book club - other books

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The international publishing sensation--over six million copies sold worldwide!

A reluctant centenarian much like Forrest Gump (if Gump were an explosives expert with a fondness for vodka) decides it's not too late to start over . . .

After a long and eventful life, Allan Karlsson ends up in a nursing home, believing it to be his last stop. The only problem is that he's still in good health, and in one day, he turns 100. A big celebration is in the works, but Allan really isn't interested (and he'd like a bit more control over his vodka consumption). So he decides to escape. He climbs out the window in his slippers and embarks on a hilarious and entirely unexpected journey, involving, among other surprises, a suitcase stuffed with cash, some unpleasant criminals, a friendly hot-dog stand operator, and an elephant (not to mention a death by elephant).

It would be the adventure of a lifetime for anyone else, but Allan has a larger-than-life backstory: Not only has he witnessed some of the most important events of the twentieth century, but he has actually played a key role in them. Starting out in munitions as a boy, he somehow finds himself involved in many of the key explosions of the twentieth century and travels the world, sharing meals and more with everyone from Stalin, Churchill, and Truman to Mao, Franco, and de Gaulle. Quirky and utterly unique, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared has charmed readers across the world.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Nicole Viola Hinz-Schouwstra for the suggestion.)

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A Darker Shade of Sweden

“A wonderful collection of stories by Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, and over a dozen other masters of Nordic noir.

Ever since Stieg Larsson shone a light on Swedish crime writing with his Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, readers around the world have devoured fiction by Scandinavian masters of suspense. A Darker Shade of Sweden includes an assortment of outstanding crime fiction—never before published in English and in some cases brand-new to this volume—from Larsson and a wide range of other talents including Henning Mankell, the creator of Kurt Wallander; Åsa Larsson; Eva Gabrielsson; Inger Frimansson; Åke Edwardson; Sara Stridsberg; Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö; and more. Also included is an introduction by Edgar nominee John-Henri Holmberg, exploring the history of these stellar authors and their contributions to crime writing.”

“Gripping. . . . These unsettlingly dark tales reaffirm the dominance of Swedish writers with original crime fiction.” -The Sun (UK)

Side note: We recommend reading just the wonderful stories themselves & not the background info supplied for each story. Many find the editor’s end-notes repetitious & unnecessary.

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

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Jagannath

“I have never read anything like Jagannath. Omnious...funny…and mysteriously tender. These are wonderful stories." -Ursula K. Le Guin

“An award-winning story collection by an heir to Borges, Le Guin, & Lovecraft.

A child is born in a tin can. A switchboard operator finds himself in hell. Three corpulent women float somewhere beyond time. Welcome to the weird world of Karin Tidbeck, the visionary Swedish author of literary sci-fi, speculative fiction, and mind-bending fantasy who has captivated readers around the world. Originally published by the tiny press Cheeky Frawg—the passion project of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer—Jagannath has been celebrated by readers and critics alike, with rave reviews from major outlets and support from lauded peers like China Miéville and even Ursula K. Le Guin herself. These are stories in which fairies haunt quiet towns, and an immortal being discovers the nature of time—stories in which anything is possible.”

(Suggested by Mia DeGiovine Chaveco, book club co-founder)

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The Road to Jerusalem

“A brilliant depiction of medieval times, centered in the land that would become Sweden.

Already an international sensation, The Road to Jerusalem by Jan Guillou is the epic story of the Knights Templar. A major bestseller in Europe—with more than two million copies sold in Sweden alone—and the basis for the most lavish and expensive Swedish film ever made (check out the movie with English dialog on Amazon), it is a novel Diana Gabaldon  calls, ‘beautifully constructed…skillfully written and translated.’ Historical fiction lovers, particularly fans of the sweeping, bestselling adventure novels of Bernard Cornwell, will be captivated by this magnificent tale of romance, faith, and battle set against the backdrop of the Crusades.

For power. For passion. For glory.”

“An appealing new twist on the Crusades approaching the Knights Templar and the Holy Wars from the Swedish point of view. “ - Booklist

(Suggested by Beth McCrea, book club co-founder.)

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The Unit

“I liked The Unit very much...I know you will be riveted, as I was.” -Margaret Atwood

A modern day classic and a chilling cautionary tale for fans of The Handmaid's Tale. Named a Best Book of the Month by GQ.

“Echoing work by Marge Piercy and Margaret Atwood, The Unit is as thought-provoking as it is compulsively readable.” -Jessica Crispin, NPR

”Ninni Holmqvist’s uncanny dystopian novel envisions a society in the not-so-distant future, where women over 50 and men over 60 who are unmarried and childless are sent to a retirement community called the Unit. They’re given lavish apartments set amongst beautiful gardens and state-of-the-art facilities; they’re fed elaborate gourmet meals, surrounded by others just like them. It’s an idyllic place, but there’s a catch: the residents—known as dispensables—must donate their organs, one by one, until the final donation. When Dorrit Weger arrives at the Unit, she resigns herself to this fate, seeking only peace in her final days. But she soon falls in love, and this unexpected, improbable happiness throws the future into doubt.”

