At a few points, for maybe thirty or forty pages at a time, Okri's narrative gathers speed and escapes his overdone myth-making and oracular wisdom inAt a few points, for maybe thirty or forty pages at a time, Okri's narrative gathers speed and escapes his overdone myth-making and oracular wisdom in favor of genuine story-telling. These reprieves, in concert with my high regard for Ben Okri, are the only reason I was willing to consume the repetitive lessons that constitute this predictable "legend."
I recognize that my criticisms of this book only prove that I have not fully absorbed the ideals that it was composed to elevate and that it is a well-intentioned, gentle fiction rejoicing in the triumph of patience, silence, humility, truth and self-sacrifice. But there are ideals in writing as well; and it is not forgivable to tell 80% of your stories from a telescopic remove--as if you have so much to say, that all you can do is summarize the tales that have the most pedagogical value.
Sadly, the book lacks grit or any memorable portrayals of the ground-level people in whose honor it was composed. I can't help holding it to the standard set by Okri’s, "The Famished Road," in which succinct and purposeful departures into legend and magic are contrasted harmoniously with memorable details of poverty and African existence.
"Starbook" sorely needs an anchor, whether in a character that behaves like a real human or in a place that could be inhabited. Instead, the story hovers in an ambiguous place and time: the golden, untouched, natural and spirit-filled Africa that has been written to death in so many works from the continent. This far too convenient and gutless backdrop is populated with characters that live for hundreds of years, characters who are initiated into cosmic brotherhoods or sisterhoods of ultimate wisdom, characters who are erased by their duty to represent particular nodes of Okri's belief system. Is it not obvious that forcing yourself to narrate a story almost entirely about semi-deities with absolute wisdom and knowledge is a trap? Around these monochromatic and unsympathetic super-beings, all Okri can do is scatter evidence of their perceptiveness and unexceptional samples of their wisdom--tiny fables and truisms with little merit.
The antagonists are as burdensome as the purity they attempt to destroy. Choose between a council of self-serving elders that scheme against a blameless and fragile prince, a selfish warrior blinded by pride and acquisitiveness and a crudely metaphorical representation of Western Culture's ugly assault on the African people. Oh, and give up on the idea of being propelled by any desire for resolution; from the very beginning, Okri is addicted to obvious prophecies that hold forth empty promises of narrative tension and a grueling account of suffering in the real world. The book never gets down to business; it just spoils its own surprises again and again in an accidental indictment of an omniscience that can't hold its tongue....more
Few of Jahnn's writings have been translated into English. Fewer of them have stayed in print. "The Ship" is demanding, aggressive and unsettling. ForFew of Jahnn's writings have been translated into English. Fewer of them have stayed in print. "The Ship" is demanding, aggressive and unsettling. For every sentence of actual happening there are three pages of obsessive thought and speculation pervaded by the Expressionist's fixation on despair, decomposition and fear. Everything is psychologized to an attenuated, untrustworthy degree that would verge on madness if the circumstances of the book weren't a suitable justification for the breakdown of the central individuals and the collective.
The plotted outline of the book would fill little more than a page. A ship with disturbingly complicated and secret-filled naval architecture sails towards an undisclosed location freighted with taboo cargo in impenetrable, coffin shaped boxes. These are overseen by a protective and suspicious government agent (referred to as the “supercargo”) who uses the ship to monitor the behavior of all passengers and crew. The captain brings his daughter along for the ride; the fiancée stows away, is immediately discovered and accepted as a passenger and then everything starts to go slowly wrong.
The supercargo and the stowaway receive the most narrative attention as the former is undone by the mistrust and hatred of the crew and the latter is discomposed by circumstances involving his fiancée and his somewhat mutinous interactions with the less well educated crew, who are tasked with representing the herd.
I had the feeling, throughout, that I was meant to chart some sort of psychological schema wherein someone represented the ego and someone represented the id or someone represented an archetype or an ideal or a failing. I no longer subject either books or myself to “readings” of this variety. But I also suspect that there is a good chance that, at the end of such an effort, you’d find the author smiling at you through the shambles of a decoy.
The prose itself is sufficiently rewarding to justify a reading that is not focused on solving riddles or discerning the fine points of Jahnn’s critical intent. Like Gustav Meyrink, Jahnn has a bleached, moonlit, semi-gothic palette and writes in a painterly fashion: “He never pauses beside the heavy belly of a cow and, out of the crust of embarrassing dirt, tries to extract the sad, sweet secret which makes flesh fall from bones and heralds the blindness of our inescapable putrefaction.”
But it is for passages like these that I would reread this book:
“And he discovered that he was inferior to these men. They had had experience in every direction. At fourteen they had already mistaken the joys of Hell for the bliss of Paradise, and, later, stood again and again with empty hands in a completely illuminated world . . . Gustave envied them, not for their miserable experiences, but for the particular smell of reality which would never be his because he didn’t have the courage, wasn’t sufficiently carefree, to let himself be torn to shreds for no good reason.”
“He, Gustave, had seen him hanging in the thorny thicket of overpowering hellish hatred, at the mercy of a horrible heightening of his desires, a supernatural instrument of accumulated sterility, bursting upon all growing things like a shower of hail.”
“The futile expectations of a condemned creature are without parallel; the hope of being allowed to cross the saving threshold of a miracle is the bedfellow of the fear of death.”
There is no holding back in Jahnn’s writing and no pretense of modesty. The book is permeated with absolutes, characters laid bare, and confrontational statements about humankind and experience. It is bleak; but it is often wonderful. ...more
Hardship and frontier sagas have their own man vs. nature fan club, whose meetings I rarely attend. When you overlay the whole elemental drama with anHardship and frontier sagas have their own man vs. nature fan club, whose meetings I rarely attend. When you overlay the whole elemental drama with an exposition of the honest, working man’s helplessness in the face of the manipulative rich people who advance capitalism and modernity, a grim sub-genre emerges. It was done perfectly with “The Grapes of Wrath” and a guild of other page-fillers have knocked out an unnecessary pile of novels that tell similar tales ad nauseum.
Certainly, Laxness’ creation is distinguished by its Icelandicness; but if you aren’t dying of curiosity to experience the peculiar iteration of peasants getting screwed that Iceland has to offer and you generally don’t enjoy long, deliberate, earthbound books of this variety, keep away.
Of course, like most people who win the Nobel Prize for literature, Laxness is not a sloppy wordsmith or a bad story teller. “Independent People” occasionally distinguishes itself with unexpected invention and artful character development. The wry, paper thin humor, the farmer colloquies, a few touching and insightful glimpses into childhood imagination, the humanized animals and the description of Iceland’s response to World War One, were all well-wrought, unique and pleasurable.
The articulation of the book’s lamentably stubborn protagonist Bjartur of Summerhouses as the man who thinks, “Possibly his best course would be to marry the bitch, so that he could have full leave to tell her to shut up; or at the least go to bed with her, as she herself was suggesting in her own starchy fashion;” and the man who does this: “He floundered madly about in the snow, thumping himself with all his might, and did not sit down again till he had overcome all those feelings of the body that cry for rest and comfort, everything that argues for surrender and hearkens to the persuasion of faint-hearted gods” is consistent, believable and, eventually, frustrating. Bjartur’s tendency to self-justify with references to Icelandic hero legends and complex, traditional poetry, is also a wonderful counterpoint to his expertise in the various disgusting ailments of sheep.
The jury is sort of out on this book. It is an absolute success at being what it is and the historical perspective that I gained on Iceland in its nearly 500 pages is not something I will forget; but, this isn’t my sort of book. I’d rather recommend it to my grandfather.
Somehow, I have to add that it reminds me of Knut Hamsun’s “Growth of the Soil,” (the last book I recommended to my grandfather) which is nothing like “Hunger,” which is Hamsun, the Nazi’s, most commonly read work in translation. If you enjoyed “Growth of the Soil,” “Independent People” will be a superior treat. ...more
The imagists are strongest when observing, describing and imbuing what they see with brief solitary externalizations. They were a hit or miss batch ofThe imagists are strongest when observing, describing and imbuing what they see with brief solitary externalizations. They were a hit or miss batch of poets. One must sift through pages of their verse for the clear, bare, honest moments when they get things right and add some wise levity to the way one sees the world. From what I can tell, they are weak on plot, character development and inventions of breadth or believable substance.
“A Voyage to Pagany,” William Carlos Williams’ travelogue of a 1924 trip through Western Europe, includes three sections where he processes his surroundings as a sharp-minded, independent traveler and four sections where he engages with women who he loves amorously (one of whom is his sister, which creeps me out and severely weakens a good fifty pages of prose.)
