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In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah
The Smile of the Lamb by David Grossman
Orwell in Spain, including the text of Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Lucio's Confession by Mario de Sa-Carneiro
The Chosen by Chaim Potok
The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov
House of the Sleeping Beauties by Yasunari Kawabata
Tear This Heart Out by Angeles Mastretta
Granta 80: The Group
Coup de Grace by Marguerite Yourcenar
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
Granta 77: What We Think of America
The Book and the Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch
Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey by V.S. Naipaul
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (#204)
Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre (#212)
A Woman Named Solitude by André Schwarz-Bart (#226)
The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott (#226)
The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing (#202)
Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story by Ari Folman (#197)
The Assitant by Bernard Malamud (#221)
The Egyptian by Mika Waltari (#226)
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt (#226)
A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o (#193)
Conversation in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa (#208)
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (#166)
Serenity House by Christopher Hope (#201)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (#145)
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (#141)
Post Office by Charles Bukowski (#158)
The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier (#164)
Beyond Belief:Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples by V.S. Naipaul (#192)
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux (#171)
This Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer (#161)
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (#137)
Fado Alexandrino by Antonio Lobo Antunes (#151)
Bruges-La-Morte by Georges Rodenbach (#136)
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (#115)
Seeing by José Saramago (#131)
Second Hand Smoke by Thane Rosenbaum (#114)
The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G.Farell (#87)
The Days of the Consuls/Bosnian Chronicle by Ivo Andrić (#103)
The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn (#84)
The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe (#55)
Germinal by Émile Zola (#65)
Empires of the Monsoon: A History of the Indian Ocean and Its Invaders by Richard Hall (#82)
Relations by Zsigmond Móricz (#50)
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (#36)
BTW, I think you'll love Don Quixote.
Looking forward to your 2009 thread. I've been reading Robert Musil over the last month - really, really interesting reading. Next on my list is Hunger which I know you have recently read.
I expect both will follow a similar trajectory. Not wishing to get boringly repetitive - but if they are not classic intjs I'll eat my hat.
> alcottacre and TT, i might need that reminder to come up for air every now and then. you'll do the reminding, won't u?
> 5,6, 7 great...a Don Q fest to look forward to! i'm planning to begin in Jan but may take a while to finish.
Good luck with it.
>13 alcottacre: alcottacre, don't want to burst ur bubble, but didn't u know that u can download an audio copy of Don Q and lots of works that are already in the public domain for free? try www.librivox.org where Vol. 1 (the full text) is available. Vol.2 which is the History of Don Q, the site says, should be available soon.
books read: 98 of which
- fiction, 72
- non-fiction, 26
including short story collections (8), anthologies (4), history (7), memoirs/biographies (9), 19th century classics (a dismal 7)
by country of origin of author: 31 countries, fiction and memoir authors only, the most number of whom are from
- Japan, 8 books
- Russia and UK, 7 each
- US, 6
- Hungary, Italy, and Croatia, 4 each
- South Africa, Colombia, Serbia, 3 each
number of books translated from other languages into English: 57
top reads (in no particular order)
A Heart So White by Javier Márias
Liquidation by Imre Kertész
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
The Family of Pascual Duarte by Camilo José Cela
Runaway Horses by Yukio Mishima
other memorable reads
Hunger by Knut Hamsun
Blindness by José Saramago
The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andríc
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
If Now Now, When? by Primo Levi
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
A Separate Development by Christopher Hope
The Time of Light by Gunnar Kopperud
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life by Richard Kapuscinski
most interesting novella and short story collection: Agamemnon's Daughter by Ismail Kadare
most intriguing novel: The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk
most exhilarating read: Orlando by Virginia Woolf
most unusual read: anything by Milorad Pavić
most challenging read: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West
best 19th century classic: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
most disturbing read: Night by Elie Wiesel
most thought-provoking non-fiction: The Yellow Wind by David Grossman
perfectly written novella: Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
perfectly written non-fiction (excepting memoirs): Cod: A Biography of a Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky
total waste of time: Terrorist by John Updike ties with Paul Auster's The Book of Illusions
almost abandoned half-way: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
abandoned for good: Somersault by Kenzaburo Oe (how come???)
can't believe this is considered a laureate's best work: The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek
worst storyline: The Taste of a Man by Slavenka Drakulic (she should stick to journalistic writing!)
I agree with you on Somersault; it was by far the least enjoyable of his books that I've read, and I struggled to get through it.
>18 PiyushC: piyush, i hope ur friend doesn't go out and test his hypothesis! yes, this book is unforgettable.
> 19 cait, i've not read his memoir, but u can be sure i will read it at some point --- Levi has joined my list of favorite authors. thanks for the recommendation.
> thanks, Whisper. glad to see u here...
I look forward to your 2009 reads!
running list of book ideas from fellow 75ers (all new titles to me)
Bridge of Birds (drneutron)
Bed: Stories (wunderkind)
The Wasted Vigil (flossie)
In the Forest of Forgetting (fog-struck)
Petals of Blood (rebeccanyc)
The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll (dcozy)
The Illusion of Return (kidzdoc)
Los Premios (rachbxl)
Small Island (akeela)
Cottonwood Saints (blackdogbooks)
W or the Memory of Childhood (prop2gether)
A Midnight Clear (tadAD)
Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (petermc)
A Soldier of the Great War (joycepa)
Journey to the Land of the Flies (dcozy)
The Egyptian (agatatera)
The Invisible Collection and Buchmendel (kiwidoc)
The Sound of Building Coffins (whitewavedarling)
A Life's Music (avatiakh)
I think the entire rest of your list, with the possible exception of 2, resides on Continent TBR.
Alas, there is a thing called a mortgage that has to be paid each month...drat.
I am not aware of any other books that might cover the geopolitics of so many Second World countries. The First World is covered by so many angles it's hard to decipher out the propaganda. There's quite a bit on the Third World also. I'm not sure what would be some definitive books on them. To me, geopolitics is messy and fluid and interpretive.
Khanna's book is almost a recreation of Arnold Toynbee's quest to go forth and understand the world and then write up that understanding. He does so, interviews people in high places and not so high places, then runs it through the blender of his worldview and draws some conclusions. Was he fed some wrong information in places? Did he interpret some of badly? Do a few personal biases slip in? In a work this ambitious in scope the answer is probably.
I did find it interesting and question raising. One question raised for me was, is it even possible to write an accurate geopolitical book? All in all, I found the blend of history, travel, religion, and politics kept me turning the pages.
maybe i'll pick up the book, after all, and judge for myself.... if u ever come across any definitive source on this subject, do let me know!
Considered to be the first American "modern" novel and a masterpiece of 20th century American literature, the book consists of a collection of loosely related short stories of inhabitants of a rural town in the Midwest in the 1900s. Here, Anderson breaks away from two traditions: the use of plot as the focal point and themes about the gentility and romantic and ideal views of rural life.
The stories are told to George Willard, a young newspaperman aspiring to be a writer, who seem to draw others into him perhaps because of his sensitivity or being a writer, simply somebody who could understand. From their stories, we see a depiction of alienation, of loneliness, of inner struggles, of unexpressed desires, of unfulfilled sex lives, of frustrated ambitions. We see that each strives for happiness but never quite reaches it, and immediately we sense even from the first stories that their being inarticulate is a common trait that prevents this from happening. Beneath a seeming quiet life is a passionate, tormented soul. The failure to connect is a recurring theme. In attempting to relate their narratives to George, we feel that the characters are trying to inject some meaning into their empty lives.
Among others, there is a tale of the old writer who wants to write "a book of grotesques", and a four-part narrative of religious fervor that parodies the biblical tales of Abraham's sacrificing of Isaac, and David and Goliath.
The variations of stories of inner fervor but repressed wills are bleak and can be depressing at times. And it almost seems improbable that a town could be peopled at once with so many odd characters, bizarre and angst-ridden individuals. But the book does leave much for thought, and even if we perhaps don't care to admit it, the themes of alienation and frustration are something we recognize, to varying degrees, in our own individual, modern lives.
Loved the year in review -- good work.
The Count of Monte Cristo is a masterpiece! I am sure you all will enjoy reading it. Excellent plot, excellent characters and very well written, despite the length, it is a very pleasurable read. Once you start reading it, I am sure you would need no external motivation :)
Deebee Have you read any other Zola? I am slowly making my way through the entire Rougom Macquart series.
> 45 maggie, i'm a few chapters into the book, though i'm trying to go slow to be able to feel its powerful imagery. i find it already gripping, eerie, and claustrophibic. it's obviously a great work of fiction. i read in the intro that it was indeed made into a film... i wonder how something like that could be stretched into at least 90 minutes of film? but trust the japanese masters to get away with something like this. i'd be interested to see how it compares with the book.
> 46 piyush, thanks for the encouragement! perhaps we'll need it again when we're closer to the date...
> 47 warning noted! no, this is my very first Zola but i would love to read the entire series! it's now one of my long-term reading goals. how far into the series are u?
>48 FlossieT: flossie, just go and pick it up...
Novel, translated from the Hungarian, 1932
Set in Hungary in the 1930s, this is a simple yet profound morality tale about corruption and abuse of power. Pista Kopjass is a small town official suddenly elected to the powerful position of Chief Counsel. One moment he is just another efficient bureaucrat carrying out his duties, and living a quiet, if uneventful life with his wife and children. And the next moment finds him in the midst of dizzying events which he quickly realizes are beyond his control. He came into the job with his ideals of service and dedication, and progressive ideas about community development, education, and livelihood promotion. It seems his old dreams of being able to bring progress especially to the lives of peasants and the poor would finally come true.
Things move very quickly, the story spans only a couple of weeks, and we see his utter confusion, dismay, and helplessness as he is introduced into the shocking world of nepotism and greed among the town fathers. He finds himself in the middle of a big scandal involving very influential people which in his new position he thought he had the authority and responsibility to make right, but in fact was in very serious danger of being corroded by outright, shameless bribery from these very same people. At the same time, poor relations from near and far, people from his past with which he only had passing acquaintance, suddenly appear and ingratiate themselves to him. Everybody needed a patron -- whether for a job, a promotion, a business. One word from him, and things will fall into place. After all, he is relation, and one only goes up or about in life through relations. This was simply how things were.
Pista is torn between his ideals and ambition. He refuses to be sucked in, but he also can't help himself. We are shocked with the decision he takes towards the end.
