DePaul Alum Book Review! At the End of the World, Turn Left by Zhanna Slor

A DePaul MAWP alum wrote a book! And it comes out this month! Wow, we are so thrilled to celebrate Zhanna Slor and her debut novel, At the End of the World, Turn Left

If you missed our alum profile of Zhanna, be sure to check it out here

After I (hello, English Grad Assistant speaking) sat down over Zoom with Zhanna, she graciously sent me an ARC of her book. DePaul biases aside, I was hooked from the very first scene and its engagingly raw writing. Well, really, I knew I would like it after listening to the book’s playlist (linked on her website). When I sat down to read, and read and read some more, the following chapters affirmed my prediction. 

The novel follows Maria (Masha) Pavlova as she returns to Milwaukee at her father’s request when her sister, Anastasia (Anna), goes missing in 2008. The book covers their family’s various experiences as Jewish Russian immigrants coming from 1980s Soviet Ukraine, and when we meet Masha, she’s returning to the U.S. after finding a home in Israel’s Orthodox community in her early twenties. While Masha searches for Anna, now 19 years old, readers see the sisters’ stories unfold in the past and present as they both search for their identities—what does it mean to begin childhood in the USSR and then live in the U.S. as growing adult women? We see their relationship with Riverwest—their adolescent home of vibrant color, grit, and drugs. As both Masha and Anna find themselves away from home, they learn about who they are as immigrants, daughters, Jews, sisters, Americans, Ukrainians, and women. We see them wrestle with a tension of knowing how much their parents had to sacrifice for them, feel the pressure to make it all worth it. While each family member is connected to each other, they each have their own cultural and home experiences, lending itself to gaps of understanding between generations that are explored throughout the novel. We see how each navigates the tension of then and now, of who they are, who they were hoped to be. and their connections to their homelands. 

This literary mystery/thriller is captivating from the beginning with an intriguing plot and question over Anna’s disappearance, but I also kept reading for the characters themselves and their relationships with each other, themselves, with leaving, and with all the places of home. I’m truly grateful for the chance to read a story that gives insight into another multifaceted experience of what it means to go missing and come back. 

At the End of the World, Turn Left is released on April 20th, and you can preorder & order through Barnes & NobleIndie BoundIndigo, or Amazon.

Professor Michele Morano will be joining Zhanna on April 23rd for a virtual conversation. Click here for more information about the event and registration. 

Follow her on social media here: 




Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore


By Caitlyn Ward, contributor to the Underground

Clay Jannon, hit with the hard times of the recession, has been shuffled away from his life as a San Francisco corporate drone and has been plopped right down into the tall and daunting aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Working the night shift, Clay soon discovers that this strange and dusty store is more curious than he could ever have imagined. The customers are few and far between, and while there are some random passers-by, there is also a small community that frequents the store often. These eccentric customers borrow from a mysterious, and quite tall, section of the store, habitually checking out large and strange volumes that Clay has been warned not to read. As it becomes more evident that these regulars belong to some strange kind of book club, Clay’s interest in these bizarre volumes grows. Succumbing to his suspicions, Clay engineers an analysis of the bookstore and the behavior of its clientele. With the help of his romantic interest, a data analyst for Google, his roommate, a special effects artist, and his best friend, a successful designer of a “boob-simulation software,” Clay sets out on a quest to discover the secrets that lie far beyond this bookstore’s walls.

In a world where the book is threatened by advancements in technology, the author, Robin Sloan, takes on the intersection between old and new media. Sloan crafts a warm and enjoyable novel, while also raising questions about the power that books and technology contain in today’s society. He does this by bringing these issues to attention, but never pushes these thoughts rudely to the head at the expense of the story. Sloan creates a quirky constellation of characters, such as Clay Jannon and Mr. Penumbra himself, as they work together to solve the 500-year-old puzzle that lies within these peculiar texts. The many references to technology places the novel firmly in the present day. Although Clay and his friends encounter setbacks, they live in a world that provides the answers in one simple Google search. Sloan seamlessly marries these new ideas of technology with old-school paper and ink and the cleverness of it all makes the story hard to put down. By creating a novel that is simultaneously a love letter to books, a meditation on technology and its limits, a mysterious adventure, and a requiem, Sloan is able to tackle the cohabitation of old and new media in today’s world. Rendered with irresistible language, interesting characters, and dazzling wit, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore creates an intriguing world in which you have to enter, and will not want to leave.

