March 2012: What are you reading?
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Starting off the third month of the last year ever, what are you reading?
I'm enjoying Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun and still pushing my way through Middlemarch. For work, I'm reading Down and Out in Paris and London. (Yes, I get to read at work! It doesn't make up for the terrible hours, but it's something.)
Of Muscles and Men, edited by Michael Cornelius. An anthology of scholarly articles about the "sword and sandal" film, everything from "Hercules Unchained" to 300 Fascinating stuff, especially since I loved MST 3K's riffing on the Hercules films. I also enjoyed 300 for exactly the opposite reasons the filmmaker would have wanted. (I mean, really, the movie is about as hetero as a Tom of Finland illustration ... minus the subtlety.)
Flat Spin by David Freed is great. Imagine a Tom Clancy novel about covert ops and such, but written by Dave Simon and Ed Burns Don't get me wrong, this is a fun "beach read" book, but it has crackerjack writing. Freed earning a Pulitzer for his newspaper work during the Rodney King riots is also a plus.
Close to finishing Scorpions by Noah Feldman Interesting how the Korematsu case -- where SCOTUS essentially upheld FDR's decision to intern Japanese-Americans -- paved the way for Brown v Board of Education
Now that my book is officially "in the pipeline", I'm turning to a truly daunting TBR pile, wondering where I can safely pluck out a volume without the whole thing toppling over and burying me alive.
At the moment I'm kind of scan-reading THE UNKNOWN STALIN (His Life Death and Legacy)--mainly as something to wake me up in the morning and put me to sleep at night. Also unwinding to "Rome" with my family after 9:00 p.m.--about seven episodes in and lovin' it.
Really looking forward to some serious reading over the coming weeks.
Hopefully I'm not just deluding myself...
Finished off The Sound of Waves. Very nice in the end. I enjoyed the depictions of coastal life and traditional values in a non-Western society. It had an endearingly happy ending and was the polar opposite of Patriotism.
The Grove Press Reader is often embroiled in the exciting world of copy-editing. I love hearing about the work that goes on in publishing houses and find it even more interesting than the excerpts.
Trundling through more of Les Miserables, and making better time on it. Hugo's descriptive feats make up for the fact that he no sooner returns to the story at hand before he's off on some almost unrelated tangent.
Milton's sonnets are a bit of a struggle. Generally speaking I don't much care for the form, though Sonnets from the Portuguese were psychologically very acute. (I also enjoyed Whoso List to Hunt.) Milton, however, is no great shakes. His talent seems to best present itself in poems which were allowed some degree of sprawl.
Lastly, The Decline of the West, which I read last thing every night. Having never read history books, all I can say is that Spengler makes me want to read them. His critique of historians and their methods, the rigorous thought he put into the book and the amount of information on topics I had never considered even remotely are leaving me in awe. It's incredibly out of date and I have nothing I can compare it to - still, it works for me and I'm enjoying it far more than I'd expected to.
I would love to go back to all of the Robertson Davies novels that I read during the 1980s and 1990s. I really miss them. It's been 20 years or more since I read one of his books. What a smart guy he was.
Finished Scorpions by Noah Feldman A well-handled 4way biography of Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson, Hugo Black, and William O. Douglas While not comprehensive, it serves as a good introduction to FDR's SCOTUS appointees -- at least the 4 interesting/influential ones, since FDR went on to appoint 9 justices -- and the time period (Great Depression and WW 2). While a little thin by history-book standards -- Feldman didn't pen a David McCullough boat anchor -- it served its purpose well: to pique interest in these events and personalities. Makes me want to pick up a biography about these 4 individual justices, especially Black and Douglas, who, for those appreciating the frank depictions of human behavior and penchant for 4-letter words in literature, have them to thank, since they did much to expand privacy rights and expand the protections of the First Amendment, bringing the US out of the cultural Dark Ages, when Victorian notions of propriety and decency ravaged the pages of Literature. Yuck.
Then back to The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell and Citizens by Simon Schama
Reading 30 Under 30, an anthology of from Dzanc books of "innovative fiction from younger writers" that is mostly reminding me that you probably shouldn't publish when you're under 30.
Something a bit out of character for me--J.R. Ackerley's WE THINK THE WORLD OF YOU. Liking it very much, though there isn't an attractive, likable character in sight.
