Meaning of YEAR IN REVIEW 1996: LITERATURE: ENGLISH in English

ENGLISH: Canada. A number of important novels were published in Canada in 1995. The theme of Abraham Boyarsky's A Gift of Rags was that the short, terrible history of the Holocaust could never be forgotten by those who survived it or by their children. Dennis E. Bolen focused on the Holocaust from an opposite angle in Stand in Hell, the story of a teacher with his own sins to contend with who searches for the truth about his grandfather's complicity in Nazi war crimes. Audrey Thomas used the lost wax art of Ghana as a central metaphor for the influence of the past on the future in Coming Down from Wa, and in The Piano Man's Daughter Timothy Findley, through a meticulous rendering of a madwoman's life, analyzed the play of fate in the lives of four generations. Hugh Hood used two linked novellas in Dead Men's Watches to observe how the forces of love, at war and in play, could influence the course of people's lives. Mother Love by L.R. Wright chronicled a woman's journey from madness back into the ongoing histories of her husband and daughter, while Evelyn Lau's Other Women portrayed a woman defying both past and future with the reckless power of naive passion. Joy Kogawa's The Rain Ascends recounted how a woman's world turns upside down with her discovery that her father has a history of abusing small boys. Poet Nicole Markotic took on history as biography in Yellow Pages, a novel based on the life of Alexander Graham Bell, whereas history as fiction infused The Macken Charm, Jack Hodgins' tale of an infamous family on Vancouver Island. Collections of short Canadian fiction in 1995 presented history as mosaic, in fragments, as in Sleeping with the Insane by Jennifer Mitton, which offered a gallery of madness that ranged from the mildly, even humorously, deranged to the chilling. Steven Heighton's prose in On Earth as It Is leaped from mind to place to memory, in and out of time, in a dizzy spiral of lies and myths retold from generation to generation. The stories in Olive Senior's Discerner of Hearts, set in Jamaica, were also spun around a thread of madness and the infections of the sun. Priscilla Galloway's gallows wit twisted familiar fairy tales in wickedly new ways in her Truly Grim Tales. Poetry proliferated in Canada in 1995. Margaret Atwood's 11th collection, Morning in the Burned House, treated disaster and triumph with her usual mordant wit, while in his gentler, yet acerbic fashion Ray Souster proclaimed No Sad Songs Wanted Here. George Amabile was prepared for everything and nothing in Rumours of Paradise, Rumours of War; Gary Geddes used a modern image to express ancient conundrums in The Perfect Cold Warrior; and Elizabeth Brewster, in Footnotes to the Book of Job, annotated sorrow in the language of survival. Liliane Welch's Dream Museum exhibited the shards of a lifetime in strange, stark patterns. Poetry in 1995 seemed to be a craft for many different journeys. Lesley Choyce's The Coastline of Forgetting was a journal of hiking through Nova Scotia, while Robin Skelton took a hike through The Edge of Time and relativity, and the relativity of the dead to the living fueled Zo Landale's Burning Stone. Rhea Tregebov surveyed the universe with a steely eye in Mapping the Chaos. Judith Fitzgerald managed to go with the flow in River, while in the end Lorna Crozier found that Everything Arrives at the Light. Selected works were a milestone of their own. Robert Bringhurst brought out The Calling: Selected Poems 1970-1995; Paulette Jiles offered Flying Lessons: Selected Poems; and Mary di Michele winnowed 20 years of work for Stranger in You: Selected Poems. The 1995 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction went to Greg Hollingshead for his story collection The Roaring Girl. The U.S.-born Canadian writer Carol Shields (see BIOGRAPHIES), who had won the 1993 Governor General's Literary Award for Stone Diaries, won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for the same book. Robertson Davies (see OBITUARIES), prolific novelist and playwright and one of Canada's best-known literary figures, died during the year. (ELIZABETH WOODS) ENGLISH: Other Literature in English. Writers from Australasia and Africa made particularly important contributions in English in almost every genre in 1995. In Australia the renowned novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter Thomas Keneally (Schindler's List) published A River Town, a novel based on events in the life of his grandfather in which the protagonist's compassion triumphs over prejudice. Patricia Shaw published an engaging romance-adventure, Cry of the Rain Bird, set in 19th-century Australia. The unusual settings of Tasmanian hop farms and of Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s served as the backdrop for Christopher