In the efforts, one might dare say the intentions, of whomsoever might entertain, by virtue of intrigue or appetite, even the most gossamer-thin appre...moreIn the efforts, one might dare say the intentions, of whomsoever might entertain, by virtue of intrigue or appetite, even the most gossamer-thin appreciation of the prose stylings, such as they are, of Henry James, it is worth careful and diligent note that they might profit by observing several cautions in so doing, and therewith effect the appropriate, and necessarily arduous work, of determining pre factum, whether those stylings may actually conceal the purest, one might even venture the most prurient, of common, everyday, gossip.
Chit-chat. Loose talk. The buzz. The scuttlebutt. The argot of the idle riffraff; Scandal, and its disreputable cousins. Whipped to a fine victorian purée, and then judiciously, vehemently pounded into place, with a sledgehammer.
I last read this one summer for school, with Washington Square, when I was about 19; funny how what once seemed the tip of the sophistication iceberg now comes across as labored, and simpleminded, even, in a relentlessly obsessive-compulsive way.
Schönberg, himself also a painter, and Kandinsky were friends, and in the first Blaue Rieiter almanac an essay by the composer on the new music was pu...moreSchönberg, himself also a painter, and Kandinsky were friends, and in the first Blaue Rieiter almanac an essay by the composer on the new music was published. There were close links between the avant-garde in music, in literature and in the visual arts; those involved were all more or less clearly aware that they were part of one general movement. After listening to a Schönberg work in 1911, Franz Marc wrote to his friend August Macke that the new music reminded him of Kandinsky. "There were no longer consonances and dissonances: a dissonance was simply a consonance more widely spaced..."
The world was discovering Modernism but Germany had much more on its mind; the Atonality predicated by Herr Schönberg may have been an apt corollary for the shifting landscape of the Era itself.
Walter Laqueur's book is a precisely decanted survey of the microcosm that was the Weimar Republic. At a fulcrum point in world history, Germany had proceeded from imperial / monarchic control under Wilhelm directly into the unprecedented disaster of the Great War under the generals. Strikes, unrest and sectarian confrontation eventually produced the Weimar constitution and a parliamentary republic, all overshadowed by the punitive Versailles treaty.
A test-tube case, a cauldron of unresolved conflict, an experimental new governance heading right into the Depression ... and the worst yet to come, with National Socialism only building its foundations during the 1918-33 era.
Laqueur does a very businesslike round of the institutions, the sciences, arts, media and academic structures of the day. As a reward for a fairly strict intellectual history in the first part of the book (internecine party conflict, influential strategists), the middle comprises the obligatory round of the cultural state of things, and the last goes with a little tour of the Middlebrow --the pop culture, the cinema, the mood-swings of the day.
Every time I thought there may have been too much of one discipline-- financial policy, say, or the developments in physics or chemistry-- Laqueur deftly switched channels and moved on to yet another perspective. While I could have done with a lot more on some topics (how did Advertising shift between Wilhelm / Weimar / National Socialism ? what transpired with urban planning ? mass transportation ? how were novelty songs, et al -- via the brand new medium of radio broadcast-- shifting ground with the changes, and what was the continental European viewpoint on the republic's varying freedoms vs limitations ?)-- the author manages to touch on nearly every aspect of the gestalt and furnishes enough authors & touchstones for future research.
Under all the hyper-pressures of the situation, it's worth remembering that Wiemar produced Brecht, Einstein, Murnau, Fritz Lang, Thomas Mann, Kandinsksy, and ... the Bauhaus : Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Breuer, Albers, Moholy-Nagy, Klee, and a young Le Corbusier; visiting lecturers there included Hindemith, Stravinsky, Bartok and many others. The strange confluence of temporary liberation, undiscovered political ground verging on the cliffs of impending disaster-- seemed to ignite the Ideas sphere of the Wiemar era.
What this volume (1974) could use now is a deluxe updated edition, with numerous color plates and maybe a dvd for film and music; every section prompts new interests and further investigation. (less)
"Östlich von Wien, fängt der Orient an." -Metternich .. East of Vienna, the Orient begins ..
Off the start-mark at a run, A Time Of Gifts begins as a yo...more"Östlich von Wien, fängt der Orient an." -Metternich .. East of Vienna, the Orient begins ..
