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A View of the Empire at Sunset: A Novel by Caryl Phillips, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, US $27.00, Pp 336, May 2018, ISBN 978-0374283612

The Storm: A Novel by Arif Anwar, Atria Books, US 26.00, Pp 308, May 2018, ISBN 978-1501174506

We Own the Sky: A Novel by Luke Allnutt, Park Row Books/HarperCollins Publishers, US $26.99, Pp 368, April 2018, ISBN 978-0778314738

How to Walk Away: A Novel by Katherine Center, St. Martin’s Press, US $26.99, Pp 320, May 2018, ISBN 978-1250149060

Author Jean Rhys was just another girl named Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams before she became known for writing the feminist classic Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. A View of the Empire at Sunset is the fictional biographical novel of the life of Jean Rhys. The story begins with the childhood of Jean Rhys in Dominica at the height of the British Empire, where Jean Rhys lived for only sixteen years before going to England. The life of Jean Rhys in Edwardian England, then in Paris in the 1920s and then again in London was unusually miserable. Jean Rhys always dreamed of going back to Dominica. In 1936, when she was forty-five year old, Rhys finally made the journey back to the Caribbean. But, six weeks later, she returned to London, filled with hostility for her place of birth. She never returned to Dominica. Rhys lived an unusual life. At the age of 16, she left Dominica at her parents’ insistence for England where she studied acting. She lived in Paris for most of the 1920s. In addition to three husbands, she had many lovers. Her oeuvre has hugely influenced female writers and academics. Like in The Lost Child (2015), race and colonialism remain the key themes in A View of the Empire at Sunset. Phillips shows the ugly face of race and colonialism when Gwendolen’s mother stops her to socialize with the child of “Negro” servants, and Gwendolen is separated from her friend. A View of the Empire at Sunset is also the story of British colonialism that established and sustained a cruel system for more than two hundred years. It is a brilliantly written insightful novel from a great author.

Caryl Phillips is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Lost Child, Dancing in the DarkCrossing the River, and Color Me English. His novel A Distant Shore won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize; his other awards include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in New York.

*****

The Storm is set in South Asia over nearly nine decades. Arif Anwar weaves five love stories into one semi-historical novel. These love stories are built around specific historical events from World War II to present day. In between come the storm in 1970 that killed half a million people and the partition of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Novel’s protagonist Shahryar lives in Washington DC with his nine-year-old Anna. He recently completed his Ph.D. in America and does not want to return to Bangladesh but his visa is expiring and there is no hope of getting a job that will get work authorization in America. Shahryar comes from a village on the Bay of Bengal where a poor fisherman and his wife are facing a storm. But then Shahryar is caught up in what seems a conspiracy. Around this main story, Arif Anwar weaves other shorter stories. There is a Japanese pilot named Ichiro, a British doctor named Claire Drake living in Burma during World War II who has to treat the Japanese pilot who has been shot down. Then there is a privileged couple in Calcutta, Rahim, and Zahira, who moved to what was then East Pakistan and now Bangladesh, after Rahim is kidnapped by Hindu extremists. The Storm is a good historical novel but the problem is it is South Asian history, covering British India, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Most readers in the West may not enjoy it as much as the readers from South Asia. It may be the first step to learn the history and culture of a region where one-fourth of humanity lives. Even if you are not familiar with the history of South Asia, you will still find it entertaining.

Arif Anwar was born in Chittagong, Bangladesh, just miles from the Bay of Bengal. He has previously worked for BRAC, one of the world’s largest nongovernmental organizations, on issues of poverty alleviation, and for UNICEF Myanmar on public health issues. Arif has a Ph.D. in education from the University of Toronto. He lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife Si (Sandra) Lian. The Storm is his first novel.

*****

Rob Coates is a thirty-something husband and father who used to think he was a lucky man. He was happy with his life. He had a great and lovely wife, Anna, and his adorable son, Jack. Rob and Anna had met at the university and always believed they were inseparable. After leaving the university, they settled down to London life. After many years of miscarriages and fertility struggles, Jack was born. The little family lived in their townhouse in London. Jack was a great source of happiness for the parents. All this changed when Jack is diagnosed with cancerous brain tumor. Rob’s world starts to come apart. Rob suddenly feels alone in the crowded world. He tries to forget the pain by making him busy in photographing skyscraper and clifftops he used to visit with his son. Just when it seems that all hope is lost, Rob embarks on the most memorable journey to find his way back to life and redemption. In an effort to relive, Rob gets involved in internet support groups and the treatment at great expense by a non-medical person. Rob learns about a controversial doctor Dr. Sladkovsky who lives in Prague and his clinic that could treat his son’s cancer. Although Dr. Sladkovsky is pricey he has worked miracles. The price is not the only reason. The real reason is that some people suspect he uses snake oil or poison to treat his patients. Nobody approves of him and Anna is not ready to try that doctor either. But then the questionable doctor is the last sliver of hope. We Own the Sky is a tender, heartbreaking and chilling story of a father’s love for his son. It is a great debut about the power of love and shows how a totally crushed soul can come back to life.

Luke Allnutt is the author of Unspoken, about the death of his father. He grew up in the U.K. and lives and works in Prague. Born in the U.K, Luke Allnutt is a writer and journalist based in the Czech Republic. He is married and has two young boys.

*****

Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future and she can see that. She has worked hard for a good future. She has a new dream job and an adorable boyfriend. She has a future everyone will envy. But, when everything looked perfect, she loses everything she has worked hard for. The day she thought would be her happiest day becomes a sad day for her. Maggie is involved in a plane crash. She does not like flying and becomes nervous whenever she has to. She is particularly hesitant to board the plane flown by her pilot-in-training boyfriend, Chip. Although she is hesitant to fly when Chip invites her to fly on the Valentine Day but she decides to make an exception. While they are in the air, chip proposes to her. This is a dream come true. But then her worst fear becomes a reality and Maggie has to face the unthinkable. Now, she is in a hospital and she knows nothing will ever be the same again. Her physical therapist, Ian, is too tough for her. But, Ian, is the last person Maggie wants near her but he may be the person she really needs in these circumstances. Maggie is falling and she needs someone to catch her. Ian may just be that person. Ian does not allow her to indulge in self-pity. He has a different opinion of her. Maggie has had enough of love but love will find her again. How to Walk Away is a heart-breaking, hopeful and tender story at the same time. Katherine Center shows that human beings can be resilient and become strong when they seem to be the weakest. How to Walk Away is a love story that tells us we can find happiness when we lose all hope. The unforgettable characters who resemble real-life characters make How to Walk Away a necessary novel for this summer.

Katherine Center is the author of many books including Happiness for Beginners, The Lost Husband, and Get Lucky. She writes bittersweet comic stories about how we fall down — and how we get back up. Her inspiring novels are always about how we struggle to find our way through life’s hardships and learn to savor its joys at the same time.

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