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Book Review: “The Gustav Sonata” by Rose Tremain

On his first day in his new kindergarten class in small-town Switzerland, Anton Zwiebel can do nothing but weep uncontrollably. The teacher tries to console him, but Anton is helpless, carried off by the inertia of his emotions. She pairs him off with a friendless boy, Gustav Perle, whose first words to Anton are: “My mother says it’s better not to cry. She says you have to master yourself.” Anton immediately stops crying. This exchange, where the ever-caring Gustav stabilizes the torrentially emotional Anton, will come to define their relationship.

The story of Gustav and Anton as children in the years immediately following World War II composes the first of three movements in Rose Tremain’s The Gustav Sonata. Part Two traces the pre- and mid-war relationship of Gustav’s parents, while Part Three moves fifty years into the future to see the final crescendo of Gustav and Anton. Despite the different times and historical contexts, Tremain, winner of numerous awards, including the Whitbread Award, the Orange Prize, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, skillfully investigates the philosophical implications and human costs of neutrality…”


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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Book Review: “Champion of the World”

“Americanism is an amorphous idea. The concept varies person to person and has no doubt changed over time. Yet there is still something immovable and essential about it, so much so that it continues to exist at the center point of culture and politics despite meaning completely different things to different people. The definitive American virtues, however, in all their manifestations, boil down to similar ideas: stubborn individualism, rugged adventurism and hope to make a new, better life for oneself.

These ideas find a unique home in “Champion of the World,” the debut novel from Bleacher Report lead MMA writer Chad Dundas. Through the lives of down-and-out former wrestling champion Pepper Van Dean — back when professional wrestling was still legitimate competition — and his wife Moira, Dundas unravels the layers of the American spirit in a vivid pre-Depression setting.

We meet the Van Dean’s as part of a backwoods traveling circus, where Pepper performs dangerous stunts and wrestles audience members for spare change while Moira cheats drunken yokels on the poker table. After a particularly confrontational night, they find themselves on their own in the middle of the Oregon woods. Having no real alternatives, they accept a dubious offer to train Garfield Taft, a talented African-American wrestler fresh off a publicized bid in prison. Taft’s goal: to become the undisputed heavyweight wrestling champion.

From there, the story unfolds in a series of twists that breathe air into a panoply of well-defined characters and provides legitimate historical context, not only to the sport of wrestling itself but to the temperament of the country that saw it become a form of business entertainment. It’s a gripping narrative that never lets go once it gets its hooks in…”

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By In Social Media

“The Abundance” Book Review

“The worlds of fiction and nonfiction tend to be considered opposite sides of the same literary coin. It is a strange sort of division, one that separates bookstores and Greek philosophers alike. Yet as seamlessly understood as those categories may be, there is something crude and inexact about them; languages outside of English often need to invent words to distinguish what is simply known as “storytelling.” Indeed, telling a good story in either fiction or nonfiction requires access to both the real and the imagined.

Those creases between reality and imagination are exactly where Annie Dillard, winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, has made a home. Dillard doesn’t blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction so much as occupy them simultaneously, deploying the surreal and sacred into the cracks of her experiences like glacial rivulets until they frost-shatter into dreamlike prose. The result is a pioneering presence in the literary world that has spanned decades. With The Abundance, Dillard offers readers old and new a curated bird’s-eye view of her essays from 1974 to 2005…”


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