Alen Mattich recommends


The International Festival of Authors (IFOA) just wrapped at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. CBC Books got in touch with some of the writers who will be appearing at the festival to find out what recent read they'd like to recommend.

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Novelist and financial journalist Alen Mattich read at the IFOA on Friday, October 26. He was born in Zagreb, Croatia, and grew up in Libya, Italy, Canada and the United States. Now based in London, England, he writes for Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal.

His debut novel Zagreb Cowboy is a taut thriller, set in Yugoslavia in 1991, when the country is on the verge of civil war and chaos reigns. In the midst of the turmoil, secret policeman Marko della Torre, who operates outside the letter of the law, is forced to run for his life when a corrupt cop out for revenge puts out a contract on him.

When asked to recommend a recent favourite read, Alen Mattich had this to say:

" There are two books I've recently read that made an impression. I know, the request was for a single recommendation, but one is for adults, the other for children, one is current and very high profile, the other is wrongly neglected, one is at the cutting edge of literary style, the other is in simple language. In their own ways, they're equally poetic.
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The first is Hilary Mantel's Booker-winning Bring Up the Bodies. This is part two of her planned trilogy of novels about the life of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's chief minister. Cromwell was a man better known as one of history's villains before Mantel wondrously transformed him into a character deserving of empathy and respect. Bring Up the Bodies is maybe a little less sublime than the first volume, Wolf Hall, which also won the Booker (one wag said it was the first time an author won the Booker twice for the same book). But that could be because Wolf Hall came as such a literary revelation, while Bring Up the Bodies has a benchmark against which it can be judged. In any event, both books are musts not just for readers who like high literature, but for those love detailed, compelling plot and beautifully drawn characters as well.

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The second book is a slip of a novella, The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico. Written in the darkest days of the Second World War, it is the story of a deformed artist who lives isolated from the world in the marshes of East Anglia. The wildfowl he protects from hunters are his sole companions until a half-savage girl brings to him a wounded snow goose that somehow lost its way during its North American migration. The girl and the goose lead him to a great act of heroism on the beaches of Dunkirk during the British evacuation. Yes, the book teeters on the lip of sentimentalism. But it manages to take wing and rise above it in a way that modern children's classics about war struggle to. Maybe because the book is suffused with poetry. An adult can read it in an hour or so. But what a glorious hour that is."

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