Captain Alatriste

“The first action-packed historical adventure in the internationally acclaimed Captain Alatriste series of 6 books all translated into English, featuring a Spanish soldier who lives as a swordsman-for-hire in 17th century Madrid.

Needing gold to pay off his debts, Captain Alatriste and another hired blade are paid to ambush two travelers, stage a robbery, and give the travelers a fright. “No blood,” they are told.

Then a mysterious stranger enters to clarify the job: he increases the pay, and tells Alatriste that, instead, he must murder the two travelers. When the attack unfolds, Alatriste realizes that these aren’t ordinary travelers, and what happens next is only the first in a riveting series of twists and turns, with implications that will reverberate throughout the courts of Europe...”

“Splendidly paced and filled with a breathtaking but not overwhelming sense of the history and spirit of the age, this is entertainment at its best: the characters have weight and depth, the dialogue illuminates the action as it furthers the story and the film-worthy plot is believable throughout.” - Publisher’s Weekly

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Cat's Whirld

Winner of the Ignotus Award for Best Novel (the Spanish equivalent of the Hugo Awards)

Cat's Whirld is an intriguing conundrum of a novel that hurtles along at breakneck speed. This is a character-driven sci-fi thriller at it’s finest.

The neutral Convergence Space Station No. 1, known as the Whirld, is the unofficial, but deadly battleground in which several Galactic powers fight to obtain a certain piece of information that could inevitably determine their whole future. But then an all-powerful malevolent AI, for reasons known only to itself, also enters the game…

Cat's Whirld, a book indispensable for understanding the evolution of Spanish science fiction, is an original fusion of thriller, cyberpunk, and space opera, with unforgettable characters, and a frenetic pace and rhythm that never falter; a hybrid novel in which elements from distinct genres make a surprisingly harmonious whole.

Originally published in 1995, it was the first cyberpunk novel in Spanish; a specially remarkable achievement in that it was also the first of Rodolfo Martínez' many novels, and yet was not afraid to tread new ground, and, moreover, to do so with great narrative confidence. Twenty-five years later, the story still retains its power, as fresh and exciting as ever.”

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Confessions

“Drawing comparisons with Shadow of the Wind, The Name of the Rose and The Reader, and an instant bestseller in more than 20 languages, Confessions is an astonishing story of one man's life, interwoven with a narrative that stretches across centuries to create an addictive and unforgettable literary symphony.

I confess.

At 60 and with a diagnosis of early Alzheimer's, Adrià Ardèvol re-examines his life before his memory is systematically deleted. He recalls a loveless childhood where the family antique business and his father s study become the centre of his world; where a treasured Storioni violin retains the shadows of a crime committed many years earlier. His mother, a cold, distant and pragmatic woman leaves him to his solitary games, full of unwanted questions. An accident ends the life of his enigmatic father, filling Adrià's world with guilt, secrets and deeply troubling mysteries that take him years to uncover and driving him deep into the past where atrocities are methodically exposed and examined. Gliding effortlessly between centuries, and at the same time providing a powerful narrative that is at once shocking, compelling, mysterious, tragic, humorous and gloriously readable, Confessions reaches a crescendo that is not only unexpected but provides one of the most startling denouements in contemporary literature. Confessions is a consummate masterpiece in any language, with an ending that will not just leave you thinking, but quite possibly change the way you think forever.”

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The Happy City

“‘I feel terrible. Although he doesn't say it, I know he had been hoping the whole time that I would explain it all somehow; but I can't explain it, because I don't understand anything.’ These disturbing words, almost a distillation of the entire text, close the novel The Happy City by Elvira Navarro, who featured in Granta’s The Best of Young Spanish-language Novelists issue in 2010.

The stories of Chi-Huei—a Chinese boy whose family has come to Spain in search of a better life—and his friend Sara—a girl strangely fascinated by a homeless man—comprise two separate yet complementary sections, presenting the reader with a detailed account of their life circumstances and the nuances of their perspectives: the genuine, as-yet untamed voices through which the book’s pre-adolescent protagonists negotiate the world around them, their initial astonishment finally turning to frustration as they gaze upon their dehumanized society.

A pre-teen’s first faltering steps towards sexuality, social pressures, the way polarized outlooks on life coexist at the core of the same family, those first experiences of disillusionment as we awaken into the adult world: these are some of the themes that Navarro lays out for her readers in order to reveal, with razor-sharp control, the constant duality that exists between the outward appearance of things and their inner reality.”

