Daily Archives: May 7, 2010

The Belletrista Challenge

A Perpetual Challenge

I have decided to do a personal challenge which is based in my love of literature by female authors AND my desire to read more translated books as well as novels from around the world. There is a fantastic electronic magazine called Belletrista which is the brainchild of one of my friends. This wonderful literary magazine has introduced me to a wide variety of books which you will rarely seen being marketed on the bestsellers lists, although they perhaps SHOULD be.

Belletrista is a not-for-profit, bimonthly web magazine which seeks both to encourage cross-cultural understanding through international literature written by women and to increase the visibility of that literature.

Here is my challenge idea (which is perpetual in nature). I am going to start making a list on this post of the books from each issue which interest me. Since I can see this list quickly spiraling out of control, my goal will be to read at least 75% of the books listed. Feel free to join me in this venture if you wish – although this challenge is completely informal – pick your own list of books, decide how many you want to read – and I am not creating a sign up or links to reviews (but if you are playing along with me, feel free to leave a comment with a link to your blog so others can find you)!

Here are the links to the Belletrista Issues so far and my list of books under each issue that I want to read (with links to the review of them). Books I’ve read are in red with links to my reviews. A few of these books have already made it to my physical TBR pile (indicated by an asterisk):

Issue #1 (September/October 2009):

  • Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna (review) – Sierra Leone
  • Delirium by Laura Restrepo – Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (review) – Columbia

Issue #2 (November/December 2009):

  • For Grace Received by Valeria Parrella – Translated from the Italian by Anthony Shugaar (review) – Italy
  • *The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini (review) – Zimbabwe
  • Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne (review) – Sri Lanka

Issue #3 (January/February 2010):

  • God’s Mercy by Kerstin Ekman – Translated from the Swedish by Linda Schenck (review) – Sweden
  • *The Disappeared by Kim Echlin (review) – Canada and Cambodia
  • *The Seamstress by Frances de Ponte Peebles (review) – Brazil
  • *The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow (review) – United States

Issue #4 (March/April 2010):

  • Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste (review) – Ethiopia
  • *The Vera Wright Trilogy by Elizabeth Jolley (review) – England
  • The Passport by Herta Muller (review) – Romania (COMPLETED November 26, 2009; rated 5/5; read my review)
  • *Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa (review) – Palestine

Issue #5 (May/June 2010):

  • Touch by Adania Shibli – Translated from the Arabic by Paula Haydar – (review) – Palastine

Issue #5 (July/August 2010):

  • *Map of Home by Randa Jarrar (review) – Egypt
  • *The China Garden by Christina Olsen (review) – Australia
  • *Thursday Night Widows by Claudia Pinero – Translated from the Portuguese by Miranda France (review) – Argentina

Giveaway – The Singer’s Gun

The Singer’s Gun by Emily St. John Mandel
ISBN 978-1-936071-64-7
287 pages
Unbridled Books (May 2010)

Thanks to the generosity of Unbridled Books, I have not only a beautiful finished copy of The Singer’s Gun, but also an unread Advanced Reader’s Edition. I have decided to give away my ARC to one lucky winner.


The Singer’s Gun is a literary mystery which I very much enjoyed (read my review).

Read an excerpt.

From the publisher’s website:

Emily St. John Mandel follows up her electric debut with a spellbinding novel of international crime, false identities, the depths and limits of family ties, and the often confusing bonds of love. Taut with suspense, beautifully imagined, full of unexpected corners, desperate choices, betrayals and half truths with deadly consequences, The Singer’s Gun explores the dangerous territory between one’s moral compass and the heart’s desire.


Emily St. John Mandel was born on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, in 1979. She studied dance at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre and lived briefly in Montreal before relocating to New York. She lives in Brooklyn.

Her debut novel Last Night in Montreal was published to great success (read my review). The Singer’s Gun is Mandel’s second published novel. To learn more about Mandel and her work, visit the author’s website.


  1. Because I have committed to being an Angel for Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-A-Thon and will soon be shipping two books internationally, I regret that I need to restrict THIS giveaway to U.S. addresses ONLY.
  2. Contest is open until 5:00 pm PST on May 14, 2010.
  3. To get ONE chance to win my unread ARC of The Singer’s Gun, simply leave me a comment on this post.
  4. To get TEN chances to win, make a donation in ANY AMOUNT to Relay for Life through my sister’s page (all donations go directly to the American Cancer Society to help in the battle against cancer) and then leave me a comment telling me you did it (if you have already made a donation to this event because of my post a week ago, just let me know you did it and you get 10 entries in the giveaway).  To understand why this is so important to me, visit my post about my sister and her recent battle with colon cancer.
  5. I will chose a winner using Random.org on by May 15th and announce it here on my blog; I will also email the winner at that time.


