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Catherine Taylor on The Spectacle Salesman’s Family | When I Forgot |
The Trials and Tribulations of Lucas Lessar | Prince Rupert’s Teardrop

Saturday November 3, 2007
The Guardian

The Spectacle Salesman’s Family, by Viola Roggenkamp, translated by
Helena Ragg-Kirkby (Virago, £14.99)
Germany in the 1960s is the setting for this high-velocity
autobiographical novel about a Jewish family. Thirteen-year-old Fania,
her older sister Vera and their parents and maternal grandmother live
in a cramped apartment in a damp, crumbling Hamburg villa. The girls’
non-Jewish father is the spectacle salesman of the title, their
gorgeously vibrant mother a survivor of the camps. It’s an intimate,
rambling story, rich in detail, character and tradition. The tremors
and hidden anxieties of adolescence are keenly drawn, as are the usual
flare-ups and peace-makings of a family unit and its noisy resilience –
all set against the backdrop of Zionism, student activism and memories
of the irretrievably disappeared.

When I Forgot, by Elina Hirvonen, translated by Douglas Robinson
(Portobello, £12)
In a misguided attempt at self-preservation, Anna has consigned her
beloved brother Joona to history. Joona has been sectioned in a mental
hospital since early adulthood, his violent mood swings and
self-harming tendencies having caused friction between Anna and their
parents. Then she meets Ian, an American academic teaching in her home
city of Helsinki. Ian, too, is scarred – by his abandonment of his
father, a Vietnam veteran whose mind unravelled as the result of his
war experiences. They lead each other to a semblance of healing but
their tentative relationship seems the weak element in this short,
powerful book. More interesting is the frayed, tender account of the
love and unwilling co-dependency of Anna and Joona and, to a lesser
extent, their parents. It’s a fine study in role-reversal between
parent and child, older brother and younger sister, and a wrenching
read for anyone who has witnessed someone close suffer mental breakdown.

The Trials and Tribulations of Lucas Lessar, by Shauna Seliy
(Bloomsbury, £10.99)

"I’m named after a dead great-uncle who was named after a dead baby."
It’s 1974. Teenager Lucas Lessar is part of the immigrant Russian
community of Banning, Pennsylvania. His father died in a mining
accident a few years ago. His mother, continually harassed by lovelorn
Zoli from the Plate Glass factory, has inexplicably vanished. Raised by
his rebellious grandmother Slats, Lucas is heavily influenced by his
ailing great-grandfather, the seeds of whose magical pear tree have
been carried across the seas to this new land. Anxious not to lose any
more members of the family, Lucas embarks on a quest to find his
mother. It could be a sentimental tale, but Seliy’s portrait of a
community mourning its now-defunct main industry, the evocative
intermingling of cultures and a loyal, intrepid narrator make for a
stirring debut.

Prince Rupert’s Teardrop, by Lisa Glass (Two Ravens Press, £9.99)

Lisa Glass’s arrestingly titled first book is both frustrating and
compelling. Set in Plymouth, it features an unloved, lonely 58-year-old
woman as an unlikely figure of vengeance. Mary has lost her mother,
Meghranroush – 94, contradictory, volatile, haunted by the Armenian
genocide of her past. One day she simply isn’t there any more – and her
reticent daughter, fearful of authority, increasingly suspects that she
has been abducted by a serial killer. She eventually identifies the
kidnapper as a reclusive local glassblower – himself the victim of
various types of abuse. But who will listen to eccentric Mary,
guiltridden about her former ambivalence towards Meghranroush? It’s a
tough, stomach-churning, upsetting story, with razor-sharp
characterisation and a cracking, if predictable, finish. It’s also
overlong and over-written – Glass’s prose is often indigestible and
pretentious. This is disappointing, because less would have been so
much more.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS