“Warsaw 1939 – women, drugs, betrayal”. As far as publishers’ blurbs go, this one is a little masterpiece.
If this book is not translated into English...more“Warsaw 1939 – women, drugs, betrayal”. As far as publishers’ blurbs go, this one is a little masterpiece.
If this book is not translated into English right now, I honestly don’t know what is wrong with the publishing world, for it’s the best book I’ve read in years.
This novel is pretty much my literary wet dream. It is well-researched; it’s beautiful linguistically, just a tiny bit experimental, it has a gripping story and the most endearing anti-hero whom I actually somewhat fell in love with.
It has been nominated to just about every literary award this year and I am yet to meet a person who didn’t like it. In fact, if you didn’t like it then we probably won’t get a long – I don’t want to meet you, let’s stay strangers.
Enough of this rambling. Meet my new love – Konstanty Willemann. He wakes up on day, hung-over and nauseous and tries to establish his identity. It’s a question that goes deeper than the usual drunkard’s confusion. The Germans have been occupying Warsaw for fourteen days now and it’s high time Konstanty decides whether he is German or Polish. The question of his national identity never before bothered or interested him but in 1939 such ambivalence is no longer permitted. Konstanty’s father was German, his mother is a German-speaking Silesian who chose to be Polish and that’s how she raised her son. As a result Konstanty has two mother tongues and ‘two souls in one body’. Before the war Konstanty was a bon-vivant, connoisseur of fine cars and beautiful women. His mother sponsored his expensive lifestyle and his friends helped him hide his affairs and his morphine addiction from his wife.
Ah, Konstanty, is that why I love you because we are so alike? There is so much German blood in my veins, there aren’t enough consonants in my surname. Is this why I feel like I feel you? Is it because we love the members of the opposite sex so much, so much that we can’t let them be who they are, we create them in our heads according to our visions?
Initially Konstanty tries to maintain his old way of life, begs his doctor friend Jacek for some morphine (which should really go to the wounded soldiers), visits his Jewish-Russian lover Salome, drinks, eats and parties on the ruins of Warsaw. However, his life is set on a different path when his Polish wife, Hela, asks him to deliver a package to the members of the underground. He feels this is a test decides to rise to the occasion.
Almost unwillingly Konstanty joins the Underground and is assigned a task to be a spy among the Germans. Thus starts his transformation from a Pole to a German. He realises what sort of power his Viennese accent gives him and gets carried away. After discovering his father is still alive he borrows his uniform and his documents and essentially converts himself into his father. All his friends believe him to be a traitor and cut him off. It’s especially Konstanty’s father-in-law, Peszkowski, big Polish patriot who now hates him with a vehemence. No one is sure anymore who Konstanty is, even Konstanty himself. Is he really a Pole pretending to be German, or was he just a German pretending to be a Pole before? Poor Konstanty, he was not cut out for the times he had to live in.
I want this book to be translated to English very badly, but I also worry, I worry that the translator might butcher Twardoch’s style. And Twardoch’s style could charm my knickers off. It’s witty, erotic and trance-like. Despite the experimental touches, it is never confusing. Let’s not forget about Warsaw – another hero (or is it a heroine?) of the novel. Wartime Warsaw comes alive in this book and makes you (or maybe me, maybe it’s just me) weep with all that has been lost. This is not a cheap airport bestseller - it doesn’t use war and holocaust to make you cry. When it comes to the horrors of the war, it’s almost understated. Its emotional power comes from leaving things unsaid, showing just a glimpse or a shadow. There were a few scenes that brought me close to tears because of their very gentle description of hopelessness and despair. I swear I will sit down and translate it pro bono publico, someone just publish it, please. (less)
This is the best historical romance novel I have read in my entire life ever. If all historical romances were like this one I would just apply for an...moreThis is the best historical romance novel I have read in my entire life ever. If all historical romances were like this one I would just apply for an unemployment benefit, sit at home and read them all day every day. I wouldn’t even have showers. And I’d only eat what hungryhouse.co.uk can deliver to my door. I really would need nothing else in my life, so maybe it’s a good thing not all historical romance novels are like this one.
If you are to read only one historical romance, because, I don’t know, it’s on your list of 1001 things to do before you die, make sure it’s this one. It had everything I'd ever wanted from a historical romance.
I didn’t think I was into reunion romances. It’s what we in Polish call “reheating old cutlets”. But I should’ve trusted Sherry Thomas. I should’ve known Sherry Thomas was a genius. This book made me giddy. I couldn’t stop reading it and I wanted to stop reading it because I didn’t want it to end. I want to erase my whole memory of this book, so I can read it again. That truly must be the only advantage of suffering from anterograde amnesia. Imagine! I could read this book every day! Sherry Thomas is a very intelligent and erudite writer; her books are full of those fantastic little historical details. She mastered the ‘show not tell’ rule. She doesn’t have to tell us her characters are so smart and educated – she shows us by the conversations they’re having.
What I love most about Sherry Thomas and this book is the authenticity of the characters’ emotional struggle. The obstacles are not there to fill out the pages before the grand finale; they are there because the hero and heroine genuinely need to overcome certain things in order to be happy and it’s not something that makes you think “I’m sorry but what’s your problem exactly?” And I like that they are not perfect, it makes it all that much easier to identify with them.
As a matter of fact, I might have liked this book so much because it reminded me of my own story that spanned over almost 10 years, two continents, five countries and involved disappearing without a trace, five year long separation, valentine postcards with no return address, presents arriving from different countries, jumping on the plane before saying what you really meant to say and regretting it afterwards and shitloads of really bad timing. If this place were less public, I’d tell you the whole story.
‘Private Arrangements’ made me think of this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSFbfB... Just change ‘three days’ to ‘three weeks’ and it’s perfect. I've been loving you Without you even knowing I'll never forget those days Three days in a row You were mine alone And I haven't seen you since that day I'm sorry baby Baby boy, when I saw you the first time I knew right away that you and I Were connected in a way I believed that there was a way something more That I could ever express in my own words I just knew at the time I belonged to you but it all felt so wrong To do the things my heart gave in Baby I'm telling you With loads on our minds A few goodbyes We could never have given it a real try But you were in my head always And at this point of my life I just know That if you let me back in I won't let go of you and me spending our lives I just know it's a matter of time Before it all falls back into place Baby believe me I walk the line and for you I will shine Just be prepared for a hell of a ride Don't ever doubt 'bout the way I feel For heaven sake boy I'm beggin' you
This is probably the cheesiest review I have ever written, but bite me. See if I care.
I didn’t even know what to cook for the food tie-in for this review. I do remember they drank extremely posh wines and cognacs (Lafite, Romanee Conti, Remy Martin) but I only have some vague recollection of some game meat dishes. I decided to do something elegant, not too extravagant, loosely British-French and found this recipe: Pan-fried pork medallions with leeks and flageolet beans (http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/pan...). The recipe is by the Hairy Bikers, so not the most elegant chefs out there but it looked like something that would go well with the book. Also to be perfectly honest with you, Tesco had pork medallions on special offer. The sauce proved to be heavenly – try it!
I’m quite upset because my best photo turned out to be blurry, so had to use not so good of a shot that makes the pork medallions giant and potato rosti petite, when they were actually the same size.
There is this strange thing with the US and its culture. We all know all about them and they know not a thing about us. If two people from different c...moreThere is this strange thing with the US and its culture. We all know all about them and they know not a thing about us. If two people from different countries or even continents meet up, the conversation often gyrates around American (usually pop) culture. It’s the common ground. When I moved to America for a year when I was 18, I didn’t suffer a severe cultural shock (although I was a little frightened by the size of hamburgers). I knew the TV shows those kids watched, the music they listened to, and the celebrities they admired.
This phenomenon is sometimes bad, especially because it is not reciprocal, but at least I could read Sullivan’s collection of essays without having to google everything. If this was, for example, ‘Pulphead: Dispatched from the Other Side of Poland’, it would need extensive footnotes for anyone outside of Poland to be able to understand it. That, of course, would ruin the narrative. And the narrative in ‘Pulphead’ is nothing short of amazing. It’s not only my opinion, many reviewers agree, so much that they hope he will start writing literary fiction (which is understood to be a somehow more sophisticated form). To that Sullivan says:
"That genre snobbery conceals a deeper stupidity. If you look back to Defoe and that early-18th-century period when the genres as we know them were being extruded, you find it gets messy. The categories people like to play with when doing that hierarchy of genres don't exist; they don't hold up to investigation, they're all feeding into each other and borrowing techniques from one another.”
Here I suppose the cultural differences kick in for me. In Poland, it’s the ‘reportage’ that seems to be the ultimate literary form (just think Kapuściński), taken most seriously. Sometimes you can even get the impression that fiction is considered a pastime suitable for schoolgirls only. There are literary journals which only deal with essays, interviews and poetry, as if fiction was not good enough.
I suppose I should start reviewing the actual book now, because I feel I’m getting side-tracked here. So what does Sullivan actually write about? To be honest – anything. He shares insightful personal stories, like the one about his brother, who after being electrocuted, spent two months in a sort of a bizarre daze. Or the beautiful story about a family trip to Disneyworld. At other times he goes on exploring some extremely niche subject distilling it to the point the average reader will actually give a damn, be it a story of deciphering obscure blues lyrics or exploring Native American cave paintings.
He likes to hang out with all these people that we only know as caricatures, like the Christian rock fans (rocking on for Jesus), the Tea Party members, or The Real World cast offs. I will come clean here and say I did have to google The Real World, as somehow for the past 30 years I have lived in a Real-world-free-world. Don’t ask me how, I don’t know myself – that thing is huge! It might because each time anyone mentioned the Real World I assumed they were talking about the actual real world. It’s also probably because I absolutely hate reality tv. And this is not me being snobbish, because, we all know well, I will happily admit to many questionable entertainment choices, it’s just reality shows I can’t stand. Reality TV, let’s be honest, is just stupid people talking. And I know, as an aspiring novelist, I should probably pay more attention to them, they might just tell me something that smart people haven’t noticed, but I can’t bring myself to watch it. It’s too tiring. But that, again, is beside the point.
Sullivan often goes back to Indiana, the state where he grew up, to investigate some little known facts from the lives of famous musicians who are also Hoosiers (that means someone from Indiana. I learnt a new word! But maybe it’s offensive, I don’t know. Better don’t use it in public.), and that is Michael Jackson and Axl Rose. And let me tell you, the piece on Michael Jackson, was the best piece on Michael Jackson I’ve ever read and I’ve read many because when he died I was working in a boring job.
Recently, I decided I would accompany my reviews with cooking, because why not? Everybody likes a little bit of food porn, right? So for ‘Pulphead’ I decided to cook something typical of Indiana, as that state features so heavily in the book. I’m not going to pretend I hold American cuisine in a great esteem but I’m not dismissing it either. They must’ve come up with some good corn-based dishes in all those years. Apparently the most classic thing for Indiana is its Pork-tenderloin Sandwich. It’s basically a pork schnitzel bigger than a human head, deep fried and stuck in a hamburger bun. So not exactly ground-breaking, but decent comfort food. As a Polish person I shouldn’t have anything to say against pork schnitzel as it’s our Sunday classic. I used this recipe (some REAL Hoosier said it was authentic) http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/fo..., although I didn’t use Wondra instant flour (wtf is that anyway?). It’s funny how so many American recipes list ingredients that need a trademark next to them. Just look at this baby!