This novel is a stinging portrayal of the moral decay that characterized provincial governance and society in Hungary after the Great War. The characters and situations, however, are no different from our own experience today, wherever we happen to be. These complex themes are, unfortunately, still very relevant to our times. Are we to just stand and watch? To what extent can we, ordinary citizens, do anything about such seemingly intractable issues as corruption and abuse of authority? Is integrity impossible to be maintained in the highest reaches of power?
A very thought-provoking social and political commentary.
Novel, translated from the Japanese, 1962
Profound, bizarre, nightmarish, exquisite, beautiful, a powerful existential allegory of the human condition.
Considered one of the finest Japanese novels of the post-war period, this is a short and spare novel about a man who is an amateur entomologist in search of a rare beetle which lives in the dunes. His excursion takes him to an isolated desert region beside the sea. Having missed the bus back to town, the villagers offer to put him up for the night -- in a sandpit where a young widow lives alone in a hovel. He soon realizes he is a prisoner, and like the widow, he is forced to shovel the entire night, every night, the omnipresent sand that threatens to bury her home which serves as a bulwark against the advancing sands, and the entire village. In exchange for the sand that they cart away, the villagers supply her with necessities. But she is forever trapped in the pit, with no way of getting out. She herself has no wish of getting out.
He makes several attempts at escape, always failing. The villagers make a point by depriving them of water. He gets the message. Months pass and he and the woman evolve a working arrangement, but while appearing to be accepting of his fate, he is surreptitiously planning the next escape. The novel ends with the woman having an ectopic pregnancy and had to be taken by the villagers to the hospital. Alone, he finds the rope for climbing out left hanging -- he was free to go. In the end, he refuses.
I read this book very slowly, because its powerful imagery is both dizzying and claustrophobic at the same time. The sand is the focal point, everything converges toward it. Their existence is defined by this eternally shifting 1/8 millimeter in diameter particle. The dunes are inanimate but it is what confines them. Sand gets in the food, in the clothes, in the throat, in everything. They sleep lulled by the never-ending soft sound of falling sand. They wake up with the sand powdering their bodies. The sand does not preserve, but rots everything it touches.
This is an immensely layered book, filled with symbolism. Like the couple, we are also down there in the burning sandpit, shoveling mind-numbingly eternal buckets of sand for the barest of things, not even freedom to do what we wish.
An intense read, incredibly sensuous, the book evokes themes of alienation, conformity, futility, tenacity, a meditation on the permanence and impermanence of life like the omnipresent but ever-shifting sands.
Great review of what sounds like an intriguing book, The Woman in the Dunes.....on my list to look out for.
Novel, 13th of the Rougon-Macquart cycle, translated from the French, 1885
Considered the greatest of Zola's 20-novel Rougon-Macquart cycle, Germinal is a charge against oppression, a chilling portrayal of the inhuman conditions of coal miners in northern France in the 1860s, and the outrage which drove them to resist further repression by the capitalist owners, that resulted in unforeseen and tragic consequences.
Etienne Lantier is an outsider who came into the gray mining towns looking for a job, and found one down in the pits. He is shocked by the conditions of the workers, men, women and children alike, clinging to the bare faced damp walls more than 500 meters below the ground, with very little air, exposed to dangerous gases, mud and rock slides, sudden floods, and all other unimaginable horrors every second of their time below, working like beasts for wages not even enough to feed their families. Life is brutish, and with no exception, everybody is old before their time, many are sick with all sorts of respiratory diseases, or maimed from a fall or accident. But to work is not an option. Children do not go to school, they are sent down into the mines very early.
A new and devious wage structure imposed by the company is the last straw, Etienne leads a strike. The effect is contagious, from one mine, it spreads to the rest of the region. The miners hold out, bearing their hunger, sitting out their time quietly, hoping that dialogues with the administrators would result in something positive. Nothing happens, the strike continues -- small children start dying of starvation. Yet they hold out. Then the companies start sending in the police, the guards. The strike turns violent --- there is sabotage, there is killing. The strike lasted six weeks. They couldn't hold out more, or they would be dying like flies. They return to the dark and noxious depths, having paid very dearly and not achieving anything. Yet the tragedies don't end here.
I couldn't put down this book --- there was so much realism in his depiction of the mines, the poverty of the families, the diseases of the miners, the hopelessness of their lives. With remarkable description, we feel we are down there too, in the depths. We are drawn to Etienne's strong, if somewhat naive convictions, to the rising fervor among the miners when they realise it's possible to have dreams of a better life, we are introduced to characters who represent the range of ideologies, from the stoic Sauverine who believes anarchy is the solution to social change, to the bar owner who from radicalism has mellowed, now believing no change is possible in a lifetime and that it is a long process, and to the social idealism of Etienne. We are introduced to individual families, to gossipy neighbors, to the petty alliances and loyalties of these families. We meet, as well, the bourgeoisie, the company lackeys, the representatives of the faceless investors in far-off Paris.
The themes are bleak, depressing even, but like the title, Germinal, which refers to the 7th month of the French Republican calendar (Mar/April) which heralds spring, the coming of new life, the germination of hope, we feel like Etienne, who continued on his way, keeping the small seed of hope that the fight is not yet over, and that a glorious day will yet arrive for those who believe.
As an aside, the description of hunger here and the harshness of life, is even more appalling and more gut-wrenching than in Knut's Hunger and in Solzhenitsyn's One Day....
Truly a masterpiece, a grand novel in every sense of the word. I cannot praise it enough.
I'm so glad you liked Germinal so much. The other Zola works in the Rougon-Macquart series I've read include Nana, L'Assommoir, The Ladies' Delight, Earth, and La Bete Humaine. I am obviously not reading the series in order, and since several of these I read years and years ago, I'm considering starting at the beginning of the series and rereading those I've already read. Let me know what your next Zola is going to be.
> 71 i'm sure you will like it!
The other reason is I have another 470 unread books!
I also have Zola on my shelves and am yet to read any of his books. I always mean to and then forget and start other things.
However I haven't read any more Zola since.
It strikes me, now that I am (more slowly than intended) reading some Balzac for the first time, that it would be interesting to pick up Zola straight afterwards to compare the 2 greats. It would be interesting to compare their fiction and their lives as they both seem important as people as well as authors.
I have a dusty copy of Germinal on my bookshelves somewhere, I remember some months ago I wanted to start it, then I read the back cover and thought "no, I'm actually NOT in the mood for a depressing book AGAIN." Haven't touched it since. Your review makes me kind of wish I had read it then. Oh well, it's never too late
P.S> You definitely must see the movie made of The Woman in the Dunes, it really is worth it.
> 75, 76, 78 (secret) book stashers, aren't we all? mine's around that number too and i don't seen any antidote to this sickness in the foreseeable future except...yes, buy more books! dk, i "visit" my shelves more than once a day for exactly this reason...bizarre behaviour surely.
>77 zenomax: a look at the lives of these 2 greats would indeed be very interesting. for good measure, u may want to throw in Victor Hugo who also led an extraordinary life, and was even more of a leading national figure at that time.
> 79, thanks, girl! it's not depressing in the sense that it's dark. the themes are serious and heavy, but Zola writes in a very engaging way, and while we dwell throughout on the bleakness of the miners' lives, the novel is packed with events and there is such motion and energy, both in the writing and in the people themselves, that one gets into this mood from the very start. i shouldn't have used the word depressing, the better word is angry. yes, this is an angry book. very. but beautiful too. so go, just read it, and you'll see why.
Until Vasco da Gama discovered the sea-route to the East in 1497, nothing was known in the West of the people and the cultures of the Indian Ocean. What was known but vaguely, was that it was the source of immense wealth.
It is this civilization and its destruction at the hands of the West, that Hall recreates in this book. Hall portrays the exploration and the exploitation of the lands surrounding this Ocean by the Arabs and the Chinese for many centuries long before any Westerner set foot in them. Then a long era of brutality and colonial exploitation began with the arrival of the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and the British.
We learn of the first residents of Madagascar and East Africa who came in their small boats from from the Indonesian islands thousands of miles away; the Chinese traders who brought untold riches from their land; the rulers and potentates of the kingdoms around the Ocean whose relations were governed by trade, rather than conquest and occupation; the forays into unknown inner Africa whose sources of gold fed the imagination of rulers far and wide; and the immense wealth of all these kingdoms brought by a high degree of trade and exchange. With the discoveries, an age of violence and destruction swiftly overran millennia of harmonious relationship between those countries, upset and destroyed the way of life there forever.
The title refers to monsoons because the caravels and boats crossing the Ocean from the earliest time until the age of steam were driven by the monsoon. The fates of these empires were, thus, connected to the monsoon.
A very fascinating account, comprehensive, and well-told.
War reporting, third revised edition, 1986
An exceptional collection of sharp and compassionate reporting of the tragedy and suffering of war, this 1986 edition covers Gellhorn's experiences in the frontline of war -- from Spain, Finland, China, Western Europe, Java, Vietnam, the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and Central America. It also includes an article on the Nuremberg Trials and the Peace conference in Luxembourg.
Gellhorn portrays very vividly and with such candor the unflinching belief of the citizens of Barcelona in the Republic during the siege, amidst the rubble and the daily horror of death and destruction; the tenacity of young Polish soldiers as they pushed into Italy at the head of the Allied front; the painful images of injured children; the wretchedness of the Vietnamese hamlets being wiped out by the US bombings, and so on. She writes of a harrowing experience of going up in a bomber, and knowing first-hand what the "boys" were in for every time they fly in a mission. As women were not allowed to report from the front, she boarded a hospital boat to witness the D-Day landing and reported from there.
Fearless, utterly bold and independent, as much a trailblazer in war reporting as in women's rights, her writing is compelling and powerful. Her writing is thoughtful, never dry, always directed at the human element. Regarded as one of the greatest war correspondents of all time, she also became one of the most vocal anti-war advocate.
Just as in 2008, you are reading such magnificent books. Thanks for all your wonderful comments and reviews!
The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G.Farell
Historical fiction, 1973
In early 1857, small piles of chapatis mysteriously appear on doorsteps, in homes of British colonial administrators. It signals the beginning of the Sepoy rebellion -- an uprising of the native soldiers against the British. These actual events provide the background for this fictionalized account of a siege in a remote British cantonment called Krishnapur, told from the point of view of the colonial masters.
