Category Archives: 2012

Fall 2012

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

“A brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround the painful episode in that country’s history. De Rosnay’s U.S. debut fictionalizes the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Velodrome d’Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz. Forty-five-year-old Julia Jarmond, American by birth, moved to Paris when she was 20 and is married to the arrogant, unfaithful Bertrand Tezac, with whom she has an 11-year-old daughter. Julia writes for an American magazine and her editor assigns her to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundups. Julia soon learns that the apartment she and Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand’s family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers — especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive — the more she uncovers about Bertrand’s family, about France and, finally, herself.”

Tisch Library Call Number: PR9105.9.R66 S27 2010
Location: Tisch Tower Café



The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes

“In Barnes’s (Flaubert’s Parrot) latest, winner of the 2011 Man-Booker Prize, protagonist Tony Webster has lived an average life with an unremarkable career, a quiet divorce, and a calm middle age. Now in his mid-60s, his retirement is thrown into confusion when he’s bequeathed a journal that belonged to his brilliant school-friend, Adrian, who committed suicide 40 years earlier at age 22. Though he thought he understood the events of his youth, he’s forced to radically revise what he thought he knew about Adrian, his bitter parting with his mysterious first lover Veronica, and reflect on how he let life pass him by safely and predictably. Barnes’s spare and luminous prose splendidly evokes the sense of a life whose meaning (or meaninglessness) is inevitably defined by ‘the sense of an ending’ which only death provides. Despite its focus on the blindness of youth and the passage of time, Barnes’s book is entirely unpretentious. From the haunting images of its first pages to the surprising and wrenching finale, the novel carries readers with sensitivity and wisdom through the agony of lost time.”

Tisch Library Call Number: PR6052.A6657 S46 2011
Location: Tisch Book Stacks



 Life of Pi by Yann Martel

“The peripatetic Pi (ne the much-taunted Piscine) Patel spends a beguiling boyhood in Pondicherry, India, as the son of a zookeeper. Growing up beside the wild beasts, Pi gathers an encyclopedic knowledge of the animal world. His curious mind also makes the leap from his native Hinduism to Christianity and Islam, all three of which he practices with joyous abandon. In his 16th year, Pi sets sail with his family and some of their menagerie to start a new life in Canada. Halfway to Midway Island, the ship sinks into the Pacific, leaving Pi stranded on a life raft with a hyena, an orangutan, an injured zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. After the beast dispatches the others, Pi is left to survive for 227 days with his large feline companion on the 26-foot-long raft, using all his knowledge, wits and faith to keep himself alive. The scenes flow together effortlessly, and the sharp observations of the young narrator keep the tale brisk and engaging.”

Tisch Library Call Number: PR9199.3.M3855 L54 2001
Location: Tisch Book Stacks



Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

“Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2009. England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages. From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, molding itself with great passion and suffering and courage.”

Tisch Library Call Number: PR6063.A438 W65 2009
Location: Tisch Book Stacks



Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

“The sequel to Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, Wolf Hall delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne Boleyn

Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.

At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy.”

Tisch Library Call Number: PR6063.A438 B75 2012
Location: Tisch Book Stacks



Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

“Sloan envisions a San Francisco where piracy and paper are equally useful, and massive data-visualization — processing abilities coexist with so-called ‘old knowledge.’ Really old: as in one of the first typefaces, as in alchemy and the search for immortality. Google has replaced the Medici family as the major patron of art and knowledge, and Clay Jannon, downsized graphic designer and once-and-future nerd now working the night shift for bookstore owner Mr. Penumbra, finds that mysteries and codes are everywhere, not just in the fantasy books and games he loved as a kid. With help from his friends, Clay learns the bookstore’s idiosyncrasies, earns his employer’s trust, and uses media new, old, and old-old to crack a variety of codes. Like all questing heroes, Clay takes on more than he bargained for and learns more than he expected, not least about himself. His story is an old-fashioned tale re-conceived for the digital age, with the happy message that ingenuity and friendship translate across centuries and data platforms.”

Tisch Library Call Number: PS3619.L6278 M77 2012
Location: Tisch Tower Café



Spring 2012

Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff

Reviewed by James Barasch, from The Tufts Daily‘s Barasch on Books

This week, I read Stacy Schiff’s new historical biography of “Cleopatra: A Life,” centered on the most famed Egyptian queen and identifiable woman of classical antiquity. She has been a topic of innumerable movies, plays, histories, and even advertising campaigns. Yet, from a historian’s perspective, all this attention may be rather perplexing, as very little contemporary information about her has survived to the modern day, and much of what does survive is unflattering.