12> I'm re-reading the series as each season of the HBO season starts. I'm on page ~250 of A Clash of Kings. Season 2 premiers April 1st.
I'm reading All That I Am, a novel about German resistance to Hitler. It's an area I know very little about, so it's fascinating from that point of view. And every now and then a great breathtaking phrase.
And I'm occasionally dipping into A Journey to the Centre Of the Earth, which is moving a bit too slowly for my liking. (100 pages in, and they're still discussing geology and wandering tunnels.) At least the narrator's a bit of a hoot, forever trying to back out of it all. Gotta love a cowardly narrator in an adventure yarn.
Read through Henry Miller's A Devil in Paradise, part of a longer memoir he wrote about his life at Big Sur. Very interesting little book. Relating the disintegration of Conrad Moricand, a character who inspired both pity and revulsion. The story was dreadful, banal and funny by turns. There were also interesting sidenotes about being down and out, fending for oneself, and the ridiculousness of the modern medical establishment. An annoying propensity for untranslated French, however.
i'm about to finish Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London which isn't half bad. Living as a tramp would not suit me all that much.
I really enjoyed Down and Out in Paris London, but what a desperate life he was leading, was it as a plongeur? Can't quite remember the French, but being a dish washer in France back then was about the worst possible life anybody could be leading.
Finished MORTE D'URBAN by J.F. Powers, alluded to previously in this group. And rather recently at that.
MORTE D'URBAN is a good book, well-composed, but I didn't find it dramatically compelling, more like a pleasant slog through a universe quite alien to me, the life of American priests in a decidedly minor Catholic order.
But it ended up winning the 1963 National Book Award. Other nominees that year, FYI: PALE FIRE by Nabokov, SHIP OF FOOLS by Katherine Anne Porter, PIGEON FEATHERS by John Updike.
I thought that Wheat that Springeth Green, Powers' later book, had more dramatic unity than Morte D'Urban and was easier for me, non-Catholic, to identify with. Reading Morte I can imagine that a Catholic reader might recognize certain types of characters and situations, which I wouldn't, not knowing any priests. Also I would question whether the world of Morte D'Urban still exists, given the changes of Vatican II.
I never much cared for Ship of Fools, unlike some of Porter's short stories, so no mystery there.
I loved Morte D'Urban, but that might have something to do with the fact that I've taught in Catholic high schools for the last 15 years. . . . And because I don't care very much about plot (which is what I take you to mean, Cliff, by 'not dramatically compelling').
Started The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson. My 8th graders really liked Feed this year, so I'm checking this one out.
Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton's work about 1940s South Africa . It's been on my shelf for about 20 years. My daughter was assigned this in school and I picked it up to see what she was reading and got hooked. Sonorous prose, nicely crafted, and all the more affecting with the hindsight to know where the story must lead.
Probably a good step in her education, but a book that she would appreciate much more (especially the craftsmanship) when she's a bit older.
I read Cry the Beloved Country so many years ago. Recently the movie was on tv (Sidney Poitier, natch) and I recognized it right away.
I did find the plot of Morte D'Urban hooked me, although I did not understand all the King Arthur references. (That is, it didn't match the King Arthur story as I remember it, which is probably not too well.) It seemed to me in the beginning of the book that Father Urban was sort of a phony -- all style over substance, and this is the reason why he fails to have any moral authority, when he needs it, with Cosgrove and the widowed lady. But at the end of the book if he's lost his false ideas he hasn't replaced them with anything and this confused me.
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is pretty good, although it brings up the question of what audience some YA books are really intended for. I've heard it tagged as "one of those books that win prizes but kids don't actually read." Feed, on the other hand, has deservedly been very popular.
Within pages of finishing Flat Spin by David Freed It went down quick and smooth, complete with a smartass protagonist, some shady oil dealers with their eyes on Central Asia, and an LA noir setting. A "thinking person's beach read" as it were.
Then I plan to start The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. Curious to see how it compares to Dexter -- the TV show at least, American Psycho, and James Ellroy's Killer on the Road
Started RUB OUT THE WORDS: THE LETTERS OF WILLIAM BURROUGHS (1959-1974).
The second volume of WSB's correspondence and he reveals himself to be, not surprisingly, bitchy, funny, loyal, drug-obsessed and devoted to his art. This one likely won't have any appeal outside his weird fan base but it's one I'll be adding to my personal collection eventually (this copy is from the library).