When Williams is alone or at least focused on listening to real people (chapters 1-3, 15-18, and 21-25), his book is an adequately rewarding pleasure. During the sections of the book (most of it) where he frolics about, gaily but with foreboding, in the company of women at least twelve years younger than his forty, the book is an unconvincing and tedious chore. I never knew Williams could write like such an idiot; but I never knew him to try his hand at extended and repetitive lover’s quarrels (in which he tends to occupy the more passive, feminine side of the equation). His two main relationships are especially falsified in the neatness of their conclusions and the unlikely but oh so narratively convenient behavior of his lovers. Perhaps these women seem so much like young female incarnations of belief systems with which Williams is playing because he was actually traveling with his wife and decided to thinly veil his protagonist in order to write out his threadbare fantasy trysts. Sadly, his efforts to narrate from his false perspective seem to shackle his descriptive powers with a forceful set of intentions; his experimental or daring descriptions, throughout these chapters, are flat and out of tune. The roving familiarity of two married forty-somethings from New Jersey might have proven more interesting.
Now, with more charity, to focus on the chapters that contain some of this author’s talent. In chapters 1-3 and 15-18, Williams plays a three stringed instrument with which he attacks Christianity in bitterly humorous ways, scavenges for the remains of a stronger, realer and more human “pagany” and makes poetic comments about simple and beautiful things:
1) “The train came to the hollow of Rouen with its great gloomy cathedral filling the bottom of the bowl: a great pile of stone, full of death. Evans looked and was chilled as if it had been the angry center of all this country which it was depriving silently, sordidly, of its life; as if it were drawing the life in; stone sitting in state over the green;” “White sisters are running sterilely about stone corridors; pure arduous in their devotion, gone in spirit; little plowgirls, diverted; girls from near the sea diverted from looking out at the water.” 2) Of a church in Florence: “But a beauty had shone through their work, through it—through its Christian disguises. He, Evans, had been penetrated, he permitted it to penetrate him. A Greek beauty—a resurgent paganism, still untouched.” 3) “It was the Arno flooding its banks, from whose liquorous bounty an army of sunbeams were drinking so that the air was luminous with mist and the grass and the herbage everywhere was dripping. It was the Arno preparing to bring all its country charm to pass under the old bridge.”
If this is not your style, there is still a thirty-four page window of text worth exploring (chapters 21-25). The brief glimpse into the medical halls of Vienna (which maintain their eminence even as the city struggles with the unhealthy aftermath of war) is an exceptional bit of reporting. Williams the pediatrician was a far keener witness to his Viennese counterparts than Williams the poet was to his coevals in Paris—or to his surroundings most anywhere else. Williams is at pains to defend and convey the Viennese pursuit of truth in medicine and their clarity of vision—despite the apparent heartlessness of their methods. In this section, the book obtains value as a history; amongst the doctors and in the company of fallen aristocrats, Williams is outward looking enough to notice the unique and essential state of his environment. It is a shame that Williams didn’t stick to this model and adhere to his own maxims about truth and clarity throughout.
Because I like him, he may have the last word: “It isn’t the lack of births that keeps the French population down, it’s that so damned many of them die before they are five years old. The French are the worst people in the world for bringing up kids.” ...more
Not unless I'm forced will I read another word by this absolute head-up-ass dreck-merchant. I was prepared to be a very sympathetic reader; I was primNot unless I'm forced will I read another word by this absolute head-up-ass dreck-merchant. I was prepared to be a very sympathetic reader; I was primed and ready for some snappy and devastating criticisms of America; but Baudrillard is too concerned with manufacturing what he must think are theoretical pronouncements to actually observe his surroundings. He certainly didn't need to travel to write this shmarmy and useless rubbish pit of a book; he probably had the whole thing outlined before he started smirking his way off whatever airplane dropped him in the country. He is also wrong about everything and racist.
I couldn't get too far past his chapter on "New York" in which the following trash nuggets can be found:
"Why do people live in New York? There is no relationship between them. Except for an inner electricity which results from the simple fact of their being crowded together. A magical sensation of contiguity and attraction for an artificial certainty . . . There is no human reason to be here, except for the sheer ecstasy of being crowded together."
of breakdancing: "You might say that in curling up and spiralling around on the ground like this, they seem to be digging a hole for themselves within their own bodies, from which to stare out in the ironic, indolent pose of the dead."
