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The Inspector Clouseau of Assassins; A Businessman Digs Through the Past; "The Real Dragon: A Novel of Vietnam" 

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The Inspector Clouseau of Assassins

Assassination is the most heinous act of political speech, but in "Twelve Fingers" (Pantheon, $23) Brazilian author Jo Soares makes assassination a joke. Soares, a cultural icon in Brazil, is best known for his work in theater and his recent journalistic and fictional works, including the internationally acclaimed "A Samba for Sherlock."

"Twelve Fingers" displays Soares in a satirical and hyperbolic mode — the only one he seems to know. In the book, Dimitri Korozec is born the son of a Brazilian contortionist mother and a fanatically nationalist Serbian linotypist father. As he ages, the attractive Dimitri becomes a hit with the women because of his birth defect—an extra index finger on each hand. But it's Dimitri's love of politics that causes him to enroll in a top assassin school.

It becomes clear that he is the Inspector Clouseau of the assassin world. Although intelligent and an excellent sharpshooter, Dimitri is clumsy and his assassination attempts always fail. For instance, Dimitri would have assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand if his index fingers had not become stuck in the trigger of the gun.

"Twelve Fingers" is reminiscent of "Forrest Gump" since Soares places Dimitri in the company of numerous celebrities. Besides meeting a multitude of famous revolutionaries, Dimitri has an affair with the seductive spy Mata Hari, hangs out with Pablo Picasso and becomes Al Capone's confidant.

"Twelve Fingers" contains better character development than Gump and it's more intelligent. Dimitri goes from naive assassin to a man with a midlife crisis who feels he will find his youth by assassinating his uncle, the dictator of Brazil. One definitely goes away from "Twelve Fingers" with more than the life-is-like-a-box-of-chocolates motif. — Jacob Parcell

A Businessman Digs Through the Past

"A Few Corrections," Brad Leithauser's latest work, (Knopf, $24) is quietly true to life. A man sets out to correct the errors in the obituary of one Wesley Sultan, a salesman from Michigan. The man, a businessman himself, but hailing from New York City, goes about interviewing Sultan's surviving family, to straighten out the facts.

He interviews Wesley's younger brother, Conrad Sultan, who still begrudges his brother's attempts to cut corners; a sister, who adored Wesley and still defends him against his critics; his ex-wife, Sally, who has retired to France, is arguably the most knowledgeable about his heart and soul, and has yet another perspective. These witnesses agree on only one thing: More than a few corrections must be made to get to the truth of Wesley's life.

Wesley had a tendency to invent stories and hide truths. To escape the limitations of a small Midwestern town, he started out as a salesman with a shipping company instead of finishing high school (something the obituary doesn't reflect.) But progressively, chapter by chapter, surprising truths emerge from the reminiscences of those who knew him.

"'What fools, fools we were!'" remembers philosophical Sally, ("and yet her protest rings with more amusement than despair"), remembering how she had to divorce Wes when she discovered a secret — and never officially dissolved — marriage in his past. Conrad explains that Wes' only real ambition was to gain love from women, and he would stoop to anything to get it.

The deceased was a ladies' man and a liar, which makes him a dead anti-hero. Still, the book's appeal lies not in its black assessment of a man's character but in its unfolding revelations about how and why ordinary people sometimes do absurd things, and how funny these actions can seem. Brad Leithauser's art is to offer us a gentle satire of ourselves. It's not as tragic as the story of Willy Loman, but "A Few Corrections" is a wake for everyman. — Ann Bayliss

Recommended:

Carrington Pasco recommends "The Real Dragon: A Novel of Vietnam" by Louisa Hagan Trigg (Daniel & Daniel, $25.95). This book, written by a former resident of Richmond, is a good story set in Vietnam beginning with the coup against President Diem and taking the reader through the often confusing events that followed. If you want to understand more about how we became so embroiled in that tragic war this is a good place to
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