When I read Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America in March I was mesmerized and when I found out that I’ve got another Roth on this list I definitely was excited but I was wondering if The Human Stain was capable of topping The Plot…
Oh yes it did! it did!
Coleman Silk is an ex lecturer who resigns from Athena college due to a misunderstanding. This however creates a lot of anger and stress for Silk and his wife and eventually she does die, which makes Silk even more murderous.
As a way of avenging every person who did not support him in this silly mishap he hires Roth alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman to write out this ordeal in the form of a novel. At this point Silk also has an affair with a 35 year old woman called Faunia, who has had a rough life to say the least.
I think that Roth and politics are inseparable and there’s no change here. It is summer of 1998, when President Clinton was on trial for his actions with Monica Lewinsky, throughout the novel Zuckerman compares the president’s situation with Silk’s problems and finds many similarities, the main one being that we all have secrets that can change the way we live. Obviously Lewinsky was Clinton’s secret and in a way Faunia is Coleman Silk’s secret BUT he has one that changed the course of his whole life and Zuckerman finds out about this accidentally.
As things go Silk and his secrets eventually lead to his demise and as a sort of tribute Zuckerman writes a novel about this turbulent summer and calls it…yes The Human Stain. This refers to the stain that was on Lewinsky’s dress and a comment Faunia makes about humankind.
This is a novel that knocks you out of your chair. Roth’s pen absorbs all that is wrong with society and spits them out in this deeply satirical book. At this point I don’t think Roth can do no wrong and let’s hope there’s some more of his books in this list.
At the moment i’m nearly ready with Philip Roth’s The Human Stain (there should be a review up by Sunday) but I thought i’d take a tiny break and read The Imposter and I finished it in two hours flat.
My first experience of Galgut was through The Good Doctor, which I felt was quite sinister but a wholly satisfying read. The good news is that The Impostor is even better, it’s Galgut at his peak.
Adam Napier is unemployed and homeless so he escapes from Johannesburg and visits his brother, Gavin in the hope that he’ll help him. Gavin offers Adam an old abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. Adam is pleased and thinks that he will start a new stress free life. This soon comes to an end through two people who step in Adam’s path.
The first one is his eerie neighbour Blom who has a dark past and secondly his old school friend Kenenth Caning, who thrusts Adam into a mess of corruption and bribes. The rest of the novel details Adam’s plight and his attempts to escape out of this new life.
Really this is a book about post Apartheid South Africa. Like Coetzee, Galgut maintains that it is a place of corruption and bribery and a land full of wanton destruction, going under the name of progress. All the characters are product of this new South Africa and Galgut indirectly hints that the country is going down the drain.
The Impostor is a page turner and Galgut has not only mastered his talent for making something creepy and full of suspense, but he has perfected it. I’m also pleased that this book tallies with Heart of Redness and also states that SOuth Africa and the Xhosa tribe are in danger due to lack of sustainable development.
I first read White Teeth on January 1st 2001, I had read that the book begins on New Years day (albeit 1975) so being the student that I was I felt that it was appropriate and symbolic to approach the novel on the same date.
I still think that White Teeth was a turning point for me literature-wise. before I was reading a lot of Amis, Self , Pynchon, Easton Ellis and Paul Auster – non of these really spoke about the foreigner adapting to his culture. As I have lived and moved around quite a bit (from Indian Reservations , to huge cities to Malta) in my live, I have always found it difficult to understand other cultures and through the narratives of Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, I related a lot to this.
White Teeth does have a rather complicated plot but in brief it is about the Interracial marriage of Archie Jones and Indian immigrant Samad Iqbal, who strives to bring up his family under the Muslim faith. add to this the Jewish-Catholic Chalfens and you have one heady mix of religion, education and everything else in-between . By the end of the book, the younger characters react against all that he or she has absorbed during their childhood.
Clearly this is a book the deals with relations, and very intricately but I also think it questions on how ‘English’ does one actually have to be? and are rejects of a certain culture mean you are part of that specific society? Smith tackles these things brilliantly and this is what drives one in reading the novel.