Shining a Light on Papa Hemingway and The Sun Also Rises

By Kevin Sterne, Contributing Writer for The Underground

Ernest-HemingwayErnest Hemingway’s writing captured the angst of an entirely directionless, and pervasively skeptical, generation: the artists, writers, wounded soldiers, and “new women” who fled to Paris to cope with an ennui caused by a complete lack of purpose following the worst war their world had ever seen. As one of these ex-pats, Hemingway spent much of his twenties drinking and enjoying the artistic freedom that Paris and Europe had to offer, and it is from this setting that he penned his breakthrough novel, The Sun Also Rises.

As the story’s chief protagonist and mostly unreliable narrator, the war-wounded Jake Barnes spends his days writing for a newspaper and wandering between cafés. He is hopelessly in love with Lady Brett Ashley, the sexually adventurous flapper who represents this period’s “new woman.” In his mostly drunken pursuit of her attention, he fights with Michael, Brett’s fiancé, Robert Cohn, an ex-boxer afflicted with a serious case of puppy love, and the loquacious Bill Gorton. Although the group is rarely sober in the novel’s first half, it is the second half when the booze really starts to flow, leading to the climax of the characters’ myriad sexual tensions. In this second half, the group travels to Pamplona, Spain for the famous bullfighting. Here, amidst the sloppy drunkenness of the fiesta, the most destructive aspectsthe-sun-also-rises-poster-873-p of each character’s personality surface: Michael berates Cohn for chasing his fiancé, Cohn punches out Barnes, and Brett Ashley falls for a 19-year old matador, fully dissipating any group dynamic that may have remained among these so-called friends.

Hemingway’s well-known iceberg theory is in full force as Barnes struggles with his inner demons throughout the novel. Because his war injury has left him impotent, he rationalizes his dislike for most people, and is compelled to overcompensate for his impotence in various competitions – fishing, bullfighting, and, most notably, drinking.

Set in a period of prohibition, with characters who exhibit almost no change from the beginning to end, this novel creates the feeling of one big party, perfectly capturing Stein’s unfulfilled “lost generation.” Though occasionally criticized for its lack of plot, The Sun Also Rises is properly and timelessly rooted in the American Literary Canon.

For those looking to delve into a classic work by one of the best writers of the Modern or any generation, The Sun Also Rises is not to be missed.

Book Review: Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: A WWII Memoir Rediscovered

By Anne Malina

some-girls-some-hats-and-hitler-a-true-storyOriginally published in 1984, Trudi Kanter’s memoir about her experiences as a hat designer during WWII made very little impact. However, her book was re-released in October of 2012 and is finally receiving the recognition it deserves.

Unlike most WWII memoirs, Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler has an upbeat quality conveyed through Kanter’s buoyant prose. As a Jewish woman from Vienna, Kanter is optimistic despite her numerous hardships and she is truly resilient in the face of ceaseless danger. In this account, we learn how she relentlessly fought to get herself and her husband out of Austria and into safety in England. But she did not stop there. She also took pains to get her aging parents to safety, proving her love and loyalty through her courageous actions.

Additionally, Kanter’s true love story is woven into this memoir. We watch her love grow and develop during times of fear and apprehension. Despite the chaos in her life, her love for her dear Walter only grows stronger and serves as impetus for her to fight all the harder.

This memoir took me completely by surprise with its charming wit and unexpected accessibility. Kanter is a thoroughly modern woman, unafraid to fight for her rights and for the rights of those she loves. She was a divorcee and a small business owner during a time when that was virtually unheard of. She fought with all she had to achieve not only safety, but economic success. Her unfailingly optimistic voice takes the reader on an unforgettable journey through war-ravaged Europe as seen by an unswervingly resilient young woman of Jewish descent.

