Haley Grogan

The lives of twin siblings are often deeply intertwined—first physically, and later emotionally, mentally and spiritually—and Josh Weil’s The Great Glass Sea explores the tender, yet tenuous, relationship between Russian twin brothers Yarik and Dima. Though they have been inseparable since childhood, life with the Oranzheria, a sea of glass stretching over a section of the country to make the largest greenhouse in the world, is slowly pushing them apart.

Inspired by the true story of Agrokombinat Moskovsky, an area on the outskirts of Moscow that was transformed into a 24-hour greenhouse, The Great Glass Sea is set in an alternate present, where the Oranzheria keeps the residents of the city of Petroplavilsk, Russia, trapped in perpetual sunlight under a dome—the "glass sea" of the title, which is engineered to maximize food production. As the glass sea grows, so does Yarik’s career, as he receives promotion after promotion. Dima, however, is fixated on their old life, their childhood on their uncle’s farm following the death of their father. While Yarik moves up in the Oranzheria’s workforce, Dima lives alone with his mother and rooster, dreaming of returning to his uncle’s land with his brother. The two watch a chasm open between them as they become the faces of these opposing factions, and struggle to find a way to reconcile their separate lives with the love they have always borne for one another.

Weil’s 2009 novella collection, The New Valley, was the winner of the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” selection and a New York Times Editor’s Choice. He has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation and Columbia University, among others, and his fiction has appeared in publications like Granta, Esquire and One Story. His lyrical prose pulls readers from each paragraph to the next, and is peppered with brilliant and dark imagery as well as colorful Russian folklore, making The Great Glass Sea a must-read for fans of literary fiction.

The lives of twin siblings are often deeply intertwined—first physically, and later emotionally, mentally and spiritually—and Josh Weil’s The Great Glass Sea explores the tender, yet tenuous, relationship between Russian twin brothers Yarik and Dima. Though they have been inseparable since childhood, life with the Oranzheria, a sea of glass stretching over a section of the country to make the largest greenhouse in the world, is slowly pushing them apart.

Set against the colorful backdrop of the Virgin Islands from 1916 to the 1970s, Land of Love and Drowning weaves an intricate tale of the legacy of an island family as it grapples with love, magic and death over more than six decades. A heartbroken patriarch purposefully sinks his ship into the Caribbean, leaving two daughters and their half-brother to make their own way, each in possession of a particular magic and unusual beauty.

Rumors of witchcraft, adultery and incest surround the orphaned Bradshaw children, and as the siblings set out to form their own future on the steadily changing island, they discover family is important, but also inescapable. The islands are transferred from Danish to American rule, and tourism becomes king; however, just as St. Thomas is coming into the modern world, a fearsome hurricane reveals forgotten priorities.

Tiphanie Yanique is a native of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and the author of the story collection How to Escape from a Leper Colony. Alternately told in neat, concise speech and fiery Caribbean dialect, Land of Love and Drowning is well researched—much of Yanique’s family history is woven into the storyline—and the novel’s careful structure keeps the reader from getting lost amid the historical context. Yanique’s vivid writing, echoing Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez, builds a whole world within its language and cadence. Exhilarating, fierce and effortless, Land of Love and Drowning is the imaginative tale of a family’s fight to endure.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 

ALSO ON BOOKPAGE.COM: Read Tiphanie Yanique's behind-the-book story for Land of Love and Drowning.

Set against the colorful backdrop of the Virgin Islands from 1916 to the 1970s, Land of Love and Drowning weaves an intricate tale of the legacy of an island family as it grapples with love, magic and death over more than six decades. A heartbroken patriarch purposefully sinks his ship into the Caribbean, leaving two daughters and their half-brother to make their own way, each in possession of a particular magic and unusual beauty.

Sicilian wax sculptor Gaetano Zumbo left his hometown of Siracusa, Italy, at age 19, amid rumors of betrayal and patricide. On the run from his past, he made his way across Italy and changed his name to Zummo, all the while earning acclaim for his wax sculptures of human bodies. He eventually stopped in Florence to join the Medici court at the request of the Grand Duke himself, Cosimo III, whose unreciprocated love for his wife has left him tortured—and leads him to make a strange request of the celebrated sculptor.

Secrecy tells the story of Zummo’s work to complete the Grand Duke’s request—a life-size, lifelike woman made entirely out of wax—and his subsequent romance with the apothecary’s daughter, Faustina. His newfound love proves dangerous, and not just because Faustina has secrets of her own: In 17th-century Florence, pleasure carries a price. As Zummo navigates the complexities of the Italian city, both geographically and politically, he must learn to make peace with his past, even when it turns up on his doorstep.

Rupert Thomson is a celebrated British author with nine novels to his name, including The Insult, which David Bowie named to his list of 100 must-read novels of all time, and Death of a Murderer, which was shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year in 2007. Secrecy is full of bright, colorful descriptions of Florence, often including well-crafted metaphors and similes, which provide a perfectly contrasting setting to Zummo’s shady, twisted experiences.

Thomson’s thorough research and exceptional skill for the sort of detailed storytelling often missing in historical novels make Secrecy an absorbing and thrilling mystery, full of dark alleys, gray skies and cobblestone.

Haley Grogan is a full-time writer and editor living in Tuscaloosa, where she works as the assistant editor at the Alabama Alumni Magazine and as the managing editor of online magazine Literally, Darling.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Sicilian wax sculptor Gaetano Zumbo left his hometown of Siracusa, Italy, at age 19, amid rumors of betrayal and patricide. On the run from his past, he eventually stopped in Florence to join the Medici court at the request of the Grand Duke himself, Cosimo III, whose unreciprocated love for his wife has left him tortured—and leads him to make a strange request of the celebrated sculptor.

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