Monday, May 02, 2011

We Promise...

That this will be an astounding evening! Elizabeth Hay is back in Waterloo next week to promote her latest novel, Alone in the Classroom. Joining her is Antanas Sileika, author of Underground. David has read both novels and loved them.

Elizabeth Hay ~ Alone in the Classroom
For a crime guy like me, just about the only thing that could make an Elizabeth Hay novel better would be a murder at the centre of it. In Alone in the Classroom, Hay has gamely provided one.
The novel hinges on the relationship between Connie, a prairie school teacher, the oddly fascinating and malevolent principal Parley Burns and a student struggling with what we'd now call dyslexia, Michael Graves. Without giving too much away, a single act of violence has reprocussions through generations and provinces, as the story shifts between the Ottawa Valley and Saskatchewan. Elizabeth Hay is at the top of her game with Alone in the Classroom.
This is deftly plotted stuff, the principal characters are fully fleshed out and illustrate how we become the adults we become, and how events seldom stay frozen in their time. Elizabeth Hay has abundant gifts and she's simply one of the best writers of prose at work in the country today.

Antanas Sileika ~ Underground
Antanas Sileika is a writer I knew first as an erudite and insightful literary critic. He was unafraid to call out a lazy interpretation and his reviews were full of fine turns of phrase.
Then I read Women in Bronze a couple years ago. It was a story of an Eastern European folk artist who longed to go to Paris and become a a 'real' artist between the wars. It stuck with me, simply because he wrote great sentences and I'm a sucker for anything set in Eastern Europe.
Now the third book in a loose trilogy (Buying on Time opens things up) Underground has arrived and is getting good reviews across the country.
The story of the Lithuanian resistance to the Red Army as seen through Lukas and Elena, lovers and fellow resistance fighters in the mid to late 1940's. Lukas is a scholar tapped to translate the BBC news reports for his Partisan fighters and fashion propoganda from them. His academic leanings soon give way to the revelation that he's a crack shot. His marksmanship makes him a hero, but after a time, the Russians find him and Elena. Believing her to be killed, Lukas flees the country and ends up in Paris, writing and speaking on behalf of his comrades. He is then called back to Lithuania, and the denoument is at hand. In some ways there are similarities to Joseph Boyden, but there's a subtlety in Sileika's prose that recalls Alan Furst, the noted spy novelist. Literary to be sure, but with a shotgun blast of a plot; Underground is a great piece of writing that illuminates a war that many in the West never knew existed. My kind of stuff.

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