Archive for July, 2009

Book 967 Orhan Pamuk – Snow

July 27, 2009

Over here in Malta Pamuk is big, his novels sell constantly and he props up in conversations quite a bit. Mainly due to his views  and allegations. But I’ve never really bothered to read i his books. I knew they would be constantly in print so now finally having a chance to read him I can see why he’s liked.

Ka is an exiled poet and is returning to his hometown of Kars in order to investigate a group of women who have committed suicide. However later on in the book we find out that here’s here to rekindle a relationship with one of his ex lovers. As the title suggest Kars is a victim of heavy snowfalls.

This whole plot device is simply a maguffin to what is a complex political thriller which tackles the westernization of Turkey and various movements to restore the Muslim culture. Ka at first sides wants Turkey to be westernized but as the novel proceeds he becomes torn between the two ideals.

Eventually Ka decision’s effect his destiny – and others greatly. Which leads to an unforgetable climax.

There are many great things about Snow. Ka himself is a complex character who’s relationships with other protagonists shape his future. The way snow is depicted to be as menacing as the city of Kars.The amount of memorable scenes are numerous. Even the narrative technique is original (I cannot give this away though).

Unfortunately I was not able to fully appreciate the novel. There are times when the translation was stodgy, which meant the flow of Snow was at turtle’s pace. There are times when things are lost in translation and the novel suffers from this. This aside and you’ve got the brainiest espionage/social commentary written in the 00’s (well let’s include Bolano’s 2666 as well.)

Book 968 Aleksandar Hemon – Nowhere Man

July 21, 2009

After I graduated from University, I had no real career ambitions and was hired at a bookstore and although it was supposed to be temporary, I ended up working there for  four years and up until the last year it wasn’t so bad. Anyway once a year the boss, who really wasn’t a reader, would invite certain workers to come into his office and choose a bunch of  sample copies.  Usually I would search for  books i would like ( I managed to acquire a Kundera and a Sarah Waters this way) then I would just check the publisher and grab the book regardless and that’s how Hemon arrived into my hands and stayed on the shelf untouched for an extremely long time.

I know that this is a long back story but it’s a slightly weird one and it suits the plot of this book perfectly.

‘Nowhere Man’ is a fictional biography of the Bosnian immigrant Jozef Pronek. In the book we get snapshots of his childhood in Bosnia and his attempts to start a Beatles cover band (hence the title) , his university life in Kiev during the independence of The Ukraine and the various jobs he undertakes when in the U.S. Not to mention that Pronek’s spoken English, Like Alex Perchov from Safran Foer’s ‘Everything is Illuminated’, has a sort of warped quality to it which makes you smile.

The thing is that the book is told through different narrators so the tone changes in places and that is where I was slightly let down. Nowhere Man has parts of sheer brilliance and literally laugh out loud situations. The Kiev chapter and the Private Eye section are perfect in every way and a joy to read. I had tears coming down my eyes in these sections and they heightened my love of the book. On the other hand there were parts which dragged. The last parts of the novel are particularly dull and I did trudge through them a bit peeved off at the inconsistency.

Despite the fact that Jozef hails from Bosnia and emigrates to Chicago in 1992 – just before the conflict started, this is not a book about war and it’s effects on the human. Well at least it is not the main focus of the book. What the reader gets is a man who tries to use his peculiar English in a world that is just as crazy and mixed up as the one he left.

So is this book a must read. In a way it it. Hemon is a clever writer and knows how to be funny and Pronek is quite a literary character but on the other hand approach with a teensy bit of caution because the second half of the book is not quite as exhilarating as the first half.

Book 969 Jonathan Safran Foer – Everything is Illuminated

July 18, 2009

I first bought Everything is Illuminated in 2005 and gave up 10 pages in. I was just out of the bookstore and was swindled out of a pay cheque so I wasn’t in a reading mood.

A year later I saw the film in the cinema, again during a crappy period of my life. Usually when I watch a film before reading a book I will never touch the book again, knowing that it has been spoiled.

Thankfully I picked it up again after a four year absence and I don’t regret it one bit. Actually at this point in time I think that the film does the book no justice whatsoever.

Jonathan Safran Foer (maybe it’s the author himself), an American Jew is on a mission : he has to find the person who saved his grandfather from being killed by the Nazi’s. His companions are Alex, a person who’s command of the English language isn’t great, Alex’s grumpy grandfather and the psychotic dog Sammy Davis jr jr.  Together the trio scour the Ukraine in order to discover this elusive heroine.  On the way we get culture clashes and mishaps due to generation gaps and social class. Yes they are funny especially when told through Alex’s eyes.

As the book proceeds things get more serious and this time the characters go through a process of self discovery and through some plot twists find out that some hidden family secrets do come out and have consequences on the future.

