Book 945 Monika Maron – Pavel’s Letters

Sorry for the poor image size but I’m discovering that on more obscure titles finding a decent image is a bit difficult.

It seems that timing was perfect for during the month of November I have read three books that dealt with war (and book 944 also is about this subject) and so far I have enjoyed all of them.

In scope Monika Maron’s Pavel’s Letters is very similar to Dubravka Ugresic’s ‘The Museum of Unconditional Surrender’ that is,  an autobiographical tale about someone trying to piece her past by using photographs and letters as evidence. However whereas Ugresic had been able to reconstruct her history well, Maron had more problems as her mother forgot a lot of the important details and her grandfather erased most of his history and left behind a series of letters and a handful of  pictures.

The setting for Pavel’s Letters is during wartime Berlin. Maron is writing her novel as the wall is falling down so it is just that she documents the two major events of the Germany’s troubled history. As she finally puts together her past Maron finds out that it is one of suffering and deception, albeit with tender moments.

Pavel’s Letters is a brutally honest book. I deals with its subjects bluntly and there is no time wasted in describing events and yet in doesn’t become self-indulgent or some kind of moan fest, which the novel could have easily turned into.  It’s focal point is memory and how one can erase or alter it in order to give a more optimistic view of life. Although clearly this is not the case and the author’s family did undergo a lot of suffering.

I am loving the fact that the last three books have all touched upon the same theme and have been able to give us a unique vision of the events leading to the war be it World War II or the Bosnian one. There will always be some sort of imprint caused, that can affect an outlook of life and the these novels are helping become more aware of these happenings

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Book 946 Jorge Volpi – In Search of Klingsor

 

One of the greatest feelings has got to be reading a book that obsesses you and make you ponder about it for a long time. Thus I am glad that Volpi’s In Search of Klingsor has kept me finding every opportunity possible to read it. During my lunch break, the wee hours of the morning and even sneaking a page while I had two minutes to myself, I did nothing but read this marvellous gem of a novel.

Francis Bacon (no not the scientist of playwright) is a somewhat unlucky physicist, especially in the field of love, however he gets his break and finds himself as a spy for the U.S. government. This is during the second World War so there the government needs people to keep an eye on Hitler’s doings.

After a couple of successes and the end of the war, Bacon has a new mission : to uncover the identity of Hitler’s scientist who goes under the name Klingsor. Along with fellow mathematician Gustav Links, Bacon interviews  famous physicists, gets embroiled in a twisted love affair and discovers that his search for the truth is not as easy as it may seem. In the meantime we get glimpses of Links’ (who is narrating the story) own life and how he became the person he is.

You could say that this is a metaphysical detective thriller as through the many plot twists the thriller genre is transcended. Volpi not only focuses on the history of science but we readers also get a thorough timeline of Germany and some of its occupied countries from 1920 to 1947 and some chunks of philosophy as well. It’s also impeccably translated and the whole novel just takes you along for the ride. It is a brainy book but it is far from inaccessible. In fact as a person who was never capable of understanding physics, I was finding Volpi’s explanations of wave mechanics and the theory of relativity digestible and mind enriching.

If you are looking for a stimulating read look no further, this is one book that will stay with you for ages definitely a must read!

Inbetweener 8 Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go

I have been dying to read a book by Ishiguro for AGES and so I decided to start backwards (this is starting to become a trend) and begin with his latest novel. Without doubt Never Let Me Go is probably one of the best books i’ve read this year.

One of my all time favorite books is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and I’m always on the search for dystopian literature so I was very pleased to find out that Never Let Me Go has elements of Brave New World and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as well.

The world that Ishiguro has dreamed up of is one populated by cloned children reared to give their organs away (called donors) and those who help in reassuring the donors (called carers) there are other people in this hierarchical society but it’s the donors and carers who dominate the novel. This is because the main protagonist, Kathy,  is a carer and is telling us readers about her past.

In the first part of  Never Let Me Go Kathy recounts her schooldays at an institute called Hailsham, It is here she notices some strange happenings but her main preoccupation is working within the school’s system and her interactions with her friends Ruth and Tommy. Saying this all the events here affect the future of the book.

The second part deals with Kathy’s post Hailsham life and her training for the future. Again we get brief descriptions of the type of society Ishiguro has cooked up but it’s very subtle and there’s only bits and pieces. Like part one the emphasis is on Kathy’s ever mutating friendship with Ruth and Tommy. However Hailsham still is in the minds of these teenagers.

Part three is the denouement – everything that has confused the reader is exposed, explained and dissected.  Kathy is now a fully fledged carer and her two closest friends are donors, in this part of the book Kathy undertakes a journey to uncover all those secrets that have built up over the years and, yes it all lies within Hailsham.

Despite all the horrors presented here,  Never Let Me Go is an ultra strong tale of friendship and it is the relations between Kathy, Ruth and Tommy which are the real focus of the novel. True it is their situation and Hailsham life which affects this trio’s bond but it is love that shines through.

Ishiguro’s prose is simply beautiful and never ever descends into the vulgar, it’s like eating an After Eight , never harsh and totally satisfying with a surprising amount of depth. It’s well structured flows like a river and gives the reader a lot of joy within the pages.  It’s also worth paying close attention to the novel’s title as it plays a crucial role in Kathy’s understanding of  life.

It’s funny that there hasn’t been any Ishiguro’s in this reading project as yet cause never Let Me Go was published in 2005 and When We were Orphans was published in 2000.  Now we’ll see if The Unconsoled will crop up at that was released in 1995.  Now that I’ve read this author I definitely want to keep on investigating his works!