In short, it is a touching, inspiring, and unexpected memoir that is well worth the read.

About the writer:
Anne Malina is a freshman at DePaul, double majoring in English & French, from Berwyn, IL.

Book Review: The Time Keeper

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom
by Anne Malina

The Time Keeper created quite an impact on the literary world when it was released this September. The furor it caused was inevitable if for no other reason than the previously established prestige of its author. As an already respected writer of best-sellers such as Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom had some high expectations to meet. He did it though, and even surpassed them.

Albom has been known to address profound life issues in his work and The Time Keeper is no exception. From the very first page, I was captivated by this nontraditional novel. One could even call it a fable. Indeed, it teaches its readers a valuable lesson but it is not, by any means, a traditional, run-of-the-mill, children’s fable. It speaks to people in all walks of life because it concerns one of humanity’s greatest obsessions: time.

The protagonist of this captivating tale is none other than Father Time himself. It tells the story of the man who invented time and consequently destroyed the peaceful ignorance of humanity. As punishment for what he has done, Father Time (named Dor) must listen to humanity suffer under the burden of time until the end of the world.

Consequentially, two people in particular stand out to Dor and it becomes his duty to teach them the futility of measuring time. As the lives of these individuals unfold, the reader identifies with their struggles. Humans waste so much time worrying about time itself: will there be enough time? How much time is left? Is it too late? Everything is scheduled and organized to the last second so that we are slaves to time.At some point we must realize that all the time we waste worrying about time itself could be spent enjoying life instead.

The best way to express this idea is through Albom’s own words: “When you are measuring life, you are not living it.” This idea is at the very core of the novel and it rings true for all human beings.

The Time Keeper is a great deal more than just a story about the beginning of time; its message resonates for anyone who has felt cheated by time. It encourages the reader to reevaluate his or her own life and priorities. Through this book, Albom points out the futility of counting and measuring our moments on earth; instead, we should cherish every living second and stop looking toward the next one.

About the writer:
Anne Malina is a freshman at DePaul, double majoring in English & French, from Berwyn, IL.

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars: Book Review

by Anne Malina


The #1 New York Times bestseller that Time Magazine called “damn near genius,” The Fault in Our Stars is the story of Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters, two Indianapolis teenagers who meet at a Cancer Kid Support Group./

Initially, I underestimated this novel’s potential. The premise of a teen with terminal cancer seemed a bit too depressing to be anything worth reading. I was reluctant to slog through page after page of a tear jerking story about thwarted youth and the despair of cancer. In due course, I came to the realization that I had gravely misjudged Green’s writing prowess.

From the first page, this book was drastically different from what one might expect.  It is not a typical sob story about the injustice and pervasiveness of cancer. Green’s characters are struggling to prevent cancer from defining who they are, but they cannot escape the way that people perceive them.

Hazel, the novel’s protagonist, suffers from terminal lung cancer. All she wants is to be an ordinary teenager. It’s not that she struggles with accepting the fact that she will not live very long, it’s that she doesn’t want anyone’s pity. This novel gives the reader an up close view of what it means to be utterly helpless, yet somehow unfailingly resilient.

It speaks not only to young people with cancer, but to all people as human beings by addressing the unspoken doubts and fears we all seem to possess: Do I matter? Will I be remembered? Does anyone even care?

Instead of droning on about the injustice of illness, John Green opens the reader’s eyes to a completely different way of thinking about living. It begs the question: how would you live your life if you were dying? Green proves that “grief does not change you…. it reveals you.” He realizes that people are more than their flaws and they are more than the pain they are forced to suffer. Life is a complicated journey whether that journey is long or unexpectedly short.

The most compelling argument to persuade anyone to read The Fault in Our Stars is by sharing a quote from the novel, “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

The Fault in Our Stars is undeniably true to this quotation. It is both highly accessible and brutally honest with its dark humor and poignant storyline. It is definitely worth reading.

Anne Malina is a freshman at DePaul, double majoring in English & French from Berwyn, IL.