Book choice for February 2010

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint [suggested by Laura Smith]

front cover

Debut novelist Brady Udall's The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint is a moving tragic-comedy that has been compared to the works of John Irving. The tender humour of this novel, coupled with subtly explored issues, makes this an outstanding read. Udall's prose style is engaging and refreshing, and the voice of the narrator is utterly convincing. When eight-year-old Edgar Mint gets his head squashed by a post van on the Apache reservation where he lives with his alcoholic mother, it is the beginning of a new life. Resurrected from near death by a junior doctor, Edgar find himself in a new environment, sharing a ward with three men in various states of serious injury, the focus of the hospital's attention and with no recollection of his previous life. So begins Edgar's journey.

This is essentially a rites of passage novel. But the passage that Edgar must take is more painful than most. With no memory and with only a typewriter for company, he faces alienation among his people, is disregarded as retarded and is shoved out of sight by white America to a tough school for troublesome reservation children. Edgar seeks the solace of acceptance or escape, anything to take him away from the suffering of being different, of being an outsider. By showing Edgar learning about himself, understanding the world around him, and experiencing everything again for the first time, Udall explores the big explosive themes of religion, race, identity and gender with a deft hand. There is nothing ham-fisted in his treatment of these issues. They are dealt with in a quiet but direct manner, through the eyes of a child coming to terms with the absurdity of humanity. This is, in some ways, also a rags-to-riches story and the notion of what exactly it is that enriches our lives is central. Edgar must first journey before he ultimately discovers this wealth. His journey is a search for identity, for the missing gaps in his life and it is only when all these gaps are filled that Edgar can discover his true worth. [review from amazon]

About the Author

Brady Udall is an American novelist.

He grew up in a large Mormon family in St. Johns, Arizona, graduated from Brigham Young University and later attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. He was formerly a faculty member of Franklin & Marshall College starting in 1998, then Southern Illinois University, and now teaches writing at Boise State University.

A collection of his short stories titled Letting Loose the Hounds was published in 1998[6] and his debut novel The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint was first published in 2001. The characterization and structure of the latter has been favorably compared to the work of John Irving. Thematically it has been compared to Charles Dickens. Michael Stipe has optioned a film adaptation of Miracle, with United Artists hiring Michael Cuesta to direct.

The above adapted from Udall's Wikipedia page.


Shortlisted for this month

The nominator can bring one, two, or three books to be chosen by the group (or mandated in the case of only one book being selected). This month, Laura's other suggestions were:



Bruce shoots movies. Wayne and Scout shoot to kill. In a single night they find out the hard way what's real and what's not, who's the hero and the villain. A nation watches in awe as Bruce and Wayne resolve the serious questions. Does art imitate life? And does Bruce use erection cream?

See also the novel's Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Benjamin Charles "Ben" Elton (born 3 May 1959) is an English-born British-Australian comedian, author, playwright and director. He was a leading figure in the alternative comedy movement of the 1980s, while more recently he has become known for his work as a novelist.

Elton was born in Catford, London, the son of an English teacher mother and the physicist and educational researcher Lewis Elton. He is the nephew of the historian Sir G. R. Elton. Elton's father is of German Jewish descent and his mother is of English background. He studied at Stillness Junior School and Godalming Grammar School in Surrey, South Warwickshire College (Stratford upon Avon) and the University of Manchester. Elton is married to Sophia Gare (an Australian saxophonist) and has three children (two sons and one daughter). He lives in Fremantle, Western Australia and in Sussex, England. Elton has had dual British/Australian citizenship since 2004.

The above taken from Elton's Wikipedia entry.

Q & A

Q & A

When Ram Mohammad Thomas, an orphaned, uneducated waiter from Mumbai, wins a billion rupees on a quiz show, he finds himself thrown in jail. (Unable to pay out the prize, the program's producers bribed local authorities to declare Ram a cheater.) Enter attractive lawyer Smita Shah, to get Ram out of prison and listen to him explain, via flashbacks, how he knew the answers to all the show's questions. Indian diplomat Swarup's fanciful debut is based on a sound premise: you learn a lot about the world by living in it (Ram has survived abandonment, child abuse, murder). And just as the quiz show format is meant to distill his life story (each question prompts a separate flashback), Ram's life seems intended to distill the predicament of India's underclass in general. Rushdie's Midnight's Children may have been a model: Ram's brash yet innocent voice recalls that of Saleem Sinai, Rushdie's narrator, and the sheer number of Ram's near-death adventures represents the life of the underprivileged in India, just as Saleem wore a map of India, quite literally, on his face. But Swarup's prose is sometimes flat and the story's picaresque form turns predictable. Ram is a likable fellow, but this q&a with him, though clever, grows wearying.[review from Publisher's Weekly, via amazon]

There's also a Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Vikas Swarup was born in Allahabad (India) in a family of lawyers.

After his schooling, Vikas attended Allahabad University and studied History, Psychology and Philosophy. He also made his mark as a champion debater, winning National level competitions. After graduating with distinction, he joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1986, motivated by an interest in international relations and a desire to explore different cultures.

In his diplomatic career, Vikas has been posted to various countries such as Turkey (1987-1990), the United States (1993-1997) Ethiopia (1997-2000), the United Kingdom (2000-2003) and South Africa (2006-2009). Since August 2009, he is the Consul General of India in Osaka-Kobe, Japan.

Q&A is his first novel. Published by Doubleday/Random House (UK & Commonwealth), Harper Collins (Canada) and Scribner (US) it has sold translation rights in 42 languages including Arabic, French, German, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Malayalam, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Polish, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, Taiwanese, Thai, and Hebrew. It was short listed for the Best First Book by the Commonwealth Writer's Prize and won South Africa's Exclusive Books Boeke Prize 2006 as well as the Paris Book Fair's Reader's Prize, the Prix Grand Public, in 2007. It was voted the Most Influential Book of 2008 in Taiwan. Most recently, it was voted winner of the Best Travel Read (Fiction) at the Heathrow Travel Product Award 2009.

The above is taken from the "biog" pages of Swarup's website. Quite why he, or his webmaster, thought it would be interesting to provide such a long list of supported languages isn't entirely clear. If you're still awake I'm sure you'll be suitably astonished to learn that he also has a Wikipedia entry.


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