Linda29007's reading for 2012 - Part 2
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Books Read January - June 2012
1. Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet by Edith Pargeter – Book 2
2. Ghost: A Novel by Alan Lightman
3. The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks
4. The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
5. Slavery By Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon
6. Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent by Ruth Gruber
7. The Broken Word by Adam Foulds
8. Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse
9. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
10. The Writer as Migrant by Ha Jin
11. The Birds Fall Down by Rebecca West
12. Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! by Kenzaburo Oe
13. Troubles by J. G. Farrell
14. The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant
15. Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks
16. Human Chain by Seamus Heaney
17. Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney by Dennis O'Driscoll
18. To A Mountain In Tibet by Colin Thubron
19. Fishing the Sloe-Black River by Colum McCann
20. The Sadness of the Samurai: A Novel by Victor del Arbol
21. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
22. Eternity on Hold by Mario Susko (poetry)
23. The War Works Hard by Dunya Mikhail (poetry)
24. The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist by Orhan Pamuk
25. Mentors, Muses & Monsters by Elizabeth Benedict
26. blue has no south by Alex Epstein
27. The Hunger Angel by Herta Muller
28. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Books Read 2012 Continued
29. The Earth in the Attic by Fady Joudah (poetry)
30. Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz
31. The Round & Other Cold Hard Facts by J.M.G. Le Clézio
32. Like A Straw Bird It Follows Me, And Other Poems by Ghassan Zaqtan (poetry)
33. Fatelessness by Imre Kertesz
34. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
35. The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing
36. Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders
37. The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison
38, 39, 40. Kristin Lavransdatter Trilogy by Sigrid Undset: The Wreath, The Wife & The Cross
41. A Time to Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor
42. Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata
43. The Marsh Arabs by Wilfred Thesiger
44. The Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag
45. Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville
I am starting a personal challenge to read at least one book by each Nobel Laureate in Literature, assuming an available translation. Since this is supposed to be enjoyable, I won’t impose any deadlines or other rules, and I do expect this to take a number of years, as I will not be reading from this list exclusively. I have decided that the easiest way of tracking is to simply list all of the winners directly on my thread, indicate what I have read, and add as I go along. Books I have already read will count, but I plan to re-read many that were first read years ago (up to 40+!). Making this list has made me realize just how bad my memory is regarding the details of books from the past, but writing LT reviews seems to be helping with this. I will also very likely read multiple books by some authors.
Nobel Laureates in Literature
Books listed are those I have read.
2012 - Mo Yan
2011 - Tomas Tranströmer
2010 - Mario Vargas Llosa: Death in the Andes, The Storyteller, Who Killed Palomino Molero?
2009 - Herta Müller: The Hunger Angel – June 2012
2008 - Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio: Desert – 2011, The Round & Other Cold Hard
Facts – July 2012
2007 - Doris Lessing: The Cleft - 2010, The Grass Is Singing - August 2012
2006 - Orhan Pamuk: Snow, The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist – June 2012
2005 - Harold Pinter
2004 - Elfriede Jelinek: The Piano Teacher
2003 - John M. Coetzee: Disgrace, Life & Times of Michael K., Youth: Scenes from
Provincial Life II, Summertime: Scenes from Provincial Life
2002 - Imre Kertész: Fatelessness - July 2012
2001 - Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul
2000 - Gao Xingjia: Soul Mountain
1999 - Günter Grass: The Tin Drum
1998 - José Saramago: Blindness – I abandoned this three quarters of the way through,
but plan to go back and finish it. The Double, The Cave
1997 - Dario Fo: My First Seven Years (Plus A Few More): A Memoir
1996 - Wislawa Szymborska
1995 - Seamus Heaney: Human Chain – April 2012
1994 - Kenzaburo Oe: Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! – March 2012
1993 - Toni Morrison: Beloved
1992 - Derek Walcott
1991 - Nadine Gordimer: The House Gun, None to Accompany Me, Sport of
Nature, Loot and Other Stories, The Pickup, Get A Life
1990 - Octavio Paz
1989 - Camilo José Cela
1988 - Naguib Mahfouz: Arabian Nights and Days – July 2012
1987 - Joseph Brodsky
1986 - Wole Soyinka
1985 - Claude Simon
1984 - Jaroslav Seifert
1983 - William Golding: Lord of the Flies
1982 - Gabriel García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of
Cholera, News of a Kidnapping
1981 - Elias Canetti
1980 - Czeslaw Milosz
Nobel Laureates in Literature
Books listed are those I have read.
1979 - Odysseus Elytis
1978 - Isaac Bashevis Singer
1977 - Vicente Aleixandre
1976 - Saul Bellow
1975 - Eugenio Montale
1974 - Eyvind Johnson
1974 - Harry Martinson
1973 - Patrick White: The Vivisector- November 2012
1972 - Heinrich Böll: The Safety Net
1971 - Pablo Neruda
1970 - Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn: The Gulag Archipelago Three, One Day in
the Life of Ivan Denisovich
1969 - Samuel Beckett
1968 - Yasunari Kawabata: Beauty and Sadness - September 2012
1967 - Miguel Angel Asturias
1966 - Shmuel Yosef Agnon
1966 - Nelly Sachs
1965 - Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov
1964 - Jean-Paul Sartre: Nausea
1963 - Giorgos Seferis
1962 - John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, The
Winter of our Discontent
1961 - Ivo Andric
1960 - Saint-John Perse
1959 - Salvatore Quasimodo
1958 - Boris Leonidovich Pasternak: Doctor Zhivago
1957 - Albert Camus: The Stranger, The Plague
1956 - Juan Ramón Jiménez
1955 - Halldór Kiljan Laxness
1954 - Ernest Miller Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the
Sea, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms
1953 - Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill
1952 - François Mauriac
1951 - Pär Fabian Lagerkvist
1950 - Earl (Bertrand Arthur William) Russell
1949 - William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August,
1948 - Thomas Stearns Eliot - I have read The Wasteland and Prufrock, but do not recall the actual book editions.
1947 - André Paul Guillaume Gide: Notes on Chopin - December 2012
1946 - Hermann Hesse: Siddhartha, Steppenwolf
1945 - Gabriela Mistral
1944 - Johannes Vilhelm Jensen
1940-1943 – No prize awarded.
Nobel Laureates in Literature
Books listed are those I have read.
1939- Frans Eemil Sillanpää
1938 - Pearl Buck
1937 - Roger Martin du Gard
1936 - Eugene Gladstone O'Neill
1935 - No prize awarded.
1934 - Luigi Pirandello
1933 - Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin
1932 - John Galsworthy
1931 - Erik Axel Karlfeldt
1930 - Sinclair Lewis
1929 - Thomas Mann
1928 - Sigrid Undset - Kristin Lavransdatter - August 2012
1927 - Henri Bergson
1926 - Grazia Deledda
1925 - George Bernard Shaw
1924 - Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont
1923 - William Butler Yeats
1922 - Jacinto Benavente
1921 - Anatole France
1920 - Knut Pedersen Hamsun: Pan
1919 - Carl Friedrich Georg Spitteler
1918 - No prize awarded.
1917 - Karl Adolph Gjellerup
1917 - Henrik Pontoppidan
1916 - Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam
1915 - Romain Rolland
1914 - No prize awarded.
1913 - Rabindranath Tagore
1912 - Gerhart Johann Robert Hauptmann
1911 - Count Maurice (Mooris) Polidore Marie Bernhard Maeterlinck
1910 - Paul Johann Ludwig Heyse
1909 - Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf
1908 - Rudolf Christoph Eucken
1907 - Rudyard Kipling
1906 - Giosuè Carducci
1905 - Henryk Sienkiewicz
1904 - Frédéric Mistral
1904 - José Echegaray y Eizaguirre
1903 - Bjørnstjerne Martinus Bjørnson
1902 - Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen
1901 - Sully Prudhomme
Fascinating list of Nobel Laureates in Literature. Some worthy names and them some not so worthy, but I can't say I have read all that many. I have only read books by 22 of those authors listed. There is an awful lot of reading to do.
Linda you are tempting me with this project. I've just made my own spreadsheet and see that I have read books by 43 of the 108 winners and have works by another 30 either on the shelf or available as free ebooks. But some of the early winners have lapsed into obscurity and may be difficult to find in translation (and perhaps not worth the effort). A goal to read all of those awarded the prize in my lifetime would certainly be attainable, however, as that shortens the list to 61, all readily available.
Embarassing, but some authors I have never even heard of, whereas others are some of my all time favorites (Henryk Sienkiewicz, Sigrid Undset, Czeslaw Milosz). I tried to count how many authors I have read, but realized that some aren't listed in my library, although I had read and enjoyed them, because the books were lost in a flooded basement when I was in grad school. I guess I need to do some cleanup (database, not basement) and then count. I hope you don't mind if I copy your lists.
What an interesting project! I'll be looking forward to seeing your reviews, especially of some of the older authors. I have also not heard of some of the authors (didn't know who Transtromer was before he won) and was wondering how hard it would be to get books by some of the earliest laureates.
I've read something by 25 of the authors, 11 on the pile. Not sure whether reading a couple poems by Neruda and Eliot or reading the libretto for Debussy's operatic adaptation of Maeterlinck's Pelleas et Melisande, which was pretty much set unchanged with a couple scene cuts, counts.
Also - did not realize Maeterlinck had such a long name.
>8 Barry, I am curious about which authors you feel may fall into the not so worthy category.
>9 You have an excellent start at 43, Steven, and have obviously already done some great research. Does your list of 61 refer only to those you have not yet read, or is it the total you found to be readily available, including the 43 you have read? Might you be willing to share some more details?
>10 Feel free to copy the lists, Lisa. I simply copied and reformatted them from the Nobel Prize website. There are many on the list that I also have never heard of, but with luck I'll rectify that for many. But if I can't find the books, at least I can read about the authors. What a shame about the flooded basement. A truly traumatic event for a booklover!
>11 wondering how hard it would be to get books by some of the earliest laureates I think Steven may have the answer to that question, DieF.
did not realize Maeterlinck had such a long name I actually went back to the website to double-check that it was not two different winners for the same year!
Great project. A quick count gives me 28 authors read, with bits and pieces of others. I, too, will have to get reading. It's interesting to see how the authors move out from the European world as the twentieth century advances.
> 10 I loved the Sigrid Undset trilogy of Kristen Lavransdatter and actually read it twice. The first time was an early translation which omitted some aspects and prettified others. By the time I got to the third book, I had a Penguin edition with a good translation, which convinced me to find the first two books with the same translator and read them again. Apparently this trilogy has never been out of publication.
Oh those basement apartment floods!
A quick count shows I read 27 authors; several unread on the shelves.
The year before last, I read a novel, some essays and poetry by Carl Spitteler (1919). You can strike that one of your list, I found it incredibly dated.
I also read novellas by Paul Heyse (1910) and enjoyed those a lot; they are nice if you like old-fashioned story-telling.
>13, 10 Sassy and Lisa - Thank you both for the recommendation of Undset and her Kristen Lavransdatter trilogy. I am keeping a separate wishlist of books for my Nobel challenge and all suggestions are welcomed!
> 14 Edwin, the Nobel website says that Spitteler was awarded the prize specifically in recognition of his epic, Olympian Spring. Was that among those you read? It doesn't appear that many of his works have been translated to English.
Thanks for the recommendation of Paul Heyse.
>13 The Kristen Lavransdatter trilogy was amazing. I too read it twice. I also read Gunnar's Daughter and I thought a short book called The Axe, but I don't see it on LT. I just read Indset's autobiographical statement for the Nobel Committee. She appears to have had quite her own mind from a young age. And prettifying her books through translation would seem a daunting task. Her writing (and the time period about which she writes) is pretty grim.
I know! It broke my heart to throw out so many books, and I didn't have the sense to rip out the title pages, so before LT I never knew if I owned a book, or if I had owned it and needed to replace it.
Linda, I read "Olympian Spring" and other representative works by Carl Spitteler in a volume dedicated to the commemoration of Nobel Prize winners in a Dutch translation. I also read his novel Imago, which had the same feeling of being very dated, particularly in its use of symbolism. See my review.
Edwin, knowing your preference for literature from earlier periods, when you say something is very dated, I take that seriously! I'll put Spitteler way down the list and read him only if I must in order to complete my goal. Thanks for the warning.
>16 Lisa, the Nobel website has some very interesting reading and I am really enjoying the Nobel Laureate's speeches. Did you read Herta Muller's? You might really appreciate it, having read The Hunger Angel.
#12 - I'll try to clarify my numbers. Out of all 108 winners I've read 43. I don't think I could read all 108, however, because some are probably not available in English translation (and may never have been). Others may not have been especially worth reading, as the criteria for the Nobel have evolved over time.
A more attainable goal, however, would be to read the 61 winners named since I was born (i.e. that is my age). Out of that 61 I've read about 31 authors, so my goal would be to read a book each by the remaining 30 post-1950 winners (plus those who win the prize in the meantime).
There's a really nice article on the Nobel website that explains the various phases the prize has gone through as far as the philosophy used to pick the winner. It addresses why someone like Sully Prudhomme won the prize instead of Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Thomas Hardy, or Emile Zola, all of whom were eligible but overlooked.
Thanks for the clarification, Steven. Your first message was written very clearly. Sorry for my misinterpretation.
Fascinating article on the evolution of the award selection process.
I love your new project, Linda! I've read books by 33 of the Nobel laureates on a quick count. I would recommend The Half-Finished Heaven by Tomas Tranströmer, a recent collection of his best poems; The Hothouse by Harold Pinter (I saw the play at the National Theatre in London several years ago, and subsequently read the script); A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul (one of my all time favorite novels); White Egrets by Derek Walcott (his most recent poetry collection, which won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2010); You Must Set Forth at Dawn, a recently written memoir by Wole Soyinka; Gimpel the Fool: And Other Stories by I.B. Singer; Ravelstein by Saul Bellow; Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata; and Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello.
I'll read books by at least two Nobel laureates who are new to me in the second half of the year, by Patrick White (The Vivisector) and S.Y. Agnon (Only Yesterday). I'll try to read books by at least two or three previous laureates whose books I haven't read yet, and see if I can join you in your noble quest (pun fully intended).
