JULY 2013

The Dinner
Herman Koch
Originally published in 2009
Translated by Sam Garett
2013

Dealing with the sins of the child is the foundation of Herman Koch's The Dinner. Reviewed as the Gone Girl of Europe, this novel set in Amsterdam, is a page-turner. The story unfolds during a dinner at a fine restaurant.  At the table are two brothers and their wives.

At first the dinner seems like an obligation. One of the brothers narrates, and his antipathy for his sibling is on display from the start.  His brother is in line for prime minister, and much of the story barely coats our narrator's dislike.  The couples are meeting to discuss an act by their 15-year-old boys--a violent attack that has shaken their insulated lives.

There is a situation to be handled and as they process the options and remember the path that led them to the table--many fissures in their lives are revealed.

The story is taught but sometimes the syntax reminds you that this is a translation.  I envy anyone that can read it the original language.

Herman Koch is dutch writer and actor.  The Dinner is his most popular work, which as been translated into 21 languages. He is also the author of short stories and columns in his home country.  

Same shelf: 
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lionel Shriver


The Boy in the Suitcase
Lene Kaaberbol

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    The Fault In Our Stars
    John Green
    2012

    Review contributed by Chloe Hirsch.

    “But it’s not a cancer book, because cancer books suck” (Green, 48).  This line alone expresses everything that John Green works to do through his novel The Fault In Our Stars.  Unlike other cancer books that try to mask all the hardships and realities that cancer patients deal with by either creating an unbelievable success story at the end, such as Lance Armstrong’s It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, or by making the cancer patient a martyr by dying so their family can live, such as Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, Green offers a new take on the cancer story.  Green wrote a novel about two people falling in love who just happen to also have cancer.  

    After relentless nagging from her mother to go out and live her life, Hazel Lancaster goes to her cancer support group meeting not expecting anything different from all the other times she had to go.  However, this one meeting in particular was able to change her very short life in a drastic way.  At the meeting she is introduced Augustus Waters, a cancer-free patient who is quick to show interest in her.  As time goes on the two begin to form a relationship and fall in love.  The only problem with the relationship is that Hazel’s death is quickly approaching.  Even though Hazel resists any type of relationship, the love between the two teens is pure and can’t be ignored.  However, after a life-altering trip to Amsterdam, everything starts to change for Hazel in a way that neither she nor the reader could have expected.

    Although this book might be officially classified as a young adult read, I would have to disagree with that categorization for I believe that the book is applicable to all ages.  The unfortunate reality is that we all know/will come to know someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, making the experiences in this book relatable to everyone’s life in some way or another.  The book will make you laugh, will make you cry, and will most definitely open up your mind to a whole new perspective of how to view someone who has or had cancer. However, the book makes a disclaimer in the author’s note: “This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.  Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story.  Such efforts attack the very idea that made up stories can [matter.]”  That being said, I would highly suggest you read this book for what it is and take away what you feel you should.

    John Green is The New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns He was 2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, a 2009 Edgar Award winner, and has twice been a finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Green’s books have been published in more than a dozen languages. Casting for the film version of The Fault in Our Stars is in place. Filming is expected to begin in Pittsburgh any day now. 

    Contributing Reviewer:  Chloe Hirsch is currently a psychology major at the University of Michigan.  She read this book at the recommendation of a co-worker who had mentioned that her whole high school was required to read the book.

    Same Shelf:
    Looking for Alaska by John Green

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    The Leftovers
    Tom Perrotta
    St. Martin’s Press (2010)

    Do you remember where you were on December 21, 2012?   I was standing on a beach watching a wedding, while others were awaiting the end of the world -- as foretold by the Mayans. At this time, Mr. Perrotta was finishing up his new novel, The Leftovers. Its subject? A “rapture-like phenomenon” in which millions of men, women and children of varied races vanish one day, leaving their friends and families behind, confused and unsure of how to carry on.

    Here today, and gone tomorrow, literally.  The Leftovers (and soon to be HBO mini-series directed by Damon Lindelof  starring Justin Theroux and Amy Brennenman) takes the question of how to carry on to suburbia, where the existential struggles of many are given voice through one traditional family.

    Perotta in an interview with The New York Times explains: “People are forced to ask, what does this mean? And if it’s meaningless and random and unknowable, then how are we supposed to live?”

    Like so many challenges in life that are so big they can be overwhelming The Leftovers personalize circumstances that defy explanation and force individuals to find their own path forward.

    Tom Perrotta is the author of several works of fiction, including Joe CollegeElectionLittle Children. Both Election and Little Children were adapted to film: "Election," in 1999, starred Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick; "Little Children, in 2006, starred Kate Winslet and Jennifer Connelly.

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    The Ocean at the End of the Lane
    Neil Gaiman
    2013

    This story is a fairytale, but like the best of that genre, it rings with truth.  A middle-aged man has returned home for a funeral.  He is drawn to his old neighborhood and is quickly pulled into a childhood memory.  This is a story about when the fears of your youth come to life, which is why it grips you.

    With no more Harry Potter's on the horizon, and I know most of my adult friends read the series with glee, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a welcome respite from the known.  His prose takes you along a journey that includes mandrakes, women who live forever and an ocean that can fit in a bucket--all in the name of saving the neighbors from their greed and perceived needs.

     

    Neil Gaiman is the author of several books for children and adults, most notably Coraline. He has won the Newberry and Carnegie medals as well as four Hugos. His works have appeared as films, TV shows and theatre.

    Same Shelf: 
    Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
    Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling