What's strangest about this book isn't that it's written in an ersatz extinct language, it's that the narrator ends up being the most unlikable characWhat's strangest about this book isn't that it's written in an ersatz extinct language, it's that the narrator ends up being the most unlikable character in the entire novel. The "shadow" Anglo Saxon isn't just a gimmick; this isn't merely an historical account of heroic Anglo underdogs fighting against Norman invaders--no simple RETURN OF THE JEDI set in twelfth century fenns. No, Kingsnorth overturns such a premise and instead crafts a rather complex and thought-provoking examination of imperialism, xenophobia, justice, religion, war, and class division. Rather than serving merely as a marketing ploy or as a poetic flourish, the otherworldly language serves to get us directly into the mind and emotions of Buccmaster of Holland, even as we slowly realize that he himself is a despicable fuccan esole. Such a tension causes us to question both sides of the war and in turn question similar fighting that has happened more recently. ...more
NUESTRO FIN DE SEMANA was the first play written (when he was 29) by Roberto Mario Cossa, who from what I can gather is a fairly significant name in ANUESTRO FIN DE SEMANA was the first play written (when he was 29) by Roberto Mario Cossa, who from what I can gather is a fairly significant name in Argentinean theater and film though he's essentially unknown in the English-speaking world. My edition of this book was published in the '60's for English-speaking readers, probably for Spanish Literature college courses. It has a brief introduction in English, a glossary at the back, a handful of footnotes for understanding slang and specific Argentinean references, and (in my copy, at least) some helpful blue ballpoint marginalia written in a student cursive you just don't see anymore these days. I bought this book over a decade ago from Mercy House Thrift in Harrisonburg, when on Saturdays you could buy paperbacks for twelve and a half cents from a large room lined with floor-to-ceiling books. I'm reading it now because I need to be practicing my Spanish and it's one of the only books I own that isn't in English. Either my time on Duolingo has paid off or Cossa writes in a simple, clear Spanish (or probably a little bit of both) because I breezed through this with a very high level of comprehension--it's probably the longest Spanish-language text that I've understood completely.
Set in the affluent San Isidro neighborhood of Buenos Aires in the 1960's (when and where it was written), NUESTRO FIN DE SEMANA is a story of anomie, malaise, and desperation. Eight fortysomething friends and colleagues gather for a low-key weekend on the patio of married couple Beatriz and Raul, a struggling typewriter salesman. They're all lower middle class, comfortable but miserable, losing themselves in whatever escapes they can find, be it sleeping, drinking, recollecting the past, watching television, or becoming obsessively devoted to meaningless sports. There was a golden age in the past when they presumably were happy, a golden age which they continually allude to, but the present age is marked by disappointment and inflation.
The play accurately captures a feeling that was supposedly widespread amongst the middle class in 1960's Buenos Aires, a feeling that resonated with audiences and allowed the play to become very successful. Reflective of its themes, the play is fairly uneventful--undramatic, almost--at times, even boring. The few things that do happen in the sparse plot are predictable, though that's also in keeping with the doldrums of the theme. If played as a satire I could imagine some of the situations being quite funny, but I have a feeling that the play was meant to be played straight, in which case the characters come across as one-dimensional caricatures each meant to convey some individual aspect of tedious escapism.
Cossa's debut play is effective at evoking a tone, but it offers no solutions. Yes, these people have problems--but if all the methods they find for addressing these problems (drinking, dancing, etc.) are fruitless, then what does Cossa believe they should be doing instead? There's not one character who stands above the general malaise of the play, not one character who seems to have even the slightest idea about what is actually meaningful in life if middle class diversions apparently aren't. And so the final effect the play achieves is a bitter feeling that existence itself is meaningless, and I'm simply not a fan of that kind of hands-in-the-air surrender....more
MAPS is a superb book--lyrical, experimental, moving, memorable. Since reading MAPS a few years ago, I root for Farah each October when they're aboutMAPS is a superb book--lyrical, experimental, moving, memorable. Since reading MAPS a few years ago, I root for Farah each October when they're about to announce the Nobel laureates.
LINKS, however, seems like it was written by a different person. It's clunky, talky, lifeless. I couldn't wait for it to be over.
An exile arrives in his hometown of Magadiscio for the first time in twenty years, returning to the wartorn city for reasons that are never quite convincing. The first thing he witnesses is a child being randomly shot in the head by a gun-toting adolescent playing a marksmanship game. Yet though this early event sets the tone that the city is lawless and terrifying, the main character continues to freely walk around pissing people off and putting his life in jeopardy, apparently believing himself to be invincible. Farah never quite explains how such a setting could exist--if everyone wants Jeeblah dead, and if there really wouldn't be any consequences to killing him, then why aren't they able to just shoot him down? And is wishing to visit his mother's grave really reason enough for him to risk his own life when he has a family waiting for and depending on him in the United States? I'm not saying the situations Farah presents are impossible--they simply don't make sense to me as they are presented. Instead of character psychology, we get symbol-heavy dreams or pages-long political conversations with details pulled from newspaper articles. The occasional motivation or emotion that we get seems injected into the story merely out of necessity, with no consideration for logic or storytelling momentum.
It seems to me that Farah really wanted to write a nonfiction essay on the current state of Somalia, but instead of simply doing that he cobbled together a few one-dimensional characters, put them into a confusing and illogical plot, and had them spend most of their time sitting around talking politics in a diction that real people never use when speaking (the expository "I did [such-and-such], as is customary in traditional Somalian culture..." is an oft-repeated refrain, similar to if an American writer were to write, "I told him 'God Bless You,' as is typical in the English-speaking world after someone has sneezed").
It's always nice to learn a thing or two about another culture, but I do not recommend this book....more
Pretty dated. Sontag repeatedly refers to how "we" think about cancer and AIDS, which is rather unsettling since it's so far removed from how I or anyPretty dated. Sontag repeatedly refers to how "we" think about cancer and AIDS, which is rather unsettling since it's so far removed from how I or anyone else I know thinks about those illnesses. Granted, Sontag does provide a glimpse into the mindset of a previous generation... but the research is too superficial, the organization too disjointed, the intention too unclear for it to having any real lasting power. It's a quick read with some interesting information here and there, but it's quite a letdown from what I was expecting....more