Fabulous Fiction Firsts #397

For over a decade, US publishers have been looking for English language books that deal with Chechnya, a volatile and bloody Russian Republic consistently in the news. They were thrilled when Whiting Award & Pushcart Prize winner Anthony Marra, (Stegner Fellow, Iowa Writers' Workshop) submitted his novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena *.

In the final days of December 2004, in a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa hides in the woods when her father is abducted by Russian forces. Fearing for her life, she flees with their neighbor Akhmed, a failed physician, to the bombed-out hospital where Sonja, the only remaining doctor treats the wounded rebels and refugees. Over the course of five dramatic days, Akhmed and Sonja reach back into their pasts to unravel the intricate mystery of coincidence, betrayal, and forgiveness that unexpectedly binds them and decides their fate,

"Marra collapses time, sliding between 1996 and 2004 while also detailing events in a future yet to arrive, giving his searing novel an eerie, prophetic aura. All of the characters are closely tied together in ways that Marra takes his time revealing, even as he beautifully renders the way we long to connect and the lengths we will go to endure".

"...simply spectacular. Not since Everything Is Illuminated have I read a first novel so ambitious and fully realized". ~ Ann Patchett

"Remarkable and breathtaking,... a spellbinding elegy for an overlooked land engulfed by an oft-forgotten war. Set in the all-too-real Chechen conflict, Marra conjures fragile and heartfelt characters whose fates interrogate the very underpinnings of love and sacrifice.” ~ Adam Johnson

For readers who enjoyed The Tiger's Wife; Cutting for Stone; and City of Thieves.

* = starred review

Huron Players Present Shakespeare's Macbeth

The Huron Players present Shakespeare's Macbeth April 26 & 27 and May 3 & 4 at 7:30pm in the New Theater. Here is a description of the play from their website: “Fair is foul and foul is fair” and nothing is as it seems. The victorious Macbeth chances upon three mysterious witches who offer an intriguing prophesy, tempting him with the promise of becoming King. Upon hearing the news, Lady Macbeth urges her husband into murderous action, and what follows is a wild and maddening descent into war, insanity and demons." Ticket information is here.

Performance Network: The Mountaintop Opens April 25

The Mountaintop, by Katori Hall, runs April 25 - June 2 at Performance Network in Ann Arbor. As the play opens, the date is April 3, 1968, the night before the assassination of Martin Luther King. A maid in the motel where he is staying shows up dripping wet on his doorstep and they share a powerful conversation. This is the Michigan premiere of a play that enjoyed a run on Broadway. Ticket information is available on the Performance Network website.

Lincoln: The Man, the Legend

The historical drama Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, is based in part on the book Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Lincoln was produced and directed by Steven Spielberg, who immediately wanted rights to the film once he heard that Goodwin was planning to write the book.

The film focuses on Lincoln's last months of office in 1865, during a time of war and change, and his efforts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would abolish slavery. The film depicts the tension and conflict in the United States, while painting a revealing portrait of Abraham Lincoln during a momentous time in American history.

With an all-star cast that also includes Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the critically-acclaimed film was nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards and twelve Academy Awards. Daniel Day Lewis won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Actor for his phenomenal performance as the President. There are still grumbles that Lincoln should have won the Academy Award for Best Picture, but that honor went to another recommended historical drama, Argo.

The 2013 Pulitzer Prizes have been announced

The Pulitzer Prizes for 2013 were announced today.

In 1917, Joseph Pulitzer established these awards to recognize excellence in 21 categories, which include journalism, fiction, drama, music, poetry, and non-fiction. More recently, online reporting was added.

Some of the winners this year include:

Fiction -- Adam Johnson, for The Orphan Master's Son, a timely choice, tells the story of Pak Jun Do, who is sent to the orphan camps in North Korea. First trained as a tunnel soldier (fighting in pitch darkness beneath the DMZ), he is 'elevated' to kidnapper.

History -- Fredrik Logevall, for Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam -- Logevall spent 12 years looking at primary diplomatic sources in the archives of Paris, Washington, D.C., and Hanoi to get at the heart of the conflict.

Biography -- Tom Reiss, for The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo -- Reiss delves into the life of the father of Alexandre Dumas, General Alexandre Alex Dumas. Born in Haiti, sold into slavery by his own father, the General eventually went on to military greatness when he reorganized the army of the French Republic.

In 20 categories, each winner receives $10,000 and a certificate. In the Public Service category, a medal was bestowed on the Florida newspaper, the Sun Sentinel, for its investigation into off-duty police officers who endangered the lives of citizens by speeding.

For a complete list, check here.