The Singer’s Gun – Book Review

And it struck him instantly as the most obvious, possibly even the most important question you could ever ask anyone – How were you formed? What forged you? – but no one had ever asked him that before, and for a second he found himself flailing in the dark. It was corrupt. It was beautiful. My parents were the best parents anyone could hope for, and also they were dealers in stolen goods. I was in love with my cousin. I was raised by thieves. I was often happy, but I always wanted something different. – from The Singer’s Gun, page 47 –

Anton Waker, raised by thieves and working for his corrupt cousin Aria selling forged passports and Social Security numbers to illegal aliens, one day decides he no longer wants to live an immoral life. He finds himself a legitimate job and decides to marry his squeaky clean girlfriend, Sophie. But when he agrees to one final job on the island of Ischia, events quickly spin out of control.

Emily St. John Mandel’s second novel begins at the end with State Department investigator Alexandra Broden investigating Anton Waker’s disappearance. The facts are blurry, the characters unformed – the reader feels as confused as Broden. From here, Mandel tells her story in a mostly non-linear style – moving back and forth from past to present to uncover the complicated layers of Anton’s life, and finally bringing into focus the mystery of what happens on the island of Ischia.

At its core, The Singer’s Gun is a mystery, but through the skill of the author, it also becomes a meditation on how the choices we make can define our lives. Mandel’s exploration of the illegal immigration problem through the eyes of the mostly sympathetic character of Anton reveals not only the very human side to the issue, but also the gritty criminal element which preys on those who are most desperate. At first Anton does not see the negative side to his criminal activity.

The business was a success from the first month and Anton loved his job for years. There was no career he could possibly  have been better suited to, he thought at first, than the sale of fraudulent Social Security cards to illegal aliens in the city of New York. – from The Singer’s Gun, page 86 –

But later, as he becomes more uncomfortable with his narcissistic cousin Aria and her shady contacts, Anton’s conscience begins to bother him. He begins to examine his life and his moral upbringing, and despite his ongoing affair with a young Canadian girl named Elena, Anton longs for a normal corporate life with a wife and possibly children.

Sophie and the new job together formed the foundation of his new life; between the straight clean lines of a Midtown tower he rose through the ranks, from junior researcher to senior researcher to VP of a research division. His dedication to the company was mentioned in his performance reviews. He directed his team and came home every night to a woman he loved in an apartment filled with music in his favorite neighborhood, until it all came apart at once and he found himself in Dead File Storage Four lying naked on the floor next to his former secretary in the summer heat. – from The Singer’s Gun, page 109 –

Mandel’s writing has both an elegance and a simplicity to it. Her prose is understated yet absorbing. She builds her characters slowly. They are all flawed human beings and none of them are all good or all bad. In short, they are believable and complex – and the reader finds herself deeply immersed in their lives.

The Singer’s Gun explores the idea of identity – Who are we? How are we formed? How do we separate ourselves from our biological bonds and stay true to those we love? Through the character of Anton, the reader sees how one seemingly simple decision can have repercussions which will impact the rest of one’s life.

If there is a flaw in the book it is perhaps with the character of Broden – a woman who neglects her husband and daughter to pursue the truth, and yet at the end seems to lose steam in the pursuit of her prey. I felt Broden could have been more deeply constructed as a character. She seems to play a central role in the book at the beginning, but then becomes almost a minor character at the end.

Despite this minor criticism, The Singer’s Gun is a haunting novel about love, loss, and betrayal which kept my interest from beginning to end.

Recommended for those readers who enjoy literary fiction and mysteries.

Other reviews:

Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a comment with a link to your review and I will add it here.

Want to win a copy of this book? Visit this post for details (giveaway ends May 14th at 5:00 pm PST)

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me from the publisher for review.

Last Call…

… to get on board the Mother’s Day Contest sponsored by Jennie Nash. So far I have had ZERO entries!!! So if you enter, your chances are very good to win at least a signed copy of The Threadbare Heart. Go to THIS POST for all the details…but hurry, contest ends Saturday, May 8th at 3:00 pm PST.