Book 947 Dubravka Ugresic – The Museum of Unconditional Surrender

A word of warning to you all. This book is frequently in and out of print so you have to be a bit quick when looking for copies. In order to secure a copy from The Book Depository I had to wait a couple of months but trust me, it was worth it.

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender is about how photographs and miscellaneous trinkets can create an autobiography and throughout the book Ugresic does precisely this. It’s also a book about being exiled and it is pictures and small objects which help us preserve the country and the memories we have left behind. By the end of the book Ugresic states that immigrants are traveling museums as they remember artifacts of history to keep the spirit of the departed country.

The structure of the book is also like an album of photographs, paragraphs appear here and there, memories pop out of nowhere, there is even a semi magic realist story involving an angel and some of Ugresic’s close friends. Despite all these all experimental techniques the book is addictive and every piece is seamlessly connected. Here the author does get her point and personal biography of war and exile across but it’s after a bit of wandering. It’s a truly satisfying read.

This is my first foray into Croatian literature and i’m glad it was a positive one. If anything this quest is helping me open my mind about different forms of literature and many new authors and so it’s an enlightening challenge!

Book 948 Amelie Nothomb – Fear and Trembling

Well I’ve begun a new decade and it seems that the first entry (or last if  since i’m working backwards) is a good start. Funnily enough Fear and Trembling’s cover has always seemed to haunt me.  When I worked at the bookstore we had an endless supply and we ended up selling copies at a discount price. When I left the store and began my first job proper there was a copy in the school library and then when I was dismissed from that place in 2006 I found it in bargain bins in various bookstores around the island.

Naturally when it was part of this list it seemed that every existing copy had disappeared of the face of this earth so I had to order it from the ever dependable book depository. It was worth the trouble though.

Amelie is a Belgian of   Japanese descent and she decides to return to her roots by working in a Japanese corporation. Although she thinks of it as the perfect way to interact with her people she gets a lot more than she bargains for.

Right from the start she is bullied by her bosses by doing mundane actions such as photocopying a 1000 leaflets manually, or converting sums into yen and then adding them up. The ultimate low she reaches is when she becomes a toilet attendant.

It is worth noting that none of this is written in a self-pitying style. Nothomb is able to look at the humorous aspect of all this and quite a few times I did laugh. She is an acute observer of habits and mannerisms and she brings this out very well.

Really what we are getting here is a commentary on Western and Eastern viewpoints. Usually the media presents culture clashes in a rosy tinted way, like one can reconcile and live with people with different mentalities but here it’s the opposite. Amelie gets demoted every single time she uses her western ideals to remedy a situation, when in fact the Japanese people portrayed in Fear and Trembling get insulted as they feel that Amelie’s an intruder.

The only time when there is a bit of redemption (and I mean a bit) is when Amelie succumbs to the Japanese custom of informing all her bosses that she is leaving her workplace and she needs their approval and judgment.(The  phrase fear and trembling itself is a response that people would answer the emperor when asked for their judgment) It is the only time she feels truly free in the novel as well.

For it’s brevity Fear and Trembling is a very enjoyable novel that has lashes of sly wit and is a realistic view of culture clashes and is entertaining.

 

Reflections on the years 2008 – 2000

Well it took me nearly a year but i’ve gone through all the books listed throughout the years 2000 to 2008 and it was quite an experience.  I only read a grand total of  15 so I was exposed to lots of new authors and writing styles. Also it was the first time I’ve seriously read works which were translated, although I admit I didn’t like a good number of them. Anyway here are some of the themes that were common in this batch.

The twin towers disaster and general destruction of the world

Politics – especially countries run by dictators

The second World War, particularly the holocaust – probably this was one of the most prominent themes.

I also have to say with some exception I wasn’t particularly keen on the majority of the thicker books.

some quick reflections :

Books I liked the most : Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, Roberto Bolano’s 2666 and Mosin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Books I disliked : Dan Sleigh’s Islands , Colm Toibin’s The Master, Frank Schatzing’s The Swarm and W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz.

Most pleasant surprise ” Ali Smith’ The Accidental

Book 949 Enrique Vilas-Matas – Bartleby & Co.

Apologies for the size of the pic – it was all I could find!

Talent is a weird thing. Sometimes it’s very obvious that a person is talented as their works are a sort of proof, but what about those people who were talented but never wrote anything down or created one sole piece of work and yet were still recognised for it?

Enrique Vila-Matas examines this in the book Bartleby & Co.  For those who don’t know Bartleby, who was created by Herman Melville, is the public servant who calmly refused to carry out any of the tasks that his boss assigned him despite this quiet anarchy Bartleby still dedicates his life to staying in his office.  Vilas-Matas (under an alter ego who is bored with his office job) gives us a list of eighty-six writers, philosophers, painters and poets who followed the philosophy of the no and their reasons for giving up writing are quite bizarre suicide, lack of ideas a surplus of ideas, death of an influential relative each ‘excuse’ gets more weirder than the last,. my personal favourite being Paranoid Perez who would relay his ideas to friends only to find out a few months later that his rival Jose Saramago would publish a book based on Perez’s initial idea!

There quite a few known people as well Socrates, Salinger, Pynchon (although this focuses more on his reclusive rather than his body of work) Kafka, Rimbaud and each story is both fascinating and grotesquely humorous. It also proves that talent and fame has many forms and that silence is truly more powerful than speech itself.