27: I would have loved to see WSB and Thomas Bernhard in a room together. The misanthropy would be utterly delicious!
27: I'm envious. I'd like to have a look at that. Judging from the excerpts I once read of The Yage Letters and his Capote letter... You say he's funny, too, which was the thing I first noticed about him. I was depressed when I started in on the Beats - Kerouac was escapism, Ginsberg reassured me of my own sanity, but Burroughs was the one who made me laugh. It reminds me again to read more of his books, if I can ever finish my current set of doorstoppers....
29: I was impressed by Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Kerouac ... in that order. Kerouac is good stuff for high schoolers. Read him when you're too old and he comes across as a self-absorbed womanizing drunk (which he totally was). "Howl" is still one of my favorite poems. But WSB is on an entirely different plane of existence. Looks like a Kansas insurance salesman, but his mind is as depraved as DAF Sade and as visionary as PKD. Akin to the demons and depravities of Robert Crumb, even though Crumb looks like an assistant grocery store manager from 1917.
Read some passages from Hadrian the VII by Frederick Rolfe. Damn, I need to read this book! He's like a proto-Alexander Theroux!
The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell goes on and on ...
30: A lot of authors have been self-absorbed womanizing drunks or some breakdown thereof. Kerouac was, and his writings make it obvious, but why single him out for dismissal? Norman Mailer was violent, obnoxious and romanticized thugs (The White Negro), but in the time I've been in this group I've never seen him criticized to Kerouac's extent.
I'm perplexed. Maybe being so close to the high school age keeps me from seeing something crucial. No, On the Road is not "The Great American Novel." Yes, his writing style was a mess. But I see all of Kerouac's books as steps towards his self-destruction, and eerie as a result. I found the most interesting thing about OtR to be that at the end, all of Dean Moriarty's old friends are married, settled down and no longer want anything to do with him. Meanwhile, Dean and Kerouac seem no more mature than they did at the beginning. Not a good sign.
Ginsberg, in his early days, was dynamite. Howl, Kaddish, A Supermarket in California, etc. His later stuff struck me as being on a benign form of repeat, like he wrote his poetry to relax or something. And Burroughs I can make no further comment on until I've got around to Junky, at least.
Meanwhile, polished off the last of Milton's Sonnets and can now tackle Paradise Lost. Maybe I'll also have a look at Bloom's Critical Views: John Milton. Fifteen different critics can't all be wrong....
PL is on my TBR list as well. But whenever I think of Milton, I can't help but always go here:
"Don't write this down, but I find Milton probably as boring as you find Milton. Mrs. Milton found him boring too. He's a little bit long-winded, he doesn't translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible."
(Bell rings, students rise to leave)
"But that doesn't relieve you of your responsibility for this material. Now I'm waiting for reports from some of you... Listen, I'm not joking. This is my job!"
Really excited about a little book of . . . stories I'm reading called Pee on Water by Rachel Glaser.
Don't know what that one's about, but perhaps after you're done with Pee on Water, you should try Pissing in the Snow. Gee, that's really going to sound rude if the touchstone doesn't work. ;-)
Started Bob Dylan's CHRONICLES, VOL. I--about time too. Did any of you see the special issue LIFE magazine has put out on Dylan's 50 years as a songwriter? The writing's is pretty pedestrian but the pictures are great. Pricey at $16.00 but this Dylan fan couldn't resist...
Started The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. In the words of the Stranger from The Big Lebowski, it's "as dark as a steer's tookhus on a moonless night." A pre-Psycho, pre-Dexter first person story where the killer is also in law enforcement. The fact that Thompson wrote two screenplays for Stanley Kubrick also doesn't hurt. Seems like Kubrick and Thompson cast their icy and cynical views of humanity. Two peas in a pod. The fact that the killer also speaks in a downhome cornpone geewillikers folksy Texas drawl also adds to the book's unsettling tone.
>38 That old cowboy sure knows a thing or two....The Big Lebowski has got to be pretty close to the top of my top five movies of all time.
I'm reading The New Penguin Book of American Short Stories, alongside Sea of Poppies (in spite of its cover), just finished Great Expectations (phew), and am probably not going to start The Sisters Brothers now as its due back at the library very (too) soon.
I'm still on Independent People, which took me a while to get into, but I'm gripped now a little over the halfway point. I've just started a section called 'Hard Times' though, so I suspect there's more Grim* to come.
*of course, I'm not bellyaching about how I don't want any Grim in my stories and that I only want nice stories about nice people. There has to be something though, some tonality. At first, although the descriptions of the landscape are wonderful, I cared little for Bjartur or his misbegotten breed. I'm hooked in now and attuned to the prose's rhythms
Just finished The Best American Comics 2007 edited by Chris Ware. Bought it for $3 at a clearance sale. I grew up on comics and periodically I get curious about what people are doing in the form. This selection was uneven, which is not surprising. It was varied so it worked well as a sampler. A lot of meh stuff but also some really impressive stuff. Many people I did not know about. A lot of nice drawings.
None of the Bond books bear any resemblance to the films, although Dr. No the film does have an escape sequence through a ventilation/discharge shaft which I think is also in the book.
I finished Literary Brooklyn which was interesting, and How We Do Harm which is a book I've been wishing existed for a long time -- angles not covered by the media and generally ignored in the so-called health care debate.
Ben, I've got Independent People on hold for the summer. Something dry, cold, and stiff can be a nice counterpoint to July in New Orleans....
Most of the way through Pee on Water, and I'm really jazzed about it. Best book of stories I've read since Jesus' Son, I think--and that's a comment I reviewed carefully before I typed it.
Candide. Not an easy read, despite its brevity. I struggled with it, especially during the first half, which was nothing except flat take-downs of optimism. In the second half, philosophy and discussion became more prominent, and (especially after Martin appeared) I began to rather enjoy it. Maybe it just took that long for me to adapt to the style. The sort of book that merits a re-read later in life. While there were some excellent sardonic quips and the classic "we must cultivate our garden" finale, overall I was pretty non-plussed.
Started Paradise Lost, which is stunning, but heavy going. Finished Spengler's introduction, next up he covers mathematics. Hugo has derailed his plot for argot's sake. The Grove Reader has started excerpting from 60s flash-in-the-pan writers that I couldn't care less about.
Next time I need a book to read, it's gonna be Fu Manchu.
I thought I already responded to this question, but that must have been another group. I consider both of these books to be literary thrillers, not simply your basic plot-driven thriller.
I just finished Agent 6, and I'm currently reading Before I Go to Sleep.
My review of Agent 6 is posted on librarything.com, and I'll review Before I Go to Sleep after I finish it.
#47 I think you need to correct your review link, Mr. Sales...it leads nowhere.
Nearly done with Of Muscles and Men, a nice academic anthology about the "sword and sandals" movies. A canny exploration of literary history, genre studies, and sexual politics (the essay on He-Man and gay clone culture is fascinating). As the bots said in MST 3K, "Hercules! Table for 8!"
The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson is dark, bleak, and creepy. I'm going to have to revisit my collection of Jim Thompson novels very soon. Unlike what creative writing group charlatans espouse, Thompson does not write in "invisible style," but with a style as dry and barren as his Oklahoma upbringing. I'll see how this jibes with Cormac McCarthy's post-Faulknerian Old Testament cadenced style in, say, No Country for Old Men and James Ellroy's retro-pulp sensationalism of Killer on the Road
Fair, balanced review.
I just can't get into Mieville's work. But a lot of folks I like and whose opinion I admire speak well of C.M. so I'm willing to admit I might be missing something.
I have just started reading Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. I havn't read it before and havn't seen the film either so I am keeping the fact that I am reading it quiet from my friends and family as there is obviously something 'nasty in the woodshed' at this Italian monestary and someone is bound to ruin it for me!
I have to say, a third in I keep thinking, this is the sort of book I thought Dan Brown's books were going to be until I actually tried to read them and discovered they were horrible, horrible piles of steaming........
Just started A Confederacy of Dunces. Had been meaning to read that one for a while.
I've started Nixonland, an enormous epic about Nixon's politics. He was quite a character, that guy... reminds me of ol' Newt a good deal.
57: Except Nixon actually has talent, intelligence, and stayed faithful to his first wife. Newt, well, he's the Dan Brown of Modern Conservatism, in other words, a steaming pile of ...