Thanks for all of the great recommendations, Darryl. I know that I can always count on you in the poetry category! I recently bought Transtromer's The Great Enigma and remember spending some time in the store trying to decide between that and The Half-Finished Heaven, as both collect poems from past works. I'll look for White Egrets - loved the selection you chose for your review. I also own a number of books by V.S. Naipaul, including A House for Mr. Biswas, but for some reason have let them sit. This could be the motivation I need to get started with these.
Wole Soyinka's memoir looks very enticing. Have you read his earlier Ake: The Years of Childhood? I might try to start with that. I've had Snow Country on my wishlist for awhile. And your recommendations for Singer and Bellow are appreciated, as I really didn't know where to start with them.
I have read very few plays, so Pinter and Pirandello will be a new experience for me. I tried earlier this year to read The Other Shore which contains several plays by Gao Xingjian, another Nobel Laureate, but just could not stay with them at the time.
You are a bit ahead of me already in your count and it would be great to have company on this quest!
You're welcome, Linda! I bought The Half-Finished Heaven at City Lights two or three years ago, when Tranströmer was touted as a strong candidate for the Nobel Prize. I haven't read anything else by Walcott, although I did pick up Omeros, arguably his best poetry collection, a year or two ago. I like Naipaul's earlier novels best, particularly those which are set in Trinidad, such as A House for Mr. Biswas, The Mystic Masseur and Miguel Street. I'm currently reading one of his nonfiction books, The Loss of El Dorado, which details the brutal history of colonial Trinidad. I hope to finish it by the end of the week.
I haven't read Ake yet, although I do own it and would like to read it soon.
Six Characters in Search of an Author was good, but I'm sure it would be much more entertaining to see a live performance of it. Although I did recommend The Hothouse, I'm not sure how much I would have liked it if I had read it before I saw the play.
I'm ahead of you? Counting again...yep, I come up with 33 again, so you're right. I'll probably also read a book by Gao Xingjian for the fourth quarter Reading Globally theme, which is dedicated to Chinese literature, I think. I'll probably read Soul Mountain, although I also own One Man's Bible. Oh...I forgot that I had read his collection of essays, The Case for Literature, several years ago. Make that 34 laureates, then. I'll post a list on my thread later this week.
Early Reviewer Book
The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller, translated by Philip Boehm
In her 2009 Nobel Lecture, Herta Müller speaks of objects, gestures and words as the elements that connect us to our existence. For Müller, it is the handkerchief that evokes memories and ties together the periods in her life. It is the handkerchief also that she references in recognition of Oskar Pastior, the poet who was her early collaborator in writing The Hunger Angel and who, based on his own experiences, supplied many of the book’s details of the Soviet labor camps. Unfortunately, Pastior passed away before the book was finished, but the handkerchief and compassion offered him by an elderly Russian woman, live on in the tale of Leopold Auberg, the book’s protagonist.
Leopold is a seventeen-year-old of German ancestry, living in 1945 Romania, when he is deported to the Soviet Union for a five-year term in a labor camp. Conditions in the camp are harsh, the work is physically demanding and dangerous, and the essentials of life are scarce. Workers die, crushed by coal cars, buried alive in cement, drowned in a mortar pit and poisoned by coal alcohol. Precious possessions are sold for salt and sugar, and crumbs of bread are traded in endless hopes of securing a larger portion. The hunger angel is a constant companion, a part of, yet separate from each person, and dictating every aspect of camp life.
… the hunger angel thinks straight, he’s never absent, he doesn’t go away but comes back, he knows his direction and he knows my boundaries, he knows where I come from and what he does to me, he walks to one side with open eyes, he never denies his own existence, he’s disgustingly personal, his sleep is transparent, he’s an expert in orach, sugar, and salt, lice and homesickness, he has water in his belly and in his legs.
As a reader, it is easy to be overcome by the bleakness of the camp conditions. Yet glimpses remain of what it means to be human. There is dignity in the way the workers embrace the routine of camp life and its backbreaking work, and resilience in the forced normality of Saturday night dances that otherwise seem almost grotesque. There is humanity in the unspoken rules that protect the weak, and in the standards of fairness and honesty that are unquestioningly accepted and enforced. And happiness is not fully absent. There are sudden, fragmented moments of ‘mouth happiness’ and ‘head happiness’, as well as the ‘onedroptoomuchhappiness’ that is found in the peaceful relief of death.
Despite its extreme deprivation, the camp becomes Leo’s home, a place of safety, familiarity and even fairness, where he is never alone. “I don’t need a day pass, I have the camp, and the camp has me. All I need is a bunk and Fenya’s bread and my tin bowl…I don’t even need Leo Auberg.” Upon his return to Romania, he suffers from an inability to adjust and the rejection of family members who have assumed him dead and erased his place in their lives. “By staying alive I had betrayed their mourning.” But the worst effect he must endure, the ultimate devastation to the human spirit, for which there is no healing, is his fear of being free.
By now I’ve realized that what’s written on my treasures is THERE I STAY. That the camp let me go home only to create the space it needed to grow inside my head. Since I came back, my treasures no longer have a sign that says HERE I AM or one that says I WAS THERE. What’s actually written on my treasures is: THERE I’M STUCK.
Müller’s writing is spare yet poetic, and her literary technique is wonderful to observe. Color is used to reinforce the sense of desolation, the ubiquitous grayness of cement, mortar and fly ash covering even the white of winter, with only the occasional burst of yellow, pink, green or red as simple reminders that the world is not always this way. The simplicity of the narrative, its short chapters and focus on concrete images and the smallest of daily events, mirrors Leo’s physical and emotional fading. Müller uses the device of revealing her protagonist’s character through his interaction with objects in the environment. In Leopold’s world, objects take on their own personae, developing relationships with him. Words, feelings, hunger and even boredom, become objects to be treasured, taking over for feelings that can no longer be safely felt or expressed.
I taught my homesickness to be dry-eyed a long time ago. Now I’d like it to become ownerless. Then it would no longer see my condition here and wouldn’t ask about my family back home. Then my mind would no longer be home to people, only objects. Then I could simply shove them back and forth across the place where it hurts, the way we shove our feet when we dance the Paloma. Objects may be small or large, and some may be too heavy, but they are finite.
It is not difficult to see why Herta Müller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Hunger Angel is of archival importance, documenting events that were real, brutal and inhumane, yet have been largely overshadowed in history by the horrors of Nazi Germany. Her writing is brilliant, reflective and full of moments that stand alone in their beauty, as with ”Monstrous tenderness gets tangled in guilt differently from intentional cruelty. More deeply. And for longer.”.
I highly recommend this book. 5 Stars
I have to say that The Hunger Angel is a very fortunate book being the subject of some great reviews by labfs39, steven03tx and now you Linda. I am still not sure I want to read it though.
>26 Thanks Dewald. There were sentences that just seemed to jump out at me. Philip Boehm deserves tremendous credit for his translation.
>27 Barry, based on our respective ratings, I suspect I was more impressed with the book than were Lisa and Steven. I am anxious to read another book by Müller to see how my feelings hold up, but I truly think she is a brilliant writer. The book was deceptively simple and decidedly bleak, but it made an enormous impression on me.
>28 Perhaps not, Linda. I'm just very stingy with stars. For instance, I rarely give five stars unless I've felt compelled to read the book at least twice. Also, I give stars relative to genre, so a four star in pop lit (say, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand) is very different than a four star in historical fiction/camps, which must compete against books such as Kolyma Tales, Life and Fate, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. So, long story short, I did like Hunger Angel quite a lot! I went out and bought Land of Green Plums, which I plan to read as soon as I am ready for another emotional slammer.
P.S. Great review.
Thanks Lisa. I did wonder about your rating, as your review was very positive. I think I tend to err on the side of rating high. Now that I've had some experience with LT reviewing, I should probably give some thought to this. I'll look forward to your thoughts on Land of Green Plums. I own The Appointment, so that will be my next Müller read.
I'm in the mixed category over THA, but I completely agree that it is "deceptively simple".
The NYS Writers Institute does not announce their upcoming season this early, but the talks are often listed well in advance on the UA events calendar. The Fall line-up is looking great. Some highlights so far:
Salgado Masanhao - Brazilian Poet, with translator Alexis Levitin
Junot Diaz - Exciting! Has a new collection of short stories due out in September.
James Mann - political journalist
Dorothy Driver - scholar in South African literature - Really looking forward to this one, followed the next day by:
J.M. Coetzee and Paul Auster, in conversation - I am so excited about this! A Nobel Laureate!
Ghassan Zaqtan - Palestinian poet and translator and Palestinian-American poet, Fady Joudah
David Quammen - science/natural history writer - another one I am really looking forward to
Joy Harjo - Native American poet with a new memoir
Denis Johnson - presenting his new play "DesMoines"
Tonight we are going to Skidmore College (NYS Summer Writer's Institute) to a reading by Louise Gluck and Caryl Phillips. I am hoping they talk some, rather than just reading. But most of the summer events I have been to were just readings, so we'll see.
32> Looks like an interesting lineup of writers. I've heard both Junot Diaz and Joy Harjo -- both were quite compelling in very different ways.
#33 - Yes. Wondering how correct my memory is, but it (my memory) tells me that The Passport is very bleak, but it's also quite beautiful. And that's what I remember - the imagery, colors, the vivid characters. I mean it's all so sad what it means, but still there is a richness to it...I think I just said the same thing twice
Rereading my review...It captured my immediate response. But, the book lingers differently.
>34 Nice to see you, Jane. There are fewer fiction writers scheduled than usual, but a nice diversity overall. I always look forward to the new Writers Institute season.
>35 the book lingers differently Wonderful phrase, Dan. Your thoughts on The Passport have intrigued me and I am going to purchase it today. I also found the review posted by MeisterPfriem to be a very interesting discussion of the issues he found with the book's English translation.
blue has no south by Alex Epstein, translated by Becka Maria McKay
Alex Epstein is an Israeli who emigrated from Russia as a child, and who writes in Hebrew. He is known as a master of the miniature story and was the 2003 recipient of Israel’s Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature. blue has no south is a slim volume of 131 short-short stories, ranging in length from a few sentences to a few pages, with most just a paragraph or two.
Some of Epstein’s miniature creations are stories with glimpses of protagonists and plot. Others seem more accurately described as prose poems, being simply moments or thoughts, captured in a photograph of words. Epstein’s pieces address a diversity of subjects, with common themes including the myths of Odysseus, Penelope, Theseus and Sisyphus converted to modern settings, Kafka and Jung, time machines and time travel, chess, suicide and earth-bound angels with broken wings.
I picked this volume off the shelves at the library out of curiosity regarding the short-short story genre and ended up basically enjoying this quirky little book. Epstein clearly has a talent for creating a mental image that tells a story in just a few lines. Where his effort fell somewhat short for me, however, was in the failure of many of the stories to elicit an emotional connection, although several, such as “The Chase”, did leave me feeling disturbed. The following are a few examples from Epstein’s shorter pieces.
“A Wayward Text Message”
Is there a name for a short-short story. I am not surprised there is little character development as there is hardly any time.
I like "The Crippled Angel" and "Gloss." both of them are short enough to win the Booker Prize
both of them are short enough to win the Booker Prize - Best laugh I've had all day, Barry.
According to Wikipedia, short-short stories are also called flash fiction, sudden fiction, microfiction, micro-story, short short, and postcard fiction.
Another great review of The Hunger Angel - some good analysis there. blue has no south sounds intriguing also.
An impressive list of speakers at #32.
Thanks DieF. I'm still struggling a bit with my thoughts on blue has no south. Some of it made me feel vaguely uncomfortable, although I can't seem to articulate why. There was something distant in the way he dealt with human emotion and suffering.
Fascinated by Blue has no South. I have avoided flash fiction in the past, but I'm finding an appeal in those posted shorts.
>42 If you do ever read it, I'll be very interested in your opinion, Dan. It's one of those books where I can't help feeling that I've missed something and don't fully understand what the author was trying to communicate.
>37 Nice review of blue has no south, Linda. It's an interesting concept, but I suspect that these stories would be best appreciated if they were read one at a time, rather than all or most at once.
>38 LOL at Barry's Booker Prize comment. This year will be different!
#43 - I notice the affinity with poetry, but with a completely free style. That seems good and bad, but, for me, also sounds accessible. Anyway, I'm curious.
ETA - not much in my library on flash fiction, or related terms...I found one book from 2006, Flash Fiction Forward
I think you may be right, Darryl and Dan. Perhaps these should be approached more like poetry and read as stand-alone works. I was looking for some hint of underlying cohesiveness. I do think it's worth reading, Dan, and it won't take much of your time.
Just wanted to let you know that I will be able to be on LT only intermittently through the rest of the month. I didn't want anyone to think I was being rude if I am slow in responding, or that I am ignoring your threads if I don't visit very often. But I am still hoping to get some reading done and maybe even some reviews written, as I have fallen behind!
Enjoy your hiatus, Linda, and I'll look forward to hearing about your reading when you return.
I'm back from vacationing in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, where they have some really fabulous used bookstores. I bought quite a few books, as you can see below, many of which will count towards my reading of Nobel Laureates. Unfortunately, I didn't get much reading done, as I was surrounded by non-readers and boisterous children. After reading the same pages over and over and over, I usually just gave up and went kayaking or walking. I will be on LT for only a few days this week and then off again for awhile, but hopefully not long.
My vacation purchases are listed below. Haven't yet found the touchstones for a few of them. The three history-related books were my partner's selections. He obviously showed more restraint than I did.
The Bridge On the Drina by Ivo Andric
Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Italo Calvino
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
My Century by Gunter Grass
Notebooks 1935-1951 by Albert Camus
Collected Stories by William Trevor
New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant by The Moosewood Collective
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco
Primo Levi: Tragedy of an Optimist by Myriam Anissimov
The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982 by Carol Joyce Oates
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel
In Light of India by Octavio Paz
The Other Voice by Octavio Paz
In the Pond by Ha Jin
Collected Poems 1948-1984 by Derek Walcott
Turbulence: A Novel by Jia Pingwa
No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Earwitness - Fifty Characters by Elias Canetti
The Vivisector by Patrick White
A Dry White Season by Andre Brink
Detective Story by Imre Kertesz
Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata
The Lake by Yasunari Kawabata
The Mirage: A Modern Arabic Novel by Naguib Mahfouz
The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
A Writer’s Reality by Mario Vargas Llosa
The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing
Joseph Brant 1743-1807 - Man of Two Worlds by Isabel Thompson Kelsay
Hitler’s Generals edited by Corelli Barnett
Saki: The Fiction: Complete and Unabridged by H. H. Munro Saki
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces Sixth Edition - Volume 2
The Norton Anthology of English Literature Sixth Edition - Volume 2
Great selection. You and Bas have found some excellent books this week.
