Alan Cheuse

Alan Cheuse has been reviewing books on All Things Considered since the 1980s. His challenge is to make each two-minute review as fresh and interesting as possible while focusing on the essence of the book itself.

Formally trained as a literary scholar, Cheuse writes fiction and novels and publishes short stories. He is the author of five novels, five collections of short stories and novellas, and the memoir Fall Out of Heaven. His prize-winning novel To Catch the Lightning is an exploration of the intertwined plights of real-life frontier photographer Edward Curtis and the American Indian. His latest work of book-length fiction is the novel Song of Slaves in the Desert, which tells the story of a Jewish rice plantation-owning family in South Carolina and the Africans they enslave. His latest collection of short fiction is An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring and Other Stories. With Caroline Marshall, he has edited two volumes of short stories. A new version of his 1986 novel The Grandmothers' Club will appear in March, 2015 as Prayers for the Living.

With novelist Nicholas Delbanco, Cheuse wrote Literature: Craft & Voice, a major new introduction to literary study. Cheuse's short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The Antioch Review, Ploughshares, and The Southern Review. His essay collection, Listening to the Page, appeared in 2001.

Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University, spends his summers in Santa Cruz, California, and leads fiction workshops at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature with a focus on Latin American literature from Rutgers University.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDRED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. Now to 19th-century New Jersey and a new novel. It set among unusually tolerant people. A racially mixed community that offers refuge to independent souls. Alan Cheuse has this review of the novel "Angels Make Their Hope Here" by Breena Clarke.

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A 30-year-old novel has just been translated to English but keeps its Spanish name, "Muerte En Una Estrella." The author is Sergio Elizondo, and the translators are Rosaura Sanchez and Beatrice Pita. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says it crackles.

James Carroll, who served as a Catholic priest before his literary ambitions led him to go secular, has gathered together his knowledge of church history and his mature powers as a novelist to create Warburg in Rome, his most splendid work of fiction to date.

I suppose it's preaching to the converted to announce that David Ignatius has done it again. But here he is, having written yet another deeply engaging spy thriller, rooted at that point where the intricacies of the intelligence community and the everyday world of civilians converge. However, it's a reviewer's duty to point out some fascinating new turns in the man's work — in particular, the highlighting of Internet communications as a source of secret information over the conventional collection of data in the field, and the actual manipulation of events by means of writing code.

In a prefatory note to The Last Kind Words Saloon, his first novel in five years, Western writer supreme Larry McMurtry states that he wants to create a "ballad in prose." And he borrows a line from great moviemaker John Ford: "When legend becomes fact, print the legend."

No book I've read all year underscores the distinctions between the long form and the short story more than the award-winning story writer Anthony Doerr's new novel All the Light We Cannot See.

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In Syria, the 1980s were marked by a bloody civil war between the Sunni majority and the minority Alawite Muslim government. That's now the setting for a novel titled "In Praise of Hatred." It's by Syrian writer Khaled Khalifa. It's now available in the United States and a translation by Larry Price. And Alan Cheuse has our review.

Over the course of his long and distinguished writing career, Peter Matthiessen — who died this past weekend at the age of 86 — chased numerous demons, from Florida outlaws to missionaries and mercenaries in South America. In his latest novel, which the ailing writer suggested would be his last, takes us back to a week-long conference held at Auschwitz in 1996. Here, as autumn shifts toward winter, Jews and Germans, Poles and Americans, rabbis, Buddhists, European nuns and slightly crazed survivors of Nazi genocide stand witness to the atrocities of some of the greatest demons of history.

San Francisco in the summer of the 1876, between the Gold Rush and the smallpox epidemic, is the setting for Emma Donoghue's boisterous new novel, Frog Music.

There's real frog music in these pages, the riveting cries of the creatures hunted by Jenny Bonnet, one of the two main characters. She's a pistol-packing, pants-wearing gal in a town where pants on women are one of the few cardinal sins, and she scratches out a living catching frogs and selling them to local restaurants.

I am a mortal reader; I have my flaws. I don't usually enjoy prose poems or novels written in lines of poetry, and when I see character types with names in capital letters like the ones that appear in Israeli writer David Grossman's new Falling Out of Time — The Walking Man, the Net Mender, the Midwife, the Town Chronicler — I tend to prepare to pack up, close the book, and turn to something less allegorical.

The "woe that is in marriage," the subject of the Wife of Bath's Prologue in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, is a great old subject. Susan Rieger's smart and wonderfully entertaining domestic comedy, with all its shifts of tone from the personal to the legal and a lot in between, takes up this old problem and makes it fresh and lively — and in some places so painful, because it has to do with a child torn between two parents, you don't want to go on. But you do. The power and canniness of this bittersweet work of epistolary fiction pulls you along.

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"Falling Out of Time" is the name of a new novel by Israeli writer David Grossman. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse calls it a dramatic meditation on grief, reminiscent of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: The book was translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.]

The thing about historical novels is that above all else, they must stand as good fiction. If not, the reader's supposed trip back into the past isn't worth the time or the token. The writer must give the feel and flow of the time in question in a manner that seems natural; characters on a street corner shouldn't remark to themselves about all of these 1922 motor cars rolling past, nor Roman legionaries point out that an axe is bronze when it should be steel.