Getting closer to finishing The Killer Inside Me Dark, dark, dark! I love it! But I do want to switch gears a bit, since I'm also reading the Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell, also incredibly dark, since it's about someone in an Einsatzgruppen on the Eastern Front. I'm eyeing Darconville's Cat and Hadrian the VII I need some word-drunk comedic novels. A palate cleanser after Thompson's descent into the dark void of the human soul.
#52 I've only read 3 of Mieville's works but he seems to vary tremendously. Perdido Street Station is horrendously overwritten, The Scar a much better written work of fantasy. The City and the City is a Kafkaesque policier of some literary merit. I've not read Embassytown although I'm sure I will, the plot sounds a bit reminiscent of City of Illusions.
Got a book in the mail called That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness--excellent title--poems written collaboratively by email.
Finished a fast read, Eddie Muller's DARK CITY: THE LOST WORLD OF FILM NOIR.
Great photos, natch, but the text is solid too, some good insights into the film noir universe, movies cited that I hadn't heard of before. A couple of good quotes, including this one (referring to the Bible): "The Good Book would make one hell of a film noir..."
Also picking my way through Philip K. Dick's EXEGESIS, edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem. Finding it surprisingly coherent and readable at this stage--often he's trying to describe his mystical experiences in letters and that helps him articulate himself more effectively. Later on, the book consists of big chunks of theology, philosophy, history, cosmology and meanders for pages and pages as Dick struggles to formulate a theory that explains what he is enduring. The editors' Introduction is helpful, although I have to admit I winced when they referred to PKD as "one of the 20th Century's great novelists".
The Scar is Mieville's best work by far. Perdido Street Station has some really cool ideas as well. The rest of his stuff I can take or leave.
Done with the third Book of the New Sun, Sword of the Lictor. One left to go...
Oh, and kswolff - Nixon reminds me of Newt mostly because they're so resentment-driven. They hold grudges like no one's business. There are definite differences, but the two of them have a similar "appeal"... at least, in my eyes.
63: True, both are resentment-driven, but that's a facet of American politics, Nixon just made it so bleedin obvious. He came across like King Richard III minus the actual appeal, but he did have a nice hunchback. Heck, both the Occupy and Tea Party movements thrive on resentment and their idiotic version of reverse populism -- trust funders and corporate hand-puppets yammering on about how they are "Real Americans." Puh-lease. Newt, on the other hand, is a bloated resentment-driven moral hypocrite. All about the family values until he needs to divorce his wife to marry the aide he's shtupping on the side ... ya know, like Christ would have. Wish somebody would have the decency of holding Newt to his Christian bona fides by nailing him to a cross.
The Radetsky March has been sitting on my shelf,unread, for several years but more recently, with the publication of Joseph Roth: A Life in letters, I again became interested in Joseph Roth's work and i read The Wandering Jews. This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in jewish history between the two great wars of the 20th century. below is a reveiw i wrote:
The Wandering Jews by Joseph Roth
Known best for his classic novel about the Austria-Hungary Empire, The Redetsky March, Joseph Roth was first and foremost known for his journalistic reports about the state of Europe following the first Great War.
In The Wandering Jews, his reports about the state of the Jewish people in Eastern and Western Europe is well documented. From the shtetls of Poland to the streets of Paris and the quarantines of Ellis Island the journeys and lives of the common Jew and the assimilated German Jews are portrayed.
In the first chapter, “Eastern European Jews in the West” while important to frame the time and environment within which he wrote this book, it is rather lengthy and thus boring, for the task at hand. It could have easily been addressed in ½ the time but why quibble, for what follows explodes off the page; in the richness of description and the wisdom of observation he captures all the intricacies of activities and personalities that persist within the Jewish communities of Eastern and Western Europe.
From the muddy streets of the shtetl to the boulevards of Berlin and Paris he reports on the unique qualities of the Jewish people, their history and tradition and the blind eye the German Jews turned on their own kind only to then be caught up in the horrors of the Nuremberg Laws and what followed.
“…The German Jew had grown arrogant. He had lost the God of his fathers and acquired an idol instead: the idol of civilizatory patriotism. But God had not forgotten him. And he sent him on his wanderings, a tribulation that is appropriate to Jews, and to all others besides. Lest we forget that nothing in this world endures, not even a home; and that our life is short, shorter even than the life of the elephant, the crocodile, and the crow. Even parrots outlive us”.