(Suggested by Mia DeGiovine Chaveco, book club co-founder)

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The Collected Short Stories of Gopal Baratham

“The writer possesses a technically excellent prose style, so smooth that it slips down the reader’s throat like a well-made Singapore Sling.”— The Hindu

“This exciting collection brings together thirty-nine of the late Dr. Gopal Baratham’s characteristic and revered pieces. In his usual blunt, strong and controversial style, Baratham’s socio-political critiques are ‘peopled’ by characters from virtually every background and class—with their frustrated hopes, wild illusions and excesses.

Paired with a stylistic and evolving narrative voice, as seen in dialogue that fluctuates from poetic to quirky, this writer’s ambivalent medium is also his message. Readers are drawn into the depth of his work, and left with a sympathetic, sensitive understanding of events, people, actions and the complexities of relationships

(Submitted by Ivor Watkins, book club moderator.)

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Kappa Quartet

Shortlisted for the Singapore Book Awards (Best Book Cover Design)

Epigram Books Fiction Prize Longlist

”Kevin is a young man without a soul, holidaying in Tokyo; Mr. Five, the enigmatic kappa, is the man he so happens to meet. Little does Kevin know that kappas—the river demons of Japanese folklore—desire nothing more than the souls of other humans.

Set between Singapore and Japan, Kappa Quartet is split into eight discrete sections, tracing the rippling effects of this chance encounter across a host of other characters, connected and bound to one another in ways both strange and serendipitous. Together they ask one another: what does it mean to be in possession of something nobody has seen before?”

After reading this novel, some reviewers have cited a comparison to the author Murakami while others have noted some flashes of suppressed terror more Kafkaesque. Each section narrated by a different character loosely intertwined together is certainly reminiscent of David Mitchell's better work with that same thrill you find in connecting the characters & discovering different facets of the story.

(Submitted by Mia DeGiovine Chaveco, book club co-founder.)

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The Last Lesson of Mrs De Souza

“With its deep probing look at the teaching profession, it unveils a rich array of themes and most compellingly, the nature of perhaps the most noble and difficult of vocations.” - Boey Kim Cheng, author of Clear Brightness

“One last time and on her birthday, Rose de Souza is returning to school to give a final lesson to her classroom of secondary school boys before retiring from her long teaching career. What ensues is an unexpected confession in which she recounts the tragic and traumatic story of Amir, a student from her past who overturned the way she saw herself as a teacher, and changed her life forever.

The stunning first novel from award-winning poet Cyril Wong, The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza is a tour de force, an exceptional examination of the power of choice and the unreliability of memory.”

(Submitted by Ivor Watkins, book club moderator.)

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Ponti

With perspectives from three different women & a narrative which jumps across different time periods, this novel experiments with an unusual and original construct to reflect the very fractured nature of relationships across space and time.

An award-winning fiction debut about the value of friendships in present-day Singapore—a surprising and powerful portrait of Asia that shows the unique blend of modern and traditional cultures coming together.

’I am Miss Frankenstein, I am the bottom of the bell curve.’ So declares Szu, a teenager living in a dark, dank house, at the beginning of this richly atmospheric and endlessly surprising tale of non-belonging and isolation.

Friendless and fatherless, Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, once a beautiful actress—who gained fame for her portrayal of a ghost—and now a hack medium performing séances with her sister in a rusty house. When Szu meets the privileged, acid-tongued Circe, an unlikely encounter develops into a fraught friendship that will haunt them both for decades to come.

With remarkable emotional acuity, dark comedy, and in vivid prose, Sharlene Teo’s Ponti traces the suffocating tangle the lives of four misfits, women who need each other as much as they need to find their own way. It is an astounding portrayal of the gaping loneliness of adolescence, the surrealness of the modern city, and the strangeness of living with and loving other people.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Patty Gilles Winpenny for the suggestion.)

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When There Were Tigers in Singapore

“Japan invades and captures the British colony of Singapore in 1942. All Europeans on the island are being interned. Edward Schirmer, the author’s grandfather, faces a dilemma—he is German, but born as a British subject. In a strange stroke of fortune, he finds himself friends with General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the famed ‘Tiger of Malaya’. Seeing the fate of the other Europeans, Edward reluctantly lets the Japanese assume he is a friendly German national. The secret of his true identity remains between the two men only…but when politics removes the protective Yamashita from the picture, betrayal ensues and Edward finds himself in prison, his family scattered.

Using the personal history from his family’s saga & extensive research to confirm his father’s account, the author then details the true-life account of Edward’s son (the author’s father)—a hellish tale of a six year-old boy’s quest for survival, alone on the streets of a war-torn vanquished nation.

Part autobiography, part microhistory of WWII with some lesser-known details of famous figures from the WWII era, but wholly the story of the fight for survival in and after the harshest of wars.

Where everyone is hungry and racial tension is rife.

