Monthly Archives: August 2013

2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize and Sergio De La Pava

Pen America announced their 2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize last week, which goes to an “exceptionally talented” first novelist, awarding it to Sergio De La Pava for A Naked Singularity, an experimental novel clocking in at 689 pages.

A Naked Singularity is about a NYC public defender and what happens to him when he loses his first case, after never losing once before in his career. The book has been lauded for its moving prose and its documentation of our broken legal system. You can read the first chapter on De La Pava’s website. It reminds me a bit of Roberto Bolano in its length and its look at injustice. He has also been compared to Thomas Pynchon.

According to The Millions, which did an interview with him last year, De La Pava was rejected by 88 publishers before he decided to self-publish this book in 2008. His wife worked on publicity for the title, it eventually got some notice, and the University of Chicago Press re-released it in 2012. The Millions article came out after that publication and is an in-depth exploration of the author and how the book fits into contemporary literature. That article is a good place to start if you want to read more about the book, which is to be published in the UK at the end of August 2013.

This is not your light summer read, but its set up and originality are intriguing. However, for me, a book this long can become a project. I read Bolano’s 2666 a few years back and while that book spoke to me, and kept me engaged, I never stopped noting how big a book it was and set aside a month to focus on it. But for those of you into less-mainstream books, or big books, this looks like one to pick up. It is also a book which has had a slow trajectory from self-publishing to award-winning, which is nice to see.

I’m moving next week, from one corner or Brooklyn to another, so if I don’t publish a review it will come out the week after 😉

Happy summer reading to you all!






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The First Rule of Swimming, by Courtney Angela Brkic


The First Rule of Swimming

By Courtney Angela Brkic

Little, Brown and Company, 2013

336 pages

Magdalena and Jadranka Moric, from Rosmarina Island (a fictional island in Croatia), are separated from their cousin Katarina when her parents and an uncle flee the communist regime in the 1970s to seek asylum in the U.S. As adults the cousins reconnect and Jadranka, a talented painter who is not settled in her island life, moves to New York City to spend time with Katarina, also an artist, and a gallery owner, and her family. When Jadranka goes missing in New York, Magdalena is pulled from her solitary island existence and travels to the US to find her sister and learn about her family.

This is well-crafted, multi-generational story. The writing is beautiful. And although the sisters are the main focus of the story, the book chronicles three generations of the Moric family, from the sisters to their aging grandparents. It took me a few chapters to settle in to the story, and all the characters, but once I did, I was drawn to both Magdalena and Jadranka. Magdalena is the settled older sister, who is single and a teacher on the island. Jadranka is the wilder soul. The story bounces back and forth between their lives in present day Croatia and New York, while also gracefully flashing back in time, telling the story of the girls growing up, their mother’s story, their uncle’s story (and why he left Croatia) and their grandparents’ stories during World War II. This book is a moving portrait of how a family’s history impacts multiple generations. It also describes the trauma many contemporary immigrants go through before they move to the US.

Brkic has published a collection of short stories and a memoir. She has won multiple awards for her writing and teaches at George Mason University. This is her first novel.

I received an e-book copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.




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