Though the ultimate purpose of the book does appear to be didactic – global warming and impending environmental catastrophe are generally accepted within the mainstream scientific community as proven fact – and the parallels between Dr Lipkin and the author’s own studies are probably the subject of at least a few fascinating interviews, the story reads well as fiction, creating each world entirely so that the reader becomes engrossed in the historical time and place along with the protagonist.
This is a historically consistent plot turn, but to make no mistake, it is one Western readers in particular will like. The book is hardly anti-China, but Roy, a Chinese-Canadian, also does not sugarcoat the oppression, fear, and insanity of Mao’s regime.
Many works of fiction have been set during World War II. Two of my favourites are the TV Foyle’s War and the movie Yanks. It is a well-known fact, however, that if one assigned the same topic to a room full of fiction writers, each would come up with something unique. McCloskey’s novels show her flair for exploring women’s friendships and feelings and will attract and educate today’s generation of young woman readers about an intense, dramatic time in history.
Shames humanizes the unspeakable horrors faced by innocent people throughout World War II without romanticizing any of these events. Margit Wolf is sent to a concentration camp, a fortunate survivor among thousands who are not so lucky. While the novel is about a love story between a rising ballerina and established maestro, it is really Margit Wolf’s story that is told.
A minor character speaks of seeing Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club, but we readers never get to go there and see him perform. Perhaps I’m spoiled, with too high expectations, because so many creative artists, from Thomas Wolfe to Woody Allen, have already brilliantly evoked New York.
Set in 1958 Australia, Ben’s Challenge is at its heart an historical coming-of-age story with a fair dose of mystery and intrigue thrown in. The story begins with news of thirteen-year-old Ben Kellerman’s father’s death in a hit and run. It’s an accident that remains unsolved until the end of the book and is the catalyst for Ben’s transition from childhood.
Several supporting characters are painted with skill; they grow into people that the heroine and her husband care about enough that the reader joins into their admiration. Other characters help to place the story into social and historical context.
The new social order is shown in a scene in which Ruth has dinner with three key people in her life. Similarly, the recurrent Christmas celebrations, with their associations of goodwill, peace and justice, reinforce the new spirit of harmony. Christmas, as well, serves as a good structural device to show continuity despite the passage of time.
Frank gives readers a rare taste of what it was really like to be inside the Third Reich. Of course most of us have heard stories of Hitler’s quest for world domination, and unfortunately we’ve all heard stories about the death camps, but Frank’s novel falls somewhere in between. The story is more of what the officers endured on a regular basis.
David James does a fabulous job of bringing Becky Sharp’s story to life. She is both absolutely detestable and endearing all in the same. He pulls you into her tumultuous and humorous past. This heartbreaking past also gives insight into what has led this woman into such a selfish and irresponsible lifestyle.