Another recent, highly lauded anti-colonial masterpiece. I think of this novel in the context of other stellar books like Brief Wondrous Life of Osc Another recent, highly lauded anti-colonial masterpiece. I think of this novel in the context of other stellar books like Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Mersault Investigation as ways of talkin' back by talkin' smack (eloquent smack) to the main power discourses...
And I'm using that kind of academic language deliberately, because Nguyen is an academic by trade and you can tell he has plenty of social/historical/political axes to grind, and grind them he does, but I found the novel (gifted to me without me being more than dimly aware of it) gripping and immersive and sarcastically funny.
I'd also noticed some echoes of Invisible Man and even Portnoy's Complaint. Maybe even some Rushdie with the way the characters talk to each other about their status as Others, while avoiding victimization by keeping their wits about them.
So what is The Sympathizer? Well, it's a spy novel, a loquacious prison confessional, a kind of picaresque, and a direct response to the Othering of the West to the East. Americans tend to call it "The Vietnam War" and the Vietnamese call it "The American War" which means that there's still a legacy of trauma and destruction lingering after all these years. Our unnamed narrator is wrestling with this history even as he is living it out. We follow him from Vietnam to California, on a movie set (modeled after Apocalypse Now, a movie I love and which gets some stringent criticism), interrogation rooms from both sides, and plenty of places in between.
What kept the novel interesting for me was the voice, the vigor of the narrative, and the seemingly effortless way the sentences convey so much information and pacing while at the same time being scathingly satirical. For example: one sinister American military man (based on Westmoreland) who writes an imperial study on why "the Oriental" doesn't "value life" is named Richard Hedd (get it?).
This is a novel with a lifetime of complex moral and historical factors within it, speaking for a certain mentality that courageously collides with the smug complacency of the post-colonial consensus in a way that is darkly vibrant, consistently compelling, funny, and real. Five stars....more
This was the last novel Burgess wrote before he died, sometime in the early 90's. As you might expect, it's raucous, bawdy, and linguistically comple This was the last novel Burgess wrote before he died, sometime in the early 90's. As you might expect, it's raucous, bawdy, and linguistically complex. What you might not expect so much (given the unfortunate fact that most people think of him as merely the Clockwork Guy, which is true indeed but aesthetically unjust) is that it's also erudite, witty, historically informed and philosophically engaged.
There isn't a lot necessarily known for sure about Marlowe, though the quality of his plays and his probable friendship (or more) with Billy Shakes and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death after a pub brawl in Deptford.
That's the kind of thing that happened all the time in the rowdy and tension-filled Elizabethan era but exactly why Marlowe met his end in only his mid-twenties is very much up for grabs.
Burgess explains in the afterword that he wrote his undergraduate thesis on Marlowe's version of Faustus until the Nazis rudely interrupted him by bombing the bejesus out of Manchester right about the time he graduated.
So the fact that he came all the way around to finish a brilliant writing career by writing up Kit Marlowe is interesting and kind of poignant.
DMiD is a historical novel, sure, but it's also an extended character study of the interesting man and his tumultuous times. A scrappy, brilliant student from humble cobbler stock in Canterbury, Marlowe made it all the way to Cambridge to study theology but got caught up in poetry and playwriting and the anti-Catholic intrigue bubbling over everywhere during the reign of the Virgin Queen. The fact that there isn't a lot of solid evidence about Marlowe means that Burgess can comfortably play with the facts, possibilities and illustrate the projected contour of a controversial life at his informed imagination sees fit.
Marlowe (or Marley or Merlin, nobody quite knows what his true name is) does some sneaky spy business in France, getting some earfuls of anti-Protestant sentiment, argues silently against an unfeeling god, goes back and forth across the channel a couple of times, smokes some funny "tobacco" and really takes to the stuff, has some intense, passionate sex with a prominent male son of the aristocracy, hangs out with his fellow scribblers like Kyd, Webster, Fletcher and- you guessed it- a young upstart from the Midlands by the name of Shakespeare. Marlowe pounds down flagons of wine and gobbles meat pies over arguments amid suspicious henchmen in brothels and taverns across Merry Olde England, affirming a ballsy 17th Century version of secularism wayyy before it was popular, or even physically safe, to do so.