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A Heart So White

Winner of the IMPAC Dublin Award, and widely considered Javier Marías's masterpiece, A Heart So White is a breathtaking novel about family secrets that chronicles the relentless power of the past using stream of consciousness writing.

Juan knows little of the interior life of his father Ranz; but when Juan marries, he begins to consider the past anew, and begins to ponder what he doesn't really want to know. Secrecy--its possible convenience, its price, and even its civility--hovers throughout the novel. A Heart So White becomes a sort of anti-detective story of human nature. Intrigue; the sins of the father; the fraudulent and the genuine; marriage and strange repetitions of violence: Marías elegantly sends shafts of inquisitory light into shadows and onto the costs of ambivalence.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Kimberley Palsat for the suggestion.)

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The Shadow of the Wind

“Gabriel García Márquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges for a sprawling magic show." -The NY Times Book Review

”Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets—an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.”

”Anyone who enjoys novels that are scary, erotic, touching, tragic and thrilling should rush right out to the nearest bookstore and pick up The Shadow of the Wind. Really, you should.” -The Washington Post

"Wonderous... masterful... The Shadow of the Wind is ultimately a love letter to literature, intended for readers as passionate about storytelling as its young hero." -Entertainment Weekly (Editor's Choice)

"One gorgeous read." - Stephen King”

(A special thank you to book club member, Caity Greig for the suggestion.)

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Night Watch

"Night Watch is an epic of extraordinary power." - Quentin Tarantino

“Brace yourself for [an adult version of] Harry Potter in Gorky Park. . . . The novel contains some captivating scenes and all kinds of marvelous, inventive detail.” -The Washington Post Book World

“An international bestseller [as] potent as a shot of vodka. . . . [A] compelling urban fantasy." -Publishers Weekly

“They are the ‘Others,’ an ancient race of supernatural beings—magicians, shape-shifters, vampires, and healers—who live among us. Human born, they must choose a side to swear allegiance to—the Dark or the Light—when they come of age.

For a millennium, these opponents have coexisted in an uneasy peace, enforced by defenders like the Night Watch, forces of the Light who guard against the Dark. But prophecy decrees that one supreme ‘Other’ will arise to spark a cataclysmic war.

Anton Gorodetsky, an untested mid-level Light magician with the Night Watch, discovers a cursed young woman—an Other of tremendous potential unallied with either side—who can shift the balance of power. With the battle lines between Light and Dark drawn, the magician must move carefully, for one wrong step could mean the beginning of annihilation.”

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Beauty in Mourning and Other Stories

“This collection of short stories and novellas are the first of Auezov's works ever to be translated into English. They were written in the 1920s in the author's youth, but have an assurance and maturity that have earned them widespread popularity throughout Kazakhstan and the Soviet Union. Gunshot at the Pass was made into a successful film and An Orphan's Lot, Beauty in Mourning, Savage Grey and Turbulent Times are works, which nearly every Kazakh knows and loves. These works are revered for their seminal influence on Kazakh literature and drama, the fascinating insights they provide on the culture and customs of the steppe but, above all, as truly great, universal stories that have exercised their power over the imaginations of generations of Kazakhs and are now finally available to a worldwide audience.

Mukhtar Auezov (1897-1961) is considered one of Kazakhstan's greatest and most revered writers. On the occasion of his 60th birthday in September 1957, Mukhtar Auezov was awarded the Order of Lenin and granted the title ‘Honoured Academic of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic"‘ In 1959, he was awarded the highly prestigious Lenin Prize for The Path of Abai. After his death in 1961, one of the main streets in Almaty (Kazakhstan's largest metropolis) was named in his honour, and later a whole district of the city. In 1963, his house on M. Tulebaev Street in Almaty was turned into an official museum to honour the writer's work and achievements.”

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Blood & Sweat

“We, the Kazakhs… So little is known about this people and their vast country, the world’s 9th largest, though the Kazakhs have seen much of man’s vast history. From their roots as traders and herdsmen during the Silk Route period to their modern experience with atomic bomb testing and space age triumph, the history of Kazakh culture remains relatively unexplored in the West.

Even less known is author Abdi-Jamil Nurpeisov, venerated sage of Kazakh and Russian literature, though his books have been published in translation worldwide. Nurpeisov exposes Kazakh life to Western readers as Tolstoy did with Russians, and Marquez – Colombians. Nurpeisov’s eye-opening novel unveils the largely unknown history, life and customs of the Kazakhs.

