Friday, November 30, 2012

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature shortlist

I'm so out of the freakin' loop.  The shortlist was announced November 20th but with everything else that's been going on I missed it.  So if anyone cares (which I do), the finalists for the 2013 prize are the following (taken from the list at the DSC website):

1.       Jamil Ahmad: The Wandering Falcon (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India)
2.       Tahmima Anam: The Good Muslim (Penguin Books)
3.       Amitav Ghosh: River of Smoke (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India)
4.       Mohammed Hanif: Our Lady of Alice Bhatti (Random House India)
5.       Uday Prakash: The Walls of Delhi (Translated by Jason Grunebaum; UWA Publishing, W. Australia)
6.       Jeet Thayil: Narcopolis (Faber and Faber, London)

Well, heck -- only two I haven't read!  I will say this: I loved The Wandering Falcon, River of Smoke and Narcopolis absolutely and unconditionally.  I wasn't particularly in love with The Good Muslim, mainly because I hate the title but also because it's a rather one-sided tale, if you ask me.  Anyway, good luck to everyone.

The Polish Boxer, by Eduardo Halfon

Bellevue Literary Press, 2012
originally published as El boxeador polaco, 2008
translated by Daniel Hahn, Ollie Brock, Lisa Dillman, Thomas Bunstead and Anne McLean
188 pp
softcover, ARC from the publisher (thank you!!)

 I'm quite proud to say that when some time back, World Literature Today sent an email asking for donations to help get this book and its author the recognition it deserves, I kicked in a few dollars to help out.  Now I'm equally proud to say it was worth every single penny I gave them.  This is a wonderful book -- and I hope it gets a lot of attention from the reading public.  While it may not be everyone's cup of tea (and it seems like most books I read fall under that heading -- that and obscure reading material), underneath the wonderful set of stories here, the novel says a lot about readers, writers and life in general.

I loved this book. Without saying much about the full storylines here (you really have to experience this book yourself), I read this book twice -- the first time through I didn't like the disjointed feel of the book, but then when I got to the ending, something the author said made me think that perhaps I should go back and read it again. The light bulb over my head flashed on after the second read and I realized that what is important in this book is not that there are little stories wrapped up to our satisfaction as readers, all neatly tied up in a cohesive sort of way (because there aren't)  but rather that we spend a lot of time in life trying to sort out some kind of meaning when all the while it seems to escape us. What we think we know doesn't always turn out to be the reality. While frustration is part of the journey, it's setting out on the overall quest that is important as well as what we find along the way. We may never get to the actual point of our destination, but that's also reality. Life is obviously not a well-ordered series of answers, and the author illustrates this point by leaving many things undisclosed in this novel, for example: whatever happened to Milan Rakic? What was Juan Kalel's future as seen by the fortune teller? What does it mean when a gypsy does a pirouette? (I really wanted to know the answer to this one!) Are all of these episodes really parts of the life of Eduardo Halfon or is it all one big fiction -- all things we will never really know.

As Halfon says, "Literature is no more than a good trick a magician or a witch might perform, making reality appear whole, creating the illusion that reality is a single unified thing." The uncomfortable feeling I got while reading this book the first time through reflects my own expectations that this book would flow like a cohesive narrative and that all would eventually be revealed, when in fact, reality isn't that simple -- it's often a series of incohesive events and discoveries. I actually wish more authors would take this approach in their writing, capturing life as it really is -- in reality there is always something left undone, unfound, unanswered. Most of what we read, however, hands us the answers on a plate -- every dilemma solved, every base covered, every moment answered for, when in fact there are often big holes and big questions left unanswered.

The Polish Boxer is an extremely clever novel, and one that requires a lot of postread thought, and I could go on and on but suffice it to say, I loved it. There are some things I didn't like -- the orgasm drawings, the sometimes ridiculous conversations between Halfon and his girlfriend -- but I loved his use of language and the ideas thrown out here. Beautiful book -- highly recommended.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

November reading roundup

Busy month. Thanksgiving, our 4 year-old dog's glaucoma meds failed so she had to have eye-removal surgery,  and a host of other stuff kept us very busy this November.  Luckily, there's always time to read, even if it's in the middle of the night or very early in the a.m. when it's just quiet.

