Kyung-sook Shin, I’ll Be Right There (2014)

June 11th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

“So let me ask you this.  Are those of you here today Christopher?  Or are you the child he carries on his back?”


Professor Yoon’s story had started out like a single drop of rain amid the hustle and bustle of students preparing for class to end but turned into a sudden midday shower beating down on us.  A clear ray of light from the last of the summer sun slipped in through a classroom window that someone had shut tight.


Professor Yoon studied us expectantly, but nobody offered an answer to his question.  The slogans of student demonstrators outside followed the ray of sunlight through the window and pushed their way again into our midst.  Over his glasses, Professor Yoon’s keen and gentle eyes stopped on each of us in turn before moving on. (p. 50)

South Korea for most of the second half of the 20th century was ruled by US-friendly dictators who only slowed eased their grip on the military and police forces.  The 1980s and early 1990s in particular were a time of frequent student protests against the dictatorship and occasionally in the US there would be brief footage of a particularly violent protest or a self-immolated student who would sacrifice his or her life to make a political statement.  As a teenager then, I vaguely recall hearing about these events on the evening “world news” reports, but I do not claim any real familiarity with the causes of these uprisings or their results.

Therefore, it was with keen interest that I read Kyung-sook Shin’s second novel to be translated into English, I’ll Be Right There, translated capably by Sora Kim-Russell.  Her first translated novel, Please Look After Mom, was an international bestseller, making the New York Times Bestseller List and winning the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize.  I’ll Be Right There differs from its predecessor in its more direct social commentary, but it is much more than just simply a “coming of age” story amidst socio-political turbulence.  There is a very real love for literature as a medium of change, as evidenced in passages such as the one quoted above, taken from a time when the first person PoV narrator, Jung Yoon (no relation to the professor Yoon), has just begun taking a literature class with her future ex-boyfriend and two other peers who play important roles in the novel.  In reading it, I was reminded of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, especially in the sense of how the socio-political can pervade (if not actually invade) the “reading spaces” readers like to set up for themselves.

I’ll Be Right There goes back and forth from the literary present to the initial events of eight years prior that establish the characters and their life journeys.  In the prologue, Jung Yoon receives a call from her ex-boyfriend, Yi Myungsuh, informing her that Professor Yoon is dying.  This call, the first contact she’s had with him in eight years, triggers a series of reflective flashbacks that serve as the basis of the novel.  In expansive chapters punctuated with short, punchy excerpts from Myungsuh’s notebook, Shin deftly develops these young adults’ characters, utilizing the social unrest at their school to create a contrast to the bookish world of the writers and poets from West and East.  As the story develops, this uneasy confluence of the literary and the real-world leads to unsettling realizations and tragic events.

In the hands of a lesser author, this story could too readily have become didactic, turgid with its own self-references to both South Korean politics and to literature as a “guiding light.”  Yet for the most part, Shin manages to avoid these pitfalls.  Yes, there are heart-wrenching events, especially striking at one of the four core people in Jung Yoon’s life, but there is also the realization that transformation, even if it involves moments of acute pain and sadness, may not be such a bad thing after all.  Shin’s eloquent yet direct style allows a deeper insight into her characters, creating connections that make it easier for non-Korean readers to understand the import of what is transpiring around the characters.  While there are moments where the narrative tension perhaps eases too much and necessary friction is not present to make certain scenes as vivid as they otherwise could have been, on the whole, Shin manages to build gradually but steadily toward a memorable conclusion.  This can be seen in an early foreshadowing, again from Professor Yoon’s comments on St. Christopher to his new students:

“Each of you is both Christopher and the child he carries on his back.  You are all forging your way through adversity in this difficult world on your way to the other side of the river.  I did not tell you this story in order to talk about religion.  We are all travelers crossing from this bank to that bank, from this world to nirvana.  But the waters are rough.  We must rely on something in order to make it over.  That something could be the art or literature that you aspire to create.  You will think that the thing you choose will serve as your boat or raft to carry you to that other bank.  But if you think deeply about it, you may find that it does not carry you but rather you carry it.  Perhaps only the student who truly savors this paradox will make it safely across.  Literature and art are not simply what will carry you; they are also what you must lay down your life for, what you must labor over and shoulder for the rest of your life.” (pp. 50-51)

It is in this passage that the germ for the story’s ultimate revelations lies.  I’ll Be Right Here may take its sweet time in getting to that crucial point where literature, art, and life converge to create something poignant, but when it does, the reader knows that she has read something powerful and moving.  This may prove to be a work that lingers in my mind long after the final words of this review are typed.  If only all stories could prove to be so.