I was defeated in the end and didn’t finish it, but I put up a good fight! (That marinade actually truly kicks ass, I think buttermilk and garlic is the secret. Also I didn’t deep fry it, deep frying scares me.) * Please note, I’m reviewing here the UK version of Pulphead which has apparently been slightly amplified. (less)
How do I even begin this? I spent about two weeks reading this and that's a lot of time for people to be asking: "so what is it about?" It's usually no...moreHow do I even begin this? I spent about two weeks reading this and that's a lot of time for people to be asking: "so what is it about?" It's usually non-readers who ask such questions because readers know better than to ask what a 800 page book is about. But I thought about it and decided that it was mostly about subjectivity of experience. Not that it made sense to anyone who asked.
It was three books and each one of them a different kind of wonderful. It all starts in a small village of Deptford, Ontario.
Fifth Business was like a better version of Prayer for Owen Meany. There were saints, magic and a lot of symbolism but not as heavy handed as in John Irving’s books. It’s the life story of Dunstan Ramsay, a man who has never played the main character. Even as a narrator he reduces himself to a catalyst needed for certain things to happen. As it is, it as much a story about Dunstan as it is a story about Boy Staunton, his best friend and his enemy. Dunstan is an honest and self-aware narrator but as every first person narrator should be approached with caution. After all, he does specialize in myths and likes to attribute more meaning to things than other people think it’s reasonable.
The Manticore looks on many events from The Fifth Business from a different perspective and through a different medium – Jung style psychoanalysis which Boy Staunton’s son is undergoing. It’s clear that Robertson Davies is a big fan of Jung and weirdly enough this was the book I have read the quickest of all three. Nothing more exciting than uncovering different layers of a person’s psyche. It made me want to embrace and explore my own Shadow, i.e. all that’s nasty about me (like that I am a judgmental bitch).
World of Wonders is when the last missing puzzle of Deptford finds its place. It’s a story about illusions and legends that we like to believe about ourselves. It really explores the theme of the first person narrator, the autobiographer – unreliable by definition. It’s also a very bizarre but beautiful love story, although Davies might be falling in his own Jung trap, because his female characters in all three books are more of Anima archetypes than characters but it’s possible he meant them to be this way as every book is written from a male point of view.
Davies writes the hell out of every sentence. There aren’t any false notes. Its perfection left me amazed and I am afraid my hackneyed review won’t do it justice. I don’t even want to use any of the adjectives the blurb writers have cheapened over decades of book marketing. This review is so vapid it makes me want to cry because all I want to do is to get everyone to read this book. (less)
As the resident Pole on Bookmunch I have received this book for reviewing and now I am afraid I won’t do it justice. Going through years of the Polish...moreAs the resident Pole on Bookmunch I have received this book for reviewing and now I am afraid I won’t do it justice. Going through years of the Polish education system, I didn’t think I wanted or needed to know anything more about World War II, the occupation, the Gestapo or the Holocaust. I was wrong. Jan Karski’s Story of a Secret State should be a compulsory read for everyone. I am not saying this because I am Polish and we like to inform the whole world about our heroic, albeit forgotten deeds. I am saying this because it is an extremely well-written, captivating, thrilling and unsettling account of the Second World War.
The book starts with a carefree atmosphere of a ball in the Portuguese embassy, where Karski is trying to flirt with the daughters of the Portuguese Ambassador. It’s a beautiful summer night but we already know these are the last moments for light-heartedness and innocence because it is August of 1939. Karski will wake up in a different world and we follow him as he is thrown overnight into the very centre of the war. And so begins the story of the Polish Resistance – the largest resistance movement in all of occupied Europe – the complex secret state operating underground and punishing by death any attempts of collaboration with the Occupant. To the very end Poland refused to surrender, collaborate or even acknowledge the existence of Nazi occupation. The price it had to pay for such unreasonable stubbornness was high – Poland lost 6 million people (including 3 million Polish Jews).