Wow -- that's quite a haul. Where were you in the Finger Lakes? Did you do any winery tours?
There is no touchstone for The Mirage because there is no copy cataloged on LibraryThing. Perhaps after you catalog yours, you'll be able to get it to work. Saki, the fiction, complete and unabridged may not be the particular collection that you have, but I don't readily find another similar title by him.
I sometimes wish that I could get back to the Finger Lakes and have a real good look around.
>48 Hi Lisa. I missed LT on my vacation. Guess that means I'm truly hooked.
>51 Thanks Sassy. I could have done much more damage, but one of my favorite used bookstores in the area was closed for vacation and on one book buying trip I was accompanied by impatient non-readers.
>52 Hi Jane. We stayed at a cottage on Seneca Lake. We only went to one winery this year but have visited many more in past years, on both Seneca and Cayuga Lakes. As a result, we already have too much of a collection at home.
>53 Thanks Robert. That is the correct touchstone for the Saki collection and I will soon get to adding The Mirage. I see on your profile that you are affiliated with Cornell University. Pretty countryside and great used bookstores, and we always enjoy visiting the Commons, the botanical gardens and ornithology lab.
>54 Yes, Barry, there's nothing like a great used bookstore to get those endorphins flowing!
I am affiliated with Cornell in that I received a bachelor's degree there in 1966 and have fond memories.
Linda -- really? too much of a collection at home? Ours probably would have been drunk within a month.
Lake Seneca is nostalgia territory. We went to college at Hobart and William Smith -- the first night we spent together, we went out to a dock on the lake and had to crawl under a train to climb up the bank to Main Street in Geneva -- just slightly surreal.
It is kind of odd, isn't it, Jane. We do like wine, but rarely think to drink it at home, even though we have bought quite a bit on these Finger Lake trips. I have only been to Geneva once, but thought that it was a very charming place. But crawling under a train? Could you imagine doing that now?
Now??? I don't think my knees would hold out. Geneva is much more charming now than it was in the 1960s when it was pretty seedy. But there was Cosie and Sam's Bar: http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20120702/COLUMNIST/120629504?tc=ar
>59 What a lovely tribute.
>60 Book buying was definitely the highlight of my vacation, Rebecca!
Mentors, Muses & Monsters by Elizabeth Benedict
In compiling this volume, Elizabeth Benedict invited writers of fiction to submit personal essays about the people, books and experiences that have had a defining impact on their development. The result is a gathering of essays from thirty authors who are as diverse as the influences of which they write.
This is a collection of intimate, revealing glimpses into the experiences that have encouraged writers, mostly young, to persevere. There is nothing glamorous in their contributions, just ordinariness and honesty. Some cite the impact of direct interactions with teachers, parents, friends, editors and fellow writers. Others describe more distant influences, as in a book read or a body of work by a revered author. The authors of these essays seem exceptional, not for their early displays of talent, but for the resolve with which they set forth on their writing paths, their determination nurtured by even the smallest moments of encouragement.
Elizabeth Benedict has a senior tutorial with Elizabeth Hardwick, whose mentorship seems to be largely contained in just a few words: “I think you can do the work,” she said kindly, “but you have to decide if you want such a hard life.”
As a graduate student, Robert Boyers receives a note from an editor in response to a poetry submission, saying ”You’re obviously very bright, …but I would recommend that you try something else.” That advice would discourage him from writing fiction until when nearly fifty, he is strongly affected by the work of the Italian writer, Natalia Ginzburg.
The Dutch author, Arnon Grunberg, credits his writing career to having dropped out of high school after locking himself in the bathroom for hours to convince his parents of his seriousness. An aptitude test rates him as having below average language skills and an attempt to develop an acting career quickly fizzles, before a friendship formed in ballet class leads him finally to literature and writing.
Sigrid Nunez lived for a time with her boyfriend in the home of his mother, Susan Sontag, from whom she learned the 'rules' of writing and life.
In her mid-20s, Cheryl Strayed receives an unexpected letter of encouragement from Alice Munro and dreams of meeting her, yet when the opportunity presents, is unable to form the words and simply walks away.
Despite having been an editor and a publisher, Joyce Carol Oates’ husband rarely read her work, whether published or in-progress. No one is comfortable when others perceive, or believe they can perceive, the wellsprings of their “art” amid the unremarkable detritus of life.
Contained within the essays are also little gems of writing advice gleaned from teachers and mentors.
Annie Dillard’s advice to Alexander Chee:
Remember that adverbs are a sign that you’ve used the wrong verb. Verbs control when something is happening in the mind of the reader.
You can invent the details that don’t matter…At the edges. You cannot invent the details that matter.
Gordon Lish in a workshop attended by Lily Tuck:
“Your first sentence ordains your world; do not be trivial or petty. Nothing is worse than being trivial... As Joy Williams once said, ’The world makes everything taste like chicken. ‘ Own your first sentence, make it yours…Each sentence gives rise to the next sentence, each sentence owes everything to its predecessor. Reveal how elastic a sentence can be. Get into the habit of recasting sentences. Learn how to open up a sentence...
Do not proclaim….Instead, show the world being made…The more you feel the object you are rendering, the less you have to explain.…
You should never make claims of feelings in the first person if there is no irony….
Fiction…must create an argument, if not it is facile. Nothing is earned. Engage in an activity that is difficult for yourself and not merely an I reporting on itself.”
The worthiness of these essays lies in the simple pleasure of being introduced to a new author or learning more about a familiar one, while gaining a sense of them as individuals. I would recommend this collection to readers who are fascinated by ‘the person behind the author’.
3 ½ Stars
Linda, do you type in the passages you quote or do you use a scanning pen? Just curious.
>63 Thanks Jane.
>64 I type them in. I do not have a scanning pen and to be honest, not being very technological, was not even aware they existed. Did I make a mistake in form etc. that prompted your question, Lisa? This is also a book I read on my Kindle and I have wondered how you should reference page numbers/location when quoting from an e-book.
Yes, what IS a scanning pen????
OK, my friend Google told me, but honestly, isn't it faster to type something than to scan it with a device, connect the device to your computer, and paste it in the right spot? Or am I showing my age?
Well I think living in the same house as Susan Sontag would be an education in itself. Some great comments lifted from Mentors, Muses & Monsters.
rebecca, it all depends on your typing speed - me with my two fingers might well benefit from a scanning pen, but then learning how to use it could be a problem.
I think a scanning pen is one more thing to lose on a real world desktop:)
Rebecca, Barry and Sassy - At least scanning pens seem to be a step above that awful voice recognition software.
Barry, Sigrid Nunez's essay on Susan Sontag felt to me almost voyeuristic.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
I have struggled with my reactions to this book, of which there are already many fine reviews posted.
Changez is a young Pakistani from a prominent family of professionals who are experiencing economic decline in their homeland. He comes to America to attend Princeton, secures lucrative employment with a valuation firm, and falls in love with Erica, a beautiful but troubled woman. With the advent of 9/11, his discomfort grows with both his adopted lifestyle and the ethics of his profession. Distracted by world events and struggling with his failure to establish an enduring romantic relationship with Erica, Changez ceases to function at work, with the result that he is fired and returns to Pakistan, where he becomes an academic and activist. The last few chapters are particularly chilling in their ambiguity, as the reader begins to question who Changez really is, or what he has become.
I found Hamid’s use of first person monologue to be extremely effective, driving the tension of the narrative and eliciting a range of emotional reactions that build as the story nears its conclusion. Hamid is also very effective in blending the personal, social and political influences that intermingle and blur in the life of a young adult struggling to establish relationships and identity. What is truly and deeply believed versus what is simply a response to confusing life events? Changez feels resentment and shame over the declining fortunes of his homeland and finds the United States an easy culprit for blame. While he both embraces and benefits from an Americanized lifestyle, he also feels anger at himself for having succumbed to such. And although he experiences real incidents of discrimination following 9/11, the changes in his circumstances seem driven more by his own personal decisions than by any external force or doctrine. Consistent with the universal striving to belong, Changez’s return to his homeland and retreat into a radical philosophy become the seemingly inevitable solution.
When I first finished this book, I felt engaged but disappointed, as I thought that the author had failed to convincingly support the reasons for Changez’s change of attitude towards America, which is after all, my country. I did not feel that he had shown us events sufficiently compelling to bring a man of sensitive intellect full circle to becoming a dangerous fundamentalist. But with more thought, I found something else of import that transcends the global politics of the 9/11 tragedy - that to the extent that attitudes are shaped heavily by emotional reactions, we may all hold within us the potential for becoming “fundamentalist”, given the right confluence of life events.
Mohsin Hamid is a talented author and his intended message is one that I continue to find somewhat elusive. But this affecting book will linger in my thoughts just the same.
Excellent thoughts and review of The Reluctant Fundamentalist Linda. It is sitting on my bookshelf and I will get to it one day.
Thanks Barry. It is a quick read and might be a good choice for a book club discussion, assuming the group is tolerant of various perspectives.
>72 - I did read this for a book group a couple of years ago and did generate decent discussion.
I agree with you that what I think Hamid did do well (if occasionally heavy handed - Erica/America) is show how fundamentalism is just not shaped by political dissatisfaction but also personal dissatisfaction. The narrative structure is interesting - the narrator is talking to an American - because you are constantly reassessing what is happening between the two men.
>73 Jargoneer, it would also be interesting to see how group discussions would vary between countries.
Linda, it was good to read your thoughts on The Reluctant Fundamentalist, as I have only found one other person who has read it (pre LT). This was a book I read right through, led on by the narrator's subtle shifts in direction as his story moved to its ultimate conclusion. I agree with you "that to the extent that attitudes are shaped heavily by emotional reactions, we may all hold within us the potential for becoming 'fundamentalist', given the right confluence of life events". I also think that being a constant victim of racial profiling of the kind that many men are subjected to in the US and elsewhere might be just enough to tilt one into that camp. With regard to Jargoneer's thoughts, I agree it would be difficult not to be personally as well as politically dissatisfied under such conditions and so seek a way out.
I read the book about eighteen months ago and I still find myself thinking about it.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sassy. I was just thinking that before I joined LT and started writing reviews, I would have read this book, enjoyed it, but put it aside and moved on to the next one without thinking much more about it. I feel that I am getting so much more out of my reading now, through the process of writing reviews and reading the thoughts of others on the same books.
Catching up, and taking in post your last post, #76. True for me too. LT has done a lot of good for the evolution of my reading - even if I still don't understand what direction it's headed.
Enjoyed your last two reviews. I get the sense that Mentors, Muses & Monsters was actually somehow less than you might have hoped it to be. Maybe it's just because I would have very high expectations of such a book - all personal essays by writers.
You are right, Dan. Mentors, Muses & Monsters was lighter than I expected or wanted it to be. Not bad, but some of the essays felt somewhat ordinary and some of the authors were not ones I cared much about. But I did enjoy seeing these authors, particularly in their younger years, as just individuals struggling to find their place, while suffering from the same insecurities as the rest of us. And it was a good book to dip in and out of in those spare moments when you aren't really looking to be challenged.
#65 Hi Linda, Sorry to be late getting back on your thread. There was nothing wrong with your quotations, I was impressed with how many you used, and wondered if you used a scanning pen. I've used them at work, and they can be a real time saver. The one I had was super easy to use. Once you installed the software on your computer, all you had to do was put your cursor where you wanted the text to go and start moving the pen across the lines of text. The type would instantly show up where the cursor was. You could move the pen quite rapidly (faster than I can type) and when you got to the end of a line, you could move the pen from end to front of the next line (wrap around) and the software would still have it appear in the correct order. In addition, you could set the pen to different languages and scan Russian, French, Greek or what have you. For me, it was very helpful when studying from borrowed books or for copying tables of contents, summaries, etc. into a MARC cataloging record. When you were done, you just shut the pen off and then edited the passage you scanned or saved it. It worked wherever your cursor was so it could be used in forms, spreadsheets, Word, or LT. Nothing fancy, just an ergonomic help when you have a lot of typing to do and a foreign language help if you don't want to convert your keyboard to Cyrillic, etc.
As for The Reluctant Fundamentalist, I thought it was a very though-provoking book. I found myself getting very defensive about my country, despite being far from a rapid patriot. Remember the sudden and almost violently ardent displays of patriotism following 9/11? Overnight flags, lapel pins, bumper stickers, car decals, and hats and t-shirts appeared, all passionately pro-American. I felt the pull. If I had at that time been a Pakistani in America, I would have been scared, but also, I think, defiant. Suddenly every Middle Easterner is a terrorist in American eyes, and who wouldn't get defensive at the sudden overt exclusion of Americanized foreigners? The book made me see things from a perspective that was disturbing. I felt torn between defensiveness and sympathy for a man who was being the victim of subtle and overt prejudice. Then I hit the ending and really didn't know what to think. I still don't.
Edited to fix grammar
Hi Lisa. Although I am woefully behind the times with electronic gadgets (I'm not sure I even know what many are that are commonly discussed - aren't they all phones?), you do make the scanning pen sound useful. I like the highlighting feature of e-book readers and since I don't like to mark up hard copies, I now get frustrated when I have to stop and take notes. But since I don't read in front of my computer, I would want one that could store what was scanned, to be downloaded to the computer at a later point. Can they do that?
I haven't encountered anyone yet who didn't find The Reluctant Fundamentalist to be an unsettling read. Certainly the sign of a skillful writer that he has made us all uncomfortable with our own thoughts and reactions.
Oh no! Does that mean that I'm going to have to take that as a challenge and actually read my copy of The Reluctant Fundamentalist? I thought that that was just a book to keep around. What if I fail the challenge and am unsettled by it?
