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December 15, 2006 Edition
Could an entire town be redefined as a theme park? Babbington, Long Island, has been remade into one: the theme is 1950s small town, and it comes complete with cultural interpreters and paid actors. Tipped off by a friend, Peter Leroy returns to his hometown to find it very wrongly familiar - as if it hadn't changed since the day he returned from his solo flight on a homemade aerocycle. But the day is built on a fantasy of Peter's flight, and with this book, Peter aims to set the record straight on everything, even if it knocks the town out of its 50s daze.
Miguel Saenz is not the rumpled civil servant he appears to be: rather, he is one of Bolivia's elite minds, a codebreaker and warrior in the battle for control over information. His skills have prevented insurrections and helped keep the peace for many years, yet he has just received a coded message that calls him a murderer. Meanwhile, his teenaged daughter is hard at work on projects of her own, moving in and out of virtual reality with ease, and his wife is preparing to hand over dangerous information to people she's not sure she can trust. As protests and riots threaten to topple the government, and computer viruses wreak havoc on the nation's internal security systems, Miguel discovers his life has been based on a lie in this thriller reminiscent of Neal Stephenson's tech-savvy novels.
Arun is an idealist who walks the walk: he leaves his family and job in the northern capital of an unnamed Southeast Asian nation to teach school in a poor town in the rural south. Greeted by wariness and indifference at first, and with only those children too disabled to be of help in the fields for students, Arun gradually makes friends and becomes an integral part of the town’s life. But the life he leads, caught between insurgents (the Boys), the army, and the townspeople, changes him, and though the ending is a logical outcome, it leaves no one to cheer for. Beautifully written and morally ambiguous, this is a riveting and thoughtful novel.
Exploring the tensions between mothers and daughters, O’Brien first chronicles the early life of Dilly, a young woman who escapes her mother’s grasp and the Troubles of Ireland by sailing to America in the Twenties. When she returns home after a failed romance, she finds herself embroiled in her family again, escaping through marriage and a family of her own. The second part of the story involves her daughter, Eleanora, whose first novel scandalized her home town. The physical and emotional distance between the two women is daunting to both: even now, with Dilly hospitalized with cancer, there is only the most fragile of bridges connecting their lives.
Baricco has undertaken an ambitious task: to rewrite the “Iliad” in a powerful contemporary form that could be read aloud and be more accessible and appealing to readers and listeners alike. To that end, he excised the gods and their machinations from the plot, making humans responsible for their own inconstancies, and modernized the language, with good and bad effect. The result is a highly readable (though not particularly literary) book in which timeless themes of ego, loyalty, and pride play huge roles in directing activity. The author’s radio reading of this work held audiences spellbound in Italy, and if you are looking for a gripping, fast-paced and bloodthirsty classic to read aloud, this is a great choice.