Publisher: Atlantic Books

The Unamericans by Molly Antopol

Posted April 21, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Short Stories / 4 Comments

The Unamericans by Molly AntopolTitle: The Unamericans (Goodreads)
Author: Molly Antopol
Published: Atlantic Books, 2014
Pages: 261
Genres: Short Stories
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The world of short stories has had a rocky history, but every now and then there are authors that make you excited about a collection of stories again. When I think about great short story collections, I think Raymond Carver with his book What We Talk About When We Talk about Love, George Sanders (especially his recent collection Tenth of December) and now Molly Antopol with her debut collection The UnAmericans. Even I have to admit that I have often struggled with short stories but then something like The UnAmericans comes along and I feel ready to take on more collections.

Molly Antopol is a lecturer at Stanford University where she teaches as part of their writing program. In 2013, she was one of the recipients of the “5 Under 35” award from the National Book Foundation, which highlights five young writers to watch and she has been someone well worth watching. Her debut, The UnAmericans was nominated for countless awards including the National Jewish Book Award and the National Book Award. Though her collection of short stories did not take home any major awards, this is the start of a very promising career for Molly Antopol and is someone I plan to follow closely.

The UnAmericans is a collection full of stories about families, heritage, identity and all the things that define us as humans. With a strong focus on immigration this book is a post 9/11 exploration into America. Exploring the lives of all those people that might have felt excluded as American due to difference in heritage, skin colour, religion, and political or moral beliefs. While it does not typically focus on America or events post 9/11, it is the kind of story that could have only been told after a tragedy like that day.

Each character is richly developed, coming from places like Kiev, Prague, Tel Avid and Soviet Moscow, the stories all explore the same similar themes but in away that never feels repetitive or preachy. Antopol appears to be interested in exploring peoples differences and similarities and trying to get the message across that we are all the same. All the different places these people live in and they all want the very same things, love and acceptance. While their heritage often plays a big part in their identity it doesn’t make them UnAmerican; we are all humans.

I was extremely impressed and it made me want to read more short stories; if Molly Antopol can give so much depth into her characters as she did in The UnAmericans then it makes me excited for the rest of the genre. I did go on to read another collection of short stories right after this one, this time it was by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I hate to say it; The UnAmericans was great but then going on to read The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, changed everything yet again.

Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo

Posted April 18, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Thriller / 2 Comments

Red April by Santiago RoncaglioloTitle: Red April (Goodreads)
Author: Santiago Roncagliolo
Translator: Edith Grossman
Narrator: Jonathan Keeble
Published: Atlantic Books, 2011
Pages: 288
Genres: Crime, Thriller
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Associate District Prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar does everything by-the-book, he is organised and knowledgeable on the laws of the land but this tends to rub people the wrong way. When a body is found burnt beyond recognition, Chacaltana’s life is never going to be the same. The investigation into this unique murder leads the associate District Prosecutor to question the choices the government are making. Set during Holy Week in Peru, Red April is a chilling political thriller that explores a twisted murder and a morally bankrupt government.

Red April takes place during Lent 2000, mainly in the Peruvian city of Ayacucho and follows a methodical prosecutor as he investigates a bizarre crime. These were the final days of Alberto Fujimori who vacated the presidency and fled the country in November 2000 due to a major corruption scandal and allegations of human rights violations. When Fujimori came to power in 1990, Peru was dominated by two terrorist organisations, the Maoist group Sendero Luminoso and the Marxist-Leninist organisations known as Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). It was not until about 1997 when most of this internal conflict resolved, but this was achieved by the Grupo Colina, which was a death squad made up of members of the Peruvian Armed Forces.

Set in the early 2000s, this novel explores that period of time where people loved Alberto Fujimori for making them feel safe but corruption is becoming a big problem. Even the main protagonist struggled with the idea of not supporting the president. Saying something like “the terrorist killed my mother, brother and sister but since the president took office, no one else from my family has been killed. Why would I vote for somebody else?” This hold on the past is something that runs strong throughout the novel, particularly with Associate District Prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar who holds on to the memory of his mother. The book is set during Lent and then Holy Week which is a time of reflection and to remember the past, when Christ died for the sins of the world.

Peru is a very religious country, in the 2007 census only 2.9% identified as non-religious, with 81.3% claiming to be Roman Catholic. The Catholic Church is a very important part of the country, even Article 50 of its constitution states that “[the Church is] an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development of the nation.” The city of Ayacucho, in which the majority of this novel is set. lays claim to 33 Catholic Churches (one for every year of Jesus’ life) and hosts a large religious celebration during Holy Week every year. When reading Red April you quickly learn just how important religion is to the Peruvian people and the plot of the novel.

One of the things that fascinated me about Red April is the culture depicted within the book. Santiago Roncagliolo did not shy away from depicting the dark themes or the problematic political situation that Peru faces. He questions the counter-terrorism strategies of the Fujimori government but also depicts the overall sense of relief that the people had when terrorist organisations were dealt with. The corrupt government and the bureaucratic nightmare that Felix lived through all gave a sense of the political landscape. The Associate District Prosecutor did everything to the letter of the law, including sending rapists to prison; however this made him an outcast, even the rape victims got angry that they were unable to marry their attackers and get their reputation intact.

One reason I read a lot of translated fiction is because I find it interesting to explore different cultures and worlds. The Peru depicted in Red April is so foreign to me that I could not help but be spellbound by the cultural differences. Red April was the 2011 winner of the International Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP), a literary award I have started to follow closely now that I read more books in translation. The novel was translated into English by Edith Grossman and is a book that I picked up in order to read more books from South America. I am very glad to have read Red April, not only is it an excellent mystery/thriller but as you can see it was an interesting insight into Peru.