We are introduced to a cast of characters whose lives in British India seem, on the surface, unremarkable -- officials in far-off districts coping with the tedium of daily administration, wives and mothers more concerned with finding suitable husbands for their daughters, young soldiers who in the absence of military adventure are instead in town for fun and flirting, and so on. In their daily routines, we feel their boredom, class consciousness, and most of all, the general displeasure of being in this difficult, searingly hot country.
Krishnapur is attacked, and the community seeks refuge behind the walls of the Residency. The bloody siege goes on for over three months, the defenders heroic in their stand, many dead and injured, stocks of food dwindling fast, medicine and ammunition lacking, and the hot summer taking its toll.
Farell portrays the life in the Residency during the siege as a microcosm of the larger society, highlighting misplaced values and goals of individuals and social relations. He employs dark humor to point out the absurdity of certain beliefs and behavior, which can also be viewed as a criticism of colonialism. We meet with unforgettable characters, all very stubborn and highly opinionated, seemingly difficult to like, but who during the course of the siege, we start to care about. Most unforgettable is the dedicated Collector whose belief in progress and industry seem boundless. We track his inner thoughts, foreboding of trouble and foresight to build ramparts, his doubts, his determination, his extreme sense of duty. We accompany him in his struggle to keep up the leadership, to captain a fast sinking ship. Interestingly, even in an almost hopeless environment, there is plenty of dialogue and debate on philosophy, religion, and morality. It even seems that horror brings out this philosophizing mood in everybody. For example, staring death in the eye, a young man, Fleury, is still concerned with his theories in relation to the operation of the guns.
The themes of the novel are serious, but it is not heavy to read. Combined with wit, he also writes with vivid imagery and his description of the invasions/attacks is so beautifully written it is cinematic. In fact, it's the most striking of any battle imagery i've ever read.
Farell won the Booker for this novel in 1973. It is the second in the Empire trilogy.
Have you read Sea of Poppies? It is also a work of historical fiction, taking place in the 1830s in Calcutta, just prior to the Opium War. I'm eagerly awaiting its sequel, as it is supposed to be the first book of three that Amitav Ghosh is writing about this period.
Staying On, which won Scott the Booker, is also good, but a bit more whimsical and gentle than the Raj Quartet: I think he got a lot out of his system with those books!!
Loved your review. I just bought the book last weekend and plan to read it soon. Your review was a nudge to make it "sooner!"
I've also just put Bridge of Birds on my TBR list--that one sounds fascinating.
You have a great thread here with lots of interesting reads to explore. I'll be back to get more ideas!
ETA I loved both Don Quixote and The Count of Monte Cristo when I read them several years ago. They are high on my "reread list" especially since I bought new translations of them a couple of years ago! I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Historical fiction, translated from the Serbo-Croat, 1945
A brilliant novel of conquest and diplomatic intrigue set in Travnik, Bosnia spanning seven years, from 1807-1814 when French and Austrian consuls served alongside the Turkish Viziers in this remote outpost of the Ottoman Empire. Andrić masterfully weaves together a sweeping view of the major events at that time driven by Napoleon's victories and eventual defeat which touched the far reaches of Europe and beyond, and a careful examination of its impacts on the administration of town life in distant Travnik.
The fortunes of and relations beween the Consuls mirror the ebb and flow of Napoleon's sweep across the continent, although nothing much has changed in the lives of the ordinary people. Suspicion, intrigue, but also a quiet acceptance of each other continue to define relations between the Turks (Bosnian Moslems), the Catholics, the Jews, and the Orthodox Christians.
The novel is both profound and complex. We are treated to a psychological and sociological examination of life in this tumultuous and harsh region, from the point of view of outsiders. We follow Daville, the highly motivated, efficient French consul and his daily struggle to function effectively as a representative of the new power, amidst the backwardness and pig-headed resistance of the community to change and to progress. We see how these consuls and their families, each in their own way, battled their demons which the difficult and lonely life in Travnik has unmercifully unleashed. We become familiar with the intricate diplomatic dance between the ruling Vizier and the Consuls, and between the two Consuls themselves as they reflect relations between two advancing and sometimes warring powers eager to take over the region. We are introduced to characters and views which exemplified the two extremes of tradition and conservatism on one hand, and modernity and liberalism on the other -- the proverbial clash of east and west.
Andrić writes very beautifully in this novel -- his imagery and depiction of the town, the countryside, and most of all the weather (!) is unforgettable. Especially memorable is his description of one particularly long period of rain so vividly and so poetically written, it reminded me of Garcia Marquez's depiction of one similar long episode of rain in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Compared to his more widely known novel, The Bridge on the Drina, this is a more penetrating and sensitive account of life 200 years ago in this crossroads of East and West. Andrić's own experience as a diplomat lends further authenticity to the consuls' stories. I enjoyed very much The Bridge but I liked this novel even better. It is considered by his countrymen to be Andrić's masterpiece. I would not hesitate to describe this as one of those rare perfect novels.
I can always count on you to read such incredibly interesting books. I'm adding Winesburg, Ohio to my 2009 reading list.
u might want to check out this website, which also includes excerpts of some of his works.
and for an analysis of The Days, here's a link to a very interesting journal article from the Slavonic and East European Review.
Deebee I've just added 8 books to my wishlist from here! I'm not coming back till I've done some reading ;)
> cmt, i promise you more titles to add on your next visit! i'm in the middle of some very interesting ones :-)
A story of the impact of the Holocaust on the lives of the next generation - the children of survivors. Duncan Katz is born of Auschwitz survivors who fled to America but continued to live the trauma of their harrowing experience in their daily lives, passing on the burden of their tortured psyches to the next generation. The mother, Mila, is the driving character --- shrewd, tough, ruthless, her main obsession is to exact vengeance for the past by rearing the new "hero" who will destroy steorotype of weak, timid Jews. Duncan was never a child in the normal sense -- his mother drove him to excel in everything, imposing a strict military discipline and a rigid schedule with no room for fun, play, or friends. The world is a jungle to be survived, everybody is an enemy. Outwardly, he becomes the "perfect" man, but he is destroyed, hollow inside. He has turned out to be a robot, incapable of feelings other than revenge, hate, a bully, unable to sustain any relationship, including even with his mother. He becomes a federal prosecutor and a top Nazi-hunter. He breaks from his family, starts his own, discovers some secrets, travels to Poland and attempts an interpretation of justice Duncan-style, and so on...
The novel is well-intentioned, it draws us to the battle inside individuals who grew up in such families who have to live with their demons the rest of their lives, and to carry this burden. But the novel reads too much like the script of a commercial movie --- it sensationalizes everything so that it becomes an odd mix of suspense, crime thriller (Mila is a card shark and a gangster, a leader even of the Jewish Mafia), melodrama (Mila with cancer, reunion with a "secret" brother), and other stuff too "fantastical." I regret reading something on such a dreadful and serious subject, written in a way which "cheapens" it. Perhaps this appeals to those who like hollywood hero type movies with a bit of "historical" element thrown into it (this was perfectly starred in Amazon, but i should have known better). This, however, never works for me -- my first clunker then for the year. After this, I needed to pick up something i knew would be along my types of reads -- and quickly!
Historical Fiction, 1st book in The Cairo Trilogy, translated from the Arabic, 1956
Mahfouz's The Cairo Trilogy is the 3-generation saga of a family spanning several decades, from 1917 to the 1950s. Palace Walk, set against the backdrop of the British occupation of Egypt right after the first World War, introduces us to the tyrannical patriarch, al-Sayyid Ahmad, his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, and their children. We get an intimate view of an ultra-conservative household in a society that has resisted change for centuries, whose cocoon is buffeted by the sweeping changes in the country as it struggled for independence from the British.
The story drags for a few hundred pages, but through an exhaustive portrayal of the character of each of the family members, their daily routine, their relations with their neighbors and friends, we begin to have an understanding of the deep cultural and religious bonds that tie Egyptian society. The father is deeply feared, but loved and respected, in his family whom he keeps in a very tight leash. The women follow the strict tradition of being cloistered, restricted from stepping outside their doors unless in the company of the husband, and covered whenever that very rare chance occurs. Amina and the 2 daughters have never gone outside their home except to visit the grandmother, they are ignorant of what lie beyond the walls of the house. The men are different -- the father is a totally different person as soon as he is outside and unseen by his family -- he is a charming, sociable person, reveling in the company of friends, a womanizer, a drinker, a lover of pleasures. His nights are spent in abandonment and pursuit of these delights. Nobody at home knows this side of his character.
The story unfolds slowly until halfway through, allowing the reader to fully absorb the mindset and outlook of each family member, and then events unfold -- secrets are revealed, realizations occur, changes take place in the family structure, and the events outside parallel the turmoils going on inside each individual member as all these changes impact the relative calm and peace they have known so far. The father's authority is challenged by the rebellion of the sons, expressed in their own different ways. Amina witnesses all and suffers silently. The political events breeds violence and the family is not spared.
The story is captivating, although it tends to be repetitive in the character portrayal. Perhaps because the story was first published in serialized form in a weekly magazine that some description is necessary every time, which in a novel can drag a bit. It seems that it's also for this reason that the prose is very easy to read, to make it accessible to the widest range of regular readers.
Overall, a wonderful book, opening to us a world that's rarely glimpsed and understood.
> i have the 2 other books as well, so will certainly continue the saga. i've been wanting to read Theroux -- so far, i've only read a short piece he wrote for Granta. i have the impression, though, that his writing is uneven. i remember reading somewhere that his latest book, something about India, seems to have gathered more negative reviews than good ones.
mind you, i'm having a withdrawal, and since last week, have been back at LT intending to just lurk. well, it seems my resolve is not holding up much longer!
from what i know of your taste in books, i'm sure you will like Andric. i highly recommend Bruges-la-Morte, a gothic love story, not something i usually take to, but this was done with as perfect a lyricism as possible on a bleak subject.
I changed jobs last year and have much less time to read now. However, because my work involves me being constantly at my laptop, I find myself frequently checking into LT to see what everyone else is reading. I'm pretty sure that this makes the situation worse, as it distracts me from my work, so that I take longer to do it and have even less time to myself. It also makes me hugely envious of others who seem (judging by the number of books they get through) to have much more time to read!
