The story is so unusual, it really opened up a new world and a new way of seeing/sensing for me. This is not just another mystery/thriller book - ReadThe story is so unusual, it really opened up a new world and a new way of seeing/sensing for me. This is not just another mystery/thriller book - Read this novel for the complex female protagonist. ...more
A captivating story of loss, longing and betrayal, skillfully blending the personal with the political, where petty rivalries are as momentous as ideoA captivating story of loss, longing and betrayal, skillfully blending the personal with the political, where petty rivalries are as momentous as ideological conflicts and cultural prejudices. Aliide and Zara as characters are portrayed with force and precision, multidimensional and with contradictory complexity. They will remain in my consciousness for some time to come. The story is written in a spare, yet detailed, manner, showing rather than telling, and leaving the conclusions to the reader. The narrative involves the reader in a material, sensate manner, rather than seeking an intellectual/logical response to the historical events it covers. I particularly appreciate this style; it doesn't preach a particular point of view, nor does it pre-judge its characters. Even though I am reading a translation, there are moments when the language, the specific word choices, give the text a poetic quality. The author alludes to historical facts through minute details in the characters' lives or their surroundings. By focusing on a tiny object - for example, an item of clothing, a crack in the floor, a fly hovering over a piece of meat, a particular odor, or a suppressed emotion trapped in a furtive gesture - the text quietly but forcefully conveys the emotional responses of the characters, most often a sense of entrapment and powerlessness. We can see, taste and smell every detail of Aliide's kitchen. We get to know her through the objects of her personal space, and the routines of her daily life - her herbs, preserves, mushroom teas, etc. The representational description of Aliide’s house and kitchen gives it a sense of verisimilitude, but at the same time there is a mythopoeitic quality to the narrative. The homely space where Zara has come to seek refuge from the ogres pursuing her is straight out of a fairy tale: The secluded cottage contains secrets and concealed dangers, hidden chambers, even a spinning wheel. Is Aliide the benevolent maternal figure or something more sinister? And what about the metaphysical connection between the frightened young girl and the old lady of the woods, for they speak and understand each other in an almost supernatural way? ...more
I read relatively few crime/mystery novels, therefore I cannot judge whether this is a well-written book for its genre, or whether the author is uniquI read relatively few crime/mystery novels, therefore I cannot judge whether this is a well-written book for its genre, or whether the author is unique or innovative. What I can say is that I enjoy Zouroudi's writing style, her controlled pacing, the carefully selected phrasing, with not a word too rich or too spare. There is something almost anachronistic about the diction, as if the novel was written during a bygone era. A word here or a particular turn of phrase there harks back to the aesthetics & social sensibilities of another period (but without giving the impression that the author is mimicking a literary style of the past). The descriptions of the Greek landscape, the flora and the fauna are very accurate, almost scientifically exact. All of this fascinated me more than the mystery plot, and I truly did not care at all about who done it and why; I let myself enjoy the descriptions of the Greek rural domain and its people. The author's microscopic view of the terrain is rendered in carefully chosen spare but precise wording, and this gives a poetic quality to the descriptive passages. Zouroudi surpasses a lot of travel writers' in conveying the unique smells & textures of the Greek island setting. No two islands of Greece are alike, and I would like to believe I have "recognized" the one that is the inspiration for this novel's setting. [My guess is Kalymnos.] The author is apparently very knowledgeable also about the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle changes to the Greek terrain, how it has been transformed by time, or by human intervention. In the descriptive passages, as well as in the dialogue of the characters, these transformations parallel the changes undergone by the rural communities of the Greek countryside, which in turn highlights the sense of nostalgia in the novel. But it's a complex sentiment, as the nostalgia is accompanied by a sense of dread and foreboding. There is a definite macabre quality in many of the descriptions of the local flora and fauna. The fisherman reeks of his catch, menacing insects about, leaves are dying, flowers are uprooted, objects are rusting or eroding, people are aging before their time. ...more
