Alan Cheuse

Alan Cheuse has been reviewing books on All Things Considered since the 1980s. His challenge is to make each two-minute review as fresh and interesting as possible while focusing on the essence of the book itself.

Formally trained as a literary scholar, Cheuse writes fiction and novels and publishes short stories. He is the author of five novels, five collections of short stories and novellas, and the memoir Fall Out of Heaven. His prize-winning novel To Catch the Lightning is an exploration of the intertwined plights of real-life frontier photographer Edward Curtis and the American Indian. His latest work of book-length fiction is the novel Song of Slaves in the Desert, which tells the story of a Jewish rice plantation-owning family in South Carolina and the Africans they enslave. His latest collection of short fiction is An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring and Other Stories. With Caroline Marshall, he has edited two volumes of short stories. A new version of his 1986 novel The Grandmothers' Club will appear in March, 2015 as Prayers for the Living.

With novelist Nicholas Delbanco, Cheuse wrote Literature: Craft & Voice, a major new introduction to literary study. Cheuse's short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The Antioch Review, Ploughshares, and The Southern Review. His essay collection, Listening to the Page, appeared in 2001.

Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University, spends his summers in Santa Cruz, California, and leads fiction workshops at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature with a focus on Latin American literature from Rutgers University.


Book Reviews
9:28 pm
Tue March 18, 2014

American Jazzmen Swing Overseas In 'Shanghai'

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Originally published on Thu March 13, 2014 6:03 am

The thing about historical novels is that above all else, they must stand as good fiction. If not, the reader's supposed trip back into the past isn't worth the time or the token. The writer must give the feel and flow of the time in question in a manner that seems natural; characters on a street corner shouldn't remark to themselves about all of these 1922 motor cars rolling past, nor Roman legionaries point out that an axe is bronze when it should be steel.

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Book Reviews
3:18 pm
Sun March 16, 2014

Lorrie Moore's New 'Bark' Is Half Of A Good Book

Courtesy of Knopf

Originally published on Wed February 26, 2014 6:03 am

There are eight stories in Lorrie Moore's new collection, but only two of them really stand out. Moore's one of the country's most admired writers – and maybe I was so dazzled by the brilliance and power of the two longest stories in these pages that I couldn't read the other pieces — which I found either a little off-kilter or too subtly played — without feeling a certain amount of loss. But my possibly cock-eyed view of Bark is that it's a book, or at least half a book, that anyone who loves contemporary fiction should have a go at.

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Book Reviews
11:23 am
Mon February 3, 2014

Doyle's New 'Guts' Has Plenty Of Soul

Courtesy of Viking Adult

Originally published on Sun January 26, 2014 8:43 am

Restless and determined young Dubliner Jimmy Rabbitte put together a neighborhood soul band in 1987. Jimmy rounded up his pal Outspan and Declan and some other folks, including soul veteran Joey The Lips on trumpet, pretty Imelda and Natalie — the Commitment-ettes — as backup, and the rest was history. That's the gospel according to Dubliner Roddy Doyle's first novel, The Commitments.

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Book Reviews
12:00 pm
Sun February 2, 2014

All The Varieties Of Love And Madness, On Display In 'Carthage'

Ecco Books/Harper Collins

Originally published on Tue February 18, 2014 6:58 pm

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of her first novel, Joyce Carol Oates has outdone herself. This year she will have brought out three books of fiction — a new volume of novellas this past autumn, a new book of stories coming out this spring, and just now a new novel, a feat that testifies to the prodigious nature of her imagination and the unstoppable force of her writing powers.

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Book Reviews
11:52 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Historical Trauma Makes For Thrilling Fiction In 'Officer And A Spy'

promo image

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 11:02 am

For the historical novelist, the past sometimes seems like one great filing cabinet of material that may lend itself to successful novelization. And in the case of France's so-called "Belle Epoque," the gifted English writer Robert Harris seems to have opened the right drawer. His latest novel, An Officer and a Spy, is set during this period of peace and prosperity between the end of the Franco-Prussian war and the lead-up to the First World War.

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Book Reviews
10:16 pm
Sat January 18, 2014

Never Again: 'Trieste' Is A Harrowing Mix Of Memory And Memorial

Originally published on Thu January 16, 2014 6:02 am

From Croatia comes a novel titled Trieste, by Dasa Drndic, originally published in Croatian in 2007 and now translated into English by Ellen Elias-Bursac. We might call the novel experimental because of some of the techniques the writer employs. But the story — a mother in search of a child, torn from her in the midst of monstrous warfare — feels ancient.

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Book Reviews
4:27 pm
Wed December 25, 2013

Written In Secret Behind The Iron Curtain, 'Corpse' Is Revived

Originally published on Wed December 25, 2013 7:28 pm



The fiction work of Soviet era writer Zigizmund Krzhizhanovsky never saw the light of day in his own time. He was known mostly as a theater, music and literally critic, but he also wrote fables and fiction for more than 20 years, none of which appeared in print until 1989. Well, a new volume of that work called "Autobiography of a Corpse" has just come out here in the U.S. It's translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull, and Alan Cheuse has our review.

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Book Reviews
9:39 am
Wed November 27, 2013

A Travel Writer, Lost In An Undiscovered Country In 'Land Across'


Originally published on Wed November 27, 2013 7:55 am

Imaginary countries, from Swift's Laputa to the far lands in the works of Borges and Ursula K. Le Guin, countries we'd do better to just enjoy than try to find on a map — these strike us as mostly places it's better to visit than to live in.

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Book Reviews
9:51 pm
Tue November 12, 2013

'Gate' Opens To Bloody And Raucous 17th Century England

Originally published on Wed October 30, 2013 4:35 pm

The absolute forefront of British writing, that's where Jeanette Winterson has stood for me ever since I read her early fiction, particularly her 1987 historical novel, The Passion. She's a writer in the vanguard, moving against the traditional, decorous nature of the British novel — even during the decade or more when, in books such as Gut Symmetries and The PowerBook, she seemed to allow aesthetics and philosophy to overtake story as her main interest.

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Book Reviews
9:21 pm
Tue November 12, 2013

Norman Mailer, Warts And All, In 'A Double Life'

Originally published on Sat October 26, 2013 8:59 pm

When Norman Mailer spoke, you paid attention. Whether he was standing on a stage and speaking for an hour — without notes — on writing, or art, or politics, or in a manic monologue around a dinner table, or in a chance encounter on the sidewalks of New York or in an airport, you listened. Especially if you grew up idolizing him, as many of us did.

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