ross benjamin

FROM PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY, STARRED REVIEW, NOVEMBER 15, 2010

When we first meet Daniel Mandelkern, an ethnologist moonlighting as a journalist for his newspaper editor wife, it's through a series of postcards that the reader will spend the rest of this vibrant, intricate novel untangling. Dispatched to profile children's book author Dirk Svensson, who reportedly lives with his three-legged dog near Milan, Mandelkern is nonplussed with his assignment but anxious to escape his wife. What unfolds, through flashbacks, Mandelkern's observations, and excerpts from Svensson's unpublished memoir, is a complex story about how people deal with love and loss -- though it doesn't hurt to remember what Svensson's old friend and lover says: "[S]tories are one third truth, one third fiction, and one third the attempt to glue the other two together with words." Pletzinger does an admirable job of revealing intriguing characters without being heavy-handed or coy, and the story he tells is smart and well paced, no small feat considering the large scope and the messiness of the lives chronicled. It's a smart and rewarding debut marked by accomplished writing, a slick translation, and intelligent takes on the absurdities of contemporary life. (Mar.)