Anyway, I hope you soon have more time to read for pleasure!
well, rebeki, i certainly hope that what i'm doing will prove worthwhile as it's a major investment in all respects :-) -- i just started my PhD and have had to do a few courses before getting into the research proper. it's still a long road ahead. that means at least 4 years abstinence from any major book challenges! :-( i hope i will be able to manage my time well, though, so i can squeeze a little pleasure reading now and then...let's see.
Novel, sequel to Blindness, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, 2004
This book is a sequel to the more popularly known Blindness. I liked the earlier book of course, but I think Seeing is much more witty and intelligent, and the satire inherent in all Saramago works is brought out fully in this book.
The story begins with the citizens of the capital of the same unnamed country (who have recovered from the mysterious blindness episode) going to the polls. At the end of the day, the results showed that majority of the votes was blank. This puts the national government in a dilemma. They hold another round of voting. The outcome was even worse this time around. To deal with this catastrophe (for the government in question and all parties of the political spectrum) the government sets off a series of measures, from the benign to the most absurd and frightening that resembles Big Brother, which ends in the city being held "in siege."
The authorities try to pin down the source of this silent and bewildering (and for them, almost malevolent) defiance. The same characters we follow in Blindness reappear. They are identified by the authorities as "suspects" in this silent revolt, it could only be them, especially THAT woman, they say.
Seeing has less "mythical" power than Blindness but i find it more frightening because it is more realistic. We see how institutions of democracy could be perverted to serve the narrow interests of the political elite. Isn't that something we all recognize?
While the story overall is less visceral than Blindness, the punch happens at the very end, and it is even more shocking and memorable than what happens in Blindness where normality returns.
Blindness was unputdownable, but I liked Seeing even better.
I see you recently read This Earth of Mankind too - what did you think? It's been on my TBR pile for a while now.
Great to see you here again. Happy Easter!
Novel, translated from the French, 1892
This novella tells a simple story: when Hugues Viane loses his young, beautiful wife, he decides to settle in Bruges because the town mirrored his own inconsolable grief. The city is gray and moribund, ideal for feeding his melancholy (this was set in the late 1900s; today, the town is lively, charming, and bustling with tourists reverting to what it was in the Middle Ages -- a prosperous trading town). In his morbid obsession to keep the memory of his wife alive, he turns his home into a "temple" to his wife. One day in the streets, he sees a woman who is the exact double of the dead wife. He pursues her, starts an affair, but is crushed to realise that she is not the reincarnation of his wife. It just goes more dark from there...
Rodenbach writes very beautifully, one gets inside the isolation, the loneliness and the grief of Viane, and all this is heightened by Rodenbach's description of the town. In such a poetic way, he presents to us a tableau in black and white which are the colors of the clergy, in harmony with the dark waters of the canals, the white of the swans, and the gray skies. The contrast of black and white is a many-layered theme in the novella and symbolizes many things. It is most evident in the contrasting emotions in Viane's soul where he fights to preserve the "sanctity" of his wife's memory against the "blackness" he begins to see in his new lover.
A beautiful novella, simple yet profound as it portrays the psychology of grief and pain toward a rather haunting end.
Comedy novel, 1889
This book has been widely reviewed in LT, so I won't go into that.
One of the most hilarious books I've ever read, it sure provided a lift from the rather depressing themes of my latest reads.
Glad you enjoyed it, its brilliant isn't it? I couldn't believe quite how funny it was.
This book being one of those intensely love it/hate it ones, and having raised quite a controversy when it won the Booker, I made an effort to reserve my judgment until the very last page. It never redeemed itself, though. A plot out of a cheap thriller, and banal writing. And if it was supposed to portray the corruption, the perverse wealth amid overwhelming poverty in India, there are other novels of the same theme which do a much better job than this. A Fine Balance (which was shortlisted but never won the Booker) is one example.
It definitely didn't deserve the Booker though. And my thoughts also went instantly to A Fine Balance (in fact I've literally just recommended that book to lbucci3, who's also just finished White Tiger!).
"Merricat" Blackwood is not your ordinary 18-year old. She lives with her older sister and ailing uncle in an old mansion just outside town. They live in isolation, seeing only a few old family friends. From the start, we know that there is something mysterious going on or has happened.
I agree with most reviews which say it's haunting but moving as well. The family, or what is left of the family, lives in their tiny and strange world, but is that so deplorable when we think of it as simply a reaction to the hostility of the townspeople after the "incident"? Merricat is especially touching in her innocence.
Entertaining and worth the read though it becomes a bit predictable in the second half. It doesn't quite have the impact of The Lottery, though, which is still probably the most unforgettable piece of writing i've come across.
Novel, translated from the Portuguese by Gregory Rabassa, 1995
A complex and demanding book, Antunes dissects his characters through their personal histories interwoven with their thought processes in a narrative sequence of events over a period of one night. Five ex-soldiers who fought in the war in Mozambique in the 1970s meet again 10 years after in their native Lisbon. They spend the night in the company of prostitutes, and reflect on their experiences during the war, and their individual lives upon their return. Revelations unfold, confessions are made, and they realize they are more connected to each other than they realized. More, they realize that in his own sometimes brutal way, each never was able to return fully again to the self and to the Lisbon they knew before the war, before the revolution, before the heady tumultuous early days after the dictatorship.
Lobo Antunes is the psychiatrist that he is -- in stream-of-consciousness writing, he brings us inside the characters' minds, even into places we don't want to go into. He is unrelenting that way, intending i think to shock our senses, he guides us to the dark labyrinthian back streets of Lisbon where transvestites and seedy characters abound, provoking us to taste and smell the city in the dark before dawn. It's a claustrophobic novel, but here one can see his genius. He writes with such vivid imagery in a way that weakens the knees. He writes on many levels, and one interpretation is that the dissolution of the selves is comparable to the corruption and the decay of Lisbon in this period.
A dazzling psychological novel as well as a chronology of events in Lisbon society during and after the 1975 revolution.
Lobo Antune is big in Portugal in a different way than Saramago is. The latter is like a wise old storyteller, whose parables take us to worlds we haven't imagined before. Lobo Antunes is the opposite, he takes us deep into the dark worlds inside ourselves we never dared explore before.
This book is not for everybody, it is dark, it is shocking at times in it's imagery and it's very long. And if one thinks Saramago is complicated to read with his one-page sentences and omission of punctuation marks, I have to warn that Lobo Antunes employs these techniques even more liberally.
This is my first Lobo Antunes, and it has immediately put him in my short list of best authors, and this book, one of the best i've ever read. Five stars. Need I say more?
An autobiographical account of Bukowski's life as a postal worker, covering a period of 12 years. Henry Chinaski is Bukowski, gambler, womanizer and heavy drinker. He joins the post office as a substitute mail carrier. He hates it, and makes it seem as if the most thankless job there is. After some time he decides to quit and lives off the winnings from the tracks. He returns to work in the post office, this time as a mail clerk. It is menial, tedious, mind-numbing work, usually supervised by aggressive and sadistic individuals. He seems resigned to his fate. He stays on for many years. And between all this are failed relationships, a permanent affair with the bottle, long periods of intoxication, and brief intervals of lucidity.
Bukowski writes in simple, frank prose, giving us an uncensored and unflattering view of a quintessential institution, and through Chinaski, the daily struggles and frustrations of the underclass in an unsympathetic society. Bukowski, though, never preaches and does not offer a social agenda. He just tells it like it is.
A small, interesting read. It also goes without saying that I now appreciate better what my neighborhood postman goes through to get my mail (including ordered books!) promptly through my door daily.
I picked up this book at the time I did also to balance out my reading -- between some heavy academic reading, i needed something simple and straightforward.
Novel, first book in the Buru Quartet, translated from the Indonesian by Max Lane, 1980
From one of the most influential authors of Southeast Asia, this book, first in a series, was written by Toer while he was a political prisoner in the island prison of Buru in the 1970s. It started as a verbal narration to his fellow inmates in 1973, and was written down only in 1975 after he was granted permission by the authorities. The book saw publication in 1980 through the efforts of his fellow former detainees, but was immediately banned by the Indonesian government.
The book is a compelling tale of love and colonialism. Set in the early 20th century, it is the story of Minke, a brilliant Javanese young man aspiring to be a writer, in the Dutch colony. His family being of local nobility and his talent enables him to become the only native student in the elite Dutch school in Java. He falls in love with Annelies, a mixed-blood daughter of an astute concubine of a prominent Dutch businessman and who now runs the vast enterprise. The strong-willed mother defies the stereotype of a concubine in this highly stratified society, she learns how to read, speak other languages, run a successful business, and shares Minke's progressive ideas. The family is ostracised by the community, and they are surrounded by intrigues. They pay dearly for their being themselves.
A thought-provoking novel that underlines the cycle of abuse and repression under Dutch colonial rule, and the struggle of natives against the injustice perpetuated by the distant but powerful government that prevailed in every aspect of theiir lives.
The theme is heavy and serious. Events in the novel turn for the worse, like a big drama unfolding. I felt, however, that in many instances, the language is a bit contrived, and the sequence of events which in normal life would happen over a stretch of time, felt shortened, compressed into narrow time periods. Perhaps it's got something to do with the fact that Toer wrote this from memory a few years after he made up the story. I also have a feeling that the translation was not very good, so the language didn't quite flow as I felt it should have. I also felt that the characters, sometimes, didn't seem real, they acted too much out of impulse.
At any rate, this book is still a highly recommended read. It's a book I've been wanting to read for years, only managing to get hold of a copy recently in a secondhand bookshop. The theme being what it is, and the development of the story, I think would make for a very interesting group read and discussion.
Historical fiction, Translated from the Spanish, 1949
Through the eyes of a slave, Ti Noel, we see the traumatic and brutal evolution of Haiti's history after liberation from the colonial French rule, when the black regime of King Henri Christophe, at first so promising, sinks into the same morass of social injustice as the former rulers.
For many years, the blacks suffered from white oppression. Social order was based on the exploitation of the natives for the comfort of the white masters. Through folk wisdom, voodoo,and ancestral worship, a charismatic leader, Macandal whips his followers into an uprising, drums beating across the island as machete-bearing slaves overran the sleeping plantations, slaughtering all in their path, masters, livestock, women and children. The uprising is put down, Macandal is eventually captured and burned before the eyes of the slaves.