Off the start-mark at a run, A Time Of Gifts begins as a youthful dash toward freedom and maybe even civilization itself, exiting deliriously from the stuffy attic-rooms of academia. From a gritty mooring by London Bridge, Fermor hitches a ride on a tramp steamer and arrives in the Hook Of Holland, eager to explore one continent right after the next in a headlong rush. Although this is an overland journey, it is the rivers and waterways that draw the narrative, from the Lowland canals toward the Rhine and then to the Danube :
Even before I looked at a map, two great rivers had already plotted the itinerary in my mind's eye: the Rhine uncoiled across it, the Alps rose up and then the wolf-harbouring Carpathian watersheds and the cordilleras of the Balkans; and there, at the end of the windings of the Danube, the Black Sea was beginning to spread its mysterious and lopsided shape; and my chief destination was never in a moment's doubt. The levitating skyline of Constantinople ...
Itinerary in hand, Fermor proceeds to track a serpentine and unpredictable path through the northern Europe of 1933. It is an adventure, and both hazard and history are close behind. What's very interesting here is that Fermor is not only learning his fundamentals, in the travel sense and the culture sense, but he's learning to write as he goes. There is a lot of time on the hike, we gather, to develop both themes and organizing principles, creating and editing as he walks. Often the bleak lost-in-blizzard moment is deftly transitioned to the lap-of-luxury moment, by mere chance and good luck, as is customary in this kind of 30's memoir.
Some of the episodic accounts aren't really successful, but come off as charmingly youthful and romantic. The reader is altogether captivated by a cosmopolitan Baron in Slovakia; likewise the brief but ecstatic interlude where our author is adopted by Anna and Lise, age-similar housesitters in Stuttgart, where their absent father's grammophone and vintage wines were included. Sometimes, the unsuccessful moments go without an excuse, though, and the text reads like a long list in a tourism book.
Occasionally, though, the stars align, subject meets interpreter on a level landing, and Fermor goes on perfect, soaring autopilot... as with this passage on Danube School artist Albrecht Altdorfer :
"Here, at the northern most point of the river, a hundred and thirty miles upstream from the Abbey of St. Florian, the ancient stronghold of Ratisbon spans the Danube with a bridge that rivals all the great bridges of the Middle Ages. Those battlements and steeples, wrapped in myth, dominate one of the most complete and convincing mediaeval cities of the world. Anyone who has wandered in these streets can understand why the holy pastorals which his colleagues turned into dialect folk-tales, shift, under his hand, into the mood and the scenery of legends. The episodes of scripture—which are nowhere more splendidly manifest than in his great altarpiece at St. Florian’s—are suddenly clothed in the magic and the glamour of fairy stories; fairy stories, moreover, where the Mantua-Antwerp axis, uncoiling brilliant strands into the fabric, has been most potently spinning. Under the gothic interlock of cold whites and greys that canopy hallowed scenes in Flanders, the Biblical characters, clad in robes of lilac and mulberry and lemon and the shrill sulphur hue Mantegna loved, evolve and posture with convincing Renaissance splendor. Pontius Pilate—velvet-clad, mantled in dark sapphire, tasseled and collared like an Elector and turbanned like a Caliph—twists his sprinkled hands between ewer and salver under a magnificent baldaquin of scumbled gold. Through the lancets and the cinquefoils and beyond the diamond panes, the fluted rocks ascend and the woods and cliffs and cloud-banks of Gethsemane frame a luminous and incandescent sunset that presages Patinir. Though the centurions are knights in dark armour, no mortal smith ever wrought those helmet-wings and metal flourishes and knee-flutes and elbow-fans, even on the anvils of Augsburg and Milan in Maximilian’s reign. It is the fabulous harness that flashed later on every pre-raphaelite Grail-seeker and greaved and gauntleted the paladins in the Coloured Fairy books. Shifting from Divinity to sacred fable, the same ambience of magic isolates lonely knights among millions of leaves and confronts St. Eustace and the stag with its antlered crucifix, in a forest full of hazards and spells."
