One Hundred and One Nights by Benjamin Buchholz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ben Buchholz is one of the most interesting new writers I've read in the past few years. He has a quality that I am hard put to define...it has to do with a poetic flair, and a just-out-of-my-grasp dreamy reality that reminds me of the various merits of writers like Joyce, Brautigan and Pynchon. It is writing multi-layered with meaning, metaphor,and imagery. For me, it is always a challenge. I chew on it, wresting all the goodness from it, always wary that I don't miss an important detail. All of that is to say I enjoy his work enormously. I've loved his short stories and this debut novel did not disappoint.
The protag is an Iraqi whose life spirals down a surprising path, taking the reader on a wild and unexpected ride. I have always found the middle eastern culture to have a built-in mystery, an exotic view of life, perhaps due to the religious aspects of that world. Buchholz maximizes that mystery, by delving into the mind set and stream of consciousness of one civilian man, in the midst of war, trying to find himself and his old life. It is a ballet of internal dialogue that is quite remarkable.
The 100 and One Nights title of the book forced me to puzzle out the Scheherazade story, but my only conclusion was that Buchholz's version is no fairytale. Layla, the young girl in the story is certainly a key to unlocking this story, and one roots for her even when the truth is evident.
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