Archive for October, 2011

Book 794 – Etienne van Heerden – Ancestral Voices

October 29, 2011

There’s nothing worse than a reading slump and when you commit yourself to a project like this they inevitably happen. It is impossible to like something that you don’t feel like reading  and from Matigari onwards (with the exception of Watchmen) this  was happening.  Unfortunately I’ve experienced this slump with every decade I’ve tackled and I’m waiting for at least one decade where I love every single book.

However once you get out of the slump it’s a great feeling. There was some light shining with The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman but now with Ancestral Voices I think the only way is upwards.

The is a family saga, much in the same line as both Garcia Marquez and Steinbeck.  This means that there are elements of magic realism mixed with moments of stark realism. Oh yes there’s a character who shares my surname (Pisani) and considering that the book takes place in South Africa, I was greatly surprised to see this!

As I said the setting takes place in South Africa , on a farmland which has been owned by the Moolmans for a century. During these hundred years there have been killings, rebellions and ex communicated family members.  The tragedy begins when one of the grandchildren falls down a boorhole and then shot in the process and a magistrate has to visit this family in order to see who is the culprit.

Due to the largeness of the Moolman’s this magistrate has to inspect the whole family tree and comes across some nasty surprises.

Murder mystery aside (we do find out who the killer is) van Heerdeen is presenting a South Africa where Apartheid is rife and mentalities are still to be adhered to, in fact the banished members of the family are the ones who went against convention and mingled with Africans.  One character in the novel who fights for rights  is seen as the biggest traitor of the Moolmans. So this is quite political, although it’s quite disguised in the beginning.

My only gripe about this book is that it is out of print, surely a novel of this magnitude should be widely available. Sometimes I don’t understand.

 

Book 795 Andrzej Szczypiorski – The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman

October 24, 2011

 

 

After already reading a book about the second World War, I wasn’t up to another one. Especially since this one focuses on Jews as well but The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman is so great that I forgot all my complaints and got absorbed into the novel.

As such you could say that the book is a collection of short stories but they are loosely linked as the same characters re-occur. The woman of the title is a Jew who has, through illegal ways, becomes a Polish citizen. Her lover is a young man who tries to understand this crazy situation, his friend is a spoilt young man who tries to escape the ghetto and so.

Not only does Szczypiorski speak about the present and the past, he also mentions the future destinations of his characters obviously unbeknownst to them. It is this factor which made me read this book compulsively as most of the themes here , doubt, fear, bravery have been tackled before in other holocaust novels. Incidentally the translation is great and flowing and that helped my enjoyment of the book.

A cult classic!

Book 796 Primo Levi – The Drowned and the Saved

October 21, 2011

I got to love the eclecticism the 1001 list presents. One day I’m reading a comic about superheroes and next I tackle Primo Levi’s essays on concentration camps.

As I have revealed, this is what The Drowned and the Saved is all about. It is also one of the very few non fiction titles of the list (these exceptions always come as a little surprise).

Within these short chapters Levi goes into a more psychological account of the ‘lagers’ and the various results. From the inner dialect that formed, to common stereotypes, the tricks that memory can play on you. and, the best chapter, German reactions to his earlier works . What keeps this work from being too academic is the fact that Levi only uses anecdotes as examples in order to get his point across , plus some references to films and novels written by other camp survivors.

All of this makes interesting reading, however to be honest I wasn’t really in the mood for something like this but anyways this is one of the things when you are ‘bound’ to a challenge like this. Sometimes you have to take certain books in your stride.

I’m curious about Levi’s other works now (and there are quite a few mentioned) so at least The Drowned and the Saved sparked off an interest.

Book 797 Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons – Watchmen

October 19, 2011

 

Although it’s a great idea to include a graphic novel on this list, I sort of wish that the compilers would at least mention one for each decade. That way we get an idea on how comics developed through the ages as well.

Saying that Watchmen is a mighty fine choice. This was my third reading and I still discovered some new things. I’m also ashamed at the fact that I missed so much the  on the first two readings.

Watchmen is a complex, multi-layered story which tackles different aspects of  the burning topics of the 80’s. Such as the cold war, communism and the burgeoning rise of information technology. However, at it’s core I see it as a treatise on the the psychology of the superhero or vigilante.

