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kidzdoc: Destination Out! (take 2)

Club Read 2010

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Edited: Sep 11, 2010, 10:07am Top

Currently reading:
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt
The Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer

Completed books:

110. The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
109. Yesterday by Maria Dermoût
108. Closing the Chart: A Dying Physician Examines Family, Faith and Medicine by Steven D. Hsi, MD
107. Room by Emma Donoghue
106. The Elephant's Journey by José Saramago

105. The Flood by Chiwan Choi
104. Trespass by Rose Tremain
103. Wonder by Hugo Claus
102. Quacks: Fakers & Charlatans in Medicine by Roy Porter
101. The Company of Heaven: Stories from Haiti by Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell
100. Wild Grass by Lu Xun
99. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
98. The Seine Was Red: Paris, October 1961 by Leïla Sebbar
97. The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers
96. Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers
95. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
94. Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan by Donald Keene
93. A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee
92. Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman
91. Touch by Adania Shibli
90. Chef by Jaspreet Singh
89. Change by Mo Yan
88. In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
87. Street Smarts: Poems by Devorah Major
86. Bellocq's Ophelia: Poems by Natasha Trethewey
85. Bilingual: Life and Reality by François Grosjean
84. The Literary Conference by César Aira
83. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

82. My Two Oxfords by Willie Morris
81. The Little Peul by Mariama Barry
80. The Water Cure by Percival Everett
79. Island by Penelope Todd
78. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
77. The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
76. The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini
75. Landscape with Dog and Other Stories by Ersi Sotiropoulos
74. Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor
73. The Murderess by Alexandros Papadiamantis

72. To Mervas by Elisabeth Rynell
71. Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki
70. Troubles by J.G. Farrell
69. Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote by Ahmadou Kourouma
68. Philosophy in the Present by Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek
67. The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul by Patrick French
66. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
65. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
64. Selected Crônicas by Clarice Lispector
63. Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients by Danielle Ofri

62. The Hour of the Star by Carice Lispector
61. News From Home: Short Stories by Sefi Atta
60. My House by Nikki Giovanni
59. The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell
58. The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
57. Fear by Stefan Zweig
56. A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor by John Berger
55. Five Modern Japanese Novelists by Donald Keene
54. Tranquility by Attila Bartis
53. The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes
52. The Pen and the Sword: Conversations with Edward Said by David Barsamian
51. Season of Ash by Jorge Volpi
50. Letters from London by C.L.R. James
49. Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki
48. Everything In this Country Must by Colum McCann
47. Piano by Jean Echenoz
46. White Masks by Elias Khoury

45. Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed
44. Spain in Our Hearts by Pablo Neruda
43. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor
41. Twilight & Moonbeam Alley by Stefan Zweig
40. Bicycles: Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni
39. Three Novellas by Joseph Roth
38. The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
37.The Plague by Albert Camus
36. Dreams in a Time of War by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
35. Morning Haiku by Nikki Giovanni
34. The Women and the Men by Nikki Giovanni
33. An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah
32. Re: Creation by Nikki Giovanni

31. Street of Lost Footsteps by Lyonel Trouillot
30. Albert Camus: A Life by Olivier Todd
29. School Days by Patrick Chamoiseau
28. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa
27. Close to Jedenew by Kevin Vennemann
26. Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi
25. The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee
24. Selected Stories by Stefan Zweig
23. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
22. The Long Song by Andrea Levy
21. Nadirs by Herta Müller

20. Listen! Early Poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky
19. A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee
18. Black Judgement by Nikki Giovanni
17. Things Seen by Annie Ernaux
16. Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss
15. Ashes of the Amazon by Milton Hatoum
14. Black Feeling Black Talk by Nikki Giovanni
13. The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuściński
12. The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care by John Dittmer
11. Wondrak and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig (Austria)

10. Moscardino by Enrico Pea (Italy)
9. Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia)
8. Small Island by Andrea Levy (UK)
7. Amok and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig (Austria)
6. The Making of a Tropical Disease: A Short History of Malaria by Randall M. Packard
5. The Word Book by Kanai Mieko (Japan)
4. Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives by Brian Dillon
3. Matigari by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (Kenya)
2. Monsieur Pain by Roberto Bolaño (Chile)
1. Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D.G. Kelley

Categories and completed books in my 1010 challenge:

A. 2009-10 Archipelago Books
1. Moscardino by Enrico Pea
2. Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss
3. White Masks by Elias Khoury
4. Tranquility by Attila Bartis
5. To Mervas by Elisabeth Rynell

B. 2010 Booker Prize longlist and previous winners
1. The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell (1973)
2. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle (1993)
3. Troubles by J.G. Farrell (Lost Man Booker Prize)
4. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (2010 longlist)
5. In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut (2010 longlist)
6. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (2010 longlist)
7. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (2010 longlist)
8. Trespass by Rose Tremain (2010 longlist)
9. Room by Emma Donoghue (2010 longlist)

C. 2010 Orange Prize longlist and previous winners
1. Small Island by Andrea Levy
2. The Long Song by Andrea Levy
3. The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
4. Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed
5. The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini
6. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

D. Medicine, public health and science
1. Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives by Brian Dillon
2. The Making of a Tropical Disease: A Short History of Malaria by Randall M. Packard
3. The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care by John Dittmer
4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
5. A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor by John Berger
6. Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients by Danielle Ofri
7. Quacks: Fakers & Charlatans in Medicine by Roy Porter
8. Closing the Chart: A Dying Physician Examines Family, Faith and Medicine by Steven D. Hsi, MD

E. African-American/African poetry & literature
1. Matigari by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (Kenya)
2. Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia)
3. Black Feeling Black Talk by Nikki Giovanni (US)
4. Black Judgement by Nikki Giovanni
5. Re: Creation by Nikki Giovanni
6. An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah
7. The Women and the Men by Nikki Giovanni
8. Morning Haiku by Nikki Giovanni
9. Bicycles: Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni
10. Dread: Poems by Ai
11. My House by Nikki Giovanni
12. News From Home: Short Stories by Sefi Atta
13. Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote by Ahmadou Kourouma
14. The Water Cure by Percival Everett
15. The Little Peul by Mariama Barry
16. Bellocq's Ophelia: Poems by Natasha Trethewey
17. Street Smarts: Poems by Devorah Major

F. 2010 Author Theme Reads
1. Amok and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig
2. Wondrak and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig
3. Selected Stories by Stefan Zweig
4. Three Novellas by Joseph Roth
5. Twilight & Moonbeam Alley by Stefan Zweig
6. Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki
7. Fear by Stefan Zweig
8. Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki

G. Southern US literature (William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, etc.)
1. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor
2. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
3. Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers
4. The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers
5. The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

H. Asian/Asian-American literature
1. The Word Book by Kanai Mieko (Japan)
2. A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee (India)
3. The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee (US/Korea)
4. Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi (Afghanistan)
5. The Vagrants by Yiyun Li (China)
6. Chef by Jaspreet Singh (India)
7. Touch by Adania Shibli (Palestine)
8. Wild Grass by Lu Xun (China)
9. The Flood by Chiwan Choi (Korean-American)

I. Biographies and Memoirs
1. Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D.G. Kelley
2. The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuściński
3. Albert Camus: A Life by Olivier Todd
4. Dreams in a Time of War by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
5. The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul by Patrick French
6. Change by Mo Yan
7. A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee
8. Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan by Donald Keene

J. Latin-American & Caribbean literature
1. Monsieur Pain by Roberto Bolaño (Chile)
2. Ashes of the Amazon by Milton Hatoum (Brazil)
3. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)
4. School Days by Patrick Chamoiseau (Martinique)
5. Street of Lost Footsteps by Lyonel Trouillot (Haiti)
6. Season of Ash by Jorge Volpi (Mexico)
7. The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes (Mexico)
8. The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Colombia)
9. The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector (Brasil)
10. The Literary Conference by César Aira (Mexico)
11. The Company of Heaven: Stories from Haiti by Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell

May 11, 2010, 9:47am Top

Book #51: Season of Ash by Jorge Volpi (413 pages)

My rating:

Read for the Reading Globally May theme read (Mexico)

Jorge Volpi (1968-) is one of the leading voices in contemporary Mexican literature, having written several novels that have received critical acclaim within and outside of Mexico. His most famous novel is In Search of Klingsor (En busca de Klingsor), the winner of two major international literary awards, which "explores the nexus between science and human nature and how they shaped the world in the aftermath of World War II." He is one of the founders of the 'Crack' literary movement in Mexico, whose members seek to revisit the roots of the Latin American literary boom of the 1960s, and go beyond magical realism and other standard forms which have characterized much of the literature from the region in recent years.

Season of Ash (No será la tierra) was originally published in Spanish in 2006. It was translated into English by Alfred Mac Adam and published by Open Letter Books in 2009.

The novel, which is separated into three acts, begins at the nuclear plant in Chernobyl in 1986, on the day of the disastrous accident. The first act follows this prelude, and we are introduced to the three main characters: Irina, a Soviet biologist; Eva, a Hungarian computer scientist; and Jennifer, an American economist. Each mourn the death of someone dear to them on the next to last day of 2000. The narrator then introduces himself, and tells us that these apparently disparate stories and characters are linked through him, and that one of them will reach a tragic end.

Volpi describes the lives of the main characters and those close to them, through historical fictional accounts of the Soviet Union and Russia from Stalin to Yeltsin, the 1929 stock market crash, financial crises in Zaire, Mexico and Russia, human rights movements in the US and abroad, and other topics. Their stories are told separately but chronologically, in a manner that was very readable, unique and interesting to me.

In the final act, Volpi links the lives of the characters through the narrator, and the novel is transformed into a detective story and a murder mystery. Unfortunately this was where Season of Ash became a major disappointment to me, as the fusion was not a successful one, and the novel ended abruptly and incompletely.

May 11, 2010, 10:28am Top

Book #52: The Pen and the Sword: Conversations with Edward Said by David Barsamian

My rating:

The Pen and the Sword is a compilation of a series of conversations that David Barsamian, a noted author and lecturer, had with Edward Said, the late Palestinian professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, public intellectual, human rights advocate, postcolonial theorist, and acclaimed author. The book was initially published in 1994, and a new edition was released in April 2010.

These conversations took place between 1987 and 1994, and are a fascinating, approachable and essential introduction into Said's thoughts on Palestine and the Occupation, Israel, the 1993 Israeli-PLO accord, postcolonialism, and the role of television, the cinema, and works of fiction and nonfiction by authors such as Camus, Conrad, Bernard Lewis and V.S. Naipaul in shaping the view of the West toward Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and the inhabitants of occupied countries in Africa and Asia. Said discusses two of his most famous books, Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, the failure of Yasir Arafat and the PLO leadership to successfully lobby for Palestinian rights beginning in the 1980s, and the misguided mindset and approach of U.S. foreign policy in achieving peace in the Middle East.

For me, this was a superb introduction to Said; this week I will start his biography Out of Place, which won the New Yorker Award for Nonfiction, and read Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism later this year.

May 11, 2010, 11:54am Top

Following on from the end of your previous thread, I have The Black Jacobins on my shelf and it keeps winking at me - I think it needs to be moved up my TBR list!

And my bus to work takes me past a library named after C. L. R. James which always makes me smile!

May 12, 2010, 7:26am Top

I'd like to read The Black Jacobins as well. I already have one recent biography of L'Ouverture, so it will probably be awhile before I'll get to it--unless you read it and write an enticing review!

I looked up the C.L.R. James library, and found that it is in Hackney. Have you read Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire? One of the 75ers (elkiedee, I think, who also lives in London) read it and loved it, so I'll plan to pick it up on my next trip to the capital (hopefully this year, depending on what happens with the volcano).

May 12, 2010, 8:55am Top

I've read the recent Toussaint Louverture biography by Madison Smartt Bell, but The Black Jacobins sounds fascinating too.

Edited: May 12, 2010, 9:25am Top

I happened to find my copy of Toussaint Louverture: A Biography yesterday, while I was looking for unread books for next month's Reading Globally theme read, on Dictators and Dictatorships. (I didn't find any, so I ordered two from The Book Depository: Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote by Ahmadou Kourouma, and I, the Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos.)

May 12, 2010, 9:17pm Top

#4: Char, has Boris Johnson made good on his pledge to rid Transport for London of its bendy buses? He made a big deal of this when I visited the capital this past summer. Are the new Routemasters on the streets yet?

May 12, 2010, 11:11pm Top

Even though it sounds like you didn't really care for Season of Ash, your review intrigues me, and I think I'm going to try to read it anyway.

Re: the list of candidates for the Independent Foreign Fiction prize on your last thread (winner announced tomorrow), I read Brodeck's Report (my book was titled Brodeck but they are the same books), and I highly recommend it.

Edited: May 13, 2010, 12:17am Top

I enjoyed the first 300-350 pages of Season of Ash, when it was a unique, compelling and well written piece of historical fiction. That portion would have received 4-1/2 stars from me, if that was all that I read. However, Volpi couldn't "stick the landing", IMO, when he tried to bring the characters together into a cohesive detective story and murder mystery, which made it a disappointing read. If he had pulled it off successfully I might have given it 5 stars. It would have been a tough task for anyone to pull off that feat, I think. However, I was sufficiently impressed by the book that I will look for more of his works in the future; a number of his novels haven't been translated into English yet.

BTW, you're the third person who wanted to read it after my mediocre review of it.

I'm curious to find out who will take this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. I'll definitely take a look at Brodeck's Report, especially if it wins the award. I'm even more curious about next week's selection of the winner of the Lost Man Booker Prize; I'm planning to pick up one of the books from the list, The Vivisector by Patrick White, from Borders tomorrow (before my 33% off coupon expires), and I'll receive another one, Troubles by J.G. Farrell from Amazon later this week.

May 13, 2010, 10:55am Top

I've put aside The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes about halfway through. It was a tedious read, written in 1962 about a powerful and corrupt Mexican landowner and congressman, who flashes back in a stream-of-consciousness manner to his past. It was difficult to determine who was speaking, to whom they were speaking, and when the conversation was taking place (1959? 1924? 1919?). In that way in was similar to other novels during the Latin American Boom, such as Conversation in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa, but it wasn't nearly as interesting to me.

Call me crazy, but I think I'll start another book by Carlos Fuentes, The Crystal Frontier, a novel of nine stories that was written in 1996.

Edited: May 13, 2010, 2:54pm Top

>5 kidzdoc:, yes, I've got Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire but haven't read it yet. I live very near to Hackney so I'm hoping that it might touch on my locality too!

>8 kidzdoc:, Boris hasn't killed off all the bendy buses yet., apparently they will all be gone by 2011. He did make a big fuss about getting rid of them - it's the only visible impact that his administration has had on the city! New Routemasters will come in in 2012, just in time for the Olympics I guess.

May 13, 2010, 5:58pm Top

According to BBC News, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize was awarded to the French writer Philippe Claudel for his novel Brodeck's Report:

Philippe Claudel wins foreign fiction award

May 13, 2010, 6:21pm Top

Brodeck's Report is available in the US, as Brodeck. It's a novel that takes place after WW2 in a village on the Franco-German border; according to a review in the Guardian last year, "{u}ncertainty is a major theme of Claudel's novel, which is both fable-like and documentary in style. While it is concerned with difference and intolerance as abstract, universal themes, Brodeck's Report is also a historical novel about a camp survivor (Brodeck) and the effect of Nazism on a specific place, assumed to be a German dialect-speaking part of Alsace Lorraine."

On the edge of the unknown: Giles Foden enjoys filling in the gaps of an excellent French novel about difference and intolerance

May 13, 2010, 7:07pm Top

Brodeck will be available in a paperback edition from Barnes and Noble dot com on July 13.


Edited: May 13, 2010, 7:42pm Top

Thanks, Robert. I think I'll pick it up then.

May 14, 2010, 9:17am Top

#13/14 - Thanks for posting. There is a nice review of Brodeck's Report on LT by user hmshankman.

Edited: May 14, 2010, 9:48am Top

#17: You're welcome, Dan. Thanks for pointing me to hmshankman's review; arubabookwoman wrote a review of the book earlier this month.

There is an excellent article about the book and author in today's Independent, as well. Claudel is also an award-winning film director, as well as a screenwriter and university professor. He has written 14 novels, including Grey Souls (apparently titled By a Slow River in the US; ???), the only other novel of his to be translated into English, which won the Prix Renaudot, a major French literary award, in 2003.

Philippe Claudel wins Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

May 14, 2010, 9:47am Top

I saw an interesting piece on The NewsHour on PBS on Wednesday, about a book titled The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, which I'm also planning to get soon. This is from the author's Facebook page:

In December 2000, the Baltimore Sun ran a small piece about Wes Moore, a local student who had just received a Rhodes Scholarship. The same paper also ran a series of articles about four young men who had allegedly killed a police officer in a spectacularly botched armed robbery. The police were still hunting for two of the suspects who had gone on the lam, a pair of brothers. One was named Wes Moore.

Wes just couldn’t shake off the unsettling coincidence, or the inkling that the two shared much more than space in the same newspaper. After following the story of the robbery, the manhunt, and the trial to its conclusion, he wrote a letter to the other Wes, now a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. His letter tentatively asked the questions that had been haunting him: Who are you? How did this happen?

That letter led to a correspondence and relationship that have lasted for several years. Over dozens of letters and prison visits, Wes discovered that the other Wes had had a life not unlike his own: Both had grown up in similar neighborhoods and had had difficult childhoods, both were fatherless; they’d hung out on similar corners with similar crews, and both had run into trouble with the police. At each stage of their young lives they had come across similar moments of decision, yet their choices would lead them to astonishingly different destinies.

Told in alternating dramatic narratives that take readers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of surprising redemption, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world.

This is a link to the NewsHour story, including the video and its transcript:

Author Wes Moore's Book Explores His Own Alternate Reality

May 14, 2010, 10:15am Top

#18 - oh no, has arubabookwoman moves exclusively over the the 75ers - I'll never be able to keep up with her there.

May 14, 2010, 11:14am Top

The Other Wes Moore sounds fascinating. That one's going on my wishlist.

May 15, 2010, 8:11am Top

The shortlist for this year's James Tait Black Memorial Awards, the oldest and one of the most prestigious literary awards, was announced yesterday:

The five shortlisted works for the £10,000 fiction prize are:

* Strangers by Anita Brookner
* The Children’s Book by A.S Byatt
* Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro
* The Selected Works of T.S Spivet by Reif Larsen
* Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

The five books competing for the £10,000 biography prize are:

* Cheever: A life by Blake Bailey
* William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies by John Carey
* Muriel Spark: The Biography by Martin Stannard
* A Different Drummer: The Life of Kenneth MacMillan by Jann Parry
* The English Opium Eater: A Biography of Thomas De Quincey by Robert Morrison

More info: Book prize shortlist revealed

May 16, 2010, 9:30pm Top

I've just listened to an interesting edition of the Guardian Books Podcast from last month, which features interviews of Damon Galgut, a South African author who I want to become more familiar with, and Helen Simpson, who read from their latest books, In a Strange Room and In Flight Entertainment, respectively, and discussions of the London Book Fair, which focused on authors from South Africa, and the Orange Prize shortlist.

Damon Galgut, Helen Simpson, the London Book Fair and the Orange prize

The conversation between Damon Galgut and Claire Armitstead, the literary editor of the Guardian, was particularly interesting. The book is a "novel" in three parts, separate episodes in the life of the narrator, who is the author. The episodes were published separately in the Paris Review (Summer 05, Winter 08, Summer 09); I have all three issues, so I actually "own" this book. I'll add it to my library, and read and review it this coming week.