Man Asian Prize finalist: Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Between Clay and Dust (2012)

January 24th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The ruination of the inner city was attributed to time’s proclivity for change.  It lay abandoned, half buried in and half surrounded by the squalor of shanty towns.  New settlements cordoning it on three sides seemed to avoid the shadow of its sunken grandeur.  Streets connecting new colonies skirted off its periphery.  Links binding old and new neighbourhoods were either never formed or broken at the start.  The wide serpentine alley of high, arched gateways dividing its residential and artisan quarters looked strangely desolate.

The ravaging winds of Partition had left it unscathed.  The turmoil that had seared the fibre of men and gored their souls had not touched this quiet habitation.  There had been anxiety that things would be greatly changed, but later there seemed hope that the worst was over and life’s routines could now be renewed.  Nobody expected that in Partition’s wake would follow a slow disintegration of values that would unravel the inner city.  In a way, the inner city was always a cat’s cradle – a crisscross of life’s many facts, each sustained by the other.  The strings of this cat’s cradle had not snapped but they had become hopelessly tangled. (pp. 9-10)

Some of the best stories involve defeat, or rather the struggle of a soul that we know almost from the beginning is doomed to be beaten down.  Those who take a perverse sort of Schadenfreude at witnessing one’s comeuppance may find something to enjoy in Pakistani-Canadian writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s Man Asian Prize-nominated novel Between Clay and Dust, but there are so many layers to this slender and yet powerful 213 page novel.  There is the inevitable failure of two people, the respected clan elder and wrestling Ustad-e-Zaman Ramzi and the aging courtesan Gohar Jan, to strive against the winds of change and the effects of such upon those around them.  Within this core struggle, we see their choices juxtaposed against that of those around them, with a glaring contrast of values and actions that make early 1950s urban Pakistani life (the city is never named, although it is located apparently on the Indus River) comprehensible for those of us who came of age a generation or two later in a land and value system alien and yet in some ways akin to that of the Ustad Ramzi and Gohar Jan.

Between Clay and Dust stretches over a few years, beginning in 1950 with the upheavals caused by the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan still ongoing.  Ustad Ramzi has been Ustad-e-Zaman for fifteen years and to him has fallen the task of training his twenty years’ younger brother, Tamami.  Tamami embodies values foreign to ustad Ramzi:  he is impetuous, headstrong, valuing the celebrity of the clan-centered wrestling bouts over the traditions embedded within these fights.  Through both his and Ustad Ramzi’s points of view, we come to see just how flawed of a character Tamami is, as he descends through anger and puffed-up pride to despondency and ultimately drug addiction in his futile quest to at first supersede his renowned older brother and later to earn his esteem.  Farooqi does an outstanding job in developing Tamami’s character, even though he is secondary to both the Ustad and the courtesan, through not just his thoughts, but even through conversations in which a corrupt wrestling promoter (itself an affront to the likes of the traditional ustads and their followers, who view staged exhibitions as akin to sacrilege) lays out the key conflict in the novel:

Gulab Deen smiled.

‘Tamami asked me if he would come.  I said he may come.  I said I think he will come.  That was all I told him.  You know how he is these days.  But I hope very much that Ustad Ramzi does come.  A challenge fight lacks something without the blessing and presence of elders.  Ustad Ramzi knows the venue where the bout is to be held.  I will keep a chair for him in the front row.  I will do all I can.’

‘So, is he going to come or not?’

