Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pg. 69: Joseph Olshan's "The Conversion"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Joseph Olshan's The Conversion.

About the book, from the publisher:
Russell Todaro, a young American translator, moves to Paris to take stock of his life and goals only to further lose himself in the surprising twists fate has in store for him. One night, two men waving guns and knives break and enter their Paris hotel room, terrorizing Russell and his much older companion, a famous American poet named Edward Cannon. The intruders, not finding what they seemingly expected, leave without further incident but the baffling, traumatic events overwhelm Cannon who dies in his sleep later that night. Now Russell is left to ponder the meaning of the attack, what to do with the poet’s unfinished, problematic memoir and, perhaps most importantly, how to reconstruct and move forward with his own life.

Hearing of the disturbing circumstances of Cannon’s death, an Italian writer, Marina Vezzoli, invites Russell to recuperate at her villa in Tuscany. But what at first seems like a generous invitation slowly reveals itself to be a calculated offer. As Russell’s stay in Italy lengthens, he begins to realize that the people in his life are using or manipulating him, most of all the poet’s New York publishers who, against the dying man’s wishes, are trying to acquire his unfinished manuscript. Looming over everything is the long and fascinating legacy of Villa Guidi, where during Word War II a Jewish family hid in the subterranean floors, later undergoing a conversion to Catholicism. In an echo of this dramatic history, Russell is forced to undergo a conversion of his own in order to find redemption and meaning in his life.
Among the early praise for the novel:
"Time and sexual boundaries are transcended in Olshan's eighth novel... The relationships between Olshan's characters are sultry and multifaceted, mapped across a richly delineated landscape of intimacy and yearning. European sensibility and sensuality add new dimensions to Olshan’s writing."
--Kirkus Reviews

"Olshan's crisp, satisfying new novel follows American translator and author Russell Todaro, a Jewish gay man who becomes embroiled in the death and ensuing scandal of a former lover. Set against a plush and evocatively described European backdrop, Olshan has produced a compelling story of forbidden desire, deception, religion and love's intoxicating allure."
--Publisher's Weekly
The Conversion is a May 2008 Book Sense pick.

Read an excerpt from The Conversion, and learn more about the author and his work at Joseph Olshan's website.

Olshan is an award-winning American writer. His first novel, Clara's Heart, won the Times/Jonathan Cape Young Writers' Competition and went on to be made into a feature film starring Whoopi Goldberg. His other novels include Nightswimmer and Vanitas, as well as The Waterline, A Wrmer Season, The Sound of Heaven and In Clara's Hands, a sequel to Clara's Heart.

The Page 69 Test: The Conversion.

--Marshal Zeringue