Learning from animals’ facial expressions
March 23, 2019
From a refugee camp in Cairo to sports stardom in America
March 28, 2019

Difficult-to-put-down novels

A Woman Is No Man: A Novel by Etaf Rum, Harper, US $26.99, Pp 352, March 2019, ISBN 978-0062699763

The Falconer: A Novel by Dana Czapnik, Atria Books, US $25.00, Pp 288, January 2019, ISBN 978-1501193224

Such Good Work: A Novel by Johannes Lichtman, Simon & Schuster, US $26.00, Pp 304, February 2019, ISBN 978-1501195648

Set in Palestine in 1990 and Brooklyn in 2008, the story revolves around a Palestinian Muslim woman who is in search of her identity as a woman. In the first part, set in Palestine in 1990, seventeen-year-old Isra Hadid likes to read books instead of entertaining the suitors who visit her family. Her father wants her to get married as soon as possible. In spite of Isra’s efforts to not get married at this age, her father succeeds and she is married off to someone who lives in Brooklyn, USA. Brooklyn is a different world for the dreamy and naïve girl. But at home, she faces the same Palestinian culture. Isra makes every effort to live in the oppressive atmosphere and face the oppressive husband Adam Ra’ad and mother-in-law Fareeda Ra’ad. As she begins to have children, her life becomes more and more oppressed because all her children are girls. In the Islamic culture of Palestine, girls have lower social status and everyone wants boys. Ironically, it is the women who are blamed for bearing girls instead of boys. The Ra’ads believed that something was wrong with Isra which is why she could not give birth to boys. Fast forward to 2008… Isra’s oldest daughter — Deya — is eighteen-year-old. It is her time to face what Isra faced eighteen years ago — entertain her suitors — but she wants to go to college. Deya may have grown in an oppressive atmosphere at home but outside her Home, it is America she experiences. Deya was raised by her grandmother Fareeda after her parents were killed in a car crash. Deya’s grandmother is firm that marriage is the only way to secure Deya’s future. As Deya is struggling to live the way she wants to, she discovers shocking truths about her family. An estranged family member meets her in secret and reveals bitter truths about the Ra’ad family. Now, Deya has to question whatever she had believed about her parents, family and her own future. Among other things, the truth helps her to break free from the oppressive atmosphere at the in-laws. A Woman Is No Man is a study of contrasting cultures. It is a story of secrets, betrayals, love, and violence. It is a deep look into two opposing cultures and how women are shamed into silence in the Muslim world. It is equally a story of how a woman can break taboos and break free from patriarchal misogynistic families. This mesmerizing novel will take all your attention from the very beginning.

*****

Set in 1993 in New York where a seventeen-year-old smart and talented basketball player and a senior at Pendleton Academy Lucy Adler is facing challenges as she grows up. She is often the only girl on the public basketball courts. Trash-talking Lucy is passionate about her hometown — New York — she calls glittering. Lucy is both in love and in lust with her best friend and basketball buddy, Percy, who comes from an ultra-rich family. Percy has many girlfriends and hardly recognizes her as his love. As Lucy handles this complex love relationship with Percy with all sincerity and prepares herself for practical life, she questions the established truth and notions of success. She is burning with her desire for closeness to a man and looking for a way to live and love. Lucy’s cousin, Violet, is a painter and lives in a loft with another woman artist who has built an American flag with dildos which won the award at the Whitney Biennial.

As Lucy struggles with her love life and future, she joins a pair of provocative female artists in New York’s former Bohemia. This is the beginning of her world coming apart. Violet believes when she is 35, everything will be over. She will succeed or fail in life. If she fails, she will marry some rich moron and move to the suburbs and eat processed cheese all day and watch Thelma and Louise over and over until my eyes explode. The Falconer is written in a very lucid pose. As a sports journalist, she describes basketball passages beautifully. It shines a light on the youth and their problems in a big mega city like New York and how it helps women gain their freedom. It is as fast-paced as a basketball game. Packed with the rich captivating descriptions, The Falconer explores sexuality and womanhood and coming of age in Manhattan. Lucy represents modern woman. There is something irresistible about this feminist novel.

Dana Czapnik is a 2018 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Fiction from The New York Foundation for the Arts. In 2017, she was awarded an Emerging Writers Fellowship from the Center for Fiction. Czapnik earned her MFA at Hunter College where she was recognized with a Hertog Fellowship. She’s spent most of her career on the editorial side of professional sports including stints at ESPN the Magazine, the United States Tennis Association and the Arena Football League. The Falconer is her debut novel.

*****

Twenty-eight-year-old Jonas Anderson has recently arrived in Malmö, Sweden, the county of his mother’s birth. After graduating in the United States, Jonas Anderson started teaching at a school but was fired one more time after he assigned his students homework like Visit a stranger’s funeral and write about it. He has plans to start his life again. He plans to stop using drugs and is enrolling in at Lunds University. He believes the change of atmosphere will help him achieve his new goals. Jonas Anderson is unable to come back to creative writing in Sweden where he has substituted drugs with alcohol. His German exchange-student girlfriend, Anja, will be gone soon. He believes that temporary relationships work best for him as he hates to make commitments. It is 2015 and tens of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees are arriving in Europe. The city of Malmo is also struggling with the influx of thousands of refugees. This is an opportunity for Jonas Anderson to do good. He volunteers with an organization that teaches Swedish to young migrants. He believes volunteering for good work will help him overcome his craving for drugs. In the classroom, he meets a student named Aziz who will change his life — only if he changes some of his habits. He learns to take care of the children who have tremendously suffered and lost everything. The Swedes may welcome refugees from the Middle East, they are ambivalent about Roma, which is seen panhandling on street corners. When the Paris terrorist attack happens, Sweden closes its borders for refugees. Jonas Anderson has become stable and achieved a new sense of purpose. Such Good Work is a dark, comic, and funny at the same time. It asks biting questions about the modern world. It also shines a light on the Swedish culture. A fabulous novel that you definitely should not miss!

About the author

Johannes Lichtman was born in Stockholm and raised in California. He holds an MFA in fiction from UNC Wilmington and an MA in literature, culture, and media from Lund University. His work has appeared in American Short Fiction, Los Angeles Review of Books, Oxford American, The Sun, Sydsvenskan, and elsewhere. He lives in Portland and Ukraine. Such Good Work is his first novel.

Most of the biographical notes in our reviews are provided by the publishers.

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1 Comment

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