His reports were probably among the first to foretell the coming Holocaust and the damage it left in its wake for both the Jewish people and their tormentors.
I also had the pleasure of reading a great novelist this month:
Purgatory: A Novel by Tomás Eloy Martínez
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Purgatory a Novel, by Tomas Eloy Martinez
While Jorge Luis Borges will always be considered the godhead of Argentine literature it is to Tomas Eloy Martinez that accolades should be showered for documenting the arc of mid-twentieth century Argentine history. Borges métier was short fiction, erudite and mystical, steeped in the earlier 1900’s documenting the push and pull of gaucho life with the European influence of Buenos Aires. Borges’ strong points were essays about books and his unique metaphysical visions despite (or perhaps heightened by) his own visual impairment. In his later novel, The Tango Singer, Tomas Eloy Martinez pays special homage to Borges; in this tale the main character is a graduate student searching for the exact location of Borges’ El Aleph.
Both Borges and Martinez died before they could be bestowed the awards they justly deserved: for Borges the Nobel Prize for Literature, for Martinez the International Man Booker Prize for which he was nominated in 2005.
With Purgatory a Novel, Martinez demonstrates clearly that via the novel he is the master illuminating recent Argentine history. Starting with The Peron Novel which portrays how the quite ordinary and obsequious Colonel transforms his position into a pervasive politics, and then with Santa Evita his choice of spouse catapulted both of them into the realm of religious adoration capturing the imagination and dedication of the common folk. Now with Purgatory a Novel Tomas Eloy Martinez takes on the dictatorship of the late 1970’s who brought a reign of terror to this country that still permeates its soul and fires up the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo frequent protests.
Purgatory is the story of Emilia, daughter of Dr. Dupuy, the chief propagandist of the dictatorship. In the wake of the dictatorship which is determined to squelch all dissidents through disappearances, she marries a fellow cartographer she has met at the Argentine Automobile Association. At a small dinner party hosted by her father and attended by the President (often referred to as the eel) to celebrate the betrothal to her soon to be husband, Simon, Emilia’s fiancé begs to differ with the current policies, questioning the morality of torture.
Shortly thereafter while on assignment to chart unknown backloads of the pampas, Emilia and Simon are detained by a ragged detail of soldiers who determine that Simon should be held for further interrogation. He is never seen again and Emilia sets forth on decades of longing and searching from Argentina to Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and finally ending up in New Jersey where she meets a fellow Argentine-a mildly disguised version of Tomas Eloy Martinez himself: a college professor of literature at a New Jersey University. It is through this meeting of the 2 exiles that her story is told through both flashbacks and real time.
The absurd cruelty of the regime is aptly depicted in a brief interview The Eel has with a Japanese journalist stating that “ ‘firstly we would have to verify that what you say existed was where you say it was. Reality can be very treacherous. Lots of people are desperate for attention and they disappear just so people won’t forget them…A desaparecido is a mystery, he has no substance, he is neither alive nor dead, he does not exist. He is a ‘disappeared’. And as he said he does not exist, he rolled his eyes to heaven. ‘Don’t use that word again,’ he went on, ‘you have no basis for it. It is forbidden to publish it. Let it be disappeared and be forgotten.’ ”
Of course that is what any regime of terror hopes for; that the powers will control the message and dictate what is considered to be the truth, what is real and what is to be acknowledged and remembered. But this dirty war ultimately failed, on the shores of the Malvinas it took its last gasp and it was the Mothers of the Plaza Major and the other victims - like Emilia and Tomas Eloy Martinez- that would not allow the disappeared to be forgotten. As in a prior novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, by Nathan Englander, the absurd terror that permeated Argentina in the late 70’s is exposed for all to remember. Like Martinez, Englander describes and captures the bureaucratic maze of obstacles, an artifice constructed by the late dictatorship of Jorge Videla (the eel in Purgatory) to obstruct from the view of its citizenry the true evil of his evil regime, manifested by the abduction of the infants of dissidents who are then adopted by childless Colonels and Captains of the Army’s elite corp.