When Ti Noel returns years later to Haiti as a free man, the island is now ruled by King Henri Christophe, a black kingdom. The freedom from previous enslavement, however, so dearly purchased, has merely opened the way for the reestablishment of slavery under the mulatto controlling class. The unthinkable has happened: the enslavement of people of African descent by people of African descent.
A short yet sweeping novel based on historical events, Carpentier writes with power and brilliant imagery. I enjoyed this book immensely, and it goes to my list of top reads for the year.
Okonkwo is a great man in his clan, a powerful community, skilled in war, proud in its traditions. He rose from nothing to attain rank and prestige because of his strength and sheer hard work. He is a fierce, proud man. Because of an unfortunate event which involved the death of a young man, Okokwo and his family are exiled to his mother's village for seven years.
During this time, the white missionaries arrive and begin their work among the peoples of the lower River Niger. His exile over, Okonkwo returns to his home village and finds it changed. Worse, his eldest son is now a convert to the new religion. He is enraged, deeply disturbed. He cannot accept that his old clan, known for their warrior ways, has softened and now meekly accepts the changes and the religion that the white men have brought. He is embittered, humiliated, and grieves for his clan's loss of independence and virtues. An escalating conflict between the whites and the natives lead to an unfortunate end.
One of the best known works coming out of Africa, this is a story of loss - of a way of life, of centuries of belief and practice, of identity with the coming of the white man. It is a moving story, deceptively simple, but thought-provoking.
Great review of the book about Haiti--I plan to look for that one.
This is supposed to be one of the most popular books in travel literature, so I began this book looking forward to a grand, unforgettable adventure with an equally grand, unforgettable traveller. It is an interesting read, of course, and we are treated to some awesome sceneries, colorful characters and snippets of history here and there, from London all the way to Asia and back through Russia. But Theroux is anything but grand and unforgettable here. He is cranky, irritable, and more than often, condescending to his fellow travellers -- you wonder why he bothered to take this long 4-month trip at all. I know how it feels to travel for days and for long distances, and especially when the trip is for work rather than holiday, at some point everything tries one's patience. But Theroux seemed to have more than the usual dose of impatience and ill-humor in the long-distance traveler here. Moreover, one feels that the book talks too much of dilapidated, filthy, noisy train stations, the either fine or very awful service in the trains' dining coaches, and the strange habits of his fellow passengers you begin to think how he could have been so unfortunate as to have all the oddballs thrown in his particular direction.
Overall, i found the book uneven, though i suppose, honest, as he never tried to wax poetic as perhaps most dreamy travellers are tempted to do when in far-off and strange lands. In moments of inspiration, however, his prose is beautiful, haunting even. But that does not happen often in the book, although I noticed that towards the end, he seemed to have more of those moments, perhaps in anticipation of home.
Though this book was less than what I expected, this hasn't turned me off Theroux. This book showed a lot of his moody, temperamental side, but it had some flashes of really wondrous prose as well. I'd like to think that his other books would have more of that wondrous prose. Now I'm thinking which of his other travel books should I pick up next... suggestions, anyone?
For me, his polar opposite in terms of travel journey writers is Eric Newby. Self deprecating, witty, warm, quaint (to 21st century ears) in the manner of the old fashioned English gentleman.
Newby's railway book, The big red train ride might be an interesting companion piece to your Theroux book.
I've never picked up any Theroux. I've flipped through them in B&N a couple of times, reading a few passages, and they always seem unpleasant. Maybe it's just the ones I pick up. I remember looking at Dark Star Safari and one whose title I can't remember about traveling through the Americas by train.
I'm afraid I like some humor in my travel books, things like Trillin, Wibberly, Liebling, and Bryson write. Failing that, I at least require enjoyment...not "cranky person viewing everything askance." Your comments lead me to believe that's what Theroux will provide. :-(
> 173, Tad, i believe you're referring to The Old Patagonian Express. i've checked out reviews in Amazon of this and his other books, and i'm afraid this is a common observation about his writing.
> it's about time that i give Bryson a try. he's one of those writers whose books are so ubiquitous that they don't seem serious reading, to me at least. got to give him a chance.
But for me, the best travel writer (although he is so much more than a travel writer) is Patrick Leigh Fermor : his A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, the story of his walk across Europe in the years preceding the 2nd world war, are unsurpassed in their breadth and depth.
How about Ghost Train To The Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar , in which, 30 years later, Theroux retraces his steps in The Great Railway Bazaar? It would make an interesting contrast to see how time and experience has changed his world view.
ETA: On other travelogues... I'm a huge fan of Michael Palin (of Monty Python fame), who has written some very entertaining ones based on his BBC documentaries of the same name. These are Around the World in 80 Days (1989), Pole to Pole (1992), and Full Circle (1997). More recently, we have Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure (1999), Sahara (2002), Himalaya (2004), and New Europe (2007).
> 177, thanks, sgt for mentioning Chatwin. he's been in my sights for some time now after i read a piece about him and an excerpt from Songlines.
> 178, thanks rebecca for the recommendation. i will surely look up Fermor.with such strong endorsement from you and zenomax, i can't possibly go wrong.
> 180 peter, many thanks for that list. will certainly note those titles.
> 181, wunderkind, i will not even go there - to his fiction writing, i mean.
> 182, nice of you, linda, to drop by...thanks.
By the way, although at least a generation older, Leigh Fermor became very good friends with Chatwin. I think they both recognised in each other a kindred spirit.
>178 rebeccanyc: and >179 zenomax:, zenomax/rebeccanyc, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Deborah Devonshire's correspondence was published in the UK quite recently (late last year, I think) and is out in paperback - title In Tearing Haste. Has had fantastic reviews, although having never read either of them I hadn't rushed to look for it. Is it out in the US yet?
I read a short extract from Ghost Train... and decided I wasn't prepared to give Paul Theroux the time of day. So a relief to find someone else whose experience suggests I'm not missing out!
And...I'll bet we have the same initials : ). (Actually I"m a DDEHB, and that's just too much for anyone!).
The documentary also described Fermor's capture of a high ranking german officer in Crete during WW2 - a piece of daring which Fermor himself has barely, and only modestly mentioned.
Both Fermor and Newby seem to me to represent a bygone generation which is now sadly almost passed.
In 1995, Naipaul travelled to 4 non-Arab Muslim countries: Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia, the same countries he visited in 1979 which he wrote about in Among the Believers. His thesis is that Islam makes imperial demands on its converts. More than a private faith, it can become a neurosis. A convert's world view alters, his holy places are in Arab lands, his sacred language is Arabic. His idea of history alters, he turns away from everything that is his. The disturbance for societies is immense, people develop fantasies of who and what they are. These countries can be easily set on the boil.
In this book, he attempts to find out what this religion has done to the histories of these 4 countries, and how these converted peoples view their past, and their future. And here, Naipaul does what he does so wonderfully -- telling other people's stories.
As he journeys through these places, at times visiting those whom he interviewed 17 years ago, we learn about certain characters, their family histories, their motivations, their dreams. Islam, while a font of hope, also buries traditions, cultures, and
wholly faces modernizing influences only when the cause of Islam is furthered. Naipaul is a sensitive observer, letting the stories come out. He makes an observation now and then, but never comes across heavy-handed. A master writer, he easily shifts between details in a character's life to the big picture of history, in easy and simple prose one forgets we are talking of very complex themes here. Themes and issues even more compelling today than they were at the time of this book's publication.
An enlightening and very fascinating read. Naipaul can never disappoint, even if he tried.
Historical Novel, 1967
It is the eve of Uhuru (Independence Day) and in the village of Thabai somewhere in Kenya, preparations are being made for the big celebration, the successful end of many years of struggle under British domination. We meet the local leaders who were previous rebel fighters. We learn about their scarred lives and their bitter sacrifices. We learn about individual heroism, but we also learn about acts of betrayal on the pretext of more noble goals. There is the quiet and mysterious Mugo, prompted by the villagers to become leader, but who has his own dark past to conceal. Gikonyo, the most prosperous man in the village, is himself a tortured soul. There are others like them, who felt that Uhuru was also a day of reckoning with their own demons, unleashed during the dark days of the Emergency. We thus feel their confusion amidst the transition process, but also their hope for a future all their own.
The plot is non-linear, with flashbacks and several storylines interspersed but woven nicely together. Beyond being a captivating read, it is a meditation on the themes of oppression, betrayal, disillusionment, and love and despair.
> 195, it was my first Ngugi, and i liked it. now got his other books on my wish list.
Graphic war memoir, 2009
I finally finished this harrowing story last night, and i hope that i would never get to read anything so distressing again. This 117-page comic book based on the author's experience took me days to read as i could only muster a few pages each time. It is definitely the heaviest, darkest and one of the most powerful reads I've had in all my reading life, and the images will haunt me for a long time to come.
I can't possibly do justice to this book by a description in my own words, so I'm quoting here the description from the book cover:
One night in Beirut in September 1982, while Israeli soldiers secured the area, Christian militia members entered the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and began to massacre hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians. Ari Folman was one of those Israeli soldiers, but for more than 20 years he remembered nothing of that night or of the weeks leading up to it. Then came a friend's disturbing dream, and with it Folman's need to excavate the truth of the war in Lebanon and answer the crucial question: what was he doing during the hours of slaughter?
Challenging the collective amnesia of friends and fellow soldiers, Folman painfully, candidly pieces together the war and his place in it. Gradually, the blankness of his mind is filled in by scenes of combat and patrol, misery and carnage, as well as dreams and hallucinations. Soldiers are haunted by inexplicable nightmares and flashbacks – snapping, growling dogs with teeth bared and eyes glowing orange, a recurring image of 3 young men rising naked out of the sea to drift into the Beirut battlefield. Tanks crush cars and buildings with lethal indifference; snipers pick off men on donkeys, men in cars, men drinking coffee; a soldier waltzes through a storm of bullets; rock songs fill the air, and then yellow flares. The recollections accumulate until Ari Folman arrives at Sabra and Shatila and his investiation reaches its terrible end.
The result is a gripping reconstruction, a probing inquiry into the unreliable quality of memory, and, above all, a powerful denunciation of the senselessness of all wars.
Waltz with Bashir started as a film project (Folman is a filmmaker), and the book utilizes frames that seem cut straight from the film. Since its release in late 2008, the film has won numerous prestigious awards.
I can't recommend this book highly enough.
