I’m sort of happy to report that Todos os Nomes did not end as I expected it might. The ending was, in fac...moreI wrote this is my journal in October, 2007:
I’m sort of happy to report that Todos os Nomes did not end as I expected it might. The ending was, in fact, totally unlike anything that I expected--which is why my happiness is reserved. Although our protagonist Senhor José was apparently forgiven all his indiscretions and went on to live unhappily ever after, I think my imagined ending would have been more fitting. Perhaps I should explain:
Senhor José is a 50-year-old, unmarried clerk at the Central Registry, where births, deaths, marriages and divorces are recorded. The Central Registry is Kafkaesque--overwhelmingly rigid and arcane and authoritarian. As a hobby, he clips articles and photographs on the 100 most famous people in the country--pop stars, actors, bishops, politicians, &c., and it occurs to him to add copies of the birth certificates (to which he has access) to his dossiers. One day after hours, he takes a few documents to copy, and by mistake, picks up the card of an unknown woman. He becomes obsessed by this unknown woman: she’s 36-years-old, divorced, and that’s all he knows about her. He forges a letter from his superior and goes off to the building where she was born to see if she still lived there, which of course she doesn’t. But there is an old lady on the ground floor who knew her. In fact this old woman was the girl’s godmother, and he discovers somewhat to his dismay, the reason the girl’s family moved is that the old woman and girl’s father had an affair. He does however get information about the school the girl attended. As his obsession increases, he goes to the school, over a weekend, breaks in and discovers the girl’s school records. But then he seems to come up to a dead end. Indeed, he goes back to the records at work and finds that the girl’s card has been recently updated: she’s dead. Suicide. He visits her grave in the Central Cemetery (almost equally arcane to the Central Registry), then he returns to the old woman on the ground floor to tell her about her goddaughter. The old woman tells him that she’s talked to the girl, told her about the affair between herself and the girl’s father.
There are still a few cards he hasn’t played. He finds the girl’s parents’ number in the phone book, and finally, he forges another letter of authorisation and goes to see them. He learns that she was a school teacher, in the same school she attended; the same school he broke into to steal her records. Though her father is annoyed by his probing questions, her mother gives him the keys to her flat. But first he goes to the school and interviews the headmaster, who reports how upsetting the entire thing has been for the school community, especially coming on the heels of a break-in! He goes to her apartment and is finally among her things. He’s looking for a suicide note, something that can explain what happened. How he could have been so close (when he was in the school the first time, he even saw the records of the teachers but never thought there’d be any reason to look at them) and yet missed her. At the apartment, he doesn’t do a thorough search--after rifling through a few drawers and her closet he realises that even if he finds a note or diary or something, whatever knowledge he gains won’t really mean anything. She’s gone, and his life will go on as it had before he became aware of the unknown woman. His last step is to return to the old woman on the ground floor (these are the terms Saramago uses--the only character in the book given a name is our protagonist, the clerk Senhor José), but she‘s been taken away in an ambulance, and for all he‘s able to find out, she may be dead too.
Senhor José returns to his home (a hovel attached to the Central Registry like an anchorite’s cell--there‘s even a connecting door, which is how he collected the records after hours). There he finds the Registrar, a magisterial and pompous figure throughout most of the book, but who has learned all about Senhor José’s nocturnal ramblings, and oddly enough understands.
And that’s it. That was the big dénouement.
What I was afraid might happen, what I believe really did happen, is that the unknown woman, who was always of a sad and sombre mien, learning of her father’s indiscretion with the old woman on the ground floor (who of course was thirty years younger at the time of the affair), was plunged into despair. And then, she somehow found out that it was her records which were stolen from her school; that she was somehow responsible for the break-in, even if her responsibility was only for being the victim. And thus the reason for her suicide, the reason Senhor José never found, was in fact himself. It was his prodding and probing that lead to her suicide. That he in fact killed the very person for whom he was searching.
Given Senhor José’s temperament, I think the knowledge would kill him; that is, he would kill himself in remorse. Not that it would help to bring back the unknown woman. Not that he would hold any hope of their being united in some afterlife (he appearing as atheistic as Saramago himself); and he knows from his experiences in the Central Cemetery that there is only a slim chance they would be united physically by having adjoining burial plots.
I wonder why our intrepid author, Senhor José Saramago, decided to spare his namesake. Had he become too fond of him? There was something child-like about the character, and we often hear author’s refer to their creations as their children, or at least with the same affection as people generally reserve for their children.(less)
Alas I didn't finish this; although Saramago's affection for his country shines through, the travelogue aspect of it—going from one little town to ano...moreAlas I didn't finish this; although Saramago's affection for his country shines through, the travelogue aspect of it—going from one little town to another—was ultimately rather boring. It is a trip that I would more enjoy taking than reading about.(less)
A novel of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Kertész also wrote the screenplay for a film version, which according to Wikipedia is "more autobiograph...moreA novel of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Kertész also wrote the screenplay for a film version, which according to Wikipedia is "more autobiographical". Excellent; this, among all his works, is probably what garnered Kertész's Nobel Prize.(less)
I first read this in 1989, in the back of a van crossing the prairies of Kansas and Colorado, but reread it when I saw a poster for the film version o...moreI first read this in 1989, in the back of a van crossing the prairies of Kansas and Colorado, but reread it when I saw a poster for the film version on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Thirteenth Street. I marched myself over to the Strand bookstore, saw the paperback copies with the film tie-in displayed prominently near the check-out counter, but thought I'd check the stacks, and sure enough, there was a first edition hard-backed copy.
What is it about? Hmm. First Corinthians 13:4, I guess: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud." It is a story of a man who waits fifty-plus years to reclaim the love of his life. Patience, yes; that's what it's about.(less)
Reading this hard on the foot of Yasunari Kawabata's House of the Sleeping Beauties: two Nobel Laureates, 45-years apart, with the same overall theme....moreReading this hard on the foot of Yasunari Kawabata's House of the Sleeping Beauties: two Nobel Laureates, 45-years apart, with the same overall theme. I first read Memories... when it was new, so a re-read is in order. I'm posting the same review for both books, as it is a "compare and contrast" sort of thing:
I’m reviewing these books together because they are two interpretations with the same basic plot at their cores: an older man goes to a brothel to sleep with a virgin. But oddly enough, despite the common setting, “sleep” in both books is not a euphemism for sex: the girls in Kawabata’s novella are drugged, their clients are forbidden to violate them, though most would be physically unable to do; Márquez’s unnamed narrator finds a fourteen-year-old virgin asleep from exhaustion and doesn’t have the heart (or level of desire) to wake her.
Naturally this gives both men plenty of time to muse on the nature of sex and aging, memory and its vagaries, although with very different aesthetics. House of the Sleeping Beauties has the rigidity and cool complexity of a Zen rock garden; Melancholy Whores is lush and thick as a dripping tropical forest of its unnamed location on the Caribbean coast of South America. Beauties has the harsh sensuality of denial and deprivation—it seems to be always winter—and somewhat in keeping with one’s perception of post-War Japan, before the economic explosion of the ‘60s; Whores exhibits the sensuality of ennui and entropy, the colonial splendour gone seedy, gradually losing the battle against encroaching nature: A metaphor perhaps for its narrator.
I enjoyed the Márquez book much more—perhaps because of the innate cultural bias. I first read it when it was new. When I heard about the plot of House of the Sleeping Beauties, I immediately recognised it and was intrigued. And indeed, Memories of My Melancholy Whores begins with a quote from Kawabata’s work which I didn’t appreciate on my first reading. I’m glad to have found House of the Sleeping Beauties if only for the chance to revisit My Melancholy Whores. (less)
This was published in its entirety in the December 25, 2006, issue of the New Yorker just a few weeks after Mr. Pamuk gave the address. I was blown aw...moreThis was published in its entirety in the December 25, 2006, issue of the New Yorker just a few weeks after Mr. Pamuk gave the address. I was blown away by the force of the writing, and not long after reading it, I bought his novel Snow. The serendipty of reading the transcript of this short talk set me on a particular reading path: Searching out and reading the works of Nobel laureates. While I've only read one other novel by Pamuk (My Name is Red, in January of this year), it lead me to José Saramago (I've read everything translated so far save one which is out-of-print), Elfrida Jelinek (The Piano Teacher and Lust), J.M. Coetzee (Disgrace and Elizabeth Costello) as well as put a number on my 'to read' list (which I have to add here!) like Halldor Laxness (Independent People) for one.(less)
Part of my "Nobel Laureate" reading list: I thought this would be especially interesting because of the architectural implications. I found a first US...morePart of my "Nobel Laureate" reading list: I thought this would be especially interesting because of the architectural implications. I found a first US edition at the Strand (1964)—with dust jacket even. But it was a bit of a disappointment. I never quite got into the rhythm of the book: I'm sure there was one, but I couldn't connect with it.(less)
This is not the edition I read; it was rather a shorter collection of stories under the title The Death of Methuselah and Other Stories. I'm not sure...moreThis is not the edition I read; it was rather a shorter collection of stories under the title The Death of Methuselah and Other Stories. I'm not sure of the publisher or the date, I picked it up from a sidewalk vendor near the subway and gave it to a church jumble sale after I finished. The subjects of the stories are familiar to Singer fans: the lost world of European/Yiddish Jewry, the transplantations in and around New York City. Some are tender and endearing, some despicable.(less)
This was the first Imre Kertész book I picked up: it's a story that seems unique in its setting, not for any vivid descriptions of Budapest in the Com...moreThis was the first Imre Kertész book I picked up: it's a story that seems unique in its setting, not for any vivid descriptions of Budapest in the Communist era, but rather the idea of a state-controlled media outlet which isn't turning a profit. Did they ever? They must have done, or there would be no reason for closing the publishing house where "B" works. The "liquidation" in question is financial, literary, spiritual and ultimately (spoiler) personal. (less)
I couldn't finish it; relentless abusive sex and domination, without a bit of eroticism. I'm sure that was the point, but even though one slows down t...moreI couldn't finish it; relentless abusive sex and domination, without a bit of eroticism. I'm sure that was the point, but even though one slows down to look at the car wreck, there's only so long one can linger before passing by.(less)
I couldn't wait for this to be published here in the States, so I sent away for the paperback edition from Amazon.uk; I don't know why the title of th...moreI couldn't wait for this to be published here in the States, so I sent away for the paperback edition from Amazon.uk; I don't know why the title of the US edition was changed (to Death with Interruptions). Another of Saramago's masterful allegories, this version of 'death takes a holiday' comes with his humorously twisted analysis of the effects on a small country's economy and political stability. Sort of like the current banking crisis. It's an old man's book: a meditation on the frailty of life and the irrational—and totally human—sense of hope in spite of what Arundhati Roy has called "the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t."(less)