Gulab Deen did not answer his question but continued:  ‘I have heard rumours that he said he will come.  But again, he may boycott the fight.  These old ustads and their ways.  Ustad Ramzi shouldn’t think he is doing me a favour by coming.  He should remember that it was I who arranged an exhibition match for Tamami when nobody was willing to fight him.  There is no gratitude in my business.  Everyone thinks I am after money.  But what’s wrong with that, you tell me?  If I don’t make money I go hungry.  Do you know how hard I have worked to arrange this fight?  Don’t say you don’t.  But I get no thanks.  Only complaints.’ (p. 160)

Here the clash of values between the older and newer generations are crystallized.   Money and the staging of what was formerly a proud cultural tradition have pushed these older values down.  Things have begun to change after the Partition (with the undertone later that things are always changing) and not for the better.  Tamami’s pride has cost him everything that he used to cherish most.  Now he is reduced in stature, forced to throw fights against inferior wrestlers in order to make a living after disgracing himself in front of his older brother.  This has affected him greatly and Farooqi illustrates this not just through Tamami’s PoV chapters, but also through the ways in which the corrupt promoter, Gulab Deen, views him.  To Deen, Tamami is not the fallen heir to a proud tradition, but instead is a potential moneymaker for another wrestler of his, one who stands to benefit from the “rub” that he gets for “winning” against the Ustad’s former protege.

Yet Ustad Ramzi is not blameless here.  In his chapters, we see a fascinating combination of tenderness and stiff-necked pride.  We see his noble intent when he visits the kotha of the singer/prostitute Gohar Jan, as he sits within her domicile listening to her sing and yet not seeming to have the slightest intent to have sex with her.  The respect he accords her is in sharp contrast to the mixture of frustration and condescension that he gives Tamami.  To him, Tamami is irrevocably flawed, whether it is his impetuous temper, his desire for fame and acceptance, or his succumbing to the ravages of drug addiction.  He cannot forgive him and this crushes the two of them in different ways.  Farooqi’s portrayal of Ustad Ramzi, through his meticulous care for the ancestral cemetery or the traditional patterns of his actions and beliefs, is subtle in its presentation yet penetrating in how he dissects Ustad Ramzi’s character.  Here emerges a complex character that has an uncommon clarity to his beliefs and actions.  The Ustad never feels underdeveloped or a caricature of the flaws of traditionalism.

Gohar Jan is the least developed of the three main characters, although much of that is likely on purpose.  In her can be seen the effects of a patriarchal society in which a very talented singer is disdained for being nothing more than a prostitute.  Her looks are all that matter to the men who visit her; when they fade, so do they from her company.  She is quiet and resolute in her attempt to maintain the appearance of relevancy, even as age strips her of most visitors (outside of the unusual visits of the Ustad Ramzi) and leaves her near novel’s end at the brink of losing her home and kotha as unscrupulous builders have bribed city officials to take not just her property but also that of the Ustad (including the family cemetery).  Yet she fights on.  Men may call her whore and try to deny her respect, yet there is such a noble spirit about her that makes these demeaning actions futile.  She is the bedrock for the Ustad, a symbol of how traditional admonishments may, if not quite cast away, be borne with a grace and dignity that transcends her lowly station in life.  It is her ultimate fate that brings Between Clay and Dust to a close and which underscores the connections between the novel’s title and the action within it.

Farooqi’s writing is superb.  He utilizes short (rarely more than four pages) chapters to switch character PoVs rapidly, yet no chapter feels rushed or sketchy.  There is an understated elegance to his prose that reminded me at times of some of Hemingway’s best stories in their way of showing character motivation and action in an economical yet powerful fashion.  There is never the sense of padded scenes or underdeveloped dialogue.  Everything meshes well together to create a memorable, moving fiction.  Between Clay and Dust is one of the best novels in a Man Asian Prize shortlist that is stacked with excellent writers.  Highly recommended.

Man Asian Shortlist announced

January 9th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Here are the five finalists for the 2012 Man Asian Prize:

Between Clay and Dust – Musharraf Ali Farooqi (Pakistan)

The Briefcase – Hiromi Kawakami (Japan)

Silent House – Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)

The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng (Malaysia)

Narcopolis – Jeet Thayil (India)

I have already reviewed Narcopolis and read The Garden of Evening Mists, so there are three more to be read (and reviewed) from this shortlist.  Just downloaded Silent House and The Briefcase and placed an order for Between Clay and Dust, so by the March 14 awards announcement, I hope to have reviews of all five books here.

