The Watch by Joydeep
Book Review by Zinta
war novels. Until I find a really, really good one.
In recent weeks, The Watch is one of
those that qualified. I have a difficult time reading about human cruelty, and
that is, after all, what war is about, in excess and in extreme. I make
exceptions, however, when the writing is exceptional and the subject matter can
teach me something I don't yet know and should.
the war in Afghanistan has been going on for too
many years, I realize that I don't really have a strong understanding of it—and
honestly, I'm not sure this novel has changed that. Let's face it: war is
beyond understanding. It's madness. But author Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya has
captured something of the essence of every war and revealed it to us in this
novel, including the human spirit that survives it and even overcomes something
of the madness.
The Watch is the
story of a Pashtun woman who has lost her legs during the war, approaching a
U.S. Army base in Kandahar to demand the return of her brother's body. Weary
from battle, the soldiers have no idea what to do. The woman, in part based on
the myth of Antigone, positions herself in the desert outside the base and
refuses to move. Maybe she's a terrorist, wired with a bomb the moment she is
approached. Maybe she's lost her mind. Maybe she is in disguise, not a woman at
all. The soldiers debate what to do, as the intensity of the situation
escalates and reveals what war does to those on both sides of the battle.
After reading the
book, I had the privilege of interviewing
the author in the Spring 2013 issue of The Smoking Poet, and Roy-Bhattacharya
spoke of the philosophy on which he
built his novel, the ways in which he did research to paint a realistic scene
without ever visiting Afghanistan himself, the role of women in war, and his
feelings about passivity when encountering war. It makes for fascinating
As a writer,
though, it is the level of quality in writing
that gets my attention most. Roy-Bhattacharya wields a skillful pen. His story
drew me in instantly, his characterization brought these people alive to me,
and his literary talent added beauty to what is the ugliest part of human
nature—our lust to kill each other.
Roy-Bhattacharya was educated in politics and
philosophy at Presidency College, Calcutta, and the University of Pennsylvania.
His novels The Gabriel Club and The Storyteller of Marrakesh have been
published in fourteen languages. He lives in the Hudson Valley in upstate New
Booklover: A One-Year
Journal of Reading, Reflecting and Remembering by Timothy James Bazzett
Book Review by Zinta
Tim Bazzett—virtually but not yet in person—through an
email exchange about books. Of course. We exchanged thoughts about the novel of
a Michigan writer that he felt, by reading some of my reviews, that I perhaps
understood better than he. That got my attention. How many people do you know
who have approached you to say you may just get something better than they do?
guy. Actually, I’m not sure I did get that book better
than Bazzett, but we got a good conversation going, and one book leading to
another, he sent me one of his own books: Booklover.
Is this going to be a very long, elaborate listing of all the books this book
addict has ever read? I wondered. Well, something along those lines. Only
Bazzett adds in plenty of his own lines, managing to tell his story while
talking about the stories written and told by others.
Booklover is one
of several memoirs Bazzett has written. He begins by expressing his disdain for
the reading fare that kindergartners are given, if the children are given books
to read at all, and with that introduction, he had me on board. (I, too, am
an admitted book addict.) From
there, this memoir describes Bazzett's moves from Michigan to California and to
Europe, part of that being his military service. It is also the story of his
marriage and the family.
down home story, and Bazzett tells it in a friendly,
easy style that makes you feel like you are sitting on the front porch with him,
making friends. He can be charmingly self-deprecating, willing to open his door
to the reader in a frank manner, if sometimes perhaps a bit too frank. There
are times that I don't want to know where his guy's mind wanders, moments that
tingle on my feminist bone when he muses on the female gender, but in the next
moment I've forgiven him, because, well, he just comes off as a genuinely nice
also do without the repeated "but no
matter" continuously inserted into the telling of Bazzett's story, but
that's it, those are my only complaints. Bazzett is a classic. He excels at
being himself, no pretenses, rather than trying to outdo someone else among the
literati. He has a fun way of inserting his sense of humor, even while building
up the reader's desire to go to the nearest library or book store and bring
home a mountain of books to read that Bazzett has recommended. It is with his
insights into literature and authors that we realize just how sharp-minded he
is. I hope I do get to sit on his front porch, or mine, with him sometime.
lives in Reed City, Michigan, with his wife and his
books. He has published five memoirs and a biography. He is a book reviewer for
The Smoking Poet.
Atlanta: A Novella by Loreen Niewenhuis
Book Review by Zinta Aistars
Paperback, 129 pages
Publisher: Main Street
Rag Publishing, 2011
This is embarrassing.
I'm about to confess to judging a book by its cover. And I knew better, I did! I knew the author, Loreen Niewenhuis, from
her previous travelogue/memoir, "A 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach," which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I knew this author is a
skilled writer … and yet, and yet, I let this book sit on my table for
a very, very long time. Unread. Because of the cover. Let's face it, it looks like a travel guide to Atlanta.