November continued my American authors reading choice, and although I really didn't get through everything I'd planned, it wasn't so bad.  Add to the list some crime fiction, an incredible book of ghost stories and a  well-written nonfiction book, and it was actually a pretty good month.   Here's how it shakes out:

american fiction
Young Man With a Horn, by Dorothy Baker
Evel Knievel Days, by Pauls Toutonghi

The Collini Case, by Ferdinand von Schirach

The Boy Kings of Texas, by Domingo Martinez

  crime fiction
--american writers--
From Blood, by Edward Wright
Entanglement, by Zygmunt Miloszewski  (Poland)
The Dark Winter, by  David Mark  (UK)

odd/weird fiction 
The Big Book of Ghost Stories, ed. Otto Penzler (Vintage/Black Lizard)

And now, the  other book-related stuff:
1) The book group does a mixed November/December meetup so that we don't collide with the holidays. This coming December 11th we'll be reading Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain. One of my friends accidentally ordered a copy of Mildred Pierced, by Stuart Kaminsky, and read the whole thing before realizing it was the wrong book.

 2) Added to the Amazon wishlist this month (as usual, a lot of obscure titles):
     crime fiction:
Baksheesh, by Esmahan Aykol
A Crack in the Wall, by Claudia Pineiro
David's Revenge, by Hans-Werner Kettenbach
The Public Prosecutor, by Jef Geeraerts

     general fiction:
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (nyrb classics)
Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail, by TJ Forrester

Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy

    weird fiction:
The Vampire Archives: The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Ever Published (ed. Otto Penzler)
 3) Books bought this month
Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy, by Douglas Smith
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss
The Go-Between, by LP Hartley (nyrb classics)
The Watchers:  A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I, by Stephen Alford

4) Currently reading: 
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy
The Horror at Oakdeene and Others, by Brian Lumley
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss

****5) Books I'm giving away this month (sorry, to US readers only  -- absolutely 100% totally free, I'll pay postage to whoever will give them a home)*******
 -- links go through to Amazon, but I receive absolutely no money if you click. It's just an FYI. --

1. The Boy Kings of Texas, by Domingo Martinez
2. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan
3. Evel Knievel Days, by Pauls Toutonghi
4. Number 9 Dream, by David Mitchell
5. The Proof of Love, by Catherine Hall
6. Where'd You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
7. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

(if you want one, some or even all of these books, be the first to leave a comment with the titles of the book(s) you want.)

 that's it for November -- now on to December and some lovely Aussie beach reads. It is summer there, yeah?

Monday, November 26, 2012

*Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

Farrar, Strous and Giroux, 2012
288 pp

"People still like the smell of books.

Take a bookstore where the shelves go up so high that they seemingly fade into the shadows, a mysterious group of customers who come in to take books out but never buy anything, a reading room buried beneath the city of New York, coded secrets and the ever-increasing wonders of the technological scene, and you have the ingredients that put together Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, a very cool fantasy-like novel that is simultaneously entertaining and thought provoking. 
Set mainly in San Francisco, the main character is Clay Jannon, who has fallen on hard times and needs a job.  He is by trade a web designer, and after the great food-chain contraction that swept through America in the early twenty-first century,” lost his job after the start-up bagel company he works for goes out of business.  He gets by for a while, but he needs money and talking a walk one day runs across a bookstore with a help wanted sign in its window.  The bookstore is located on Broadway ("in a euphemistic part of town")  next to a place named Booty's; Jannon can't help but wonder what "24-hour bookstore" might be a euphemism for.  But it seems to be on the up and up -- and after Jannon answers some rather odd questions put to him by the owner, Mr. Penumbra, he's got the job, starting at midnight and working until early a.m..  It isn't long until he notices that most of the customers, whom he says are
 "exactly the kind of people you'd see in coffee shops, working through one-sided chess problems or solving Saturday crosswords with blue ballpoints pressed perilously hard into the newsprint," 
come to the bookstore to take out some very "unique" tomes, some with "cracked leather, gold-leaf titles," others "freshly bound with bright crisp covers...not all ancient." These books are set aside on special shelves that go up into the shadows of the ceiling in the part of the store that Clay has come to call the "Waybacklist." Part of Clay's job entails writing detailed descriptions of the people who take out these volumes in a logbook, including the weather conditions, what they were wearing, and other odd details he might notice.  Although one of the conditions of the job is that he is not to look inside the books, when his roommate Mat visits and takes one down, human nature takes over and Clay takes a peek:
 "The two-page spread shows a solid matrix of letters, a blanket of glyphs with hardly a trace of white space. The letters are big and bold, punched onto the paper in a sharp serif. I recognize the alphabet -- it's roman, which is to say normal -- but not the words. Actually, there aren't really words at all.  The pages are just long runs of letters -- an undifferentiated jumble." 
Clay is perplexed: "For this, Tyndall and the rest come running in the middle of the night?"  Alongside the strange people and the even more peculiar books they take out, Clay takes it upon himself to help Mr. Penumbra get more regular customers in the shop with some marketing techniques, including a coupon he creates.  This offer brings Kat, a nerdchick who works in data visualization at Google, into the store, and his growing infatuation with her (and his own curiosity about what is in the books) eventually spurs Clay to use certain technological tools available to her to investigate the mysteries within these volumes.  Their inquiries and their results will take them on a literal fantasy quest that will eventually lead them to an organization whose members have spent their lifetimes in their own search for meaning.

