Spirits of the Dead: Tales and Poems. Edgar Allan Poe. Penguin Popular Classics, London, England, 1997.
Poe’s tales and poems draw the reader into an unsettling world of mystery and fear. In “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”, “A Predicament”, “The Angel of the Odd” and other stories, characters are caught in macabre situations, often with horrifying results. The poems are full of melancholic beauty, whether in the disturbing images of death and events beyond the grave – described in “The Raven” and “Lenore” – or in the hypnotic fantasy of works such as “The Bells”, “The City in the Sea” and “Annabel Lee”. With his powerful, richly inventive imagination, Poe explored the darkest corners of the human psyche. He is considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre and is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Amy Chua. Bloomsbury, London, 2011.
Chua’s book was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead it is about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how the author was humbled by a thirteen-year-old. An international bestseller, the work was praised by Time magazine for being “brutally honest”. A story about a mother, two daughters and two dogs, others have called her story “blissfully funny” but also “courageous and thought-provoking”.
The Terrorists, a Martin Beck Novel. Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo. HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2011 (first published by Random House in 1975).
The tenth and last novel in the series about Detective Inspector Martin Beck tries to explore the very definition of terrorism. He and his police team aim to stop a group of terrorists set on assassinating an American senator who is visiting Stockholm. Is the case somehow connected with the murder of a millionaire pornographer? Will Beck be able to manage each unravelling case and prevent further atrocities, even when his own life is on the line?
Dennis Lehane states in an introduction that in the annals of realistic fictional policemen, Beck stands a full head above most. He carries plenty of mental scars and admits to a depressive personality, but he is not gloom-laden. Rather, he is “a dogged worker bee entering his later middle-aged years with a healthy romantic life and no illusion about his place in the larger scheme of things. A great cop, yes, but in Sjowall and Wahloo’s vision, a great cop is little more than a great functionary in a hopelessly flawed system.
The Daydreamer. Ian McEwan. Red Fox, London, 1994. (With illustrations by Anthony Browne.)
This first book for children by the Booker Prize winner describes the extraordinary world of ten-year-old Peter Fortune, “a difficult child”, as he is perceived by those around him. His world is bizarre, with no boundary between reality and daydreams. The reader meets his sister Kate, his cat (William Cat) and his parents. Only long after he himself has grown up, does he start to understand how and why he was seen as “difficult” – enclosed as he was in his own world, his own reality.
This column is a selection by The Slovak Spectator of English-language books recently released in Slovakia; it does not represent an endorsement of any of the books selected. The column is prepared in cooperation with the Oxford Bookshop Bratislava.