A Good Country

AGC

Laleh Khadivi

First Sentence:     They told him it was the best, there was nothing better.

Back of the book:

Laguna Beach, California, 2010. Alireza Courdee, a fourteen-year-old, straight-A student, takes his first hit of pot. In that moment, he is transformed from the high-achieving son of Iranian immigrants into a happy-go-lucky stoner. He loses his virginity, starts surfing, cuts classes and lies to his father. For the first time, Reza – now Rez – feels like an all-American teen.

Then a terror incident shocks the nation. As fears escalate, his newfound friends withdraw and Rez becomes increasingly isolated, an object of suspicion because of his name and skin colour. Now he can only relate to Arash, a fellow Muslim student, and beautiful Fatima, who starts wearing a hijab and going to the local mosque. Little by little, Reza is drawn into a troubling new world.

Delicately capturing a young man’s alienation and search for identity, A Good Country is an unforgettable modern coming-of-age story. It is also a powerful portrait of the ways in which international events reverberate across the globe, damaging distant lives. Insightful, nuanced and emotionally forceful, it is an important book for our times.

Quotes from the book:

And then it was out of his mouth and he couldn’t take it back. The words smashed around the car like a trapped bird and Fatima drove even faster. She stared at the road and kept both hands on the wheel and Rez wished she would at least turn to him and see that he was sorry.

“They flew through the night, two or three hundred people in rows, each a universe of histories and desires and fears and futures.”

He considered himself, and the way he moved in reaction, like a pinball , from one thing to the next, as he was told, as was expected, as made the least friction, and he knew this was the lazy behaviour of a scared boy.

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The Forensic Records Society

TFRS

Magnus Mills

First Sentence:     “I saw you!”

Back of the book:

Two men with a passion for vinyl create a society for the appreciation of records. Their aim is simple: to elevate the art of listening by doing so in forensic detail. The society enjoys moderate success in the back room of their local pub, The Half Moon, with other enthusiasts drawn to the initial promise of the weekly gathering.

However, as the club gains popularity, its founder’s uncompromising dogma results in a schism within the movement and soon a counter group forms. Then the arrival of a young woman called Alice further fractures the unity of the vulnerable society. As rifts are forged and gulfs widen, Magnus Mills examines the surreal nature of ordinary lives.

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Lincoln In The Bardo

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George Saunders

First Sentence:    On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen.

Back of the book:

The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form, and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices – living and dead, historical and fictional – Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?

Thoughts:

Rarely have I seen a book that has been praised as enthusiastically as this one. It seems that every time I hear it mentioned people are commenting on how it is a masterpiece/already their book of the year/ the perfect novel etc. I have read some of Saunders’ short stories in the past and was blown away by his skills as a writer. Not surprisingly I was genuinely excited about the prospect of this book; pre-publication buzz was off the scale and it looks and sounds incredible. I have to say though I was massively disappointed. I just genuinely do not understand what all the fuss is about, and am at a loss to find anything remotely enjoyable in this reading experience. Not one I’ll be going back to any time soon.

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Matthew Griffin

First Sentence:     Lord knows how long he’s been lying out there: flat on his back in the middle of the vegetable garden.

Back of the book:

Wendell Wilson, a taxidermist, and Frank Clifton, a veteran, meet after the Second World War. But, in this declining textile town in a southern US state, their love holds real danger. Severing nearly all ties with the rest of the world, they carve out a home for themselves on the outskirts of town. For decades, their routine of self-reliant domesticity – Wendell’s cooking, Frank’s care for a yard no one sees, and the vicarious drama of courtroom TV – seems to protect them.

But when Wendell finds Frank lying motionless outside at the age of eighty-three, their carefully crafted life together begins to unravel. As Frank’s memory and physical strength deteriorate, Wendell struggles in vain to hold on to the man he once knew. Faced with giving care beyond his capacity, he must come to terms with the consequences of half a century in seclusion: the different lives they might have lived – and the impending, inexorable loss of the one they had.

Quotes from the book:

You can’t just have one doctor anymore, one person who knows all there is to know about you. They keep dividing us up, down and down into parts too small for a knife blade, and then they go and invent an implement with a finer edge. You’ve got to have your heart man, your lungs man, your digestive man, your skin man, your brain man, until you’re nothing more than an assemblage of organs they can split apart and divide among the needy if you check the right box on the form to renew your driver’s license.

‘He stares at his palms, turned up in submission like dogs’ pale, tender bellies.’

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The Heart Goes Last

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Margaret Atwood

First Sentence:     Sleeping in the car is cramped.

Back of the book:

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of economic and social collapse. Living in their car, surviving on tips from Charmaine’s job at a dive bar, they’re increasingly vulnerable to roving gangs, and in a rather desperate state. So when they see an advertisement for the Positron Project in the town of Consilience – a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own – they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for this suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month, swapping their home for a prison cell.

At first, all is well. But slowly, unknown to the other, Stan and Charmaine develop a passionate obsession with their counterparts, the couple that occupy their home when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire take over, and Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

Quote from the book:

Oblivion is increasingly attractive to the young, and even to the middle-aged, since why retain your brain when no amount of thinking can even begin to solve the problem? It isn’t even a problem. It’s more like a looming collapse. Is their once-beautiful region doomed to be a wasteland or poverty and wreckage?

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