In this second book of the series by Anne Zouroudi, I find exactly the same qualities that intrigued me about her first novel. So I'm copy/pasting froIn this second book of the series by Anne Zouroudi, I find exactly the same qualities that intrigued me about her first novel. So I'm copy/pasting from my review of The Messenger of Athens: "The descriptions of the Greek landscape, the flora and the fauna are very accurate, almost scientifically exact. All of this fascinated me more than the mystery plot, and I truly did not care at all about who done it and why; I let myself enjoy the descriptions of the Greek rural domain and its people. The author is apparently very knowledgeable also about the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle changes to the Greek terrain, how it has been transformed by time, or by human intervention. In the descriptive passages, as well as in the dialogue of the characters, these transformations parallel the changes undergone by the rural communities of the Greek countryside, which in turn highlights the sense of nostalgia in the novel. But it's a complex sentiment, as the nostalgia is accompanied by a sense of dread and foreboding. There is a definite macabre quality in many of the descriptions of the local flora and fauna..." In this second novel, the macabre element of nature is even more pronounced: dead fish eyes stare back at us from the pages of the book, scorpions appear out of nowhere... ...more
Of the Murakami books I've read till now, this one is probably the most approachable. Despite all the symbols and metaphors, as well as discussions abOf the Murakami books I've read till now, this one is probably the most approachable. Despite all the symbols and metaphors, as well as discussions about the nature of symbols and metaphors, and despite all the supernatural elements, there is a clarity to the plot. Literary and cultural allusions abound but they are more or less all spelled out in the text itself. The Oedipus trilogy by Sophocles, Freud's theory of the ego, Orpheus in the underworld, the omphalos, Beethoven's Immortal Beloved, Dostoevsky's The Idiot, the shore scene in François Truffault's The 400 Blows, etc. as well as Japanese references such as the work of Ueda Akinari. The symbolic/supernatural characters of Johnny Walker and Colonel Sanders are harder to figure out, but in all probability they are not meant to be understood in any conventional sense, just as the hypothetical first person in mythology to be accosted by the Furies did not know what to make of them. I enjoyed reading Kafka on the Shore but I found the last quarter of the novel rushed and hastily assembled, compared with the first 3/4 of the book. In the last chapters it seemed the effort was about bringing closure and joining the disparate strands together rather than maintaining the rhythm of the narrative so far. The text lost its distinct feel and pacing, and the reader's tenuous connection with the character of Kafka, so delicately developed over the course of the book, was almost lost in the choppy plot developments squeezed into the last pages of the book. Another fault I found with the text is the translation. There were too many Americanisms that stood out in a most inelegant way: the quoting of dollar amounts instead of yen, but more glaringly the tendency to repeat anachronistic exclamations such as "Jeez Louise", or "that's all she wrote." --- A brief note about crows in Japan. edited to add : crows in Japan...more
A well-written and balanced novel, masterfully incorporating historical facts with fictional suspense and strong doses of social and political satire.A well-written and balanced novel, masterfully incorporating historical facts with fictional suspense and strong doses of social and political satire. The story is topical, revealing the unique psyche of modern Pakistan caught as it is in the web of war between the world’s two superpowers, while at the same time relying on the universal (I am tempted to say "Biblical"!) themes of a revenge (by the son for his father's wrongful death) & parricide (the plotting generals are Zia's figurative sons). There is always a risk when combining first person with third person narration, but here in this novel the alternating voices from chapter to chapter work well, without conflict. Ironically, it's the third-person voice that provides insight into the intimate (fictional?) aspects General Zia's private life, his obsessions and weaknesses, while the first person voice of Ali Shigri is a guarded one, if not unreliable altogether. We soon figure out that Ali Shigri is not divulging the whole truth as he could. Details (about his father's legacy, his relationship with his military mate Obaid, and of his intentions regarding that fateful day) are provided only gradually, as elements of the picture - the one Shigri is describing at the opening and the ending of the novel - are gradually pieced together to form a whole. Definitely there is a narrative build-up leading to the climax, even though readers are aware of the plot’s outcome (what happens to General Zia is known from the onset). The author could have enriched the book with a plethora of factual minutiae regarding the historical background - how Zia's wielded absolute rule over his people, the shady funding of the mujahedin by US interests, etc. Opting for the indirect approach over exacting documentation is what makes the political satire more potent, and enjoyable to read. The absurdities - factual though they may be - are depicted for their humorous rather than their sinister side....more
