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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Literary Stocking Stuffers
Claire Marsden

Christmas is the ideal time to encourage your loved ones to lose themselves in a book. Just think about how peaceful Boxing Day would be if all the family curled up with their new book — which don’t break like many toys, do not require batteries, and don’t make annoying beeping noises. Utter bliss!

There were many titles published this year that — along with many classics — deserve a place in anyone’s stocking or bookcase. Below is just a handful of suggestions.

For history buffs, the prize-winning Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore would be a real treat (see Passport’s October issue for a review of Sashenka, a novel by the same author). Although many may know about Stalin’s political life, his youth holds intrigue and mystery. How does a boy from Georgia become one of the most infamous leaders of the modern world? This biography is written with honesty and care, telling not only the story of Stalin but delving into the lives of his parents and grandparents. Montefi ore does not fail to impress with his descriptive depiction of Georgian life at the turn of the 20th century.

Staying with the Russian theme but taking a completely different and comic turn is Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan. This is the hilarious tale of Misha (aka Snack Daddy). He was living his American dream, spending his time and his father’s money in New York with his Latina girlfriend. His life is turned upside-down, however, when his gangster father murders an Oklahoma businessman in Russia. This is poignant observation of the excesses of 21st-century life is guaranteed to raise a smile or full belly laugh from the recipient of this present.

If you have a family member or friend who is a fan of Ian McEwans’s Atonement, then Sadie Jones’s The Outcast is a must. This is a dark and moving tale about the breakdown of a family and a town aft er the tragic death of one woman. Jones presents a number of damaged characters whose dysfunctional lives weave together to form the tapestry of this superb first novel. Set in post-war Britain, it lends itself to comparison with Atonement, but I believe the characterizations and plot far exceed McEwan’s efforts.

Although I am suggesting this fi nal title for the younger members of your clan, I believe that once they have devoured The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, it will become the gift that is passed from person to person. Boyne, an Irishman, has written a chilling tale of the Holocaust told through the innocent eyes and actions of Bruno, the eightyear- old son of a commandant of Auschwitz. As a reader, you remain gripped by this boy’s adventures, disturbed by his naïve observations, touched by his childish pronunciations, and completely hooked right until the novel’s shocking end.

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