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Empire Builders: Coll's new epic chronicles the powerful Bin Laden clan They descend from a patriarch who made a fortune in the wild west of early 20th century capitalism. Their family history is haunted by airplane April 02, 2008

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  • Book Review: Frayed Ends of Sanity

      Frayed Ends of Sanity An editor becomes a prisoner of the page in Senselessness "We are all tainted with viral origins," William S. Burroughs once observed. "The whole quality of human consciousness, as expressed in male and female, is basically a virus mechanism." No one understands this idea better than the agitated writer-hero of Horacio Castellanos Moya's "Senselessness," who has taken on the task of editing a 1,001-page oral history of the torture and mutilation of a Latin American country's indigenous population. The man has three months to complete the task - a not unreasonable deadline, if only the sentences of the victims didn't unhinge him so. "I am not complete in the mind" is the first sentence Moya's narrator reads. It comes from a man who watched his wife and children hacked to death by machete. This utterance soon describes the narrator's frame of mind, too. Paranoia rises up within him, clanging like an ever-louder alarm. Something is not right. People are watching him. The secret police know he is in the country. If only he could relax. Feverishly, he tries to seduce one woman after the next, but the images he reads in that day's work of editing combine with his pornographic fantasies in a hideous montage. Moya brilliantly scripts this breakdown. His sentences bulge and seethe, coiling around the parenthetical self-justifications and self-recriminations of his increasingly frenzied narrator. Following each lapse of debauchery the man attacks the report with more empathic gusto. He is a novelist, after all, so he doesn't just tinker with style and language; he must imaginatively place himself at the center of it. He imagines being maimed and murdered; he imagines himself doing the killing and the torturing.
  • Hit the Ground

    Thirty years ago, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami owned a jazz club in Tokyo. It was a tiny place. During the day, he served coffee; at
      Thirty years ago, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami owned a jazz club in Tokyo. It was a tiny place. During the day, he served coffee; at night, the club became a bar. Murakami closed up himself, arriving home as the yolk-y sun was rising in the sky. It had never occurred to him to do anything else, let alone write fiction. And then, it did. This charming, sober little book tells the story of how, shortly after Murakami embarked on a career as a novelist, he was blindsided by an even unlikelier idea: to go for a run. One can understand his surprise. At the time, he was smoking 60 cigarettes a day. He had never been an athlete. But he was a solitary person, and before long, he was hooked. Runners will find a kindred soul on these pages. Here is everyman, hitting the pavement, falling into that peculiar mental void that opens up on a long jog. He endures the indignities of the sport, too. Completing his first marathon in Greece in midsummer, his sweat dries so fast, it leaves behind smears of salt. "When I lick my lips," he writes, "they taste like anchovy paste."
  • Washed Ashore: Netherland offers an outsiders perspective on the Big Apple

    Outlegged by news networks that never sleep, outsold by the juggernaut of visual entertainment, the novel doesn't bring us the news as it once did.
      Outlegged by news networks that never sleep, outsold by the juggernaut of visual entertainment, the novel doesn't bring us the news as it once did. Or it's easy to think so until you read a book like Joseph O'Neill's splendid, "Netherland." This wholly unexpected novel turns the city once known as Nueve Amsterdam inside out with the tale of a Dutch banker clinging to his crumbling marriage and family in the aftermath of September 11th. It is a fabulous, deeply enjoyable New York story about the fantasies that prop up daily reality - in other words, a deeply New York novel about that deeply New York penchant: new beginnings.   The man we're rooting for - and it's impossible not to cheer him on - is Hans van den Broek, a six-foot five, 40-something equity analyst. He spends a good deal of this novel holed up at the Chelsea Hotel, the bohemian landmark where Arthur Miller wrote some of his best known work and Andy Warhol once called home. Something essential has jostled free from Hans' marriage, sending his ex-pat wife back to England with their son, Jake. Hans stays behind, and pours his restless, misbegotten self into a cricket league out on Staten Island, where he meets - and befriends - a Trinidadian entrepreneur of sorts, Chuck Ramkissoon. It is Chuck's dream to build a world-class cricket arena - he doesn't like the word stadium - in Brooklyn.
  • Across the Earth: Lahiri's new collection of stories spans the globe

    Toward the end of Jhumpa Lahiri's mournful, deeply satisfying new collection of stories, two Bengali lovers visit a museum in an Italian town founded by
       Toward the end of Jhumpa Lahiri's mournful, deeply satisfying new collection of stories, two Bengali lovers visit a museum in an Italian town founded by Etruscans. There, amidst dusty sarcophagi, they discover shelves lined with terra-cotta urns depicting the journey the Etruscans made to this landscape - a landscape since claimed and reclaimed by several other populations. "The sides were covered with carvings showing so many migrations across land," observes Lahiri's narrator, "departures in covered wagons to the underworld." It is a beautiful, yet idealized, image of how people get from here to there. Nothing at all like the scattered, dislocating journey she or her family made to the U.S.   "Unaccustomed Earth" is a profound meditation on the emotional undertow of these migrations. Ranging in setting from Seattle to suburban Boston, Rome to the clattering streets of Calcutta, Lahiri's cast of mostly Bengali characters struggles to grow accustomed to their new homes, their new families created by loss sustained in faraway places. In the title story, a recently widowed father flies out to Seattle to visit his daughter, a new mother, ferrying a secret about a woman he has begun to see. "Once in a Lifetime" chronicles a brief time when the Chaudhuri family lived with friends outside Boston while searching for a new home. It later emerges that their house hunting has a haunted edge: Mrs. Chaudhuri has cancer. The home they buy will be the place she dies. 
  • Empire Builders: Coll's new epic chronicles the powerful Bin Laden clan

    They descend from a patriarch who made a fortune in the wild west of early 20th century capitalism. Their family history is haunted by airplane
      They descend from a patriarch who made a fortune in the wild west of early 20th century capitalism. Their family history is haunted by airplane crashes, illegitimate children, and the great expectations of a public life. Many of them were educated at elite preps schools and America's best universities. They are not the Kennedys, but another dynasty of sorts - the bin Ladens.   In this fascinating, well-told new book, Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Coll paints a vivid portrait of Saudia Arabia's most visible merchant class family. Americans became aware of them after one of Mohammed Bin Laden's 54 (legitimate) children, Osama, masterminded the terrorist attacks of September 11th. But their name would not be news to anyone around the Middle East. In Saudia Arabia, the bin Laden name was synonymous with building. Mohammed left the desert wild of Yemen and came to Saudi Arabia and earned a fortune as a foreman, at first through sweat labor and talent, and later by skillfully manipulating his connections to the royal family.

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