Although I haven't kept up with the scanner pen technology for a few years now, yes they can store x amount of data for download at a later time. I don't own one, but when I want to add quotes to my reviews, I always think how handy it would be to have one.
>81, 82 LOL indeed. I hope you will read the book and let us know, Robert.
The Round & Other Cold Hard Facts by J. M. G. Le Clézio, translated by C. Dickson
In this masterful collection of eleven short stories, J.M.G. Le Clézio explores the lives of those who subsist on the margins of society, the victims of poverty, crime, age and the disintegration of family and tradition. Described as being set largely in the French Riviera region, against its unseen backdrop of affluence, these stories seem to exist in the harsh space between traditional culture and the modern world.
Winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature, Le Clézio was described by the Nobel Committee as an “…explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization”. There is a subtle brutality to the lives of Le Clézio’s characters, a feeling that society has ceased to protect them, no longer offering sanctuary or sustenance. We see them in moments of extreme vulnerability, but without knowing how they have arrived there. Their tales unfold with an intense realism, through finely wrought landscapes interwoven with vividly rendered thoughts and memories.
Moloch is a compelling story of distrust and resiliency. Young, pregnant and fearful of the authorities, Liana awaits the delivery of her child while living isolated in a mobile home with only a wolf dog for company. The most chilling moment in this collection is seen through the eyes of the wolf dog, ravaged by hunger and left alone in the mobile home with the newborn.
In The Escapee, a prison escapee employs the survival lessons of his family’s shepherding culture as he flees to the mountains. His thirst, hunger and fatigue elicit memories of tending sheep with his brother and evading soldiers with his fugitive uncle, until an encounter with a young boy brings both rescue and betrayal. I found the tone of this story to be somewhat reminiscent of Le Clezio’s excellent novel, Desert.
In Yondaland, a young girl finds solace in an abandoned theatre that faces the ocean, where she soaks up the energy of sun and sea, to be carried back to her hospitalized mother. But the building is slated for demolition and she awaits the wrecking ball from her perch under the pointed arch recess of a window, desperate to save her one remaining place of happiness.
The destructive forces of time and progress converge in Villa Aurora, as a young man returns to the site of childhood memories, a neglected villa overrun by feral cats and home to a reclusive, mysterious woman. Expecting to relive the magic of his memories, he finds only an elderly woman living alone in fear, silence and loneliness.
The title story, The Round is a simple, yet powerful tale of youth seeking risk and excitement, trying to fill an inescapable emptiness. Two young women make a round of the downtown streets at high-speed on mopeds, intending to commit a petty theft, with devastating consequences.
Although choosing to write in French, Le Clézio was raised in a bilingual, English-French household and was introduced to English literature at a young age. Knowing this makes it all the more disappointing that so few of his works are readily available in English translation. Le Clézio is a brilliant writer who deserves to be more widely read. Literate and accessible, lucid and eloquent, these stories are dense and absorbing in their expressive power. I highly recommend this outstanding collection.
Great review Linda, The Round and other cold hard facts is now on my to buy list
I'm not a rabid short story reader, but this collection sounds excellent. Thank you for making me more aware of his works, I have added this and Desert to my list.
Excellent review of The Round and Cold Hard Facts, Linda. I loved it as well.
>85 Thanks Rebecca. I loved Desert and am planning a purchase of the few other Le Clézio books that I have found available in translation. I also saw that he has a short autobiographical account of his childhood, The African, due out in October. Based on his bio, lecture, interview etc. on the Nobel website, he seems like an extremely interesting person.
>86 I'm glad I could tempt you, Barry! Is your French sufficiently fluid for reading? When I saw that the University's Le Clézio collection was predominantly untranslated, I actually briefly considered how difficult it would be to learn to read in French, with only a limited high school background. Briefly being the key word.
>87 Although I hesitate to presume, I do think you would really like both of those books, Lisa.
>88 Thanks Darryl. I actually think it may have been you that introduced me to Le Clézio through Desert, a few years back before retirement, when I only had time to lurk on LT.
Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz, translated by Denys Johnson-Davies
This is not Naguib Mahfouz’s most well known work, but I found it a captivating introduction to a Nobel Laureate whose other novels are now high on my must read list.
Beginning where the classic One Thousand and One Nights ends, Shahrzad has concluded the stories she tells to the violent, bloodthirsty sultan, Shahriyar, in hopes of extending her life. Dandan, her father and the sultan’s vizier, is exultant to learn that the Shahriyar has decided to keep Shahrzad as his wife, as she has both given him a son and brought him a new awareness of his past evil deeds and a desire to more closely align himself with goodness.
Yet even as the sultan seeks to atone for his past deeds, the residents of his medieval Islamic city struggle with the greed and corruption of its most prominent citizens and government officials, leading to widespread social unrest. This is the story of a society where genies act as forces of both good and evil, and transgressions or even suspicion of such are treated harshly, often through public beheading. It follows the fates of a quick succession of characters, set in motion when the merchant, Sanaan al-Gamali, falls afoul of the genie Qumqam, who orders him to kill the governor of the quarter or incur an unknown punishment. Sanaan’s grasp on reality and moral fortitude deteriorating, he rapes and murders a girl and is beheaded. The chief of police, Gamasa al-Bulti, is the next to encounter a genie, when he accidentally frees Singam, who rewards him after also being beheaded, by granting him a new life as Abdullah the porter. The men of the city gather to discuss the events of the day at the Café of the Emirs, and one after another they are caught in the web of two mischievously evil genies, Zarmabaha and Sakhrabout. The sultan’s nocturnal wanderings, exploits of men who associate with a loose but married woman, romantic matches, a cap of invisibility, the unjust execution of Aladdin, and the return of Sinbad from his voyages all add to the fast moving and beautifully written narrative.
As one would expect from these magical fables, moral lessons abound. They are, however, utterly confounded by classic questions of whether the end justifies the means. ‘Good’ genies manipulate men to perform evil acts in order to put an end to the corruption of government officials, while ‘evil’ genies manipulate men just for the fun of it. But despite its representation of humankind as greedy and weak, I found this to be primarily a work of optimism. Each man is free to decide for himself how he will respond to the demands of the genies. Even the sultan, known for his brutality and mistrusted by his own wife, chooses to seek salvation. Abandoning his throne and family, he becomes the bridegroom of the queen in a mythical land inhabited only by women, where mortal time does not exist. But he too falls prey to weakness and one day, unable to resist the temptation of a forbidden door, finds himself back in the desert with Abdullah the porter, who offers him a place to dwell and this enigmatic advice.
“I give you the words of a man of experience, who said: ‘It is an indication of truth’s jealousy that it has not made for anyone a path to it, and that it has not deprived anyone of the hope of attaining it, and it has left people running in the deserts of perplexity and drowning in the seas of doubt; and he who thinks that he has attained it, it dissociates itself from, and he who thinks that he has dissociated himself from it has lost his way. Thus there is no attaining it and no avoiding it- it is inescapable.’”
This is a charming and engaging tale. Although I suspect that Mahfouz may have incorporated satirical elements related to modern day Egypt, my knowledge of that country and its history is not sufficient to have detected them. Read it as an entertaining adventure or search for something deeper. Either way, it is wonderful.
Great review :) (she muttered under her breath while looking for a copy of the book...)
Excellent review, Linda; I'll add Arabian Nights and Days to my wish list.
Thanks Jane and Darryl It was a fun and entertaining read, very different and a nice break from the other books I have been reading.
Just stepping back for a moment to assess my progress with reading Nobel Laureates. During July, I added two that were new to me (Naguib Mahfouz and Imre Kertesz) and revisited a third (J.M.G. Le Clezio). I am currently reading books by two Laureates (Sigrid Undset and Doris Lessing), only one of whom I have not previously read. So I am at a total of completed reads by 30 of the 108 winners. Although I have a long ways to go, I am greatly enjoying this venture, finding both challenging and pleasurable books along the way, and more than likely some new favorite authors with many works to explore.
Seems that I have been indulging in some book buying lately, with quite a few on my Kindle that I have yet to catalog. I have also been eyeing the summer sale at NYRB and will probably end up buying several of the special sets, which contain books I have learned of through Club Read reviews (of course!).
I too am enjoying my first Mahfouz book, Palace Walk, and hope to finish the trilogy this summer. I'll probably need a break after that, but Arabian Nights and Days sounds wonderful. How are you finding the Undset? I loved Kristin Lavransdatter and thought both the writing and the history were very well done.
Lisa, I have read that Arabian Nights and Days is very different than Mahfouz's other books. I suspect it is somewhat lighter, less dark. I won't make it in time for the group read, but I have Palace Walk waiting and I'm anxious to see 'the other side' of Mahfouz.
I am greatly enjoying the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, particularly Undset's wonderful descriptions of the landscape and culture. All in all, it is one of those 'old-fashioned' works that is just a joy to read. I am so glad that you and SassyLassy recommended it to me. Thank you!
I'm 350 pages into Palace Walk and finding it fascinating. So far the action has centered strictly around the family, and Mahfouz does an excellent job with character development, especially, I think with flawed characters. The last few chapters have introduced the political scene into the story, and I'm looking forward to learning more about the move for Egyptian independence.
Fatelessness by Imre Kertész, translated by Tim Wilkinson
”At all events, in any place, even a concentration camp, one gets stuck into a new thing with good intentions, at least that was my experience; for the time being it was sufficient to become a good prisoner, the rest was in the hands of the future….”
There are any numbers of excellent, fictionalized accounts of life in the Nazi concentration camps, but this semi-autobiographical novel by the Hungarian writer and Nobel Laureate, Imre Kertész, is very different from others I have read.
György Köves is a Hungarian Jew who at the age of fourteen is taken off a bus in Budapest and transported to Auschwitz. Despite his father having already been sent to a labor camp, György does not strongly identify as Jewish and does not experience this as a particularly distressing turn of events. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, although not yet understanding what is actually happening, he heeds the frantically whispered exhortations of a prisoner, presents himself as sixteen and capable of work, and thus avoids extermination in the gas chambers.
Over the year that follows, György survives as if in a fog of denial, seeming never to fully grasp the dire nature of his imprisonment and adapting to each hardship and change as if it were a natural event. After only three days at Auschwitz, he is moved to Buchenwald and from there to the Zeitz work camp, where he is paired with a seasoned prisoner who acts as a guardian, conveying the knowledge and skills necessary for survival. But the harsh conditions at Zeitz gradually lead to György’s mental and physical deterioration, and when no longer useful as a worker, he is returned to Buchenwald. There he is inexplicably pulled from a pile of bodies thought to be dead or beyond saving, is hospitalized and receives surprisingly humane treatment for his wounds, before being suddenly liberated by the Allies.
This novel focuses very directly on György’s individual experience, with relatively few secondary characters introduced and little extraneous description of camp conditions. Told in the first person in precise, detached language, György’s narration is unsettling: self-absorbed, devoid of fear, and accepting to a degree that only an adolescent, oblivious to his own mortality, could be. On the initial train transport, he finds himself intrigued by the names of the German towns and feels fortunate to have been on the earlier, less crowded transport, separated from the infants and very elderly. At Auschwitz, he sees himself as a ”sort of guest in captivity” and experiences the camp as “That boredom, together with that strange anticipation”. He admires the efficiency of the German soldiers and their sense of order, and views the deprivations that he experiences as natural, almost reasonable within the context of the camps. He is also the beneficiary of great luck, and the occasional kind treatment and glimpses of sympathy demonstrated by his Nazi overseers are notable.
György’s arrival home following liberation arouses a confusion of emotions, including frustration with those who cannot comprehend his views and an expression of feeling hatred towards everyone. Yet despite this previously unvoiced sentiment, he does not rail against his fate and refuses to confirm the hell and atrocities of the camps. Instead he speaks of how he has come to understood his experiences only gradually, step-by-step, with the help of time.
By the time one has passed a given step, put it behind one, the next one is already there. By the time one knows everything, one has already understood it all. And while one is coming to understand everything, a person does not remain idle: he is already attending to his new business, living, acting, moving, carrying out each new demand at each stage. Were it not for that sequencing in time, and were the entire knowledge to crash in upon a person on the spot, at one fell swoop, it might well be that neither one’s brain nor one’s heart would cope with it….
In a perplexing conversation with a well-meaning uncle, György becomes angry, unable to accept the notion of fate. “Why did they not wish to acknowledge that if there is such a thing as fate, then freedom is not possible? If on the other hand-…if there is such a thing as freedom, then there is no fate;…that is to say, then we ourselves are fate….” Accepting that his experience was fated would denigrate his own free will and ability to connect his past with his future. Yet by choosing to instead believe in freedom, or "fatelessness", he asserts complicity, however guiltless, on the part of the victims, as "...it was not quite true that the thing “came about”; we had gone along with it too."
I struggled with the author's presentation of these ideas, introduced abruptly in the final chapter and in my opinion, not fully supported by the preceding narrative. Himself a camp survivor, Kertész challenges the prevailing preconceptions of how an individual experienced the camps and asserts the uncomfortable notion that the victims themselves contributed to their "fate" through their own cooperation. I am not certain that I will ever fully comprehend his viewpoints, but he has certainly forced me out of my comfort zone.
4 ½ Stars
I read only the first and last paragraphs of your review, Linda, because my copy sits next to my reading chair begging for attention. I'll be sure to read your review in full once I have finished The Cairo Trilogy and get back to my pile.
Excellent review of Fatelessness. You are right in thinking that: victims contribute to their own fate is a very uncomfortable viewpoint.
>104 Lisa, although I have had his novels for some time, I have not yet read any of the others. I picked up Fatelessness because it fit my Nobel Prize challenge and at the time, I was looking for a shorter read. I had certain expectations of the book, knowing it to be about camp survivorship, but they were pretty much erased by the final chapter, where he seemed to essentially ambush the reader with his ideas. At first I found it mainly confusing, but after a second read, very uncomfortable.
I visited your excellent review of The Pathseeker and found a great deal of commonality in the themes of responsibility and the guilt of inaction. I thought your closing comments (which I have taken the liberty of posting below) were exactly on point and I will look for that novella also.