Man Asian Prize winner: Kyung-sook Shin, Please Look After Mom

March 14th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

Mothers are, for most of us, the most important human beings we will ever know.  They give birth to us, nourish us, scold us when we stray from their teaching, sit down with us and make sure we learn our alphabets/characters and arithmetic so we can do better in class, and when we are adults, they strive to remind us of where we came from and what we can aim to achieve.  That is the Hallmark image of motherhood and although the realities of our lives reveal differences in this image of mother as supporter and enabler, it certainly is a vision that quite a few of us reading this have of our own mothers.

Yet mothers are also often taken for granted, as if they were a nice animated machine that dispensed food, hugs, and money, not necessarily in that order.  For many of us, as we’ve grown older, our mothers fade into the background, unless they call us up an evening or two (sometimes, in the process, annoying us) to see how we were doing and if we would be coming over to visit sometime soon.  Mama can become little more than an old person that gets in our way and we try to “make something” of our lives.  It’s not as though they are hated, usually it is far from that, but they are no longer important to us because they don’t provide for us and many of us just don’t have the time or desire to provide for them as they age.

This is a rather uncomfortable social truth that spans across six inhabited continents and divers cultures.  It lies at the heart of Korean writer Kyung-sook Shin’s Please Look After Mom, which recounts through the points-of-view of a particular mother’s husband and children their memories of her that were reactivated after she turned up missing after she missed connecting with her husband on a commuter train a month prior.  Shin builds through these reminiscences a complex mosaic portrayal of the mother, Park So-nyo, and of the complicated relationships her children and husband (who proved to be faithless to her during their marriage) had with her and with each other.  Below is a memory that the eldest daughter, Chi-hon, had:

A few years ago, your mom said, “We don’t have to celebrate my birthday separately.”  Father’s birthday is one month before Mom’s.  You and your siblings always went to your parents’ house in Chongup for birthdays and other celebrations.  All together, there were twenty-two people in the immediate family.  Mom liked it when all her children and grandchildren gathered and bustled about the house.  A few days before everyone came down, she would make fresh kimchi, go to the market to buy beef, and stock up on extra toothpaste and toothbrushes.  She pressed sesame oil and roasted and ground sesame and perilla seeds, so she could present her children with a jar of each as they left.  As she waited for the family to arrive, your mom would be visibly animated, her words and her gestures revealing her pride when she talked to neighbors or acquaintances.  In the shed, Mom kept glass bottles of every size filled with plum or wild-strawberry juice, which she made seasonally.  Mom’s jars were filled to the brim with tiny fermented croaker-like fish or anchovy paste or fermented clams that she was planning to send to the family in the city.  When she heard that onions were good for one’s health, she made onion juice, and before winter came, she made pumpkin juice infused with licorice.  Your mom’s house was like a factory; she prepared sauces and fermented bean paste and hulled rice, producing things for the family year-round.  At some point, the children’s trips to Chongup became less frequent, and Mom and Father started to come to Seoul more often.  And then you began to celebrate each of their birthdays by going out for dinner.  That was easier.  Then Mom even suggested, “Let’s celebrate my birthday on your father’s.”  She said it would be a burden to celebrate their birthdays separately, since both happen during the hot summer, when there are also two ancestral rites only two days apart.  At first the family refused to do that, even when Mom insisted on it, and if she balked at coming to the city, a few of you went home to celebrate with her.  Then you all started to give Mom her birthday gift on Father’s birthday.  Eventually, quietly, Mom’s actual birthday was bypassed.  Mom, who liked to buy socks for everyone in the family, had in her dresser a growing collection of socks that her children didn’t take.

This passage, which is only but one of several similar flashbacks, goes straight for the jugular.  In reading it, I could remember how my mother and maternal grandmother were in regards to sewing clothing for several in the family, the simple dismissal of attention, and the stoic facing of age while the family grew up and moved into different homes (and in my case, to a different state for two years).  I could easily see myself in a position similar to Chi-hon’s, possibly sitting at a desk or table twenty years from now and wondering about my mother and just how quickly and completely she had faded into the background, despite her being so vocal about my need to learn responsibility when I was younger.  That is the devastating beauty of Please Look After Mom.  Shin utilizes a mixture of first-, second-, and third-person points-of-views to place us right in the shoes of the missing mother’s family.  How easily it could be our own mother who has wandered away, suffering from medical ailments, yet not wanting to interrupt our self-absorbed lives.  If we find ourselves thinking and reacting along with the husband and three children, then Shin’s novel has us utterly in its grasp.  We cannot turn aside, but have to confront the memories that burble up from reading a story just like this.

