Inland by Téa Obreht
Lurie, like his creator, comes to America from the Balkans as a child. Unlike his creator, hopefully, circumstances force him into a life of crime. A wanted man while still young, he takes refuge in the US Camel Corps, passing as a Turk. Initially repulsed, his camel becomes his soulmate, his ally and friend.
Accompanying him on his travels are the ghosts of his early companions, including the acquisitive younger boy who urges him to steal. Of course, that brings further trouble, but the memories seemingly lodged in his water pouch prove a source of comfort.
Nora, an Arizona frontier woman whose story dominates a second strand, would have no patience for the outlaw’s hauntings, but she’d understand his thirst. Her husband’s return from an expedition to collect water has been delayed and she hasn’t had a drink all day. Her elder sons, tasked with keeping the newspaper going in his absence, believe their father has been murdered and have gone missing too.
Back at the homestead, Nora continually finds fault with Josie, an orphaned relative who helps around the house. Most galling is the way the girl has fed the fears of Nora’s youngest son with stories of the mysterious beast prowling the edges of their land. Although Nora herself communes with the spirit of her first child and only daughter, who died of heatstroke at only five months, she dismisses Josie’s claim to hear the voices of the “other living”, whom most would call the dead.
Beautiful language and vivid descriptions, along with a wonderful capacity for storytelling, make this novel a pleasure from beginning to end, even for someone as intolerant of the spiritual side as me. Thanks to Weidenfeld & Nicolson for my review copy.
Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen translated
by Sondra Silverston
When a customer insults her, it feels like the last straw. But, almost immediately, people are viewing her with a mixture of concern, and admiration for calling him out. Suddenly, everyone’s interested, from her schoolmates to the media. And then there’s Lavi, the nerdy boy who steps into the gap between what actually happened and what the police and press believe.
While this is an entertaining and thought-provoking story, the mismatch of playful tone and serious topic, especially given the ongoing conversation around #metoo , make the novel difficult to place. Perhaps the publishers felt so too since a minor plot concerning a Holocaust survivor, which doesn’t raise its head until over halfway through, is flagged as more central in the blurb. Suffice to say that Nofar isn’t the only liar, and that the consequences aren’t always bad.
In the ending, there’s a nod to novelists as a breed of liars, as Nofar is encouraged to pick up her notebook and pen. But, for me, the old woman, Raymonde, is more like a writer: in borrowing her friend’s identity as a Holocaust survivor, she is able to speak honestly about her own trauma in a different setting. Sometimes our stories can’t be heard unless we can bend the truth into a shape our audience is open to receive.
The Israeli author’s previous novel, Waking Lions, although vastly different in tone, is also about covering up a lie. But in Liar, the themes of young love and sibling rivalry are equally prominent, as well as the drama of being sweet seventeen. Thanks to Pushkin Press for my review copy.
My debut novel, Sugar and Snails, is about a woman who has kept her past identity secret for thirty years, afraid she’ll lose everything if it ever gets out. But living a lie distances her from other people, denying her the love and support she’s always craved. Will she find the courage to be more open? Will the world stop turning if she does?