May 19, 2010, 4:30pm Top

Troubles by J.G. Farrell was announced as the winner of the Lost Man Booker Prize today, which was awarded for the best novel of 1970:

Troubles wins Lost Man Booker Prize

May 19, 2010, 6:23pm Top

Yes!! For once the prize-givers agree with me!

May 19, 2010, 6:31pm Top

I ordered Troubles from Amazon just after I posted the winner, as it isn't available here locally. I bought The Vivisector, another of the finalists, on Monday, which also looks very good (although the cover of the US edition is grisly). I'd be interested to know if anyone has read any of the other books on the shortlist.

May 20, 2010, 10:10am Top

The Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize is an annual award of £10,000 for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place. It is awarded by The Royal Society of Literature, which was founded by King George IV in 1820, to ‘reward literary merit and excite literary talent’.

The shortlist was announced in today's Guardian:

Madeleine Bunting: The Plot (Granta)
William Fiennes: The Music Room (Picador)
Daniyal Mueenuddin: In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (Bloomsbury)
Kachi A. Ozumba: The Shadow of a Smile (Alma Books)
Iain Sinclair: Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire (Hamish Hamilton)
Ian Thomson: The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica (Faber)

The winner will be announced on May 24th.

I have the Mueenuddin, and the Sinclair is high on my wish list (I almost ordered it from The Book Depository last week, but I'll wait until I go back to London this year to purchase it). All of the others are quite interesting; the Guardian article briefly describes each book.

Ondaatje prize shortlist wanders from Pakistan to Hackney

Edited: May 20, 2010, 5:59pm Top

I received two books from The Book Depository today:

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell: A love story between a Dutch book-keeper and a Japanese woman, set in 18th century Japan, which has received glowing reviews in the UK (and here on LT) and seems very likely to be selected for the 2010 Booker Prize longlist, based on comments on the 2010 Man Booker Prize Speculation Thread.

Beirut39: New Writing from the Arab World: A newly published collection of pieces from 39 Arab writers, all aged 39 or under. Ceri (cerievans) mentioned this book in her recent Belletrista article about last month's International PEN "Free the Word!" Festival in London, and Akeela described the 2009 Beirut39 festival in Lebanon in her article in issue 3 of Belletrista last year.

May 21, 2010, 11:21pm Top

The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Colombia)

My rating: (4.2/5.0)

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist (2009)
Warwick Prize for Writing longlist (2009)
IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize longlist (2010)

In 1988 the Colombian journalist Gabriel Santoro published his first book, a biography of Sara Guterman, a longtime family friend of Jewish descent who fled Nazi Germany along with her parents in the mid 1930s. He is surprised to read a scathing review of the book in a national newspaper, which demeans both the book and its author. However, the most shocking revelation is that the anonymous author of this review is his father, Gabriel Sr., a respected law professor in Bogotá, who refuses to reveal his motivations for writing this review.

Gabriel Jr. turns to Sara, and he discovers a forgotten and hidden history of the Colombian government's treatment of its citizens and visitors of German, Italian and Japanese descent during World War II. Sara's family owns a hotel that caters to Europeans, particularly Germans, who are divided between Nazi sympathizers, Jewish emigres, and opponents of National Socialism. Colombian citizens are encouraged to report Germans who are suspected of supporting their government, and hundreds were blacklisted and stripped of their livelihood and wealth, often based on hearsay and personal vendettas.

As Gabriel learns more about these blacklists and the effect a treacherous act had upon his father and Sara, we are treated to a rich history about mid-20th century Colombian society and the effect that World War II had upon its citizens, which continue to affect the country today.

The Informers is a well constructed novel, as Vásquez, through Gabriel Jr., methodically peels away layers of his family's and country's history to uncover harsh and unflattering truths. All of the major characters are memorable and well drawn, and the narration is deliberate but compelling. I definitely recommend this novel, and I look forward to his next one, The Secret History of Costaguana, which will be published in the UK next month.

May 21, 2010, 11:52pm Top

kidzdoc - I haven't heard of this one before. Great review, it's going on the wishlist.

Edited: May 21, 2010, 11:55pm Top

Oops, double-post...

May 22, 2010, 12:06am Top

Thanks, Dan. I heard about it last year, after it made the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist. It's available in the US, but the cover is different than the one I posted above (I bought my copy from The Book Depository).

May 22, 2010, 7:44am Top

Thanks for the review, Darryl. My limited knowledge of Colombian history is of the earlier era covered in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, a period of almost continuous civil wars. The World War II era should be an interesting bridge between that past and the present.

May 22, 2010, 8:04am Top

You're welcome, Rebecca. It was interesting to learn about that portion of Colombian history; like you, my knowledge was limited to the period covered in Living to Tell the Tale. Vásquez briefly mentions the 1948 assassination of Jorge Gaitán, a populist leader who would likely have become president that year. The resulting riots in Bogotá over the next day led to the deaths of 3,000 to 5,000 people, nearly destroyed the city, and marked the beginning of La Violencia, a prolonged conflict between Liberal Party and Conservative Party members that led to the deaths of as many as 200,000 over the next 15 years. I'm definitely eager to learn more about La Violencia, and I'll look for any books that cover this period.

I found this description of Vásquez's latest book from the Bloomsbury web site:

London, 1903. Joseph Conrad is struggling with his new novel (‘I am placing it in South America in a Republic I call Costaguana’). Progress is slow and the great writer needs help from a native of the Caribbean coast of South America. José Altamirano, Colombian at birth, just arrived in London answers the great writer’s advertisement and tells him his life story. José has been witness to the most horrible things that a person or a country could suffer, and drags with him not just a guilty conscience but a story that has almost destroyed him.

But when Nostromo is published the following year José is outraged by what he reads: ‘You’ve eliminated me from my own life. You, Joseph Conrad, have robbed me.’ I waved the Weekly in the air again, and then threw it down on his desk. ‘Here,’ I whispered, my back to the thief, ‘I do not exist.’

The Secret History of Costaguana, the second novel by Juan Gabriel Vásquez to be published in English, is José Altamirano’s riposte to Joseph Conrad. It is a big novel, tragic and despairing, comic and insightful by turns, told by a bumptious narrator with a score to settle. It is Latin America’s post-modern answer to Europe’s modernist vision. It is a superb, joyful, thoughtful and rumbustious novel that will establish Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s reputation as one of the leading novelists of his generation.

May 22, 2010, 9:14am Top

Fear by Stefan Zweig

My rating: (4.3/5.0)

Irene is a young and attractive woman of the cultured class in early 20th century Vienna, whose husband is a successful and respected trial lawyer. Irene is materially content but bored, as servants care for her children and govern the house, and she spends her days in the company of her all too similar friends. She is lured into an affair with a promising young pianist, which gives her life spark and an alternative sense of purpose.

As she leaves her lover's apartment one day, Irene is accosted by a raffish woman, who accuses her of stealing her man. The woman threatens and bullies her, and Irene gives her all the money she has, to avoid a public scene. She attempts to hide indoors for several days to escape the mysterious woman, but the shock and concern of her husband, children and servants cause her to become more claustrophobic and distraught. Irene experiences a brief sense of relief, believing that the woman does not know who she is or where she lives, until she turns up outside of Irene's building, demanding even more money.

At that point Irene's world begins to simultaneously crumble and shrink, as she knows that disclosure of her affair would lead to ruin for her husband's career and end her life of comfort. As the woman's demands become more frequent and as her family becomes more suspicious of her unusual behavior, Irene devises a plan to escape her tormentor, for good.

Fear is a gripping psychological thriller, which left me short of breath and on the edge of my chair, as Zweig masterfully portrays Irene's increasing despair and irrationality. Highly recommended!

May 24, 2010, 3:21pm Top

29 - Great review. I'm putting it on my wishlist as well.

Edited: May 25, 2010, 12:15am Top

I apologize in advance for this lengthy, but hopefully coherent, review!

Book #57: The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell

My rating: (4.8/5.0)

The Siege of Krishnapur is the second novel in Farrell's Empire Trilogy, which was awarded the Booker Prize in 1973. The book is based in part on written accounts of the Siege of Lucknow, which occurred during the First War of Indian Independence, also known as the Indian Mutiny, of 1857. During that period India was governed by the East India Company, a British company not affiliated with the British Crown, which mainly engaged in trade with India and China, including the forceful trade of opium with China that led to the two Opium Wars between the United Kingdom and China.

The novel begins in Krishnapur, a fictional town based on the northern Indian town of Lucknow, in Utter Pradesh. The Company governs the country ruthlessly and with little regard for the "natives", and employs an army of sepoys, Indian soldiers that help to maintain the status quo. The sepoys are poorly paid and maltreated, with little regard to their customs and beliefs, and they eventually rebel against their British masters, which begins with the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed British civilians in a neighboring town. Word quickly reaches Krishnapur, but the leadership, run by a doddering and marginally competent general, initially downplays the seriousness of this situation. In a short time the rebellion reaches Krishnapur; the British citizens flee to the apparent safety of the Residency, the compound that serves as the seat of local government, which is run by the Collector and the Magistrate.

The mutineers attack the Residency in successive but ill-timed waves, which are repelled by the Brits with increasing difficulty. Months pass by, with no relief from army units in neighboring and the occupants of the Residency slowly succumb to musket fire, cholera and other illnesses, starvation, and incompetent medical care. The survivors begin to lose hope, as their food supplies and ammunition dwindle away while the sepoys prepare for a final assault on the Residency.

This sounds like a grim tale, but Farrell spins a tale of comic genius and biting satire. The narration is simply divine, with some of the most beautifully crafted sentences and richest descriptions that I've ever read. The book is laugh out loud funny throughout, as Farrell portrays the Brits as clueless but lovable dumb asses, who are petty, selfish and all too human. A typical passage describes Vokins, the manservant to the Collector, as he tells his master about the advance of the mutineers in town:

The trouble was that Vokins, as he made his solemn journeys from the door to the Collector's ear, did not understand that many of these messages were redundant (for, after all, once a cantonment has been set alight the number of bungalows blazing, more or less, is a matter of relative indifference). Vokins thought they were cumulative and progressive. Vokins lacked the broader view. He tended only to see the prospect of the Death of Vokins. Although some of the Collector's guests might have been hard put to it to think of what a man of Vokins's class had to lose, to Vokins it was very clear what he had to lose: namely his life. He was not at all anxious to leave his skin on the Indian plains; he wanted to take it back to the slums of Soho or whereever it came from.

Farrell also weaves several topics within the novel, including the role of science and religion in Western society, the purpose and responsibilities of colonists toward their Indian subjects, mid-19th century medicine, including the pathogenesis and proper treatment of cholera and other illnesses that affect the besieged colonists, and the role of women in British society. The biggest flaw in the book, which Farrell acknowledged after he wrote it, is that the Indians are almost invisible in this novel. Only one Indian is portrayed in any detail, the Anglophilic son of the Maharajah, who plays only a minor role. However, as I mentioned about a book that I read last year, the highest praise I can give The Siege of Krishnapur is that I wouldn't mind reading it again right away, and I'm sure that I will in the very near future — after I read Troubles and The Singapore Grip, the other novels in the Empire Trilogy.

May 25, 2010, 8:04am Top

Great review of The Siege of Krishnapur. I love Farrell's wicked sense of humor. As for not including Indian character, I do think all the books in the empire trilogy are meant to be primarily about the colonizers, how they (mostly cluelessly) understand the country and the people they are colonizing, and how being the colonial rulers affects them.

May 30, 2010, 7:17pm Top

Book #61: News from Home: Short Stories by Sefi Atta

My rating: (4.2/5.0)

This is a very good collection of 10 short stories and one novella about contemporary Nigeria and its people, within the country and in the US and UK, which won the NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa in 2009. My review will appear in issue 6 of Belletrista.

May 30, 2010, 7:37pm Top

>39 kidzdoc:, looking forward to reading your review! I enjoyed Everything Good Will Come by Atta.

Jun 6, 2010, 12:29am Top

Hello to Londoners with children: a good friend of mine, who is a pediatrician in Portland, has a friend whose family will be on sabbatical in London later this year. Her friend's child has a medical condition, and they will need to see a pediatrician for follow up while they are there. I suggested the international center at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in Bloomsbury; do any of you have other ideas?

Jun 6, 2010, 1:57am Top

Book #63: Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients by Danielle Ofri

My rating: (4.7/5.0)

Danielle Ofri is a professor of internal medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, the author of two other books about medicine, Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue and Incidental Findings: Lessons from My Patients in the Art of Medicine, and the editor-in-chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, "a unique literary magazine that examines human existence through the prism of health and healing, illness and disease."

In Medicine in Translation, Ofri shares her encounters with several of her patients that have come from other countries and had the greatest impact on her. Some come from her weekly half day clinic at Bellevue Hospital for members of the Survivors of Torture Program, including the university student from Nigeria whose story opens and closes the book. Other patients come from her regular clinic, residents' clinic, or from her months spent on the inpatient medicine service at Bellevue. Many of these patients speak little or no English, but language is but one of the barriers that must be overcome to provide effective doctor-patient communication and adequate medical care, which Ofri describes throughout the book.

Many of her patients are Spanish speaking, and Ofri has some familiarity with the language. However, she realizes that she is not fluent, and that this may actually be harmful to her patients:

I sweated over my Spanish—beginning in my internship year with a one-week crash course in Guatemala—knowing that I needed it for survival, knowing that it was unlikely that I'd ever navigate it smoothly. By now I'd reached a precarious middle ground in which I spoke well enough to carry on a conversation, well enough for my Hispanic patients to assume they could talk to me in Spanish. But I lacked the agility to field unexpected linguistic turns. What I could say, I could say well—but beyond the circumscribed field of comfort, I was at a loss. I had a fluency, but I was not fluent, and that could be a dangerous state of affairs.

This quote hit home for me, as a nonfluent Spanish speaking physician, as did her quote about the differences between inpatient medicine and practice in the clinic setting:

Inpatient medicine had a different rhythm than outpatient medicine. On the surface, it was more active—sicker patients, acute illnesses, rounding on patients spread throughout the hospital, going up and down the elevators to the ER, to radiology, to the prison ward. But strangely enough, it felt less discombobulating than the clinic. Clinic, with its ostensibly less ill patients, was traditionally considered to be the milder of milieus; in fact, it was an open-ended maelstrom of ceaseless patients, desultory and scattershot clinical conundrums, never-ending time crunches, plus chaotic scheduling that led to a different medley of interns and residents each day whose names I could never hope to muster.

Because of her desire to become more fluent in Spanish, Ofri decides to take a one year leave from medicine to move to Costa Rica with her husband and two young sons. Her often hilarious and touching account of this time comprises the second section of the book. In the third portion, she returns to her post at NYU/Bellevue, and we meet the same patients that she described earlier, along with several new ones. Their stories are powerful, and their perseverance and ability to juggle the demands of chronic illness in the face of a large and often unfriendly and unforgiving health care system in an unfamiliar country and language is inspiring yet nearly impossible to comprehend.

Medicine in Translation is an excellent book about the challenges of multicultural medicine and the lives of struggling immigrants in the United States. The book is written for the lay reader, but medical practitioners can also enjoy and learn from Dr. Ofri's sensitive accounts of her own successes and shortcomings as a clinician.

Jun 6, 2010, 4:05am Top

>41 kidzdoc:, GOSH would be my suggestion. If the child has an eye condition, Moorfields Eye Hospital has an excellent children's unit.

Jun 6, 2010, 7:13am Top

That's an interesting topic, Darryl. I assumed that Bellevue, like several other NYC hospitals, keeps a list of staff members who can translate different languages since we have so many (some say more than 170) languages spoken here -- of course some are more common than others. But even with translators available, I am sure there are the problems of cultural differences and not understanding what lies beneath the words. You've read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, right?

Jun 6, 2010, 8:07am Top

I would have thought the same thing, Rebecca, but that isn't the case. Ofri generally used a telephone translation service to communicate with her clinic patients, even for commonly spoken languages like Mandarin, Haitian French (Creole), and even Spanish, which I found surprising.

One patient she described in the book was a Tibetan man who was protesting the Chinese government's treatment of its people by conducting a hunger strike. He was visiting the UN (which, as you know, is very close to NYU Medical Center) with a group of fellow protesters, but became separated from them. He was in a weakened state, collapsed, and was brought to the Bellevue ER. Ofri's team was assigned to admit him; however, he was combative and refused to comply with medical treatment, as he ripped out a PIV (peripheral intravenous) line that was placed in the ED. He was brought to one of the inpatient ward by an orderly, and as Ofri's team was accompanying the patient, the orderly just happened to mention a PCT (patient care technician) who was from Tibet and worked on the pediatrics ward. Ofri had one of her medical students go there; as luck would have it, the PCT was there. She was able to talk with her countryman, and she gently encouraged him to let the team take care of him.

Needless to say, the hospital I work at doesn't have anywhere near the diverse patient population that NYU does, but we do have a large Latino population (maybe a quarter to a third of our inpatients), and I'll encounter a non-English, non-Spanish family at least once or twice a month. We have a sizable staff of Spanish language translators, and use Pacific Interpreters, a telephone service, to talk with families who speak other languages. We see a small number of non-English speaking families from India, Brazil, Vietnam, China and Japan, but the most troublesome set of languages for us are those of the Indians from Guatemala, including Kanjobal and Mam, which are quite dissimilar to Spanish. If we're lucky, Pacific Interpreters will happen to have a speaker available or someone in the family, usually a father that has to communicate with coworkers, can also speak Spanish.

You are also correct in mentioning that language isn't the only barrier in communicating with families from different countries. Cultural beliefs, including the use of home remedies and medical practitioners from the families' country of origin, often come into play, but rarely do they impact what we do.

I have read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down; it's one of my all-time favorite nonfiction books, one I often recommend to the medical students, residents, and physician assistant students that rotate on our service, and I'll read it again this month. The chief medical officer of Children's had asked me to look at Medicine in Translation, and to think about presenting it at an upcoming journal club about multicultural medicine. Both books are excellent, but Fadiman was able to delve into the Hmong culture and Lia's family, in addition to giving the side of the medical and nonclinical staff that interacted with Lia's family. The reason I decided to give Ofri's book "only" 4-1/2 stars was that it didn't quite reach the level of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

Jun 6, 2010, 8:53am Top

Book #64: 64. Selected Crônicas by Clarice Lispector

My rating: (3.5/5.0)

This is a series of essays, observations, and stories that Lispector, described as "the premier Latin American prose writer of {the 20th} century", wrote for the newspaper Jornal do Brasil from 1967 to 1973. The stories vary widely in length, and the longer and more personal chronicles are far better than the one or two paragraph fragments. All are well written, but many of them didn't resonate with me, which made me wonder if something was lost in the translation from the Portuguese.

One of the better short chronicles is "Searching":

A cat did so much wailing during the night that I have rarely felt such compassion for the living. It sounded like grief, and in human and animal terms that it what it was. But could it have been sorrow, or was it 'searching', that is to say 'searching for'? For everything alive is searching for something or someone.

This is a mildly interesting but not strongly recommended read.

Jun 6, 2010, 9:39am Top

All of that is very interesting, Darryl. Thank you. One of the things I especially liked about The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down was that Fadiman was able to understand the perspectives both of the Hmong family and of the medical professionals, and to be compassionate about both. It may not be "fair" to judge both books by the same standards, though, because Ofri is professionally a doctor, while Fadiman is professionally a writer.