So having said that, you might believe that this is just another bit of modern-age fantasy, but there is some serious stuff afoot here, and it's highly obvious in the way Sloan has drawn his characters. Aside from the readers who carry out books from the Waybacklist at Mr. Penumbra's store, Clay's roommate Mat, for example, works as a special effects designer/builder for Industrial Light and Magic, where he makes props, part of the "dwindling tribe of special-effects artists who still make things with knives and glue." He's currently working on a jungle monster made of living plants.  But his major project, "Matropolis," is currently all over the roomies' livingroom, a "scaled-down dreamscape, a bright glittering hyper-city made with scraps of the familiar." In short -- he builds tangible representations of things made out of materials that you can touch.  On the other side of the fence is Neel, another friend, whose work involves 3D computerized representations of famous women's breasts, and Kat who is in thrall to the concept of Singularity as a means by which "programmers ...get to upgrade the human operating system" to solve all of the world's problems so that humans can live forever.   Kat and her cohorts at Google  find that data is the only real ingredient necessary for experiencing the world along with the requisite machines needed for encoding and decoding.  Is there a future where these two sides can co-exist?  Think of this question in terms of books and their authors, and Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore enters the stream of current discourse on the future of the biblioverse. At least that's how I understand it.

The book ranges into the farfetched, and is one of those stories where coincidences mount  and somehow, like in the fantasy-quest story Mr. Sloan brings to his novel, things just simply have a way of working out to the good of all.  Normally these sorts of obvious turning points in a book make for the inevitable eyeroll and leave me inwardly cringing, but the novel is witty and clever while being serious at the same time, and the aura of mystery around it appeals to my fascination with trying to get at the bottom of what's really going on.  It is, in short --  with reservations including the necessity of the epilogue --  a delight to read, even if you are over 30. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

*Young Man With a Horn, by Dorothy Baker

NYRB Classics, 2012
originally published 1938, Houghton Mifflin
185 pp

"Music, for him, wasn't a business; it was a passion, and he was ready to give up to it."

There's a problem when readers stick to what's hot, trendy and popular in today's reading market -- they miss a lot of good older, mainly-forgotten books like this one.  Kudos to NYRB for bringing this book (and other fine novels) back to the attention of the reading public, or at least to me.

The Young Man With a Horn is Rick Martin, who, we discover as the prologue opens, is dead at a young age not long after reaching the peak of his musical genius.  Despite this, the narrator assures the reader that the story has no "grand tragic theme," but rather it is the account of a man who "had a talent for creating music as natural and fluent as -- oh, say Bach's," who would never be "put down to playing exactly what was written for him." Martin chose instead to live a life in devotion to his art; he's a man with the soul of an artist who "goes to pieces," and ultimately suffers for life's intrusions into his great passion.