The odd thing as I was reading the novel, is that in a way my reality mirrored that of the protagonist, Toru Okada. Instead of the sound of the wind-uThe odd thing as I was reading the novel, is that in a way my reality mirrored that of the protagonist, Toru Okada. Instead of the sound of the wind-up bird and phone calls from anonymous women upsetting my daily routine, I was distracted by the loud cries of my 90+yr old father coming from across the street. Every morning he'd awaken to find himself in a reality separate from mine. He was certain that he was in another country, and suitcase in hand he was on his way to a travel agent or to the airport to 'return' to Greece...because the border would be closing soon, because his passport would expire in half an hour, because it was all so terrible, because terrible things were going to happen and he had to find a way to prevent them from happening. Other times when I'd visit he'd say he wanted to show me the (nonexistent) letters from Geneval he had just received, letters which he spent hours searching for in his briefcase until I was forced to tell him, you can show me the letters tomorrow it's late, past my bedtime and I have to leave now, for only then would he close the briefcase. The possibility that the similarities between Toru's confusion over the psychedelic parallel realities and my father's disease would prevent me from enjoying Murakami's story was there...and yet that's not why I was disappointed by the novel. What diminished my enjoyment of the book is the sensation I had time and time again that the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle resemble very much the uncanny films of David Lynch. So many instances in which I thought I was reading a Japanese version of Twin Peaks or Mulholland Drive. Don't get me wrong, I like David Lynch very much. But I do feel I can now sit down and write pages upon pages linking the elements from the work of one to the other (Noboru Wataya = Mr. Palmer, etc.) that I know I didn't really fully appreciate Murakami's story as I should have.
By the way, if anyone would like to try out the Zen-inspired experience of being at the bottom of a well, I can suggest the voided void in Berlin. I unexpectedly found myself in there with no other visitors sharing the space with me, and the mind-altering experience I had at the sudden realization that I was all alone during that time was quite similar to the descriptions of lieutenant Mamiya and Toru Okada in the novel....more
Although it's a book written primarily for a teen audience, it contains subtleties that an adult reader can appreciate. Beginning with the novel’s titAlthough it's a book written primarily for a teen audience, it contains subtleties that an adult reader can appreciate. Beginning with the novel’s title, where the contradictory qualifiers ‘absolutely true’ and yet ‘part-time’ prepare the reader for what is to come - the hyperboles are much more than teenage angst, the tongue-in-cheek humility, all that is ridiculous and yet so true of life on the ‘rez’.
The accompanying cartoon illustrations are instrumental in highlighting the sardonic aspect of the narrative. And yet, while browsing numerous reviews of the novel online, I find that readers tend to focus on the text as if it were indeed autobiographical, or else they tend to interpret Arnold/Junior’s experiences as an inspiration/role model for teen readers, and in so doing, disregard the obvious jabs Alexie makes at the prevalence of white/Anglo stereotyping both in fiction (literature or cinema) as well as in politics.
I’m not so sure Junior is meant to be (primarily) a teen role model, someone who despite all the hardships, drawbacks, and limitations, makes a success of himself. The way in which he becomes an instant hit - teenage stud, star athlete, academic achiever - is an obvious exaggeration that neither adult nor teen readers should take at face value. It’s obviously every teenager’s fantasy – success is the best revenge for every insult and indignity foisted upon the individual by life or by one’s own peers – but here the message is more political than educational. While reading I was mindful of the author’s mockery the realities of life in the USA, by playing up the conventions and misbeliefs prevalent in mainstream American culture. Maybe one needs to listen to the author reading from Absolutely True… in order to grasp the right tone of the narrative (here and here).
What gives Junior away is how he is portrayed as being wise beyond his years despite obvious limitations, like not knowing how to deal with girls, or even the meanings of certain words. He is cast as the stereotypical sagacious Indian, mouthing one aphorism after the other in the manner of Black Elk Speaks, etc.