That is also particularly interesting about the Guatemalan Indian languages, as I am interested in languages generally and there has been lot written about languages that are "lost" or becoming lost because so few people speak them any more (and since, in many cases, they were only oral languages, so there is no written record to survive the last speaker). Here is a recent New York Times article which talks about this, including the Endangered Language Alliance, as well as a column about the least spoken languages in NYC, which include many Native American languages.

Jun 6, 2010, 10:46am Top

You're welcome, Rebecca! Good points about the comparison between Ofri and Fadiman, and their books; I agree with you, and I may give the Ofri that extra half star eventually. I think you and many others interested in culture and language would also like the book.

Thanks for sharing that NYT article. Oh, I need to look at the NYT blog, as well. I've learned that many recent immigrants to Atlanta live in little pockets of the metro area with others who are from the same state of their country of origin, and sometimes even from the same isolated villages. We take care of a sizable number of babies and young kids with rare disorders whose parents are often first or second cousins, some of which are autosomal recessive conditions that result from two parents that come from the same gene pool, who each pass on one "bad" gene to their affected children. The most striking recent example was a family from El Salvador whose young daughter was hospitalized on our service. She was a dwarf, and it was interesting to see that her relatives on both sides were mixed almost equally between dwarves and people of normal height. I think that Emory is studying their family closely, as they are not the usual achondroplastic dwarves that we're familiar with; those are the ones you'll see as actors in different television shows or movies, such as "Fantasy Island" and "Austin Powers".

Jun 6, 2010, 11:22am Top

You'll probably think all I read is the New York Times, and I know you read it too, but on the subject of inherited family conditions and Latin America, this article on a family in Colombia that suffers from early-onset Alzheimer's appeared in the Times this week.

People from the same local areas and even villages often immigrate to the same areas. This was true for eastern European Jews at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century and it is true for people from particular regions of China and Mexico and other areas to New York City today, so I'm not surprised that it's true in Atlanta too.

Jun 6, 2010, 11:43am Top

Ha ha! No, I would call you a faithful NYT reader, but I know that you read far more than that. :-)

I've read the NYT on a regular basis since my last year or two of high school (1978 graduate), and I've been a daily subscriber since I finished residency 10 years ago, although I've read the Sunday NYT since the mid 70s. I seem to be reading it less often, though, and the articles are less compelling and interesting than in the past. I'm not sure if that's because the paper has changed (somewhat for the worse), or because I've changed, both, or for other reasons. The paper, especially the Sunday national edition, seems to be about a third or a half of the size it used to be, while being three times more expensive (actually more than that; the Sunday paper is $6.00, and I think I remember paying as little as $1.50 for it in the past, maybe less than that). Reading the Sunday NYT used to be an all day event, now I can whip through all but the Week in Review, the Book section and possibly the Magazine in about an hour.

Thanks for reminding me about that article; I'll probably read it overnight tonight, as I'm working the night shift (8 pm Sun to 8 am Mon).

You're right, it makes perfect sense for people to migrate to areas where there are people most like themselves, and to marry and/or have kids with others of the same culture and language. It is tragic to hear about the stories of some of the families who have kids with these recessive and often fatal genetic disorders; several of them I've met have had other children in their home country who probably had the same condition, and died there, and they are now faced with watching the same thing happen again to a second or even third child. Although I didn't finish it, it seems as though the NYT article about the Colombian family is similar, but much worse.

Jun 6, 2010, 11:49am Top

I have this thread starred now Darryl and am glad you mentioned it. Great discussion between you and Rebecca about medicine and immigrant populations. I also love hearing the references to NYC. (I used to live in the NY-metro area and work in the city.)

Jun 6, 2010, 11:51am Top

I had meant to post this yesterday, but forgot to do so:

Next week's issue of The New Yorker is the summer fiction issue, which includes a list of "20 writers under 40" that the editors think we'll be reading for years to come. The authors are:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32

Chris Adrian, 39

Daniel Alarcón, 33

David Bezmozgis, 37

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38

Joshua Ferris, 35

Jonathan Safran Foer, 33

Nell Freudenberger, 35

Rivka Galchen, 34

Nicole Krauss, 35

Dinaw Mengestu, 31

Philipp Meyer, 36

C E Morgan, 33

Téa Obreht, 24

Yiyun Li, 37

ZZ Packer, 37

Karen Russell, 28

Salvatore Scibona, 35

Gary Shteyngart, 37

Wells Tower, 37

I've read books by Adichie, Adrian, Alarcón, Mengestu, and Packer, and own books by Foer, Li and Shteyngart. The list is equally split between men and women (10 each), and is "restricted to writers who are from or based in North America."

Guardian: New Yorker unveils '20 under 40' young writers list

New York Times: 20 Young Writers Earn the Envy of Many Others

Jun 6, 2010, 11:57am Top

Welcome, Pat! I'm originally from Jersey City, and my family moved to Bucks County, PA in 1974, when I was 13. My maternal grandparents lived in the Bronx when they were alive, so I spent good portions of my summers there until they died in the late 1960s. I worked in a research lab and went to grad school briefly at the NYU School of Medicine (1st Ave between 30th & 34th Streets) for four years before I went to med school in 1993. Most of my family outside of my parents and brother live in North Jersey, and I still keep in touch with friends from NYU and visit the city at least 3-4 times per year. So, I'm definitely not a New Yorker, but I have strong ties to and a great affection for the city.

Jun 6, 2010, 1:27pm Top

Hi Darryl. I grew up on Long Island and started working in the city after college (first at the Morgan Library and then at a bank next to the NYPL at 40th and 5th, which is now HSBC). I lived in Jersey City for 8 years before marrying my husband and moving into the city. We eventually ended up in Westchester when we decided we wanted a house. That accounts for about 50 years of my life so I also have a great affection for the city although I don't get back there that often anymore. Glad to know some of your background because reading some of your posts I sometimes forget you live in Atlanta because you mention NYC so often. Now I know why!

Jun 6, 2010, 5:30pm Top

#50 I seem to be reading it less often, though, and the articles are less compelling and interesting than in the past. I'm not sure if that's because the paper has changed (somewhat for the worse), or because I've changed, both, or for other reasons.

I'm with you 100% on this one. When I started reading the Times in college (special student subscription rates), I read it from beginning to end. And though I didn't subscribe when I started working, I bought it every day and turned every page, even if I didn't read every article. Now I've been subscribing for many years.

But now I skip huge numbers of articles and the papers often pile up from day to day. I try to read the articles that have more or different information than what I would get on TV or the internet.

In my opinion, the Times started going downhill when it started having all those separate sections (making it harder to read on the subway), which went hand-in-hand with trying to make it a national newspaper. Back in the old days . . . there were two sections: the first section which had international and national news and the editorials, and the second section which had New York metropolitan news, arts, the sports, and business. Now, it's true that I like the cooking and science sections, but on most days there are just too many sections to handle easily.

And, not that this has been as much of a problem recently, because unfortunately there's been a lot of "real" news, but there has been a big trend towards non-news, i.e., features, on the front page. In fact, on one noteworthy day, every single article on the front page was a feature not a news item.

OK, off of soapbox.

Jun 6, 2010, 5:53pm Top

*jumping on Rebecca's soapbox*

But now I skip huge numbers of articles and the papers often pile up from day to day. I try to read the articles that have more or different information than what I would get on TV or the internet.

Same here. In the past I would run out to pick up the paper before doing anything else, and would travel for as long as it took to find the paper if I didn't get it early Sunday morning. Now I definitely look for it, but it is no longer a 100% essential part of my Sundays. (I haven't touched today's paper yet, but I will bring it with me to work tonight.)

Now that you mention it, I do remember the change from the two section Monday-Saturday format, although I didn't at first. (When did that happen? I would guess the early to mid 1980s, but that was a time when I wasn't reading it every day.) It was rare that more than one or two articles on the front page held no interest for me, but I'd say that this happens at least once every week or two. (Fortunately this isn't one of those days, as all five articles look interesting to me.) Despite its decline, I still think it's the best newspaper in the US, although the Monday-Saturday Guardian, and its sister the Sunday Observer, is the best daily paper I've read.

Jun 6, 2010, 10:57pm Top

Thanks for the mention of this week's New Yorker. I'll have to pick up a copy tomorrow.

Jun 8, 2010, 5:29am Top

As if 75 in 2010 isn't keeping me busy enough, I find lots of you are having interesting conversations over here as well, plus there are several people who aren't on 75 (hi charbutton and avaland - charbutton, I also live near Hackney though I'm guessing you're near a different border as I'm north (east) London - to the north of Hackney - and your profile says east London.

I think bendy buses were taken out of service in some areas of South/west London first. We didn't vote for Boris in most of north and east London, and we're at the back of the queue. I hate bendy buses. His other transport policies though are not great - cutting the time pedestrians have to cross at pelican crossings (which already isn't much, especially when you generally have to wait for selfish drivers to ignore the fact the lights have changed, or to make sure that they don't do it anyway). He's also increased all the fares - buses have gone up by 30% since 2007 as have overground trains (the tube is a bit less) - and we don't have a transfer system here so if your journey involves changing buses/modes of transport it really starts to add up.

I will try to post on topic in future.

Jun 8, 2010, 9:23am Top

#58: Good to see you here, Luci. Thanks for those interesting comments about TfL, and for adding to my British vocabulary (pelican crossing, which I looked up on Wikipedia).

I was the one who asked Char about the bendy buses, so you did post on topic. However, anything about London and the UK interests me, as you can probably tell.

Jun 9, 2010, 11:34am Top

47 - Very interesting article. I have planned for years to learn Cajun French and never get around to it. This gave me another little push.

Jun 10, 2010, 8:44am Top

Just catching up on your thread, kidzdoc (and there is much to catch up on). I also bought the Wes Moore book after hearing the NPR interview. I"m looking forward to reading it.

I see you have read two Lispector's, did you get to read rachbxl's article on her books in Belletrista? It is really interesting.

Jun 10, 2010, 9:04am Top

No, I haven't read her article yet; thanks for the reminder! I'm off for the next week, so I'll read the current issue, and hopefully finish 4-6 books in that time.

Jun 10, 2010, 10:21am Top

The Franco-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf was selected as the winner of the 2010 Prince of Asturias Award for Letters in Oveido, Spain yesterday. According to the web site, the award is "bestowed upon the person, institution, group of people or group of institutions whose work or research constitutes a significant contribution to universal culture in the field of Literature or Linguistics."

The jury announced that it chose Maalouf, as his body of work, "through historical fiction and theoretical reflection, has managed to lucidly address the complexity of the human condition.

"Using intense, suggestive language, Maalouf places us in the grand Mediterranean mosaic of languages, cultures and religions to construct a symbolic space for meeting and understanding.

"Contrary to desperation, resignation or victimism, his work traces a path of its own towards tolerance and reconciliation, a bridge that extends deeply into the shared roots of peoples and cultures."

According to Wikipedia, "Maalouf's novels are marked by his experiences of civil war and migration. Their characters are itinerant voyagers between lands, languages, and religions." His major works include Leo Africanus, The Rock of Tanios, the 1993 Prix Goncourt winner, and Origins: A Memoir.

Previous winners of the award include Ismail Kadaré (2009), Margaret Atwood (2008), and Amos Oz (2007).

Amin Maalouf, 2010 Prince of Asturias Award for Letters

Jun 10, 2010, 10:23am Top

Interesting. I read Leo Africanus many years ago, and recall that I liked it, but don't remember much more about it.

Jun 10, 2010, 10:29am Top

I haven't read anything by Maalouf yet, but I do own Leo Africanus and Origins: A Memoir. Someone on LT (avaland? deebee? rachbxl?) had recommended Leo Africanus to me last year or earlier this year, which is how I originally learned about him. I'll add Origins: A Memoir to the list of biographies I plan to read this year, although I probably won't get to it until the fall, at the earliest.

Jun 10, 2010, 1:54pm Top

Edited: Jun 11, 2010, 6:17am Top

darryl, i read Leo Africanus earlier this year but didn't post a review of it or a recommendation. i do remember mentioning on a thread somewhere that i was reading it.

didn't like the book as much as i expected to - it was interesting enough for the first 50 pages or so but after that his story became a confusion of travels, adventure, tragedies with not much context to them (Maalouf does not provide it and it is a drawback to the reader unless one is familiar with the events in North Africa and Italy in the 16th cent, which I'm not). i also think that the narrative style does not quite live up to the scope and ambition that Maalouf was trying to attempt.

looking forward to what you think of Naipaul's biography. this is one book i'd like to get my hands on!

Jun 11, 2010, 11:11am Top

Today's Independent, a London daily paper, has a great article by Boyd Tonkin that lists nearly 30 notable recent works of global literature:

Books to light up lazy days: Boyd Tonkin picks the best in glittering global literature

This list includes my current read, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, which I should finish this afternoon; it's been fantastic so far! I already own three other books from this list, and I was thrilled to see a new novel by Roma Tearne, whose previous novel Brixton Beach was one of my favorite reads of last year. The new book is The Swimmer, and Tonkin provides a brief description of it:

Broodingly atmospheric, this novel anchored in one sharply etched corner of England shows now close the near and far can come. On the Suffolk coast, a lonely woman's life is shaken from its course by an encounter with a refugee from Sri Lanka. While, in its different women's lives, the plot digs into grief and solitude, the ordeal of Ben yokes local cares to global woes. Without a hint of preaching, Tearne fuses intimate and public experience.

I'll show some restraint for once, as I haven't read the other two books by Tearne that I already own, but I'm sure that I'll pick this up later this year.

Jun 11, 2010, 11:19am Top

#67: Sorry to hear that Leo Africanus was only a so-so read for you, deebee. Hmm, maybe it was someone else here, or a review I read elsewhere, that made me get it.

I'm about a third of the way through the Naipaul biography, The World Is What it Is; I'll resume reading it later today, after I finish The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, but it's been very good so far. I'm off from work until next Thursday, so I'll definitely finish it by then.

Jun 11, 2010, 11:47am Top

I read Samarkand years ago and really enjoyed it, but I have never been tempted by any of Maalouf's other books. I do recommend Samarkand, though.

Jun 11, 2010, 12:00pm Top

Thanks, Murr; I've added Samarkand to my wish list, and will have my eye out for it next month.

Jun 11, 2010, 1:16pm Top

#68 Darryl, thanks for the link and the mention of Roma Tearne's new book. I loved Mosquito and would definitely read more of her books. I just skimmed the article but will go back and read it more fully this afternoon.

Enjoy these reading days!


Jun 11, 2010, 4:06pm Top

I'll show some restraint for once

Aren't you the one who encouraged me not to show restraint?

Jun 11, 2010, 5:05pm Top

#72: You're welcome, Pat! Brixton Beach is the only book of hers that I've read so far; I have her earlier books, Mosquito and Bone China already.

Hmm, it looks as though Brixton Beach hasn't been published in the US yet. It was released in the UK last year, and I picked it up in London last summer. I'd offer you my copy, but I'm pretty sure that I gave it to Rachael (FlossieT) just before I left.

#73: Um...probably. But, I'm absolutely inundated with "must read" books, way more than I can possibly get to this year (unless I take a sudden six month sabbatical from work and do nothing but read). And, I'll soon be buying more books, as the Booker Dozen will be announced in a month and a half.

I have been following the threads to see which books that readers, writers and journalists think are likely choices for this year's longlist. Three books seem to be standing out in front at the moment:

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor
Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

I have the first two books, and will probably get the Carey this weekend.

Other possibilities, as mentioned by at least a couple of people on the Man Booker Prize longlist discussion thread and/or reviewers):

The Long Song by Andrea Levy
A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee
Chef by Jaspreet Singh
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna
Solar by Ian McEwan
The Impostor by Damon Galgut

I've read the Levy and the Mukherjee, and I own the Tsiolkas, the McEwan, and the Galgut, as the three sections of this book have been published in three past editions of The Paris Review. I'd love to hear about other books that you (especially those in the UK) think are possible nominees for the prize.

Jun 11, 2010, 5:07pm Top

#72: Yes, I did leave my copy of Brixton Beach with Rachael. However, The Book Depository is selling the paperback edition for $8.08.

Jun 11, 2010, 5:37pm Top

>68 kidzdoc: now, if you were reading Belletrista you would have seen that new Roma Tearne book in Issue 4's new & notable. Sigh.

Edited: Jun 11, 2010, 5:50pm Top

*sheepishly grins*

Right! I did look at it after I posted that message, to see if anyone had reviewed or mentioned the book, and there it was in issue 4.

Belletrista, as usual, is way ahead of the curve!
I must read it more closely; I've fallen behind on several online and print magazines this year, especially Belletrista, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books.

Hmm. Could it be that I have too many subscriptions??? Nah, I just need to work less hours.

I see that Akeela reviewed Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna, but I don't see any mention of The Memory of Love...unless someone is already on it (which wouldn't surprise me a bit).

Edited: Jun 13, 2010, 5:04pm Top

Book #65: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

My rating: (4.8/5.0)

The setting for this superb historical novel is Nagasaki, Japan at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, and the story is centered about a forbidden love between Jacob de Zoet, a Dutch clerk who works for the Dutch East India Company (VOC), and Orito Aibagawa, a young and talented Japanese midwife. The company is engaged in limited trade with Japan, which at the time was a closed society where Westerners were not permitted to tread on Japanese soil or practice Christianity openly. The Europeans were permitted to reside on Dejima, an artificial island connected to the port city of Nagasaki, where their activities were closely monitored by Japanese inspectors and interpreters who served as spies for the local Magistrate.

de Zoet, the moral and introspective son of a minister from Domburg, initially encounters Orito on Dejima, as the Magistrate allows her to study under the island's physician. Although his heart belongs to a woman back in Zeeland, de Zoet falls in love with Orito, although his interactions with her are severely limited by custom, language, and the ever watchful eyes of the Japanese representatives. He openly expresses his affection for her, and sends her several gifts, with the help of Ogawa Uzaemon, an interpreter that he has befriended. Unfortunately, before any sort of relationship can develop, Orito is abducted and imprisoned in a shrine on a mountain overlooking Nagasaki run by the Lord Abbot, a powerful and sinister character. Both men attempt to gain her freedom, after they receive information that Orito and other sisters in the convent are in extreme danger.

Mitchell deftly weaves several stories and themes throughout the novel, including a historical skirmish between the VOC and an English frigate, the unscrupulous actions of VOC officials and laborers and the Japanese officials of Nagasaki, differences between European and Japanese culture and morality, and the changing practice of Western medicine due to advances in scientific knowledge.

This was a compelling and richly rewarding read, and it should be a strong contender for this year's Booker Prize.

Jun 13, 2010, 12:58pm Top

Nice review Darryl. I'd been considering buying this but the LRB review put me off a bit. You have put it back on my wishlist!

And thanks for the link to the Independent article on global authors.

Jun 13, 2010, 1:18pm Top

Book #66: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

My rating: (4.7/5.0)

The winner of the 1993 Booker Prize, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is a novel narrated by Patrick "Paddy" Clarke, an 10 year old boy from Dublin, which is set in 1968. Paddy is tormented by his younger brother Francis, who he calls Sinbad due to his resemblance to the sailor, and is troubled by his strict school teacher, adult neighbors who do not appreciate his bawdy sense of humor or clever pranks (such as giving a dead rat a proper Viking funeral or stealing women's magazines from local stores), and especially his parents, whose fights are becoming more frequent and violent. Doyle expertly captures the voice, irrational beliefs, and attitudes of a young boy, who is always in minor trouble and engages in dangerous activities, but who is still a sympathetic and lovable character. I laughed at seemingly every other page throughout the first half of the book, as I remembered my childhood pranks and those of my friends (and enemies), and became choked up as the novel reached its inevitable conclusion.