This is a young writer still learning his craft, but Place and Time have conspired to give us a near-perfect piece of Period Travel in this book; this one leaves off at Hungary, so much more from this ambitious road trip still to come. (less)
* Jan 13, 2011 01:35pm One sentence, 608 pages. Translated from the french. Looks like a love-it-or-hate-it if ever there was one. à l'avant! * Mar...more * Jan 13, 2011 01:35pm One sentence, 608 pages. Translated from the french. Looks like a love-it-or-hate-it if ever there was one. à l'avant! * Mar 03, 2011 10:51pm Okay, page 119, lots of commas, lots of derivative history (20th cent EU history somehow always being mirrored by the greeks, and classicalism gone viral & rampant).. (Alright, the guy is a professor. Fine. I'm an electrician and I don't spend all day explaining ohm's law, do I ...) Well, so far, at least I'm on the same freeway, but it's bloated and gridlocked. This is like an enormous James Michener novel, as told by Thomas Pynchon. Which actually sounds good at first blush, but, seriously : the master of the pre-fab potboiler, as retold by the notorious crackpotted prefabricator ? Choppy seas, here in zone land. * Mar 08, 2011 08:15am Devolving to the old cat-and-mouse as we go. Tom & Jerry's European Vacation it isn't, but a turn for the cartoonish. * Mar 13, 2011 10:50pm All settled in, I get it, it's one sentence for the whole thing, really, just like they said. The occasional colon or semicolon is a jolt, a real thunderbolt in the flowy flow here. Just waiting to see if this conglomeration can open up, breathe, start to impart a world of .... stuff. * Mar 23, 2011 01:29pm Pg 303, hiatus in the Zone. Due no doubt to the unceasing public demand for 5oo-pg/sgl-sentence experimental novels, the library won't renew my book. So back to the LAPL and will resume when a new hold brings it back around. One sentence can be a lifetime ... * Apr 01, 2011 08:51pm Zone update: New hold on LAPL copy reports that the entire metro-library system has only the one copy so I'll have to wait till that comes around. I'm actually reading none of the books here at the moment. But I'm reading : a play by Camus, some short fiction from an anthology... one each from Joyce, Conrad, Nabokov, Borges, Kipling and two by Frank O'Connor. A wealth of treats from a free book. Which I've since set free to find another reader. Back to Monsieur Camus, and his crazy bleak thing that he does .... * Apr 06, 2011 03:03pm Zone queue position at LAPL is 1. So at most another couple weeks till I get back to that ... sentence. In the meantime, more alacarte selections from my own books. Then a major project put off for too many years. No, not Finnegan's Wake. It's never really time for Finnegan's Wake, is it... * Apr 13, 2011 09:09am Just finishing up a John le Carré (set in the Panama Canal Zone, where denizens are curiously called "zonians" ..) before returning to the Énard Zone again. Lapl has delivered. * Apr 25, 2011 07:14pm Pg 424, hmm; a book that takes you so long to read that you read numerous others before finishing it. Zone re-entry now complete and I can almost hear the theme music fading back in for the finale ... * Apr 28, 2011 09:11pm Pg 468 my Zone haiku ... Long way down short path. Many clauses, however: Unnecessary.
* May 03, 2011, 9:51am And it was, in the end. A wobbly chunk of experimental fiction that in my view is a lot of arty travel notes, collated from various vacations, pimped up with stabs of faux drama.
Abrupt stops, starts, stops that don't stop, fits of energy and then lagging doldrums. Jolting transistions from a few, repeated, zones: from Memory to Present to Hypothetical and around and around again. You do get the impression that if you had mistakenly turned two pages instead of one, that it wouldn't change anything and it wouldn't matter.
This is like being stuck on a long jet-flight with your least-favorite college history professor, who unfortunately just had a triple-double espresso in the terminal. Categories & pace are scrambled, each jolt in the ride brings a change of frame, a shift to a reminiscence, a list of related corollaries and then back to the vast crossword puzzles of history ... Unfortunate, too, with occasional flashes of interest, as in the Cyprus, Rhodes, Salonika and Corfu sequences.
The way that the single-sentence approach creates an unceasing sense of expectancy-- eventually just clots into complacency, a sense that no immediate conclusions + no foreseeable conclusions = no conclusions.
I'm not averse to any of the above, properly done, (cf, Vladimir Nabokov), and I really just stuck with the book to see if Monsieur Énard could turn the trick, let us feel that there is some breath of life, a heartbeat, in all the subtext. That he couldn't, and didn't, wasn't the worst part of all this. The violent and gratuitous rape scene, three-quarters of the way into the Zone, was what shut off the life-support, and put this in the Dumpster category for me.
pg 83-84 " ... You don't think I'm in a little bit over my head with all this ?"... Troi's fingers stroked his chin. He forced Dicanti to look directly...morepg 83-84 " ... You don't think I'm in a little bit over my head with all this ?"... Troi's fingers stroked his chin. He forced Dicanti to look directly at him. "We're all in a little bit over our heads, bambina. But let all of that go. Just focus on the fact that there's a monster killing people. And your job is hunting monsters." Paola smiled. She was grateful and she wanted him again, one last time, right there, even though she knew it was a mistake, and it would break her heart..."
Hmmm, this could get to be a little much... Nearly every time our heroine encounters a man in this book--- and that happens all the time, possibly due to the fact that she's working in the context of The Vatican -- little romantic bells go off, and she tries to tell herself not to be so attracted, for once. Settle down, Paola, it's not all what it seems.