"For me there is no truth in America. I ask of the Americans only that they be Americans. I do not ask them to be intelligent, sensible, original. I ask them only to populate a space incommensurate with my own, to be for me the highest astral point, the finest orbital space."
He can ask me to kick his ass into the finest orbital space any time he wants. If you'd like my copy of this book, come and get it....more
"Atonement" is shot through with grace and psychological depth. The three central characters are nuanced, sympathetic (despite their antagonism toward"Atonement" is shot through with grace and psychological depth. The three central characters are nuanced, sympathetic (despite their antagonism towards one another) and memorable; though some of the supporting cast (most of the adult males in the novel) seem a bit undersketched and foily.
The section of the novel that focused on wartime England reminded me continuously of "A Very Long Engagement" (the movie, not the book) and seemed, despite its serious efforts, a little unable to convince me that the author has a deep understanding of the suffering and horror of war. I enjoyed reading it and wouldn't have put it down for a bite to eat; but there was something insubstantial about it.
The final section of the book is a total mistake and should not have been included. The last page of the third part did enough to prompt a second, critical reading. All of the provocations and self-awareness of the epilogue were irritating and added nothing worthwhile to the novel.
But to return to the four star earning aspect of this novel, the first part is splendid and the character exploration is handled exceptionally well. The somehow Faulknerian description of the migraine-bedeviled mother figure's tentacular awareness of her household will not be erased from my mind.
It is worth a read and totally capable of attracting all of your attention in distracting or changeable circumstances....more
This is strongly reminiscent of German Expressionist drama from the early 20th century. It suffers from an inability to actually characterize anyone bThis is strongly reminiscent of German Expressionist drama from the early 20th century. It suffers from an inability to actually characterize anyone beyond the protagonist. Every other character is crushed by the need to represent a whole class or demographic. All of the other figures are episodes in his life, his personal development, his realization of society's deep-seated decay and his inexorable (and predictable) movement towards disillusionment. Which is to say that it is a heavy-handed, young, stereotype filled book.
Yes, it is a worthy historical object. Yes, it is an interesting foil to other pieces of American literature (which does not have too many books of this variety); but I don't think it deserves great praise if it is judged on its own merits. The prose is nothing special, the dialect isn't handled with particular grace, it has an irritating tendency to state the obvious and to self-interpret and the author actually takes the time to call attention to the fact that he is choosing to rant at you for the last five pages--a total admission of weakness.
I am, however, giving it two stars in the "it was okay" sort of fashion. I'm not upset that I read it. I just won't read it again, teach it or reccommend it to anyone....more
This has nothing in common with "The Old Man Who Read Love Stories." Every character is either a tough as nails mercenary, a complete push over or a cThis has nothing in common with "The Old Man Who Read Love Stories." Every character is either a tough as nails mercenary, a complete push over or a corrupt and powerful overlord. From start to finish it feels like a horrible screenplay; you wouldn't guess that Sepulveda can tell a story with charm, innocence and memorable detail.
When I retrieve my copy of the book, I'll add a few quotes to illustrate the "hard-boiled" internal monologue of the protagonist. That should be enough to put anyone off.
The book also lacks any particularly Chilean flavor--just in case you thought it might be worth reading for that sort of reason....more
I didn't think I'd end up dropping this book onto the ignominious shelf; but I can't bring myself to pick it up again. More than anything, I object toI didn't think I'd end up dropping this book onto the ignominious shelf; but I can't bring myself to pick it up again. More than anything, I object to the stupid, badly written female character who reads like a doe-eyed, imbecile impossibility.
Even against the backdrop of heady, post-war brothel-bestrewn Paris, Cendrars does not entice. There is some weird, acquisitive, distant and uncomprehending lolita thing going on in this book; but without any psychological depth.
"What glorious days, so hot, so long! When Mamma comes to see me, they stuff me with chocolates so that I won't cry. I forget so much, so many things. I remember that Papa loved to have me with him. Always. As often as possible. And I too loved going out with him."