Like every good WWII spy thriller Story of A Secret State has arrests, Soviet work camps, German camps, torture, microfilms, dozens of false identities, emergency cyanide pills, and treks through borders of various countries of the war-torn Europe. Nonetheless, Karski’s “Report to the World” is honest, modest, full of distance to himself and even has occasional glimpses of humour, and is therefore very far removed from the ‘I’m on a horse’ Bond-like narratives. The story is characterised by typical Polish patriotism, reckless and insane; the very kind that has long been smothered by political correctness, but the kind that had allowed Poland to survive the many decades it has been wiped off the map. It goes very much along the lines of Poland’s favourite motto: ”God, Honour, Motherland”- the holy trinity of Polish values. I was afraid that this kind of sentiment might not be fully understood in the UK, because the English never had to fight for the very existence of their Motherland, and therefore never developed this sort of feverish madness as a national trait. In Karski’s own words:
“[The Englishmen] were also stubborn, strong and realistic. A Frenchman or a Pole, with an exaggerated love for the grand gesture, might commit suicide for a lost cause. An Englishman, never. […] They do not gamble recklessly with a worthless hand. […] I was not interested in their idealism; I had seen idealism too easily crushed by the Nazis. Perhaps it was not just on England, but it was on British common sense alone that I pinned all my hopes.”
Yet, when I read Andrew Roberts’ heartfelt afterword in this new edition, I realised that the English might not be as unsentimental as Karski saw them.
Story of a Secret State was originally published in the US in 1944 where it became an instant bestseller selling over 400,000 copies, yet it failed to achieve what Karski set out to do – make the Western Allies believe the shocking reality of the Nazi genocide of the Jews, Poles and others. The reports he brought in 1942 and 1943 to the British and American authorities were tragically assumed to be typically Polish exaggerations. The plaque that appears on the statue of Karski in Washington, DC reads: “The Man Who Told of the Annihilation of the Jewish People While There Was Still Time To Stop It”.
Story of A Secret State should now be read as a reminder to never underestimate the atrocities as well heroism that humans are capable of.(less)
"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I ha...moreWhat a cute little book!! Just listen to this:
"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead."
There is a special place in my heart for all the wacky, unreliable narrators that might or might not have murderous tendencies. I read their words and I get them. Their logic makes sense to me. You are probably wondering: "But Kinga, doesn't it worry you? Doesn't it worry you that you find it so easy to relate to all the nutcases of the world?". And I will say: "Yes, it worries me a little bit, maybe. But hey, as Seal sings 'we're never gonna survive unless we get a little crazayy-y-y'. (Btw. did you hear the Seal and Heidi are no more? This is the saddest news ever. They were my favourite celebrity couple ever!)
Anyway, the book. Merricat and Constance are sisters and they live in a big house all alone, not counting their handicapped uncle. They have a garden where they grow things and Constance cooks all year long which makes Merricat observe:
"We eat the year away. We eat the spring and the summer and the fall. We wait for something to grow and then we eat it."
And it all sounds like total bliss to me. I want to live in a big house like that with my sister, and have my little harmless rituals, and new books from library every week.
Hey, don't you think Merricat should totally marry Frank from the Wasp Factory? They are meant for each other! Of course, they both hate strangers to they might initially try to kill each other, but every relationship has its obstacles to overcome. I believe eventually they will realise they are soulmates and get married and have lots and lots of completely twisted children. That might be just a tad difficult given the fact that Frank does not have a penis, but I believe that love conquers all!
"The Corner is rooted in human desire - crude and certain and immediate. And the hard truth is that all the law enforcement in the world can't mess wi...more"The Corner is rooted in human desire - crude and certain and immediate. And the hard truth is that all the law enforcement in the world can't mess with desire."
I have this flaw in my character that I am extremely judgmental. I try to fight it. I try to tell myself I don't know the circumstances. I can't see the whole picture. But no matter how hard I try, there is always that voice in my head that keeps saying "why can't people just get their shit together". You know, go get a job, stop selling drugs, leave that abusive relationship, don't join a gang, don't do drugs. Just say 'no', right?
