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The Cornell Book ReviewNULLUM ESSE LIBRUM TAM MALUM UT NON ALIQUA PARTE PRODESSETSpring 2017 Volume XIV

ContributorsSasha KawakamiChristopher James LlegoManaging EditorTreasurerCorinne FredericksLayout EditorCarly O’RourkeEditorsTherese BanksJulia CurleyBeth KelleyKatie KilbourneEditor-in-ChiefStaff WritersEve GlasergreenGeorgia GrzywaczLuby KiriakidiKimberly KohAndrew OlderNatalie TsayAditya ShuklaKelly StoneDevin SullivanEmily YangIllustratorsEve GlasergreenJulia PearsonGeorge TsourounakisTHE CORNELL BOOK REVIEW PRODUCEDAND IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CONTENT OFTHIS PUBLICATION. This publication was not reviewed or approved by, nor does it express or reflectthe policies or opnions of, Cornell University or itsdesignated representatives.FOR SUBMISSION AND CONTRIBUTION:[email protected]

Content4 Editor’s Note6A Gentleman in Moscow Amor Towles8A Wizard of Earthsea Ursula Le GuinSasha KawakamiBeth KelleyEve Glasergreen12 Britt-Marie Was Here Fredrik BackmanAndrew Older15 Hidden Oracle Rick RiordanAditya Shukla18 The Futures Anna PitoniakDevin Sullivan20 Human Acts Lan KangLuby Kiriakidi22 Mister Memory Marcus SedgwickKelly Stone24 Modern Lovers Emma StraubNatalie Tsay28 Moonglow Michael ChabonEmily Yang30 News of the World Paulette JilesBeth Kelly32 Nutshell Ian McEwanKimberly Koh35 Sweetbitter Stephanie DanlerDevin Sullivan38 History of Wolves Emily FridlundAditya Shukla40 The Moravian Night Peter HandkeEve Glasergreen

Editor’s Note“A word after a word after a word is power.”– Margaret AtwoodIn a volatile time of political, social, and economic change, therebecomes a need for escape, for remedy, for freedom. For these things,there might be no better place to look than books. Books can be toolkits for survival, if only for a few hours’ diversion from the turbulentfrenzy of reality. They can be therapeutic, restorative, curative. Theycan tell stories of triumph when you need a push yourself, or paintthe picture of a world you have never visited. They can be informative, practical, or just plain entertaining. Regardless of what they do,what they are is undeniably powerful.We attach meaning to not only the content of a book’s pages, butthe feel of its spine, the weight of it in our hands. The book is inseparably tied to the way in which we acquired it; any good book can bea serendipitous discovery or intentional pursuit. Whether grabbedhurriedly off the chaotic shelves in a grocery store, or determinedlytracked down, the very act of obtaining a book is the first step in apowerful, transformative, and transportive experience.As Stephen King once said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”Indeed, perhaps magic is the perfect word for the myriad of tricks, illusions, and feats they can perform. A great book can demonstrate adisappearing act, making the worries of the world simply vanish intothin air— if only for the few hours in which your eyes are glued tothe page. It can also make things appear; fictitious characters, stories,and places that materialize, so very real, before your eyes. To read abook is to get sucked in to a world of the author’s imagining, to seepinto the space between the self and the rest of the universe. It is inthis space that the real magic happens.The writers of this issue have reviewed a survey of some of thisyear’s most widely discussed novels, novels which have proven theirability to perform their own captivating magic on their readers. Titles such as Anna Pitoniak’s The Futures, Emily Yang’s Moonglow,(and so many more) have been read by thousands across the country,rated and reviewed by critics far beyond the scope of our Cornell

as Anna Pitoniak’s The Futures, Emily Yang’s Moonglow, (and somany more) have been read by thousands across the country, ratedand reviewed by critics far beyond the scope of our Cornell Community. However, it is now our time to weigh in.While this year’s writers have reviewed works of fiction, perhapsit is in these works that we can hope to discover a greater truth.There is an inimitable power of literature to transport, transform,to unearth the very things that are not plainly articulable by reality.In a world so obsessed with facts, with information, fiction allowsus to go beyond the text into a world of limitless imagining. Fictionexplores the very turbulent and wonderful experience of living,fuels the need to understand, to analyze, to think in the context ofa greater picture. Sometimes, too, you just want to get out of yourown head and into someone else’s.Whether you are escaping or discovering, I hope that you, likethe writers of this issue, have discovered the magic, excitement, andpower of a good book.SK

