First of all this book is out of print. I bought my copy from playtrade.com.
During the past two weeks I have 1) Slept very badly, usually waking up at 2 in the morning and 2) been without a computer. As a result I was able to finish off this weighty tome in a couple of weeks. Saying that I really wasn’t in the mood for reading 900 pages about Hungarian history at this point in time. Anyways whatever the list dictates I read!
For those who don’t know the Esterhazy’s are one of Hungary’s most prominent families. Boasting of a lineage which can be traced back to Hungary’s beginnings, Esterhzays have played their part in European history. They have helped cultural icons like Hayden and Bartok with their compositions, been by the side of most of the Hungarian monarchs and even helped out Winston Churchill during the second world war. There’s even a place in Canada called Esterhazy due to one of Peter Esterhazy’s great great uncles moving there in the late 1800’s.
All of this is chronicled in Celestial Harmonies (the surname Esterhazy means ‘of the stars’ so the title has a sort of double meaning)
The book itself is divided into two halves. The first section deals with random paragraphs about the beginnings of the Esterhazy clan and as a consequence we get a snapshot of Hungarian history – time jumps a lot but the majority of this part takes place around the Ottoman war period – the 1500’s. The second section is a more autobiographical and is more cohesive.
Celestial Harmonies is a unique novel. I personally doubt if something like this will ever crop up again. It is, however a very tiring novel and sometimes the scattershot paragraphs in the first section can be a bit irritating. Although I don’t regret reading it (at least know my knowledge on Hungary has improved!), but I cannot say that I loved it. Like I mentioned earlier I wasn’t in the mood for a thick novel and this probably why i’m not too enthusiastic about it. saying that Celestial Harmonies’ importance cannot be overlooked.
First of all the best place to buy this book is from http://www.indiaclub.com. and secondly I’m still not too sure on whether I like this book or not. Here are the reasons:
Leela is a writer, sent by the small magazine company she works with, to write a biography on the famous singer Savitribai (now known throughout the novel as Bai). Madhu finds out that Bai was her next door neighbour and that she was good friends with her daughter Munni.
From this point on Madhu starts escaped into her torrid past. In fact the more she interviews Bai, the more demons she exorcises until she reaches a state of purity through the power of memory. Honestly to actually give away these events would be churlish of me and I’d rather have you read the book and find out about the the type of life Madhu, and to a certain extent, Bai leads.
Deshpande is an excellent writer and does not go for the obvious. Like Arundhati Roy she gives away bits and pieces, revealing everything in the final chapters of the novel. Also her writing style is elegant and flowing. My gripe is the plot itself, which is way too pessimistic. Sure there are bad moments in life, but it does not consist solely of awful events and Madhu’s life is like some horrific car crash – deaths, affairs, cheaters liars and so on. True we all suffer in life but not as much as Deshpande’s characters. It is a downer of a book and there were times where I struggled to finish it.
Yet now reflecting on it you can’t help admire the pure power and honesty of Small Remedies, so as I said i’m still in a limbo stage here.
Having read all three of Zadie Smith’s novels, I can say that she definitely has a classic world conquering book in her and with each publication she is edging nearer and nearer to that landmark novel. Mind you with White Teeth she has created waves, The Autograph Man was liked by quite a few people (not me though) and On Beauty is her most focused work to date.
It is a bit futile to describe On Beauty’s plot. To be honest in this case it’s not the plot that counts but rather the themes Zadie Smith focuses on and trust me there are tons of them here. Multi racial families, Liberal vs Conservative viewpoints, fidelity, University politics and art. Really I’m skimming the surface. There is A LOT going on and Smith deftly puts it together and embodies all these layered themes in the two major families who feature in the novel, that is the Belsey’s and Kipps.
Unfortunately though, like her previous books, On Beauty has it’s fair share of kinks which decreases its appreciation value. Sometimes I feel that Smith tries way too hard to appear cool and hip, especially seen in the rapper Carl, which I felt was a stereotypical way of portraying hip hop fans. Also most of the time her characters burst into these self righteous speeches, which are a bit annoying, if Smith is trying to be as realistic as possible then these outbursts spoil the story’s themes from becoming believable.
Leaving those blips aside then On Beauty as a sort signpost for things to come. I’ve got a gut feeling that the next Zadie Smith novel will be one that will raise a few eyebrows.