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December 16, 2005 Edition

Zeno’s Conscience, by Italo Svevo

This classic Italian comedy was first published in 1923, and was Svevo’s last novel. It is the “autobiography” of Zeno Cosini, a wealthy businessman whose greatest talent is self-deception. His loathed analyst has convinced Zeno that it would be good for his self-understanding to catalogue his confessions, so here they are – from his attempts to quit smoking to his plan to squelch his unrequited love for one woman by marrying her sister. Though the road he takes in life is decidedly odd, the trip is a happy one.

Bear Daughter, by Judith Berman

One morning, in a mythical land where humans and bears co-exist uneasily, Cloud is surprised to wake up as a 12-year old human girl when she’d gone to sleep a bear cub. Threatened with death by her mother’s husband, King Rumble, she tries to forget her bear-self. But as the daughter of the legendary immortal Lord Stink, she is the only one who can save the two worlds in which she lives from Rumble’s greedy manipulations. Based on Native American stories of the Pacific Northwest, this is arresting fantasy from an original new voice.

Self’s Punishment, by Bernhard Schlink and Walter Popp

Because he was a prosecutor for the Nazis during the war, Gerhard Self is barred from the profession afterwards. He works at burying his war crimes and carries on with his life, becoming a private investigator and doing well, until one day a trap he springs during the course of an investigation leads to murder. Abruptly he finds himself ensnared by his own private past and Germany’s history in this atmospheric and philosophical novel.

Fixer Chao, by Han Ong

Looking for a way to get back at the New York literati who have scorned him, Shem C. stumbles across William, a gay Filipino hustler trying to turn his life around, and comes up with a brilliant plan. He turns William into Master Chao, a revered practitioner of Feng Shui, creating an instant sensation among the Manhattan elite. But the rich and famous who hire Master Chao get “fixed” in more than one sense in this biting satire.

The Celebrity, by Robert Elmer

Burned out by his singing career and his mother’s long, slow death from Alzheimer’s, Jamie Lane cuts his trademark hair, changes his name to Joe, and heads off to a small town in Oregon where he lives in a monastery and finds work as a baker. As his attachment to the town grows, he plays angel with his savings, anonymously helping those in need. One of those is Anne Stewart, victim of a drunk driver, with whom Joe falls in love. But can he get past her bitterness, or will his eventual revelation of his real identity be seen only as a betrayal?

The Intelligencer, by Leslie Silbert

Set in 16th century London and modern day New York, this is the story of the murder of one of Queen Elizabeth I’s spies, and the untangling of century-old secrets. When a coded manuscript is stolen from the home of a wealthy collector, Kate Morgan is assigned to investigate. What she finds may unravel the mystery of Christopher Marlowe’s death so many centuries before. An author’s note at the end separating fact from fiction makes this an informative as well as entertaining mystery.

Guardian of the Dawn, by Richard Zimler

Tiago, a Portuguese Jew living in India at the end of the 16th century, narrates his captivating life story from a jail cell, imprisoned for being a Jew: even in India, the Inquisition has power. As Ti recounts his seemingly idyllic childhood with his beloved sister Sophia and their adopted cousin Wadi, the small betrayals pile up until both Ti and his father have been arrested. Excellent historical fiction.

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