Blood and Sweat is a sweeping tale about the vanishing way of life of Kazakhs in a small rural village. It has been compared to Sholokhov’s epic And Quiet Flows the Don. Through a kaleidoscopic panorama of events, an ethnographic tapestry, and the sophisticated fabric of Kazakhs’ past, Nurpeisov’s novels come to life in an enjoyable and educational reading. The drama of Blood & Sweat takes the reader through the national turmoil of 1900-1922 at which Kazakh state was born and via the personal dramatic development of three people. The human fight against the cruel elements of nature are balanced with the struggle between good and evil of its main protagonists. A murder and its consequence parallels the issues raised by Dostoyevsky.

Blood and Sweat is the only novel that truly describes in soul of the Kazakh people, and the birth of a nation with defined boundaries. This is the first time Nurpeisov’s trilogy has been translated and publishing into the English language, based on the authorized 2010 translation by the renowned Russian writer and translator Yury Kazakov.

Nurpiesov has won numerous awards including the Laureate of the State Prize of the USSR, and given the honorary title ‘People’s Writer of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.’ Nurpeisov is the founding president of PEN International in Kazakhstan.”

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The Great Thinkers of the Kazakh Steppe

“This book is a collection of biographies of great people from Kazakhstan's history. Some were real heroes of their time, some were not understood and were even thought to be traitors. However, their input into the future was very significant and their achievements cannot be diminished. Here, you will find out about the national composers-akyns, poets, and Khans. You will learn about the three judges that established the first legal system in Kazakhstan. Some of the characters might seem mythical, but the stories about them still live among us.

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Yerkebulan Dzhelbuldin was born in 1934 in Kazakhstan. He worked as a teacher in the Soviet Union for all his life and began gathering Kazakh materials for his book after Kazakhstan acquired its independence. Many facts were concealed from the Kazakh people and even Kazakhs did not know about their Khans and philosophers.

This book has never been published before. I translated Yerkebulan’s materials and put them into a book along with the sketches of all the characters. My name is Dana Jeteyeva and I specialize in translations of Kazakh fairy tales and other interesting facts about Kazakhstan. I want people all over the world to learn about my country—even though it is a big country in the middle of the large continent of Eurasia, few people know anything about it.”

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The Shining Light

“Poetry has always been in the Kazakh blood, and Galym Mutanov is one of the newly independent nation’s leading poets, a shining light in the Kazakh literary world. In the range of his poetry, Mutanov truly captures the essence of the Kazakh spirit – from the tough and ageless traditions of the wild steppe to moments of tender intimacy. The measured Islamic wisdom and deep sense of morality so intrinsic to Kazakh life of old shines through in verse after verse.

The figure of Abai, the 19th century visionary, the deeply spiritual poet of the steppe, looms large over Kazakh poetry. Mutanov takes up the challenge that Abai threw down – to create verse that is both steeped in the Kazakh tradition of oral verse yet rises to a new clarity and spirituality relevant today.

Mutanov wrote originally in Kazakh, but many Kazakhs speak only Russian. So his poems were translated into Russian by leading poets Vladimir Buryazev and M. Adibaeva. It is these Russian versions that provided the source for John Farndon’s translations with Olga Nakston for this collection.

A Kazakh poet Galymkair Mutanov is not only an interesting and gifted creative personality, but also a very original, distinctive philosopher. His poems are heartfelt, extraordinary and modest. The poems are the memories, reflections and advice of a truly wise and outstanding person. They are not trivial and vain, but really bright, with deep philosophical associations.

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Song of the Swans

Dulat Issabekov was the first writer to be awarded the State Prize of Independent Kazakhstan, the Prize of Kazakhstan’s Pen Club, and the Platinum Prize of the independent organization Tarlan. He also received an International Chingiz Aitmatov Award for Life Achievement in 2014 at the House of Lords, British Parliament.

Feature films have been made of Issabekov’s works and his plays continue to performed worldwide.

Included in this collection are some of Issabekov’s most popular plays: Song of the Swans, the Actress, A Man on a Mission, the Transit Passenger, and the Monument.

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Vita Nostra

Vita Nostra — a cross between Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is the anti-Harry Potter you didn’t know you wanted.” -The Washington Post

Vita Nostra has the potential to become a modern classic of its genre, and I couldn’t be more excited to see it get the global audience in English it so richly deserves.” - Lev Grossman

Winner of Best Book from both Amazon & Paste Magazine

“The definitive English language translation of this internationally acclaimed novel—a brilliant dark fantasy combining psychological suspense, enchantment, and terror that makes us consider human existence in a fresh and provocative way.

Our life is brief . . .

