The Mathematician’s Shiva

I love the cover of this book!   And inside,  although it starts a bit slow, it certainly doesn’t disappoint!  This is a very engaging, funny, intelligent, heart-warming, (perhaps bitter-sweet is the word I want but don’t like)   debut novel generally about life in a  Jewish immigrant family of mathematicians.   It’s a kind of loving celebration of that life and death as they say good-bye to an outstanding woman who was a brilliant mathematician as well as a wife, mother, teacher,  mentor and activist for defectors from Russia where she had had an incredibly difficult time as a child in the gulags.

shiva2The Mathematician’s Shiva
by Stuart Rojstaczer
2014 / 384 pages
read by Angela Brazil and Stephen R. Thorne  10h 38m
(read and listened – both!)

The book is divided into 3 Parts but 4 time frames which overlap a bit in places due to story-telling and back-stories.   It starts out in winter of 2012,  eleven years after the basic tale the first-person narrator wants to tell which is of the death, funeral,  shiva and the aftermath of his mother.

Rachela Karnokovitch was a noted Russian defector/immigrant and mathematician as well as the mother of our narrator Alexander”Sasha” Karnokovitch.   At the book’s opening (2012)  Sasha is remembering back to the day she phoned (2001)  to tell him she was dying and wanted him there with her at her home in Wisconsin.  So Sasha, her only child and age 60, drives from Nebraska to be with her and she is then moved to the hospital.   There are others present  – Rachela’s brother Shlomo as well as her  ex-husband who is  Sasha’s father.  Uncle Shlomo brings the booze.  Sasha promises his mother that he and his father will stay connected and after she passes the two decide to have a small, simple family shiva at her house.  Bruce, Uncle Shlomo’s son,  and Anna,  a defector Rachela took in many year prior arrive a bit later.   This is the family.  >>>>MORE (No spoilers)>>>> 

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For the Dead

I am enjoying the Poke Rafferty crime series of Timothy Hallinan more and more with each novel.  The overarching background story of Poke, his wife Rose who is an ex-bar girl,  and Miao, an adopted street child, both unfolds and progresses as that tale moves along,  and they have a continuing circle of friends.  Poke’s main business is travel writing but the streets of Bangkok are filled with crime and Poke has training and experience in that area.

For the Dead
by Timothy Hallinan
2014/ crime
read by Victor Bovine 10h 53m
rating:  A+
(#4 in the Poke Rafferty series)

I just finished The Fear Artist last month and it’s a good thing because this tale takes place only a couple months later so the final victims, Treasure and her mother Anna, are still pretty fresh in Poke’s mind along with the traumatic events of the climax of that episode.   Treasure is still in serious condition in a local institution, a hospital of sorts, and mom is still pretty disturbed emotionally.  The actual bad guy cops and their boss seem to have been taken care of,  but that may only be the surface level – there seems to be a higher level to this.  >>>>MORE (no spoilers) >>>> 

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Strong Women?

I recently read two very different novels about young female immigrants – the books were both rereads –my latest reviews:  Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (2009) and Americana by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013).   Both authors are themselves immigrants, from Ireland and Nigeria respectively,  Adichie is young and female while Tóibín is somewhat older and male (which may make no difference).  Brooklyn takes place in Ireland and New York in the 1950s,  Americanah is set in Nigeria, Philadelphia and Baltimore plus a bit in London.

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Americana (x3)

UnknownAmericana  (x3)
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria/US)
2013/ 496 pages
read by Adjoa Andoh-  17h 28m
rating: 9.5  / contemp.  immigrant fiction
(read and listened)

A reading group decided to read this and although I’ve read it twice (back-to-back in 2013) I decided to try the Audible version as a reminder read.   I’m glad I did – the narrator, Adjoa Andoh,  is new to me and very good.  And as with all really good books, I made several other “discoveries” on this reading.  (So I have upped my rating to a 9.5 – which is incredibly good for me.)

My prior review with no spoilers is at:

And there is a “Notes” section (with spoilers) at:


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Avenue of Mysteries x2

avenueAvenue of Mysteries
by John Irving
2015 / 480 pages
read by Armando Duran  20h 50m
rating:  8.5
(second reading – read and listened)

So I decided to go ahead and read it a second time and I am so glad I did.  There is a lot of very interesting and enjoyable material here – my mind got clouded with the sex and circus tricks.

The frame story is that of the grown Juan Diego, a moderately famous writer who has lived in Iowa for forty years and his trip to Manila, a mission of sorts.  Juan Diego was born in Oaxaca, Mexico and lived there with his sister, mother, a father figure, and various other people until he was fourteen.  The children slept at the home of orphans run by the Jesuits but they spent their days in a shack at the trash dump with other “Lost Children.”
>>>>MORE (no spoilers)>>>> 

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Avenue of Mysteries

avenueAvenue of Mysteries
by John Irving
2015 / 480 pages
read by Armando Duran  20h 50m
rating: 7.5 /  general fiction – humorous

I started listening to the sample and it sounded so good – wonderful – two kids in a dump in Mexico with one teaching himself how to read and the other learning from him – one older extraordinarily intelligent, the younger strangely insightful – and the Catholic church priests take such a loving interest.   I almost bought the Kindle version to go along with the Audible,  but I fortunately scanned a brief review first and –  um … I don’t think so.  It was going to be all I could do to get through the Audible because  it’s Irving up to his usual circus tricks –  sex and love amongst the crippled or elderly, general weirdness, animals, dreams,  and some Catholic bashing. (ho-hum)  >>>>MORE (no spoilers)>>>>

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The Summer Before the War

summerThe Summer Before the War
by Helen Simonson
2016 / 498 pages  (ARC – Kindle)
rating: 9.25  /  historical fiction
(With thanks to Random House via Netgalley for the advance reader copy!)

Good read – quite enjoyable but a warning – although it is never explicit,  this book does not pull punches.   For a good chunk of the novel I wanted called it a delightful satire.  Then some real life stuff happens –  difficult situations, hard choices and tragedies.

I first encountered Helen Simonson with her first novel,  Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,  a really delicious fiction I recommended to both my mom and my daughter and probably other folks online,  so I managed to get copy of Simonson’s second novel in  advance reader copy (ARC – from Netgalley)  form.  I’ve never done ARC before – we’ll see how it goes, but at least I’ve got something I’m looking forward to as a starter.

The setting is the small town of Rye in East Sussex England,  during the summer 1914.  These are the years of rising tensions about the wars in the Balkans,  suffragettes in the streets, labor uprisings,the clash between 19th century Victorian ways and new more modern ideas as well as the normal, petty local jealousies.  It’s Imperial England just past its prime and full of ignorance, arrogance, entrenched tradition, class issues and small minds.  >>>>MORE (no spoilers)>>>> 

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