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor TowlesReviewed by Beth KelleyThe Metropol Hotel stands at the center of Moscow, mere blocks from theKremlin. From its windows over Theatre Square, a careful observer watches theoccasional stray spectator jog up the steps to the Bolshoi, just a few minuteslate to the night’s performance. A fortress of elegance, extravagance and taste,the Metropol buzzes day and night with the activity of those who stroll throughconstantly revolving doors. Whether enjoying a meal cooked with the finestingredients and harmonized with the perfect wine in the Boyarsky restaurant,buying a bouquet of flowers from the resident florist to flawlessly suit any occasion,or “scuffing the parquet” in the ballroom, one can enjoy the lively spirit of both thehotel and its guests. At least that was the case before the revolution Amor Towles’ latest work of historical fiction, A Gentleman in Moscow opens asCount Alexander Ilyich Rostov, recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member ofthe Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt, is sentenced to house arrest in the MetropolHotel, where he has resided in luxury for the past four years. At each turn of theexpansive hotel, the Count illustrates a transition from grandeur to what canonly be described as a shell of the past. But, if the hotel itself has fallen from itsformer glory, those who occupy it have yet to do the same. Set against a starkSoviet background, Emile the chef ’s eccentric flair and Andre the Maître d’hôtel’sotherworldly grace and knowledge of wines seem all the more magnificent. Soon,however, the walls begin to close in on Count Rostov’s little room in the belfry. Hefinds himself counting the seconds to each chime of his twice tolling clock. But,just as he his morale falters, a young girl with a penchant for yellow enters his lifeand allows him to rediscover all that the hotel holds for him.For Towles, rich description is insufficient for his characters. Each elementof their personas requires a fistful of metaphors, a few anecdotes, and perhaps aliterary allusion or two, such that to capture a man’s hands requires no less thanhalf a page of detail. He includes statements like the one that follows:“had he been a pianist, Andrey could have easily straddled a twelfth. Had he been apuppeteer, he could have performed the sword fight between Macbeth and McDuffas all three witches looked on. But Andrey was neither a pianist nor a puppeteer—at least not in the traditional sense. He was the captain of the Boyarsky, and onewatched on in wonder as his hands fulfilled their purpose at every turn.”The variety of associations that Towles provides to describe each of his charactersallows a reader to imagine these actors so vividly that we feel as though we knowthem personally. Understanding their history and growth over the 30-year span ofthe book, readers come to share the Count’s sense of nostalgia when he looks backon his first decade in the hotel.To write about the first half of the 20th century in Moscow requires anunderstanding of both imperial Russian culture as well as the progression of Sovietpolitics, something which Towles clearly masters. Towles pays homage to the greatRussian writers and composers, from Chekhov to Tchaikovsky, in unexpected6