A black comedy set in an old people's home in London, this is the story of Max Montfalcon, the genial giant of Serenity House who might have been left to die in peace, but whose life took on a decidedly new turn when it becomes increasingly evident, helped by the investigation of his son-in-law MP who has a special interest in the War Crimes Bill, that Montfalcon was, in an earlier incarnation, Maximilian von Falkenberg. Falkenberg was known to be a brilliant German anthropologist who in 1942 conducted research on genetic racial differences in a Polish facility, possibly killing thousands of Jews and Poles with lethal injection.
Enters Jack, an all-American boy, eccentric and obsessed with violent videos and Chinese takeaways. Max is haunted by dreams of the Holocaust. The occupants of Serenity Hause is haunted by Jack.
The story is entertaining despite the grim and macabre theme (notions of people-disposal). While I did not fall for the story, I still enjoyed very much the satire and his crisp wit, and look forward to another of Hope's books.
Lessing's first novel, the story opens with the murder of a white woman, Mary Turner, in a remote farm somewhere in Rhodesia. In the next pages, we learn of her life and of the events that led to her tragic fate.
She leads a relatively happy, carefree life in town but decides to move away to marry a Dick Turner, a farmer. Her situation changes dramatically and she fails to adapt to her new life on the farm. She shrinks from her world around. She realizes that Dick is not only poor, but is an incompetent farmer. Though both of them are committed to the marriage, it is a loveless arrangement, and neither see the other as a partner, on the farm or at home. The marriage disintegrates and Mary's state of mind descends, painfully mirrored in the further deterioration of their already squalid living conditions.
Mary takes out her feelings of isolation and frustration on the black servants and workers. One day, Moses, an enigmatic, virile farm hand, comes to work in the house. This was the beginning of the erosion of the master-servant relationship that Mary took elaborate pains in the past to enforce.
I didn't know whether to feel sorry for Mary or to feel that she had it coming. I kept wondering whether women at that time, and in that context, were really that helpless over their situation as Mary was portrayed? Somehow I felt more pity for Dick, who loved her despite not knowing how to show it.
A powerful, psychological portrait, it is a chilling read about the bleakness of existence as opposed to living, tension (master vs. slave, white vs. black, female vs. male, that alternately repulsed and attracted), isolation, disillusionment, fear, prejudice, and madness. This is a book that will stay with me.
I read this book practically on the heels of The Grass is Singing which were written at about the same time and about the same subject, relationship between the whites and the natives of South Africa. I came away from Cry, the Beloved Country book feeling exactly the opposite of what I did after reading The Grass is Singing. Both evoked intense feelings, but while TGIS emphasized the racial tensions, CTBC spoke of harmony, of forgiveness, of benevolence on the part of the colonial masters. While Lessing talked of the harsh, dry and unforgiving land, Paton spoke of the gentle hills and the vast plain, of promise and rain - South Africa's two faces. Lessing writes in spare prose, while Paton's prose is as if bibilical poetry.
Did I like this book? Yes, but not as much as most people do. It is heartbreaking, sad, inspiring, but it borders on paternalistic, where the little coloured man is white man's burden (even in spite of the wrong done him here). For it's Christian themes of love, forgiveness, compassion and hope, I recommend this book and I'm glad to have read it. But I prefer Lessing's, Gordimer's, and Coetzee's South Africa any time.
re Beyond Belief: Islamic Incursions Among the Converted Peoples by V.S. Naipaul
This one sounded fascinating.. I have never read anything by Naipaul, but i will be looking for this one.
re A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
I'm planning on continuing my Africa reading category into 2010 and in addition to the history of Africa, including the exploration and colonial times, I'm planning to read African authors--especially from the area that used to be the Belgium Congo and also the countries of West Africa. I have bought two books by Ngugi wa Thiong'o for this read and I'm going to be looking a A Grain of Wheat now, also.
Novel, translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa, 1969
One afternoon in the late 1960s somewhere in the streets of Lima, Santiago, goes out in search of the family dog. At the pound, he meets the aging Ambrosio, his father's former chauffeur, whom he has not seen for 15 years. Later, in a lengthy conversation over beers, Santiago and Ambrosio talk of their lives under the Odria dictatorship two decades earlier.
Santiago is a journalist in a small paper, the son of an influential politician, an idealist who has rejected his social position by embracing an alternative way of life. When Santiago cut his ties with family years ago, many questions were left unanswered, some of them he didn't dare even seek answers to. He tried to eke out a living, found a wife, and fought to get the next story out. This was his life now. The meeting with Ambrosio turns into an intense examination of those years when decisions and acts of people very close to them, and by their own response, would scar and torment them slowly over time. Secrets, a complex web of intrigues, scandals and crimes, repression, were necessary to maintain a "stable" society. Even then, there was an imminent sense of degradation and frustration. Not just a historical narrative, the novel is as much a political and social critique.
The complexity of their stories which detail the corruption and perversions of the few individuals who kept the machinery of the dictatorship oiled and running, is further emphasized by Vargas Llosa's narrative style. Most of this immense book (600+ pages) is composed of snatches of several events or dialogues, happening in different timeframes, interlaced at the level of the sentence. They are stories within the big story, and dialogues within the big dialogue.
Though at times I felt it dragging, overall, the novel is brilliant and Vargas Llosa here is most impressive. Compared with several of his other books which I've read, this is easily his best. And definitely one of the best novels from Latin America. Highly recommended, of course.
Novel, Man Booker Prize 2003
Vernon Gregory Little is a 15-year old living in the "barbecue sauce capital of Texas", accused of being an accessory to the murders committed by Jesus Navarro. As Jesus is dead, killing himself after fatally shooting 16 others in his school, VGL becomes the scapegoat. The rest of the novel is about the media circus surrounding the story, VGL's near-escapes, and his adolescent angst, told by VGL himself in either comical tone or dark cynicism but either way, it seemed forced.
The story attempts at satire, but midway, it falls apart. It becomes very artificial. Every possible misfortune befalls our young hero. Sadly, he is unable to speak for himself and nobody takes up the cudgel for him. Moreoever, a bigger group of morons could not have populated an entire town the way they did in that place. To top it all, there is a death row TV reality show thrown in. Just how bad can a Booker winner get?
I'm glad to hear that you also like The Conversation in the Cathedral, which is one of my top 10 books of the year so far.
Morris Bober is an aging Jewish grocer in a poor neighborhood of immigrants in post-war Brooklyn. Amidst greed, competition, and modernism, he struggles to keep his small business afloat. Despite the long hours he puts in with the dedication of an ant, he is losing the fight. His wife becomes cynical and believes a good marriage for the daughter, Helen, is the only way out of their poverty. Helen, on the other hand, only wants an education.
Frank Alpine, a young homeless Italian immigrant, turns up and manages to convince Morris to hire him as assistant in the store. Frank has a secret, and unbeknownst to the Bobers, he is there to “pay his debt.” He is determined, ambitious, hardworking, and strives to live a morally correct life, but he is dogged by his demons. Between the comings and goings in the deteriorating store, tensions increase as Frank and Helen become romantically involved. With the continuing decline of the business and the neighborhood, a quiet desperation settles, and each withdraws even more into him/herself, almost as if existed merely to await the impending doom.
Although there is some melodrama involved (one misfortune begetting another almost no end), I find the novel very compelling. The story is about disillusionment, fear, loyalty, hope and courage. It is also about having a second chance, a rebirth. Nothing grand or spectacular happens here, our characters are small people, the silent ones, whose lives are a grind, depressing even. But goodness, we realize, continue to exist amidst bleakness and isolation, and grace triumphs.
There are plenty of insights to be had from this novel, yet Malamud is able to expertly frame the story without moralizing. The story is very absorbing too, it was quite hard to put it down. This was my first Malamud and definitely not my last!
edit: hmm well cancel the thumb-upping, it won't let me do it because you only have 1 review visible :)
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt
An entertaining read where the authors manage to somehow make the dismal science appear sexy. Nothing too interesting for me, though, as I'm from the field and aware of such studies always being done in aid of policymaking. Sometimes, though, I question those which do not have any obvious utility, e.g. Levitt's example on trends of names given to girls/boys by income class, race. So what, I say.
The Egyptian by Mika Waltari
Historical fiction, translated from the Finnish, 1945
Sinuhe, physician and adviser to the pharoahs of 14th century BC Egypt, tells us the story of his life. It is a tumultous period in history, and his own life mirrors this fact. Waltari recreates in wonderful prose reminding me of stories from the Bible, the glory, the beauty, the depravity, the corruption, the bestiality, the violence of the times all wrought in the name of the gods. Beyond being a portrayal of the Egyptian society then and of its neighbors, it is also a tale of adventure, of love, friendship and family, of loyalty and betrayal. Sinuhe is an endearing storyteller, that is, Waltari was a great writer, it felt like I was a kid again sitting in front of the old Sinuhe as he wove his timeless tale. This is how he begins his story,
"I, Sinuhe, son of Senmut and his wife Kipa, am the author of this work. I write not to glorify the gods, for I am weary of gods. I write not to glorify pharaohs, for I am weary of pharaohs' deeds. Rather for my own sake do I write this. Not to flatter gods, nor to flatter kings, nor out of fear, nor out of hope for the future. For I have experienced and lost much in the years of my life, and am untroubled by trivial fears; and I am weary of the hope of immortality, as I am weary of gods and kings. Only for my own sake do I write this, and in that respect I believe that I am different from all other writers past and future."
I was immediately hooked.
The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott
Historical fiction, Book 1 The Raj Quartet, 1966
A meticulous examination of the last days of the British Empire in India. It revolves around the rape of an English girl, seen from the points of view of several people. The characterizations are very detailed, however, after some point, these become tedious and sometimes repetitive. I was amazed at how the characterizations could go on and on for tens of pages, yet never become real to me. I wondered if I was missing something, I've heard so much about this book. I'm very interested in the themes related to colonialism, but strangely in this case, I didn't care for the writing too much. Not enough so that I forgot about it as soon as I left my copy on the train, somewhere between France and Spain.