Koch's latest war correspondent story, Highways to a War. The young and highly acclaimed writer Tim Winton (see BIOGRAPHIES) brought out his 11th book of fiction, The Riders, shortlisted for the 1995 Booker Prize, which portrayed--mostly unsympathetically--the Australian male through a series of folkloric stereotypes. Also highlighting the year in Australian fiction was Alex Miller's novel The Sitters and Peter Carey's Collected Stories, which included three works not previously published in book form. Noteworthy in poetry was the publication of verse anthologies by three of Australia's internationally recognized poets: Chris Wallace-Crabbe's Selected Poems 1956-1994, Kevin Hart's New and Selected Poems, and David Malouf's Selected Poems 1959-1989. In nonfiction, The First Stone by the feminist writer Helen Garner provided a balanced reflection on a controversial 1992 Melbourne harassment case. A furor erupted in Australia over the revelation that Helen Demidenko, purportedly the author of The Hand That Signed the Paper, was not Ukrainian as she had claimed but actually Helen Darville, the daughter of British immigrants. Winner of the prestigious Miles Franklin Award in 1995, the book falsely claimed to be based on the experiences of the author's family during World War II. Another social issue, that of land development and the suffering of native peoples at the hands of imperialist oppressors, was the subject of the novel Potiki by New Zealand's Patricia Grace. The author presented the story through skillful characterization and elegant prose. Works of outstanding quality and great diversity also characterized literature from Africa in 1995. Nobel laureates Wole Soyinka of Nigeria and Nadine Gordimer of South Africa, for example, each had new releases. Soyinka, a political exile, added to his string of plays The Beatification of Area Boy, published to coincide with its world premiere in October at the West Yorkshire (England) Playhouse. In Writing and Being, drawn from lectures she had delivered at Harvard University, Gordimer mused on the connection between life and literature and offered reflections on writers from South Africa and elsewhere. V.Y. Mudimbe of Zaire examined culture, politics, and history in The Idea of Africa, his sequel to The Invention of Africa (1988). Important fiction from Africa included Astonishing the Gods and Adjusted Lives by the Nigerians Ben Okri and Odun Balogun, respectively, as well as two new works by South Africans: Mike Nicol's Horseman and Lindsey Collen's controversial novel The Rape of Sita, winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for best fiction in Africa. There was an international outcry when the Nigerian military government executed writer Ken Saro-Wiwa (see OBITUARIES) in November. (DAVID D. CLARK) ENGLISH: United States. Despite a marketplace in turbulent transition, with more and more publishers' advances rising in amount and going to fewer and fewer writers and with large chain stores squeezing out venerable independent bookshops around the nation and these same chains seeming to narrow the range and depth of books available on their shelves, the quality of fiction in the U.S. in 1995 never seemed higher. Looking back on the year's production of novels and stories, one might even detect a shifting of ground, with the writers of the old guard falling back a bit to give way to the vital work of a newer generation. Among older established American novelists, the prolific Philip Roth produced a powerful book in 1995. After having published his prizewinning novel Operation Shylock only two years earlier, Roth brought out Sabbath's Theater, as raw and raucous a piece of work as anything in his already prodigious canon. The protagonist of the book was an aging New Jersey-born Jewish puppeteer named Mickey Sabbath who suffered from arthritis in his hands, a nearly constant attack of priapic fever, and a deep self-loathing and an abiding desire to end his life. In scenes ferociously offensive in a sexual way and in soliloquies dark with suicidal menace, Sabbath bullies through the aftermath of a lover's death and, like a drowning man, makes an accounting to himself of his failed life as lover, husband, artist, and son. Roth turned his portrait of the puppeteer as an old rou into a triumph on the side of life--an accomplishment the reader had to applaud and admire. The posthumously published Mrs. Ted Bliss, another novel on Jewish motifs, by Stanley Elkin (see OBITUARIES) seemed gentle--almost genteel--by comparison. In a serene sequel to his superb novel The Sportswriter, Richard Ford brought back narrator Frank Bascombe in Independence Day to tell of the next part of his life. A crafty fusion of subtlety and rampant emotion, Ford's new book showed off the increasing powers of one of the country's best fiction writers. For other American