ways. Whether referencing famous literary scenes tosupplement his descriptions or scolding his daughterfor using a copy of Anna Karenina to prop up abureau because, “Anna Karenina would neverhave put you under a bureau just because youhappened to be as thick as Montaigne.” In oneparticularly memorable scene, Count Rostovschools a few foreign journalists in Russia’scontributions to the world, including theassertion that Chekhov and Tolstoy werethe “bronze bookends on the mantelpiece ofthe narrative.” He continues of these artistsby asking, “who, I ask you, has exhibited bettermastery of the shorter form than Chekhov andhis flawless little stories? While at the otherextreme: Can you conceive of a work greater in scopethan War and Peace? One that moves so deftly fromthe parlor to the battlefield and back again?” Even theCount’s full name, Alexander Ilyich Rostov, can be seen as anod to War and Peace, which features a Count Nikolai IlyichRostov.Taking on early Soviet society, Towles manages to write about the struggle forpower following Stalin’s death as one would describe a cocktail party. He remarkson the subtleties of interactions. Party members leave Khrushchev a seat at thehead of the table, rather than the top position in state politics. In doing so, thenovel remains lighthearted while incorporating its tumultuous surroundings.Simultaneously, Towles does the Russian population justice by stepping back toappreciate the profound impact that these petty men’s whims had on the country.After a grand display to mark the transition to nuclear power that involved firstsending Moscow into blackout, Towles visits individual families and notes the waysthat the outage affected them. The world through Count Rostov’s experiences,relationships, and romances, distracts from the surrounding nation’s descent intoSoviet bleakness. Towles captures the subtle creeping of totalitarianism so perfectlythat even readers take each escalation of control as normal. One day an incompetentwaiter from the downstairs Piazza is promoted “on recommendation” to workin the Count’s beloved Boyarsky. He eventually replaces the selection of wineswith two options—red or white—by complaint that a wine list’s range of prices iscontrary to revolutionary ideas. From there on, readers note his ascension in thehotel only by the titles others use to address him. These unqualified promotionsbecome such a normal part of life that the count leaves them un-discussed.While the Soviet Union seems like a less than ideal place for an overwhelminglyoptimistic novel, Towles manages to put a positive twist on even the mostdepressing thoughts. A major element of the count’s character is his uniquelyphilosophic nature. That, combined with the kind of free time known only to thoseon house arrest, allows him to step back and reflect on the misfortunes he faces7

in life. Readers empathize with the exuberant count, feel his pain, and subsequentlycome to understand the positivity in a situation alongside him. The details ofthe book, in such instances as Chef Emile asking a whistling waiter if he is the“Commissar of Ditty-whistling,” makes light of the rapid changes surrounding thehotel by playing on the absurdity of Soviet jargon. In an all-too-real reflection ofSoviet culture at the time, Towles’ characters joke about the very administrationoppressing them.A Gentleman in Moscow combines a whimsical cast of characters, reminiscentof Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel with the drama of a Soviet spy novel.Towles enchants readers with everything from tales of princes and princesses topolitical satire, resulting in a truly magnificent and bitter-sweet work.A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursule Le GuinReviewed by Eve GlasergreenUrsula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea explores the inward struggles of theadolescent sorcerer Sparrowhawk within a vast, fantastical world rooted in acarefully constructed geography. The first pages of the book itself open with amap of the world of Earthsea; its islands and seas immediately invite the readerinto a realm as physical, extensive, and diverse as our own. While the context ofa land with distinguished borders and people generates expectations for a storythat lives on a scale as large as its physical territory—one that would incorporatekingly feuds—the narrative follows, instead, Sparrowhawk as an individual, andhis limited perspective. He traverses Earthsea and experiences different cultures,languages, and fantastical beasts, but maintains the focus on his own inwardstruggles instead of interactions between peoples and communities on an epicscale. Le Guin leaves much to wonder about the relations between the establishedpeoples of Earthsea. Yet, what lacks in conflict on a large scale transforms into anopportunity to delve into Sparrowhawk’s character and his self-discovery.Sparrowhawk learns from an early age that he possesses magical powers,the potential to learn the arts of sorcery, and eventually earn his wizard’s staff.Once his village and his family recognize his abilities, they send him away for anapprenticeship and to develop his magical skills at the wizard’s island, Roke. Yet,while receiving his education, Sparrowhawk’s innate magical powers sour into ahunger for strengths and skills he is not mature enough to handle. Due to his prideand ambition, he gives in to his rival classmate’s taunting demands to call a spiritfrom the dead. As a result of calling the spirit, he tears a hole in the fabric of theworld and unleashes a shadow in his own image. The shadow will seek and destroyhim unless he conquers the shadow instead. The narrative follows the release ofthe evil shadow into the world, and the three encounters that Sparrowhawk haswith the shadow. With each encounter, the distinction between Sparrowhawk andhis shadow grows fainter to the point that they are each a facet of one another.Since the shadow grafts itself to Sparrowhawk and imitates him in its attempts to8

destroy Sparrowhawk, the conflict has neo external source or outside implica