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Iranian-born novelist Marsha Mehran, author of the bestselling Pomegranate Soup, was found dead Wednesday at her home in Lecanvey, Ireland. She was 36. In Pomegranate Soup and its sequel, Rosewater and Soda Bread, Marjan Aminpour and her sisters flee Iran and settle in Ireland, the "land of crazed sheep and dizzying roads," opening a café serving Persian food. Recipes are scattered throughout. A third book in the series, Pistachio Rain, as well as a free-standing novel called The Margaret Thatcher School Of Beauty, are due out this year. After her family fled Iran in 1979, Mehran moved to Argentina, the U.S., Australia and Ireland. In a "Lives" column for The New York Times, she wrote: "When people ask me where I am from, I say I am Persian, born in Iran. I write and dream in English, I curse in Spanish and, after a few pints of Guinness, I dance a mighty Irish jig." The Irish Times, citing police, reports that there was "nothing suspicious" about Mehran's death, and that "toxciology tests are to be carried out as a follow-up to a postmortem to determine the cause of the sudden death."
Novelist Will Self has declared the novel dead — nay, undead because it has been dead for a long while and pretending to be alive: "The form should have been laid to rest at about the time of Finnegans Wake, but in fact it has continued to stalk the corridors of our minds for a further three-quarters of a century. Many fine novels have been written during this period, but I would contend that these were, taking the long view, zombie novels, instances of an undead art form that yet wouldn't lie down." While the zombie twist is new, people have been doing autopsies on the novel for decades (See, for example, this 1925 New York Times article called "Death Verdict on the Novel.")
George R.R. Martin was asked by The New York Times whether the sexual brutality described in his books is gratuitous. He replied: "Rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day. To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonest, and would have undermined one of the themes of the books: that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves. We are the monsters. (And the heroes too)."
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Michael Cunningham's The Snow Queen is a wedding cake of a book — extravagant and pleased with its own extravagance. It opens with a vision in Central Park. Barrett, just dumped and working in a thrift shop, sees a "celestial light" in the sky watching him "as he imagined a whale might apprehend a swimmer, with a grave and regal and utterly unfrightened curiosity." And then it disappears: "The sky regarded him, noted him, closed its eye again, and returned to what were, as Barrett can only imagine, more revelatory, incandescent, galaxy-wheeling dreams." The story follows Barrett and his brother Tyler, a musician with a slight coke problem, and Tyler's dying girlfriend, Beth. Tyler, too, sees a "benign force, some vast invisible watcher" in the snow outside his window. The Snow Queen isn't about much, except two brothers walking around New York looking for grace, but each page seems to glow with celestial light. It's lavish, almost camp, but undeniably gorgeous.
In Roxane Gay's debut novel, An Untamed State, Mireille, her handsome husband and their baby son arrive in Haiti to visit Mireille's wealthy parents in Port-au-Prince. When Mireille is kidnapped and held for ransom, her father refuses to negotiate with her captors. So Mireille, beaten and raped daily, endures a nightmare as her sanity disintegrates: "The body adapts but the mind has limits." Though the chapters describing her captivity are brutal almost beyond endurance, the book is in some ways more harrowing when it shows how, even after Mireille is freed, she is still imprisoned. For the rest of her life, there is only "the before" and "the after."
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