The plotline is not as simple as I make it though. The novel takes the form of chapters Alex sends to Jonathan with a covering letter which explains his current situation since he as been ‘illuminated’ Jonathan replies by sending him chapters of a novella that he writing; a magic realist tale about his own ancestry and the semi fictional town Trachimbrod, from 1791 to the Nazi seizure of  the village in 1941. One could say that the novella also provides clues to fill up the gaps one finds in the novel.

Like Arundhati Roy’s GOd of Small things. Foer want s the reader to discover what is happening and leaves us little hints in the form of a sentence or one of Alex’s letters to Jonathan.  After finishe=ing the book do we get the complete picture and become just as enlightened.

Language-wise it is dazzling. Alex’s use of English (as he is using a thesaurus to write) is both charming , blunt and poetic. To have sex is ‘to be Carnal’ and I am very good person becomes ‘ I am a premium person’. Just like Burgess’ Alex in A Clockwork Orange both subvert the norms of language and create an eye opening result.

This is a novel that deals with Love, Memory and History and their importance to human life and Foer does a first class job of  binding these aspects into the book’s already overlapping plot. What makes it more amazing is that you do feel like a better person when you close the book.

Everything is Illuminated is a perfect novel. It’s intelligent, a small challenge and completely satisfying and will resonate with you for a long time. Illumination has never felt so good!

Book 970 Haruki Murakami – Kafka on the Shore

July 16, 2009

Kafka on the Shore is not my first Murakami but it is definitely the last one I’ve enjoyed since I read Norwegian Wood back in 2005. It seems that Murakami surreal edge tends to wear out in big doses (in fact I’m a fan of all his short story collections) and I tire very easily, the notable exceptions being The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, Which is due for a rereading and this novel.

Funnily enough Kafka on the Shore is a novel I related to, not due to plot as such, but rather the elements which made up the story itself. Any novel which includes cats, libraries, music  and Philosophy will appeal to this cat loving (incidentally I’ve got a black cat and brown one as featured in the book) music fanatic,  Philosopher (??) Librarian. So I admit I was in seventh heaven whilst reading the book.

15 year old Kafka Temura runs away from home in order to escape a prophesy his father told him when he young. At the same time he is on a journey to find his mother and sister, who abandoned him when he was four years old. On this  road trip Kafka makes many startling discoveries and goes through periods of self realisation. Yes this is something Murakami has been pumping out   in nearly every novel but it works here and I think it’s more satisfying.

In true Murakami fashion there is also a parallel sub plot, which includes Nakata, the finder of lost cats (again shades of wind up bird chronicle) who goes on a mission, with a truck driver to right the one wrong Nakata committed. This time it is the truck driver who goes through some form of enlightenment. Nakata is presented as a philosopher  despite the fact that he is simple minded and illiterate(not unlike Chancey from Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There), due to an accident which happened to him in his youth. Both Nakata’s and Kafka’s destinies cross but they never meet and yet their lives are both intricately entwined.

To say that Kafka on the Shore is addictive is an understatement. I spent no less than three days stuck in a chair eagerly wanting to see what was going to happen next  and by the time I finished the book I felt a surge of enjoyment pass through me. The philosophical discussions are eye opening  and then the typical Murakami digressions on art, film, history and music are just as educational without being dry. It is a simply wonderful and completely essential novel.

Murakami’s next novel is a homage to 1984 (called 1q84) so I am curious, even tough I think it will take a while to top a towering masterpiece such as Kafka on the Shore.

Book 971 Dan Sleigh – Islands

July 11, 2009

I sometimes find it a bit irritating when I buy these sort of reading guides and I find out that the book is out of print. I obtained Islands through play.com’s used book section and I did have to wait a bit in order to receive it.

What makes it more disappointing is that the hassle was not worth it as I did not really like the book.

Islands takes place in South Africa, during the mid 1600’s when it was just being colonised by the Dutch. Here we meet the South African Native Chief Harry, who was the first African to make friends with these colonisers and act as a go-between. He later inducts his daughter Korota into the colony and the whole story focuses on her relationships and interactions with the Dutch people she grew up with. Later the book then moves on the life of her first born Pieternella. In all cases there is a clash as neither culture wants to accept each other fully.

Really, though, what we are gettting is an extended history of South Africa, and an explaination on all the problems that occured some centuries later. However this is the only reason why I stuck to the novel, as I found it to be very flawed.

For one thing I did not find the character memorable in any way no matter how hard I tried I could not sympathize with them, I found the plot and dialogue to be plodding and in the end I began to get irritated with everything and was glad to read the last sentence.

That’s all I can say here. I don’t like slagging a book off on a blog but Unfortunately there are times when I read something I don’t like and this is a case in point.