This novel will resonate deeply with anyone who grew up in the 1960s, but everyone will recognize a bit of their childhood, good and bad, in the lovable and irrepressible Paddy.

Jun 13, 2010, 3:38pm Top

I'm glad you liked the Mitchell book. I will be shocked, shocked I tell you, if it doesn't make the shortlist for the Booker. I very much like that Mitchell does something very different with every book he writes.

Jun 13, 2010, 3:40pm Top

Oh, and I'm eager to see what you think about the Naipaul biography. I find that he writes with great empathy, especially in his non-fiction, but by all accounts he isn't the most sympathetic of individuals.

Jun 13, 2010, 4:03pm Top

I couldn't agree with you more on the Mitchell. The reviews of it, in the UK press and amongst the tough crowd that contributes to the Man Booker Prize discussion thread, have been almost universally glowing. I think that it easily would have won the Booker in 2007 or 2008 had it been written then.

I'm definitely going to read all of Mitchell's books in the near future, starting with Cloud Atlas, which I'll probably buy from Borders tomorrow.

I've put the Naipaul biography, The World Is What it Is, just to the side for the moment, but only because these two novels were such great reads. It's very well written and quite interesting, and certainly deserving of all the accolades it received a couple of years ago. To say that he "isn't the most sympathetic of individuals" is an understatement; French portrays him as petulant, incredibly selfish, and a physically and mentally abusive husband and lover. (Hmm, I was going to start Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote now, but I think I'll resume reading the Naipaul biography.)

Jun 13, 2010, 6:19pm Top

Those both sound like great books, Darryl, and so does the title of Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote. I'll have to look for them, alas!

Jun 13, 2010, 9:36pm Top

I was being nice. How on earth does he write so, so, so gorgeously and with such a wealth and subtlety of feeling while simultaneously being quite the asshat? His personality will not stop me reading his books, though I am ambivalent about reading The World is What it Is.

As I am currently embedded in two long, dense books, I am enjoying the small pauses that the 20 Under 40 issue of The New Yorker provides. Thank you for mentioning it.

Jun 14, 2010, 1:52am Top

Thanks for that review of Mitchell's latest. I'm going to snap it up if it makes its way to this benighted rain sodden island.

Charbutton, you mentioned an LRB review. Have you got a link for that?

Jun 14, 2010, 3:15am Top

#86: The review of Jacob de Zoet by Matthew Reynolds is in the June 10th issue of the LRB:

A Smaller Island

Jun 14, 2010, 10:05am Top

kd - two nice "hot" reviews. I've come across compliments of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha in several places, but apparently never a description. I'm now adding it to my wishlist. I wish I could access the review of Zoet by Reynolds. From the title of the review, I'm curious if there is a connection to the novel A Small Island by Andrea Levy - a book I need to review for the LT Early Reviewers (and which I know you read earlier this year).

Jun 14, 2010, 10:34am Top

#88: I subscribe to the LRB, and have full access to this article. I'll read it shortly, and give you my impression of it.

Jun 15, 2010, 3:50pm Top

Whew, I'm away for a couple of weeks, and come back to 52 unread messages on your thread. Wound up adding The Spirit Catches You to my hold list at the library, and now I'm at the 15 book limit.

Jun 15, 2010, 7:49pm Top

#90: I'm definitely interested on your take on The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down; it's one of my favorite nonfiction books.

I'll finish the Naipaul biography by tonight; it's been very good so far.

Jun 16, 2010, 10:35am Top

Book #67: The World Is What it Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul by Patrick French

My rating:

Winner, National Book Critics Circle Award, 2008 (nonfiction)
Shortlist, Samuel Johnson Prize (2008)

Vidiadhar Surajprasad (V.S.) Naipaul (1932-), the winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature, is one of the most highly regarded authors of the 20th century. He was born in Trinidad, and his ancestors were part of the Indian migration to this Caribbean island in the 19th century. He was awarded a scholarship to Oxford in 1950, where he met his wife, the former Patricia Hale. After his graduation he dedicated his life to becoming a writer, and was financially supported by Pat during his early years of struggle and poverty. He met with critical success starting with his first two novels, The Mystic Masseur (1957) and Miguel Street (1959), and he received international acclaim for A House for Mr. Biswas his 1961 novel which is arguably his best. All of these novels were based in the Indian community of Trinidad that was familiar to him from childhood, and Mr. Biswas is a fictionalized representation of his father.

In the early 1960s, due to disillusionment with life in England, he began to travel abroad, and his later fiction, travelogues, and historical accounts were based in these countries, which included Trinidad and other Caribbean nations, India, Argentina, Uganda and Kenya. He cast a critical and unblinking eye upon the developing world; his books and magazine articles were applauded in Europe and the US, but former friends and colleagues from these lands viewed his work with disdain and a sense of betrayal. His notable later works in this middle period include In a Free State, the winner of the 1971 Booker Prize, India: A Wounded Civilization (1977), A Bend in the River (1979), and Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981).

He finally achieved financial success in the 1980s, and he continued to be a productive and controversial writer in this later period. His most notable works were The Enigma of Arrival (1987) and India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990).

Pat died of breast cancer in 1996, and very soon afterward he married Nadira, a journalist from Pakistan that he met while Pat was terminally ill. His literary output since Patricia's death has been meager and mediocre, and he wrote his last novel, Magic Seeds, in 2004.

Patrick French, an award winning historian and biographer, was given full access to Mr. Naipaul and his papers and those of his first wife, and this extensively researched biography is the result. It follows 10 years after Paul Theroux's memoir Sir Vidia's Shadow, but French's book is more historically accurate and less personal than Theroux's work.

French describes Naipaul as a man who is a citizen of the world, but one who is lost in the places that he has called home. He was a member of the Indian minority in Trinidad, which became isolated from and polarized against its black majority, particularly after Eric Williams became the country's first prime minister after independence, and his relationships with his parents and siblings were distant and strained. He appeared to be most comfortable in England, but racism, a growing anti-immigrant sentiment and financial difficulty deeply affected and wounded him. He was even less comfortable in India, as he was unable to see the country's beauty and opportunity in the face of its crushing poverty and filth, a pattern that would be repeated in subsequent journeys to other countries. This is described in the first portion of the book, as French effectively portrays Naipaul as a sympathetic but difficult man, and demonstrates how this influenced his writing.

In keeping with his upbringing and rootlessness he was irascible and confrontational, and those closest to him, especially Pat, bore the brunt of his frequent tirades. Naipaul's career would not have been possible without Patricia, who tirelessly served him as a personal aide, confidant, and unpaid editor. However, he was not sexually attracted to her, and he began to seek satisfaction elsewhere, initially with prostitutes, and then in a long standing affair with Margaret Gooding, that destroyed Patricia's spirit once she became aware of it. French provides frequent examples of his dalliances and his difficult relationships throughout the second half of the book. Unfortunately, much of this section becomes gossipy and overly personal, and too many pages are spent in the description of Naipaul's affair.

The biography ends with Patricia's death in 1996, as Nadira moves in with Naipaul the day after the funeral.

The World Is What it Is is a richly detailed biography of Mr. Naipaul, as an author and a deeply flawed human being. The overemphasis on Naipaul's affairs and scandalous personal behavior in the second half of the book was a distraction, which added little to our understanding of the man. I would highly recommend this for those who are interested in Naipaul, but only marginally for everyone else.

Jun 16, 2010, 11:58am Top

Excellent review, Doc. Bravo.

I have very mixed feelings about Naipaul. I loved Biswas but was kind of troubled by it. In a Free State is depressing beyond measure. His view of things is so... jaundiced?

Jun 16, 2010, 12:31pm Top

#93: He definitely has a jaundiced viewpoint, and he seemed to focus on the worst aspects of individuals, cultures and countries. A House for Mr. Biswas is one of my all time favorite novels, but I was also troubled to learn that it was so closely based on his father's life and his mother's horrible family. In a Free State is one of my least favorite novels by Naipaul, as it so distressingly bleak.

I'm very tempted to put aside my next planned nonfiction read, and pick up Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey—if I can find it.

Edited: Jun 17, 2010, 5:27pm Top

Boven is het stil (The Twin) by Gerbrand Bakker is the winner of the 2010 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award:

Dutch gardener reaps Impac prize

Jun 17, 2010, 7:07pm Top

What a wonderful quirky article!

Jun 18, 2010, 10:12am Top

I have really enjoyed the few books of Naipaul's non-fiction I've read (just India: a Million Mutinies Now and A Turn in the South), and was boundlessly impressed by them.

I'm going to ignore the biography for now. Thanks for telling us about it.

Jun 18, 2010, 12:52pm Top

The Nobel Prize winning author José Saramago died earlier today:

Nobel laureate José Saramago dies, aged 87

Jun 18, 2010, 12:53pm Top

Oh no! :(

Edited: Jun 20, 2010, 10:27am Top

have you run across Thylias Moss' poetry? I've found her in collections so far, so will probably have to Abe or Amazon a set*. Clifford's Blues is another i can't seem to find locally. The poems of Moss' that i have found are pretty neat (both recommended to me by Adam)
(going back to the top in re African-American poets)
*wrong...i own Tokyo Butter by Moss..i'm so loose brained in my dotage.

Jun 20, 2010, 1:04pm Top

I've never heard of her, Bob, but I'll be on the lookout for her work. Thanks for the recommendation!

Jun 25, 2010, 10:19pm Top

Book #71: Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki

My rating:

Some Prefer Nettles (1929), which was loosely based on the author's first marriage, is the story of a Japanese couple who are at the brink of divorce, having fallen out of love with each other. Kaname is no longer physically attracted to his wife Misako, and she begins an affair with a man in a neighboring town. The couple continues to live in a unsteady relationship, held together by their 10 year old son Hiroshi, but they gradually realize that the current situation is untenable.

Tanizaki uses this seemingly simple story in a further exploration of East versus West in pre-World War II Japan, which began in his earlier novel Naomi. However, his portrayal of Misako, as a modern Japanese wife torn between her duty to her husband and family and her own need for love, is much richer and more complex than the shallow and flighty Naomi, and she is a much more sympathetic and likable character. As the marriage disintegrates, Kaname develops a more meaningful relationship with Misako's father, a middle aged man who embodies traditional Japanese culture through his love of puppet theater (bunraku) and the manner in which he treats his young mistress. Kaname begins to understand and appreciate his father-in-law's beliefs and lifestyle; however, his relationship with a Western (Eurasian) prostitute is also titillating and nearly irresistible.

The characters in Some Prefer Nettles exist between Eastern and Western cultures, embracing some elements of each but not fully enmeshed in one or the other. A sense of tension persists throughout the novel, as Kaname and Misako painfully seek to understand their own desires and to resolve their loveless marriage.

This was a sensitive portrayal of unrequited love, as well as a multilayered view of a changing Japanese society and its effects on individuals and their relationships with each other.

Jun 25, 2010, 10:48pm Top

Book #69: Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote by Ahmadou Kourouma

My rating:

This is a satirical novel about a fictitious African dictator, which interweaves myth and voodoo with colonial and postcolonial history. I thought it was about 200 pages too long and overly repetitive, particularly in its weaker second half. A much better novel about dictatorship in Africa is the fantastic Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

Jun 26, 2010, 9:35am Top

102> I loved Some Prefer Nettles when I read it last year.

Jun 26, 2010, 10:07am Top

#104: Have you read anything else by Junichiro, Jane? I read Naomi last month, and I'm planning to read The Makioka Sisters next month and Diary of a Mad Old Man in August, for lilisin's Author Theme Reads group.

Jun 26, 2010, 10:42am Top

105> Darryl -- the only other piece I've read by Junichiro is In Praise of Shadows, an essay, meditation on traditional Japanese crafts, in this case as revealed in a bathroom -- reminiscent of the bathing scene at the end of Some Prefer Nettles.

Edited: Jun 26, 2010, 11:24am Top

Book #70: Troubles by J.G. Farrell

My rating:

Winner, Lost Man Booker Prize

Troubles is the first novel of Farrell's Empire Trilogy, which also includes The Siege of Krishnapur, the 1973 Booker Prize winner, and The Singapore Grip, which was published in 1978, just prior to his untimely death in a drowning accident the following year.

The novel begins in 1919, as Major Brendan Archer has been demobilized from the British Army at the end of World War I. He travels to a seaside town in Ireland to meet Angela Spencer, an Anglo-Irish Protestant woman who he met on leave during the Great War, who he may—or may not—have proposed to. Her widowed father, Edward, is the owner of the Majestic, an formerly opulent hotel that is slowly falling into ruin, overrun by jungle like foliage that has taken over the Palm Room and a massive colony of cats that own the upper floors. Angela initially welcomes the Major on his arrival, but soon disappears within the confines of the massive and mysterious Majestic. As he searches for Angela, Archer meets the hotel's residents, which include Angela's wild twin teenage sisters and her wayward brother, the elderly women that have become permanent fixtures, and the utterly useless staff.

Outside of the Majestic, the townspeople, who are mainly Irish Catholics at the edge of starvation, become increasingly concerned and involved in the Irish independence movement, which moves from the cities to the smaller towns. Farrell inserts news clippings about the Troubles throughout the novel, along with reports about independence and civil rights movements in India, the United States and elsewhere.

The Major leaves for England, but soon returns to become as much of a fixture as the Spencers and the elderly women. The hotel continues to crumble, and simultaneously the violence in town, led by members of Sinn Féin, creeps slowly toward the Majestic and its residents.

The novel is filled with the sharp and biting humor that enlivens The Siege of Krishnapur. A typical example is this exchange, which follows the discovery that the twins' pet rabbit has been shot by one of the Black and Tans, the unruly British soldiers that have been recruited to keep order during the Troubles:

Moved and angry (but the "men from the trenches" were not to know that this was not a wild rabbit), the Major went to break the news to the twins, who were down by the tennis courts trying to persuade Seán Murphy to teach them how to drive the Standard (though Edward had forbidden this until they were older). The twins were not as upset as the Major expected them to be.

"Can we eat him?" they wanted to know.

"He's already buried."

"We could dig him up," Faith suggested. "Aren't rabbits' feet supposed to be lucky?"

But the Major said he had forgotten where the grave was.

"Were the bullet-holes bad?"

"How d'you mean? They were bad for the rabbit."

"No, I was just thinking we could have made a fur hat," said Charity, "if there weren't too many holes in him."

Troubles is a slightly better novel than the excellent The Siege of Krishnapur, as its main characters are more complex and richly portrayed in the first book. The hotel is a superb metaphor for the decline of the British Empire, as Farrell's light but firm touch keeps it from being an overworked and heavy handed one. Troubles is my favorite novel of the year so far, with The Siege of Krishnapur running a close second. I will certainly re-read both books in the near future, and I'm certain that they will remain favorites of mine in the years to come.

Jun 26, 2010, 11:33am Top

Oh, I almost bought Troubles yesterday, and decided against it - now I wish I hadn't! Great review :)

Jun 26, 2010, 12:23pm Top

>102 kidzdoc:

I read Some Prefer Nettles a few years ago. There was a scene in there when Kaname visits one of those puppet theatres (like you say, his father in law's influence); I still remember it as beautiful, hypnotic writing.

Jun 27, 2010, 7:54am Top

#108: Thanks, Cait. I think you will love Troubles and, as I said about The Siege of Krishnapur, I would love to read it again from the beginning straight away.

#109: Yes, Some Prefer Nettles is beautifully written, and very delicate and sensitive in its portrayal of Kaname and Misako. I'll read The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro next month, and The Diary of a Mad Old Man in August.

Jun 28, 2010, 7:29am Top

Book #72: To Mervas by Elisabeth Rynell

My rating: (3.8/5.0)

Category: 2009-2010 Archipelago Books

Marta is a 50 year old woman with a dark past and an even darker secret, who has lived friendless and alone for many years in an unnamed town in Sweden. She receives a letter from Rosti, her only lover, who she has not heard from in 20 years. Rosti writes only a few lines, but tells Marta that he is in Mervas, a small northern town. Marta, who has little to live for and even less to hang on to, decides to meet him, although she is unsure why she is going to Mervas or what to expect once she does meet Rosti.

The narrative takes the reader back to Marta's childhood, in which her mother was physically and emotionally abused by her husband, her failed relationship with Rosti, and her only child, who was severely disabled. These accounts are painful to read, yet compelling and convincing. Rynell's description of the emotions and outbursts of a new mother who finds out that her newborn son is seriously ill was spot on, as were the brief portrayals of the dismissive and condescending doctors that treated her son.

I found the first half of To Mervas absolutely fascinating, but I lost a bit of interest in the second half, probably due to the unremitting sorrow of Marta's life. Rynell is a poet as well as a novelist, and, accordingly, she carefully chooses her words throughout the book, making it a pleasurable read despite its depressing topics. To Mervas isn't for the faint of heart, but it is a very good psychological novel about the life of a tortured woman.

Jun 28, 2010, 6:24pm Top

I've had To Mervas on my list since I read about it on the Archipelago web site. I'm glad you liked it.

The Makioka Sisters is one of my favorite books. It's more "old-fashioned" that the other books by Tanizaki that I've read, in that it's kind of a family saga type of story. Hope you like it.

Jul 1, 2010, 10:10pm Top

Book #61: News from Home: Short Stories by Sefi Atta

My rating:

This was a very good collection of 10 short stories and one novella by the Nigerian author Sefi Atta, which was awarded the 2009 Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. The stories involve the lives of contemporary Nigerians living within the country or abroad in the United States or Britain. My full review appears in issue 6 of Belletrista:


Jul 3, 2010, 7:51am Top

Book #73: The Murderess by Alexandros Papadiamantis

My rating: (3.6/5.0)

Read for the Reading Globally July theme read (Greece)

Alexandros Papadiamantis (1851-1911), known as the "saint of modern Greek literature", was born on Skiathos, an isolated and provincial Aegean island which provided the setting for several of his most highly regarded works. These works are short stories and novellas that describe country life on the island; he also wrote about urban life in Athens, where he moved to as a young man. Papadiamantis was a deeply religious man who never married, and he returned to Skiathos two years before his death.

The Murderess is considered to be Papadiamantis's masterpiece, which was written in 1903 and recently translated and published by New York Review Books Classics.

Jannis Frankissa, known as Old Hadoula, is a widowed midwife who is known and respected for her healing remedies throughout Skiathos. She has had a hard life, as have most women on the island, plagued by death, poverty, the oppressive dowry system that impacted her life and those of her daughters, and the activities of her wayward and irresponsible sons. She believes that the lives of women on the island are worthless, and despairs at the birth of her new granddaughter: 'O God, why should another one come into this world?' The baby is quite ill, and Old Hadoula is charged with watching the baby while her mother rests, and healing her if possible. During a series of sleepless nights, while the baby cries and coughs, Old Hadoula recalls her past sufferings, and aches at the thought of another girl having to experience what she did.

This novella provides a vivid glimpse into an isolated village's culture, and how its oppressive culture and poverty led to deviant behavior and madness in a good and devoutly religious woman. It was a good read, but a book of about half its length would have made for a more powerful and effective story, as it was repetitive and slow going in spots.

Jul 3, 2010, 2:55pm Top

Maybe I'll put off reading that one and pick another for the theme read . . . thanks, Darryl.

Jul 4, 2010, 7:38am Top

Book #74: Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor

My rating:

This experimental novel begins with the death of Richard, an alcoholic middle aged man living in an abandoned flat in an unnamed English town, from unknown causes. A group of people who apprarently know him observe the proceedings, as the police remove his body from the building, and as curious neighbors and onlookers view the spectacle dispassionately.

