Capturing culture in a world of literature

A skilled author or a gifted storyteller can convey as much or more about culture and sense of place through a work of fiction as in a non-fiction book. Check out the titles in this week’s book buzz reading list that capture culture and invoke another time or place. From American, immigrant and foreign authors, broaden your horizons with these recent titles.

Happy reading!


By R. Zamora Linmark

Adult Fiction Linmark

After thirteen years of living in the U.S., Vince returns to his birthplace, the Philippines. As Vince ventures into the heat and chaos of the city, he encounters a motley cast of characters including a renegade nun, a political film director, arrogant hustlers, and the country’s spotlight-driven First Daughter. Haunted by his childhood memories and a troubled family history, Vince unravels the turmoil, beauty, and despair of a life caught between a fractured past and a precarious future. This witty novel explores the complex colonial and cultural history of the Philippines and the paradoxes inherent in the search for both personal and national identities. You may also be interested in Banana Heart Summer a coming of age tale by Merlinda Bobis about twelve-year-old Nenita the first of six children born to her destitute parents in a Filipino Village.  Hungry for everything: food, love, and life, Nenita’s passion for food sustains her through difficulties of all sorts.

Lyrics Alley

By Leila Aboulela

Adult Fiction Aboulela

From one of contemporary literature’s leading Muslim voices comes this story of an affluent, influential Sudanese family shaken by the shifting powers in their country and the near tragedy that threatens the legacy they’ve built for decades. As Sudan’s diverging ethnic and religious populations collide in the 1950s and British rule nears its end, the country is torn between modernizing influences and the call of traditions past, a conflict reflected in the growing tensions between Mahmoud’s two wives. Moving from the alleys of Sudan to cosmopolitan Cairo and a decimated postcolonial Britain Aboulela gives us a sweeping tale of desire and loss, faith, despair, and reconciliation.  For another novel that spans Africa and Europe try Henning Mankell’s Daniel about a young African orphan adopted in the 1870s and brought to Sweden who struggles to understand this strange new land that seems to entrap him, and who is haunted by visions of his murdered parents calling him home to Africa.

The Tiger’s Wife

By Tea Obreht

Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living in an unnamed country that’s a ringer for the author’s native Croatia searches for answers about the death of her beloved grandfather who raised her on tales from the village he grew up in and where, following German bombardment in 1941, a tiger escaped from the zoo and befriended a mysterious deaf-mute woman. The evolving story of the tiger’s wife forms one of three strands that sustain the novel, the other two being Natalia’s efforts to care for orphans and a wayward family who, to lift a curse are searching for the bones of a long-dead relative. Obreht depicts history through aftermath, people through the love they inspire and place through the stories that endure. The reflected world she creates of legends and loss in a broken land is recognizable. Moments of magic, wildness and beauty are paired with episodes in which superstition overrides reason, fear and hatred smother compassion and inexplicable horror rules. It is a gripping novel of transporting richness, a spellbinding and rending story of death, succor and remembrance.

The Violin of Auschwitz

By Maria Angels Anglada

Adult Fiction Anglada

In the winter of 1991, at a concert in Krakow, an older woman with a marvelously pitched violin meets a fellow musician who is instantly captivated by her instrument. When he asks her how she obtained it, she reveals the remarkable story behind its origin. Imprisoned at Auschwitz, Daniel feels his humanity slipping away. When Daniel’s former identity as a crafter of fine violins is revealed to all, the camp’s two most dangerous men use this information to make a cruel wager: If Daniel can build a successful violin within a certain number of days, the Kommandant wins a case of the finest burgundy. If not, the camp doctor, a torturer, gets hold of Daniel.  The story that ensues is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of beauty, art, and hope to triumph over the darkest adversity.  Also look for The Free World by David Bezmozgis. Through a crack in the Iron Curtain in the summer of 1978 comes the Krasnansky family, three generations of Russian Jews who land in Rome, their way station to freedom and  the West. Bezmozgis gives a hysterical, merciless and open-hearted excavation of the Jewish family in the process of assimilating.

We the Drowned

By Carsten Jensen

Adult Fiction Jensen

Danish author Jensen spins the story of Marstal, a port town on the island of Aero, Denmark whose inhabitants have sailed the world’s oceans aboard freight ships for centuries. Spanning over a hundred years, from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War, and from the barren rocks of Newfoundland to northern Russia, this is a magnificent tale of love, war, and adventure; a tale of the men who go to sea and the women they leave behind. It is a bold addition to seafaring literature. For another Scandinavian tale try Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson in which an early morning adventure leads to the tragic death of one boy and a resulting lifetime of guilt and isolation for his friend. The moving story explores the painful loss of innocence and of traditional ways of life that are gone forever.

Years of Red Dust

Stories of Shanghai

By Xiaolong Qiu

Adult Fiction Qiu

In this story collection Qiu links together the lives and histories of the residents of Red Dust Land, a street in Shanghai, with the experiences that have defined China for more than half a century.   First published in Le Monde, these stories illuminate the changes in modern china and the impact they have had from the first days of the Cultural Revolution in 1949 to the Moderization movement of the late 1990s; from the early optimism at the end of the Chinese Civil War through the brutality of the Cultural Revolution; and from the death of Mao to the pro-democracy movement and riots in Tiananmen Square. The interwoven lives of those who have lived on Red Dust Lane are brought to life and revealed through conversations shared in evening gatherings of neighbors. Also look for City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell, following a young couple whose marriage and faith are put to the test in revolutionary China or Dream of Ding Village by Lianke Yan, a moving account of a blood-selling scandal in contemporary China, a critique of the rate at which China is developing-and what happens to those who get in the way.

• Carolyn Larson, head librarian at Lihu‘e Public Library, brings you the buzz on new, popular and good books available at your neighborhood library. Book annotations are culled from online publishers’ descriptions and published reviews.


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