I review contemporary fiction for The European Literature Network and others. Here are some reviews of books I really enjoyed.
17.10.2016 #RivetingReviews: Valeria Vescina reviews BELLA MIA by Donatella di Pietrantonio (translator: Franca Scurti Simpson)
10.9.2016 Amazon review on Paolo Gallo’s La Bussola Del Successo
Finalmente, un libro nel quale la parola “successo” ha un significato piu’ ampio e profondo del solito. L’ autore ci invita a considerare come le nostre scelte in campo lavorativo debbano e possano essere coerenti con i nostri valori e la nostra personalita’, oltre che con le nostre capacita’ e competenze. Il testo e’ supportato da solide cognizioni accademiche di Management e di Organisational Behaviour, e da efficacissimi esempi tratti dalla lunga esperienza di Paolo Gallo nella gestione delle Risorse Umane. Il tono e’ quello di un amico esperto e saggio, generoso nell’ accompagnare gli altri nel loro cammino, e del quale ci si puo’ fidare. Certamente, il libro offre spunti utilissimi a chi intende scegliere, cercare o cambiare lavoro. Ma la portata degli argomenti lo rende una lettura piacevole e stimolante per chiunque: tanti dei temi sono attinenti non solo al campo lavorativo ma ad altri aspetti della vita. Spero che “La Bussola del Successo” venga tradotto in molte altre lingue, per poter raggiungere un vasto pubblico internazionale.
20.12.2012 Amazon review on Nikita Lalwani’s The Village
Nikita Lalwani’s `The Village’ opens with Ray Bhullar, the main character, being watched by three security men. It is the first instance of a recurring motif: who is watching whom, and what does each see? Ray has come to Ashwer, an Indian open prison, to direct a documentary that promises ‘a non-judgmental’ approach. She and her fellow crew members, Serena and Nathan, are the ones doing the observing and the framing through the camera’s viewfinder. But it gradually becomes apparent that they’re in turn being observed – and judged. The shifts in perspective unsettle the protagonist, and with her the reader, by revealing the frameworks through which each subject views its object and vice-versa. Ray wants to capture the complexity of reality on camera, in the belief that Ashwer’s life-affirming example can ‘spread light, not darkness’. But for her colleagues, and for her boss in London, the reality of Ashwer must be manipulated as it lacks the drama that television audiences are presumed to crave. Soon enough, Ray is looking through the viewfinder and secretly altering the exposure set by Serena because it would ‘blast all the layers of light and shadow out of the scene’. And yet, inevitably, Ray too becomes entrapped by conflicting pressures until she finds herself in a moral quagmire. Her final response defines who she is.
A key theme of the book is authenticity. The descriptions of the Indian settings and characters are vivid and memorable, devoid of nostalgia or stereotype, and all dialogue rings true. Ray’s perceptions, narrated from a close third person point of view, are unflinchingly realistic, making her emotional journey believable and gripping. She is torn between worlds – the India of her roots versus the Britain in which she has always lived; and the media’s potential for good versus the brutal consequences of its transactional modus operandi. Ray has to traverse a moral maze to be able to discover what she values and therefore what her authentic self is made of. In the process, media ethics are put in the dock, as trust – on which Ashwer’s success is based, and which the television crew was to honour – is thoroughly betrayed.
The open prison is no mere convenient framework for the action, but another key theme. At the most obvious level, the book presents an eloquent case for reappraising the conventional monolithic approach to punishing crime, by pointing to the ways in which traditional prison systems fail to prevent re-offending. Lalwani deploys the concept of the open prison village also as a metaphor for the culture which any individual lives in and is shaped by: she shows that to relate authentically to oneself and others, one may first need to perceive the invisible bonds and boundaries that characterise any given society or milieu – including work environments, in this particular case the media. Only when Ray has moved from looking to seeing through this more demanding viewfinder can she remain true to timeless human values – no longer naively but from a wiser vantage point.
This is an intelligent and moving novel which deserves and rewards close reading. Its imagery and characters live on in the memory.