What Is It About Wojtek?

For about a year now I’ve been one of thousands of online folks captivated by the story of a mythic and very real brown bear. I keep wondering why I find the story of Wojtek so compelling, even if the reasons seem obvious. If you follow this blog, you may remember last year’s review of…

Helen Humphreys’ Coventry

When I come across a novel with horrific subject matter, I check out the novelist; is he or she also a poet?  Warranted or not, that linkage is a source of worry.  Much as I love the poetic sensibility in fiction, the capacity of language to aestheticize violence can be irritating. Novels are driven by…

Heinrich Böll’s The Train Was On Time.

Our conventional idea of a well-constructed novel (or novella) has a narrative arc: beginning, middle and end, climax and resolution, an energetic plot dramatized by a protagonist and an antagonist with a conflict brewing between them. Good reading, but sometimes the structure’s too tidy for real life, where conflicts happen all the time, but resolution…

Bear With Me — A Soldier’s Tale

As far as reading goes, we all have our guilty pleasures. Now I’ll admit mine — I’m nuts about animals. If it’s cute and furry, just pass the book this way. Only this time I think I’ve met my match with a true tale about a bear that’s not only incredibly endearing, brave, and kind-hearted…

Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone

I’ve just finished reading an astounding five-hundred-page novel called Every Man Dies Alone by the German writer Hans Fallada. The book was written in 1947, but was only translated into English two years ago. What took them so long??? This compelling and inspiring page-turner was written — believe it or not — in the space…