The story of Richard's sordid life is told through the stories of those who know him: homeless drug addicts who he allows to stay at his place in exchange for food and drink, and his daughter, who is also addicted to heroin and cocaine and living on the streets, until she also moves into her father's flat. Alongside these stories are descriptive accounts of Richard's trip from the flat to the morgue, the careful cleansing of his body, a clinically precise account of his autopsy, and the inquest process of the coroner, in which his life is summarized and an attempt to understand the causes of his death are made.

In Even the Dogs, McGregor gives us an unblinking account of the lives of homeless drug addicts in contemporary society. The characters stay mainly out of focus even as they speak, and it was difficult for this reader to appreciate or identify with them. The disjointed writing does coincide with their disjointed lives, and McGregor is successful in portraying the day to day sordid existence of hard core drug addicts and the homeless. This was a tough book to read, and is a difficult one to rate, but I'll settle on a three star rating, and applaud Mr McGregor for this courageous novel.

Jul 4, 2010, 12:12pm Top

I'm even more intrigued by Even the Dogs after reading your review, Darryl. It's on my TBR for August, because the comments over on the Booker Prize website indicate that it will be longlisted. What do you think of its chances? They tend to like experimental novels.

Jul 4, 2010, 12:32pm Top

Right, Cait. I bought and read it because of the buzz about its chances on the Booker Prize web site. As for its chances: I'm not sure, I think it depends on the judges, of course. If two of them like it, or at least one is quite passionate about it, it will likely make the longlist. It's certainly more Booker worthy than Me Cheeta or Child 44, IMO.

So far I've read four books that received multiple mentions as Booker Prize possibilities: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (far and away my favorite), The Long Song by Andrea Levy, A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee, and Even the Dogs. I also have The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas and Solar by Ian McEwan. I "own" In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut, as its three sections are in three issues of The Paris Review, and I'll soon receive The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna from The Book Depository and Chef by Jarpreet Singh from the LT Early Reviewer program.

The longlist will be announced at the end of the month (July 27th?), and I'll be following it and trying to read as many of the longlisted novels as I can again this year.

Jul 4, 2010, 12:39pm Top

Cait, have you read or do you own any of the books that have been mentioned as Booker candidates?

Jul 4, 2010, 1:11pm Top

You are way ahead of me Darryl! I own Even the Dogs and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (which was ridiculously expensive, but I just couldn't resist), but that's it. I have an Amazon.ca gift certificate to use, and plan on buying as many of the longlisted books as I can. That's my reading plan for August.

I'm interested in Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue as well.

Jul 4, 2010, 1:16pm Top

Darryl, what did you think of A Life Apart? You don't seem to have commented on it on either of your Club Read threads.

Jul 4, 2010, 1:33pm Top

Sadly, I don't remember much about it, even after reading the excerpts from the reviews of the book I posted on the book's home page. Let me grab my copy of it...okay, it's starting to come back to me. It's about a young man from Calcutta whose father has abandoned him and his mother (I think), leaving them in poverty. His mother dies, and somehow he gets a chance to study at Oxford. He has an undistinguished experience there, then moves to London, where he becomes enthralled with gay culture and night life. He allows his student visa to expire, and then works in the underground community along with other illegal immigrants, until he becomes a caretaker of and friend to an elderly English woman. I think he also tries to write a novel about early 20th century Calcutta, as well.

Needless to say this novel didn't make much of an impression on me, since I'm hard pressed to remember any details about it. I know that I didn't like or identify with Ritwik, the main character, and the only thing I enjoyed about the novel was the elderly English woman.

Jul 4, 2010, 2:56pm Top

Well, I probably won't be buying A Life Apart then. If it gets longlisted I will check it out from the library. Thanks for your opinion!

Jul 4, 2010, 3:56pm Top

From talks with a few former heroin addicts whom I trust, if I had tried heroin I would have liked it and then been enthralled by it. Even The Dogs is now on my wishlist, and it is available at one of the stores in town.

Thanks for calling attention to it.


Jul 4, 2010, 9:42pm Top

Doc, the Papadiamantis sounds fabulous. I was on Skiathos about 20 years ago. It's a beautiful place.

Jul 5, 2010, 6:49pm Top

Murr, the photos I saw on the Internet of Skiathos were gorgeous. It looks like a small island, and I think I read that its population was less than 40,000.

Jul 8, 2010, 3:39pm Top

124 - I worked in a prison in Sheridan, Oregon for 2 years (I was a researcher on the effects of the federal drug treatment program). One day one of the inmates - not one in the group being studied - was telling me how heroin felt. It sounded very intense, womblike - his description almost made me want to try it.

Jul 8, 2010, 7:48pm Top

all i can say is that heroin made for some VERY boring dorm parties @ William and Mary. I'd sit around with my friends and one by one they'd tie off, shoot up and nod off. I had absolutely no faith in my friends hygiene and kept passing the needle and spoon around. If our circle had included a RN instead of a group of 19-20 yr old undergrads, who knows. Whatever its virtues - it's not a "social" drug. And i really didn't like seeing the kick, when the user would draw blood back up into the syringe and re inject it.

The tennis partner - a terrific book by Abraham Verghese details his close friendship w/ a resident who was also a junkie.

Edited: Jul 9, 2010, 8:20am Top

Anyone tempted to try heroin should see Panic in Needle Park with a very young Al Pacino. Great movie.

I used to live in an area (the lower east side of NYC in the late 70s/early 80s) with a lot of heroin dealers and it was fine (except for all the kids from New Jersey driving up in their parents' cars) until crack came in -- now there's a drug that really makes people crazy. That was when I had to move.

Edited to fix punctuation.

Jul 11, 2010, 10:23am Top

Book #76: The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini

My rating:

Winner, 2010 Orange Award for New Writers

This debut novel begins in post-independence Zimbabwe, in the city of Bulawayo. Lindiwe Bishop is a 14 year old girl who is a 'lightie', a Zimbabwean of mixed descent, whose family is the first to integrate a formerly white neighborhood in the city. Their closest neighbors are the McKenzies, including their 17 year old son Ian. The McKenzies are 'Rhodies', descendants of the original British colonialists that helped to create the state of Rhodesia, who are nonplussed to find themselves out of power after Ian Smith ceded control of the government to the country's most prominent black leaders.

A terrible crime occurs at the McKenzie home, and Ian is found guilty and jailed. The conviction is overturned, and Ian is released months later. Lindiwe's parents order her to stay away from Ian, who is still suspected of committing the crime. However, she is a naïve and lonely girl who is ostracized at school and most comfortable at home with her books, and she is both intrigued by and enamored with Ian, who is also isolated and misunderstood. A secret friendship slowly develops, and it becomes more intense as each begins to trust the other.

Their improbable love is the main theme of the novel, as their relationship is tested by family disapproval; deep personal differences, goals and beliefs; the racist attitudes of white and black Zimbabweans; poverty; and the country's demise under President Robert Mugabe. Throughout the novel, I repeatedly thought that the best thing that could happen would be for the two to separate, but at the same time I wanted them to find a way to make things work out.

I absolutely loved Sabatini's portrayal of Ian, Lindiwe, and the other main characters that are featured in this wonderful novel, and I can't think of more than one or two other books I've read this year that emotionally gripped me as much as this one did. It is a grim story, but one filled with love and hope, and is most highly recommended.

In keeping with the NYT article about authors who are using online videos to promote their books in today's paper, I found a YouTube video in which the author talks about the book:

The Boy Next Door

Jul 20, 2010, 3:17pm Top

You've been awfully quiet. Hope you are merely on holiday and hidden away in the shade with a good book!

Jul 20, 2010, 4:05pm Top

Hi, Lois! I'm now on day 2 of a 19 day stretch, in which I only work one night call (8 pm Tue to 8 am Wed next week). Before that I worked most of the previous three weeks, through this past Sunday. I arrived in Philadelphia earlier this afternoon, and will visit my parents from now until Monday. After my night call I'll fly to San Francisco next Thursday for a 7 day trip.

I have read two books since my last read, which I'll review later this week. I finished The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers early this morning, which completely blew me away; it's probably my second favorite book of the year, after Troubles by J.G. Farrell. I also read The Vagrants by Yiyun Li, an excellent novel set in China after the Cultural Revolution.

Jul 20, 2010, 5:22pm Top

>132 kidzdoc: oh, I'll be particularly interested in your thought of The Vagrants as I enjoyed rachbxl's review of it in Belletrista.

Edited: Jul 20, 2010, 6:16pm Top

I really liked your review of The Boy Next Door and will be on the lookout for it.

Jul 20, 2010, 7:11pm Top

The Boy Next Door sounds like an innocuous title for a book that packs the emotional punch you describe. I am a true fan of your reviews. In my experience it takes both talent and work to get the essence of of a well written book into four paragraphs.
I really enjoyed The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and I look forward to your review. Carson McCullers was truly gifted and had to overcome serious health problems to do her work.

Edited: Jul 20, 2010, 10:25pm Top

After I responded to a question about local author events in the Atlanta Bibliophiles group, I remembered that the biannual Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature at Emory University would take place this fall. It consists of three lectures given over three days by a prominent author. I saw two of the lectures by Mario Vargas Llosa in 2006, but I missed the lectures by Umberto Eco in 2008. This year's featured author is Margaret Atwood, and I should be in town (and hopefully not on call, although I'll almost certainly have to work those days) for her lectures.

So, I'll start reading her novels in the near future, starting with The Blind Assassin and Oryx and Crake, and possibly The Year of the Flood. I'd appreciate any other recommendations of books of hers that I should consider reading.

Jul 20, 2010, 8:26pm Top

My all-time favorite Atwood novel is Cat's Eye. I envy your opportunity to hear her speak!

Jul 21, 2010, 8:24am Top

>136 kidzdoc: Oh, I am indeed envious!!! She can be quite witty, so I think you will enjoy her lectures. My favorites books of hers keep on changing as I reread the older titles. You might like Alias Grace.

HERE is an essay by Joyce Carol Oates on "Margaret Atwood's Tales" which I recently read in Oates' latest collected essays & reviews. She doesn't discuss all of her works, but it's a good, broad sampling and might be helpful to you.

Jul 21, 2010, 11:45am Top

#138 Thanks for the link to the Joyce Carol Oates essay.

I've only read (some of) Blind Assassin. For some reason, I just lost interest in it at about p. 200. But I also have a copy of Oryx and Crake that I haven't read and her short stories in Moral Disorder sound like something I'd like.

Reading Oates' essay made me think I want to give her books another try.

Jul 21, 2010, 12:00pm Top

I enjoyed Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin a lot, as well as Moral Disorder. I didn't like Oryx and Crake, partly because I'm not a science fiction kind of person, but also because I felt it was a little didactic. I read Cat's Eye so long ago I have no memory of it.

Jul 21, 2010, 11:16pm Top

132 - Just wanted to say how much I love The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I've been wanting to reread it a lot recently.

Jul 22, 2010, 7:08am Top

#135: Thanks, wildbill; I missed your post the first time around. I'm glad that you like my reviews, but it's definitely a bit of a struggle to write them, and I'm definitely still learning how to put my thoughts into words succinctly and coherently.

BTW, are you planning to attend the Decatur Book Festival in September? The schedule of events comes out tomorrow, and I'll almost certainly go on Saturday and Sunday.

Jul 22, 2010, 10:53am Top

#137: I'll read Cat's Eye along with The Blind Assassin and Oryx and Crake by the time of the lectures in late October.

#138: Thanks for the link to the JCO essay, Lois. I'll read it later today.

#139: What didn't you like about The Blind Assassin, Pat?

#140: I'll check out Alias Grace, too.

#141: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is the best debut novel I've ever read, and I'll definitely re-read it in the not too distant future, after I read her other novels.

I'll be traveling with my parents to Canada, probably Montreal and Quebec City, and possibly Toronto, in mid September. I'd appreciate any recommendations on hotels, restaurants, bookstores, and other things to do in these cities.

Jul 22, 2010, 3:07pm Top

kidzdoc -- if you decide to stop by Ottawa, a thoroughly charming, walkable and rather old-worldy city -- the Museum of Civilization is wonderful -- with a spectacular display of totem poles. There's also a wonderful art museum in the city.

Jul 22, 2010, 5:52pm Top

#143 I read the first 200 pages of Blind Assassin several months ago, so when you asked me why I didn't like it, I had to think about it and couldn't really remember. So I picked it up today and read another chapter and thought it was good. So who knows why I put it down but thanks to you, I think I might finish it!

Jul 22, 2010, 9:59pm Top

kd - I recall The Blind Assassin being slow, not sure if that turned anyone off. I found it well worth it through.

Jul 24, 2010, 4:50pm Top

Book #78: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

My rating:

First, a little background: Carson McCullers was given the name Eula Carson Smith when she was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1917. She was a promising pianist, a good student and a voracious reader as a child, and she intended to study piano at Juillard. However, she lost the money her family gave her for tuition to attend Juillard during her travel from Savannah to New York in 1934. She took on a series of odd jobs for the two years that she lived in NYC, while studying literature at Columbia and NYU. She decided to become a writer in 1936, after the successful publication of an autobiographical work, and began to write her debut novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, that same year. She returned home to Georgia, married Reeves McCullers in 1937, and moved with him to Charlotte, North Carolina.

McCullers contracted rheumatic fever at the age of 15, which was misdiagnosed and untreated by doctors in Columbus. As a result, she suffered a series of strokes that began in her mid 20s, which led to paralysis of the left side of her body at the age of 31, and her ultimate death in 1967, due to a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Her adult life was characterized by chronic pain, alcoholism, and depression; however, she persevered through it all, as she wrote five novels and maintained an active social life despite her disability.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, McCullers's debut novel, was completed in 1939 and published in 1940. The setting is a small Southern mill town in the late 1930s that is beset by poverty and extreme socioeconomic differences, with poor whites working and living nearby poorer black residents, as wealthy whites lived far above both groups.

The central character, John Singer, is a deaf mute that works in a watch factory and lives in a rooming house in town. His roommate is another deaf mute, a portly Greek who Singer adores as a dear friend despite their obvious differences. The Greek leaves town, and Singer begins to frequent a local 24 hour restaurant, where he meets the owner (Biff Brannon), an introspective man who observes the characters that frequent the absurdly named New York Café; a traveling itinerant worker (Jake Blount), who seeks to unite poor working men against wealthy capitalists; and a spirited teenage girl, Mick Kelly, a tomboy who fervently desires to becomes a successful concert pianist. He also meets and befriends Dr. Benedict Copeland, a black doctor who ministers to the poor black residents of the city while suffering from the torments of racism and the failure of his children to reach the lofty goals he has set for them.

Despite his limited ability to communicate, Singer is loved and deeply respected by these characters and others that he meets in town, due to his sensitivity and impartiality. However, he is a deeply lonely man who longs for the company and understanding of his troubled friend. The other characters are also lonely and misunderstood, as they can communicate with and make their feelings and desires known through “conversations” with Singer, yet they are unable to relate to anyone else around them.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is an astonishing achievement for any writer, but McCullers’s tender age makes this novel that much more remarkable. The characters are amongst the most memorable and affecting of any book that I’ve ever read, and McCullers covers a variety of topics with deep insight and sensitivity, including racism, poverty, capitalism, socialism, loneliness, and the misfit in society. I cannot praise or recommend this book highly enough, and I look forward to reading it again in the near future.

Jul 25, 2010, 7:05am Top

Book #80: The Water Cure by Percival Everett

My rating:

Ishmael Kidder is an African-American romance novelist who lives in isolation on a mountain in New Mexico, in separation from his ex-wife Charlotte and 11 year old daughter Lane who live in L.A. Lane is brutally murdered, and the police locate the killer. Somehow Kidder kidnaps the suspect, who denies that he is guilty of the crime, and takes him back to his home, where he seeks his revenge by torturing him using "the water cure", or waterboarding, the technique reportedly used by the CIA to extract confessions from captured Al-Qaeda suspects during the Bush administration. Kidder recounts his tale, as a victim and torturer, and weaves in a variety of somewhat related topics, including the use of torture, Western philosophy as it relates to the responsibility of the individual and society in treatment of others, mathematics, and his former life and relationship with his ex-wife and daughter.

I found The Water Cure to be an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful novel, as the interspersed topics were a distraction from the main story. However, Everett is clearly a gifted writer, and I will continue to seek and read his novels.

Jul 25, 2010, 7:35am Top

I can't believe I have never read The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter -- in fact, I don't think I even own it, which is remarkable considering the size of my TBR. I will have to remedy that promptly, based on your saying "I cannot recommend this book highly enough".

Jul 25, 2010, 8:45am Top

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is definitely on my list of the top 20 novels I've read so far, and it's my #1 read of the year so far, just ahead of Troubles.

I must get back to the Sunday NYT now; the Sunday Styles section has an article about one of the stars of "Jersey Shore"!

Jul 25, 2010, 9:30am Top

We are in the mountains and I was debating whether to drive 6 miles roundtrip to buy the Sunday NYT (since I can, of course, read it online), but now that I know about that article, I will have to go!

Jul 25, 2010, 8:35pm Top

147 - Between your and richardderus's reviews, I think I will reread The Heart is a Lonely Hunter right after my current read.

Jul 27, 2010, 8:04am Top

As I read the review parts of The Heart is A Lonely Hunter came back to me. The characters were so well done I can still remember them vividly. John Singer had such a quality of kindness I felt like he became my friend. I also must mention that this book was outside of my usual reading and except for my subscription to Library of America I am not sure when I would have read this book. I have one more of Ms. McCullers novels left to read and I will be sure to do it soon.

Edited: Jul 27, 2010, 6:40pm Top

The longlist for this year's Man Booker Prize was announced this afternoon:

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore
In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
The Long Song by Andrea Levy
C by Tom McCarthy
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
February by Lisa Moore
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
Trespass by Rose Tremain
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner

Edited to correct most of the touchstones.

Jul 27, 2010, 1:36pm Top

Thanks for the immediate heads up on the new Booker nominees. Room looks the most interesting to me, and I've requested a copy from my library. :o)

Jul 27, 2010, 2:36pm Top

kd - re 147/148 - Two nice reviews. I added The Heart is A Lonely Hunter to my wishlist based on your comments elsewhere. I'm excited to get to it...at some point.

Edited: Jul 27, 2010, 5:10pm Top

I'll be traveling with my parents to Canada, probably Montreal and Quebec City, and possibly Toronto, in mid September. I'd appreciate any recommendations on hotels, restaurants, bookstores, and other things to do in these cities.

When we were in Montreal we stayed at the Marriott and it was nice--I think we got a really good deal. Pretty standard hotel-wise. For food, you absolutely must go to Schwart's deli ( http://www.schwartzsdeli.com/index_eng.html). The concierge at our hotel told us that visitors from NYC even take orders of meat home with them. We also went to a great place in Old Montreal that had good food and live jazz. Sorry, don't remember the name but just wander down the street in the old city and you'll find something suitable. Make sure you go for a walk up Mount Royal and down St. Catherine's Street. There is a good book shop at McGill University, which is in the centre of the city.

Like Jane, I also recommend Ottawa. The National Gallery is fabulous and there's a wonderful small bookshop across the street called Nicholas Hoare Ltd. Ottawa is a great small city atmosphere with lots of atmosphere. Some nights there is live jazz at the Rainbow Room.

I haven't been to Quebec City, but my brother just got back. He said there was lots of free music and entertainment every night (for example, they saw Cirque du Soleil for free).

