Posts Tagged ‘flight’

Further Reading – Centuries of June

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Centuries of June, the newest novel by author Keith Donohue, is about a man named Jack who has just woken up on his bathroom floor and he’s trying to figure out exactly what happened and how he ended up there. To help him figure it out, 8 women from throughout history visit him and add their own explanation to the story, in which Jack usually represents some other disappointing man in history. Finally, the eighth visitor is his wife. Centuries of June is a funny novel that tells the story of one man through history, reiterating the old idea that history just keeps on repeating itself.

But Centuries of June isn’t the only novel that uses this technique. For this Further Reading, I’ll look at three books that use history and alternative history to tell a modern story.

Man in the Dark by Paul Auster – In this slim novel, Paul Auster uses an alternative dream world, where the United States is involved in another Civil War, to symbolize the internal struggle of main character and car accident victim August Brill. In August’s alternative US, the the World Trade Center still stands and the 2000 election results in a secession that leads to the second Civil War.

Flight by Sherman AlexieI know I’ve already talked about Flight in Further Reading, but this was too good of a connection to pass up. Previously I talked about how Sherman Alexie uses his controversial narrator Zits to explore inequalities in the world, but this time I’d like to focus on the alternative realities. Much like the protagonist of Centuries of June, Zits finds himself transported back in time to inhabit the lives of terrible men throughout history.

The Company Novels by Kage Baker - These are some of the post popular science fiction novels, especially for cross-over readers, because they incorporate rich historical and literary details. The main character of this series is Mendoza, a botanist cyborg that was born during the Spanish Inquisition. Essentially, in the future, the Company has developed a way to make humans immortal, but it results in the humans being more or less machines. Though most people in the future do not want to become immortal, they travel throughout history to find people in need (like Mendoza, who is about to be executed in Spain), people who would be willing to devote their life to service in the Company. Those cyborgs have to find and preserve valuable artifacts from the past. In Mendoza’s case, she finds plants that will eventually go extinct and preserves them for the Company. They’re richly detailed, complex and satisfying novels.

Further Reading – Caleb’s Crossing

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Geraldine Brooks’s most recent novel, Caleb’s Crossing does what Brooks does best: takes a very specific time period and cast of characters and breathes life into them. In this novel, the narrator is young Bethia in the mid-1600′s Martha’s Vineyard who befriends the local Native American chieftain’s son Caleb. As Bethia’s Puritan world clashes with the Wampanoag way of life, Bethia’s father begins tutoring Caleb. When he eventually goes to Cambridge, Bethia follows as an indentured servant and watches as Caleb achieves something that she can only dream of: a college education.

Caleb’s Crossing is about many things, from the culture clash of seventeenth century Martha’s Vineyard, to Bethia’s desire to be as educated as any man, to Caleb’s journey to be the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. There is no doubt that Geraldine Brooks is an excellent storyteller, capable of filling any historical shoes, but for this Further Reading, I wanted to focus on books that are written by contemporary Native Americans about Native American life.

Though the Native American “culture” is often talked about, the reality is that Native American covers a multitude of cultures and communities throughout North and South America. This post features two novels by well-known Native American authors and hopefully one collection that will introduce you to a wide range of different Native American storytellers from different parts of the US.

Ceremony and The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir by Leslie Marmon Silko – Ceremony is perhaps Leslie Marmon Silko’s most well-known and most critically acclaimed novel and for good reason. The story is about Tayo, a Vietnam veteran of mixed Native American ancestry who numbs the pain associated with his service with alcohol. Though I originally wanted to include only fiction for this Further Reading, I decided that I couldn’t pass up a mention of The Turquoise Ledge, Silko’s most recently published book, which is a memoir detailing the influence traditional Native American storytelling has had on her writing and life. It’s very much worth the read and written in a style reminiscent of Silko’s fiction.

Flight by Sherman Alexie – Sherman Alexie is probably one of the other most well-known Native American authors in the US, but Flight is probably his least-known and least-liked book. Despite the fact that it was poorly received, Flight remains one of my favorite Alexie novels, though it probably could have been a little bit longer. Flight is about a young boy named Zits, who in a fit of frustration decides to blow up a bank. When he detonates the bomb, however, he does not die; instead he inhabits the body of famous men throughout history. Zits is not necessarily a likable character, but you feel for him and everything he has gone through, and his insights are well worth it.

Trickster – Edited by Matt Dembicki – In Trickster, Native American writers and storytellers are partnered with comic artists to create a collection of short comics based on traditional folklore. What is wonderful about this collection is that the writers of the stories are from all different Native American communities and cultures, showing different perspectives on a common theme throughout Native American folklore: the trickster.