The novel is divided into four books, beginning with Rick's childhood and teen years  in Los Angeles, where he meets "his first, last and always friend," Smoke Jordan. Rick Martin is a poor kid growing up in LA -- he is often truant from school; although he'd learned to read music there, school held little interest for this boy.  One day Rick wanders into the All Souls' Mission where he finds himself alone, and picks up a hymnal and starts singing the tunes (not the words -- just the music). He transfers picking out the songs in his head to the piano there, and goes back to practice until his peace is intruded upon. Although he loves the piano, he's thinking that perhaps a trumpet is more his métier. It is when he takes a job that he meets Smoke -- black to his white, and they become fast friends in a space and time where there is a racial "line that can't be crossed,"  a line Rick didn't know existed.  Smoke introduces him to the music of Jeff Williams, the bandleader at the Cotton Club -- not the Cotton Club, but the less famous one in Vernon, California south of Los Angeles.  At first the two boys would sit outside, and "let the music come to them" in the darkness of night, and it is here that  Rick's deep-seated passion music really began; the sound that he would try to recreate over the course of his short lifetime originated within the small confines of this little club whose clientele was "mostly negro with a light mixture of Mexicans and Filipinos."

 a scene of young Rick in "Young Man With a Horn," directed by Michael Curtiz, 1950

 Ultimately  taken in by this group of musicians  he considered musical geniuses and in some sense of the word, the family he never had, Rick learns how to play in earnest.  It was the rarity of the band's music, that beautiful, "pure thing put out fresh by the Cotton Club ensemble" that really grabbed hold of his soul and penetrated his psyche to the point where he came to know the band's playing style  "from the inside out."  Soon
  the fascination of making music was on him like a leech. He'd sit at the Cotton Club piano and practice until his fingernails ached from being sent the wrong way, and he'd play his trumpet until his lip crumpled up on him and shook miserably in the face of further discipline.
It takes Rick no time to realize that the tune is less important than the improvisations and the variations it inspires; even as a boy he had daydreams of the popular bandleader Paul Whiteman grooving on his talent for improvising and creating something new.  He held to this ideal even after his career started -- in Rick's mind, there was little meaning to be drawn from the dance music de jour to which the bandleaders pandered. Yet his passion and flair for improv and originality went unappreciated by his bosses who reminded him that he'd be "playing to our own kind of a crowd."   He came alive at quitting time however -- "after his good work was done, he did better work," hanging out with his friends and jamming, just playing for fun. It was in this space that he could let himself go and play for the sheer love of  music, here where he could feel that unbridled sense of being alive his music produced that little else could. Popular in his professional life, privately he "had a way of doing a thing, and ... a love of the thing so strong that he never in his life compromised it."  But when the real world intrudes, including a tempestuous marriage that further hones his drinking skills,  his drive for purity and perfection combine with his fondness for booze and eventually become the instruments of his downward slide.

Movie poster for "Young Man With a Horn," directed by Michael Curtiz, 1950

Thematically, the book touches on a number of issues: race, the question of art as opposed to commercialism;  jazz as a form of undefinable personal experience, expression and meaning; one's inner drive and the need to remain true to one's principles.

Baker writes at the outset that the inspiration for her book is "the music, but not the life, of a great musician, Leon (Bix) Beiderbecke." Rick Martin in  Young Man With a Horn is definitely not Bix Beiderbecke -- when Ken Burns' documentary Jazz re-aired a couple of years back I read Jean Pierre Lion's bio of Beiderbecke (Bix: The Definitive Biography of a Jazz Legend) and while there are a couple of similarities, Baker's book is not a borrowing of Beiderbecke's life made fiction. And I have to say that in 1938 the addition of  obviously lesbian characters was pretty gutsy.   It's also a shame that this book isn't as well known as the film that came out of it starring Kirk Douglas, Doris Day and Lauren Bacall.  It's an awesome film if you're into older movies, filled with great music if you're into old jazz,  but now that I've read the novel, it seems that the screenwriters took quite a few liberties in getting it to the big screen.

