Book Reviews
4:18 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

Summer Reading: Three Books To Take You To New Frontiers

Originally published on Wed June 11, 2014 6:24 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. You don't need a ticket to travel this summer. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, has packed a small bag of books that he says will send you to Alaska, Siberia and Tasmania. Here's Alan on three debut works.

ALAN CHEUSE: Rachel Weaver's novel "Point of Direction" takes us to contemporary Alaska and she fumbles around a little before figuring out how best to tell her story. But once she gets it moving, it pulls you in. A young woman named Anna treks north through Alaska, carrying a small pack and a large portion of guilt because of an incident in her recent past. She hooks up with a fisherman named Kyle and the two of them take a job as government lighthouse keepers for a long winter. From there, the view is 360 degrees of dark gray water, icy peaks and the glaciers that spill toward the sea between. And it makes Anna catch her breath. Kyle, it turns out, has an agenda that keeps him scouring the landscape for evidence of his own past turmoil, which in the middle of a stormy winter comes back to haunt him. More icy winter in the fabulous debut of Siberian-born story writer, now U.S. citizen, Kseniya Melnick. Her first book of stories, "Snow in May" takes us to her native far-Eastern city of Magadan, where in beautifully narrated story after story, we get an art boutique version of something we might call "Real Housewives of Siberia" before Glasnost and after. Along with keenly composed stories, Melnick gives us beautiful images. As when the wintry world seems, as she writes it, expressed solely in shades of gray as though somebody had sketched the scraggy trees and slope curves on white paper with a graphite pencil. Or when a woman named Tonya recalls how as a young girl she sat on the bank of the Volga River and lifted up her eyes in time to see the last sunray strike a little fire on the golden cupola of a country church on the opposite bank. Although her future seemed vague, it's every mysterious facet glimmered with light and possibility. As does the literary career of wonderful news story writer, Kseniya Melnick. Now, if Siberia isn't exotic enough for you, try Tasmania, the island state off the southern coast of Australia. Rohan Wilson, who grew up there, makes his home island the setting for his first novel, "The Roving Party," and it's one of the best first novels I've read all year. It's set in early 19th century Tasmania. A steady minded aboriginal man, nicknamed Black Bill, who's been raised in white culture, leaves his pregnant wife behind in the bush and joins a mixed-race posse that's in search of a tribe of rebellious indigenous people, led by a powerful shaman. This leads to battles of guns against spears fueled by European race hate and aboriginal defensive homelands they've inhabited for tens of thousands of years. The urgency of the chase, carefully chiseled language, exotic characters and dangerous conflict with each other - it's all here. Listen to the description of the camp Black Bill sneaks up on in the night. A crowd of shining, damp faces gathered in the firelight and its shimmer picked out incisions raised on their chests and streaks of ochre, like costuming. The shaman walked, and he clapped and the singing rose around him into the sky as the voices praise their ancient dead. Above it all, the full moon rolled like a blinded eye. These fine new works of fiction by first- time writers, all blessed with various urgencies about worlds in turmoil, I promise they'll open your eyes.

CORNISH: Summer fiction - Rohan Wilson's novel, "The Roving Party", Kseniya Melnick's story, "Snow in May," and "Point of Direction" by Rachel Weaver. Your travel agent was Alan Cheuse. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.