Critical Notes

NBCC Roundup July 22, 2010

By Bethanne Patrick

Adam Kirsch in Tablet on The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menahem Mendel Schneerson:

Faith, it has been said, is the evidence of things not seen. By that definition, to believe in Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, requires no faith at all: It is far easier to see him today, anywhere in the world, than it was when he was actually alive…On YouTube,, and many other sites, you can hear the Rebbe talk about Torah and world events, watch him distribute dollar bills to guests (a practice that became his trademark), and witness some of his frequent visits to the grave of his predecessor, Yosef Yitzhak, the sixth Rebbe—the tomb, or tsiyen, where Schneerson himself now rests, in Queens, not far from JFK airport.

On NPR, Marueen Corrigan reviews Pearl Buck in China:

As Spurling deftly illustrates, that alienation gave Buck her stance as a writer, gracing her with the outsider vision needed to interpret one world to another. Buck's unconventional childhood also seems to have made her resistant to group think: In midlife, as a famous novelist, she made enemies criticizing the racism of the mission movement; she also shocked contemporaries by writing in her memoir, The Child Who Never Grew, about her brain-damaged daughter Carol, at a time when such children were quietly institutionalized and publicly forgotten.

In The Oregonian, David Beispiel talks Wordsworth:

Wordsworth's best writing values the second two lines' spontaneity and feel for common life. He emphasizes a correspondence between nature and the inner life — with the self and the imagination supreme. This, alone, is his greatest argument against Pope's poetry of Augustan authority. For Wordsworth, poetry is not an argument — as it was for Pope and George Herbert and Anne Bradstreet. Instead, poetry is a mood, an emotion and a way of feeling that distills experience. Wordsworth's definition of poetry, in fact, has come to dominate the thinking and the making of poetry in English for two centuries.

Colette Bancroft covers John Brandon's Citrus Country for the St. Petersburg Times:

Citrus County explores the consequences of that act on its characters' lives in ways that both surprise and ring true. Brandon draws his characters so deftly that we can be horrified and intrigued by them at once, and his plot just as deftly avoids cliches.

In Slate, Wendy Smith writes on Allegra Goodman's The Cookbook Collector:

Allegra Goodman has rediscovered her sense of humor. Not that her new novellacks seriousness: With a plot propelled by the dotcom bubble and a principal character in the wrong place on 9/11, it tackles big, contemporary topics. But “The Cookbook Collector” takes a welcome step back from the dark brilliance of its predecessor,Intuition.”A grim tale of possible fraud at a cancer research lab, that novel displayed all of Goodman's searching moral intelligence and virtually none of the wit or amused savoring of human folly found in such previous works as “Paradise Park” and “The Family Markowitz”. In her new novel, she works on a larger social canvas than ever before, armed with an awareness that to comprehend all the scheming and the sorrow, wit is indispensable.

Anis Shivani interviews Breathless in Bombay author Murzban Shroff:

In Shroff's stories, Mumbai is a city of corruption and caste division, just as much as it is a city of emerging meritocracy and class breakdown. Shroff's writing has little in common with the standard American short story's constriction, narcissism, and exhibitionism; the influence of Chekhov and other Russians clearly comes through in an expansive, restful melancholy, a metaphysic that is simultaneously hot and cool.

Michael O'Donnell covers two new books about l'affaire Dreyfus for The Washington Monthly:

If European fascism were a ladder, the Dreyfus affair would have its own rung. Situated between the Russian pogroms of the 1880s and the first echoes of the goose step, it ushered in the bloody new century with the cry of “Death to the Jews” and the smashing of store windows. Writing in 1951, Hannah Arendt marveled that “[n]either the first nor the second World War has been able to bury the [Dreyfus] affair in oblivion,” and observed, “Down to our times, the term anti-Dreyfusard can still serve as a recognized name for all that is anti-republican, antidemocratic, and anti-Semitic.”

In The San Francisco Chronicle, Rayyan al-Shawaf reviews Megan Stack's Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War:

So moving are these stories, so passionately related by a traumatized journalist – Stack recently requested another posting, and is now the Los Angeles Times' Moscow bureau chief – that one might momentarily forget the distressing lack of originality in the author's conclusions.

Steven G. Kellman in the B&N Review about A Thousand Peaceful Cities, by Jerzy Pilch:

Pilch’s antic sensibility confirms that he is the compatriot of Witold Gombrowicz, the Polish maestro of absurdist pranks. But readers with a taste for the fermented Irish blarney of Flann O’Brien, Samuel Beckett, and John Kennedy Toole might also savor Pilch.

At Shelf Awareness, Harvey Freedenberg reviews Anthony Doerr's Memory Wall: Stories:

In its breadth and depth, Anthony Doerr's second collection–two novellas and four short stories–extends the impressive range displayed in his 2003 debut, The Shell Collector. Traversing settings from South Africa to Wyoming to Lithuania to suburban Cleveland, and time from the Holocaust to a near-term dystopian future, Doerr probes the subject of memory in evocative prose that enhances the richness of these consistently moving tales.

Bethanne Patrick is a freelance critic and blogger.