Kertesz is masterful at exploring the themes of responsibility and guilt without ever becoming specific. By doing so, the unnamed places and people can stand for everyone, for each of us. We all have a role in the story be it spectator, victim, survivor, or tourist. Vague, confusing, and surreal, the story prods the reader to identify with the scenario and ask hard questions of ourselves. Although I can't say I enjoyed this novella, it did make me uncomfortable, and that, I think, is the point. - Excerpt from Lisa's (labfs39) review of The Pathseeker
>105 Thanks Barry. For me, reading Kertesz was a reminder that 'uncomfortable' is not necessarily a bad thing if it makes us think more deeply about important matters.
Great review of Fatelessness, Linda. I thought I owned it already, but it's not in my LT library, so I'll plan to look for it soon.
Thanks Darryl. I find that it is easy to lose track of books, even with LT's assistance, as I have not cataloged everything and am not one to organize them alphabetically etc. They tend to stay grouped more by the time period when I bought them. I'm still looking for a Mahfouz that I am sure I owned at one point. It is either boxed in the attic or donated to some charitable sale.
Same here, Linda. Every 2-3 months I'll read or pick up a book at home and not find it in my LT library, or I'll look in my LT library for a book that isn't there but I find on my bookshelves. I also have several boxes of unopened books in a spare room, most of which haven't been entered into my LT library yet.
Ultimately what this says is that I have too many books.
I'm even more interested in Fatelessness after the discussion. Currently, however, I am refusing to read anything except The Cairo Trilogy, which I am reading and reviewing as a single work. I want to get through, but I've been very distracted. Now with the kiddo off to stay with my mom for 9 days, maybe I'll get some reading done!
You are ambitious to read and review The Cairo Trilogy as a single work, Lisa, That will be quite the challenge to review!
I am reading the Everyman's Library edition, and the trilogy is presented as a single work with continuous pagination and chapter numbering. In addition, although the gap between Palace Walk and Palace of Desire is five years in the lives of the characters, the plot picks up in many ways right where it left off. The focus shifts slightly between the two books, but it continues the story of the same insulated family. So for me, it feels as though I am reading one continuous tome. 834 pages down, 479 to go!
Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
If you are reading this, I would strongly recommend that you also consider the many fine and highly positive reviews that have been posted of this Orange Prize long-listed book. I just do not fully agree, but won’t belabor the point beyond a few brief comments. Although I found this novel to be skillfully written, populated by interesting characters and an entertaining enough read, its underlying premise struck me as formulaic.
***Spoiler Alert*** From the beginning, the role of Harriet as unreliable narrator, the foil of a mischievous, disturbed child, and elements of the plot reminded me very strongly of Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger. It seemed obvious early on in the book where things were headed. But due to the author’s ability to build tension, I resisted this foreshadowing and instead waited for the unexpected twist that I was sure would come, but never did.
I ultimately both enjoyed and was disappointed by this book.
I am still enjoying it, Lisa. It is taking me awhile though, as it has been my "evening-night" reading, the time I am most apt to nod off!
Interesting review of Gillespie and I Linda. I was thinking it would be a good choice for my book club to read. Not so sure now.
Sounds like my reading of the Cairo trilogy. Finally finished the second book; my reading speed has dropped significantly. Like you I'm still enjoying it, just slowly.
>118 Barry, to be fair, there are many who liked it a great deal more than I did. It was okay, just not great.
>119 Lisa, are you glad you are reading them all as one, or do you think you would have enjoyed them more with some time between each?
>120 Thanks DieF. Fatelessness was his first novel and probably the place to start. I hope you are able to find your copy.
I'm glad I'm reading them as a single work, because I doubt I would every get back and finish the trilogy otherwise. Not that they aren't good, but because I would get distracted by all the other wonderful books waiting for me. In addition, I think I would forget the nuances of where each book left off, and they are very definitely entwined stylistically. No, I would recommend reading them as a whole. I've just had an off reading month in general. When I'm stressed, I tend to have a hard time focusing for prolonged periods of time and my reading suffers.
Linda, I just finished Gillespie and I today and agree with you. Bas, I do think it would be a good book club choice though, as there would probably be a range of opinions.
Glad you are still reading the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy.
I have the Kertesz set too and your review makes me think I should tackle it this winter.
Just catching up here. I'm fascinated by your review of Fatelessness. I can't buy his conclusion and find it very troubling...but I'm very interested in reading the book.
>123 Hi Sassy. There were so many rave reviews of Gillespie and I by LTers whose opinions I deeply respect that I was almost wondering if I had missed something. It also occurred to me that I might have liked the book more if I had not already read The Little Stranger.
>124 Good to see you back from your vacation, Dan. I was actually thinking about how you might react to Fatelessness while reading your posts on your trip to Israel. I am still struggling with the final chapter, which was certainly very troubling. It's hard to accept that Kertesz would hold this viewpoint, especially having himself been a victim of the camps. I would really like to hear more thoughts on the book and I hope you, Sassy, Lisa and Darryl do get around to reading it. I also want to read some of his subsequent works, as Lisa's review of The Pathseeker has me wondering if he may later have refined or clarified his ideas.
The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing
It is by the failure and misfits of a civilization that one can best judge its weaknesses.
Doris Lessing’s first novel opens as it ends, with Mary Turner, a white Rhodesian farmer’s wife, found dead at the hands of her black houseboy, Moses. The story that follows is a powerful portrayal of failed hopes and disintegration of the human spirit, within the societal tyranny of rural, white-dominated southern African.
Mary is an independent, 30 year old, single woman who leads a contented, productive life in a South African town, until she becomes aware that her friends are gossiping about her spinster status. Having no true desire to marry but yielding to this social pressure, she meets and impulsively weds Dick Turner, an honest, hard-working, yet unsuccessful farmer. Her life changes overnight as she moves to his farm in Ngesi, Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe), exchanging her comfortable life for one of extreme poverty, isolation and boredom in the veld, reminiscent of her childhood with a bitter, ineffectual mother and alcoholic father. Mary does not love her husband, feels repulsed by him, resents his unwillingness to have children, and is angered by his succession of failed farming experiments. Dick loves his wife and his farm, yet struggles to cope with Mary’s constant criticism and harsh treatment of their native workers.
Mary is extremely racist and drives houseboy after houseboy away with her dominating impatience, the power of the master-servant relationship satisfying a deep anger and need for control. But Moses is different from her other houseboys. Intelligent, willful and powerful, he gradually insinuates himself into Mary’s life, forming an ambiguous bond fraught with vague sexual tensions and a perversion of the white-black power relationship that is for Mary at the same time enticing, humiliating and terrifying.
Lessing is skillful in bringing to life the atmosphere of a poor African farm, while subtly interweaving the manner in which this unforgiving, harsh society is repressive of both blacks and whites. I could see the drabness of the farmhouse, and feel the heat and heavy emptiness of Mary’s idle days. But the full power of this novel is found in the intimacy and depth with which Lessing draws her characters.
Her portrayal of Mary’s disintegration is written with a realism that is palpable. With every page, I could feel Mary’s hope draining away, culminating in her confused obsession with a black man to whom she is attracted, yet fears and abhors. Dick Turner is practical, accepting and uncomplicated, his determination fading into resignation as he is dragged down in the spiral of his wife’s emotional deterioration. Yet neither husband nor wife can escape the suffocating dependency that binds them to their marriage.
Charlie Slatter and Tony Marston are archetypal for the period and place of late colonial African society. Slatter is the prosperous white farmer whose relationship with his natives is defined by the motto ”You shall not mind killing if it is necessary.” He seeks to benefit from the Turners’ tragedy, yet cannot tolerate Dick’s failures and is obligated to rescue him, as a poor British white upsets the social order of superiority. The young, decent Marston, recently arrived from England, is endowed with an enlightened racial attitude that seems unlikely to survive the world that he has entered.
The most inscrutable of Lessing’s protagonists is Moses, his thoughts and emotions unknown to us, consistent with a society where blacks are felt to be less than human and their inner lives not worthy of consideration. Is he driven by deep-seated resentment, anger and revenge, or by feelings of loss and betrayal?
There is barely a bright moment in this book. Devastatingly bleak, it is nonetheless brilliant in revealing layers of failed relationships – personal, social, racial and societal – through the experience of one ill-fated woman. Although I have read only one other work by Doris Lessing, I am left imagining that this, her first, may be her best. I highly recommend this novel by the 2007 Nobel Laureate in Literature.
You have answered a question I had to myself. In Questions for the Avid Reader IV, there is a discussion about books on feminism. I think of Doris Lessing as one of the most influential novelists for feminists male and female, and was wondering if she still holds up before suggesting her. This is one I haven't read and will now look for; it sounds very powerful.
The Grass is Singing is certainly an excellent book, Sassy, and I highly recommend it. But I wouldn't associate it with feminism. Maybe the opposite, as its female protagonist is anything but liberated. That stage of Lessing's writing must have come later. The only other book by her that I have read was The Cleft: A Novel and that would fit, but I can't say that I found it especially enthralling.
I've read a few of Lessing's books, among them The Golden Notebook about three times. It was probably more poignant in the sixties when women's lives were, from their testimony, changed by it, but I believe it is still readable. If my fallible Time Warner Roadrunner internet connection allows it, I am going to go put The Grass is Singing on my wishlist.
It's interesting that you have read The Golden Notebook so many times, Robert. Was there something that particularly drew you to it? I have not read it and haven't had much interest in doing so, but you have made me curious. From what I have read, The Grass Is Singing is quite different from her later, more feminist-oriented work. And although a first novel, it certainly shows the excellence of her writing.
I read a lot of Doris Lessing back in the 70s, including both The Golden Notebook (which made a big impression on me then, although even then I found it somewhat tedious) and The Grass Is Singing. I don't remember much of anything about any of them, but your review makes me want to go find The Grass Is Singing on the shelf (although LT doesn't think I own it!).
The title of Lessing's The Grass Is Singing comes from T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland, which I hope soon to re-read as part of my Nobel Prize challenge. My edition excerpted the following.
In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, above the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind's home.
It has no windows, and the door swings,
Dry bones can harm no one.
Only a cock stood on the rooftree
Co co rico, co co rico
In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over the Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
Then spoke the thunder
- T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland
>132 Rebecca, I wonder if The Grass Is Singing is a book that is better appreciated as an older reader, having more experience with relationships and life, hopes and disappointments. I expect that when younger, I would not have gotten as much out of it. Lessing was 30 when the book was published and it does feel like a very mature work for a first novel.
Great review of The Grass is Singing, Linda. I read it a few years ago and remember how powerful it was. Another book of hers which I find equally memorable, though on a totally different subject, is The Fifth Child. If you like to explore a bit more of her writing, there is also the Children of Violence cycle, composed of 5 books. I've read only the first book, Martha Quest about a white girl's coming of age in South Africa and the rise of feminism, but would love to read the rest of the series.
Excellent review of The Grass is Singing I am sure I have this on my book shelves somewhere. Lessing is a very powerful writer and I have devoured most of her science fiction novels. I will read The Grass is singing soon.
In answer to your question I read The Golden Notebook first because some young women (undergraduates with me in the sixties) whom I liked and respected were moved by the book. I didn't read well back then. Our church book group took it on when I nominated it sometime in the past 15 years or so, so I read it with considerably more attention; I was the only one to show up despite the preponderance of women in the group. I think the last time I read it a few years back was just because I like Lessing and felt I didn't remember the book well enough. My memory may be wrong.
It is a good novel even if one is not seeking feminist self-justification.
#134 Linda, that's an interesting point about coming back to some books at a later age. Certainly I had a completely different take on Anna Karenina when I reread it in my 40s after reading it first as a teenager. But as for The Grass Is Singing, it isn't that I disliked it but that I remember very little of what I read in the 70s -- but at least I remember that I read it!
Thanks Dan, deebee and Barry.
>135 I appreciate your recommendations, deebee. I am not especially attracted to feminist literature, but I would be interested in reading more Lessing that is set in Africa. I will look into both The Fifth Child and the series you mention.
>136 Do you have a favorite of her science fiction novels, Barry?
>137 That sounds like a solid recommendation to me, Robert. I'll add The Golden Notebook to my list to watch for at the library.
>138 Now that you mention it, I do not remember much of what I read in the 60s and 70s either. But probably much of it was not deserving of being remembered anyway!
Like Rebecca, I read a lot of Lessing over the years starting in the 70's. I don't remember much about The Grass Is Singing, but your review has prompted me to try to reread it soon. I think her reputation as a feminist writer came about from The Golden Notebook, which I also loved and want to reread. She also lived a fairly independent and unconventional life for her time. The Children of Violence series is largely autobiographical, although it is fiction. She's also written an "official" autobiography.
The Fifth Child is very different, and it has an even more intriguing sequel, Ben in the World. I connected to these books because I also have 5 kids, and the 5th is named Ben. He's nothing like the Ben in these novels though!
#139 But probably much of it was not deserving of being remembered anyway!
I'm not sure in my case whether that's true. In the 70s and early 80s, I read a lot of prolific woman writers -- Margaret Drabble, Anne Tyler, Marge Piercy, and the only one I'm potentially interested in rereading, Mary Lee Settle, in addition to Doris Lessing and others) -- as well as a lot of mysteries and a variety of other books. Some of these are undoubtedly worth remembering, but for the most part I don't. Of course, being on LT and writing reviews is helping me remember what I do read!
Thanks for posting that excerpt in #133, which gives a lot of power of the title. "The Grass in Singing" ironically becomes a tombstone over bones that "can harm no one" anymore.
>140 Nice to see you Deborah. I find semi-autobiographical fiction to be very intriguing in the way it reveals something of the author. You and deebee have convinced me to add The Children of Violence and The Fifth Child series to my wishlist. Lessing's autobiography also sounds interesting.
Everyone - I started out this week thinking that I had probably read the best that Lessing had to offer and based on my disappointment with one other book of hers, was not too interested in pursuing her further. Now I am ending the week with as many as nine of her books on my wishlist, thanks to all of you. Just one of the things I love about LT, another being that like Rebecca, I now actually remember what I have read!
Barry, coming from you, I consider stunning to be a very strong recommendation!
This reading experience has nearly convinced me that I should only request ER books by authors that I already know.