writers of reputation, the news was not as good in 1995. Anne Tyler in Ladder of Years gave readers lacklustre work on the familiar motif of a middle-aged woman groping toward some sort of self-discovery. In Rule of the Bone, Russell Banks attempted to produce a modern-day Huckleberry Finn but, despite a promising first half, fell far short of his goal. In The Tortilla Curtain, T. Coraghessan Boyle seemed to yearn toward making a contemporary version of The Grapes of Wrath; his work was a bold but flawed novel about the clash of new immigrants and the southern Californian middle class. Among commercial writers with household names, Pat Conroy showed up once again on the best-seller lists with his gabby, flabby beach-reading production called, appropriately enough, Beach Music. Michael Crichton offered The Lost World, a sequel to his best-seller Jurassic Park, with much greater success. Several powerful new works emerged out of the ranks of younger American novelists in 1995. In All Souls' Rising, Madison Smartt Bell went back to the events of the Haitian revolution (1791-1804) to create a historical novel of great force and erudition, a book that immediately pushed him into recognition as one of the most serious and accomplished American writers under the age of 40. Turning to the history of her native Puerto Rico for the material of her latest novel, Rosario Ferr in The House on the Lagoon made an evocative and sensuous portrait of the island commonwealth with all of the flavour of magical realism and none of the rhetorical excesses. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon appeared to wonderful critical notices and more than fulfilled the promise of the writer's debut novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Maria Flook, a New England fiction writer and poet, came out with Open Water, her second novel, an impressive treatment of the underclass of the Rhode Island coastline. Chris Bohjalian issued Water Witches, another novel with a regional locus--the setting was Vermont--that won fine national notices. Hollywood was the setting for Christopher Bram's biographical novel, called Father of Frankenstein, on the life of horror movie director James Whale. Susanna Moore's In the Cut was a flashy, finely sculptured version of an erotic thriller. Craig Lesley's The Sky Fisherman turned some distinctive twists on the western coming-of-age novel set against the Oregon forests. Among short-story collections, Skinned Alive, Edmund White's subtle tales of homosexual life in Europe and the United States, stood out as beautifully polished work. Octogenarian Harriet Doerr's collection of fiction and memoir, The Tiger in the Grass, glowed with the incandescence of masterfully measured prose. Lucy Jane Bledsoe demonstrated her powers in a debut volume of stories titled Sweat, on female erotic themes. Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat won a nomination for a National Book Award with her fresh tales of Caribbean life titled Krik? Krak! A first collection by New Jersey writer Rick Moody, The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven, showed off a gifted new talent in the short-story form. Adrienne Rich's latest collection, Dark Fields of the Republic, displayed her seemingly ever-increasing gift for the short poem. Her collection also included a number of powerful narrative sequences and once again alerted critics and fellow poets to the richness of her mature work. A Scattering of Salts by James Merrill (see OBITUARIES) appeared posthumously, signaling the end of the work of one of the U.S.'s elder statesmen of poetry. From others of his generation there were New & Selected Poems by Donald Justice, Collected Poems, 1945-1990 by Barbara Howes, and Passing Through, new and selected poems by Stanley Kunitz. Odd Mercy, a new collection of poetry by Gerald Stern, appeared during the year, as did Deborah Digges's Rough Music, William Matthews's Time & Money, and Charles Wright's Chickamauga. Mark Doty brought out Atlantis, Lynda Hull The Only World, Billy Collins The Art of Drowning, and Gary Soto New and Selected Poems. In his new collection The Hunger Wall, James Ragan showed off musicality tied to social themes. In the realm of biography, autobiography, and memoir, 1995 was a year of the master. Norman Mailer published two books, one a massive study of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald--Oswald's Tale--half of it based on exclusive access gained by Mailer to the files of the KGB on Oswald. The other book of Mailer's was his work on one of the 20th-century's greatest painters, Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man. Palimpsest, the memoir Gore Vidal promised that he would never write, was published in 1995. Vidal took the title from the word for a writing material that has been reused, a revision, or, as he put