Sasha Samokhina has been accepted to the Institute of Special Technologies.

Or, more precisely, she’s been chosen.

Situated in a tiny village, she finds the students are bizarre, and the curriculum even more so. The books are impossible to read, the lessons obscure to the point of maddening, and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, it is their families that pay a terrible price. Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of . . . and suddenly all she could ever want.

A complex blend of adventure, magic, science, and philosophy that probes the mysteries of existence, filtered through a distinct Ukrainian sensibility, this astonishing work of speculative fiction—brilliantly translated by Julia Meitov Hersey—is reminiscent of modern classics such as Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Max Barry’s Lexicon, and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, but will transport them to a place far beyond those fantastical worlds.”

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Depeche Mode

“The Ukrainian version of Trainspotting, bluntly nihilistic and unexpectedly hilarious.

In 1993, tragic turbulence takes over Ukraine in the post-communist spin-off. As if in somnambulism, Soviet war veterans and upstart businessmen listen to an American preacher of whose type there were plenty at the time in the post-Soviet territory. In Kharkiv, the young communist head quarters are now an advertising agency, and a youth radio station creates a feature on the Irish folk band Depeche Mode and the role of the harmonica in the struggle against capitalist oppression. And so the Western songs make their way into ordinary Ukrainian homes of ordinary people.

In the middle of this craze, three friends—an anti-Semitic Jew Dog Pavlov, an unfortunate entrepreneur Vasia the Communist and the narrator Zhadan, nineteen years of age and unemployed—seek to find their old pal Sasha Carburator to tell him that his step-father shot himself dead. Characters confront elements of their reality, and, tainted with traumatic survival fever, embark on a sad, dramatic and a bit grotesque adventure.”

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Execution by Hunger

News of the death by starvation of millions of Ukrainians by Stalin was actively suppressed & denied for decades. It was only in the late 1980s that the world truly became aware of this atrocity & it wasn’t until 2006 when it was defined as a deliberate act of genocide. Soon after, a survivor broke his silence to provide the chilling details in this well-written & well-reviewed book which reads like a novel.

“Seven million people in the ‘breadbasket of Europe’ were deliberately starved to death at Stalin's command. This story has been suppressed for half a century. Now, a survivor speaks.

In 1929, in an effort to destroy the well-to-do peasant farmers, Joseph Stalin ordered the ‘collectivization’ of all Ukrainian farms. In the ensuing years, a brutal Soviet campaign of confiscations, terrorizing, and murder spread throughout Ukrainian villages. What food remained after the seizures was insufficient to support the population. In the resulting famine, as many as seven million Ukrainians starved to death.

This poignant eyewitness account of the Ukrainian famine by one of the survivors relates the young Miron Dolot's day-to-day confrontation with despair and death—his helplessness as friends and family were arrested and abused—and his gradual realization, as he matured, of the absolute control the Soviets had over his life and the lives of his people. But it is also the story of personal dignity in the face of horror and humiliation. And it is an indictment of a chapter in the Soviet past that is still not acknowledged by Russian leaders.”

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Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex

Through stream-of-consciousness writing, this literary work is an “inspired exposition of one woman’s fight to catch her bearings and land on her feet, after life has thrown her a particularly nasty curve ball. At the heart of the story is a failed relationship, and here the author’s unflinching courage in dissecting the how-and-why is gripping. The larger story that envelops the love affair is, of course, the story of Ukraine itself, so unexpectedly liberated with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, coming to grips with its suppressed history and martyrology searching for its identity together with the heroine.

Called ‘the most influential Ukrainian book for the 15 years of independence,’ Field Work in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko is the tale of one woman’s personal revolt provoked by a top literary scandal of the decade. The author, a noted Ukrainian poet and novelist, explains: ‘When you turn 30, you inevitably start reconsidering what you have been taught in your formative years—that is, if you really seek for your own voice as a writer. In my case, my personal identity crisis had coincided with the one experienced by my country after the advent of independence. The result turned explosive: Field Work in Ukrainian Sex.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Shivalaxmi Arumugham for the suggestion.)

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Hardly Ever Otherwise

“Everything eventually reaches its appointed place in time and space. Maria Matios’s dramatic family saga, Hardly Ever Otherwise, narrates the story of several western Ukrainian families during the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and expands upon the idea that ‘it isn’t time that is important, but the human condition in time.’

From the first page, Matios engages her reader with an impeccable style, which she employs to create a rich tapestry of cause and effect, at times depicting a logic that is both bitter and enigmatic. But nothing is ever fully revealed—it is only in the final pages of the novel that the events in the beginning are understood as a necessary part of a larger whole, and the section entitled ‘Seasickness’ presents a compelling argument for why events almost always have to follow a particular course.