It is 1985 and one of  the most ruthless vigilante, The Comedian is killed. Another one of his colleagues, Rorschach suspects that there is someone killing off the first and second generation of superheroes that ruled America and in the case of the only person with super powers (Dr. Manhattan) still is keeping the world in check from nuclear war.

As Rorschach continues his investigation he ropes in the remaining vigilantes to try uncover clues and in the meantime through letters, documents and other written evidence we readers find out more about these caped crusaders past and how it psychologically affected them. All of it badly.

Eventually the mystery is solved and it is revealed to be all part of a plan to ensue world peace. Don’t worry I’m not spoiling anything. Trust me this is whole scheme is both twisted and brilliant.

And I didn’t even mention the sub plot about the pirate!!

I have read all of Alan Moore’s works and all of them feature intelligent plots but I find Watchmen the most satisfying and the most detailed. The fact that I have read it three times in the space of 6 years is something alone. This is a book that will continue to twist brain cells for a very long time – until at least Moore brews up something equally potent. In fact out of all the graphic novels I’ve read the only thing which matched it this are the Hernandez Brothers comics.

As the illustrator is included and it is a comic I thought I’d better say that the images are incredibly memorable. In my case the very last image is the one that summarises the greatness of this influential novel.

Book 798 Thomas Bernhard – Extinction

October 15, 2011

Read Thomas Berhard’s ‘Extinction’  evoked the exact same feelings I get when I watch a film by Michael Haneke. It’s technically great and keeps you seated but it’s devoid of emotion and clinical, Plus I can’t stand these authors who use one paragraph.

Basically the story is about a man who escapes to Rome because he cannot stand the Austrian mentality. However this changes as his parents and brother die. As he is next in line and his older sister is married he inherits his parents mansion. Which means he has to return to Austria in order to determine the house’s future, as well as his parents past mistakes.

Potentially this would have been great but Bernhards use of satire is to hit hard and the reader is presented a depressing account of pre and post war Austria. According to the main character it’s a place that refuses to progress and acknowledge differences. A place that is in a time warp and full of obsolete customs. It’s depressing and the pessimism can be very daunting at times. I did feel exhausted reading it.

I think I have something against most northern European writers. I haven’t liked many  (I think a grand total of three) I’m hoping this will change.

 

Book 799 – Kazuo Ishiguro – An Artist of the Floating World

October 10, 2011

 

With the exception of The Unconsoled, I am enjoying every single Ishiguro novel this list mentions.  An Artist… is his second book and explores his reoccurring themes. ; generation gaps and memory.

This time the setting is post war Japan and Ono, a semi retired painter is noticing that there is a new generation of Japanese people cropping up, A generation that is more cruel, Americanized yet confident and optimistic. Having been the ringleader of a movement that encouraged Japanese culture to be portrayed at its fullest.

As time passes we, as readers get to find out more about Ono’s past and the one act of  treachery that affected his future.

Although this is not Isihiguro’s best book, I would definitely say that this is the one that showed us what he is capable of doing and due to its success, paved the way for what was to come , namely The Remains of the Day.

 

Book 800 Eduardo Galeano – Memory of Fire : Book 3 – Century of the Wind

October 4, 2011

In the concluding volume of this trilogy Galeano focuses on America’s evolution towards the contemporary age. Now instead of racial wars, the twentieth century brought about dictators such as Castro, Trujillo and others. Also many new inventions have been cropping up, not to mention the two world wars. The whole series ends with a letter the author writes about finishing of the trilogy.

On the whole, I can’t really complain about these three volumes. I enjoyed the way they were written and provided me with a lot of information about the development of  South America. It’s pity that they are out of print and maybe a fourth volume could be written as well?

 

 

Book 800 Eduardo Galeano – Memory of Fire : Book 2 – Faces and Masks

October 1, 2011

 

Onwards to volume two of the Memory of Fire trilogy!

This time round Galeano tackles the years 1700 – 1900. Again there’s a lot dedicated to the suffering the Indians had to go through. However, there are more chapters on America turning into a superpower and the plight of black slavery. He also mentions how society is moving towards the contemporary era by mentioning products such as Levi’s and Coca-Cola.

As such there’s no huge change in the writing style or approach. The standard still is consistent and I enjoyed this volume as well.