Like the unchartered roads Emilia and Simon set out to find in Patagonia, the search for our lost loves, Eloy Martinez writes, is also uncharted. Once gone they only exist in memories and imaginations. The parallel and reference to “the politics of memory” that existed behind the Iron Curtain as portrayed by Milan Kundera in his The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and also administered by the perpetrators of Jorge Videla’s Dirty Wars is undeniable. Imagining what was and never was is uniquely described by Eloy Martinez in one powerful passage in which the imagined Simon describes an event that occurred while he was working as an attendant in an old age home:
“The writer with the slate who used to pace the corridors of the old folks’ home also told me a dream. It wasn’t a dream exactly; it was the memory of a recurring dream. A huge black dog was jumping on him and licking him. Inside the dog were all the things that had never existed and even those that no one even imagined could exist. ‘What does not exist is constantly seeking a father’, said the dog, ‘someone to give it consciousness.’ ‘A god?’ asked the writer. ‘No, it is searching for any father,’ answered the dog. ‘The things that do not exist are much more numerous than those that manage to exist. That which will never exist is infinite. The seeds that do not find soil and water and do not become plants, the lives that go unborn, the characters that remain unwritten.’ ‘The rocks that have crumbled to dust?’ ‘No those rocks once were. I am speaking only of what might have been but never was,’ said the dog. ‘The brother that never was because you existed in his place. If you had been conceived seconds before or seconds after, you would not be who you are, you would not know that your existence vanished into nowhere without you even realizing. That which will never be known that it might have been. This is why novels are written: to make amends in this world for the perpetual absence of what never existed.’ The dog vanished into the air and the writer woke up.’ “
Near the end of Pergatory a Novel, the narrator, the Argentine professor states:
“the more I delve into Emilia’s life, the more I realize that from beginning to end it is an unbroken chain of losses, disappearances and senseless searches. She spent years chasing after nothing, after people who no longer existed, remembering things that had never happened. But aren’t we all like that? Don’t we all abuse history to leave some trace there of what we once were, a miserable smudge, a tiny flame when we know that even the darkest mark is a bird that will leave on a breath of wind? One human being is more or less the same as another; perhaps we are all already dead without realizing it, or not yet born and do not know it…we come into the world without knowing it, the result of a series of accidents, and we leave it to go who knows where, nowhere probably.”
We can only hope that prior to his recent death Eloy had time to expand his trilogy of novels (spanning the 1940’s to 1970’s) and that someday soon we will have a quartet; the fourth installment detailing the more recent economic and political crisis of 2001 when the bank doors shut, the vaults were sealed tight, the currency, the peso devalued overnight, forcing hundreds of thousands portenos onto the avenidas of Buenos Aires, banging on their pots and pans for justice and transparency. The Kirchners, Nestor and Cristina, came to power with a neo-Peronism, a nationalistic approach blaming outsiders, the IMF, the World Bank, the Brits and the elites of Buenos Aires. Today the Kirchenrites are still at it, attacking their critics: academics, capitalists and the media; they have become minor shadows of their historic precedents, Juan Peron and all other governments that have tried to “control the message”.
Tomas Elroy Martinez has documented through his novels the mid-twentieth century history of Argentina. From The Peron Novel which starts in the 1930’s to Santa Evita and now Purgatory a Novel which roots itself in the dictatorship of the late 1970’s. Martinez, through story and characterization lets the reader in on what the Argentine peoples have lived through. We can only hope that that there is another book he left in his desk drawer that will explicate for us the economic crisis of the late 90’s and the resurgent Kirchnerites who perpetrate a quasi Peronism and political split between the rural nativist and the more universal European outlook of Buenos Aires. Ironically we find ourselves back at the beginning with the same themes that Borges, himself, mined over and over.
The Argentine drama evolves and it has lost one of its best literary chroniclers. Without Tomas Eloy Martinez, who will portray this most recent chapter?
Love a good, detailed review. None of that "Thumb's Up" or "Thumb's Down" crap.
Sounds like a fascinating read.
Interesting. The New Yorker had an article last week on the Dirty War and the effort to resolve the identities of two adopted children of the era who also happen to be heirs to a huge media empire. As I was reading it I kept thinking "why are there no novelists writing about this?" Good to know that there are, and hopefully there will be more to come.