There are eight stories in Lorrie Moore's new collection, but only two of them really stand out. Moore's one of the country's most admired writers – and maybe I was so dazzled by the brilliance and power of the two longest stories in these pages that I couldn't read the other pieces — which I found either a little off-kilter or too subtly played — without feeling a certain amount of loss. But my possibly cock-eyed view of Bark is that it's a book, or at least half a book, that anyone who loves contemporary fiction should have a go at.

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Now a bit of historical fiction for you. It's the new book by novelist Robert Harris about the Dreyfus Affair that made headlines in the late 1890s and shook the French military to its core. The book is called "An Officer and a Spy." Alan Cheuse has our review.

For the historical novelist, the past sometimes seems like one great filing cabinet of material that may lend itself to successful novelization. And in the case of France's so-called "Belle Epoque," the gifted English writer Robert Harris seems to have opened the right drawer. His latest novel, An Officer and a Spy, is set during this period of peace and prosperity between the end of the Franco-Prussian war and the lead-up to the First World War.

Restless and determined young Dubliner Jimmy Rabbitte put together a neighborhood soul band in 1987. Jimmy rounded up his pal Outspan and Declan and some other folks, including soul veteran Joey The Lips on trumpet, pretty Imelda and Natalie — the Commitment-ettes — as backup, and the rest was history. That's the gospel according to Dubliner Roddy Doyle's first novel, The Commitments.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of her first novel, Joyce Carol Oates has outdone herself. This year she will have brought out three books of fiction — a new volume of novellas this past autumn, a new book of stories coming out this spring, and just now a new novel, a feat that testifies to the prodigious nature of her imagination and the unstoppable force of her writing powers.

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The fiction work of Soviet era writer Zigizmund Krzhizhanovsky never saw the light of day in his own time. He was known mostly as a theater, music and literally critic, but he also wrote fables and fiction for more than 20 years, none of which appeared in print until 1989. Well, a new volume of that work called "Autobiography of a Corpse" has just come out here in the U.S. It's translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull, and Alan Cheuse has our review.

Alan Cheuse reviews Robert Littell's newest novel of a CIA agent turned private investigator, A Nasty Piece of Work.

When Norman Mailer spoke, you paid attention. Whether he was standing on a stage and speaking for an hour — without notes — on writing, or art, or politics, or in a manic monologue around a dinner table, or in a chance encounter on the sidewalks of New York or in an airport, you listened. Especially if you grew up idolizing him, as many of us did.

The phrase "previously on..." has become quite familiar to American TV audiences. Whether you're devoted to Battlestar Galactica, to Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, you need to be able to catch up to a narrative when you've missed an installment or two. Novelists were there first, of course — the notion of a chain of novels focusing on the same characters goes back to Trollope and Proust – but it's less common to find a recap at the beginning of a book.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. A new novel explores life on Earth tens of thousands of years ago. It's called "Shaman" by science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says it's worthy of a spot on the bookshelf between "The Inheritors" and "The Clan Of The Cave Bear."

The Army rejected him because of his bad eyes — he was nearsighted — but Tom Clancy, who went into the family insurance business instead of the military, turned out to have the greatest vision of modern warfare of any writer of our time. His research into military history and technology led him to create a new form of thriller, and a hero for our time, a man named Jack Ryan whose talents as a spy and technowarrior put a name and a face to the people who battled Russians, Pakistanis, Irish nationalists and Islamists along a constantly shifting front line.

If you're a dutiful fan of Stephen King's work — myself, I'm an off again, on again follower — you will have read The Shining, King's hit 1977 novel about a haunted resort in the Colorado Rockies. Depending on how recently you immersed yourself in that story, you'll have a sharp or vague recollection of a young child with the power of "shining," or mind-reading mixed with telekinesis.

Michael Gruber began his fiction career as a ghostwriter for a well-known American judge. A former federal civil servant, chef, environmentalist, and speechwriter, Gruber had a varied career before he took up writing his own novels, and it shows in his work, in the broad and capacious subject matter and cast of thousands.

Big questions about the origins of consciousness and culture may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if these are things you find yourself thinking about, there's nothing like a seriously composed and compelling novel about prehistoric life — both for illumination, and for some of the most intelligent entertainment you can find.

Aimee Bender is no longer the whiz kid of the American short story. The Color Master is her fifth work of fiction, and along with the idiosyncratic George Saunders she now stands as one of the reigning masters of the eccentric American short story. Fortunately, she's showing no signs of growing up. This latest collection offers a goodly number of one-of-a-kind stories, beautiful in their dreaminess and imaginative vision, a vision that ranges — you'll discover as you read — from stories about the origin of things to stories with an apocalyptic flavor.

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The writer and humorist David Rakoff died last year at the age of 47 of cancer. He left behind his final work: a brief novel in verse with the long title "Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish." It was published today, and Alan Cheuse has this review.

Charlie Huston's 2010 novel, Sleepless, bowled me over. What a powerful combination of combustible plot and fiery language! At the center of that book, an insomnia plague spreads across Southern California (and the rest of the country). The illness keeps you awake all night, quite fuzzy-minded during the day, and then after a couple of months it kills you. The only thing approaching an antidote is a drug called Dreamer, which makes a little sleep possible before you die.

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