it in his own words, "a second seeing, an afterthought, erasing some but not all of the original while writing something new over the first layer of text." As gossip Palimpsest was titillating; as a portrait of the writer's mind sifting through the shards of memory, it was fascinating. The Diaries of Dawn Powell, 1931-1965, edited by Tim Page, was a more conventional, if just as caustic, record of one 20th-century writer's days and nights on the town. Alfred Kazin's Writing Was Everything offered an intimate portrait of one of the century's best literary critics. In All Rivers Run to the Sea, the English version of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel's 1994 memoir published in French, presented a traditional memoir of his life as a Jew, a refugee, and a writer on historical and sublime themes. Poet and fiction writer Al Young gathered his three volumes of "musical memoirs" under the omnibus title of Drowning in the Sea of Love and added additional essays. Novelist Victor Perera successfully traced his Sephardic roots from medieval times onward in The Cross and the Pear Tree. Poet Li-Young Lee brought out a memoir titled The Winged Seed, and Garrett Hongo returned to his Hawaiian roots in Volcano. In The Liars' Club, Mary Karr wrote beautifully about the pain of her early life with her Texas family. Scott Russell Sanders celebrated family life in many of the superb essays in Writing from the Center. Among literary biographies Lyle Leverich's Tom turned the spotlight on Tennessee Williams in a book whose publication had been held up for years because of legal battles between the biographer and the Williams estate. Robert D. Richardson, Jr., published Emerson: The Mind on Fire, a biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson, to much critical acclaim. Poet Robert Polito demonstrated how much could be made of a minor literary figure in Savage Art, a biography of genre writer Jim Thompson. Frederick R. Karl focused on a major British writer in George Eliot, Voice of a Century. Two American painters received lavish attention in books during the year. In Edward Hopper art critic Gail Levin produced a 700-page study of the life and work of a subject she had been working on for years. She employed previously unpublished material from diaries kept by Hopper's wife of 43 years. John Loughery's John Sloan: Painter and Rebel, on the Armory Show artist, also was published in 1995. In literary criticism and belles lettres, several poets had books that stood out in 1995, among them David Lehman's The Big Question, a collection of intelligent and interesting reviews; Pulitzer Prize-winner Mary Oliver's Blue Pastures, essays on poets, poetry, and the natural world; and Donald Hall's Principal Products of Portugal. Two book-length essays on the question of evil appeared to copious notices: Elaine Pagels' The Origin of Satan (see BIOGRAPHIES) and Andrew Delbanco's The Death of Satan. Jack Miles offered his highly praised God: A Biography. Greil Marcus, one of the most perceptive (and idiosyncratic) critics of American culture, gathered his reviews and occasional essays on music, literature, and life under the title The Dustbin of History. Joe David Bellamy, formerly the program consultant of the literature program at the National Endowment for the Humanities, wrote with vigour about contemporary fiction in Literary Luxuries: American Writing at the End of the Millennium. Novelist and poet Kelly Cherry published her essays and reviews in Writing the World. Simon Schama embraced grand themes in Landscape and Memory. Inveterate traveler-novelist Paul Theroux entertained his public with The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean. The novelist and nature writer Rick Bass narrated a trek into the Colorado wilderness in The Lost Grizzlies. In Desert Quartet the nature writer Terry Tempest Williams took the reader on an erotic journey across the sensuous Utah landscape. The 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to Carol Shields (see BIOGRAPHIES), a writer of dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship, for her novel The Stone Diaries. The book also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction was given to Puget Sound writer David Guterson for his first book-length work of fiction, Snow Falling on Cedars. Robert Pinsky won the Los Angeles Times prize for poetry for his translation of Dante's Inferno. The winner of the National Book Award in poetry was Kunitz for his Passing Through. In fiction the award went to Roth for Sabbath's Theater. Historian David McCullough, whose biography of U.S. Pres. Harry S. Truman won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize, received the National Book Foundation's medal for distinguished contributions to American letters. Poet Kenneth Koch won the Bollingen Prize for his 1994 