I've been to Atlanta,
and perhaps it was the circumstances surrounding me at the time, but I didn't particularly enjoy the trip. I'd look at this
cover and feel not one degree above lukewarm, and I would end up picking another book to read. You know, with a more enticing
Well, enough already about
the unexciting cover. I finally did get past it to the first page. And from then on, gasp, I kept paging until the very end,
The scene opens with Bruce
the janitor. He is preparing to buff the floor. While doing so, he lights up a joint. Soon, he gets off work to pick up a
street walker, Janine, pays her $50 to hold his hand, nothing more, just hold his hand. What Bruce really wants, aside from
having his hand held, is to buy a puppy.
And off we go, one interesting
character of another, as if disconnected, yet all dotting Atlanta and bringing it to life, like one light going on after another
throughout the city, until it is all aglow with the shimmer of humanity.
An intricate weaving forms
the fabric of Atlanta. Mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, neighbors and people in passing, all expose their most
vulnerable places to Niewenhuis's light—and to the reader. These are the residents of the city, different social and
economic classes, races, backgrounds, and gradually their paths intersect, as they must.
Niewenhuis shapes her
characters with such care and detail, that we do not doubt that they live. They do live. Long after the last page is turned,
with only the regret at end that this is a novella instead of a novel.
Do me a favor. Just read.
Suddenly you see the many lives living inside that city on the cover. These are lives that matter, if only because they live
Loreen Niewenhuis is a
scientist, adventurer and writer. She holds a MS degree from Wayne State University and a MFA from Spalding University. Her
short fiction has appeared in many journals including The Antioch Review, Red Wheelbarrow,
The Smoking Poet and Bellevue Literary Review.
Her short story collection, Scar Tissue, was a finalist for the Flannery O'Connor
Award for Short Fiction. In 2009, she took on the challenge of walking all the way around Lake Michigan. A 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach is the book about her adventure.
Rotary Phones and Facebook by Meg Eden
Book Review by Zinta Aistars
Chapbook, 25 pgs.
Dancing Girl Press, 2012
First impressions count.
When I took in hand the chapbook of poetry by Meg Eden, printed by Dancing Girl Press, I was underwhelmed. The pages were
roughly cut and not numbered. No table of contents. The back cover had an edge not cut in line with the rest, leaving a paper
tag. No ISBN number. Not the heavier stock of paper that might indicate quality …
… but it is what
is inside a book, or chapbook, that counts, right?
The first typo I encountered
was on the acknowledgement page. "Do I need to chose?" Really? If a publisher can't take the time to proof and do at least
light editing, an author should. Or ask a literary friend to do so. I counted 15 such errors, misspellings and grammar glitches
in the book, and then I stopped counting. Arguments that content counts more than presentation don’t move me. Take pride
in your work, or I won't take any in putting your work on my bookshelf.
Just a few examples:
"make due with what
"there's books to
"there's more girls"
"I think of Sayori
and I in Tenjin station"
The serious reader won't
return to an author or a press that allows this sort of thing to slip by. It's ugly.
On to the poetry. Eden
is not without talent. She's been published in a few literary mags and lists several honorable mentions and awards. That should
mean something. And it does. Eden writes a good poem frequently enough that at moments I can lose myself in her images and
well-formed lines and leave the warped wrapping behind.
In many of the poems,
as Eden is still a young woman, she writes about her mother, about growing up, about the discovery of love, and self, and
first heartbreak. Mother paints her daughter's nails in the poem "ritual" as a subtle way of moving her daughter past a breakup
with a boyfriend. She shares her vintage aprons. She chastises her daughter about brushing her hair. She gathers crowbars
and hammers to bust through a wall to find the source of a terrible smell—dead rodents. Her influence is great upon
the poet, and when the poet gives Mother her due, both are at their best.
Poems such as "the silk
flower" show real promise, a poet taking root. This time, Father takes a prominent role.
There! father pointed to the scrawny bud,
like a fern, beginning its infestation.
pull it by the roots. do not let it spread its spores.
I point out their pink feather duster flowers,
the beauty they are capable of producing,
but he is not won over. these things, once they grow
old enough, their trunks get thick,
their cambium cumbersome, get them
while they're young. I think of young
girls and mothers armed with kitchen knives
and scissors. take the legs and peel the pleasure
like sap from bark. grow into a woman-shape. we will take your feet and prune them
into little dolls. set root into the floor boards.
little mimosas shrink in the cover
of the woods.
I suspect that there should
be an apostrophe in "dolls" to indicate "doll's feet," but perhaps not, perhaps just feet into dolls ... and I do wish that
tired old gig of leaving out capitals (except for the word "I," as if ego was all that stands above the rest) would die already,
but the poem itself touches me. It has weight, it carries a message, and the image is sharp.
And there you have it.
With room for improvement, I still end up liking this poet.