Alexie further mocks this Anglo-white stereotype of the sagacious native, by making the grandmother mouth certain ‘truths’ that mainstream America may not care to hear ("Gay people are like Swiss army knives") and, more tellingly, with the incident of Billionaire Ted and Grandmother’s powwow outfit that has the whole rez roaring with laughing at her funeral. On a more subtle level, the stereotype is turned upside down, by having Junior embody the traits of the typically white-European American highschooler that's a mainstay in Hollywood teen comedies, that of a teenager who delights in crass bodily functions – this story is full of talk about vomit, farting, and other eschatological goings-on. Lest we still think the rez residents are the downtrodden yet proud race, the repository of ancient wisdoms despite their unfortunate history, here’s Junior proclaiming their humble humanity: “We Indians like to talk dirty.”
Junior’s troubles go beyond his adolescent awkwardness, his hydrocephaly and other biological characteristics, or his economic situation. What’s bugging him is that as a ‘native’ American he is treated as if he’s an immigrant in his own country. I would go so far as to say that the protagonist’s dual name is a sly jab at the phenomenon whereby someone like ‘Conan the Barbarian’ can become governor of a U.S. state, while so-called natives are not as prominent in the public eye, unable to garner respect and attention.
Another socio-politically charged theme of Absolutely True is that of students from underprivileged socio-economical backgrounds being welcomed by educational institutions mainly because they display star athlete potential and not for their overall performance or personality. It doesn’t really make a difference whether Junior has a high GPA, and can go against the resident geek of the ‘white’ school one-on-one; it’s solely his athletic capabilities that are his entry ticket to escape the rez. Of course, one wonders how many native Americans have actually made it ‘out’ in this particular way, compared to the degree that African Americans migrate from poverty and into the sports hall of fame. What preoccupies Junior is the contrast between his successful escape and his sister’s failed migration. Potential writers like her, with hopes of becoming a writer (albeit a romance novelist) aren’t going to be noticed by the ‘mainstream’ establishment, and that’s the real shame.
The final irony is that Alexie has succeeded in writing an award-winning book, and Absolutely True has become part of the school curriculum (in spite of motions to ban it for its supposed prurient content), a feat symbolic as well as transformative. It's a feat that transcends Junior's throwing of the outdated textbook straight into Mr. P's face. ...more
A small fold-out mapbook, arguably the most concise and practical guide to Beirut. Includes listings on where to shop, eat & stay. Most importantlA small fold-out mapbook, arguably the most concise and practical guide to Beirut. Includes listings on where to shop, eat & stay. Most importantly it includes maps and information to vibrant neighborhoods, where one can experience the non-cosmetically enhanced Beirut, eg. the Armenian quarter of Bourj Hammoud, in addition to the more central areas of Hamra, Achrafieh, Gemmayze, and Downtown (Solidere). A brief introduction to local foods, customs, and architecture make this a valuable guide, in spite of its pocket size & format. Unfortunately it's out of print, but if you are lucky you may come across a copy at one of the several used book shops or out-of-the-way souvenir shop as happened with me. ...more
Despite its age, this volume (in the Time-Life series* Foods of the World, copyright 1969, revised 1971) is a well-researched introduction to the regiDespite its age, this volume (in the Time-Life series* Foods of the World, copyright 1969, revised 1971) is a well-researched introduction to the region, spanning from Greece & Egypt all the way to Iran. The first chapter introduces the common elements of the cuisines of the nine nations that are covered in this travelogue, as the author (an American of Greek descent) discovers the landscape, the peoples, and the foods along the route. This is essentially why I treasure this old book - for the historical background, the explication of the culinary traditions uniting as well as differentiating the Middle Eastern cultures, and more than anything, the photographs that immortalize the people of the region as they prepare the food and consume it. In Greece, the focus is on the Easter festivities, in Turkey a farewell family feast, in Lebanon a stylish urban cocktail and mezze spread, in Jordan a Bedouin tent mansaf, in Iraq the archeological roots of the agricultural staples on which the region's cuisines are based, in Israel the multicultural origins of the colonial settlers, in Iran meals with tilemakers and carpetweaving craftsmen, in Egypt the street vendors.
* The main text is a hardbound album, and the majority of the recipes are printed in a separate spiralbound booklet (which I don't own). ...more