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Off The Shelf: New Books by W.G. Sebald, Matti Friedman and Jane Gardam

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We receive so many books for review here at CultureMob that it’s impossible to cover them all. There simply aren’t that many hours in the day. Some books stand out from the unread pile, however – enough to make us take a second look. Off The Shelf offers short reviews and previews of the also-rans: the books that intrigued and interested us enough to warrant a mention, if not a full review.

Across the Land and the Water by W.G. Sebald
First line: “For how hard it is/to understand the landscape/as you pass in a train/from here to there/and mutely it/watches you vanish.”
Sebald is best known for his prose, having won a multitude of awards for his books The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants, Vertigo and Austerlitz – he’s become one of the most revered figures in recent European literature. But as anyone who has read these will tell you, he’s always had a poetic turn of phrase. Across the Land and the Water presents a selection of Sebald’s published poetry from throughout his career, and his intense vision and unique mastery of images shines through on every page. The translation by Iain Galbraith is impressively accessible too, making this one of the most exciting poetry releases so far this year – and it’s hard not to be awed by such quiet mastery. One for poetry readers and the Sebald fans alike.
Published by Random House on March 27th, 2012.

The Aleppo Codex by Matti Friedman
First line: “In the summer of 2008, in a dark underground room at Israel’s national museum in Jerusalem, I encountered one of the most important books on earth.”
This may look like a sequel to The Da Vinci Code, but in reality it’s something far more exciting. Both an ode to the power of books and a literary mystery story, Friedman investigates the turbulent past of one of the most important books in Israeli history, the copy of the Hebrew Bible known the Aleppo Codex. Not only was the codex smuggled across national borders in a conspiracy that reached to the highest levels, but 200 pages also went missing en route. Friedman plays detective as best he can, but the story is thrilling enough in itself, a real-life National Treasure that reads like fantastical fiction. The blurb from Jonathan Safran Foer says it all – this is history retold as a literary thriller.
Published by Algonquin Books on May 15th, 2012.

Crusoe’s Daughter by Jane Gardam
First line: “I am Polly Flint.”
Okay, so this isn’t exactly a new book. Crusoe’s Daughter was first published in 1986, but since then her reputation has risen and it’s now ripe for revisiting. Add in the brand new introduction by the author, and even readers who think they remember it will want to delve into the new edition. Gardam has apparently named this as her favorite among her novels, and it’s easy to see why. Not only does it touch upon her own family history (Polly Flint shares certain similarities with Jane’s mother), but it’s also a great read, and an engrossing literary tour de force. As Flint begins her lifelong dialogue with the hero of Robinson Crusoe you’ll find yourself wanting to read Defoe’s classic again too – once Gardam has finished weaving her own tale, of course.
Published by Europa Editions on May 30th, 2012.

 

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