Friday, March 25, 2011

Eastern European Reading Challenge mascot-Siberian baby!


The EERC isn't as quiet as it appears, comments are still being left on the main page with reviews and suggested titles by participants!  When I get time I'll do some organizing on the page with updates.  Thanks to everyone for keeping up!  In the meantime, Jesse is practicing his Siberian baby look...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Best Translated Fiction Nominees Announced: here's one of them

Georg Letham, Physican and Murderer, Ernst Weiss

(this is a replay of the original review I posted last year when I read it, and I'm thrilled it may win the Open Letter award).

The classic symptoms of a sociopath are a wanton disregard for right and wrong and an inability to care about the feelings of others or the tenets of law or societal norms. Most sociopaths can be defined fairly early in life by their behavior and attitude.

With this in mind, I began what I thought was a story about a sociopath. In Georg Letham, Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss, the main character Letham is a classically trained physician who specializes in research in the distasteful specialization of vivisection. In the initial chapters he confesses his role in the murder of his wife with no apparent remorse. In fact, he only did it because he needed her money and she refused to "voluntarily" die of her own volition. He complains about his wife and his father, both of whom held the key to his financial betterment:

"Neither of them could give me what I yearned for in the depths of my soul, but there was one medicine that they could have given me to ease my suffering: the original medicine, money."

Circumstances after the murder unravel and his perfect plan fails spectacularly. He ends up carted off as a 'common' criminal to a life sentence, a fate made more demeaning by the extremely high opinion he had of himself. As he acclimates to incarceration and is transported to a tropical prison camp, he explains more of his childhood and more of his relationship with his father. He reveals in slow and painful detail exactly what his father did to make him a strong man, and suddenly the diagnosis of classic schizophrenic becomes vague. Because while he clearly was influenced by his father's hateful and moral deficiencies, he never outright blames him or uses him as an excuse. He accepts all responsibility himself for his crime and also acknowledges his own moral failure. A true schizophrenic never accepts blame. Throughout this first half of the book to this point, the reading has been complicated and painful; the details were horrifying and unsettling.

However, in his new location in the tropics, a change occurs in his life that confirms that Georg Letham is no sociopath. He is allowed to work in the medical field again, this time doing research to find a cure for the deadly Yellow Fever that haunts the tropical regions. A parallel is drawn between the rats his father abhorred and tried forever to eliminate with Georg's efforts to find a remedy for this similarly persistent and deadly danger. While his father was led into the depths of moral depravity because of his inability to control the deadly rodents, Georg rises morally by putting himself at risk for the welfare of others by trying to have some effect on the deadly disease. Throughout the second half of the book we see him change, yet he never transforms completely. That would be too easy and too unrealistic.

A fascinating part of the text is the medical aspects of the study of disease, and how diseases like Yellow Fever are transmitted. This is a far more interesting way to learn about biology than high school science! No details are omitted in the search for a cure, and Weiss never dumbs down the medical language. Reading about the treatment of criminals in the early twentieth century as well as the service of military doctors and their dedication in this time period is absorbing.

This is not an easy read. Details of the animal testing are gruesome. His own attitude is obnoxious, but changes to more of a snarky sensibleness as events progress. His father's heartlessness is painful, and many events are described so brutally that you may cringe and have to put the book down for a few minutes. One thing is constant: Georg is honest even when it would suit him to be less so. And despite the difficulties, this book is something you can't put down and certainly won't want to.

Special thanks to Jill at Archipelago Books for this review copy. This translation from the original German text, by Joel Rotenberg, is available at or

Monday, March 14, 2011

M.I.A. for now

Just wanted to touch base and apologize for being off the radar for awhile.  Lots of craziness around here and the blog has been neglected.  My apologies.  I've been hospitalized and will be again in the next few weeks awaiting some surgery that will hopefully resolve a sudden health problem.  While in the hospital I tried to do reading for reviews but the painkillers gave me a strange sort of "stoner dyslexia" that made anything I wrote complete nonsense (as opposed to the usual partial nonsense!).

In any case, in fitting with the Eastern European Reading Challenge, I have a Russian doctor! LOL  That has to count somehow....he's adorable too. Igor, can you believe it?

So, good news and bad news:
Bad news:
The blog will be updated less frequently, however, I do have some reviews lined up as I still have to keep to my obligations.  The Eastern European Challenge will be the priority in terms of reviews, so please share any titles, and if anyone would like to guest-host a post, email me and we can chat.  This week should see a few new posts, and I'll stagger some in advance to auto-post.  But yes, the EERC is still a go so please continue to submit titles and remarks.

Good news:
I have about a gazillion giveaways in the future, as many publishers are sending me duplicates of everything, and a few are international.  So check in for those now and then.  Algonquin has been especially generous with their summer and fall catalog titles.

Especially good news is I've been offered some more paying gigs to write and do reviews for some print magazines, so that's going to be a financial boost (helpful!), but I will not be allowed to use them on the website (magazine gets exclusive rights).  But, I'll let you know what they are if they are especially excellent.  This last month saw a number of print reviews in a variety of places, as well as a few feature articles on literary topics.  Yes, a byline!  Woo-hoo!

Publicists and publishers:
Per my contact tab above, I'm not able to accept any more review titles until things settle down.  Just put me on hold, and don't write me off yet!  Any books I have already rec'd are still in the lineup according to date of receipt.

And in terms of some great other stuff to look at, in case you've missed it, check out HTMLGiant and Daniel Casey's Gentlyreadlit, as well as Lisa's Other Bookshelf and A Concise Blog for some great titles to explore.

This week should feature a review of Thomas Bernhard's Prose, possibly later today.  It's about what happens when you think too much.

If you have any questions, e-me at amy at theblacksheepdances dot com.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Winner of $50 Gift Certificate

Congrats to BookSync, who won the $50 Cafepress merchandise and free ship.  I'll email her tonight and give her 48 hours to respond.

Sorry for the delay in announcing a winner, just got out of hospital after long stretch (eight sleepless nights!).  More on that later,

Also, will announce new international giveaway tomorrow!