A Woman Named Solitude by André Schwarz-Bart
Fiction, translated from the French by Ralph Manheim, 1972
I had not gone beyond the second paragraph when I knew that this book was special, was magical, was extraordinary. The story begins in 1755 somewhere in Africa where the "clear water of the river, the green water of an ocean, and the black water of the delta channel mingled - and, where, so it is said, the soul was still immortal." The story ends in the next century somewhere in the Caribbean where the rebellion ends disastrously for the descendants of those who boarded the slave-ships decades before. Schwartz-Bart writes movingly of a people whose soul seem to have been left behind in that dark continent, the separation marking them for life and for generations, their wretched, oppressed life a continuing struggle to relive and to reconnect with their roots. The language of this short novel is pure poetry, the imagery is intense, the theme is enduring. This book is an interesting complement to Alejo Carpentier's The Kingdom of This World which I read recently.
A great pity Schwartz-Bart wrote very few books...
Scott has written a lighter book, Staying On about an elderly British couple forced by financial circumstances to remain in India after the British withdrawal. It's very funny, if you'd like to give it a try.
Also, the BBC years ago dramatized the entire Raj Quartet on Masterpiece Theater. It is excellent, and I highly recommend it.
I'll have to look for The Kingdom of this World because I know I haven't read that one! We have had several college students from Haiti come to our small community for school and become active in our church while they are here. The Carpentier book would be really interesting for me.
>228 kidzdoc: Darryl, this was my exciting discovery this year. Schwartz-Bart, though, is better known for his novel The Last of the Just which traces the story of a Jewish family from the time of the Crusades to Auschwitz. i'm on the lookout for any of his books...they seem to be difficult to find. again a case of those "little gems" Tad was talking about... in this case though, it is not "little", it is a GEM.
>229 arubabookwoman: ABW, don't worry, my experience has not turned me off Paul Scott forever...:-) i know he is a very well regarded author, so i'm willing to give him another go. though not just yet..
>230 MusicMom41: MM, good luck in hunting down those titles... i hope you enjoy them as much as i did. They are both pre-1950, so perhaps you will have more luck finding them in 2nd hand bookshops. that's how i find those "little gems" and GEMS.
>231 rebeccanyc: Rebecca, would be interesting to see if you still love it the way you did 25 years ago. one reason why i don't do rereads is, like you, i don't want to miss out on many other great books but also, i don't want to have to face disappointment in case i regard the work differently now than when i read it the first time -- i prefer the magic to last...
>231 rebeccanyc: Ian, thanks for the link. very thoughtful review...i guess you got out so much more out of the book than i did because having experienced similar context, you read it with a different eye. i had no trouble at all with his message, it was more his style. incidentally, i have The Alexandria Quartet but have not read it. will be interesting to make a comparison, where it applies.
>232 iansales: stasia, i hope you manage to retrieve everything you threw into the Black Hole!
>233 alcottacre: akeela, thanks for dropping by.
I think you're right that some of the problem is changing tastes. In a general way, people want faster pacing, more action, snappier dialog now. It's inevitable—Dickens was a popular rage in Victorian times; now, most people have never read a single one because they're long and slow.
However, I think some of it is economics. The Egyptian is "old news" and the book industry becomes more reluctant to maintain anything which isn't a best seller. It's not just the publishers...it's the book stores giving display space, the libraries with shrinking budgets trying to decide which books have to go to make room for the new ones.
I was talking to the owner of one of the local second-hand books stores and said, "You always had a ton of Booth Tarkington. Did someone come in and buy them all out?" (I like Booth Tarkington and read one every once in a while.)
His answer was to be expected, I guess, "I did. But I'm out of space for incoming books and they sat there for years with maybe one sale a year. So, I keep The Magnificent Ambersons and the rest went."
I was thinking about this last year. One of my top reads for the year was Hilton's Random Harvest. It was an extremely popular book (#2 on New York Times) when it came out in 1941 and was made into a major motion picture. Yet, most people in the 2008 75 Challenge...and we're all readers...said, "Never heard of it."
One one hand, it's a bit sad that these kinds of things get "lost". On the other, it gives me a real feeling of discovery when I find something written 50 years ago that I've never heard of and end up loving it.
ETA: I haven't read The Egyptian since the early 70s. I went and stuck in on my TBR pile for a re-read...along with Kimbrough's Floating Island, another book that falls into the same category for me...
Edit: Actually, that might be a good thread for the New and Improved 2010 Group.
Incidentally, I also read The Alexandria Quartet years and years ago (longer than The Raj Quartet) and have not gone back to it either, although I think I would read it entirely differently now. I wouldn't have thought to compare the two works, as Ian does, but the idea that they both reflect the British expat experience isinteresting.
I'd agree that the Raj Quartet has a broader scope than the Alexandria Quartet, but I think the latter has more depth - if only because of its construction. After all, Balthazar tells the story of Justine through different eyes, MountOlive covers the timeline of both the earlier novels, and Clea looks back with hindsight at the events of the previous three books. It doesn't have the cast or breadth of history of Scott's quartet, but I think it explores its characters to a much greater degree.
> rebecca, now this got me thinking what other books there are of similar theme explored with as much detail -- expat experience or perspective within the context of important events in history. any suggestions?
> VG, The New York Trilogy is now a Penguin classic? interesting. i've always thought Penguin classics were works of authors already dead. in any case, at least here in europe, i still see TNYT frequently in bookshops (in English or in translation), not something i would exactly consider in danger of being "lost" of "forgotten." not yet anyway.
> ian, your shrine to Durrell is just stunning! will surely go back and read your posts and reviews. how long did it take you to put together this amazing collection?
>ABW, all this talk tells me that The Alexandria Quartet has to be one of next reads!
> stasia, once we get that new thread up and running in the 2010 group, would be great if you can share some ideas from this book that you mention.
Hmmmm...... The Penguin USA site doesn't even show the Auster and Pynchon at the moment. Uh-Oh, they do show Deluxe Classics editions of In Search of Lost Time. I shouldn't have went and checked the site.
I'll poke my nose in to answer your question about other books about the expat experience. I recommend Doris Lessing's early works, including Martha Quest and the other volumes in that series, The Grass is Singing, African Stories, and probably others she wrote. I think she writes beautifully of the feeling of living in a place, loving it, but somehow knowing you don't really belong there.
Anthony Burgess was also an expat, and several of his books are set abroad - The Long Day Wanes in Malaysia, Beard's Roman Women is Rome, A Vision of Battlements in Gibraltar, Honey for the Bears in Russia... And Fowles too lived in Greece for several years, although I think The Magus is the only book he set there.
> 254 ABW, thanks for the suggestions. i've read The Grass is Singing (msg #202) but not the others you mention. will keep those titles in mind.
>255 TadAD:, Tad, i do hope the group will be able to find a way to manage that. some suggestions have been put forward.
> 256 ian, most of those titles are unfamiliar to me. thanks for helping expand my reading choices!
Oh, and two books I've read and can definitely recommend are Olivia Manning's The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy, about a young teacher and his wife who spend WWII in a variety of different places - Bucharest, Athens and Cairo. It was televised in the 1980s as "Fortunes of War", starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh (and was, in fact, where they first met).
Btw, I picked up another Lessing yesterday in a charity shop - The Fifth Child.
Travel writing, 1981
In 1979, some months after the Islamic revolution in Iran, Naipaul undertook a 7-month journey to Iran, to Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. He tries to understand the religious fundamentalism of these "converted peoples" by a sympathetic portrayal of the people he meets -- religious leaders, common followers, skeptics, and activists. He gives a sketch of the doctrine underlying Islam -- the constant re-creation of a world that is in constant decay, where faith pervades everything, and the intellect is only a tool to preserve this process of re-creation. He also observes Islam's attitude to the West -- it is emotionally rejected (the West is corrupt) but at the same time, it is necessary for its technology -- weapons, medicine, and remittance from emigrants.
This book was written 17 years before Beyond Belief which i read earlier this year (msg #192). Seems that nothing has really changed between these journeys. But the insights are valuable, the stories of common people continually opening our non-Islam eyes to a different way of life. This book again proves to me that I love Naipaul better as a journalist than novelist.
The Book and the Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch
A group of 1960's Oxford graduates meets again 25 years after in a Ball, an event from which commences a series of unfortunate happenings that tested loyalties, affection, and the moral certitude of several memorable characters. The title refers to this "brotherhood" of friends and a book which the group had "commissioned" one of them, a brilliant communist, decades back, that will be a political treatise representing the group's conviction. Until now they have not seen the supposed book -- thus to see a draft of it became an obsession for the rest of the members. In the meantime, their relationships with each other, never easy, become even more complicated, and sometimes border on the pathetic or even comic -- so much baggage from their pasts, and unexpressed longings in the present, hinder their ability to live "normally."
This is only the 2nd Murdoch novel that i've read, the other being The Bell, and somehow in both cases, i feel that her characters are difficult to like. In this book, the individuals are portrayed as "gods", with their great passions, their superior intellect, their moral superiority (she refers to this "gods" thing now and then which put me off), their pride, their great solitude, their grief, lives tinged with tragedy -- a death, a fall -- or something less than Shakespearean, an unwanted pregnancy!
At 624 pages, i was afraid that it would lag in some parts, but Murdoch manages beautifully to keep the narrative going at a nice clip. But oh, such Shakespearean drama among such unrealistic cast of characters...
A middle-aged man is on the run somewhere in the backlands of Mexico. He has been on the run for 10 years because religion has been outlawed. Unless he gets across the border, his days are numbered. He knows the price on his head because he is the last of them. He is a priest, and worse, he is the whisky priest. He is a good man, but also a sinner.
Despite the danger it poses to himself, he is tormented by his calling and cannot seem to get away from his priestly duties -- the quick masses, baptism, or confession he conducts among destitute peasants gathered in the crack of dawn in some hidden place, peasants whose spiritual hunger is greater than the physical one. He is being hunted down by a lieutenant who is determined to stamp out all vestiges of Catholicism because he sees the church as complicit in the oppression of the poor.
This is a powerful story which can be read at many levels. It is a story of oppression, faith, and atonement. The priest's thoughts and conflict in himself is in themselves a meditation on compassion, piety, and nature of sin. The most striking message for me here is the frailty of man, where only at his humblest can he reach the divine, as the whisky priest finally realized.
This book will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended!
Coup de Grâce by Marguerite Yourcenar *
Novel, translated from the French by Grace Frick and Marguerite Yourcenar, first published in 1939
This short novel is a haunting story of love and death set in the frontlines of war between the White Russians and the Bolsheviks towards the end of WWI. Erick is a German aristocrat who joins a unit stationed in the beleaguered estate of his boyhood friend, Conrad. Sophie, Conrad's younger sister and the only woman in that place which serves for headquarters, falls deeply in love with Erick. Erick, however, is unable to respond. Thrown into each other's company that bleak winter, they react to each other in a delicate exchange of moves and counter-moves that, tinged with the desperate knowledge of the advance of the enemy, almost seem like a death dance, inevitably leading to a shocking end.