Toronto is a behemoth and I was taken around by friends and didn't have a clue where I was, so sorry, can't help you on that one!

Have a good trip!

Jul 28, 2010, 2:33am Top

#155: From my 75 Books thread:

From what I can tell, the Carey, Galgut, Levy, Mitchell, Moore and Tsiolkas are currently available in the US. I've already read the Levy and the Mitchell, and I own the Galgut and the Tsiolkas. So, I'll start by reading the four I haven't read from this group, the Carey, Galgut, Moore and Tsiolkas. The Murray will be available in the US on August 31st, the McCarthy on September 7th, and the Donoghue on September 12th; I'll buy these once they are available here. That leaves four books to get from the UK: the Dunmore, Jacobson (which will be published there on August 2nd), Tremain and Warner. I ordered three of them from The Book Depository; the Tremain is currently out of stock (but it will be published in the US on October 18th).

I'll try to read five books in August (the four I mentioned plus one I receive from The Book Depository), five in September, and one in October. That should be doable.

#152: Jane, have you read any other novels by Carson McCullers?

#156: Thanks, Dan; I think you'll enjoy The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

#157: Which Marriott hotel in Montreal did you stay at, Joyce? My Access Montreal guide book lists two Marriott hotels, the Marriott SpringHill Suites in Old Montreal (on Rue St-Jean-Baptiste), and the Marriott Château Champlain in Underground Montreal (on Place du Canada, near the Bonaventure Metro station). That deli sounds wonderful; we're originally from the NYC area, so we'll like that. All of us are big jazz fans (except for my brother, who may also join us), so the jazz clubs in Old Montreal sounds good.

I think I'll only suggest a couple of days in Toronto, and maybe consider trips to Ottawa and/or Quebec City. If I like it as much as I think I will, I'll add Montreal and Quebec City to the places I visit on a regular basis (every 1-2 years). I also want to visit Vancouver, and I may do that as early as October. Thanks for the excellent information!

I'm off to San Francisco tomorrow (Thursday) for a week after my current night shift in the hospital (5-1/2 hours to go), and I'm sure I'll pick up a dozen or more books from City Lights while I'm there.

Jul 28, 2010, 10:56am Top

#158 - Oops, sorry, it was the Marriott Château Champlain. It was perfectly fine, seemed like a good location (it was my only trip to Montreal, so what do I know?) but there was nothing exciting about it, either. Staying in Old Montreal sounds more interesting. But I found the city very walkable, so maybe it doesn't matter that much where you are. (And let me know if you're coming to Vancouver--I can certainly help you out there).

Jul 28, 2010, 10:59am Top

#157 Ottawa is a great small city atmosphere with lots of atmosphere.

I could swear I fixed that--does it ever sound dorky! Anyway, I meant to say that Ottawa is a great small city with lots of atmosphere.

Jul 28, 2010, 4:57pm Top

#159, 160: Thanks, Joyce. I'll definitely look into making a reservation at the Marriott Château Champlain then.

I hadn't noticed the "atmosphere...atmosphere" sentence before your correction of it, probably because I read it quickly at 2:30 am. :)

Jul 29, 2010, 11:06am Top

Hi Darryl,

I've been gone for awhile, so just getting caught up on your thread now. I'm glad you enjoyed The Boy Next Door. It was the first book I reviewed for Belle, and I loved it. It is quite an accomplishment for a debut, and I hope Sabatini is busy writing something else now. As for all the Atwood recommendations you received, I'll put in another vote for The Blind Assassin and Alias Grace, which were two of the best novels I read last year.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is now on my TBR, and I had never heard of it before. Your review was wonderful; you always convince me to read the books you read. I'm currently about 100 pages into Troubles, which is fantastic so far.

Re: Booker Prize - I ordered the Moore, Dunmore, and Tremain novels today, and will get the rest later this month. I'm surprised at the omission of both Solar and Even the Dogs.

Lastly, you're traveling to Canada! Quebec City is beautiful. I would suggest staying near or inside the old walls. The Chateau Frontenac is the most famous hotel in the city, right by the Plains of Abraham. I stayed at the Hotel Palace Royal, and it was nice, but that was several years ago. I've only been there in the winter for Carnival, but I'd love to go in the summer or fall. I'm not familiar with Montreal, but I do know that you can get by just fine with English. In Quebec City, a bit of French is smart, especially if you want to eat in less touristy places.

In Toronto, stay somewhere downtown. There are lots of hotels in the Queen Street/Yonge Street area, like the Sheraton, the Marriott, and the Royal York. The Toronto International Film Festival is during September, and Niagara Falls isn't too far away, if you wanted to see that for a day. I agree with Joyce re: Ottawa, it is a great city with lots to see.

Edited: Jul 30, 2010, 9:52am Top

Hi Cait! I agree with you, The Boy Next Door is an impressive debut, and I look forward to reading more from her.

I ordered the Dunmore, Jacobsen and Warner from The Book Depository on Tuesday. I've read the Mitchell and Levy, and I own the Tsiolkas (which I brought with me to San Francisco) and the Galgut (as it was previously published as stories in three separate issues of The Paris Review). I'm planning to buy the Carey and Moore today, if City Lights has these novels in stock, and I'll buy the others that will be published in the US in August and September. I'll either order the Tremain when The Book Depository has it in stock, or look for it in Canada in September.

Thanks for the recommendations of Canada, especially the Toronto hotels. We'll probably just visit Montreal and Toronto on this visit, but I'll definitely want to go to Ottawa, Quebec City and especially Vancouver on future visits.

Thanks for the Atwood recommendations; I'll look for those two books when I go to City Lights later this morning.

I think you'll love The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and I look forward to your comments about it and Troubles, my two favorite books of the year so far.

Jul 30, 2010, 6:51pm Top

Book #82: My Two Oxfords by Willie Morris

My rating:

Willie Morris (1934-1999) was a celebrated Southern US writer who was educated at the University of Texas at Austin and Oxford, and a writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). I saw this book and decided to drop $20 on it, despite it being probably the smallest book for adults that I've ever purchased.

Morris writes about the two Oxfords he has known: the Oxford of his college days, and the city that serves as the home for the University of Mississippi. He compares these two institutions, which on the surface would appear to be almost diametrically opposite from one another: Oxford is the oldest institution of higher learning in the English speaking world, whereas the University of Mississippi is the state university of the poorest state in the US, known best for its violent opposition to racial integration in 1962. However, Morris speaks lovingly and convincingly about both institutions in this brief but well written essay, describing their rich traditions and enriching environments.

The essay, which was published by the University of Mississippi Press in honor of Morris's 75th birthday, concludes with a heartwarming afterword by Morris's widow, JoAnne Pritchard Morris. I absolutely loved My Two Oxfords; I give the essay 5 stars, but I'm only rating the book as 4 stars, for charging $20 for an essay that barely exceeds 16 pages in length.

Jul 31, 2010, 8:41pm Top

"I give the essay 5 stars, but I'm only rating the book as 4 stars, for charging $20 for an essay that barely exceeds 16 pages in length."

:) ... $1.25 a page!

Aug 1, 2010, 8:44am Top

#165: I bought My Two Oxfords at City Lights on Friday, as I had heard about this book and was interested in reading a book by Willie Morris. I initially balked at the price, but decided to get it anyway. I'm glad I read it, as it was a good introduction to Morris. However, the people at the University of Mississippi Press should have their hands slapped for charging so much for this book!

Unfortunately, City Lights did not have any books of poetry by Larry Thomas.

Aug 1, 2010, 8:50am Top

I came out of my first trip to City Lights with 13 books. First, a few books from my wishlist:

February by Lisa Moore (2010 Booker Prize longlist)

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter P. Carey (2010 Booker Prize longlist)

The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut: Shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize, this novel is a "taut, intense tale of the dashed hopes of the postapartheid era and the small betrayals that doom a friendship." I've wanted this for awhile, but hadn't remembered to look for it at City Lights until today.

Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman: The author is probably the leading translator of Spanish language writers, which contains the text of three lectures she gave to argue for the "cultural significance of translation, and for a more encompassing and nuanced appreciation of the translator's role."

More books not on my wish list:

My Two Oxfords by Willie Morris: Reviewed in message #164.

Carnival and Cannibal, Or The Play of Global Antagonism by Jean Baudrillard: An analysis and dissection of the "antagonism between globalizing Western modernity and traditional cultures."

Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt by John Gibler: A City Lights publication, which "offers a street-level view of the corruption and violence that has long plagued Mexico, and of the people who have risked all to organize, rebel and build justice from the ground up."

Bilingual: Life and Reality by François Grosjean: An analysis of the many facets of bilingualism, as it affects adults and children, by this "international authority on bilingualism, son of an English mother and a French father."

Bellocq's Ophelia: Poems by Natasha Trethewey: The author is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet (for Native Guard) and a professor at Emory University, and this collection is based on the imagined life of an unknown mulatto woman who was a subject of a photography series by E.J. Bellocq, who captured prostitutes in the red light district of New Orleans in the early 1900s.

The Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer: I've wanted to read Tranströmer, as he is frequently mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize. I saw this book as I was looking for books by Trethewey.

Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu: A "stunning, careful depiction of the challenges facing women in any country, but especially in communist China."

Shedding Silence: Poetry and Prose by Janice Mirikitani: Mirikitani was the second poet laureate of San Francisco, and "is recognized as a visionary, community activist, leader, poet, and editor. Mirikitani is the Founding President of the Glide Foundation where she in partnership with her husband, Reverend Cecil Williams, have achieved worldwide recognition for their groundbreaking organization which empowers San Francisco’s poor and marginalized communities to make meaningful changes in their lives to break the cycle of poverty and dependence." I greatly enjoyed her collection Love Works, and I was looking for more of her works. Shedding Silence is "a collection of poetry and prose addressing the horrors of the Vietnam War, the ongoing struggle against nuclear proliferation, the dehumanizing institutional attitudes against people of color, and the enslavement of women and the poor."

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb: This is a collection of true narratives about Parisians from the French Revolution to the present, including writings by and about Napoleon, Marie-Antoinette, Hitler, Baudelaire, Proust and de Gaulle.

Aug 1, 2010, 9:32am Top

Looks like an interesting haul, Darryl!

Aug 1, 2010, 9:53am Top

Very interesting collection of books, Darryl.

I have Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman but haven't read it yet. Have you read If This Be Treason: Translation and its Dyscontents by Gregory Rabassa? I found it fascinating. Bilingual: Life and Reality sounds interesting too.

I am also interested in the Mexico Unconquered book, having been stunned by Charles Bowden's compelling Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields.

Aug 1, 2010, 5:04pm Top

164 - It needs that point knocked off for being about Ole Miss anyway. (Sorry, totally involuntary reaction from an LSU fan). :)

I'll be interested to see what you think about Bilingual: Life and Reality and Bellocq's Ophelia.

Edited: Aug 1, 2010, 5:58pm Top

#170: As an ex-Tulanian, I agree with you, Jane. Do you think one star is enough to take off?

I'm planning to read Bilingual: Life and Reality and Bellocq's Ophelia later this week, once I finish The Lacuna, which is excellent so far.

#168, 169: Thanks, Jane & Rebecca. I'm sure that I'll head back to City Lights at least once more before I leave.

I've heard of If This Be Treason, but haven't read it yet; I'll look for it later this week. I'll hopefully get to Mexico Unconquered later this summer.

Aug 1, 2010, 11:16pm Top

Darryl - looks like you have enough books for a bit, but if you still want something from Larry Thomas, here are some options:
http://www.bookdepository.com/search/advanced?searchAuthor=Larry%20D.%20Thomas (some weird search results)

Aug 2, 2010, 1:54pm Top

171 - I suppose one star will have to do. :)

Edited: Aug 3, 2010, 10:26pm Top

This is my second City Lights haul, from Sunday night:

I stopped by City Lights tonight to look for a couple of books. I did find several from my wish list, most from the Literature in Translation section:

The Literary Conference by César Aira: A comic sci-fi novella about a translator and mad scientist who is intent on ruling the world. He goes to a literary conference that is attended by the Mexican author Carlos Fuentes, as the translator intends to clone Fuentes to lead his army to victory. Although I wasn't impressed by two of Aira's other books, this one was too wacky and enticing to pass up.

Potiki by Patricia Grace: The winner of the 1987 New Zealand Fiction Award, and a novel I've wanted for quite awhile, which is about a community's response to speculators and developers that attack its ancestral values and attempts to destroy its land for profit. I may read this for the August Reading Globally challenge.

The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh (recommended by bobmcconnaughey): An "engrossing tale that is at once a work of science fiction, a medical mystery, and a fascinating history of malaria research", which begins in Victorian India to "near-future New York".

Dark Heart of the Night by Leonora Miano: Reviewed by Andy (depressaholic) in Belletrista, a novel by an author from Cameroon that explores the role of Africans in the suffering of their fellow citizens.

Forest Gate by Peter Akinti: A debut novel about Somalian refugees living in the slums of London; I can't remember if an LTer recommended this book or if I read about it elsewhere, but it was on my Amazon wish list.

My Ear at His Heart by Hanif Kureishi: A family memoir and biography of the author's father, and how the father's dreams for his son impacted the junior Kureishi's life and writings.

I also found two other translated novels that looked interesting:

Wild Grass by Lu Xun: Lu Xun is considered to be one of the greatest 20th century Chinese novelists, and this book caught my attention, as the spine displayed the title in Mandarin and in English. The book is also bilingual, but there is no description of it in English (although there appears to be a Mandarin description on its back cover). According to Wikipedia it is a prose poem, but it seems to be a collection of short stories, written between 1924 and 1927.

62: A Model Kit by Julio Cortázar: Cortázar is one of my favorite writers, and I had to get this novel of his that was completely unfamiliar to me; it's a "brilliant, intricate blueprint for life in the so-called "City", which could be Paris, Oslo, Barcelona or any other city that the character envisions. Carlos Fuentes described this cityscape as one that "seems drawn up by the Marx Brothers with an assist from Bela Lugosi!" Who could pass up that description?

I'll probably make one more visit to City Lights, but I'm also planning to visit a Japanese bookstore in Japantown and a travel bookstore a few blocks away before I leave SF.

Aug 3, 2010, 10:28pm Top

I finished two books earlier today: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, the winner of this year's Orange Prize for Fiction, which was excellent (4-1/2 stars), and The Literary Conference by César Aira, a novella that I found confusing and unenjoyable (1 star). I'll review both books later this week.

Aug 5, 2010, 11:16am Top

Wow what a haul!

The Graham Robb looks excellent. His bio of Rimbaud was superb. I'm also interested in what you will have to say about the Edith Grossman.

Aug 5, 2010, 11:59am Top

I made my final trip to City Lights for this trip, and bought eight more books:

Change by Mo Yan: This is the fifth in a series of books entitled "What Was Communism?" that has been published by Seagull Books. "Change" is a novella that serves as a 'people's history' of life in communist China over the past few decades, which focuses on "small events and everyday people" rather than political or large scale events.

The Paper Door and Other Stories by Shiga Naoya: Shiga Naoya (1883-1971) is described as "the God of the Japanese short story", and this book is a collection of 17 of his finest stories.

Touch by Adania Shibli: A novella that was reviewed by akeela in issue 5 of Belletrista that is centered on a girl who is the youngest of nine sisters in a Palestinian family, which describes her everyday experiences of life.

The Palm-Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola: This book contains Tutola's first two novels, The Palm-Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which are two of the most beloved and recognized West African novels of the 20th century.

The Seine Was Red: Paris, October 1961 by Leola Sebbar: This novel is based on a peaceful demonstration against the Algerian War that took place in Paris, which was brutally suppressed by the Paris police, resulting in the deaths of at least 50 to as many as 200 Algerians.

Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan by Donald Keene: I was disappointed that I didn't find this at Book Culture this spring, as the author is a well known professor of Japanese Literature at Columbia, but I was thrilled to find it here. Keene is probably the most knowledgeable Westerner about Japanese literature, and this memoir describes his experiences of half a century's worth of study of Japan, its culture and literature.

Street Smarts by Devorah Major: Major served as San Francisco's Poet Laureate from 2002-2006, and is one of my favorite poets. This is an early collection of her work, which "explores the hardships of life in the streets, the damage that is done there, and the strategies for survival."

The Flood by Chiwan Choi: This is the newest collection by this Korean-American poet who was born in Seoul and lives in Los Angeles, which looks at the larger issues and questions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

Aug 5, 2010, 12:05pm Top

#176: I'll be leaving San Francisco this afternoon, and will bring the Robb and Grossman books with me, along with Parrot and Olivier in America and
The Flood by Chiwan Choi.

Yesterday I finished two books, Bilingual: Life and Reality and Bellocq's Ophelia: Poems, which were both very good. I started Street Smarts: Poems last night, and I'll finish it on the way to SFO. I'll review these books later this week.

Aug 5, 2010, 1:36pm Top

#177, Another great haul!

I will be interested in what you think of the Mo Yan as I read his Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out and thought it funny and fun but definitely in need of some editing.

I haven't read anything by Tutola and will have to look for him, and The Seine Was Red also sounds interesting.

Edited: Aug 5, 2010, 3:19pm Top

#179: I have Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, but I haven't read it yet. I'll read "Change" first, since it (like many of the books I bought) are short (under 200 pages).

I've heard good things on LT about The Palm-Wine Drinkard, and I'll probably read it this fall.

I'll review The Seine Was Red for Belletrista, and I'll probably read it in the next week or two.

Aug 5, 2010, 4:21pm Top

I should have added that the humor in Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out is satiric and at times dark.

Aug 6, 2010, 10:47pm Top

#158 I am catching up on threads during my vacation. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is also one of my favorite books. I also liked A Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe which is more novella length or a long short story. There are some short stories that stick with me too - the Wunderkind - and one called something like the sad boy or the lonely boy. I read Reflections of a Golden Eye and did not care for it. McCullers was also a musician and was set to go to Julliard, and then didn't, so the theme of the Wunderkind might be autobiographical though I don't know for sure.

Aug 9, 2010, 4:07am Top

I gave up on/in "life and death.." as it seemed interminable.

Aug 9, 2010, 8:05am Top

Yes, that was the main problem with it -- it could have benefited from some serious editing.

Aug 10, 2010, 8:58am Top

What a terrific haul, Darryl! It inspires me and perhaps I ought to post the order of a dozen forthcoming books I made to the bookstore yesterday (oh the dangers of publisher catalogs!) I am glad to see that there are readers who enjoy the fine art of browsing still!

Aug 14, 2010, 9:25am Top

Book #90: Chef by Jaspreet Singh

My rating:

Kirpal "Kip" Singh is a former army officer and assistant chef to a high ranking military general in the Indian Army, who has been summoned by his former commander to prepare a wedding meal for his beloved daughter. Kip was unceremoniously dismissed from the military 14 years previously, and has just learned that he has an incurable brain tumor. His return is a bittersweet one, as he returns to the beauty and tragedy of the disputed region of Kashmir, where his father had a celebrated career in the Army and where he learned the craft of cooking from Chef Kishen, his mentor and closest friend.

Kip recalls his time in the army, most notably his relationships with Chef Kishen, General Kumar and his daughter Rubiya, the bride of the upcoming wedding. However, his most meaningful relationship is with the captured Pakistani who he is ordered to interrogate, as his repeated interviews of the prisoner permit him to understand the futility and meaninglessness of the Kashmir conflict, which cost the lives of thousands of Indian and Pakistani civilians and soldiers, and only served to advance the careers of high ranking military officers and politicians.

