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Book Reviews Daniel Grenier's The Longest Year, Yoojin Grace Wuertz's Everything Belongs to Us and Hernan Ronsino's Glaxo, reviewed

Everything Belongs to Us By Yoojin Grace Wuertz.

The Longest Year

By Daniel Grenier, translated by Pablo Strauss

Arachnide, 384 pages, $22.95

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Last year, Catherine Leroux's The Party Wall arrived like a revelation: a French-Canadian novel with a continent-sized imagination, about connections between people over borders and across time. Leroux is among the three epigraphs introducing Daniel Grenier's novel – appropriate, since in The Longest Year Grenier engages a similar continental imaginary. The novel's magic realist conceit – that a person born on Feb. 29 might age one year for every four – allows an epic swath of history with sweeping geography to match: the Appalachian mountain system, that long suture curving eastern North America, from the Great Smoky Mountains bordering Tennessee from North Carolina, to the Alleghenies running Virginia through Pennsylvania, to the Chic-Chocs of the Gaspé. The Longest Year brings to consciousness a story freed from the straitjacket of our present circumstances, a history in which the Plains of Abraham, for instance, bears on the U.S. Civil War. The conclusion doesn't quite live up to the driving power of the rest of the book, but not for lack of ambition.

Everything Belongs to Us

By Yoojin Grace Wuertz

Random House, 368 pages, $36

At first glance, Yoojin Grace Wuertz's debut about three students at the prestigious Seoul National University might appear to fit the college-novel mould, but make no mistake: Although set in late-1970s South Korea, Everything Belongs to Us earns comparisons to the Victorian novels of George Eliot, as Wuertz's characters come of age buffeted by social forces beyond their control. Everything Belongs to Us is a multilayered title, its meaning both enthusiastically literal and sardonic. With admission to SNU, students gain entry into the elite echelon of society. Their future assured, they need only grasp what has been promised them: everything Korea has to offer and beyond. But this rapaciousness, possible only through state repression, comes at an obvious cost to the people. As Jisun, Namin and Sunam – three of this generation born after the Korean War, from very different circumstances – navigate this system, the system in turn weighs on them. Everything belonging to us loses its optimistic sheen.

Glaxo

By Hernan Ronsino, translated by Samuel Rutter

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Melville House, 112 pages, $21.99

Everything broods in Hernan Ronsino's novella, the first work by the acclaimed Latin American writer to be translated into English. A story of lost innocence and betrayal set against Argentina's plains, Glaxo owes its aesthetic to the Western film: running throughout are references to 1959's Last Train from Gun Hill. (Glaxo's first line: "One day the trains stop coming.") We open in 1973. Glaxo is a remote town on the Argentine Pampas, the kind of place one goes to escape attention. The town barber considers how his clients shudder as his blade scrapes the backs of their necks. A work crew arrives without warning to tear up the train tracks. Glaxo is evocative and full, yet suspenseful – it breathes. Ronsino does this in 112 pages by building tension through structure, making abrupt shifts in time and perspective that turn a story about infidelity and murder into something larger, about the backdrop of Argentine politics (hint: Look up the Jose Leon Suarez massacre of 1956).

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