Margaret Thatcher, England's first woman prime minister, has died

Margaret Thatcher, known as The Iron Lady, for her tough conservative policies implemented during her tenure as Prime Minister of England from 1979 to 1990, has died.

First elected to the House of Parliament in 1959, after years as a tax and patent law barrister, Thatcher's political career as a powerful, extremely conservative Tory leader, led to her election as Prime Minister in 1979. Determined to get Great Britain out of its economic doldrums through her focused steely will (hence the Iron Lady moniker), she used privatization (of Rolls Royce and British Telecom), deregulation, free trade, tax cuts for the rich, and attacks on the unions to push through her policies.

Her popularity was revitalized with the UK's participation in the 1982 Falkland Islands War, as described by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins in their 1983 book, The Battle for the Falklands. This 74-day conflict with Argentina was a successful naval operation.

Thatcher's friendship with President Ronald Reagan was legendary, as they worked together to transform their nations in their shared vision. One of the books she wrote, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, 2002, was dedicated to Reagan.

In her memoir, The Downing Street Years, 1993, Thatcher wrote about her defeat (after three unprecedented terms as Prime Minister) in 1990 to the more moderate conservative beliefs of her successor, John Major.

Baroness Thatcher, who had suffered from dementia for many years, died from a stroke this morning. She was 87.

Cinema Night Special: Discover Fresh Takes on Storytelling Through Animation, Plus Live Music

Friday, May 3 | 6:30-8:30 PM | Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room | Adults

This coming Friday, Cinema Night Special will present two vastly contrasting examples of storytelling through animation. The evening kicks off with a fanciful Oscar-winning short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore -- created in a "hybrid style of animation that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals."

The 80-minute, critically accritically-acclaimed Czech film "Alois Nebel," (Best Animated Film, 2012 European Film Awards) draws from vastly different inspiration —classic film noir. Rendered in mesmerizing black-and-white rotoscope, this darker film traces the haunted memories and mysterious visions of a troubled Czechoslovakian train dispatcher, haunted by events in the Second World War.

Between films, local band Cash Harrison & The Terrible Decisions will perform a live set, and fresh popcorn will be served.

Enjoy this special evening of film and music!

America's Music Film & Discussion: Swing Jazz

Wednesday April 10, 2013: 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

Mark Clague, Associate Professor of Musicology and Director of Research at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, leads this screening and discussion session on Swing Jazz Music focusing on the documentaries: Ken Burns' Jazz: Episode 6: Swing, the Velocity of Celebration and International Sweethearts of Rhythm. This screening is part of AADL's participation in the America's Music film/discussion/concert series.

America's Music has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor.

Extraordinary Tale of Survival

Like all accounts of the Holocaust The Girl in the Green Sweater is disturbing and riveting at the same time. Krystyna Chiger is a young child when her family flees into the sewers to escape the final liquidation of Jews in Lvov, Poland. The Chigers do not spend those 14 months alone in the sewers. They start out as a group of around 20 people who all have connections to one another, but as time passes, there are people who choose to leave the sewers and take their chances above ground and others who die underground. In between these weighty occurrences, Chiger explains some of the everyday tasks that this tiny community had to preform in order to survive. This provides a surprising and disturbing look at what humans can actually live through. Being surrounded by human waste and severely lacking clean water, it is amazing that there were not more fatalities. This story of survival is inspiring, especially when told through the eyes of a child.

The importance of family is emphasized continually throughout the narrative. More than once Chiger describes horrific conditions but goes on to say that she did not mind them because her family was together. It is heart wrenching to think about all of the families that were not so lucky.

If this story interests you, but you are more cinematically inclined, you can check out In Darkness which is the new film depiction of the little community's time in the sewer from the director of Europa, Europa, Agnieszka Holland.

For an overwhelming list of other materials regarding the Holocaust, click here.

A Literary Spring Break

As hard as it is to believe, Spring Break is just around the corner! Not sure where to go or what to do? Let literature be your guide!

Taking a trip to New England? How about stopping at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House in Concord, MA, the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, CT, or the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Gardens at the Springfield Museum in Springfield, MA?

A fan of the yellow brick road and ruby slippers? Check out the Oz Museum in Wamego, KS or the All Things Oz exhibit in Chittenango, NA, both places dedicated to the work of L. Frank Baum.

Looking for something a little more rustic? Three locations in the center of the U.S. pay tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House series: Mansfield, MO; De Smet, SD; and Walnut Grove, MN.

Journeying to the west coast? How about a tour of and a picnic in the gorgeous Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, CA?

Want to go abroad? Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of the Anne of Green Gables series, lived in and set her stories on the charming Prince Edward Island in Canada.

If you already have spring break plans, now’s a good time to start planning for summer vacation!

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