This installment: a Czech in space (f); Irish magical realism of sorts (f); a graphic novel depicting Arab-Israeli tsuris; a young woman from Haiti in Detroit (f); and the new collection from The Moth (nf).
Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
Jakob is on a solo mission to Venus in a dubious craft, leaving behind a strained marriage but hoping his heroism will mend the relationship on return. He lives for daily phone calls from his wife, but she needs some space and he’s plunged into despair. At which point there are mechanical difficulties and it seems all over for Jakob, except for a daring rescue by a passing Russian spacecraft. Jakob’s father was a Communist informer and in part his mission is to repay the Czech Republic for those bad acts. In his cabin, full of sponsored items duly noted, he encounters (or hallucinates) a spidery apparition which could be an alien being. Charming, screwy, mordant satire.
Eggshells by Catriona Lally
Meet Vivian, who definitely marches to her own drummer, or shall we say wanders, lurches, and fumbles on a quest to find a portal to another world. She’s convinced she’s a changeling and explores many Dublin neighborhoods following clues of her own devising—numbers, letters, patterns, legends. Yes she’s utterly cracked, has dreadful hygiene and eating habits, lives in her deceased grand aunt’s house she shares cheerfully with mice, but is also amazingly functional, all things considered. She uses public transit exhaustively, finds a friend by advertising for one (equally cracked, not surprisingly), horrifies her sister and family, yet she prevails and despite the seeming impossibility of her life, I loved spending time with her. Very original.
The Attack by Loic Dauvillier and Glen Chapron
A graphic novel that zeroes in on the troubles in the Middle East in a very graphic, focused way. Amin is an Arab Israeli surgeon in Tel Aviv. He discovers to his disbelief and horror that his wife was the suicide bomber who blew up the victims who filled his hospital. He had no inkling she was engaged in extremist politics, falls apart, is excommunicate by most of his colleagues, and goes on a quest to discover what happened. A very rough journey to Jenin and environs trying get insight from her family members. The bottom line: he’s wanted children and she didn’t want to bring them into a world in which she had no country. Powerful, sometimes agonizing. (Note: I also read the novel on which this is based and felt that the graphic format conveyed the material better, with a taut, direct economy.)
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Fabiola and her mother on finally on their way from Haiti to American when her mother is pulled over by immigration and she has to make the journey on her own. Mean streets in Detroit, despite the name, intersected with Joy St., and mean, tough cousins, her peers. This was not the way she was brought up. There are drugs and dirty deals going down constantly, and one of her cousins is in deep with an apparent kingpin, Dray. Fabiola meets Kasim, it seems sweet, but he’s connected with Dray and she eventually finds herself between a rock and a hard place. Interwoven with vodou and lore which Fabiola calls on to try and find her center. A teen book, vivid and atmospheric.
All These Wonders by The Moth
Subtitled True Stories About Facing the Unknown. I love this radio show/podcast and have been involved with it as participant and volunteer for a long, ecstatic stretch. One always wonders how spoken word translates to text, but with the right choices it works very well. You don’t get the immediacy and connection, but here you can taste the delights of these very short, varied, intense offerings. Some are by published authors. Neil Gaiman, who once appeared on a Moth stage, himself provides the foreword. Humor, heroism, regret, aha moments—all appear on these pages. Check it out.
Back next week