Tenth of December by George Saunders
Early Reviewers Book
George Saunders’ latest collection is an uneven assortment of nine short stories, a number of which have been previously published in The New Yorker. The recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant and Guggenheim Fellowships, Saunders may be most widely known as a satirical writer. Unfortunately, despite these lofty credentials and the positive reviews by other members, I found little of interest in these stories.
In the opening piece, Victory Lap, a teenage boy witnesses the abduction of a neighbor girl and struggles against his controlling parents’ teachings in deciding whether to intervene, while the victim suffers in the aftermath from surprisingly astute nightmares. Home is the story of a war veteran struggling to adjust and reconnect within the strained relationships of his family. The fates of a young boy and a suicidal cancer patient cross unexpectedly by a wooded, frozen pond, in the title story, Tenth of December.
Saunders’ style left me with the impression of an author who was trying too hard to be relevant and edgy. His overuse of italics, parentheses, braces, and the phrase “etc. etc.” was particularly annoying and distracting. Many of his characters were shallow and unlikable, and the plot lines were often predictable. In Escape From Spiderhead, a participant in government testing of designer chemicals that can control mood and behavior, finds himself in the position of determining whether another will receive a potentially lethal substance. The protagonist of Al Roosten, an out of shape, middle-aged man, fails to show “moral courage” after causing a crippled girl to miss an important appointment through his childish behavior at a charity auction. In My Chivalric Fiasco, an actor at a medieval theme park, while under the influence of a chemical substance given to enhance his improvisation, publicly reveals the affair of a married co-worker and his boss.
This collection was my introduction to George Saunders and I would not have bothered to finish it had it not been an Early Reviewers Book. Others seem to enjoy and admire him, but I will definitely not be reading this author again.
I had Tenth of December on my ER request list, but struck it off at the last minute. I'm glad I did. The stories don't sound like they would have interested me very much even if they were well told. Thanks for your fine review.
Too bad. I found the Early Reviewers gave me far more misses than hits.
I found the Early Reviewers gave me far more misses than hits.
That's interesting because my experience with ER books has been very good. Out of 22 books, I'd say no more than 3 have been works I wouldn't recommend. But I'm rather picky in what I put in for, and many months don't request a book at all. When I do, I have a pretty good batting average: 22 wins in 22 batches.
hmm. I have 32. Checking for my impressions. One is a children's book (that I really liked). Of the other 31:
2 left a really great impression that actually changed my reading habits towards those authors
9 left me feeling something particularly positive about them. None of these have led me to other books
8 I'm glad to have read, but...
7 seemed like OK books, but maybe I wish I hadn't read them.
5 left some kind of negative impression. (including one I didn't finish)
So, I'm glad to have read 19-of-31. Better than I thought, but it's a worse ratio than my other reading. Thinking about my negative feelings, I think I dwell on those five worst ones....and that great-to-non-great ratio of 2-to-29.
Hi Steven and Daniel. I am a relative novice at ER books, having only this year begun to make some requests. I have so far been awarded 4 books, of which I have actually received 3. I loved one and really didn't care for the other 2.
Having twice experienced the aggravation of needing to spend time reading and reviewing a book that I really didn't enjoy, I plan to be much more careful with my future requests. Although I'm not quite at the point of ruling out authors that I am unfamiliar with, I will try to do more research in advance.
Had I known that The New Yorker had published a good number of George Saunders' stories, a visit to their archives would have told me immediately that I would not enjoy him. It is an issue of personal taste I guess, but there is a certain style of "contemporary" short story writing that I do not connect with at all. I am frankly a bit baffled by the accolades sent his way, as I did not find him to be at all original or inventive, and his writing just felt flat.
Enjoyed your review of Tenth of December
A question for you early reviewers: Do you feel that you should review the books a little more favourably as you have been granted them for free.
Do you feel that you should review the books a little more favourably as you have been granted them for free.
No, I don't at all think that I should be more favorable. It's not fair to other LTers to give a book a better review than it deserves. But any time I'm reviewing something that's new or that has never been given a proper review on LT--and as you know I often read off the beaten path--I try to write a review that is more description than opinion, and I hold my opinions until the final paragraph of the review. I try to think of my reviews as targeting a book towards its proper readership rather than passing judgment.
I don't feel that I should review an ER book more favorably because it is free. But I struggle in general whenever I am reviewing a book that I did not care for. Was it really a problem with the book or just my personal preferences? I am very conscious of wanting to be fair, and do sometimes soften my remarks as a result. Those are the moments when I wish that I had formally studied literature in college and had more confidence in my analyses. Tenth of December is probably a good example. I thought the weaknesses were very apparent, but others praised it. And after all, who am I to criticize stories that The New Yorker thought were worth publishing?
Your question has me feeling like I am in the confessional, Barry! I think the only solution is to find ways of avoiding reading books I will not like.
ETA: more confidence in my analyses That was a poor choice of words. I really meant opinions, as I have no illusions of my reviews being true analyses.
Ooh, I love statistics, so I ran off to discover that:
I never received 2.
I have 2 which I haven't yet reviewed, but the one I'm currently reading is very good.
1 rated 5*
4 = 4.5*
12 = 4*
9 = 3.5*
3 = 3*
1 = 2*
1 = 1.5*
Since I think of a 3 as an okay book, no strong feelings, won't read again, I would say that 26 out of 31 were better than average. 2 were horrid.
I attribute my good luck to only requesting a book that I think I would buy or read anyway, so I stay in my safety zone.
I guess I never checked, but I posted #150 with the assumption that post #149 was from Linda, not Steven. Apologies...
In any case, in response to Bas - that a book is an Early Reviewer, and or that I was given to book for free does not influence how I review it. Books, generally, aren't expensive (although the cost accumulate). The cost for me is the time I spent reading it, and all books are expensive in that way. I want something for my time.
However, ERs are often under-appreciated authors and this does influence how I review. Sometimes, if it's a good book, I'll try to be more positive than I would be otherwise.
#154 Those are the moments when I wish that I had formally studied literature in college and had more confidence in my analyses.
Most readers, even readers of "literary fiction," didn't formally study literature in college. I think years of reading give us all experience with what works and doesn't work with a book. Of course, personal preference plays a role. But I imagine most of us can distinguish where our personal feelings are involved and pinpoint that in a review.
>153 I try to write a review that is more description than opinion, and I hold my opinions until the final paragraph of the review. I try to think of my reviews as targeting a book towards its proper readership rather than passing judgment.
I think that is a talent you have, Steven. Being new this year to writing reviews, I often feel that I am struggling to find the right balance. Thanks for giving me another way to think about that.
>154 I attribute my good luck to only requesting a book that I think I would buy or read anyway, so I stay in my safety zone.
Lisa, I like your idea and it does seem to have worked very well for you. I find it hard to judge ER books from only the brief description provided. Normally, I wouldn't buy a book or check one out of the library without reading at least a sample. So I get caught up in the dilemma of whether to take the chance or miss out on a book that I would actually enjoy. But my approach is obviously not working too well, so maybe I should try something closer to yours.
>155 No reason at all to apologize, Dan. Your stats are very interesting and I appreciate you sharing them. Viewing your books from the perspective of those that changed your reading habits towards those authors or led you to other books struck me as a very astute way of looking at their value.
I find it hard to judge ER books from only the brief description provided.
If you Google the title you can often find publisher information and sometimes even early reviews. I've done that a few times when I'm on the fence about a title.
I think that ER books have significantly fallen in quality over the last year or so. I find myself requesting one less and less frequently--due only partly to the fact that I am have about 10 unreviewed ER books hanging out around here somewhere.
I must say that I haven't requested a book several months this year.
>146 - Too bad about the Saunders but good review. I think I read Escape from Spiderhead in the New Yorker - that's the one about the guy who falls in love with two or three women after they take drugs? If that's the one, I can see why you'd be annoyed - a whole book of that would be a bit hard to take.
>153 - Steven, I appreciate your descriptive reviews - one of the main reasons I picked up off-the-beaten-path books like The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch.
Interesting discussion of ER books.
>160 I think that ER books have significantly fallen in quality over the last year or so. That's an interesting observation, Deborah. I wonder if the decline in quality is related to how publishers perceive the value of the ER program or if it is reflective of the general state of the publishing industry and what sells in the mass market.
>161 That is disappointing, Lisa. Even in the short time I have been participating, it seems to go in spurts - some months several good ones (or so I thought...) and other months none.
>162 Yes, that's the same story, DieF. There was another one that also used a theme of designer chemical substances. The subject and his treatment of it felt very tired and uninteresting to me.
A Time To Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Patrick Leigh Fermor’s interest in monastic life began with a 1950s stay in a French monastery that he sought as a quiet, inexpensive place in which to write. This short volume focuses on his visits to the French religious communities of St. Wandrille de Fontanelle, Solesmes and La Grande Trappe, and the abandoned Rock Monasteries of Cappadocia in Turkey, combining an overview of their history with his own experiences and observations of monastic life.
Through much of history, the monasteries of Europe have reflected the turmoil of the broader society, not always having served as places of calm contemplation. Fermor touches on their extensive history of being repeatedly destroyed, buildings and libraries emptied out, rebuilt and reinstated - their peace assaulted by invaders, fire, revolutions, political favors and legislation. The invasion of the Normans, the Hundred Years War, Napoleon’s armies, the French Revolution and the allied bombers of WWII all contributed to instances of their physical destruction, but political forces were equally as devastating. In the 1500s, courtiers who were never monks, but who were rewarded by appointments as commendatory abbots, ravaged the resources of abbeys and priories. Monasteries were emptied by the French Revolution’s abolishment of all religious communities and again by the Waldeck-Rousseau government’s 1901 anti-monastic legislation. In between each event, the monastic orders returned and rebuilt.
By comparison, little is known of the history of the Rock Monasteries of Cappadocia, a long-abandoned site of early Christian coenobitic life. Carved into cones of volcanic rock are dozens of churches, brightly painted, decorated by frescoes, and complete with the features of classical cathedral architecture – arches, columns, domes, narthex, apse and basilica. The many hermitages nearby give a clear indication of an abundantly populated, although simple communal life.
Life at each monastery, as described by Fermor, follows a prescribed schedule of hours, activities and religious observances. While many contemplative orders exist within the overall structure of the Catholic Church, their focus and purposes vary greatly. The Benedictines focus on worship and prayer, and have played an important role over the centuries in preserving literature and the humanities. At the Benedictine Abbey of St. Wandrille De Fontanelle, guests mixed with the monks at meals and religious services, but were required to observe periods of silence and restricted from interaction with individuals without the Abbott’s permission. The monks spent 3.5-4 hours each day in church, with additional time devoted to reading, private prayer and meditation. Fermor’s impressions were of a balanced, gentle and erudite community, holding a deep respect for the order to which their lives are devoted, and guided by an abiding belief in the importance of prayer.
In contrast, the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, more commonly known as Trappists, followed a strict routine of long days that began at 1-2 a.m. and included 7 hours in church, hard manual labor with no leisure or recreation, primitive living conditions, strict discipline and nearly absolute silence. At La Grande Trappe, guests were fully separated from the monks, allowed only distant observation and no direct interaction except with a few members of the upper hierarchy. Other than a few superiors, those who sing the offices, and commands given to farm animals, the rule of silence was nearly absolute, with a special nonverbal language having evolved to provide for necessary communications. The average monk or lay-brother spent his entire career speaking only within the confessional or in spiritual consultation with the Abbott. The monks were required to publicly accuse each other and penances were of a primitive nature. Fermor observed that their lives were ones of “humble and completely unintellectual simplicity”, with every moment dedicated to God and reflecting the concept of vicarious penance where “they seek, by taking the sins of others on to their own shoulders, to lighten the burden of mankind.”
Fermor’s adaptation to life as a monastic guest was revealing of the extreme dissimilarities between a life of seclusion and silence and the outside world of chaos and noise. At first he experienced depression and sleep problems, gradually progressing to a sense of freedom and peace, as his tiredness dissipated and his desire to talk faded. While the conditions he encountered at St. Wandrille and Solesmes were comfortable in comparison to the austerity of La Grande Trappe, at each monastery his adjustment followed roughly the same course, ending with feelings of quiet and calm.
I found this book to be a fascinating and beautifully written introduction to the nature of monastic life, as viewed by an outsider. The introduction by Karen Armstrong, a religious scholar and prior member of a religious order, and the author’s own introduction and postscript add a broader context to the extreme nature of the monastic life and those who seek to renounce secular life. It is unfortunate that Fermor’s description of the monks’ daily routines and personal views is unavoidably sparse, being constrained by the structure and rules of the monasteries themselves. My only criticism is that in most of the few instances where the direct words of the monks are cited, they are in Latin or French, without interpretive footnotes. While my limited proficiency was sufficient for a basic sense of meaning, I would have appreciated a more nuanced understanding.
Excellent review of A Time to keep Silence Linda. I will get to this book one day, because I have enjoyed a couple of Leigh Fermor's books and I have been to the Rock Monasteries in Cappadocia (Turkey)
Beautiful review. I've got to read Patrick Leigh Fermor, this is the third of his books I've put on my wishlist.
The book sounds fascinating. I would love to hear more about the Rock Monasteries, Barry.
Thanks Barry, Dan, Lisa and deebee. This was my first Fermor book and definitely won't be my last. I can only imagine what it must be like to visit Cappadocia. It is clearly an incredible historic treasure and I would assume (and hope) that it is more protected than at the time of Fermor's visit, as he made it sound like an abandoned site where they just walked in, unrestricted, and wandered around.
Great review, Linda. I enjoyed the book too, although I could not have explained it as well and as beautifully as you did. I read it after I read Leigh Fermor's longer and more famous books, which I found totally wonderful: A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. I am sure you will enjoy them too.
Thank you for the compliment, Rebecca. It means a great deal to me, as I am in awe of your review writing skills! I actually think that I may have first heard about Fermor on a past thread of yours.
Thank YOU, Linda; you're making me blush. I'm glad you enjoy my reviews.
Excellent review of A Time to Keep Silence. I've been meaning to read some Fermor for a while now. I was going to start with something else but your review is pretty tempting.
>173 Thanks Edwin.
>174 Thanks DieF. I have several of Fermor's better known books on my TBR pile, but started with this one only because it was short and I happened to find it available as a library e-book.