Who is Paola Dicanti ? She's a two-fisted FBI-trained profiler who carries a couple of handguns, and would rather get in a scuffle than let down her principles; she's tough but sensitive and has a sixth sense for sniffing out serial killers. She slaps her boss and sleeps with a priest. She's Just Amazing.
This is pretty awful, and only manages to keep the reader involved with its nonstop plot developments. Even with all the dismembering and eye-gouging going on, it still arranges to ridicule Jodie Foster and Hannibal Lecter --by name-- while navigating that same and heavily-plowed turf.
The only parts I found to be interesting were the offhand description of Vatican particulars that wouldn't be seen by the usual visitor. As in a description of the building used to house the Cardinals choosing a new Pope during the Conclave :
The Domus Sanctae Marthae, St. Martha's House. Located to the west of the basilica, inside the walls of the Vatican. From outside it's apearance was austere. Straight, elegant lines, without moldings, adornment, or statues ... [but] the inside bore little relation to the exterior. Here was what looked like a fashionable hotel, complete with marble floors and tropical hardwoods. Traces of lilac wafted through the air... There were paintings on every wall, paintings in which Paola was able to recognize the work of the great Dutch and Italian masters of the sixteenth century. And none of them appeared to be reproductions...
Unlike this book, which is a reproduction of several obvious bestseller approaches. The serial killing Silence-Of-The-Lambs meets the catholic-conspiratorial DaVinci-Code all wrapped up in the 'profiler' approach so well-loved by Television.
When I was a kid I used to marvel at the million and one ways the producers of episodic tv would conspire to achieve the (apparent) Holy Grail of weekly cop shows : How To Require The Female Cop To 'Go Undercover' As A Hooker, again. This would require uncommon valor, steely resolve, and, since it was the Seventies, a halter-top with hotpants. What we have here is a little bit beyond that, but not by much.
A little over-achieving in the early chapters, where Deighton launches every disconcerting jump-cut, jarring montage or snap-zoom that he can; a sympt...moreA little over-achieving in the early chapters, where Deighton launches every disconcerting jump-cut, jarring montage or snap-zoom that he can; a symptom of the times, probably, and certainly influenced by the Pop Media of the day.
Once the flashy business is over and we're into the actual storyline, the novel improves considerably. Here we're back on familiar ground and the better-known Deighton environs that were notable in The Ipcress File and Funeral In Berlin. The great strengths of this kind of espionage novel are the practicalities and detailing. How to tap a phone, spot a dead drop, all the tradecraft basics, of course, but also the clanky day-to-day grit of postwar Europe in the late fifties-- the small airports, the tube, trains, cabs in cluttered cities not designed around the automobile.
The truth is that there isn't much here beyond the usual scenario to get excited about; the reason for this genre of spy novel certainly is no longer the pacing, hush-hush gadgetry or casual sex that were once the main draw; they have long been surpassed in ever-more-senseless & accelerated form.
For myself the attraction here is that very grounded, gritty, and cuppa-tea-love? mode of coldwar mise en scène, a style that really originated in the John Buchan novels of the early part of the century.
There's a wealth of mid-century analog here, presented as high-tech:
Deep down in the lower basement of the Central Register building the air is warmed and filtered. Two armed police-men in their wooden office photgraphed me with a Polaroid camera and filed the photo. The big gray metal cabinets hum with the vibration of the air-conditioning fans, and on the far side of the wooden swing doors is yet another security check waiting. Perhaps this is the most secret place in the world. I asked for Mr. Cassel and it took a little time to find him. He greeted me, signed for me, and took me into the inner sanctum. On both sides of us the cabinets rose ten feet high, and every few paces we dodged around stepladders on wheels, or around the serious-faced W.R.A.C. officers who service the records... We came to a low room that looked like a typing pool. In front of each clerk was an electric typewriter, a phone with a large number painted where the dial should be, and a machine like a typewriter carriage. Each document received from cmmmercial espionage or governmental departments is retyped by the men in this room... Kevin Cassel's office was a glass-walled eyrie reached by a step wooden staircase. From it we could see perhaps two acres of files. Here and there were brick columns on which hung red buckets and soda-lime fire extinguishers.
A lost underground world of secrecy. Fortunately this story also takes place on distant location, the coast of Portugal, where the narrative stalks the kind of territory Ian Fleming loved so much. And there is no scarcity of improbable developments here, though as with either Buchan or Fleming, it doesn't really matter much.
We don't purchase the ticket for this ride to complain about plausibility. It's the carnival of primitive postwar paranoia, with diabolical patterns hidden in plain sight; the bigger picture is painted in the tone and in the mood, with their reflections in the gray & minimalist art direction.