 Personally I just don't get why people don't seem very fond of this novel.  Okay, it's a bit melodramatic at the end, which comes rather quickly when maybe there might have been more buildup toward the last scene. At the same time, it's the journey through Rick Martin's short life and career in the first three books that drives this narrative as it leads up to Rick's final moments, as his love for music and his need for creative freedom take hold of him setting the stage for the direction his life will eventually take. By the time you get to the end, the final outcome should actually be of little surprise, considering the author's skill in framing Rick Martin's life up to that point. Young Man With a Horn is an appealing and compelling novel; I highly recommend it to anyone well rounded enough in their reading who can pull themselves away from the New York Times bestseller list or other currently popular novels to enjoy something from the past.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Collini Case, by Ferdinand von Schirach

Michael Joseph/Penguin, 2012
originally published as Der Fall Collini, 2011
translated by Anthea Bell
191 pp

"You are who you are."
Actually, I had posted my discussion of this book at the crime segments part of my reading journal, but as it turns out, The Collini Case turned out to be less of a novel of crime fiction than I had expected, so I'm reposting it here. Obviously it doesn't fit the category of American novels, but it's very much worth mentioning. 

Much like Pia Juul's The Murder of Halland, The Collini Case is a novel based on the commission of a crime yet it really isn't crime fiction per se. There is a murder, but the focus of this novel is more on what lies beneath the decision of a retired Mercedes-Benz toolmaker to walk into a man's hotel room, shoot him, and then brutally kick him -- breaking all of the bones in his head while grinding his shoe into the man's face.  While it's a novel, the book is really not meant to be entertaining; on the contrary, it is a story designed with a specific purpose in mind. If you're looking for the typical whodunit kind of read, pass on this one; it's not a staggering legal thriller, nor is it meant to be. 
In an interview at BBC Radio 4, Von Schirach notes that when he writes about crime, the whodunit is not important to him, but rather it is the motive behind criminal acts that he finds interesting.  This is certainly the case in his novel, where Fabrizio Collini, a long-time worker at Mercedes Benz,  makes an appointment with a wealthy industrialist at his hotel in Berlin. Posing as a journalist, Collini is welcomed into the man's room, where he promptly proceeds to put four bullets into the man's head, and repeatedly grind his shoe into the dead man's face. When the act is finished, he goes downstairs, asks the woman at the front desk to inform the police that the man in room 400 is dead, then quietly waits to be arrested.  It isn't long before he is taken into custody, but when his lawyer, Caspar Leinen, arrives, Collini provides only minimal answers. Yet he will not answer the crucial question as to why he killed the man.  Leinen, a new defense attorney, knows he's going to have his work cut out for him; but little does he understand the ramifications of taking on Collini's defense.  

The Collini Case is difficult to summarize without ruining it for prospective readers, but even in its spare, understated tone, this slow-paced story is powerful and gets to the thematic issue of guilt as determined by a person's circumstances. Also present throughout the story is the idea of justice in the present world where the past still has a strong foothold within a system that may have very well failed at its own mission.  While these themes are writ large, there's also a side trip into the reflections of one's own life in the light of revelations of  family secrets.  You may think as you read that you know what's coming down the pike, but trust me, that's not really the case.

Ferdinand von Schirach is himself a criminal attorney with a past not unlike that of some of the characters in The Collini Case.  While some readers found it "predictable," "pedestrian," and found that the core issue may have been better served in a pamphlet or magazine article, I have to disagree.  It is an all-too human story about the consequences that evolve out of fundamental wrongs within the system that somehow everyone overlooked, with devastating results all around.  I think people started into the book with expectations of a legal thriller and the fact that it came out to be something entirely different may have proved disappointing,  but that's certainly not the fault of the author.

While true blue mystery/crime fiction fans may not find what they're looking for in this book, to me it was an eye-opening story with a punch.  Perhaps a crime-fiction audience isn't the best market for this novel, but it's quite an engaging read that I finished in one sitting.  Now I'm going to pull out my copies of his other books Crime and Guilt which have been collecting dust on my shelves; I can't wait to read what else this man has written.  Definitely recommended.

*Evel Knievel Days, by Pauls Toutonghi

Crown Publishing, 2012
293 pp

"...Tolstoy was wrong.  Unhappy families are all alike. They're all alike in this moment -- in the pause before something happens, in the pause before someone reacts. And that pause: It can last seconds or minutes or days or months or years."

Family stories  normally just aren't my thing, but if they could all be written like Evel Knievel Days, I might be willing to give more of them a try.