However it is not perfect. Back then I found some bits dragging and the ending a bit rushed but other than this it is a fine fine debut.
It seems that with every novel I buy there’s a story behind it. You could say a story behind a story. Well here’s my Under the Skin one.
I had ordered the book on the merit of its blurb. I usually go for anything that is weird and disturbing (in fact this challenge has helped me appreciate more elegant works). This was in 2002 and amazon.co.uk was still my main source of books. I had also ordered Clinic’s second album Walking with Thee so it must have been February of that year.
Also during this time I had just been inducted into full-time status at the bookstore and it was doing very well, I was earning a bit of money , I was young so I didn’t really care about my future and i was enjoying life, one of my main pleasures was ordering cds and books from the internet – I found it to be quite fascinating. I also had flexible hours and at that day I must have had the 16:00 – 19:00 shift.
So there I was relaxing and I hear the clunk of the mailbox and inside that fiddly cardboard wrapping there was Under the Skin. I opened the book and was glued to my chair for a good few hours. When it was time for work I read it while waiting for the bus and I read it at work. After I finished it I felt very satisfied.
To this day Under the Skin has burnt many images in my mind and it’s not only the more visceral parts of the book but it’s satire on the farming industry which made me shiver. As such I really cannot summarise this book as i’ll spoil the plot completely. I will say that it involves a woman who picks up muscular hitch hikers and incorporates them in her plans. Eventually she see’s the bigger picture of her actions and undergoes a change, now for better or worse it’s up to you. However Under the Skin, as I mentioned is basically a satire on the farming industry and sexual and ethical morals. It’s book that works on many levels and although many could be put of by its ambiguous ending you have to look deeper and it’s message will be clearer.
Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness is one book which has been cropping up a lot in my working life. When I started working as a librarian proper in the fall of 2006 I came across two battered copies of The Heart of Redness. As I was doing a major weeding operation at the time, I felt that these books should not be thrown or given as I found the subject matter to be useful as a teaching aid. I stored them in my cupboard for safe keeping.
Come a few weeks ago and I discover that this book is on the list so I ordered a copy from Amazon (yeah I know but it was unavailable outside of Europe at the time) Only when receiving it that I had two copies stored aside. A D’oh! moment if there ever was one!
Mda tale entwines South African history with present day South African politics. Its plot is very labyrinthine so I’ll try to explain it as clearly as possible.
Back in the 1850’s the child prophet Nongqawuse told the Xhosa tribe that if they killed all their cattle, The British colonial government will leave South Africa and a new breed of cattle will arise out of the sea. This divided the tribe into people who believed this prophecy (believers) and those who were sceptical (unbelievers) unfortunately the prophecy did not work out and the tribe died of starvation or resorted to cannibalism.
We jump forward to the late 90’s and we find out that a scholar from Johannesburg, called Camagu decides to visit the Xhosa people in order to find a woman who has been haunting him. Upon arriving Camagu sees that the tribe is still divided. This time the believers are seen as people who hate progress and the Unbelievers, people who want a progressive change in their village. In the midst of this a casino is going to be built which divides opinions.
To complicate matters even more Camagu falls in love with the daughters of both factions and i forced to make a decision.
In The Heart of Redness (which signifies The Xhosa tribe’s traditional culture) the history of Nongqawuse is closely entwined with modern day South Africa so Mda shows us how the past and present reflect each other. There are crumbs of humour but it focuses on how modernization and capitalism can influence a certain type of mentality. Mda piles on a lot of memorable scenes as Camagu learns the way of the Xhosa people and the book ends on a ambiguous note, which could mean that progress is still unresolved. It’s a book that clearly gets your brain cells jumping.
It’s funny that it takes off where Dan Sleigh’s Islands finishes however I disliked Sleigh’s book, which tackled the same subject except in more depth. It’s clearly a case of how you tell your story then what is in your story!