I will tell you this - no one has managed to do more for my personal improvement than David Simon and Ed Burns with this book of theirs. I can almost feel I am a better person now. 'The Corner' is a documentary of one year of the Corner of West Fayette and Monroe in West Baltimore. People getting high, people selling drugs, people getting in trouble, people shooting each other, kids having kids - you know the statistics. Now, Simon and Burns show you the people behind the statistics. They don't patronize or infantilize their subjects. They humanize them. They tell you like it is, they don't try to justify them, or blame everything on the system.
This is not an easy read because the portraits of Fran, DeAndre, Gary, Blue or Fat Curt hit a little close to home. Well, of course I like to think that if I were born in the ghetto I wouldn't let that happen to me, I would just work hard, and try hard, and I wouldn't get in trouble.
Because I am so strong-willed, right? I can't fucking manage two days without chocolate but I would make it out the ghetto.
As the authors say: "Yes, if we were down there, if we were the damned of the American cities, we would not fail. We would rise above the corner. And when we tell ourselves such things, we unthinkly assume that we would be consigned to places like Fayette Street fully equipped, with all the graces and disciplines, talents and training that we now possess."
If this book doesn't bring you close to tears, I don't want to know you, you must be a bad person.
Now, on the other hand, this book also made me want to become a dope fiend. Just a little bit, you know. Imagine I could swap all these conflicting desires and needs I have for just one need and desire - to get that blast. Just that. No other emotional and material needs. No need to find love or a more fulfilling job or start family or make more money, just get a blast. A simple goal, achievable on a daily basis. Yeah, fucks you up good in the end, but it doesn't matter because what matters is to get a blast. This is a very simple code: get a blast and never say never because you never know how far you will go to get a blast.
Oh God, this book was great. Can David Simon go and live somewhere else for a year and write me another one like that? That's all I want for Christmas, thank you. The language was beautiful and literary, and full of slang at the same time and somehow it didn't sound like your dad trying to be hip. You might listen to a hundred rap songs, and you won't have a clue. You can watch all the 'urban movies' you can download in the whole wide internet and you still won't understand. Read this book and you might just begin to have an idea.
The older I get the harder it is for any book to get on my special-place-in-my-heart shelf. The last time I found myself raving about a book as if it...moreThe older I get the harder it is for any book to get on my special-place-in-my-heart shelf. The last time I found myself raving about a book as if it was the Second Coming of Christ was when I read Evening is the Whole Day in December 2009. Either I have been reading lots of so-so books lately or I have become jaded.
Luckily, here comes this book to prove to me I am not as indifferent as I would like to believe myself to be.
Another thing this book proves is that you can have a best selling collection of short stories, as long as you pretend they are a novel. Short stories seem to be perfectly suited to our current busy lifestyles and short attention spans. It's baffling they are pushed off the literary mainstream, and judging by this book's success, it seems to be some unexplainable prejudice. After all, this book is just a collection of loosely connected episodes that could (and have been) easily published as stand alone stories.
The appeal of "A Visit from the Goon Squad" lies in its treatment of passing time and growing old, of how people go from being the protagonists to barely mentioned secondary characters. These are all things we know about but we don't like to think about. The delicate way in which Egan presents the inevitability of all of them makes it a very sad, melancholic, and bitter-sweet read. This book is also about rock'n'roll because music is one of those things that were always better when we were young.
No matter how accomplished and powerful the character, he or she will eventually get pushed aside and left to reminisce. This is the most powerful and important message that this book delivers. However, it doesn't leave you completely hopeless. It uses a beautiful metaphor of pauses in rock'n'roll songs. Just when you think it's all over, the song comes back on after a couple seconds for its one last hurrah.