We spent last weekend visiting my stepson in NYC. It was a great time, filled with museums, a play, bookstores, good food and a great deal of walking. I came home with a few blisters, a head cold and three books. I don't know why we don't make it down more often.
A visit to the Guggenheim Museum was somewhat disappointing, as the museum was only half open, the spiral ramps being closed in preparation for the upcoming Picasso Black and White exhibit. But having never been there and not having much time anyway, we decided to try it. The exhibitions we saw were items from the permanent Thannhauser Collection, the paintings of Kandinsky, and the photography of Rineke Dijkstra. The last was my favorite, being a collection of photographs and video portraiture, primarily of adolescents and young adults, including studies of a young man who has joined the French Foreign Legion, young mothers who have just given birth, and bullfighters direct from the ring. Unusual but very striking.
From there, we visited the International Center for Photography, whose current exhibit is Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life. It is a wide-ranging and powerful exhibit, with a lot of detail to take in, and might best have been seen over several visits.
We also saw the National Theatre of Great Britain production of War Horse at Lincoln Center. The play itself was pretty light stuff, being a children’s story about the British Cavalry in WWI. What was truly outstanding about this play was the incredible puppetry, created by the South African Handspring Puppet Company. The puppets were life-sized representations of horses, a goose, and a few birds. The two lead horses were each operated by three persons, one under the hind quarters, one under the shoulders and one standing outside at the head. While the horses themselves were very obviously mechanical structures and the puppeteers visible to the audience, their presence faded as they skillfully brought the horses to life, replicating their natural movements, breathing and reactions. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
And of course, what would a trip to NYC be without a few bookstores, and a stop at the main Brooklyn Public Library for a bit of browsing. Despite stops at The Strand and several neighborhood bookstores, I was not anxious to add weight to my luggage and managed to keep my purchases to a minimum. We also quite by accident stumbled across the Brooklyn Literary Festival, where unfortunately, we did not have nearly enough time to visit all of the booths, nor did we see any of the author presentations. Had I known ahead of time, we would have planned our time differently. I am guessing that maybe a few NYC LTers might have been there?
All told, I only personally purchased three books, although my partner and stepson together added five more that will be available for borrowing. Here are mine:
Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio – from The Strand
Scenes from Provincial Life by J.M. Coetzee – from The Strand
The Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog - from the ICP
I am trying to get caught up with reviews. First up is the easiest one - the perfect summer read. I was in the mood for a good mystery when a friend passed her copy of this book on to me.
The Skull Mantra by Eliot Patttison
Eliot Pattison’s Edgar Award-winning book is the first in a series of mysteries set in modern day Tibet, following its incorporation as an entity under the People’s Republic of China. The story takes place in the high Himalayas, to where Shan Tao Yun, a former Chinese police inspector, has been banished for a “political” offense and imprisoned as a member of the People’s 404th Construction Brigade, made up primarily of Buddhist monks whose monastery has been destroyed. The mystery begins when their work gang finds a decapitated body on a high mountain road and the district administrator recruits Shan Tao Yun to investigate.
I found this to be a great read on multiple levels. It is a complex mystery that held my interest and kept me guessing until the end. Adding to its appeal is the author’s skill at weaving throughout details of the Tibetan setting and culture, Buddhist practices, and the effects of the contemporary struggle between the Chinese and Tibetans upon the region’s residents and cultural artifacts. Although clearly falling within the mystery genre, it also conveys the significance of the Tibetans’ struggle to retain their culture and beliefs. Upon finishing the book, I could not help but feel that any loss of Tibetan traditions will be a loss to the entire world. I plan to follow up, not only with the other books in this series, but also with Pattison’s own suggestions, made in an Author's Note, for further reading on the modern Tibetan experience.
I feel like there like the screen should waver, accompanied by cheesy music to take us back back back to Doris Lessing. I read The Golden Notebook about 18 months ago for a book group, out of the ten people there I was the only one to finish it. I found it both tedious and stimulating in equal measures but other people just found it tedious. I think everyone could see how ground-breaking it was but for some the times they had a changed while the book was trapped in the period it was written.
Linda, I enjoyed your link to the video for the Rineka Dijkstra exhibition. Its amazing in this age of digital photography that there are still people making photographs by creating big negatives. A real labour of love to haul that equipment onto the beach to take those photographs. The upcoming Picasso exhibition sounds like one not to be missed.
The Guggenheim in New York also has a large collection of photographs by Robert Maplethorpe.
I have The Skull Mantra on my bookshelf, but I am hesitant to pick it up after my recent experience with Black Cherry Blues.
Your trip sounds fascinating. I think puppetry is often thought of as children's entertainment, but I too have seen a couple of amazing shows. The photography of Dijkstra is beautiful. I googled her name in images, and found the bullfighters, new mothers, and the soldier that you mention. Interesting that the subjects are always posed and in front of a plain white background.
>178 Your imagery had me a bit dizzy there for a minute, Turner. I wouldn't judge Doris Lessing solely on the basis of The Golden Notebook, which does seem to elicit very mixed reactions. While The Grass is Singing is now somewhat dated historically, I think the story is timeless.
>179 The Guggenheim did not have any of Robert Maplethorpe's photography on exhibit when we were there, Barry. I will have to check on how long the Picasso exhibit will be there. We don't get down to NYC very often, which is a shame, as it is an easy 2 1/2 hour train ride and easily manageable also as a day trip.
The next time you are in the mood for a mystery, don't dismiss The Skull Mantra. It's not high literature, but based on your review, I would say it is nothing at all like the James Lee Burke series.
>180 Hi Lisa. I am glad we saw the Dijkstra exhibit. Her work is especially compelling when seen full size. In addition to being very simply posed with minimal background, the subjects mostly all have the same deadpan expression. I thought that this combination of elements made the portraiture all the more riveting. The immediacy of some of the sequences was also very striking. One of the new mothers actually still had a trickle of blood running down her leg, the intimacy of which made me turn away, and the bullfighters were pretty banged up. The sequence with the French Foreign Legion soldier was taken over a period of time, during which you could almost see him hardening from a new recruit into a seasoned soldier.
Hi Linda, just paying you a return visit. I've really enjoyed reading your thread (including the first part); I'm just sorry I hadn't found it before. Needless to say, several of the books you've read have gone straight on to my wishlist! I'll be back.
Thanks for visiting my thread, rachbxl. I'll look forward to seeing you again!
Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata
Oki Toshio is a 54 year old, successful novelist who leaves his wife and children at home and embarks on a visit to Kyoto, presumably for the purpose of hearing the temple bells ring in the New Year. His real intentions are to reconnect with Otoko Ueno, his mistress of twenty-four years prior, with whom he had fathered a stillborn child while Otoko was only fifteen. After Otoko’s mother moved her to Kyoto, ending the relationship, Oki openly incorporated their love affair in a novel. Now a well-known painter, Otoko lives with Keiko, her young, female protégée and lover.
The storyline is hardly unique and although framed as psychological suspense, is written in a quiet, dispassionate manner. The setting and characters are deftly drawn, although much is left unexplained, adding to the sense of apprehension. Oki is predictable as the immoral man who seems to lack any genuine regret for his illicit affairs and the pain they have caused his family. It is Kawabata’s female protagonists that are considerably more interesting. The reactions of Oki’s wife to his philandering behavior are far from typical, as her initial jealousy gives way to a disturbing acceptance. Otoko imparts a quiet sense of inscrutability. Haunted by the loss of her child and her lingering feelings for Oki, she strives to express the entangled beauty and sadness of these feelings through her paintings. The unbalanced Keiko who embodies the recklessness and fervor of youth, both carries and confuses the storyline, as her disparate feelings of love, pathological jealousy and hatred converge.
Kawabata is known for exploring themes of love and this novel focuses on its potential as an aggressive and ruinous force. This is a tragic story of self-absorbed love and pointless vengeance, but its ending is strangely ambiguous. Although the awful events that have transpired are clear, the characters’ reactions to them seem inappropriately shallow. I did find this short novel absorbing, but mostly for the sedate and simple elegance of Kawabata’s writing, and the depth and complexity of his female characters.
Nice review of Beauty and Sadness, Linda. I'll eventually read this, but not this year.
Thanks Darryl and Kevin. Kawabata does write beautifully and I am anxious to read the three works referenced in his Nobel Prize presentation: Snow Country, Thousand Cranes and The Old Capital. Perhaps they will give a better sense of how Kawabata fit the Nobel criteria of "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". Personally, I would not put Beauty and Sadness in that category.
Kevin, you are much more knowledgeable of Japanese literature than I and I'll look forward to your review of Thousand Cranes.
Beauty and Sadness was most likely not considered when Kawabata won the prize. Here's some insider info from the blog Junbungaku (a great blog on Japanese writers I follow): http://www.junbungaku.com/2012/09/26/kawabata-first-nominated-for-nobel-prize-in...
>188 Thanks DieF. I think what bothered me most was that the storyline of Beauty and Sadness felt a little shallow - a bit like a literate Japanese soap opera.
>189 Thanks for the link to the very interesting blog, Rise. I've bookmarked it as a great resource on Japanese literature translated to English.
October is shaping up to be a month packed with interesting seminars and author talks, but I am already falling hopelessly behind here. I will try to squeeze in a review or author talk now and again until I eventually get caught up.
Since retiring I have been a member of UCALL (Union College Academy for Lifelong Learning), which sponsors an excellent series of seminars each Fall and Spring, many of which are taught by professors from Union or other colleges in the area. This semester I am attending seminars on Astrobiology (my own suggestion and hands down favorite!), Opera (first up was Turandot), Charles Darwin, and Parasitology. Unfortunately, no literature courses are being offered this semester. Add to that an introductory Yoga class, several Writers Institute events each week, a chamber music series to which we subscribe, and an untimely summons for Jury Duty, and it looks like available reading time may be somewhat limited. So I am focusing mainly on Patrick White’s The Vivisector for the Group Read. So far, it is wonderful.
Salgado Maranhão, poet and Alexis Levitin, translator
10/2/12 - NYS Writer’s Institute
Salgado Maranhão is a Brazilian poet who writes in Portuguese. His latest and first bi-lingual volume is Blood of the Sun. This reading took the form of Maranhão reading first in Portuguese, followed by Levitin reading in English, with both offering additional comments throughout.
Maranhão is actually a pen name, taken from the impoverished area of northeastern Brazil in which he grew up. His background is extremely interesting, as he is the son of a rich, white landowner and a fieldworker of African descent (similar to a sharecropper). When he was born, both parents wanted to raise him (his father having only daughters with his wife), but his mother prevailed, although she did not take the easy path. She was very proud, refused to accept help offered by his father and never allowed Salgado to ask for help either. In response to a question regarding the effect of such mixing of cultures, Maranhão said that all of life is a failed meeting – meetings that don’t quite work, failed meetings between cultures and races. But that in his case, the mixing was a fortunate meeting that brought him into existence. Life is dramatic and traumatic, and it is important to be tested by experience, out of which come fruitful things. He is grateful to have come from the world he did, exposed to both worlds, as poetry needs conflict.
His interest in poetry began as a young child. In northeastern Brazil, there was a tradition of traveling oral poets, reminiscent of the provencal troubadours. His mother would invite these poets into their home, where they would compete to invent poems on a theme thrown out by someone in the audience. Maranhão described his mother, who lacked a formal education, as being very sensitive to poetry and poetic in her daily language, without being aware of it. Maranhão worked in the fields harvesting crops until age 18 and did not learn to read and write until he was 15 years old. He began to write poetry when he discovered the great poets through the library and was able to respond to their rhythms, even when he did not yet know all the words.
Maranhão and Levitin frequently referenced the sound and rhythm of language, saying that poetry stirs you through its music more than through the meaning of the words. Maranhão described his poetry as being rhythm and image, but noted that for those coming from an impoverished background, words can also be a weapon. You may be lacking in political power or money, but you still have words that can be an instrument for confrontation.
Levitin’s comments regarding the challenges involved in translating poetry were extremely interesting. He pointed out specific difficulties he encountered, particularly with rhyming couplets, words with double meanings, internal rhymes and rhythmic patterns that would be lost in translation. He worked closely with Maranhão (who speaks no English) in addressing these difficulties, making no changes without the poet’s approval.
Maranhão had a lovely reading voice, deep and rich, and I was able to follow the rhythm and sounds of the Portuguese words both in writing and aurally, despite having no specific knowledge of the language. The reading went quite a bit overtime and I think would have continued even longer had the moderator not interceded. Maranhão is touring throughout the States (Maine, Minnesota, Georgia, Texas and places in between all mentioned) and will be giving 51 readings.
I will address Maranhao’s poetry more specifically in a future review of Blood of the Sun, but here is a teaser from the title poem, “Blood of the Sun”.
I come from gullies
ETA: I guess I will need to do some work on the touchstone, as the book doesn't seem to be in LT's database yet.
ETA again: Okay, it is added to my library, but it still doesn't want to appear on a search or as a touchstone.
Intriguing review of Beauty and Sadness
Enjoyed your review of the Maranhao reading, There must have been a few people squirming in the audience when the poet went overtime while reading in a foreign language. Nice teaser.
Glad you are enjoying The Vivisector. I am lagging behind at the moment, real life keeps getting in the way, but hopefully things will quieten down this weekend.
>193 Thanks Barry. I am actually glad that you are lagging behind on The Vivisector, as I am only at the beginning of the second chapter and worried about falling behind. But I am really enjoying White's writing and wondering why I have never read him before.
>194 I don't know what you did, Robert, but your touchstone above works perfectly for me - the cover and all of the information is correct. But it still doesn't show up as an option when I try to recreate it here. I don't really understand how this stuff works, but maybe in a few days I'll have the time to tinker around with it.
I enjoyed your comments about Salgado Maranhão and Blood of the Sun; I'll look for it next month.
>191 - Sounds like you'll be having a busy and interesting couple of months (well, maybe not the jury duty). Will you be reporting on the seminars? I'd be interested to hear about astrobiology, opera, Darwin and parasitology.
Also - have you read anything by newest Laureate Mo Yan so you can check off 2012 on your list?
Interesting about Maranhão. I googled Blood of the Sun and found some sample pages -- I read enough Portuguese to see that the translation is excellent and captures the mood. Intriguing. Looking forward to your thoughts on this collection.