Enjoying The Broom of the System by DFW. While reviewers cast the usual parallels to Pynchon, Barth, etc., I'd say, as a first novel, DFW is writing in a kind of Wodehouse-ian Baroque. The setting isn't like a Wodehouse novel, obviously, but there are silly names, overly detailed descriptions, and intense wordplay. I'd also assert that Iain Banks writes in the same Wodehouse-ian Baroque style.
I decided to treat myself and go back to an old favorite, Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. It's almost a perfect book in my eyes. Anyone wondering how a politician turns from a crusader to a fatcat should read this brilliant political novel. One of the best Southern novels ever written.
#72 Terrific book.
I'm about 2/3 of the way through THE DARKEST SUMMER, an account of the first months of the Korean conflict. A good read but, boy, is the author (Bill Sloan) a huge cheerleader for the Marine Corps...
73: Reminds me of that exchange from A Few Good Men:
"The Marines are fanatic down there."
The Broom of the System is fabulous! A hilarious satire of psychology, publishing, urban planning, baby food conglomerates, and Ludwig Wittgenstein Populated by daft intellectuals right out of Wodehouse Central Casting.
Citizens by Simon Schama is great too. That man can sure pen a ripping yarn. Interesting to read about the slow conflagration of the French Revolution and its inherent contradictions.
Still chugging away at Hugo, Spengler and Milton. It's all excellent but I will be so glad to finish them - Hugo especially. The actual plot of his magnum opus is built like a thriller with jailbreaks, star-crossed lovers, unforgiving policemen, narrow escapes, suffering and redemption. No modern novelist would dream of obscuring a surefire plot like that with page after page of digression, but Hugo had this wonderfully bombastic egotism and he strides the pages of his novel as if his readers hang upon his every word. He's the quintessential Romantic novelist. The more of it I read, the more I like even the digressions. I'm looking forward to reading Vargas Llosa's The Temptation of the Impossible as well.
THE POET DYING, about Heinrich Heine's slow, lingering death in Paris. Bedridden for years, wracked with pain from an illness he himself believed was syphilis-related--but which contemporary medical experts diagnose as an ALS type affliction--it makes for sad reading. Yet during the same portion of his life he also composed some of his finest poetry.
Ernst Pawel handles the subject matter gracefully and with sympathy--a humane and thoughtful biography. I've also ordered his bio of Kafka, THE NIGHTMARE OF REASON, which was highly praised...
This Confederacy of Dunces, the plot is inventive, intricate and runs like clockwork. The story unfolds with verve and has a good pace. Unfortunately it is not that funny. It really isn't.
Confederacy of Dunces has a few extra layers of humor if you live here in New Orleans. (There's a lot of subtle neighborhood and race and speech-patterns stuff that Toole gets exactly right.) I can see how it would be more tedious for others.
LOVED that book. A sentimental fave: it was one of the first books Sherron and I shared as a couple.
Sorry, feeling mushy today.
Maybe I'm missing the references. I've seen it included in many of these "Best of" lists so it clearly has a fan base.
I feel that way about certain movies. :)
Read Last Letters from Hav over the weekend, also a bio of Katherine Anne Porter which I bought at the library book sale (last year I was looking for a bio of her and the library did not have one, and yet it turns up at the book sale??) Now reading The Master by Colm Toibin which is good but probably of interest mainly to Henry James fans. I also have Brooklyn on tap.
Reading a solid bio on a guy I've always wanted to know more about: MACHIAVELLI by Miles J. Unger.
Mr. M. had the good/bad fortune to live in VERY interesting times. Medicis, Savonarola, etc.
Finally made it through the over-represented 60s in the Grove Press Reader. As with all compilations, some gems mixed with some "what were they thinking?" dross. Next up is the 70s, very poorly represented by a clip from American Buffalo, and then it's straight into the 80s and 90s.
Then I figure I'll start in on Finding a Form. Meanwhile, back to Milton....
Reading The Cultural History of the Chinese Language by Sharron Gu I'm on the chapter dealing with Chinese poetry and music. Fascinating stuff. A great book, albeit a tad technical at times, but a good starting point for those interested in the language. The book's intended audience is non-Chinese speakers.
Broom of the System is fun. A great look into where literature was heading in the mid-80s. Not solemn Great Art, but spasmodic, hyper-erudite Ohio-by-way-of-Amherst farcical family dramas. Like I've said before, it's Wodehouse-ian Baroque.
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