Unfortunately, despite the interesting topic, Chef was a disappointing novel, as the major characters were thinly developed and portrayed, and I quickly lost interest in them and the story. It is a quick read, and the descriptions of the beauty of Kashmir and the effects of the war there were well done, but it would have been a great novel had it been written by a more talented and insightful writer.

Aug 14, 2010, 9:46am Top

I guess I can skip that one, Darryl.

Aug 14, 2010, 9:55am Top

#187: Definitely, Rebecca. I would like to read a novel set in modern day Kashmir, but I definitely wouldn't recommend this one. It was an LT Early Reviewer book, so at least I didn't waste money buying it.

Aug 15, 2010, 10:38am Top

Book 93: A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee

My rating:

(Warning: Unfettered hero worship below.)

Bill Bradley was born in a small Missouri town, the son of the town's banker, who taught him discipline, hard work, and a love of learning, and his wife, a fiercely competitive but loving former athlete. Their son was one of the most celebrated schoolboy athletes in Missouri history, and was offered scholarships to over 70 colleges to play basketball. However, he chose to attend Princeton University, which did not provide athletic scholarships and was not known for its basketball team, as he had higher aspirations beyond sports.

He began to play with the varsity team as a sophomore, as freshmen were not allowed to participate in varsity athletics at that time, and immediately became the star player of the team. Princeton quickly became an Eastern basketball powerhouse, culminated by the 1964-65 team in Bradley's senior year, which reached the NCAA Final Four before losing in the national semifinal to Michigan. Bradley's last collegiate game was against Wichita State in the third place game, and Bradley, normally a pass first, shoot second player despite his immense talent, was given free rein by his coach to shoot and score at will. He finished the game with 58 points, which is still the record for the most points scored by an individual player in a Final Four game.

After his collegiate career he attended Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, and then became an NBA star with the New York Knicks, helping them win two championships, in 1970 and 1973. After his retirement he entered politics, and served as the junior U.S. Senator from New Jersey for three terms. He retired from the Senate in 1997, and ran an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. presidency in 2000, losing to Al Gore. After that defeat he left politics, but he maintains an active public life, as he has written six nonfiction books and hosts a weekly radio program.

John McPhee grew up in Princeton, as his father served as the physician for the university's athletic department. He attended Princeton, and while working as a writer in New York his father called him to come see a kid on the freshman basketball team, who his father described as possibly the best basketball player, bar none. McPhee attended a game with his father, followed Bradley over his career at Princeton, and wrote his first book about him, in 1965.

A Sense of Where You Are describes Bradley's upbringing in Missouri, and his basketball career at Princeton, including his work ethic and approach to the game, which was far beyond even the best players at his level and allowed him to surpass his modest physical abilities. McPhee also portrays Bradley as a well rounded student athlete who participated fully in campus life and maintained a sense of modesty and humbleness that seems archaic, yet refreshing. The latest edition of the book contains numerous photos of Bradley in action, along with addenda written in 1978 and 1999.

I would highly recommend A Sense of Where You Are for any sports fan, but this would be of interest for anyone who appreciates good journalism or wants to learn about an inspiring and influential man, who has been one of my heroes since I was a child.

Aug 15, 2010, 10:54am Top

Catching up on your thread Darryl. I thought I did well coming back with 10 books from my recent holiday but your City Lights haul makes me realise that I was very restrained!

Aug 15, 2010, 11:17am Top

Good review of the Bradley book, Darryl. I love John McPhee but haven't read anything of his in ages. Not a sports fan but I might try this sometime.

Aug 15, 2010, 11:31am Top

Book #92: Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman

My rating:

Edith Grossman is an award winning translator of Spanish language novelists and poets such as Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, Jaime Manrique and Nicanor Parra, who is best known and respected for her recent translation of Don Quixote (which I read several years ago and highly recommend). This book was based on a series of lectures that she recently gave at Yale, as part of the university's "Why X Matters" series.

The book is divided into four sections: an introduction, in which Grossman convincingly makes the case for the importance of translation for authors, readers, and modern societies; an insightful discussion of the life of a translator, including interactions with writers, readers and publishing companies; a description of the joys and difficulties she faced in translating Don Quixote; and the challenges of translating modern and Renaissance poetry. According to Grossman, a good translator must not simply transcribe the text word by word from one language to the other; she must understand the prose or poem as fully as possible, and rewrite the work in the second language, while maintaining its rhythm and the intent of the writer.

The book includes quotes from influential writers and translators about the importance of this underappreciated craft, and ends with a list of translated books recommended by Grossman.

I found Why Translation Matters to be very well written and most insightful, which gave me a much better understanding and appreciation of the art of translation, in a conversational style that was easy to digest. She skewers publishers and reviewers in the UK and US for their narrow minded attitudes and ignorance about translated literature and the process of translation, which at times seemed overly personal, but this is a minor critique of an otherwise brilliant and highly recommended work.

Aug 15, 2010, 12:22pm Top

Book #91: Touch by Adania Shibli

My rating:

Adania Shibli is a Palestinian author who was recently recognized at the Hay Beirut39 Literature Festival, which featured 39 Arab authors under 39 years of age. An accomplished novelist and writer of short stories and essays, she has recently completed a PhD at the University of East London.

Touch, which was recently reviewed by Akeela in Belletrista, is a novella about a young Palestinian girl, which consists of five themed sections of prose poetry: colors, silence, movement, language, and the wall. Although tragedy, sadness and isolation are present throughout the narrative, there are only a couple of fleeting references to the Palestinian struggle, which seemingly have little if any impact on the life of the girl. The writing is beautiful and evocative, and this slim book is best read slowly, attentively and repeatedly for fuller enjoyment and appreciation.

This is a typical excerpt from one of the sections:

The mother sat on a rocking chair that rocked back and forth until its movement faded away and she would start it again. The little girl was standing in front of her on the edge of the veranda, holding onto its iron frame, while her eyes were fixed to the sky, holding onto the edge of a cloud. Thus her journey would start through the space over the veranda, with the mother behind her, until the cloud disappeared beyond the horizon. The girl would turn her head, then look straight up again and wait for the next cloud.

She suddenly got dizzy, so she sat on the edge of the veranda and pushed her head between the railings, but they did not allow it to pass through. Her head stopped just before the ears, and so did the spinning inside it. But everywhere else in the world, in the fields stretched out before her, the spinning continued. Millions of blades of grass were moving in the same direction as the clouds. The softness of the hair of that green sea was similar to the softness of the sun's rays the moment they spilled through the clouds.


Aug 15, 2010, 12:36pm Top

#190: City Lights is not a place for restraint, not for me anyway. I think I bought 29 books from there on this trip, which is pretty typical for me. The guy that usually works there on weekday mornings (Scott) knows me on a first name basis, due to my frequent visits to SF and City Lights and our shared backgrounds (African American, 40ish) and interests (jazz, literature). He usually will come to my rescue when my arm gets loaded with a stack of books, and will often recommend a book that he's read and enjoyed or heard good things about. He is also a great source for jazz recommendations, as he listens to artists such as Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill that I'm interested in but not familiar with. We'll probably meet up later this month and in October, when I return to SF for a conference and for the San Francisco Jazz Festival.

#191: You're welcome, Pat. I'll also be on the lookout for more books by McPhee; this is the first one of his that I've read. I know that he published his latest book earlier this year, and I think that there is an article by or about him in a recent issue of The Paris Review.

Aug 15, 2010, 3:00pm Top

As I was reading the Sunday New York Times I was shocked and deeply saddened to see an obituary for Abbey Lincoln, the legendary jazz singer, writer, actress, and civil rights activist, who died in New York yesterday at the age of 80:

Abbey Lincoln, Jazz Singer and Writer, Dies at 80

She was one of my favorite singers, especially when she performed with her first husband, the drummer Max Roach, particularly on the landmark civil rights albums "We Insist! Freedom Now Suite" and "Percussion Bitter Sweet".

Here's a video of Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach performing a live version of "Freedom Day" from "We Insist!" on a Belgian(?) television station in 1964, that I posted last year:

Max Roach - Abbey Lincoln

I imagine that WKCR, Columbia University's radio station, will or soon will pay a comprehensive tribute to Abbey Lincoln, as it does whenever a jazz giant dies.

I missed several chances to see her perform live, in NYC and San Francisco. Rest in peace, Abbey.

Aug 15, 2010, 6:10pm Top

I am going to bump Why Translation Matters up on the TBR based on your review.

As we were driving upstate yesterday evening and listening to WBGO, the NPR jazz station based in Newark, they were playing a lot of Abbey Lincoln, so we knew she had died. Too bad they wait until someone dies to do that

Aug 15, 2010, 7:00pm Top

Same here in Atlanta, Rebecca; WCLK is playing a hefty selection of Abbey Lincoln's recordings now (currently "Gimme a Pigfoot" from her album "Abbey Sings Billie"). I do enjoy WKCR's annual tributes to certain legendary artists, and I "like" (not the right word) Phil Schaap's commentary on the marathon multiple day sessions whenever a major artist dies.

I was looking at the concerts for this year's San Francisco Jazz Festival earlier today, and noticed that the SF Jazz Collective was going to explore the works of hard bop pianist Horace Silver (best known for "Song for My Father") this year. After learning of Abbey's death, I wondered if part of the reason the Collective decided to do this is because Silver is in poor health and probably won't live much longer (he turns 82 this year, if I remember correctly).

Aug 15, 2010, 8:04pm Top

Book #89: Change by Mo Yan

My rating:

Mo Yan (1955-) is an accomplished and prolific novelist, who was described as "one of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers" in a recent TIME Magazine article. "Change" was written as part of the series "What Was Communism?", edited by Tariq Ali and published by Seagull Books, which explores the practice, successes and failures of 20th century communism.

"Change" is a memoir that reads like a novella, which describes Mo Yan's experiences as a child in Shangdong province and young adult during the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath. Although he liked school he was an indifferent student, and was soon kicked out of school, wrongly accused of being a troublemaker. He eventually joined the People's Liberation Army, a difficult accomplishment that brought pride and elevated status to his family. There he realized that he most wanted to become a writer, and used his time off duty to hone his writing skills, which he continued after his return to civilian life.

"Change" is most effective when it describes life in a small village during the Cultural Revolution, and the stultifying effects that communism had on the lives of civilians. I found it to be a slight and mildly interesting book, but there are far better books about communist China during this period, so I'll only guardedly recommend it.

Aug 16, 2010, 1:29pm Top

Darryl, I've pondered picking up A Sense of Where You Are for awhile. It's now added to my wishlist. Thanks for the enjoyable unfettered hero worship.

Aug 16, 2010, 1:41pm Top

Also, lots of other new great reviews here. The excerpt from "Touch" left an impression (on the wishlist soon). I have Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan, but find myself hesitant to pick it up.

Aug 16, 2010, 2:12pm Top

As I mentioned here or elsewhere, I enjoyed a lot of Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, but it did somewhat wear me out -- it could have benefited from a good editor.

Aug 16, 2010, 6:12pm Top

#199-201: Thanks, Dan. I also own Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, and I'll get to it, eventually, but Rebecca's comments about it have made me less eager to read it straight away.

Edited: Aug 18, 2010, 11:43am Top

Book #94: Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan by Donald Keene

My rating:

Chronicles of My Life is a short autobiography and memoir written by Donald Keene, who is arguably the leading American scholar of Japanese literature, poetry and theater. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature at Columbia University, where he has taught for over 50 years, and he has written several dozen books about Japanese history, culture and literature, including Modern Japanese Literature, Twenty Plays of the No Theatre, and Five Modern Japanese Novelists. His latest book, So Lovely A Country Will Never Perish: Wartime Diaries of Japanese Writers, was published by Columbia University Press earlier this year.

Keene was born in New York City and initially attended Columbia on a scholarship, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1942. He enlisted in the Navy, where he was trained to be a Japanese translator during World War II. He made his initial trips to China and Japan during the war years, serving both as an interviewer of Japanese prisoners and civilians and a translator of sensitive documents and diaries. Upon his discharge from the Navy he attended Cambridge, then spent several years living in Japan, where he continued his study of Japanese literature while befriending many leading Japanese novelists, including Yukio Mishima, Nobelists Yasunari Kawabata and Kenzaburo Oe, and Kobo Abe. He returned to Cambridge to teach, while spending summers in Japan, and then returned to Columbia, where he received his PhD and taught Japanese literature and culture.

Keene describes his fascinating life and experiences in New York, Cambridge and London, and Tokyo and Kyoto in this compelling and personal account, with great sensitivity and candor. His life is both enriching and most rewarding, but he also portrays himself as a sensitive, often lonely and sometimes depressed man, which endeared this reader to the man and his story. He also describes, in lesser detail, the personal lives of several tragic figures, including Mishima, who committed seppuru in 1970 after being passed over for the 1968 Nobel Prize, and Kawabata, who may have also taken his life in part due to Mishima's death.

Keene also aptly describes his experiences as a foreigner in Japan, a translator of Japanese literature and the difficulties he faced in getting American publishers to accept Japanese literature despite its popularity in the mid-20th century, and the rewards and frustrations of teaching at Columbia and Cambridge.

Chronicles of My Life is a wonderfully written and sensitive memoir, and is highly recommended.

Aug 18, 2010, 10:06am Top

I've been on a bit of a reading tear, as I've finished seven books since Friday night. Yesterday I completed The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, which was selected for this year's Booker Prize longlist; it was a fantastic read, and I think I'll put it ahead of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as my favorite of the four longlisted books I've read so far. I'll review it in the next day or two.

This morning I finished Carson McCullers's second novel, Reflections in a Golden Eye, which was nowhere near as good as The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, her debut novel; I'll give it 3-1/2 stars.

Today I'll start The Seine Was Red: Paris, October 1961 by Leïla Sebbar, a novel about the violent response by the Parisian police to a peaceful demonstration against the Algerian War, which resulted in the deaths of between 50 and 200 Algerians. I'll review this for the next issue of Belletrista.

Aug 18, 2010, 11:28am Top

Oh, what the heck...

Book #95: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

My rating: (4.8/5.0)

Julian Treslove is a 49 year old Gentile living in present day London whose life has been a series of disappointments: he has movie star good looks but can't seem to sustain a relationship with a woman for more than a few months; he was let go from his production job at the BBC for his overly morbid programs on Radio 3, a station known for its solemnity; and he has fathered two boys, who ridicule and despise him. Even worse, he compares poorly to his friend, rival, and former school classmate Sam Finkler, a pop philosopher, radio and television personality, and author of best selling books such as The Existentialist in the Kitchen and John Duns Scotus and Self Esteem: A Manual for the Menstruating, which have made him wealthy and respected, with a beautiful wife and three successful children.

However, the one thing that Julian desires most of all is to become Jewish, like Sam and their mutual friend and former teacher Libor Sevcik, a Czech whose tell all biographies of Hollywood starlets such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich have earned him fortune and notoriety. Julian refers to Jews as Finklers, after his friend, and frequently wonders how they think, why they are smarter and more successful than him, and how he can understand and be more like them. The three men engage in frequent discussion about Israel, Palestine, and Jewish life in London; understandably, Julian is always an outsider, despite his desire to become one with his friends.

Libor and Sam are contrasts in character. Libor is pro-Israel yet reasonable in his beliefs, whereas Sam is fervently anti-Zionist, and openly supports the Palestinian cause.

At the beginning of the novel, the three men meet for dinner at Sevcik's lavish apartment in Regent's Park. Their discussion is more somber than usual, as Libor and Sam have recently become widowed, and Julian acts as a honorary third widower. Julian refuses Sam's offer of a ride in his limousine, and decides to walk home. While gazing at violins in a store window he is suddenly attacked and robbed, and he convinces himself that his assailant has mistaken him for a Jew. Other than a broken nose and a loss of pride he isn't badly injured, but the crime and its aftermath lead him to examine who he is (is he Jewish after all?), and his relationships with his friends, women he has dated, and his two sons.

As the crisis in the Middle East worsens, acts of violence against Jews and their establishments in London become more common. Sam is invited to join a group, which he co-opts and renames ASHamed Jews, which engages in verbal warfare against supporters of the state of Israel. Through his close friendships with Libor, Sam and other Jews of various backgrounds and beliefs that he meets, Julian becomes more exposed to their lives, in his fervent attempt to answer "The Finkler Question": what does it mean to be Jewish in the 21st century?

The Finkler Question touches on a number of other vital and compelling topics: men and their relationships to each other; male competition; the insecurity of middle aged men and women; infidelity; and multiculturalism in the modern society. Jacobson deftly weaves these topics throughout this brilliant novel, which is filled with humor and pathos. This is definitely one of my favorite novels of the year, and it replaces The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as my favorite of the current list of Booker Prize finalists.

Aug 18, 2010, 11:29am Top

Darryl - I really enjoyed your review of Donald Keene's biography. Interesting person and interesting tiny window into Japanese literature. (ps - What does "Donald Keene (1922-2000)" mean? He is still alive, I think.)

Aug 18, 2010, 11:33am Top

#205 - OK, on the wishlist.

Aug 18, 2010, 11:52am Top

#206: Thanks, Dan; I have no idea what that was supposed to mean, as he is quite alive and still actively teaching and writing! I've corrected that mistake.

#207: I don't think my review can do justice to this wonderful book. I've posted four published reviews on the book's home page, which are significantly better than mine. I ordered my book from The Book Depository, as it was only published in the UK a couple of weeks ago and I haven't seen any information on when (or if) it will be published in the US.

Aug 18, 2010, 11:54am Top

Book #96: Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers

My rating: (3.6/5.0)

Reflections in a Golden Eye is McCullers's follow up to her wildly successful and brilliant debut novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Her sophomore effort was written in 1939, and was based on a story about a peeping tom at an Army base that her husband told her. It originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar at the end of 1940, and was published in book form the following year.

The novel takes place at an Army base in a small Southern town in peacetime, and McCullers tells us in the first paragraph that a murder will take place. The main characters are a major and his wife, who are friends with a captain and his wife who live nearby; the Filipino manservant of the major's wife; a private; and the spirited horse that belongs to the captain's wife.

The characters are all dislikable and odd, in keeping with McCullers's Gothic style. However, unlike those in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, I could not feel any sympathy toward any of them, even those that suffered or met tragic ends. The story is well written and McCullers kept me guessing and curious as to what would happen, which saved the novel for me. I would guardedly recommend it, but only for those interested in Southern Gothic literature or McCullers's work.

Edited: Aug 20, 2010, 3:05pm Top

The winners of the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes, the oldest literary awards in the UK, were announced earlier today at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The Prize for Fiction was awarded to A.S. Byatt for her novel The Children's Book, and John Carey won the Prize for Biography for William Golding: The Man Who Wrote "Lord Of The Flies".

AS Byatt and John Carey win oldest book prizes

James Tait Black Prize winners announced

Aug 22, 2010, 10:24am Top

Book #99: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

My rating:

Hector and Aisha are a successful fortysomething married couple with two children living in suburban Melbourne, who are hosting a weekend barbecue for friends, colleagues and family. They are typical, yet unique; Hector is a successful manager born to Greek immigrants to Australia, and Aisha is a veterinarian of Indian descent . Both are stunningly attractive, and are quite proud and aware of their physical appearance. On the surface, Hector and Aisha appear to be a model and staid middle class couple.

Friends and family come over; all are middle class, and represent the diversity of cultures that populate this international city. The adults talk amiably and the kids play nicely — at first. The men and women begin to bicker, and so do the kids. One of the boys, a three year old who is still breast fed by his dippy Aussie mother and allowed to express himself without fear of punishment, begins to fight with the other kids and destroy the toys that they are playing with. His behavior spirals out of control, and one of the adults, who is not related to him, slaps him in a pique of anger. The boy isn't seriously hurt, but his parents are incensed, and threaten to sue the "assailant". The party abruptly ends, as the inebriated adults bicker and take sides with each other.

