Tag Archives: immigrants

The Adventures of Vaclav the Magnificent & His Lovely Assistant Lena by Haley Tanner

DATE FINISHED: May 12th, 2012

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Both children of Russian immigrants to Brooklyn, Vaclav and Lena have been inseparable since the first day they met and saw the magic act at a Coney Island sideshow. Vaclav becomes magician-in-training (with his lovely assistant Lena), and nobody questions why Lena barely eats and spends all of her time at Vaclav’s house or why he should do her homework. One night, Lena disappears from 10 year old Vaclav’s life with no explanation, leaving a gaping wound where VacLena has been separated. It is only when Lena re-finds Vaclav on her 17th birthday that the missing pieces are slotted back together…

THOUGHTS:  The third person, present tense narrative reflects Vaclav and Lena’s growing grasp of the English language, which did initially grate on me, but became less grating as they grew older. Read more of this post

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Rhumba by Elaine Proctor

DATE FINISHED: May 10th, 2012

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Ten year old Flambeau has been smuggled out of the Congo to live with his mother’s family in London. His mother, Bijou, is to follow – so he waits. Bijou never arrives… Flambeau meets the sapeur, Knight, through his beautiful neighbour Eleanor; and is convinced that Knight will be able to help him find his missing mother. However, helping Flambeau may be more than Knight’s carefully constructed life can bear…

THOUGHTS:  From the beginning, Proctor builds her story with imagery that is simple and direct, and introduces her fragile characters, who – trapped behind their defences – are all yearning for different kinds of love and acceptance. Read more of this post

Small Island by Andrea Levy

DATE FINISHED: April 6th, 2012

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Hortense and Gilbert are a mismatched couple who each have their own reasons for agreeing to marry in haste so that they might leave their small island of Jamaica behind and settle in ‘the mother country’ (another small island). Queenie is their landlady, who met Gilbert during the war, and is one of the few people in London willing to take in ‘coloured’ lodgers (much to the chagrin of her neighbours). Queenie’s own husband is missing, but that seems to be the least of her concerns…

THOUGHTS:   This is the story of four people who have little in common – except perhaps high hopes and disappointment. Read more of this post

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

DATE FINISHED: September 11th, 2011

RATED: ***

SYNOPSIS:  Kimberley Chang and her mother have high hopes for their new life in America, despite barely speaking a word of English between them.  However, it soon becomes clear that the aunt who paid for their passage has no qualms about leaving them to live in a slum rental property without heating, and having them work long factory hours for pitiful remuneration.  Will they still find a way to live the American Dream?

THOUGHTS:  The narrative is quiet and understated; an easy read.  But Kimberley and her mother face their challenges so stoically, it is hard to see them as challenges.   Read more of this post

Savage Lands by Clare Clark

DATE FINISHED: September 7th, 2011

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Sold by her father in Paris to become a wife in the ‘prosperous’ new colony of Louisiana, Elisabeth Savaret finds her expectations confounded at every turn – especially when she falls violently in love with the man she marries, the charming but untrustworthy Babelon.  Having been left as an observer of the local Ouma ‘savages’ throughout his teenage years, Auguste Guichard is befriended by Babelon, a move which shapes the lives of the three protagonists from that moment forth.

THOUGHTS:  Although there are one or two moments when Clark’s narrative makes brief and unaccountable leaps, for the most part this is a well-written novel, with strong, considered language accompanying strong, considered characters.   Read more of this post