It is a common saying that victors write the histories, and this is especially true for Cleopatra. Following her defeat at the Battle of Actium by Octavian Caesar — the future Augustus — and her suicide in 30 B.C. between the ages of 38 and 39 , Cleopatra’s reputation was systematically sullied by subsequent Roman-era chroniclers such as Plutarch and Cassius Dio, who present her not as the powerful, capable and cultured leader of an ancient kingdom — a woman in such power was, at least by Roman standards, unheard of — but as more of an irresistible femme fatale. This vision of Cleopatra depicts a woman whose seductive charms were so great that, while still in her early 20s, captured the affections of both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, two of the most ambitious and powerful men of the time.

Schiff’s biography attempts to strip away the negative accumulations of history and reconstruct Cleopatra as she would have appeared in life. The author achieves this goal with astounding success, presenting Cleopatra Ptolemy as clear-eyed and competent — a Macedonian queen of the richest kingdom in the Mediterranean.

Cleopatra’s personality sparkles with education, charisma and vitality, and all are put to use as she attempts to carve a place for herself and her kingdom in an increasingly Roman-centric world. Cleopatra was also a survivor; she did not hesitate to kill, poison or usurp anyone — including her brothers and sister — who posed a threat to her rule. Schiff’s interpretation allows the reader to see how successful, powerful and experienced men as Julius Caesar and Antony could have fallen for this nubile young queen — whom all remaining ancient sources describe as striking, but not beautiful — and fathered all four of her children.

However, though a worthy biographical reconstruction, the historian may find Schiff’s book to be overwhelmingly peppered interpretations, commentary and vague statements. To Schiff’s credit, she does primarily rely on contemporary ancient sources. Her extensive bibliography and notes at the back of the book show Schiff to be a thorough and conscientious researcher. But, in her attempt to reach as broad an audience as possible with her fascinating story, Schiff had to provide many of her own insights.

Schiff does an admirable job in resurrecting Cleopatra and her world, and I’d recommend this book to anyone — and especially to those interested in history, classics or women’s studies — simply for the enthralling writing, intriguing arguments and fascinating reconstruction of one of the most powerful women of the ancient world. For a 300-plus page history book, it is a relatively fast read that will keep you interested from start to finish.

No matter your grounding in classical history, Schiff’s book appeals scholars and casual readers alike, and will familiarize you with a most exciting era in history and introduce you to the charming, cunning and capable woman at the center of it.

Tisch Library Call Number: DT92.7 .S35 2010
Location: Tisch Book Stacks

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

“From bestselling author Walter Isaacson comes the landmark biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. In Steve Jobs: A Biography, Isaacson provides an extraordinary account of Jobs’ professional and personal life. Drawn from three years of exclusive and unprecedented interviews Isaacson has conducted with Jobs as well as extensive interviews with Jobs’ family members, key colleagues from Apple and its competitors, Steve Jobs is the definitive portrait of the greatest innovator of his generation.”
Tisch Library Call Number:QA76.2.J63 I83 2011
Location: Tisch Book Stacks

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

“Once you start reading 1Q84, you won’t want to do much else until you’ve finished it. Murakami possesses many gifts, but chief among them is an almost preternatural gift for suspenseful storytelling….Despite its great length, Murakami’s novel is tightly plotted, without fat, and he knows how to make dialogue, even philosophical dialogue, exciting….There’s no question about the sheer enjoyability of this gigantic novel, both as an eerie thriller and as a moving love story.”

Tisch Library Call Number:PL856.U673 A61213 2011
Location: Tisch Book Stacks

Stones into Schools : Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson

Greg Mortenson picks up where Three Cups of Tea left off in 2003, recounting his relentless, ongoing efforts to establish schools for girls in Afghanistan; his extensive work in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan after a massive earthquake hit the region in 2005; and the unique ways he has built relationships with Islamic clerics, militia commanders, and tribal leaders even as he was dodging shootouts with feuding Afghan warlords and surviving an eight-day armed abduction by the Taliban. He shares for the first time his broader vision to promote peace through education and literacy, as well as touching on military matters, Islam, and women-all woven together with the many rich personal stories of the people who have been involved in this remarkable two-decade humanitarian effort.”

Tisch Library Call Number:LC2330 .M66 2009
Location: Tisch Book Stacks

Townie: a Memoir by Andre Dubus III

“After their parents divorced in the 1970s, Andre Dubus III and his three siblings grew up with their overworked mother in a depressed Massachusetts mill town saturated with drugs and everyday violence. Nearby, his father, an eminent author, taught on a college campus and took the kids out on Sundays. The clash between town and gown, between the hard drinking, drugging, and fighting of “townies” and the ambitions of students debating books and ideas, couldn’t have been more stark. In this unforgettable memoir, acclaimed novelist Dubus shows us how he escaped the cycle of violence and found empathy in channeling the stories of others–bridging, in the process, the rift between his father and himself.”

Tisch Library Call Number: PS3554.U2652 Z46 2011
Location: Tisch Book Stacks