As with the previous masters, Fleming, Buchan, Eric Ambler & Graham Greene as well-- there is always a place in the proceedings for perplexing uncertainty:
I dozed until-- plonk, plonk --the undercarriage came down and cabin lighting was turned fully bright to open sleep-moted eyes. As the plane rumbled to a halt, anxious holiday-makers clasped last year's straw hats and groped toward the exit door. "Goodnightsirandthankyou .. goodnightsirandthankyou ... goodnightsirandthankyou..." The stewardess bestowed a low communion upon departing passengers. The plump man edged his way along the plane toward me. "Number twenty-four," he said. "What?" I said nervously. "You are number twenty-four," he said loudly. "I never forget a face." "Who are you?" I asked. His face bent into a rueful smile. "You know who I am," he shouted. "You are the man in apartment number twenty-four and I am Charlie the milkman." "Oh yes," I said weakly. It was the milkman with the deaf horse. "Have a good holiday, Charlie. I'll settle up when you get back..."
Nabokov’s kaleidoscopic coming-of–age novel Glory was written in Russian in 1932, and later translated into English by son Dmitri in the seventies, un...more Nabokov’s kaleidoscopic coming-of–age novel Glory was written in Russian in 1932, and later translated into English by son Dmitri in the seventies, under the supervision of father, author and observant reporter, Vladimir.
Basically two veins being explored here. One the familiar theme of first-love / love-lost & consequent melancholy that comprises the vocational aspirations of every Sensitive Youth.
And the other, the Mise-en-Scène-- itself a complex place-shifting and time-juggling looking glass, framing & reframing the bigger picture. The ongoing motief is that of a window of a moving passenger-train car, with it's motion-picture cuts, fades, dissolves. If the Subject at hand is ardor and rememberance, the choice of perspective is ... a moving frame. As told by Nabokov with a constantly morphing set of cues, that surround but never entirely define the emotional center of the narrative.
These effects, or linkages, manage to blur the transitions between scenes, the continuousness of the timeline, almost to the extent of disorienting the reader every few pages. Basically there is another ‘rosebud’ every time the mood shifts, every prop and postcard on the set a coded message from the netherworld of Memory.
This may all sound a bit whizzy and wispy, but as rendered by Nabokov the shape-shifting narrative elements are held to account by the grounding influences of irony and humor, in effectively calculated doses. As here :
“... Martin was tormented by the thought that she might be making sophisticated fun of him and that any moment she might cause him to take a false step, prodding him toward the boundary beyond which phantasmata become tasteless—and the dreamwalker is jolted into seeing the roof edge from which he is dangling, his own hiked-up night-shirt, the crowd looking up from the sidewalk, the firemen’s helmets...“
The Love and Loss aspects are also constantly being counterbalanced by the merciless twists of fate, reaching their eventual resolution in a coup of the unforeseen /unwelcome developments variety, very much in the tradition of the short-story. Our protagonist finds a Russian Émigré journal of literature in a French railway kiosk that tells of his own betrayal in love-- news to him-- the story within the story, written by his betrayer’s seducer. From here it’s a short rush to the edge of the cliff, where a youth (and maybe Youth) falls into a swooning plunge, the defining arc of the narrative.
All of the elements of the later VN are noticeable here, yet we’re not yet in the presence of the Master he would become, at least not in this translation. But the touchstones that would define Mr. N’s obsessions are all laid out, as in dress rehearsal, for the later works – Memory, Enchantment, and the spidery web of comedy & romance that holds them to the light. And the butterflies, of course.
How can you stop reading a work of fiction that launches with this glimmering arrangement :
“…Lida sat close to the campfire with her chin propped on her hands, and with shiny, dancing eyes, reddish brown from the flames, watched the escaping sparks. Presently Martin stood up, stretched his legs, ascended a dark turfy slope, and walked to the edge of the precipice. Right under his feet he saw a broad black abyss, and beyond it the sea, which seemed to be raised and brought closer, with a full moon’s wake, the “Turkish Trail” spreading in the middle and narrowing as it approached the horizon.
To the left, in the murky, mysterious distance, shimmered the diamond lights of Yalta... and above the black alpestrine steppe, above the silken sea, the enormous, all-engulfing sky, dove-gray with stars, made one’s head spin, and suddenly Martin again experienced a feeling he had known on more than one occasion as a child: an unbearable intensification of all his senses, a magical and demanding impulse, the presence of something for which alone it was worth living ..”