It's quite a tale Burgess has to tell and even though the old fellow had written like crazy for years and lived pretty hard the novel really holds up, some opaque historicizing notwithstanding. it's ribald and engrossing throughout it's briskly readable 300 or so pages.
I'd been wanting to read this one for a while. It was one of the first books I ever added to my to-read pile back in the day when I started making a profile on this site. And when I read Burgesses's excellent Nothing Like The Sun, I bumped DMiD up a few notches. Glad I did.
I notices that it was on a list here in GR-land of books that are neglected, having gotten some less than 500 ratings. It's a shame since in comparison to all the fans of bowler-hatted droogies and volocheks, the readership for this ripping, accessible, vividly written yarn can't hold a candle. The damn thing's even out of print- I had to get a used copy shipped to me from across the pond. A pity.
Brilliant, radical, underrated, economically written in every sense of the word. I'm a big fan of the movie and I enjoyed the book even more, which is Brilliant, radical, underrated, economically written in every sense of the word. I'm a big fan of the movie and I enjoyed the book even more, which is something I'm not necessarily always prone to do.
Powerfully captures the madness and paranoia inherent in the lust for riches, particularly when this takes place amid some hardscrabble vagabonds who don't really have much of a choice in the matter.
And the still-mysterious origins of the author (exiled German anarchist? Mexican scribbler? Moonlighting union man?) only adds another fun layer of enigma (evidently he's the inspiration for Archimboldi in Bolano's 2666) to what is a very accessible, readable, finely-honed tale of bad men in hard times under a pitiless climate.
"Anyone who is willing to work and is serious about it will certainly find a job. Only you must not go to the man who tells you this, for he has no job to offer and doesn't know anyone who knows of a vacancy. This is exactly the reason why he gives you such generous advice, out of brotherly love, and to demonstrate how little he knows the world."...more
Obviously a near-cliche of philosophical, allegorical, Existential, Swedish, artsy-fartsy Foreign Film (with a capital-F).
Not so obviously, a consiste Obviously a near-cliche of philosophical, allegorical, Existential, Swedish, artsy-fartsy Foreign Film (with a capital-F).
Not so obviously, a consistently entertaining, vibrant, witty, thoughtful, engaging Movie (with a capital-M).
Woody Allen (a Bergman disciple if ever there was one) liked to point out that while they were filming all these heavy scenes with Death and the Knight and all that, the actors were gossiping in full costume between takes about each other's sex lives and who got sloshed on vodka the night before....
There's more of that in this film than you might have been led to believe. It's ribald. TSS is not necessarily the greatest of Bergman's films, occupying maybe a Led Zeppelin II-like place in Bergman's filmography, but it's definitely a worthy entrance point.
Punchy, taut, brisk, abrupt, grotesque, surprisingly subtle and rather laconic. To have ridden in the Red Calvary alone, as an Odessan Jew, was defini Punchy, taut, brisk, abrupt, grotesque, surprisingly subtle and rather laconic. To have ridden in the Red Calvary alone, as an Odessan Jew, was definitely an act of tremendous guts- to write about it effectively afterward is even more impressive, of course.
His short story "Guy De Maupassant" is perfect.
He was snuffed out far too early and was tragically intended to be forgotten by the Stalinist state but his prose sears and burns off the page as if even his sentences themselves are fighting to stay alive.
Perfect description of a writer: "with eyeglasses on my nose and autumn in my heart..."...more
Brutally well-written. Haunting and disturbing. N's bitter farewell to his uncomfortable decade-plus in Berlin and with a few subtle hints of the madn Brutally well-written. Haunting and disturbing. N's bitter farewell to his uncomfortable decade-plus in Berlin and with a few subtle hints of the madness and decadence to come after he managed to escape with his family to the states.
Disturbing, which is a word that I don't use very often and am consistently annoyed with the causal employment of, but in this case, yeah. Made my flesh creep even as I couldn't tear my eyes away from it.