It is easy to forget how much and how little we understand our own family members until stories such as Please Look After Mom come along to jar us into remembering what we had forgotten or at least had tried to forget.  For that and for how adroitly Shin mixes the four narrative threads together to reveal portraits of each family member and mom, Please Look After Mom may be the best character novel of this year’s Man Asian Prize finalists.  It is difficult to imagine a story that could be more effective that portraying multiple, and sometimes conflicting, images of a family matriarch.  It simply is a moving novel that may lead to a few tears welling up as you read it.

Man Asian Prize finalist: Yan Lianke, Dream of Ding Village

March 14th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

Chinese writer Yan Lianke’s Dream of Ding Village, first published in Chinese in 2005, stands out from the other Man Asian Prize finalists in its scathing social commentary.  Set in a fictional village in China’s Henan province, Dream of Ding Village reveals several tragedies that have fallen upon millions of Chinese over the past thirty years as the country suffered the consequences of political corruption at the local level.  Families/clans became divided as one branch would rise to local (and perhaps eventually regional) power and in their attempts to make profit off of their government mandates, people such as Ding Hui would view crises such as the spread of AIDS through tainted blood supplies sold by and for local villagers as yet one more opportunity to profit.  Dream of Ding Village reveals the nightmares behind these corrupt deeds and how so many suffered as a result.

Dream of Ding Village reminds me of two acclaimed novels, Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow.  He, like Pamuk, utilizes the voice of a murdered person, in this case, the twelve-year-old son of Ding Hui, Ding Qiang, who was poisoned by the villagers in response to Ding Hui’s blood-selling project infecting them with “the fever,” their name for AIDS.  Unlike Pamuk, however, Qiang’s role is not to be part of an unfolding mystery but instead to give voice to the afflicted villagers of Ding Village.  Qiang had a close bond with his grandfather, the village’s schoolmaster, who comes to represent the living witness to the dying villagers’ love and hatred, their triumphs and their shortcomings.  In that regard, the narrative as seen and told through the father and murdered son of the main antagonist resembles in theme, if not quite in tone or style, wa Thiong’o’s dissection of Kenyan strongman politics and political corruption.

There is a lyrical quality to the writing.  Lianke utilizes climate conditions to serve as a metaphor for the “fever” that was burning up the villagers of Ding Village.  One passage very near the end of the novel underscores his ability to create memorable images of death and suffering:

Summer had passed without a drop of rain.  Now it was midway through autumn, and there hadn’t been a rainstorm for more than six months.  The dry spell had lasted for 180 days.  It was the worst drought seen on this plain in nearly a century.  All the grasses and crops had died.

The trees were gone, too.  Unable to resist the drought, the paulownia, scholar trees, chinaberries, elms, toons and rare honey locusts quietly passed away.

The big trees had all been chopped down, and the smaller ones had been lost to drought.  There were no more trees.

Ponds congealed.  Rivers stopped.  Wells ran dry.

When the water disappeared, so did the mosquitoes.

Cicadas shed their skin and left before it was time.  Their golden yellow corpses littered the trunks, branches and forks of dead trees, and clung to the shady side of walls and fences.

But the sun survived.  The wind lived on.  The sun and moon, stars and planets were alive and well.

This scene is the culmination of all of the suffering witnessed and experienced throughout the novel.  There is something of the cicadas and their short yet noticeable lovemaking adult lives in the doomed romance of the infected brother of Ding Hui, Liang, and his new wife, as both deserted their AIDS-free spouses for a brief yet passionate romantic life.  There are betrayals abundant in the narrative, as villagers scheme for access to food sold to them at outrageous prices by Ding Hui.  The trees had to be chopped down to supply the ever increasing number of coffins necessary to bury the dead who died from “the fever.”  As the narrative unfolds, the value of the tree/coffins and people switch in value, as the dead tree trunks become more valuable than the human chaff that is left to be blown away by the wind to rot, forgotten by nearly all those who remain, benumbed by “the fever.”  Lianke’s imagery is arresting because he forces the reader to take notice of the cruelties that are the offspring of political corruption.

