Book of Extraordinary Tragedies

Akashic. Sept. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781636140605. $32.95. F
This richly embroidered coming-of-age story is set in the south side of Chicago, home base of the Nelson Algren Literary Award–winning Meno (Marvel and a Wonder). Of Bosnian and Polish descent, 20-year-old protagonist Aleks comes from a family of talented musicians who have fallen on hard times. Aleks himself suffers from hearing loss, which derailed a budding career as a concert pianist. His sister Isobel is a brilliant mathematician, MIT dropout, and talented cellist who struggles with being a single parent to Jazzy, a four-year-old who also has hearing loss. Both of Aleks’s parents are nonfunctional unemployed adults, and thus he and his siblings bear an extra burden, while Isobel faces the additional challenge of having cancer. The story centers on Aleks’s trying to help Isobel raise Jazzy by providing childcare and working a series of menial jobs. Aleks also helps raise his 13-year-old brother Daniel, who collects vintage comics and has a penchant for stealing luggage. Each character is vividly described as they creatively overcome adversity with talent, wit, and charm.
VERDICT An uplifting and interesting exploration of one family’s struggle for existence in the United States, against the backdrop of history, classical and popular music, and the financial crisis of 2007–08; highly recommended.
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