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Book Reviews

Gina Frangello, executive editor of Other Voices, has a debut novel that takes you on a dangerous ride.

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The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue. (Doubleday, $23.95). Inspired by the charming poem of the same name by William Butler Yeats, Keith Donohue's first book is the whimsical story of a young boy kidnapped by a hobgoblin. Unhappy seven-year-old Henry Day runs away from home one day and is kidnapped by a troupe of a dozen hobgoblins, or "fairies gone bad." One of the hobgoblins changes himself into a facsimile of Henry and lives his former life. The reader watches the fake Henry as he ages, falls in love, marries and becomes a father and musician, always aware that he does not quite belong to this world. Donohue's book imagines a vivid world where neither character is quite at home in his new environment. Like the Yeats poem, which acknowledges, "The world's more full of weeping than you can understand," the book becomes a meditation on the loss of childhood and its accompanying innocence.

--Susan Zinner

Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall by Andrew Meier. (W. W. Norton, $28.95). In this engrossing travelogue written after the fall of Communism in the former USSR, Andrew Meier, a former Moscow correspondent for Time, travels around Russia--from Moscow to Chechnya to Norilsk, far above the Arctic Circle, then from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg--meeting and talking not only with oligarchs, rebels, Mafioso, autocrats and former gulag prisoners but also with common Russians. Sometimes tracing the steps of Chekhov in his travels, Meier often delves into Russia's turbulent and blemished history as he reports on everything from the Yeltsin years and the rise of Vladimir Putin to the terrifying massacre of civilians in Chechnya on February 5, 2000. Though assisted by friends, there's a pervading sense of violence and fear as Meier travels about. He tells of contradictions--two dozen Chechen families living in an abandoned pigsty and inhabitants of Vladivostok surviving winters with no heat, while Russian oligarchs and foreign countries vie for the post-Soviet windfall. His descriptions of Russia's violence and corruption, its greed, its bureaucracy are scrupulously accounted, although Meier readily admits that no matter how long one lives in Russia, it defies understanding. Though Black Earth is sometimes humorous, it's more often serious, as when Meier interviews an embittered diehard Communist who insists, "Things were better before." While some Russians, such as Putin, look to their country's future with blithe optimism and others find its future in its past, many despairing young people seeing no way out have turned to the needle. Even Meier, referring to Russia after the fall, concludes that "in the four corners of the country where I have traveled, little changed for the better." In any case, Black Earth is a superb work on Russia after the fall. --Barbara Weddle

My Sister's Continent by Gina Frangello. (Chiasmus, $14.95). Gina Frangello, executive editor of Other Voices, has a debut novel that takes you on a dangerous ride and, along the way, makes you question perceptions, set aside preconceived notions and examine your own dark side. It's a suspenseful, multi-layered tale for those who already know they're smart. The novel's framework is based on Freud's notorious "Dora" case study. But don't let that put you off; the story's a page-turner. Kirby Braun is a 22-year-old "good girl" whose twin sister, Kendra, a drug-abusing, bulimic ex-ballerina, has moved back to Chicago after a career-ending injury. Kirby's struggles to intervene in Kendra's downward spiral go unheeded as Kendra begins an affair with their father's best friend and develops a masochistic addiction to sexual torture. The rest of the family is struggling with issues, as well. The twins' dad is dying of AIDS, and their mother's pushing Kirby to move up the date for the wedding she's no longer sure she wants. Kirby's stress over trying to hold the family together drives her into an unsuccessful stint in therapy. And then Kendra goes missing. The discovery of Kendra's diaries, along with a desire to set things straight with the family shrink, pushes Kirby to reconstruct her twin's life and to untangle her own identity from the strands of her sister's. As Kirby delves into the twisted dynamics of rivalry, loyalty, incest and denial, she begins to question her own sexuality, as well as her role in the family. This book takes a controversial look at the prevailing notions of female sexuality, but Frangello pulls it off by refusing to label her characters as either victims or perpetrators, keeping the focus instead on the reasons for and the consequences inherent in the choices they make. It's a construct that invites the reader to participate in the story. --Julia Borcherts

We welcome your review. If we publish it, we will send you a gift certificate for dinner. E-mail to editorial@chicagolife.net or mail to Chicago Life Reviews, P.O. Box 11131, Chicago IL60611-0311.

Published: August 01, 2006
Issue: Fall 2006