In a way that reminded me of both Salman Rushdie and The Arabian Nights, Musharraf Ali Farooqi's novel Between Clay and Dust is dreamlike enough thatIn a way that reminded me of both Salman Rushdie and The Arabian Nights, Musharraf Ali Farooqi's novel Between Clay and Dust is dreamlike enough that it reads like a fable, yet so sensuously detailed and rooted in history that it also felt like truth. Which is just another way of saying that it's artful and accomplished storytelling. There's serious Indian mud wrestling (really), geisha-like courtesans, brotherly love/hatred/competition unto death, a wrestling promoter who's like an unctuously evil Pakistani Don King—all set against the backdrop of a country that's just been partitioned into two, its people falling into the freshly torn-open gap. ...more
If you imagine a Russian Tin Drum—set largely in the Moscow Underground as the Soviet Union is about to fall—mixed with the absurdism and heart of GarIf you imagine a Russian Tin Drum—set largely in the Moscow Underground as the Soviet Union is about to fall—mixed with the absurdism and heart of Gary Shteyngart's Little Failure, you're approaching the strange and intriguing wonder of Hamid Ismailov's The Underground. ...more
A fascinating and quick read: In the 1960s, an Iranian intellectual who later helped foster the 1979 Iranian Revolution travels to Israel—and in the mA fascinating and quick read: In the 1960s, an Iranian intellectual who later helped foster the 1979 Iranian Revolution travels to Israel—and in the modern theocracy he encounters, he sees a model for Iran to follow. Needless to say, he stirred up plenty of controversy when he came back to Iran and published a series of travelogues extolling the governmental virtues of the land of the Jews. It's definitely an enlightening, historical take on the fraught relationships in the Middle East—and Jalal Al-e Ahmad does not tread lightly with his incendiary opinions. Intriguing from beginning to end. ...more
The Orient Express is a very compelling and atmospheric story, to be sure, but something about the virulent anti-Semitism and anti-lesbianism (such laThe Orient Express is a very compelling and atmospheric story, to be sure, but something about the virulent anti-Semitism and anti-lesbianism (such large rough hands!) seemed, if not offensive per se—since you could make the argument that Graham Greene was merely reflecting the spirit of his times—at least a bit creaky, storytelling-wise. It's as though, in Greene's mind, the most distinctive characteristic of a Jew or a lesbian were his Jewishness or her (ridiculously caricatured) lesbitude, so the writer doesn't need to give them additional unique and human character traits. On the other hand, to play devil's advocate: If we allow that Greene was simply an inveterate racist and misogynist, then we must applaud his magnanimous efforts, however stinting, to get inside the minds of these lesser creatures, where others might prefer to ignore them altogether. ...more
Oh, Donna, oh oh oh Donna (cuing the musical "Hair," which at certain points was the only way I could keep reading this interminable mope-fest of a boOh, Donna, oh oh oh Donna (cuing the musical "Hair," which at certain points was the only way I could keep reading this interminable mope-fest of a book).
It's not that The Goldfinch is too long—I love a long, rich, Dickensian novel like this one. It's that it's baggy, undisciplined, seemingly innocent of editing, and, killingly (for me), narrated by a main character who combines unlikability with self-pity. Will Theo never shut up about his not terribly interesting life? I will admit, Tartt gets her hooks into you, and despite my yearning for freedom from the ankle-shackle of The Goldfinch I kept reading to find out what would happen next. Because: Donna Tartt writes outstandingly good characters—Boris, the teenage alcoholic emotionally damaged Russian emigre who leads Theo down the road to perdition, and Hobie, the avuncular furniture shop artist who takes Theo under his wing—are fascinating and so vivid I felt like I knew them in my actual life. You keep reading because there's always the promise of more Boris, more Hobie.
But here's the thing I realized after I was about 600 pages into this thing and wishing that Theo would get hit by a bus and put himself—and us—out of his lengthily voiced misery: For whatever reason, Tartt narrates her books from the perspectives of characters who are the least interesting members of their casts. The Secret History, which was so well done it changed me as a reader, had as its narrator a character so blank I can't remember his name nor any facts about him other than that he was from California, while Bunny, Henry, the twins, and the creepy Greek professor remain vivid inhabitants of my imagination. Why? There's something about the shafted outsiderdom of these two narrators that is clearly very important to the author but fails to communicate itself to the reader—at least to this one. Try this thought experiment: Imagine The Goldfinch narrated by Boris. Fantastic, right? But what of any interest would he have to say about Theo? If nothing else, it would have been a shorter book, less sunk in mopery, without ignoring pain—plenty of that—and driven not by regret but by joy. ...more