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'Widow' by Michelle Latiolais; 'A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear' by Atiq Rahimi; 'Childhood' by Maksim Gorky.

January 02, 2011|By Susan Salter Reynolds | Special to the Los Angeles Times

Widow

Stories

Michelle Latiolais

Bellevue Literary Press: 160 pp., $14.95

The stories in Michelle Latiolais' vivid new collection are almost all in the feminine third person, the great disappearing woman, fading into the background of her own life, driven by grief or mystified by changes in her own body or powerless in a swiftly moving culture. "She wished it were evening now, wished for the great relief of the calendar inking itself out, of day done and night coming, of ice cubes knocking about in a glass beneath the whiskey spilling in." The she-protagonist in Latiolais' stories mourns the loss of a husband she truly loved. She tries to lift herself back into the world, even visits a strip clubin Las Vegas. She tries to ignore the insensitive comments of people who have not experienced true love. The things in her life are all placeholders, memory-igniters at once comforting and hobbling. . Latiolais is as close to Alice Munro as a writer can get, but with a more modern edge to her tone, low graceful notes, not too much flash, perfect restraint and the feeling of contents under pressure. She could go off at any moment. In fact, you wish she would.

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear

Atiq Rahimi, translated from the Dari by Sarah MacGuire and Yama Yari

Other Press: 172 pp., $15.95

Beware the jinni. If you wake up before your wandering soul has a chance to reenter your body, you will be trapped in the nightmare. This is what happens to Farhad. He has forgotten the password for the curfew, and the soldiers beat him senseless. A woman, a widow, pulls him into her house to save him from the soldiers. Half-conscious, he dreams labyrinthine dreams about his grandfather's faith, the rituals he ignored. His life before the beating, before he met the woman, seems like a story in a book — things that happened to someone else. Through the eyes of Mahnaz, the woman who saved him, he comes to understand his mother's life. "A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear" is set in Afghanistan in the bloody 1970s. The language has the rhythm of a Sufi prayer; the novel offers an insight into the deepest fears of the people of Afghanistan.

Childhood

Maksim Gorky, translated from the Russian by Graham Hettlinger

Ivan R. Dee: 228 pp., $27.95

Maksim Gorky was an activist, a writer and the father of a literary style now called socialist realism. He took on the name Gorky, which means bitterness, while working as a journalist, a position he used to describe the lives of Russia's poor and disenfranchised at the end of the 19th century. "Childhood" is the first in Gorky's autobiographical trilogy, first published in 1915. "Childhood," "My Apprenticeship" and "My Universities" were also made into films directed by Mark Donskoi from 1938 to 1940. Gorky was born in 1868, spent his first 10 years in desperate poverty, and was orphaned at 11. He ran away from home to find his grandmother at 12 after stabbing his abusive stepfather. These are his wandering years — he learned to read on a steamship, worked in a biscuit factory, a salt mill, for a fruit seller. "Childhood" is full of memories of his parents and his storytelling grandmother. All the roots of his efforts lie within — the makings of a man who used stories to educate the elite, open hearts and change governments.

Salter Reynolds is a Los Angeles writer.

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