Here are a couple of reviews I’ve had published recently at We Love This Book:
David Safier, Apocalypse Next Tuesday (2008)
Translated from the German by Hilary Parnfors (2014)
Marie is thirty-five when she pulls out of marrying Sven at the last minute, realising that she doesn’t love him enough for it to last a lifetime. So she moves back into her childhood home with nothing much to do but feel sorry for herself. At the same time, her father is busy hooking up with a mail-order bride and her sister Kata is recovering from a brain tumour – then Marie’s bedroom ceiling caves in. Enter a handsome carpenter named Joshua who Marie quickly falls for and who just happens to be Jesus come to Earth. Meanwhile, Satan (disguised as George Clooney) has an apocalypse to bring about, and is on the lookout for some horsemen…
Apocalypse Next Tuesday is good fun read – David Safier gets plenty of comic mileage from the incongruity of putting Jesus into the world of contemporary dating. Hilary Parnfors’ translation from the German is nicely breezy, and I especially liked the touch of including comic strips ‘drawn’ by Kata. But Safier’s novel also has a serious heart, as Marie has to think about what she really wants from life and what it really means to give herself to someone. In terms of the plot, perhaps the decisive movement towards the apocalypse comes a little too late to keep the novel balanced. Still, Apocalypse Next Tuesday is well worth a look if you’re in the mood for a romp.
Cristina Henríquez, The Book of Unknown Americans (2014)
Alma and Arturo Rivera make the move because their teenage daughter, Maribel, sustained brain damage in an accident; they’re hoping that the specialist education available in the US will help her. But there are many obstacles to overcome: the Riveras speak little English; their money won’t go very far; for all his willingness to work, Arturo has to take a job picking mushrooms. But they’re determined to make this work, for Maribel.
Someone else with his eye on Maribel (though for different reasons) is Mayor Toro, the son of an established neighbouring family from Panama. The main narration of the novel alternates between Mayor and Alma, with their stories echoing each other in various ways: the Riveras are viewed with suspicion, as are Mayor’s motives for spending time with Maribel. Mayor’s tribulations at school show that difficulties like the Riveras’ don’t necessarily end once you’ve become a naturalised citizen.
Peppering Cristina Henríquez’s novel are individual chapters narrated by immigrant characters from different parts of Central and South America, each with as much of a story to tell as the Riveras, though we catch only a glimpse of them. The end of the Riveras’ tale loses a little of the subtlety that’s gone before it; but the various narrators of The Book of Unknown Americans remind us how many voices there are that may go unheard.