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5 December 2018
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18 December 2018

Fiction Picks by Olga Ospina

In this blog I introduce 4 recent novels: a modern take on King Lear, a novel about homosexuality in
Ireland throughout many years, the National Book Award winner about a woman (and a dog) grieving
their deceased friend and, lastly, a beautiful Western.

We That Are Young by Preti Taneja
This is a rework of Shakespeare where the author recasts King Lear in contemporary India. The title
of this novel comes by the end of the play, conveying the idea that India is a young nation of young
“The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.”
King Lear is impersonated by Devraj Bapuji, a corporate tycoon who decides to divide his multi-
company between his daughters based on whose declaration of love flatters him most, the youngest
losing her inheritance when she refuses to pay homage to him. After many adventures, this man, as
King Lear, discovers that we must judge by actions and not by words.
The author follows Shakespeare’s framework and through her writing we discover not only the battle
for power within a family but also the problems linked to a nation in transformation. In fact, the
novel’s background are the anti-corruption protests of 2011, and the author exposes many problems
of modern India like the conflict of Kashmir, the extremes between wealth and poverty and the lives
of the slum-dwellers.
The story is narrated through the voices of the three daughters of Devraj and those of the two sons
of his right-hand man (the equivalent of Gloucester). These stories overlap and are interesting as
they let us get a different perspective on certain events plus an insight on the motivations of these
Preti Taneja accomplished a modern take on King Lear. The prose is rich in details and this is an
engaging read with enough tension as the turmoil grows, though oftentimes I found myself lost with
the occasional Hindi phrases.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
This is a story about a gay man born in conservative Ireland, and it begins in 1945 with his mother, an
unmarried pregnant 16-year-old girl kicked out of the church and banished of her home town after
the priest denounces and shames her in front of her community. The girls’ journey to Dublin is the
beginning of this saga that exposes this country’s changing attitudes towards homosexuality between
1945 and 2015.
Cyril, the main character, was given in adoption to a distant family that permanently reminded him
that he was adopted and that he had to think of his upbringing as an “18-year-old tenancy”, becoming thus a lonely man who struggles with identity and tries to fit into a homophobic society that
is not ready to accept him.
This novel tackles important and controversial subjects like the church’s power where the author
denounces its abuses and corruption, the IRA and the terrorist bombings, 1980’s AIDS crisis and the
development of LGBT rights.
I was totally immersed in this story, sad and very funny at the same time. There are many hilarious
dialogues among these serious topics. The characters are well developed, Cyril’s witty voice is
extraordinary, and it is easy to get attached to him. This novel advances brightly the transition from
shame and guilt to acceptance of homosexuality.

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
In this book the main character, an unnamed narrator, addresses her dead friend who committed
suicide and left her his 180-pound Great Dane who barely fits in her small and rent-stabilized
apartment where dogs are prohibited.
This story is told in what could be a letter, a memoir or autofiction and through a stream of
consciousness the main character, who is a writer, explores questions about life, mortality,
bereavement, friendship, the difficulty and loneliness of writing and also about writing as a way of
This book does not have a strong plot, it is instead an examination about grief (without being
sentimental) where both the narrator and the dog find themselves mourning the loss of this friend.
This is also a book about writing with interesting quotes about authors.
The prose is beautiful, the style is direct, and it has inspiring and thought-provoking observations
about grieving.

Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison
This is a Western set in 1885 and the story is told in first person by Jess, an orphan 17-year-old girl
who decides to disguise as a boy and set off west in search of her outlaw brother to bring him home
and help her take care of their homeland.
She manages to survive thanks to her skills as a sharpshooter and being disguised as a boy brings
along many adventures where she has to negotiate relationships with different unsavoury
This is a captivating and interesting read. The book explores different subjects as gender and sexual
identity, alcoholism, frontier justice, and racism.
The prose is beautiful, violent and tender at the same time. Jess is a very well developed character,
and the strength of this book is her unique and original voice through which we enter her mind. The
time, location and supporting characters are also very well described.

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