Ding Hui makes only a few fleeting appearances until the penultimate section of Dream of Ding Village.  When we do encounter him directly, we see that he is the spider occupying the center of the web of corruption, deceit, and callousness.  He plots on how to make even more yuan after exhausting the avenues afforded by blood-selling and coffin manufacturing.  He strikes upon an idea that at first seems so strange that it actually makes an even deeper connection with traditional Chinese practices and the transformations that modernization had made:  selling the rights to posthumous “marriages” in order to restore dignity to families who had unmarried children.  When contemplated further, it truly is a monstrous corruption of popular practice to serve the moneymaking goals of Ding Hui:

How much is there?’ Grandpa asked.

Dad smiled. ‘I’m not sure.’

What do you need with all this money?  It’s more than you could spend in a lifetime.’

My dad seemed embarrassed.  ‘Is it my fault this fever never ends?  If it keeps on like this, I don’t know what I’m going to do.  I just opened five new factories for the county, and we still can’t make enough coffins to keep up with demand.  All the trees on the plain are gone, so I have to ship timber in from the northwest.  And this month, I sent a dozen matchmaking teams into the villages to gather statistics and arrange posthumous matches.  It’s been two weeks, and we’ve only managed to find matches for a third of the families who signed up.’

And this matchmaking business is more of your philanthropy?’

I’ve spent my whole life doing philanthropy,’ my dad smiled.

Ding Hui’s cupidity is repulsive, yet Lianke does not settle for a simple caricature of a greedy and corrupt political official.  Instead, he shows Ding Hui in action, snubbing his avowed enemies by showing just how readily people can be bought with the issuance of just a few filtered cigarettes and the promise of a new, greener land away from Ding Village where their families can be buried in a park-like setting.  The casual, contemptuous manner in which this is one serves to reinforce the notion planted earlier in the novel that corruption is an endemic outcome of unequal power and that those who are not in control are susceptible to its insidious influence.  Ding Hui is not extraordinary in any fashion; he merely is one of a long line of similar bureaucrats who have profited off of the suffering and credulity of those over whom he governs.

Lianke’s portrayal of local Chinese officials as being corrupt petty quasi-lords led to Dream of Ding Village being censored in China for being too direct in its criticism of the local and, by implication, national governments.  It is an evocative novel, where the effects of very real practices during the 1980s and 1990s are shown in their full, horrific qualities.  Dream of Ding Village pulls no punches; it squarely hits the reader repeatedly between the eyes with its narrative and characters.  It is one of the more moving novels I’ve read this year, second only to fellow Man Asian Prize finalist Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please Look After Mom, and its biting commentary on Chinese local politics is first-rate.  Dream of Ding Village is perhaps my favorite of the finalists read to date because it uses vivid images and dreams to conjure visions of just how horrible corruption can be to those who suffer under such rule.

Man Asian Prize finalists and review plans

March 13th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

The Man Asian Prize for Fiction will be announcing the winner of its annual award (founded in 2007) on Thursday, March 15 for works published in English or English translation in 2011 by Asian authors.  Below are the shortlisted titles.

 

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad (of Pakistan)

Rebirth by Jahnavi Barua (of India) [not available in e-book and hard to find in print in US]

The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya (of India)

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh (of India)

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (of South Korea)

Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke (of China)

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (of Japan)

 

I have read six of the seven finalist (Rebirth was not available as an e-book and while it is being shipped from India, I fear it may not arrive in time for me to read it before the winner is announced early Thursday morning my time.  But I can safely say, having read the others, that this is a very strong group of finalists.  The Lianke, Shin, and Yoshimoto books in particular moved me, and the Bhattacharya, Ahmad, and Ghosh were a tiny half-step behind them.  Over the next few days, I will have more to say about these fine novels.  Hopefully, one or more of these stories may enchant you as well.

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