Khosi Saqr is the half-Egyptian son of Akram and Amy.  Amy comes from the family of Butte's "copper king" William Andrews Clark.  Copper was the basis of the family money, but also the root of the family's ongoing curse. His mom suffers from Wilson's disease, a genetic disorder that makes it impossible for her to absorb copper. She's on a number of medications which she sometimes forgets to take, making her son feel unable to leave her alone, and her emotional life is for Khosi one of life's great mysteries. His dad left when Khosi was very young, leaving Amy with gambling debts, a three year old boy "copper as a penny," and "his country's food" which he'd taught Amy to cook.  Amy and Khosi live in a house he lovingly names "Loving Shambles,"  so called because it leans to one side, threatening to fall in.  All of the turmoil and disorder in Khosi's life has led him to develop a case of OCD, which manifests itself in various ways, including the way he orders his books, having to arrange the bed covers at certain angles, and opening his bedroom door twice waiting to leave the room before his mental "all clear" signal goes off.  Khosi works at  the Copper King Mansion, now a museum, formerly the home of his great-great grandfather; it's a place that offers him an outlet for his "legendary" need for order.  It's also a "part of his psyche," and a large part of who he is.

It isn't long until Khosi's well-ordered life moves into chaos and crisis; after giving it some thought Khosi decides that it's time that he reconnects with himself, part of which is his long-absent father.  As he notes:
"The past, the history of my family, is a strange and hybrid beast. On the one side: exhaustively documented. I live and work in its midst. But on the other side: nothing. No body, no clothes, no cane, no toupee, no set of dentures, no artifacts whatsoever. Only a vocabulary that vanishes as soon as it's fashioned into language. Only the vocabulary of exile and disappearance."

Like Evel Knievel, Khosi becomes a daredevil, taking a monumental jump in deciding  to leave Butte and fly to Cairo.  His  trip will bring with it many surprises and discoveries,  including a ghost who finds him in a confessional of a Coptic Christian church (there is an explanation for this later), being accused of antiquities theft, a run in with some shady characters, and a family he never knew he had.  For someone whose life revolves around order, Cairo proves to be something way beyond challenging. 

Evel Knievel Days not only charts Khosi's course in his efforts at reconnection; a long stream of history flows through this book as well as a crash course in different elements of Egyptian culture, none the least of which has to do with food, which serves as a "bridge to the past," but even more so to one's traditional roots.  There's a great line in this book that is so true:
"A flavor repeats itself generation after generation.  It becomes part of our blood. It becomes our most elemental joy. It becomes the language of our desire. it becomes the vocabulary of our satisfaction."
It will come as no surprise that the novel is filled with food, including Alice B. Toklas' recipe for Hashish crème brûlée.  Food is family, family is love and food and family have the power to heal.  It also discusses love and relationships, and some wonderful  musings about cities and of all things, very cool country and western music.

Evel Knievel Days is one of the coolest books I've read this year and the more I think about it, the more I realize just how very much I enjoyed it.  It's funny  in a touching sort of way; the characters are outstanding and I am in total awe at the author's ability to create such colorful yet realistic people. And I'm not just talking about the primary characters, either. Every character has a purpose; every character has a life.   And as much as I loved the story and the array of people in this book, it's really Mr. Toutonghi's writing style that brings this book alive. He does extremely clever things in this book that I loved.  For example,  in relating the history of Amy and Akram, rather than spill the entire thing at once, he breaks it up into parts, dropping it into the overall story in appropriate places. He entitles each part "The Life and Times of Akram Saqr and Amy Clark, My One and Only Parents, as Told by Me, My Mother's One and Only Son, Fruit of Her Womb, 100 Percent Maculate Conception," with subtitles appropriate to where we're at in the story.  There are also many dreams in this novel;  one of my favorites  is one where Khosi is a contestant in  a Jeopardy Game, where he runs all of the categories, wins all of the money, and then sees it all float away when final jeopardy pops up with the category "The Emotional Life of You and Your Family."  These unique touches and others add life to Khosi's story and make it pop off the page.  

There was only one spot I felt was kind of slow going in the book, and that is toward the end and takes place in a  hospital room, but otherwise, Evel Knievel Days just sings.  I highly, highly recommend this novel; it's definitely going on the shelf of 2012 favorites.  Truthfully, I loved it.