The Last Samurai is one book, which, even without clearly knowing what post-modernism is, I can call post-modern with some conviction. It has so many...moreThe Last Samurai is one book, which, even without clearly knowing what post-modernism is, I can call post-modern with some conviction. It has so many stylistic elements that could have never been found in traditional literature. The perspective changes in the middle of the book, there are many stories and anecdotes, and Kurosawa's Seven Samurai always keeps holding the background.
The book goes through many things, primary amongst them is a young woman's attempt to bring up a child alone, while still trying to earn her living in a foreign country. She has no idea of the best practices of bringing up a child, and neither the time nor inclination to consult anyone on the topic. Sometimes her methods are atrocious - like taking her child to an art gallery to spend the entire day (because the house is too cold), or shuttling all day on the train line. The child hardly meets any other kids, and spends most of his time reading. The various other things happening in the book include a lesson on Greek language, a primer on Japanese, pieces of the script of Seven Samurai, the story of Sanshiro Sugata, stories of blocked geniuses (amongst them an eccentric musician Yamamoto), and various other snippets on music and linguistics. It seems like a mosaic painting, and though the pieces look brilliant, sometimes, it takes a while to appreciate how they fit together. In Dewitt's book, it seems that the pattern is 'genius', but that does not necessarily fit everything. The stylistic nature also feels a little irritating sometimes, because it is done purely for effect - like sentences left mid-way and erratic grammar, which are disconcerting, and do not quite blend. Nevertheless, there is no boring moment in the book, except a page here or there.
There are two parts in the book - the initial being narrated by Sybilla, the mother, and the second being narrated by the genius son, Ludo. Once Ludo takes over the narration, the broken sentences disappear, and the cyclic, repeating nature of the book becomes more pronounced. Sibylla appears only in conversations with her son, and she sometimes tells interesting stories. Stories of failed geniuses of course, since she (and Dewitt) seems to specialize in them. One of the remarkable stories is that of Hugh Carey and Raymond Drecker (not real people, irrespective of how Sibylla presents it) - two geniuses, of significantly different nature. While Hugh is an insatiable, hyper young achiever who wants to be constantly wondered at and admired, Raymond is a person who mulls, introspects and aches over philosophical questions (and wonders how they can be answered in an exam of two hours). HC, realizing the genius and the only worthy opponent in RD, constantly pushes the latter (through chess games!), so that his own achievements are more meaningful. In the real world, of course, HC jumps far ahead, while RD hides in an anonymous corner writing dictionaries.
HC, in a quest to achieve yet another un-achievable, goes to China and encounters a romantic story of tribes and hardships. A story that is both fantastic and ridiculous. In the end of the story it seems, Dewitt refuses both kind of geniuses. One becomes obscure, other too worldly, and it is remarkable how she choses an uninspiring fate for each genius that she has picked up. Somehow this hopelessness has attracted me to her writing -I would have thought less of her if she had shone either of these two against the other.