Where martial law allows the occupiers to summarily execute at will.”

(Submitted by Beth McCrea, book club co-founder.)

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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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Dark Echoes of the Past

“The first novel by multiple-award-winning Chilean author Ramón Díaz Eterovic to be translated into English—a landmark event for fans of crime fiction.

Private investigator Heredia spends his days reading detective novels; commiserating with his cat, Simenon; and peering out over the Mapocho River from his Santiago apartment. The city he loves may be changing, but Heredia can’t stop chasing the ghosts of the past. This time, they’ve come to him…

Virginia Reyes’s brother, an ex–political prisoner of dictator Augusto Pinochet, was killed in an apparent robbery. Yet nothing of value was taken. The police have declared the case closed, but Virginia suspects that things aren’t quite as they appear and turns to Heredia for help. Heredia couldn’t agree more—but he can’t shake the feeling that there’s something Virginia’s not telling him.

Heredia knows this is not a simple crime. His investigation proves it. Drawn back into a world where murderers nest, secrets are to kill and die for, and Pinochet’s legacy still casts a long, dark, and very threatening shadow, it’s all Heredia can do to crawl out of it alive.”

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The Days of the Rainbow

“Nico, the son of a noted Chilean philosophy professor, witnesses his father’s arrest while he is teaching a class. Bettini, the father of Nico’s best friend, is a leftist advertising executive who has been blacklisted and is out of work after having been imprisoned and tortured by Pinochet’s police. This doesn’t stop the ministry of the interior from asking Bettini, who is the best in the business, to come up with a plan for the upcoming referendum designed to say ‘yes’ to Pinochet’s next term. But just hours after he has been approached by the right, the head of the opposition makes him the exact same offer.

What is Bettini going to do? Put his life on the line or sacrifice his political convictions? Finally he goes with the left. The next hurdle is finding a slogan that would be approved by the 16 factions that comprise the opposition and who never agree on anything. Whiskey after whiskey, an idea finally emerges.

This is a vivacious tale that examines how advertising and politics come together during the Pinochet regime. But this is also a coming-of-age story where we see through Nico’s experience what it means to grow up in a country where nothing is allowed and almost any move can feel like an earnest act of resistance.”

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My Tender Matador

“As Chile descends into chaos, two disparate souls begin ‘an odd-couple romance, in the tradition of Kiss of the Spider Woman or The Crying Game’ -Kirkus Reviews
 
It is the spring of 1986, and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is losing his grip on power. In one of Santiago’s many poor neighborhoods, a man known as the Queen of the Corner embroiders linens for the wealthy. A hopeless and lonely romantic, he listens to boleros to drown out the gunshots.
 
Then he meets Carlos, a young, handsome man who befriends the aging homosexual and uses his house to store mysterious boxes and hold clandestine meetings. And as the relationship between these two very different men blossoms, they find themselves caught in a revolution that could doom them both.
 
By turns funny and profoundly moving, Pedro Lemebel’s lyrical prose offers an intimate window into the mind of Pinochet himself as the world of Carlos and the Queen prepares to collide with the dictator’s own in ‘a wonderful snapshot of this period of Chile’s history . . . A touching tale of love and danger’.” 

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Ways of Going Home

“Alejandro Zambra's Ways of Going Home begins with an earthquake, seen through the eyes of an unnamed nine-year-old boy who lives in an undistinguished middleclass housing development in a suburb of Santiago, Chile. When the neighbors camp out overnight, the protagonist gets his first glimpse of Claudia, an older girl who asks him to spy on her uncle Raúl.

In the second section, the protagonist is the writer of the story begun in the first section. His father is a man of few words who claims to be apolitical but who quietly sympathized—to what degree, the author isn't sure—with the Pinochet regime. His reflections on the progress of the novel and on his own life—which is strikingly similar to the life of his novel's protagonist—expose the raw suture of fiction and reality.

Ways of Going Home switches between author and character, past and present, reflecting with melancholy and rage on the history of a nation and on a generation born too late—the generation which, as the author-narrator puts it, learned to read and write while their parents became accomplices or victims. It is the most personal novel to date from Zambra, the most important Chilean author since Roberto Bolaño.”

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The Book of Chameleons

Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2007

"A subtle beguiling story of shifting identities." - Kirkus

“Félix Ventura trades in an unusual commodity; he is a dealer in memories, clandestinely selling new pasts to people whose futures are secure and who lack only a good lineage to complete their lives. In this completely original murder mystery, where people are not who they seem and the briefest of connections leads to the forging of entirely new histories, a bookish albino, a beautiful woman, a mysterious foreigner, and a witty talking lizard come together to discover the truth of their lives. Set in Angola, Agualusa's tale darts from tormented past to dream-filled present with a lightness that belies the savage history of a country in which many have something to forget—and to hide. 

A brilliant American debut by one of the most lauded writers in the Portuguese-speaking world, this is a beautifully written and always surprising tale of race, truth, and the transformative power of creativity.”

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