The novel explores the reactions of several of the adults and one teenager who attended the party to the slap. Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of one of the characters, and we learn about their dissatisfied lives, motivations, and secret desires. Each is selfish, unfaithful and untrustworthy, terribly flawed and dislikable, but 'human, all too human'.

It is all too easy for the reader to reject and dismiss these characters, with their foul language, use of drugs and alcohol, and the abysmal way in which they raise their children. We're not like that, and we would never associate with people like this. However, these are real people, and their desires are not that much different from the rest of us, except that they act on them whereas we might — might — restrain ourselves. Like us, they bemoan the selfishness and boorish behavior of the current generation of children and teenagers, while ignoring the reality that our own self-absorbed attitudes are the main cause of this.

The Slap is an unblinking look into the lives of real people, which will make the average reader squirm with discomfort and disbelief. However, Tsiolkas effectively removes the veneer of middle class life, and his indictment of the failings of our consumer driven, me first Western societies is a worthwhile contribution that should be widely read and heeded.

Aug 22, 2010, 10:39am Top

First Suzanne and now you! I hadn't been interested in this book or planned to read it, but the two of you have convinced me I should.

Aug 22, 2010, 10:47am Top

#212: Don't forget Rachel (rachbxl); she wrote an excellent review of The Slap a few days ago.

Aug 22, 2010, 11:10am Top

Book #100: Wild Grass by Lu Xun

My rating:

Lu Xun (1881-1936) was one of the most important writers of 20th century Chinese literature, and considered to be the 'founder of modern Chinese literature.' He wrote in a variety of genres, and was widely respected by Mao and other leaders of the original communist movement in China. Much of his work has been translated into English, although I had never heard of him before stumbling upon this book.

Wild Grass (1927) is a collection of prose poems that date from 1924-1926, which was translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang. In the Foreword to this collection, Lu describes wild grass at that which grows from the abandoned clay of life, that which follows from the unhappiness of his past life. This grass is fragile and lacks beauty, yet it is full of vitality during its brief existence.

These prose poems cover a variety of topics: nature, friendship, personal struggle and loss, and betrayal and redemption.

A representative poem is this excerpt from "Hope":

My heart is extraordinarily lonely.
But my heart is very tranquil, void of love and hate, joy and sadness, colour and sound.
I am probably growing old. Is it not a fact that my hair is turning white? Is it not a fact that my hands are trembling? Then the hands of my spirit must also be trembling. The hair of my spirit must also be turning white.
But this has been the case for many years.
Before that my heart once overflowed with sanguinary songs, blood and iron, fire and poison, resurgence and revenge. Then suddenly my heart became empty, except when I sometimes deliberately filled it with vain, self-deluding hope. Hope, hope — I took this shield of hope to withstand the invasion of the dark night in the emptiness, although behind this shield there was still dark night and emptiness. But even so I slowly wasted my youth.

These poems are gentle and deceptively simple, which likely won't affect the reader on a initial examination, but will have greater impact on subsequent readings.

Aug 22, 2010, 9:23pm Top

Book #101: The Company of Heaven: Stories from Haiti by Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell

My rating:

(Reviewed for the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.)

This collection of short stories about the lives of contemporary Haitians was awarded the 2010 Iowa Short Fiction Award. Several of the stories are good, especially "Dogs", in which an elderly woman keeps an unruly group of wild dogs who she favors over humans, and "Marie-Ange's Ginnen", an account of a woman who is tricked, along with several of her neighbors, into taking a boat that will supposedly take them to Miami but runs out of fuel soon after it leaves the coast. The writing in these stories is lyrical; however, I found it difficult to engage with the characters and their stories, and I became increasingly uninterested in the book after its promising beginning.

Aug 24, 2010, 1:28am Top

#204 - have you read Members of the Wedding or The Ballad of the Sad Cafe? I didn't care for Reflections in a Golden Eye either, but these two I did.

Aug 24, 2010, 1:53am Top

If you haven't read McPhee's absorbing account a semi-final match at the 1969 US Open between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner, levels of the game, i can hardly recommend it highly enough. It helps to be something of a tennis or Ashe fan, but hardly necessary.

Aug 24, 2010, 10:42am Top

Darryl - three excellent reviews a couple days ago. Thanks for sharing the wonderful poem excerpt by Lu Xun.

Aug 24, 2010, 10:02pm Top

#216: I did read The Ballad of the Sad Cafe last week (book #97), and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll review it later this week. There are two other novels in my Library of America edition of McCullers's complete novels, The Member of the Wedding and Clock Without Hands; I'll read these before the end of the year.

#217: Yes, I do want to read Levels of the Game; thanks for that reminder, Bob. I'm reading the interview of McPhee in the spring 2010 edition of The Paris Review ("The Art of Nonfiction No. 3"), and there is a reference to this book in this article. I followed Arthur Ashe, while he was playing but especially after he contracted HIV from a tainted blood transfusion, up until his death.

#218: Thanks, Dan. I'll look for more of his books at City Lights when I return to San Francisco next month.

Aug 25, 2010, 8:20am Top

Geesh, Darryl, I can barely keep up with you. It's like your sprinting along and I'm huffing and puffing somewhere behind you barely able to keep you in my sights... (one is tempted to plop down on the sidewalk and take one's running shoes off).

Some great reading, as always:-)

Aug 26, 2010, 6:48am Top

Thanks, Lois! I'm several reviews behind, so I'll try to catch up with at least some of them over the rest of the week.

Aug 26, 2010, 6:53pm Top

No one can keep up with Darryl -- either in his reading or his globe-trotting/book buying. But I do enjoy reading the record of your travels!

Aug 27, 2010, 8:26am Top

Book #102: Quacks: Fakers and Charlatans in English Medicine by Roy Porter

My rating:

This was an entertaining history of the men and women who were labeled as quacks in Britain during the 17th to the early 19th centuries. The term "quack" was applied to men and women who were accused of practicing medicine (Physic) in bad faith, those who traveled from town to town and gave public performances and demonstrations, sold nostrums that proclaimed to cure numerous unrelated diseases from 'Rheumatick Defluctions' to 'Wind Cholick' to 'Ptisick or shortnesse of breath', advertised widely in newspapers, or made outrageous claims about their clientele (many claimed to be the personal physician to kings and queens throughout Europe), their cure rates and the efficacy of their medicines.

However, Porter shows us that several practitioners who were labeled as quacks received medical degrees from Oxford, Cambridge or other renowned schools, and nearly all subscribed to the same medical theories and treatments used by the regular physicians. Many of the standard medical providers also used the same techniques as the quacks, such as advertising, frequent use of nostrums to purge the body of toxins that were the cause of illness, and frequent self promotion. The success of quackery was also aided by the lack of regulation, as neither the courts nor town officials sought to enforce standards on practitioners until the early 19th century, and by the state of medical knowledge in the 17th and 18th centuries, which was dominated by theories beliefs rather than proven fact.

Quackery slowly fell out of fashion in the early and mid 19th century in England, as alternative medical movements such as homeopathy, naturopathy and medical botany took hold, and as allopathic (standard) medical practice became more regulated and restricted.

"Quacks" contains several detailed accounts of notable practitioners, along with detailed etchings and engravings of quacks as they beguile and entertain potential customers. The book was overly repetitive at times, especially in the sections about advertising and nostrums, but overall it was a well written and balanced look at quackery in Britain.

Aug 28, 2010, 8:04am Top

Book #103: Wonder by Hugo Claus

My rating:

"Wonder" is a European post-war novel that was published in Belgium in 1962, translated from the Dutch into English by Michael Henry Heim, and published by Archipelago Books in 2009. The main character is a schoolteacher in post-war Belgium who attends a masquerade ball, where a woman rejects the advances of a man and mysteriously flings herself into the sea. The teacher, who seems at the edge of madness before this incident, saves the woman, and then accompanies a school boy to the town in which the woman lives, to learn more about her. There he is accused of a crime, and is mistaken for a heinous criminal. The novel jumps back and forth, as the teacher is incarcerated in a building and writes about his daily life in a notebook, while recalling these past events.

For me, reading "Wonder" was similar to being spun around in circles on a chair, while trying to identify people and objects around me. I would imagine that fans of post-war European experimental fiction would enjoy this book, but it wasn't my cup of tea.

Aug 28, 2010, 3:00pm Top

>211 kidzdoc: Just seen your thoughts on The Slap - looks like your reaction's quite similar to mine. It is indeed a hugely uncomfortable read, largely because it's so very real.

Cait started a discussion on my thread about favourite/least favourite characters - pop in and tell us what you think!

Aug 29, 2010, 11:34am Top

Book #104: Trespass by Rose Tremain

My rating: (4.4/5.0)

Category: 2010 Man Booker Prize shortlist

"Trespass" is the title of this book, and a word which characterizes a theme that is expressed throughout this superb novel. The characters in this story trespass on the lives and dreams of those closest to them; they trespass upon the lands of others, for the worse; however, the striking events that constitute physical trespass are the most damaging.

The novel revolves around the lives of two sets of late middle-aged siblings: Anthony Verey, a famed antiques dealer from London who has fallen on hard times; his sister Veronica, who lives in the Cévennes, a mountainous region in southern France with her lover, Kitty Meadows; Aramon Ludel, a native of the Cévennes who lives in a dilapidated but still impressive farmhouse; and his sister Audrun, a strange and disturbed woman who lives in a bungalow at the edge of the land surrounding the farmhouse.

Anthony lives alone in Chelsea, and spends his days in his Pimlico Road studio with his beloveds, the antiques that he has accumulated, which are of little interest to anyone but himself. His fame and fortune have waned, to the delight of his competitors and even his best friend. He has grown disillusioned with life in London, and desires to seek semi-retirement in the Cévennes, close to his beloved sister. The region has seen an influx of foreigners who are willing to pay exorbitant prices for old homes and farmhouses, and the newcomers are greeted with disdain by older residents who bemoan the loss of their traditional way of life.

Aramon seeks to sell the Ludel property, which has remained in the family for three generations. He claims the property as his own, and treats his sister as an interloper who wishes to deny him the profits from the upcoming sale that are rightfully his, profits that he will not share with her. He threatens to evict her from the bungalow that she has lived in for years, as it is an eyesore that was built partially on his property. She becomes increasingly agitated at the threat of this eviction, and hatches a plan that will keep the sale from taking place.

Meanwhile, Anthony falls in love with the farmhouse, but wishes to have the bungalow torn down before he will agree to buy the property. Tensions between these characters increase, which result in a sudden and violent turn of events.

"Trespass" is a page-turner, a captivating novel about collision of cultures, sibling rivalries, disturbing family relationships, and revenge. Once I got into the novel I couldn't put it down, as the drama and uncertainty are maintained until the last sentence. I would highly recommend this novel, and I look forward to reading other books by this very talented writer.

Aug 29, 2010, 11:39am Top

Hi Rachel; I'm off to look at your thread now.

Aug 29, 2010, 10:32pm Top

Book #105: The Flood: Poems by Chiwan Choi

My rating:

"The Flood" is a collection of poems by this Korean-American writer, which are mainly centered in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, and describe broken lives, troubled relationships, and failed love and dreams. Unfortunately, I found the vast majority of these poems to be bloodless and trivial, and not a single one of them struck a chord with me.

Aug 29, 2010, 11:08pm Top

#226 Wish I had read this two days and could have requested it as an Early Reviewer...oh well.

Sep 4, 2010, 11:17pm Top

Book #106: The Elephant's Journey by José Saramago

My rating: (3.8/5.0)

Solomon is an Indian elephant who was brought from India to Portugal in the mid-16th century as a gift for King Dom João III. The king wishes to give a proper gift to his cousin Maximilian, the Archduke of Hapsburg, who is stationed in the Spanish city of Valladolid. Not wanting to offend his Lutheran cousin's religious sensitivities, and desiring to give Maximilian a present worthy of his status, the Catholic king decides to award Solomon to him.

After Maximilian accepts this gift, a caravan escorts Solomon to Valladolid, and then to Italy and finally Vienna, after an arduous passage through the Alps. The journey is filled with misadventures, as the elephant's handlers and villagers ascribe different attributes to him, treating him as a messenger from God, a devil, or a monster. Throughout his ordeal, Solomon frequently exhibits human-like qualities of anger, love, and, most of all, patience and wisdom far above his animal status.

The Elephant's Journey was based on a true story that Saramago learned about during a visit to a restaurant in Salzburg named 'The Elephant', which featured wooden sculptures about the 1551 journey of an elephant from Lisbon to Vienna. This was an entertaining, light and humorous novel, which lacks the impact of Saramago's best work but is still a worthwhile read.

Sep 5, 2010, 9:57am Top

I have never read any Saramago, but this one sounds like fun.

Sep 5, 2010, 10:14am Top

Book #107: Room by Emma Donoghue

My rating: (4.4/5.0)

Category: 2010 Man Booker Prize longlist

In Room I was safe and Outside is the scary.

Jack has just turned five years old. He lives with his mother in Room, a cozy space isolated from Outside. He is happy, as he knows no other life outside of Room. He was born on Rug, reads books and plays with toys that are brought by Old Nick, the only person who visits them. Old Nick comes at night, and Jack must hide in Wardrobe until the man finally leaves his mother in Bed. Jack spends his days playing with Ma, and he loves her deeply, although he is troubled whenever she is Gone, those times where she spends the day in bed.

Jack and Ma escape from Room, and he must adjust to Outside, a place he has only seen on television and heard about from Ma. Doctors poke him, strangers fawn over him and ask him odd questions, and he must adjust to these new strangers that Ma insists are his family. Although everyone insists he will be happier Outside, Jack wants nothing more than to return to Room with Ma.

Room is a fascinating look into the life of a young boy as he tries to understand his place in the world, one that is unfamiliar and unsettling. The novel was triggered by the infamous Josef Fritzl case in Austria, in which a man kept his daughter isolated in a basement for 24 years and fathered several children with her before she was eventually rescued. This novel is markedly different from the case, especially in the use of Jack as the narrator throughout the book and the downplaying of the more disturbing aspects of the story. Donoghue does a masterful job in her portrayal of Jack, and his lovable and maddening personality is one that I won't soon forget.

Sep 5, 2010, 11:04am Top

Book #108: Closing the Chart: A Dying Physician Examines Family, Faith and Medicine by Steven D. Hsi, MD

My rating: (3.9/5.0)

I borrowed this book from a physician assistant student at Emory who completed an Inpatient Pediatrics rotation with my group this summer. All of the students receive this book at the beginning of their training, along with The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman.

Dr. Steven Hsi is a family practice doctor in Albuquerque, who is in excellent physical condition and has a happy life, with a successful clinical practice, a loving wife and two beautiful sons. He ignores subtle (and not so subtle) signs of his impending illness, which he attributes to middle age and lack of conditioning, and his sense of invincibility, a trait shared by far too many doctors, keeps him from taking his symptoms seriously. After an episode of severe chest pain his wife, an ICU nurse, listens to his heart and hears a new murmur, which Hsi also hears and can no longer ignore. On that day he is transformed from a healthy adult to a seriously ill patient, a change that is difficult for the average person but seemingly more difficult for Hsi, a fiercely independent doctor who is almost always in charge at work and, to a lesser extent, at home.

Hsi poignantly relates his experiences as a patient and what this illness does to himself, his sense of well being, and his family. He undergoes three major cardiac surgeries, nearly dies on several occasions due to medical mistakes, and experiences medical care that is sometimes caring but more often indifferent and even hostile. However, his faith in God is strengthened throughout the ordeal, as the members of his church, his family, and his loving and dedicated wife provide the support that the medical community fails to give him.

Unfortunately, Dr. Hsi becomes progressively sicker, and died suddenly but not surprisingly at the age of 44, on his way home to celebrate his son's 11th birthday.

Closing the Chart is an insightful look at the failure of the American healthcare system to provide adequate medical care and spiritual support for seriously ill patients and their families. Hsi provides valuable lessons for doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to provide better care for their sickest patients, and to families who must take on the burden of caring for a sick family member. However, this was a very depressing and disturbing story, and I was deeply saddened after reading it, despite knowing that the book was written posthumously, so I would recommend it only guardedly.

Sep 5, 2010, 11:14am Top

#231: Even though I enjoyed it I wouldn't recommend The Elephant's Journey as a first book to read by Saramago. I'd suggest either Blindness, his most well-known book, which describes the breakdown in society after an epidemic of blindness afflicts a town, or The Stone Raft, a humorous story of the residents of a Portuguese village close to the border of Spain who watch helplessly as their country suddenly separates from the Iberian Peninsula. I'm planning to re-read Blindness as part of msf59's group read later this month, and I'd love to re-read The Stone Raft in the near future.

Sep 5, 2010, 11:53am Top

230 & 234 - I was intrigued as well so I added that and Blindness to my wishlist.

Sep 5, 2010, 12:03pm Top

For some reason, although obviously it is irrational, if you can have an irrational reason, neither Saramago nor Blindness has ever appealed to me. Although I was obviously intrigued by your description of The Elephant's Journey, I will take your advice and look for The Stone Raft.

Both Room and Closing the Chart sound much too gloomy for me, at least right now while I am immersed in Hitler and Stalin, although I may read Room later on.

Sep 5, 2010, 4:23pm Top

Book #109: Yesterday by Maria Dermoût

My rating: (2.8/5.0)

Maria Dermoût (1888-1962) was an Indonesian writer who was born to a colonial family on Java, in the Dutch East Indies, educated in The Netherlands, and lived most of her life in Java. She did not begin writing until her sixties, and she produced two novels, Yesterday, which was originally published in Dutch in 1951 and translated into English in 1959, and The Ten Thousand Things, which was published in Dutch in 1955 and is currently available from New York Review Books.

Yesterday, based on the author's life, is narrated by a young girl whose father owns a sugar cane plantation on the island of Java at the end of the 19th century. Her life is an idyllic one, with little care or responsibility, although tensions of colonial life occasionally disturb her peaceful setting. Dermoût's description of the jungle setting is evocative, and her light touch makes for a quick read, but one that this reader will soon forget.

Sep 7, 2010, 6:37am Top

The shortlist for this year's Booker Prize was announced this morning:

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
Room by Emma Donoghue
In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
The Long Song by Andrea Levy
C by Tom McCarthy

Man Booker Prize 2010 shortlist announced

I've read all but the Carey and the McCarthy (which will be released in the US today). I'm surprised that The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet didn't make it, but I'm pleased to see the Jacobson and the Donoghue make the cut.

Sep 7, 2010, 7:12am Top

Thanks, Darryl. Do you have an opinion on which might win?

Sep 7, 2010, 11:42am Top

I'm intrigued by the Room.. Darryl, are you familiar with Caspar Hauser?

Sep 7, 2010, 7:38pm Top

#239: I have absolutely no clue, Rebecca! Before today I would have bet on The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. I would be happy to see either the Jacobson or the Donoghue win; the Donoghue is growing on me the more I think about it, and it's certainly the most memorable of the seven Booker Dozen books I've read so far.

#240: I hadn't heard of Kaspar Hauser before now, Murr; I just glanced at his Wikipedia page, and he was an interesting character, to say the least. Have you read any fiction or nonfiction books about him?

Sep 11, 2010, 10:09am Top

New thread here.

Group: Club Read 2010

106 members

12,680 messages


This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.




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