I Am Radar by Reif Larsen

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I Am Radar by Reif Larsen

Buy I Am Radar by Reif Larsen at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Anna Hollingsworth
Reviewed by Anna Hollingsworth
Summary: During a blackout in 1970s New Jersey, a baby with charcoal black skin is born to white parents. Young Radar Radmanovic sparks the interest of a group of elusive Norwegian scientists-cum-puppeteers, and two and a half decades later he finds himself unraveling a mystery on a global scale. From the Arctic to Congo and New Jersey to Cambodia, I Am Radar takes the reader on a journey across the world and many social themes.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 672 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099593645

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Racial tensions, identity, parental responsibility, a child's best interest, love, science, war – Reif Larsen's I Am Radar falls nothing short of having rich thematic content. Its cornucopia of thematic explorations is interwoven into a complex web of stories, taking the reader on a journey, both literal and figurative, from suburban New Jersey to an Arctic no man's land to Congo and the Bosnian warzone.

In a New Jersey hospital, a total power cut; in the delivery room, a couple about to have their first child, the mother screaming and the father clutching his home-made radio. When the lights eventually come back on, the white parents have a healthy baby with one anomaly: charcoal black skin. Baby Radar Radmanovic makes newspaper headlines and is subjected to a battery of tests and confused doctors. His father, Kermin makes peace with his son's anomaly, while his mother, Charlene, is perturbed and desperate for answers. As a last attempt to understand why Radar is the way he is, Charlene and Kermin accept the offer of help from an elusive group of Norwegian scientist-cum-puppeteers in the Arctic. An experiment to alter Radar's skin pigmentation through electricity leaves him epileptic, bald, his black skin peeling off in chunks, and with an extraordinary command of electricity. Two and a half decades later, after the second blackout in New Jersey, adult Radar finds himself entangled in a global network of enigmas; and the reader is treated to novella-sized bites depicting the lives of a Bosnian family travelling through the wars of the 90s and a Franco-Vietnamese family conducting physics experiments in Cambodia, all connected, in some way or another, to the unravelling story of Radar.

Larsen's dexterity as a storyteller shines brightly throughout the novel. The flowing narrative draws the reader in, the dialogue is cleverly constructed, and the comic effect of baby Radar's utterances pierces through the otherwise dystopic landscapes. The plot propels the reader across the globe, offering a bumpy ride on a rollercoaster of narrative; in an impressive feat of combining more profound elements with the sometimes thriller-like page-turner, Larsen manages to explore deeper, societal themes on the way. Particularly the struggle of the white parents with a black baby and its connections to America's past of racial tensions is well depicted. It is physically painful to watch the parents trying to 'fix' their baby who is ridiculed in daycare and stared at in public, surrounded by the silent assumption that he is the product of either cheating or adoption.

Yet in all the thematic and narrative richness, the reader cannot but help to feel that perhaps Larsen is aiming slightly too high. Despite its overall pull, the multifaceted plot does not always come together, as it does in the works exploiting a similar structure by more experienced writers, such as David Mitchell. I Am Radar delivers many enigmas for the reader to ponder on; but at times, the enigmas seem to overcomplicate the overall structure rather than to contribute something genuine to the multifaceted plot.

Even so, Larsen delivers with his 600-plus-page giant a real page-turner. The author treats the reader to an exploration of a very real yet very magical world, and crisscrossing human stories related in surprising ways. I Am Radar has real electricity to it, the current of which will stay with the reader even when the novel comes to the end of its circuit.

If this book appeals to you, then you might also like to try Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell or Waiting for the Electricity by Christina Nichol.

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Buy I Am Radar by Reif Larsen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy I Am Radar by Reif Larsen at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy I Am Radar by Reif Larsen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy I Am Radar by Reif Larsen at Amazon.com.


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