Francine Prose’s novel, “My New American Life,” is framed as a new take on the immigrant story in America. But it winds up reinforcing some old clichés, writes Irina Reyn.
In his appreciation of the film “The Wizard of Oz,” Salman Rushdie wrote, “The real secret of the ruby slippers is not that ‘there’s no place like home,’ but rather that there is no longer such a place as home: except, of course, for the home we make, or the homes that are made for us, in Oz: which is anywhere, and everywhere, except the place from which we began.”
‘No one likes a deserter, an escapee, because it proves the fact that there is always a choice. So often, it is easier to believe that life is a trap.” So asserts the wily and knowing narrator of Adam Thirlwell’s at once brilliant and deeply frustrating new novel, “The Escape.” But is escape even possible? Is it desirable? The book’s brilliance stems from the struggles and contradictions these questions prompt, while its shortcomings test our ability to spend this many pages with a protagonist whose importance is repeatedly argued for but never entirely proved.
How does a lover of great literature survive in an era in which writers are persecuted and manuscripts are burned? And what if that same person were forced to destroy the manuscripts of the great writers he venerates? This is the dilemma faced by Pavel Dubrov in Travis Holland’s lyrical first novel, “The Archivist’s Story,” which takes place in the Soviet Union during the late 1930s. It is a time of denunciations and purges, when the infamous Moscow prison, Lubyanka, welcomes a steady stream of innocent prisoners transported by black NKVD vans in the middle of the night.
‘I think our ghosts are everywhere, all the time,” a young Polish man tells a visiting American Jew in Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum’s deeply heartfelt first novel. “The past does not leave us. And we do not leave the past.” “A Day of Small Beginnings” loosely revisits the story of Exodus through the lives of three generations of Polish Americans, and tells of the ghost who longs to reunite them with their Jewish identities. But the novel’s destination is less a concrete place than an internal state — a spiritual spark, lodged within us, that can be ignited by returning to and confronting a very unfinished past.
Blue Nude By Elizabeth Rosner Ballantine Books, 224 pages, $22.95. * * *|‘In retrospect, I can see that I spent much of my childhood waiting for the war,” Eva Hoffman wrote in “After Such Knowledge: Where Memory of the Holocaust Ends and History Begins” (PublicAffairs, 2004), her renowned investigation of the trauma of