I don't care what happens and I only have forty pages left....more
This was an accidental purchase, made hastily in a used bookstore because the price seemed right and because the spine only said "Murakami." After aboThis was an accidental purchase, made hastily in a used bookstore because the price seemed right and because the spine only said "Murakami." After about two paragraphs, it began to seem very unlikely that Harukai Murakami was responsible for the flavorless, graceless and awkward prose. I checked the publishing date and thought, well, okay, it was an early effort . . . I'll give it a chance. After ten pages or so, I gave the book the sort of thorough exploration that would have prevented me from buying it and discovered that I wasn't reading something by an author who I respect and enjoy. But that's not Ryu's fault, so I read another 60 pages and I want my time back.
His characters are flat and predictable. He lacks the confidence to let his story-telling communicate subtleties and has a penchant for lame summary sentences that are designed to drive home his blatant and tedious moments of character definition.
The dialogue is deplorable. I might have given the title characters some time; but as soon as the "Anemone" section started I began to consider not finishing this book. When the description of "Toxitown" was over, I was pretty sure I wouldn't make page 100 and when the murderous cab driver with his unrealistic monologue held forth, I put the book back into my bag and started reading something else that had seemed really slow to me before, which really triumphed in the contrast.
Avoid this unless you have never read experimental fiction before or unless you feel like "edginess" or shock value are acceptable substitutes for talent....more
I grabbed this book because Nadezhda Mandelstam esteemed Platonov highly and because a quick scan of its pages didn't dissuade me.
I was completely unI grabbed this book because Nadezhda Mandelstam esteemed Platonov highly and because a quick scan of its pages didn't dissuade me.
I was completely unprepared for how wonderful it is and I feel like reading it while I was traveling wasn't even fair. This has immediately shouldered its way into the ranks of my favorite books (of all genres, ever) and I am about to set off on a massive Platonov jag to see if there is more to love.
Anyone who thought McCarthy's "The Road" was special, should read "Dzhan," the novella at the beginning of this collection for a similar story rendered with more wisdom, fewer calculated shock stunts, more beauty and a more satisfying conclusion.
The three stories immediately following "dzhan" deal with human relationships in such a humble and piercing way that I will return to them often. I was reminded of the insight into human doings that stands out in several Austrian writers (Musil and Handke come to mind); but Platonov avoids artifice and has a more grown up approach to self-pity and alienation.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that i was more vulnerable to this book for its willingness to grapple with revolutionary thought (even in its dignified failure) and because it came from a writer who experienced true poverty and humility--dying of polio at 51 while employed as a janitor for a university.
In selecting a few passages that stuck with me, I noticed that nearly everywhere I had marked this collection, Platonov was making bold enough to talk about people's "hearts" or their "misery." Often writers are not sufficiently credible to speak of these things; in Platonov's case, whether he later falsifies the sentiments of one of his characters or not, they all seem true and essential:
"The girl was not interested in her guests; her eyes were engrossed with her own thoughts--probably she was living some secret, independent dream and doing the housework almost unconsciously, distracted from all the world around her by her concentrated heart."
"He understood his former naivete, all his nature started to grow harder, ripening in misery, and began to learn how to overcome the mountain of stone which blocked the road of his life; and then the world in front of him, which had seemed to him clear and attainable until now, spread itself out in a faraway mysterious haze, not because it was really dark there, or sad, or strange, but because it actually was enormously larger in all directions and could not be surveyed all at once, either inside a man's heart or in simple space."
"She was clinging to her grief, and was in no hurry to squander it. It meant that in the deepest part of a person's reason or of his heart there exists an enemy force which darkens one's life even in the embrace of loving arms, even under the kisses of one's children."
Firstly, this is a 50 page short story; this edition of the book looks more meaty because it also contains the entire text in French.
Generally, I likeFirstly, this is a 50 page short story; this edition of the book looks more meaty because it also contains the entire text in French.
Generally, I like Baudelaire and there are moments when the prose of "La Fanfarlo" shows some of his wit and poetic sensibility. But much of the story suffers from his pretension and his need to drop unnecessary and distracting literary references all over the place. It's a young man's book; these are not surprising errors. The book is very much in dialogue with the French authors that Baudelaire wished to dethrone and it prevents his authentic and individual voice from emerging.
It's got a few interesting thoughts on jealousy, attraction and relationships.
Some good parts:
"Men caught in the snare of their own mistakes do not like to make an offering of their remorse on the alter of clemency."
" . . . sitting on the edge of the bed with the insouciance, the triumphant serenity of the adored woman . . . "
"What aura of such magical charm does vice cast around certain creatures? What crooked, repulsive aspect does their virtue impart to certain others?"...more