I discovered The Queue last year in 2012 when it was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize. It took my attention straight away becau...moreI discovered The Queue last year in 2012 when it was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize. It took my attention straight away because I had recently read The Concert Ticket by Olga Grushin, and it explores the same phenomenon: the Soviet-era queue for consumer goods.
The Queue however, is more innovative and challenging in style than The Concert Ticket. Sorokin’s novel consists entirely of fragments of conversation. There is no narrator, and it is up to the reader to find out for herself that the setting is somewhere in the suburbs of Moscow in the 1970s (dated by pop music references, i.e. the Beatles and the Stones). Even more confusing is that the reader has to work out who the characters are from dialogue...
At first glance it’s a straightforward cautionary tale. Obi Okonkwo has been a fool. The novel begins with the judge who convicts him for corruption e...moreAt first glance it’s a straightforward cautionary tale. Obi Okonkwo has been a fool. The novel begins with the judge who convicts him for corruption expressing his astonishment that a young man with a good education and such brilliant prospects should have come to this. Flashbacks explain how one thing led to another and Obi succumbed to temptation as he failed to make the transition from village life to city bureaucrat. At this level the book can be read as a coming-of-age gone awry as we see him act on impulse, choose unwisely, take imprudent decisions, and stick to his guns out of stubbornness rather than good judgement. It is his ego which prevents him from realising his potential, together with his inability to meet the demands that the new responsibilities of adulthood entail.
As the excellent introduction by Gikandi explains, however, Obi’s fall is a metaphor for Nigeria itself in its post-colonial transition, as impending independence gives rise to the age of corruption. The young man’s tragedy is the tragedy of so many African nations in the post-colonial era, nations that have failed, even now, to establish good governance.
I read Kadare’s The Palace of Dreams in 2005, and thought it was an excellent book, but this is even better. At face value, it’s the rivetting story o...moreI read Kadare’s The Palace of Dreams in 2005, and thought it was an excellent book, but this is even better. At face value, it’s the rivetting story of a C15th siege – the Christian Albanians in the besieged citadel and the Ottomans camped outside. The chapters alternate between these two POV but the Ottomans tell most of the story in what appears to be a straightforward 3rd person narrative. However, there are deliberate anachronisms such as show trials and biological warfare which jolt the reader into recognition that this is an allegory. The colour and the splendour of Ottoman army ceremonials evoke those impressive Soviet military spectacles that we have all seen, and we are reminded of the abuse of power under various Soviet dictatorships by the Pasha’s power to arbitrarily order torture and execution, not to mention irrational military manoevres. (Subtle as this is, Kadare did not escape the attention of the Albanian regime and he had to seek asylum in France in 1990).
I really enjoy Kadare's books even though they mystify me. I like the challenge of reading something that's not straightforward, especially since the...moreI really enjoy Kadare's books even though they mystify me. I like the challenge of reading something that's not straightforward, especially since the stories are set in a part of the world I don't know much about.