I have read a few negative reviews (most notably Sarah Aswell's one) and while I see where they are coming from, I must say this book did it for me. It was so true that all I could do was sigh for two reasons. One, because we're all gonna die, two, because there is no way I could ever write anything this powerful.
Has there ever been a more perversely English book?
From the paragraphs meandering around and telling the reader what in the narrator’s humble opinion...moreHas there ever been a more perversely English book?
From the paragraphs meandering around and telling the reader what in the narrator’s humble opinion makes a great butler to the descriptions of the unobtrusive beauty of the English countryside it somehow manages to be the saddest love story ever told. Also as my friend Lewis says: “it’s the best example of dramatic irony in contemporary literature.”
The narrator, Mr Stevens, is the ultimate tragic hero. He is so repressed that he doesn’t even know how to be honest with himself. His only identity is that of a butler and he had been wearing for so long that whatever personality he might have had is long gone. And morphing into his profession is what he twistedly defines as ‘dignity’ - the quality he admires most of all. And all we get are his monologues, monologues that frustrate us and depress us. This book should be unreadable, and yet it is a page turner. Not much happens, which is symptomatic to Mr Stevens’ life and yet this meticulous character study is so emotionally involving that even though I’m reviewing it a long time after finishing it, it is still very fresh in my mind and proves to me that those five stars I gave it were fully deserved.
All in all, it’s a cautionary tale – what if you wake up one day towards the end of your life and realise that you have wasted it, that all you believed to be good and true turned out to be a sham? Would you just plain deny it or would you just try to make the best of the remains of the day? (less)
Years ago I made vows I would disregard Nobel Prize in literature and its winners until it was awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa. I just couldn't bear it,...moreYears ago I made vows I would disregard Nobel Prize in literature and its winners until it was awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa. I just couldn't bear it, that that Fidel-loving, loco-going, commie - Gabriel Garcia Marquez had it and my beloved Llosa didn't. I was very adamant in my indignation, so finally the Swedish Academy gave in and awarded Llosa the Nobel price last year (that is in 2010, in case you are reading it in distant future). Therefore I could now allow myself to read Doris Lessing.
'Five Short Novels' is one of her lesser known works and reads more like a prelude to something bigger that you can glimpse between the pages. There is just so much potential there and Lessing seems to be teasing you by rationing her talent.
'Five Short Novels' were realeased in a new edition in Poland after Lessing won the Nobel Prize in 2007 and that's what I read. My only complaints about the book have nothing to do with Lessing and all to do with the translation. Unfortunately, the new edition was based on the old translation and while it wasn't straight out bad, it was definitely odd. One thing that irked me in particular was the translation of the characters' names into their Polish equivalents. A very annoying habit that was abandonded by translators a long ago. The translator of 'Five Short Novels' seems to have abandonded it partially as some of the names were translated, some were left in their original form and some were left as in the original but spelled according to Polish spelling rules. I could not make any sense of this.
Another bizarre ocurrence was the translator's insistence on using diminutives in the story 'The Other Woman'. I have no clue where she got that idea from, as diminutives as such don't exist in English. I even asked my goodreads friend Alan who has an original version of the book at home to send me some scans, so I can try to figure it out. But there was nothing there to justify the diminutives that were used both in the dialogues and the narrative. As a result we had two grown up people discussing the parents of one of them using the words 'Mummy' and 'Daddy'.