Nabokov’s familiarity with the European capitals between the wars lends a solid foundation to the exhilarating onset and rush of youth herein; the technical mash-up of time & place suit the heady pace and color of the era. Rosebuds everywhere, a lovely book. (less)
Period piece that's a less disturbing read than its reputation would predict. Young loose cannon Behan of the IRA gets caught redhanded in England, an...morePeriod piece that's a less disturbing read than its reputation would predict. Young loose cannon Behan of the IRA gets caught redhanded in England, and learns the system -- and the country that founded it- via its correctional institutions. Banned in Ireland as obscene, this took a while getting published and still managed to upset applecarts in the fifties.
Though tame for contemporary readers, this is the Cooks Tour of the world 'inside', circa early forties, in the north of England. Oddly enough, the comic overall scheme isn't all that different from the humor in a hollywood movie of the era. But the slang, the dense regional patter and class interaction develop the central themes; it's really a tough little coming-of-age story within a frame.
For the Tories, this would have been a withering indictment of the nanny-state administering it's tender mercies. For the Irish, another well-aimed blow against the empire, clever enough to be funny. For a reader, some sixty years later, it's the language. The dialogue can be very intricate although surprisingly offhand. A snip of rhyming slang could place the speaker, inform the listener, geographically (to the streetcorner, sometimes) situate the conversation's participants-- all while remaining opaque to those who might overhear it, and deceptive to the authorities. Keeping the governor in the dark is at all times critical.
Burgess would mine this same vein years later, and more violently, with A Clockwork Orange, outlining the class-structure, sketching the institutional framework, and even going one further by inventing a hyper-slang (his nadsat, based on bits of cockney and soviet jargon).
In the condition of near-total captivity & forfeited control, as with incarceration in correctional institutions, the flowchart of information becomes critical. And the conveyor belt of language becomes epic in scale, a kind of theater of cruelty, written as you go. Where, by necessity, the short, dense, and most cryptic remark gains immortality for the speaker, with all the force of a punch.
Short but factually-loaded history of the explosive years between the wars when Harlem Jazz bloomed in the boîtes of Montmartre. Thoroughly researched...moreShort but factually-loaded history of the explosive years between the wars when Harlem Jazz bloomed in the boîtes of Montmartre. Thoroughly researched but drifts into personnel lists, itineraries and schedules a little too often.
A longer book might have delved more into the evocation of place and time, which are sketched here, but kept to a documentary minimum. Of particular interest is the zazou movement, which was a wildly radical group of musicians and jazz music fans who spared no effort keeping jazz alive under the Occupation. For a further discussion of the zazou, Wikipedia's page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zazou is good. See also "Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend" by Michael Dregni.
Jazz in Paris in the twenty years between the great wars deserves a larger, full-blown exploration in the Gary Giddins vein, and hopefully someone is at work on that right now. Wonderfully rich cross-section of thematic material, and Paris in the Twenties & Thirties as a stage. William Shack's Harlem In Montmartre only hints at the possibilities of a larger work.
A quandry here: the first two thirds of this is dull set-up and exposition stuff that doesn't manage to get the narrative flowing. A vaguely interesti...moreA quandry here: the first two thirds of this is dull set-up and exposition stuff that doesn't manage to get the narrative flowing. A vaguely interesting counter-terrorism network is documented and arrayed against a not-very interesting suspect and his associates.
What keeps you in the book is that this isn't someone's early, earnest attempt at a suspense novel; this is a late work, from master John le Carré, who certainly knows his way around the chessboard. So there must be something to it all, right ?
Well, yes and no. If the same skill & care that concocted the endgame here-- the riveting last third of the book-- could have been brought to bear on the exposition, this would be the best le Carré in a long time, a small masterpiece.
As it stands, the first two-thirds are spent pushing anonymous pieces around the board, adjusting the grounds for the endgame; I'd love to be saying here that it was like watching clockwork to see the pawns being guided into place, that it was a very sophisticated process to witness, interlocking parts gliding into place for the final set-piece..... but it wasn't.
All in all, the introductory parts are (purposefully ?) tossed out in a shambles, perhaps in an attempt to make the end more compelling. For me, this needed to be pared down to novella-length to show only the endgame, or expanded to five, six hundred pages to faithfully render characters & exposition in more than shorthand form. (Something to note is that the beleaguered hardback industry, which requires not more or less than 300 pgs as the standard for suspense, espionage, mystery fiction, --have a look at recent ones--- always prevails these days... Established author or novice, three-hundred pages. Sorry to say that novels don't come out later in director's cut versions.)
