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Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012

THE YEAR IN BOOKS

Celebrating the female dragons


"All That I Am" (Harper) by Anna Funder blazes across pre-World War II Europe, illuminating the period when Hitler eliminated all national opposition in his prelude to the rest of the world.

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Funder imaginatively melds historical figures, painstaking research and creative fire to chronicle the desperate resistance against Nazi Germany's encroaching domination. Riveting, centered by powerfully enigmatic women, this novel enthralls with a truth stronger than mere fiction; its dark light will linger.

A dose from dual Furies, both bitingly fierce: "Gone Girl" (Crown), Gillian Flynn's murder mystery/psychological thriller, emerges as a study of modern societal constructs. From media monsters to the poison of "Cool Girl" relationships, the pages singed my soul. Flynn ultimately kindles a contemporary gorgon and archly condemns society's contribution to her rise.

J.K. Rowling's "The Casual Vacancy" (Little, Brown) scales global social issues from the confines of an insular British village. Rowling's trenchant honesty spares no character in this acid tome — neither leftist or rightwinger, wily politician or youthful swag, nor idealistic do-gooder or the reader. Rowling breathes fire across modern ideals on all sides of the political arena, burning across adult machinations to reveal horrific individual suffering. Providing no answers, Rowling questions humanity's responsibility in a world where youth is constantly betrayed by its elders.

"The Sweet Girl" (Atlantic Books) by Annabel Lyon refutes the contemporary, cloying image of a woman succeeding by a man's standards. Set in ancient Greece, Lyon flames into life Aristotle's real-life, decidedly unsweet daughter, Pythias, forging her into a woman triumphing as a woman in this strictly patriarchal society. A scholarly preteen more comfortable sorting animal bones than imprisoned by a woman's loom, Pythos surges into her own after her father's death. Priestess, midwife, lover to a god and, finally, empowered wife; in Lyon's creative warmth and keenly researched details, a fresh feminist slant coolly tempers this historical read.

Kris Kosaka teaches literature and writing at Hokkaido International School.

THE YEAR IN BOOKS

Four aspects of Japan's history

By MICHAEL HOFFMAN


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