, who would expect you not to be angry, depressed or spiteful? How could you begin to live without fear and hate?

Such questions of trauma and recovery are at the heart of Edeet Ravel’s A Wall of Light, a thoughtful and heartfelt novelistic meditation on contemporary Israel’s past and present. (Click here for a PDF of this review.)

Yo Mameloshn!

September 1, 2005 | , ,

Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods
By Michael Wex

St. Martin’s. 304 pages. $24.95.

It’s been called folksy and quaint. It’s been labeled a dialect and dismissed as “jargon.” Even its defenders tend to admit that it died 50 years ago. Yiddish, nebekh, has suffered so much defamation of character that it could probably win a libel suit.

If Yiddish ever does sue, its first expert witness will be Michael Wex. (more…)