But le Carré knows his endgame like nobody else, and how to conduct his characters in the final act. The tone here is controlled, acerbic, and taut. If your patience holds through the intro chapters, the finale is beautifully structured, timed and rendered in short, devastating order. (less)
As an official part of his education, a traditional European young man of means and expectations would take himself off on a 'grand tour' of the Conti...moreAs an official part of his education, a traditional European young man of means and expectations would take himself off on a 'grand tour' of the Continent, in the years of the 18th and 19th centuries. It would be understood that he would return with some acquaintance of the fine arts, the salons of society and their denizens -- the disparate and unsettling ways of the world, more or less. And then, having had a mad dash at life, the courtly, bohemian, and maybe even not-so-reputable ways of the continent-- return to promptly immerse himself in the lifelong drudgery of administering his father's concerns.
Here's the journal of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret at twenty-four, long before his self-induced transformation into the architect and design-polemicist Le Corbusier, eventually one of the founders of International Style in the 1920s.
But this is 1911, and the world is a Nineteenth Century one. And Journey To The East is most notable, I think, as a period piece, an illustration of a time we can't imagine any longer, as encapsulized by a young man who was enraptured by it (and a little by his own impressions). At the turn of the century, The East meant only Central Europe and beyond, so an itinerary starting in Berlin and headed down the Danube toward the Balkans fit the bill.
Jeanneret's voice isn't so much unique as it is of-it's-day, and highly impressionable; orientalisms abound --add to the mix the idea of who he would become, and there's an intriguing, slightly arriviste charge to the account. A world where electricity, the idea of 'traffic', and even the telephone are conspicuously absent-- becomes a kind of Conradian up-river affair for Little Corbu; the imagery becomes a bit hallucinatory at times, matched by long stream-of-consciousness passages.
But he also offers beautiful little line-drawings of what he sees all along the way, showing how he sees it, with a young man's enchantment in the framing. The sketches are well-proportioned, and draw the eye; exactly the effect a later traveller would attempt with photographs, but made by a draftsman who trusts his hand to take visual notes accurately.
It must be said, though, that all the while he really wants to go native and can't quite manage the full leap of faith. Until he sees the Parthenon that is, whereupon truth, golden dimensions, and angels singing seal the deal. Odd, though, that the resulting epiphanies are had at the shrine of the Western Ideal, in what is titled a journey to the East...
There is some discussion as to whether Jeanneret had met Gropius & Mies van der Rohe in Berlin before he left, where he had worked for an architect called Peter Behrens; whether he had yet seen the world in the stark terms of Toward A New Architecture, his vertical assualt on style. But it doesn't matter; there is also the engaging thing of seeing him come alive to the cultures he encounters in direct response to what they build. His discussion of the Hagia Sophia is still very illuminating to the western reader, and the Parthenon experience surely has resonant chords for many.
Another aspect here is that this is before the war and the Paris peace accords of 1919, which would redraw the world; rather than boundaries as we know them, Jeanneret travels through what was the Austro-Hungary of the Hapsburgs, and into the Ottoman empire of the last caliphate. Bounded on the far shore by British East Africa, and on the eastern edge by the crumbling old Persian empire, this Grand Tour takes him through long-forgotten conceptions of the world, dim memories now of a euro-centric globe.
Here's a snip of the bazaar at Stamboul in Constantinople [Istanbul:] :
Here, in effect, is Sesame, because one discovers and dislodges from beneath the piles of coarse earth the most sumptuous nuggets of the East, from the Islam of Europe to as far as the jungles, brought here piece by piece across the sands, mountains, and brush by solemn caravans. It is a labyrinth (Baedecker recommends that one carry a compass), a maze of arcades, without a glimpse of sky for several kilometers. It is closed in, suffocationg, and secluded. Here and there tiny windows pierce the low barrel vault, and yet it is well lit. It is deserted at night and frenzied during the day. At sunset, the heavy doors are drawn, enclosing the fabulous wealth, and the great clamor subsides. Upon arriving, forewarned by the cries of these strange people, I could always imagine a metal god seated on the lintel of the door, rubbing his fat gold belly with both hands. His lips would be greedy , and his forehead would recede like that of an orangutan. His nostrils would be flared, and his gaze restless. He would have long donkey's ears. The hierophant sits there and in his slimy manner overhears the glib and deafening voices; he has the same features as his master, and as for his claws he has stolen them from the oldest of the bridges tolltakers, who died of grief. He speaks all languages, badly, is dressed like us, and his hair is fuzzy... Meanwhile, carpets are not retrieved from their fall, nor embroideries from their swoon, nor pottery, now rendering every movement perilous. You are utterly seduced by a young persian girl dressed in scarlet, beneath a golden canopy in an Ishfahan garden with tulips and hyacinths everywhere.... Truly, you cannot be cold-blooded any longer; there are too many crazy things before your eyes, too many delightful evocations that throw you into a foolish stupor. You are intoxicated; you cannot react at all. This torrent, this flood, this avalanche of charlatanism brutalizes and annihilates you.
