Saturday, January 18, 2020

Books: New Novels Set Around The World

Photo by Jason Schott.

There are three new novels out that will take you all over the world, to Italy, the setting for Luca D'Andrea's Sanctuary, to Iceland, where The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson takes place, and a little closer to home, Manhattan's Fifth Avenue for Cornelius Sky, by Timothy Brandoff.

By Luca D'Andrea
Harper Paperbacks; 272 pages; $16.99; available Tuesday, January 21

Luca D'Andrea's first thriller, Beneath The Mountain, was published in 30 countries, and his newest work, Sanctuary, is set in the Italian region of Alto-Adige.

Since this is where D'Andrea lives, he perfectly describe the stunningly beautiful, fairy tale-esque area in all its mystery while this engrossing thriller follows a woman on the run from her crime boss husband and the assassin sent to kill her.

Herr Wegener has been entrenched in a black-market crime organization ever since he was a child in World War II. Having forced a reign of terror within the majestic Dolemites mountain range, he is feared by all in the area - and that includes his wife Marlene.

When they first met, Marlene was working at a hotel to earn money for her family, and he represented sanctuary and protection. However, she has had enough of her husband's cruelty and goes on the run with millions of lire worth of sapphires from Wegener's safe, as well as his car. 

Wegener hires a notorious assassin, The Trusted Man, to hunt down and kill Marlene. Those plans are derailed when he finds out his wife is pregnant with her son. 

This tale of nightmarish villains and kind-hearted heroes will have readers unable to put Sanctuary down as they keep up with the cat and mouse game between these two compelling characters.

The Sacrament
By Olaf Olafsson
Ecco; hardcover, 272 pages; $26.99

Olaf Olafsson is a former executive vice president of Time Warner and lives in New York City with his wife and three children. He was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1962 and studied politics as a Wien scholar at Brandeis University. He is the author of five previous novels, The Journey Home, Absolution, Walking in the Night, Restoration, and One Station Away, as well as a story collection, Valentines.

The Sacrament provides a timely examination of insitutional power and corruption in the wake of many new allegations of sexual assault by clerics in the Catholic Church, in an attempt to raise questions about the fallibility of memory and the value of faith.

Set in Iceland, and this riveting and emotionally resonant novel traces a history of unspoken traumas that unfold in a small Catholic school, and the trials of a nun compelled to expose them. 

This young nun sent by the Vatican encounters a student who has just witnessed the school's headmaster, Father August Franz, fall to his death from a church tower. Two decades later, that child has grown into a man haunted by his past and calls the nun back to the scene of the crime.

At this time, the nun is seeking peace and calm in her twilight years at a convent in France, but she has no choice but to go back to Iceland. This trip brings her former visit - as well as her years as a young woman in Paris - powerfully, and sometimes painfully, to life.

In Paris, she met an Icelandic girl who she has not seen since, but whose acquaintance changed her life, a relationship she relives while reckoning with the mystery of August Franz's death, and the abuses of power that may have brought it on. 

Olafsson draws on his childhood experiences of growing up near a Catholic school in which misconduct and an eerie death occurred. This took place just one street away from his own school, next to grounds where he played soccer as a child. This case is sadly not unique, as many victims of abuse at the hands of Catholic priests have bravely come forward to shed light on the hidden history of sexual assault.

The Sacrament is told from the perspective of a nun grappling with her conflicted sexual desires, allowing Olafsson to address the renunciation of homosexuality by the Catholic Church, delicately and deliberately contending with these issues in a riveting and relevant narrative.

Cornelius Sky
By Timothy Brandoff
Kaylie Jones Books, an imprint of Akashic Books, Brooklyn, NY; paperback, 224 pages, $15.95

Set in 1974 New York City, Cornelius Sky is a doorman in a luxurious Fifth Avenue apartment building that houses the city's elite, including a former First Lady whose husband was assassinated while in office.

While on the job, Connie prides himself on his ability to buff a marble floor better than anyone, a talent that so far has kept him from being fired for his drinking. He pushes the boundaries of his duties, partying and playing board games with the former First Lady's lonely 13-year-old son in the service stairwell - the only place the child is not being spied on by the tabloid press and his Secret Service detail.

Connie believes he is the only one who can offer true solace and companionship to this fatherless boy, but the constant neglect of his own sons and their mother nears a boiling point. His wife changes the locks on his own door, leaving him to wander the mean streets of the city in his uniform, where unlikely angels lead him to a path toward redemption. 

Cornelius Sky is an elegant picaresque that beautifully captures New York at a time it was on the edge of ruin and recovery.

About The Author: Timothy Brandoff operates a bus for the New York City Transit Authority and he previously worked as a doorman. He received a BA from Goddard College and an MFA from New York University. His fellowships include the Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab, the Chesterfield Writer's Film Projectm the Vermont Studio Center, and Yaddo. Cornelius Sky was a runner-up for the James Joyce First Novel Fellowship.

Timothy Brandoff on Cornelius Sky: "In the early 1990s, trying to avoid the sun's accusatory glare, feeling lost and troubled, I could often be found loitering inside the public library in Glendale, California. One day, shuffling through its stacks, I spotted the hardbound New York Times Index, whose volumes occupied a shelf's entire row. I remember thinking, That's convenient. Who knew such a resource existed?

"In that index I discovered two abstracts concerning family members. The first, from 1937, about my grandfather, contained the startling keyword of suicide. The second, from 1974, about my uncle, offered this highly curious instruction: See JFK Jr. I filled out a slip requesting the microfilm, threaded it into a quaint apparatus, and after reading the two brief articles I thought, If I could somehow capture the bleak irony and pathos of these pieces...

"Here we are, close to thirty years later, and I've written a novel informed by the articles, which served as points of departure for a personal work of the imagination. The book is the portrait of a doorman. I have worked as a doorman. (So did my uncles, and my brother, and others from the neighborhood.) Some of the book is set in the public housing projects of Chelsea in New York City. I grew up in the Chelsea projects. The subject matter of the novel includes alcoholism, and, like so many others, I have known family and friends who have suffered the horrific, sometimes fatal consequences of addiction.

"Is it autobiography? The most accurate answer might be: yes and no. Which I think is the answer many writers of fiction aspire to give. There is a spot from which to compose, deeply personal, yet unhindered by a constraining loyalty to fact. I do draw on my own life, of course, and the life of my father, but finally, the book's protagonist speaks for himself. That's the hope, anyway: for the story of Cornelius Sky to have become its own thing, a brief novel, true to itself."

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