The Dirty Dust, by Máirtín Ó Cadhain

Among the many pleasures of being a book critic is that you receive in the mail all sorts of books you weren’t expecting. A recent novel I received is one of the most enjoyable, funniest, and most creatively profane books I have ever read: The Dirty Dust, a 1949 novel written in Irish by Máirtín Ó Cadhain. The book is now appearing in English for the first time, thanks to Yale University Press and a marvelous translation by Alan Titley. Continue reading “The Dirty Dust, by Máirtín Ó Cadhain”


The Lost Child, by Caryl Phillips

My first review for BookPage is a review of The Lost Child, the new novel by Caryl Phillips. Phillips is the author of such works as the novels Crossing the River and A Distant Shore and the essay collections A New World Order and Colour Me English. He is known for works about the African diaspora. The subject of his latest work, however, may strike some readers as a departure: a reimagining of the Emily Brontë classic Wuthering Heights. Continue reading “The Lost Child, by Caryl Phillips”

My Favorite Books from 2014

You know it’s a great year for fiction when you have no trouble coming up with titles that are worthy of mention in a best-of blog post. I needed less than two minutes to come up with the list of eight books I’ve included here. I had the pleasure of reviewing all but two of these works. Six countries of origin are represented here, and the protagonists include a scientist trying to find music in DNA, a young man in 1960’s France struggling to make sense of his country’s role during World War II, and a judge who must decide whether to let a hospital give a blood transfusion to a 17-year-old who objects on religious grounds. Continue reading “My Favorite Books from 2014”

Suspended Sentences, by Patrick Modiano

I look forward to each year’s announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature not in the hope that the members of the Swedish Academy will validate my tastes but that they’ll introduce me to authors with whom I’m unfamiliar. As critics and supporters have noted, for every Alice Munro and Mario Vargas Llosa who receives the prize, the Academy also bestows its honor on writers many readers have never heard of, such as China’s Mo Yan, the 2012 winner, or J.M.G. Le Clezio, the French laureate from 2008. Continue reading “Suspended Sentences, by Patrick Modiano”

The Wisdom of José Saramago

In 1953, 31-year-old José Saramago, then an unknown author, submitted Skylight, a novel, to a Portuguese publishing house. (The novel appears in English translation this month for the first time. My review will appear on Bookreporter’s site soon.) He received no response. He was so distraught by the publisher’s dismissive attitude that he didn’t write again for 20 years. Continue reading “The Wisdom of José Saramago”

What’s Not to Like: Debut Fiction and Unlikable Characters

In my latest essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books, “What’s Not to Like,” I reviewed two recent debut novels, We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas and A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, and discussed them in the broader context of the recent debate about likable vs. unlikable characters. Continue reading “What’s Not to Like: Debut Fiction and Unlikable Characters”

Interview: “Bone Clocks” author David Mitchell

One of the most inventive writers of the past twenty years is David Mitchell. Not many authors have attempted in only six novels the range of literary styles Mitchell has tackled. Wait, what am I saying: Not many authors have attempted in a single book the range of literary styles Mitchell gave us in Cloud Atlas, among them a mid-19th century tale of a notary from San Francisco sailing to New Zealand, a mystery in which a gossip columnist learns of corruption and cover-ups at a California nuclear power plant, a comic story in which a vanity press publisher of titles such as a mobster’s Knuckle Sandwich is incarcerated in a sadistic nursing home, and a futuristic tale of fabricants who are bred to be slaves for the purebloods in the corpocracy of Nea So Copros. Continue reading “Interview: “Bone Clocks” author David Mitchell”