The story is stark, grim, and Yourcenar writes stunningly and with profound psychological insight. Despite the tragic theme, the writing is sheer pleasure to read.
* touchstone problem
Touchstones are being completely wonky tonight :(
Anyway, here's sharing my thoughts on the last batch of books read in 2009
Granta 77: What We Think of America
Twenty-four writers from various countries write about the role America has played in their lives,
for better or worse. Two articles were very interesting: Jihadis by Pankaj Mishra, and Mecca by Ziauddin Sardar -- not stuff one would likely get to read about these subjects in the dailies.
Tear this Heart Out by Angeles Mastretta
Fiction, translated from the Spanish, 1997
Started out well enough, a young girl marrying an old general who had political ambitions in 1940s Mexico. The book's blurb says it is the tale of the development of an innocent girl to independent woman. But we never find it happening.
Overall, bad writing, bad characterization. If I had read Rachel's (rachbxl) review of it earlier, wouldn't have wasted money on this.
Granta 80: The Group
I enjoyed this issue where writers take out their group photographs and rememer the best and the worst. Also includes a story by Paul Theroux, Scouting for Boys which I found very good (I liked Theroux's writing here better than what I've read of his travel writing), and a brilliant reportage by Luke Harding on the Taliban's last stand.
Fiction, translated from the Japanese, 1961
A simple yet extraordinary story that deals with the themes of old age, sexuality, sadness and death. A brothel for impotent old men houses virgins who have been put to sleep. The old men may lie beside them and hold them, drink in their beauty and youth, but nothing more. We follow the thoughts and the meanderings of the protagonist, Eguchi, as memories of his own youth and lost loves are evoked in turn by each girl that he sleeps next to.
Stark and hauntingly beautiful, this book is an unforgettable read.
The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
Historical fiction, translated from the Italian, published posthumously in 1958
Simply loved this book. Having heard so much about it, I had high expectations and was not disappointed. It is the story of Don Fabrizio, prince of Salina, and his family set in the time of the Risorgimento in the 1860s. Monumental changes were occuring, and even far-off Sicily was not immune to them. The new ways are rapidly overturning old ones, the decline is neither slow nor painless, and one almost laments the disappearance of security and tradition. Don Fabrizio sees all this happening and he acknowledges the inevitability of history.
The prose is richly descriptive, lyrical, and so lucid, I felt like I was right there where it was all happening! And Don Fabrizio has to be one of literature's more unforgettable protagonists.
This book has just gone into my best reads list.
di Lampedusa reminds me in many ways of Proust - I think it is the way he delves deeply into a way of life and culture which he is very intimate with. Neither is a writer prepared to use a broad brush.
I think that is why his novel is so dense - not in terms of writing style, but in terms of depth of characters, time and place.
I'm glad you are returning in 2010! I look forward to your descriptions of the books you read! And, you read such interesting ones!
Proust is a big gap in my reading though i have 5 volumes of the entire ISoLT -- shame on me. i know what i'm missing not having read it -- but i need to build up the courage to take the plunge!
The Leopard has been on my TBR for a long time; I really enjoyed the movie which I got from Netflix (Italian edition, which is supposed to be better).
On a more positive note, thanks for your comments on House of the Sleeping Beauties; I've been looking forward to reading more Yasunari Kawabata since reading the wonderful Snow Country last year - looks like this might be a good one to try next.
I just bought the Yasunari Kawabata book you read there. I am looking forward to it now.
Fiction, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, first published in 1913
A short novel set in the art circles of Paris and Lisbon towards the end of the 19th century, it is the haunting story of the friendship of two young Portuguese poets, Lucio and Ricardo, and their search for identity through love. Their obsession with a young woman, whose past is a mystery, makes them rivals of yet binds them to each other, the end of which can only be tragic.
Sá-Carneiro committed suicide at the age of 26 and left behind an extraordinary body of work which dealt with identity, madness and solitude. This book is his first novel to be translated into English.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Fiction, translated from the German, first published in 1929
What can I say that has not already been said about this timeless piece of work? A simple yet powerful account of the senselessness and futility of war through an intimate look into the desolate life in the trenches. The scene where the protagonist shares a shellhole with a dying French soldier is perhaps one of the most moving images of war I've come across. Remarque couldn't have made a more brilliant statement against war.
>War journalism, 1938
This is a collection of Orwell's personal account of and correspondences relating to the Spanish Civil War. From Dec 1936 to June 1937, Orwell served as a private and as a corporal in Catalonia and Aragon. Orwell, though, saw very little of the fighting at the front, as the more decisive ones had already occurred or were being waged elsewhere. He was shot through the neck and was lucky to survive with very minor injuries.
I love Orwell as a novelist, but I admire him much more as a journalist. In this collection of writings, he paints not so much a vivid picture of the war in the trenches, which anyway he saw little of, but of the "political" war being waged in Barcelona's streets -- the dissolution of the Communist-run government, the suppression of the workers' militia, the political purges. He discusses the broader political situation of Spain, and the revolutionary situation in Barcelona at that time. He also tries to explain the differences between the Catalan Communists, the anarchists, and the militia, all of whom banded together in the beginning to fight a common war, but whose alliance quicky deteriorated into a power struggle that eventually aided the victory of the Nationalists and the emergence of the Fascist dictatorship. While Orwell was not able to be much of a soldier then, he was more effective in his advocacy in the international media once he got out of Spain.
Fascinating both as a portrayal of a society caught in the battleground of ideology which increased tensions in Europe leading to World War II, as well as a proxy war (between Communist Russia and Fascist Italy and Germany), and as a memoir. It is also a stinging critique of the manipulation of (global) media to support selfish capitalist interests.
Fiction, translated from the Hebrew, 1983
Set in Israeli-occupied West Bank, this is the story of Uri, a young Israeli soldier and his complex relationships with his psychiatrist wife, his enigmatic and embittered commander, and an old Arab storyteller he befriended in the camp Uri was assigned to. The story is told from these four characters' points of view -- from each one's search for truth and ideal we see an intricate web emerging that is underlined by deceit, fear, and injustice. The troubled relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians is only barely hinted at. While I never got to sympathize with any of the characters, I find Grossman's writing very lyrical, and the images he portrays while dark and disturbing are, at the same time, hauntingly beautiful as if at the edge of a dream.
Tahir Shah, in his search for the “story inside of each one of us” from the traditional coffeehouses of Casablanca, to the souks of Fez, and to Marrakech, transforms us into children once again as we enter the enchanted world of djinns, sorcerers, and dervishes. A very captivating read that is amusing and moving in turns, he regales us with his experiences and memories from his childhood, filled with ancient stories that have been passed down from generations. He takes us on a magical ride as he explores this part of a gentle and gracious culture, within the realm of Arabian Nights. This book was a great choice to accompany my holidays in Morocco recently.
Anyways, as a sort of thank-you to folks who dropped by my thread this year, I'd like to give a Christmas gift to each -- a virtual book, what else, the idea being to choose from among my 2009 reads a title which I think would most suit his or her reading preferences. While I'm not familiar with everybody's tastes, I know at least a few whose reading choices I believe I can approximate. So here goes... (I'm having lots of fun here :-))
(see next post)
Akeela – The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier
Alcottacre (Stasia) - The Egyptian by Mika Waltari
Amaranthic – Seeing by José Saramago
Arubabookwoman- A Woman Named Solitude by André Schwarz-Bart
Blackdogbooks (Mac) – The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
Cait86 – Germinal by Émile Zola
Carmenere – House of the Sleeping Beauties by Yasunari Kawabata
Chrine – The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn
Cmt (Cushla) – The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
Dcozy – Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Dihiba – Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
FlossieT – A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong´o
Girlunderglass – The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
Iansales – Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story by Ari Folman
Kidzdoc (Darryl) – Fado Alexandrino by Antonio Lobo Antunes
Lunacat – This Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Toer
LisaCurcio – Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov
Maggie 1944 – The Chosen by Chaim Potok
MusicMom41 – In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah
Petermc – Orwell in Spain, including Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
PiyushChourasia - All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Pummzie – Conversation in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa
Rachbxl – The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe
Rebeccanyc – Coup de Grâce by Marguerite Yourcenar
Rebeki – The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing
Suslyn – Bruges-La-Morte by Georges Rodenbach
TadAD – Among the Believers and Beyond Belief by V.S. Naipaul
The Tortoise - The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell
VisibleGhost – Empires of the Monsoon: A History of the Indian Ocean and its Invaders by Richard Seymour Hall
Whisper1 (Linda) – Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
Wunderkind – Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Zenomax The Days of the Consuls/Bosnian Chronicle by Ivo Andric
With my best wishes for the new year...happy reading to all!!!
You read some great books last year -- some I've read and others I'll need to look for.
Several of the books you just reviewed are enticing, and most will go on my wish list. I predict that you and Rebecca will be the main contributors to my TBR list in 2010.
Congratulations on a great reading year, and thank you for sharing it with us.
Orwell has been collected in so many volumes it is hard to keep track of them all. Two appeared last year from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that are available in hardcover or paper:
All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays
Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays
They are nice to have so when the mood hits an essay of his can be read.
I actually have Homage to Catalonia, as well as a collection of Orwell essays, but not Orwell in Spain - I will definitely keep my eyes open for it. I was actually planning to tackle "Homage" in 2010 alongside Beevor's The Battle for Spain, for my "Other Wars" category in my "1010 Sub-Challenge".
Fascinating collection of books as always. I will be looking for your thread again in 2010 :)
I will definitely read the book you chose for me. And will also look into many of the others you listed too.
I've enjoyed following your reading this year, and am looking forward to doing the same next year. There's always something good to find here.
You may not have read as many books as you would have liked in 2009, but the quality more than makes up for the quantity. I hope you find time for some pleasure reading in 2010 too, so that you can keep on inspiring me!
When I was at the library this past week, I picked up my 'virtual gift', The Egyptian, so I will be reading it some time in the new year.
Hope you enjoy The Egyptian as much as I did.
Ah, gee, I have tears in my eyes.
Thanks dear one!