collection One Train and his lifetime achievements. Science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler received a MacArthur Foundation Award in 1995. Robert Hass, whose works include Field Guide, was named U.S. poet laureate by the Library of Congress. (ALAN CHEUSE) FRENCH The year was particularly rich in the realm of fiction. The two grandes dames of French literature, Nathalie Sarraute and Marguerite Duras, each published a book in 1995 that perfectly encapsulated her art and unique talent. In Ici, Sarraute continued her work on "tropisms," first begun in 1939. The short pieces that made up her latest book, however, should be--must be--read slowly, like poems, and, as in Enfance or Tu ne t'aimes pas, she further revealed a hidden side of her personality. In C'est tout, a book born of illness, Duras entranced the reader with simple and pure words that conveyed her vision of loving passion and the force of writing. It was a remarkable book, undoubtedly the last Duras would write and one that would make some laugh and others weep. Also in the area of fiction, in C'tait toute une vie, Franois Bon succeeded in capturing the expression of misery without becoming maudlin or clichd. The writing studios in the south of France were brought to life through his portrayal of a small village devastated by unemployment. Through these studios literature seemed to become a refuge. In Hier, Agota Kristof also explored a universe of implacable hardness and continued to examine a theme dear to her: exile. Childhood and mother and father figures appeared in numerous novels. In Hctor Bianciotti's beautiful autobiographical work, Le Pas si lent de l'amour, unanimously hailed by the critics, the character of the mother occupied a central place. The same was true for L'Ingratitude by Ying Chen, which strongly and humorously denounced maternal love. In La Folle allure, Christian Bobin told the story of a little girl born in a circus who spends her time running away, to the great despair of her mother. In Russe blanc, Jean-Pierre Milovanoff subtly portrayed his Russian-born father. In La Puissance des mouches, Lydie Salvayre showed a man on the brink of madness who wants nothing more than to murder his own father. Finally, La Maladie de la chair, by the poet Bernard Nol, was a splendidly written work in the form of a long letter addressed to his father. In philosophical essays, Petit Trait des grandes vertus by Andr Comte-Sponville was remarkable more for its unforeseen success than for the relevance of its thesis. In Journal by Jean Baudrillard, the philosopher continued to examine the world--and its fixed destiny--with his customary irony. Finally, in Ce que l'homme fait l'homme, Myriam Revault d'Allonnes, who was very much influenced by the work of Hannah Arendt, questioned the power of evil in politics. Biographies included a work by Pierre Daix on the historian Fernand Braudel, who had died 10 years earlier. Daix clearly illuminated the adventurous thought and originality of the author of La Mditerrane, who believed that "history always repeats itself." Also noteworthy was Descartes, an important work by Genevive Rodis-Lewis on the philosopher whose 400th birthday would be observed in 1996. The magnificent work Dante by Jacqueline Risset should also be noted, in which all the modernity of the author of The Divine Comedy was shown. In addition, notice should be given to Josyane Savigneau's passionate book on Carson McCullers. The year was filled with surprises for those concerned with literary prizes. In an unprecedented move, Andre Makine received both the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Mdicis ex quo for his Le Testament Franais, in which he portrayed the picturesque life of a French-Russian family through several generations. Lacking great originality in both form and style, the book nevertheless pleased a large number of readers. Vassilis Alexakis received the Prix Mdicis ex quo for La Langue maternelle, an overtly autobiographical story. The judges thus honoured two writers born outside of France who chose to write in French. Finally, the Prix Fmina went to Emmanuel Carrre for La Classe de neige, a story of suspense and terror set among children. The book was published by a small, high-quality press, P.O.L., and not by one of the three big publishers (Gallimard, B. Grasset, Seuil) that usually shared the literary prizes. P.O.L. also published Lambeaux, an emotional work by Charles Juliet about his adoptive mother, as well as Quel ange n'est terrible?, a highly successful book on incest by Marc Le Bot. Incest was also the theme of the latest book by Claude Louis-Combet, Blesse, ronce noire. Once again his prose, much unappreciated, was dazzling in its magnificently engaging fiction, poetry, and mysticism. (FRANOIS POIRI)

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