Enough about the translator, back to Lessing. I think the biggest strength of the book is Lessing's amazing emotional intelligence. She focuses on emotional nuances and describes them with such precision that you can do nothing but admire. It doesn't matter whether it is a teenage Native from the Reserve in South Africa going on his big adventure in the city or a young English woman trying to find love in London during the wartime blitz - the emotional portraits are profund and strikingly authentic. Lessing moves around themes like colonisation, racism, feminism with dexterity but her focus is with people, not with ideas. You don't get the nagging feeling while reading that the author has an agenda and is trying to shove something down your throat. Anyway, Lessing usually brushes off all the claims that she is a feminist writer. And she would most likely laugh at my use of the term 'emotional intelligence' because I suspect such buzz words don't sit well with her. All in all, I will be adding more of Doris to my never ending to-read list while hoping some serious advancements in medicine are made so I can live up 300 at least and read all those books.(less)
The five stars go equally to Ron Suskind the author and Cedric Jennings, the hero of the book. As any other review will tell you it is a story about a...moreThe five stars go equally to Ron Suskind the author and Cedric Jennings, the hero of the book. As any other review will tell you it is a story about a boy from the ghetto who somehow managed to learn something in his gang-infested high school (think Gangsta's Paradise) and made it to one of the Ivy League universities.
If you think this is some sort of Chicken Soup for the White Liberal Soul then you couldn't be more wrong. Basically the conclusion is: shit is bad, real bad. The challenges that Cedric had to face were many and of various kinds. Things that affluented white Americans take for granted, Cedric had to learn from scratch. The boy struggled not only academically but socially and culturally. And my heart went out to him and mind you, I am not the kind of person that even admits to having a heart at all. Don't tell my boyfriend but I think I developed a crush on Cedric.
Ron Suskind is not bad either. The social observation and psychological analysis are of greatest quality. There is nothing in the book that sounds patronising and judgemental. Suskind had a great idea of removing himself entirely from the narrative and making Cedric the focus of it, so we see the world through his eyes, rather than Suskind's. I know quite a few authors that are way too egocentric to even consider doing that because they just love starting their sentences with 'I'.
There were a few moments where I just had to smile, usually when Suskind tried to explain something about hip hop or r'n'b to his readers. It gave me that feeling you used to get when you were a teenager and your parents tried to be cool and engage in a conversation with you about some 'cool stuff'. And you felt slightly embarrassed but also warm inside because you knew they were trying.
Enough. Go read it. It is good. It had me on the edge of my seat when I was waiting with Cedric for each exam results. I even got excited when he was going through some calculus problems (stuff that normally sends me to sleep in no time).(less)
Just when some thought it was impossible to please me...along comes this book. This deserves 5 stars without any doubt. It baffles me why the world h...more Just when some thought it was impossible to please me...along comes this book. This deserves 5 stars without any doubt. It baffles me why the world hypes barely mediocre books like 'The Kite Runner' or 'Lovely Bones' when gems like this one go almost unnoticed. There is not a single thing that is wrong with this book. In fact, it is a textbook example of how one should write a novel. Reviving the true art of storytelling, it manages to be gripping, enthralling, and captivating. The novel reveals itself slowly as if we were peeling an onion, uncovering one thin layer after another. It is amazing how real all the characters are. They are never black or white, but are perfectly three-dimensional with all the gradations of grey. Each has their share of good and bad in them. They all make mistakes and hurt each other deeply but I couldn't bring myself to wholeheartedly hate any of them because in the end they were oh so very human. It might be a depressing potrait of the institution of family but there is no exaggeration in it. There is no excess drama that 'happens in books and soap operas only'. It is a wonderful piece of prose. It is lush without being overwritten, rich but still delicate and light. Call me old-school but I still believe writers should truly master the language, have a vast vocabulary, use synonyms, create metaphors that would strike you with their originality and appropriacy, and just take you on a journey. And Preeta Samarasan does just that which is why I am going to be a fan forever and ever.(less)
Opressives regimes,opressive fathers and Africa - my favourite literary subjects all in one book! This had to be good. And it was. Ms Adichie is someon...moreOpressives regimes,opressive fathers and Africa - my favourite literary subjects all in one book! This had to be good. And it was. Ms Adichie is someone I am definitely going to follow. Even if the characters seemed a little too black or white and predictable at times it was still a strong debut especially considering how young the author was. The style of the narrative represented very well the narrator's timid nature and I think Adichie did a really good job on that. (less)