In Matios’s multi-tiered plot, the grand passions of ordinary people are illuminated under the caliginous light of an ethereal mysticism, and digressions on love, envy, transgression, and atonement are woven into the story. The reader is submerged into a rich world populated by a grand cast of characters and ideas, which Matios animates with her prolific imagination and subtle wisdom.

Each character in this outstanding drama has an irrefutable alibi, a unique truth, and a private conflict with honor and duty. Her characters do not always act in accordance with logic and written-law, as the laws of honor clash with the laws of the heart. And this is why it is hardly ever otherwise.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Leslie Tchaikovsky for the suggestion.)

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Mesopotamia

“A unique work of fiction from the troubled streets of Ukraine, giving invaluable testimony to the new history unfolding in the nation’s post-independence years

This captivating book is Serhiy Zhadan’s ode to Kharkiv, the traditionally Russian-speaking city in Eastern Ukraine where he makes his home. A leader among Ukrainian post-independence authors, Zhadan employs both prose and poetry to address the disillusionment, complications, and complexities that have marked Ukrainian life in the decades following the Soviet Union’s collapse. His novel provides an extraordinary depiction of the lives of working-class Ukrainians struggling against an implacable fate: the road forward seems blocked at every turn by demagogic forces and remnants of the Russian past. Zhadan’s nine interconnected stories and accompanying poems are set in a city both representative and unusual, and his characters are simultaneously familiar and strange. Following a kind of magical-realist logic, his stories expose the grit and burden of stalled lives, the universal desire for intimacy, and a wistful realization of the off-kilter and even perverse nature of love.”

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The Neruda Case

“Published for the first time in English, an atmospheric, brilliant novel from an internationally bestselling literary luminary.

Roberto Ampuero’s novels starring the wonderfully roguish Cayetano Brulé are an international sensation. In The Neruda Case, readers are introduced to Cayetano as he takes on his first case as a private eye. Set against the fraught political world of pre-Pinochet Chile, Castro’s Cuba, and perilous behind-the-Wall East Berlin, this mystery spans countries, cultures, and political ideas, and features one of literature’s most beloved figures—Pablo Neruda.

Cayetano meets the poet at a party in Chile in the 1970s. The dying Neruda recruits Cayetano to help him solve the last great mystery of his life. As Cayetano fumbles around his first case, finding it hard to embrace the new inspector identity foisted upon him, he begins to learn more about Neruda’s hidden agenda. Neruda sends him on a whirlwind expedition around the world, ending back in Chile, where Pinochet’s coup plays out against the final revelations of their journey.

Evocative, romantic, and full of intrigue, Ampuero’s novel is both a glimpse into the life of Pablo Neruda as death approaches and a political thriller that unfolds during the fiercely convulsive end of an era.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Elke Richelsen for the suggestion.)

Note: This novel about the poet Neruda was the book voted to be read by the club. Since a number of book club members also wanted to read Neruda’s poetry which was included in the list as well, the poetry is a slim volume, & reviewers have noted the novel is best accompanied by the poet’s work, both this novel above & the poetry are included as the monthly read. (Members can read either or both.)

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Isla Negra

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the International Peace Prize, & the Lenin Peace Prize, Pablo Neruda remains one of the most influential voices in world literature.

“Few writers are as integrally bound to a place as Pablo Neruda was to the landscape of Isla Negra on Chile’s coast. From his arrival there in the late 1930s to his death in 1973 [from what is suspected to be poisoning by the Chilean military dictatorship], Neruda captured Isla Negra in words fundamental to an understanding of his work. It was at Isla Negra where Neruda ‘in the company of his muse, walked alongside the source of his most lyrical inspiration, the sea...and discovered a new way of seeing, as the ocean became a living metaphor for the infinite riches of the world.’”

Neruda’s imagery with words is sublime & this slim volume will make you long to live along the coastline. Neruda has been referred to as the “greatest poet of the 20th century in any language” & is recognized as one of the 26 authors that make up the Western canon of literature along with the likes of Jane Austen, Dante, Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, & Borges among others.

Note: The book voted to be read by the club was a thriller/mystery/historical fiction novel about this poet. Since a number of book club members also wanted to read this poetry, it’s a short volume, & reviewers have noted the novel is best accompanied by the poet’s work, both this volume of poetry above & the novel are included as the monthly read. (Members can read either or both.)

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