Anyway, a little bit trying at times, irrationally exuberant at others, the reader who wants to enjoy this has to go with the flow, both of the journey, and Jeanneret's purplish rendering thereof... Well worth the trip, worth relaxing overly-strict tolerances for tight prose, allowing, even appreciating, the self-conscious persona of Youth. "Have a look at this, I'm in on the joke, I get the picture", the narrator tells us again and again. Well, yes, nearly that. Lovely period-travel memoir, in the knowing voice of youth.
Like the Dolnick book on the Vermeer forgeries, this stacks up as a compendium of art-world scam and theft alongside of the central thread, which is a...moreLike the Dolnick book on the Vermeer forgeries, this stacks up as a compendium of art-world scam and theft alongside of the central thread, which is about the Munch's Scream theft.
This time out, though, the compendium aspects outweigh the central thread, and by a long shot. The real value of the book is in the asides, the comparisons, the sidebar items. There, the depth of the research really shows, in spite of an overdeveloped appreciation of the main character, (who obviously charmed the author to pieces) the Scotland Yard investigator.
While it sounds like therefore the book isn't worth the read--- well, no, it's very worth it. It's not any less fascinating just because it's a thin story to hang the wealth of info from....
As mentioned elsewhere, there is something of a kinship in the creation of art and the forging or theft of art. Both are a kind of Confidence Game. These similarities are brightly underlined in this book and the Vermeer title; if you're intrigued by the relationship, I recommend you read both books, which are really like two volumes of the same study. (less)
This is a good solid account of a very intriguing history. Actual story of intel operations in wartorn Europe ... deception, deals, camouflage, disinf...moreThis is a good solid account of a very intriguing history. Actual story of intel operations in wartorn Europe ... deception, deals, camouflage, disinformation, scams, trickery ... spymasters and double agents galore. And with the protagonist a convicted felon, every trick has a few extra layers.
The tiniest details tell a lot : when they wanted to convince the other side that a certain secret chunk of war technology was available, deadly and miniaturized for easy concealment, the British Secret Service set about passing a story and a photo through the lines, via a double agent. He carried a special photo of the gizmo shown next to a wooden inch-ruler, to show scale. The other side wouldn't have known that the gizmo was real but the ruler was carefully constructed to be way over-scale, thus telling a slightly shady story of the miniaturization and the resulting deadliness....
MacIntyre has assembled a full slate of character & plot here, and does a lot better than 'Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche' which had some dull expanses along the way.
This is a great snowed-in winter weekend read, no fluff & no filler. Kind of like if the History Channel weren't quite so sleep-inducing.
As the most visibly catastrophic wreckage of the Cold War, the gray horror of life in the German Democratic Republic-- East Germany--- was carefully c...moreAs the most visibly catastrophic wreckage of the Cold War, the gray horror of life in the German Democratic Republic-- East Germany--- was carefully choreographed by the security apparatus, the Stasi. The basics of state control were expanded to previously unimaginable heights with the Stasi's network of informants and secret police.
Anna Funder's participatory journalism brings the ghosts of this bizarre surveillance state out to tell their own story in the vivid Stasiland, which manages to be intriguing while astringent, morbidly fascinating. There are the grisly details like the Smell Jars and Radiation Tagging (too reminiscent of recent story of Mr Litvinenko), the nightmare of the Wall and the upside-down logic of the Security State. But the unforgettable moments are down to Human Nature in its very worst guises, always able to invent something a little worse or more manipulative for the right perk, price, or contraband slab of meat.
Like some "Crucible" of backbiting and vicious rumor gone viral, the intricate methodology of the Stasi to 'turn' the citizenry to inform against itself was unrivalled, it seems. In a poisoned atmosphere of distrust and suspicion, even innocent defensive postures were reconfigured to appear sinister, worthy of a "report" to the guardians, rewarded and duly noted in the files.
Ms Funder's somber account keeps true to the timbral properties-- the murk, must, and banality of the regime. The GDR period's emotional tenor of stifled hysteria, the tactile sense of the presence of cornered animals in every corner, is rendered by the prose style very directly. But as with any once-elaborate system in steep and irreversible decline, there's an odd beauty alongside the rot... There is a kind of enigmatic Home-For-The-Holidays feel here, but only if the holiday in question is another workday, and the home is Orwell's 1984.