>196 Thanks Darryl. I am now looking forward to Ghassan Zaqtan and Fady Joudah who are scheduled for next week. Zaqtan's visa issues from last year have been resolved.
>197 DieF, I hadn't really thought about reporting on the UCALL seminars, but I will certainly consider that. Each topic has five 2-hour sessions, so I would probably wait until the end and do something more summary or selective in nature. Hopefully I'd be caught up on book reviews and author talks by then and would have more time.
I have not yet read anything by Mo Yan, but have several of his books and downloaded a few more to my Kindle this week. I may read Red Sorghum soon.
>198 I thought about you when I attended this reading, deebee. It's good to know that the translation is well done. Levitin has translated thirty-one books and when I get a chance, I hope to explore these further. I was quite impressed with his remarks on the process and challenges of translation.
By the way, the touchstone for Blood of the Sun is still not working and takes you to the wrong book.
>199 I really enjoy the UCALL seminars, Rebecca. I just wish they weren't all concentrated in just a few months of the year.
Fascinating about the Maranhão presenation. Also enjoyed your review of Beauty and Sadness.
Thanks Dan. I have much more to report on, but no time yet to get caught up. Soon, I hope.
Junot Diaz - NYS Writer’s Institute – 10/4/12
Author of Drown, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, This Is How You Lose Her
I attended a question-answer style seminar with Junot Diaz, a much acclaimed author and 2012 awardee of a MacArthur Fellowship. Diaz was very natural, insightful and funny, and directed his remarks mainly to the many students present. The seminar room was as full as I have ever seen it and it was wonderful to see the high level of student attendance and participation. Latinos, especially Dominicans, were strongly represented and it was obvious that they closely identified with Diaz and his experiences as an immigrant. Their reactions were perhaps the most striking aspect of this session, revealing something of their personal uncertainty and vulnerability, both as writers and as Latinos in this country, with many of their questions focused on making sense of their own bilingual, bi-cultural status.
The self-identity of Dominicans in the U.S. is important to Diaz’s writing and his comments on this were very candid. Immigrants to the U.S. come into a cultural setting of white supremacy that determines almost everything else, although that is never said or acknowledged. “The person least apt to get love is the person of color.” Diaz’s own journey from being the son of impoverished Dominican immigrants to becoming a novelist was a theme throughout his remarks. In his earlier years, he felt he belonged to a community that no one knew or cared about. He did not see his reality anywhere and felt like he was being “erased”. Considering his family’s poverty, becoming an artist was considered a kind of lunacy. It was a journey that he fought very deliberately, working full-time while going to college.
Diaz currently teaches creative writing at MIT and was blunt in expressing his concern that many young writers do not want to be artists. Rather, they see writing as a profession that one pursues, not unlike how one pursues dentistry. They are anxious to enter MFA programs, want to work little and have little contact with the world. But it is being in the world that makes art powerful. He stressed that there are better ways of making money and obtaining approval than to be a writer. He spoke of the difficulties of being an artist at a time when all of the ‘easy’ has been done before, and only what is hard or nearly impossible is left.
Diaz indicated that sensitivity to one’s audience is key and matters more than what you want as the writer. He stated that his writing is directed to a multi-generational conversation that he never had within his own family. Before coming to the U.S., Diaz was largely raised by his grandparents in Santo Domingo and was fascinated by them, leaving him with a lasting sympathy and attraction to older people. He spoke of the history of invasion, slavery and genocide, inflicted both on and by the Dominican Republic, and the negative effect this has had on the self-identity of Dominicans - originally a very open, giving people who have become closed off to others, and taught to not love themselves or other Dominicans. In a multi-generational family, all of these stories are present simultaneously. He regrets that his grandparents and parents never shared their stories of past times with him and sees bearing witness to each other as essential to truly connecting.
In response to questions on how to be vulnerable as an artist and deal with criticism, Diaz noted that students often confuse comfort and safety in this context. When he subtracts his ego and the argument is persuasive, the critic has done him a favor. You cannot learn without being uncomfortable, but this is not the same as being unsafe. The ability to write more “organically” comes from mastering your form, with the “long way” being the best way - when you internalize a form, you move conscious knowledge into unconscious pattern. He stressed to the students that writing is also not the same as speaking and formal English must be thoroughly mastered before you can play with it in your writing. Although Diaz spoke little of his own books, he did use Oscar Wao as an example in discussing inter-generational relationships, use of slang and Spanglish, and being a nerd in a culture invested in masculine identity. He also noted that it took him sixteen years to write This Is How You Lose Her, his latest collection of short stories that he conceptualized as being one unit, from beginning to end.
Diaz described himself as having no special talent, his success as a writer having come from investing so much of his life in reading. His advice to those who are struggling with their writing is to read more. He noted that being a writer is not even in the top ten aspects of his identity, while being a reader occupies several of these spots. He ended with his best comment of the talk: “I love books more than I love writing”.
Fascinating, Linda. I really do have to get to Diaz. I've had The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao on my TBR for years.
Diaz always seems fascinating, whenever anyone talks about him (regardless of their take). Curious comments, though. Makes me wonder if he even enjoys writing.
Yesterday I heard an interview with Junot Diaz on one of our local public radio stations, where he talks more about his actual books: http://www.wamc.org/post/book-show-1266-junot-diaz.
Rebecca, I have not yet read anything by Diaz either, although I do own Drown. I think I may appreciate his books more now, for having a sense of who he is and what he is trying to accomplish in his writing.
Diaz is one of those authors that seems also to be a fascinating individual, Dan. I think that his remarks that day were very specifically directed at the students in the audience. I didn't get a sense that he doesn't enjoy writing, although in The Book Show interview, he does talk about what a slow process it is for him, which made me feel better about how long I sometimes labor on my reviews! I think he was instead emphasizing his love of books and the importance of reading to learning the craft of writing - a message that we take for granted, but was probably very important for the students to hear.
Fascinating discussions as usual, Linda. I hope you are able to get back to your thread soon, so that we can hear the latest installments. :-)
Thanks for the much needed nudge, Lisa. Thinking about how to get caught up has somehow brought me to a standstill!
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
Sigrid Undset’s fourteenth century Norway is a place of breathtaking, yet dangerous beauty, where vast geographical distances separate settlements and farms, relationships and interactions are governed by a complicated array of social conventions, and myth and superstition live alongside the official Catholicism. Lineage, land and family reputation are the legacies left to offspring. Religion features prominently in daily life and monks wander the countryside, while elves, trolls and goblins live in the forest and under rocks, and the spirits of the deceased are never far away. Living and meal arrangements are largely communal and strong codes of hospitality prevail. Ale is a staple of the household for both adults and children, and is even given to horses on occasion. But there is little that is sentimental in the hardness of these times, with tragedy ever-present and stoically accepted. Death is a frequent outcome of childbirth and illness. Both adults and children must contribute to the constant labor necessary to support a household. Even prosperous but overburdened parents may elect for a child to be raised by foster parents. The distances involved in travel require long periods of parental absence from the family household. Violence is common and landowners are entitled to protect themselves with physical force.
Undset’s masterwork trilogy excels as historical fiction that is richly revealing of the customs, beliefs and daily life of medieval Norwegian society. Meant to be read as a whole, its three volumes flow seamlessly together in a straightforward but layered narrative that explores the inner lives of its protagonists, the hopes, conflicts and disappointments inherent to passion and marriage, and the stresses of a society transitioning from pagan to Christian values. Undset’s two major works based in medieval Norway, the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy and The Master of Hestviken tetralogy, were recognized by the Nobel Committee in awarding her the Prize for Literature in 1928, for her portrayal of ideals that contributed to the development of Germanic culture.
The Wreath introduces Kristin Lavransdatter as the beautiful daughter of Lavrans Bjorgulfson, a widely respected and influential farmer and landowner, and his wife Ragnfrid, moody, reclusive and suffering from depression following the loss of three infant sons. Kristin’s childhood and adolescence follow the expected path to her betrothal at age fifteen to Simon Andresson, the handsome and promising son of a neighboring landowner. But despite being relatively privileged, she is not shielded from hard work and harsh realities, and the course of her life is changed abruptly by events that unfairly bring the derision of the villagers upon her. Sent to temporarily board at a convent, Kristin meets and is seduced by Erlend Nikulausson, a handsome but reckless and impulsive man who has been ex-communicated by the Church for his relationship with a married woman, with whom he has two children. Struggling against her strong attachment to her father, Kristin seeks to end her betrothal to Simon and win permission to wed Erlend, while complicity in a death and the shame of hidden pregnancy foreshadow the turbulence of their union.
The Wife follows the years of Kristin and Erlend’s tumultuous, yet passionate marriage, the birth and upbringing of seven sons, and Erlend’s increasing entanglement with the country’s politics. Forced to assume responsibility for Erlend’s ill-managed estate, while experiencing the difficulties of childbirth and Erlend’s irresponsibility and frequent absences, Kristin becomes increasingly ambivalent and bitter regarding her marriage. The storyline seems to meander through these years, at times feeling a bit overlong as marital and family relationships develop, deteriorate and reconcile, child after child is born and raised, loved ones die, and the intrigue of political conspiracy is introduced.
It is in this second volume that the depth of Undset’s many characters emerges, the intensity of their thoughts and emotions skillfully revealed alongside the vivid details of landscape, everyday objects and daily activities. Kristin and Ragnfrid are strong, capable women, but dependent upon their marriages and children for their identity and reason for living. Both are disgraced as fallen women, having not been maidens at their marriage, and both bear the disappointment of husbands whom they love passionately, but who will never fulfill their emotional needs. Lavrans and Simon represent the strength and morality of a traditional society that rewards adherence to hard work, duty and faith. Erlend is the perpetually overgrown adolescent, charming but unreliable, whose individualism clashes with the collectivism of medieval society. But as different as Lavrans and Erlend seem, they share a restlessness, a need for the adventure of wilderness and sea. Erlend loves Kristin passionately, but he finds life with his wife and children suffocating.
Now he longed only to go away to that strife-torn place. He yearned madly and wildly for that remote promontory and for the thundering sea surrounding the forelands of the north, for the endless coastline and the enormous fjords which could conceal all manner of traps and deceptions, for the people whose language he understood only slightly, for their sorcery and inconstancy and cunning, for war and the sea, and for the singing of weapons, both his own and his men’s.
Even the deeply religious and reliable Lavrans harbors a secret resentment for having been forced at a young age to marry Ragnfrid, an older woman whom he did not love. ”He had been a good husband to her , he believed that himself… He had simply wanted to live with her without her always trying to seize what was in his heart- and what he refused to reveal.” Undset’s many secondary characters are drawn with equal care, notable among them being Kristin’s seven sons and Brother Edvin, whose wisdom and simple joy contrasts with the storyline’s dark, haunting adversity.
In The Cross, a mature Kristin sets forth to atone for her moral failings. Erlend’s estate has become the price for his release from political imprisonment and the family must return to Kristin’s childhood farm, only to again experience rejection by the townspeople amidst marital separation, accusations of adultery, and the death in infancy of an eighth son. It is in this final book that Undset focuses most clearly on the theme of religion and redemption. Ambivalent in her faith, yet seeking purpose following Erlend’s death and the scattering of her grown children, Kristin sets forth on a pilgrimage to become a lay member of the convent. It is here that she makes her final atonement, among the ravages of the Black Death.
Surely she had never asked God for anything except that he should let her have her will. And every time she had been granted what she asked for - for the most part. Now here she sat with a contrite heart - not because she had sinned against God but because she was unhappy that she had been allowed to follow her will to the road’s end.
Highly recommended. 4 1/2 Stars
Excellent review. It's obvious how much you were immersed in this trilogy. It's been about ten years since I read it and I still rank it as one of my favourite works. I'll have to look for the tetralogy. Will you be reading it?
This work has never been out of print. If anyone is looking for it in a second hand edition, be careful of the translator. Some of the older editions have been prettified. The Tiina Nunnally translation which is the one I believe Linda used, based on earlier threads, is excellent.
Thanks Sassy. I should note that you are one of the LTers that I have to thank for suggesting this as part of my Nobel Laureate challenge. I am hoping at some point to read the tetralogy also. But not just now - the length of her works makes them a serious commitment! And you are correct - I have the Nunnally translation in a Penguin Classics e-book edition of the full trilogy.
Excellent review, Linda. This is one I'll be reading eventually, and you've made it sound very enticing.
Another book/trilogy that has never called out to me, but now one I'll be looking at, thanks to your review.
I loved Kristin Lavransdatter, and I'm so glad you did too. Your review makes me want to read them again for, I think, the third time. But now I'm worried about the translation of the Vintage Books edition I have. How would you rate Charles Archer as a translator, SassyLassy? Perhaps I should seek out a newer edition. Oh my, I just checked, and I think my translation was first published in 1927.
Thanks Steven and Kevin.
Rebecca, I found Kristin Lavransdatter to be an excellent example of old-fashioned storytelling and a great way to escape into another time and place.
Lisa, you are the other LTer who recommended this trilogy to me. Thanks!
Linda, there are lots of times when "old-fashioned storytelling" and "escape" are just what I need! Onto the wish list!
Loved your review of Kristin Lavransdatter, one of my favorite books. It's making me also want to read it a third time! I also swear by the Nunnally translation - it's excellent. I've not read any of her other works, but I'd like to read them all at some point.
I am amazed at how many people have read this book Kristin Lavransdatter. Great review Linda.
Thanks Jennifer, deebee and Barry. I am also amazed at how many have read this trilogy - and how many have read it twice! - especially since I first heard of it from Sassy and Lisa towards the top of this thread.
210 - Agreed, excellent review. I've added it to the wishlist as well.
KL has come up on LT before with much high praise, but nothing has made me so want to read it as your review.
>216 labsf, I collected the trilogy in three different volumes from three different publishers with three different translations. It was only when I got to volume 3 and the Nunnally translation that I discovered the difference, so I went out and bought volumes 1 and 2 again, this time with her translation. All this is a long way of saying I don't remember who did the other translations as I have given those versions away. I seem to remember it was another woman, so probably not Charles Archer. Maybe he would give a more vigorous translation than his female contemporaries!
This topic was continued by Linda29007's reading for 2012 - Part 3.
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