What Ludo is doing meanwhile, is going on a quest for a father. He finds his real one, rejects him for his fallacies, and then goes about finding the samurai-like fathers. These are people from his mother's stories, and one by one, he goes to meet them, and claims to be their son. The results are hilarious in most cases - dangerous in some. But with each meeting Ludo comes out with a conviction on where this father failed, why he would not want to be his son. In the lists of these potential fathers also is HC, and eventually Yamamoto. Each of these encounters says a little about the absurdity of modern life, and the bogus nature of popular genius.(less)
In both its parts that I have read till now, Your Face Tomorrow is a fascinating read. Each of these books are almost housed in single nights and in t...moreIn both its parts that I have read till now, Your Face Tomorrow is a fascinating read. Each of these books are almost housed in single nights and in the disturbing, absorbing events of those nights. You are drawn to the mystery of the nature of Deza's work, but the plot is least of the writer's (and possibly the reader's) concerns. Those single nights are described slowly, thoroughly, painstakingly. (5 minutes described in 90 pages)It is more a journey into Deza's mind - how a drop of blood connects to another,how a hit against the walls takes him back to years before he was born, to the experiences of his father. What I find so remarkable is Marias' grasp on the whole. The connection between events, and even the two parts of the book is seamless. He does not mention something and forget about it as he moves to the next story. He may be wandering to different places in his narrative, but he comes back - making even those wanderings focused. Of course there were moments when his digressions test your patience. At least mine was tested a few times during the book when it simply refused to move forward, circling in the same ridiculous events, in the ugliness of Rafita or the vanity of Mrs. Manoia. During those times, carrying on seemed difficult, but that passed. This second book is much darker than the first, and thus also more riveting. There are many teasers - Perez Nuix's request and what it means, the possibility of Rafita's death, and it all makes the thought of the next book more delightful.(less)
Why am I stuck with such warped twisted writing? Was I imagining an American version of Seducer's Diary? Perhaps it is - it is about as much thought a...moreWhy am I stuck with such warped twisted writing? Was I imagining an American version of Seducer's Diary? Perhaps it is - it is about as much thought and art to expect from the American Johannes. Should know better than to blindly pick up a book for the NYRB Classics tag.(less)
Discoverer is a remarkable book - one I got myself completely taken with. It is the final part of a trilogy, and though reading the last part of the t...moreDiscoverer is a remarkable book - one I got myself completely taken with. It is the final part of a trilogy, and though reading the last part of the trilogy before you have read the prequels may not be the prescribed order, the book stands alone on its own so that it does not become a handicap. The book is about Jonas Wergeland, an elusive character, who is a TV-genius, responsible for some remarkable shows on Norwegian television. He comes back from a trip one day to find his wife dead. He is tried for the murder and he confesses to the crime. The fall of a celebrity is much loved by people, and this fall brings about two books on Jonas' life. One is written by Kamala Varma – a famous Indian author under whom Jonas is now working as a secretary, and another is a biography 'staged' by Jonas's sister Rakel – these two books form part 1 and 2 of this trilogy. In the third and the final part, we hear Jonas' own voice giving his version of the story. (Though there is another narrator interspersed with Jonas, someone whose identity is not revealed till the end, like the other two books - but a narrator who is easy to guess)
This account is remarkable in its reminiscence. Jonas' account moves from one memory to another through a tenuous link, and he has not finished narrating one story before he reaches the other, and suddenly you find yourself into tunnels of stories. You have to keep track of which tunnel you are in, and then when you get out there is the other original unfinished story, which is capsuled in another one. The stories themselves are so full of thoughts and ideas, and you wonder if Jonas could have lived through so many thoughts when he was 12, or 7.
The book is about discovery – of self, of past, of memories and also of those beautiful regions of Norway which Jonas and his team is traversing on a ship. Jonas seems to be a boy wonder of sorts, but also seems to have so many moments of failing, disappointment which constantly plague him about his self-worth. What I have read so far seems like a coming of age story, though the part where the 'coming' happens has remained elusive. Perhaps it happens with Magrete's death. But before that happens, there is much meditation – on films, on music, on sports and all the things a growing up is wound up in.(less)
An imagined interaction between the father of psychotherapy and a great thinker of the 19th century, the book is quite interesting. The dialogue betwe...moreAn imagined interaction between the father of psychotherapy and a great thinker of the 19th century, the book is quite interesting. The dialogue between the man of science and the man of thought, holds many possibilities. Yalom has not been very articulate with this dialogue, but he does not need to be - the struggle and suspicion is easily imagined in the situation, and often I found myself nodding to the arguments of both.
There are parts of the book, the end particularly so where you will find yourself piled under the trite. The author, obviously is the one who follows convention, follows the Breuer he has portrayed, and even in his writing, is willing to go only so far. (less)
The Passport by Herta Muller is a haunting tale of a village, where each life is repressed by totalitarian state. The narration is almost dream-like,...moreThe Passport by Herta Muller is a haunting tale of a village, where each life is repressed by totalitarian state. The narration is almost dream-like, ghost-like - in a Pedro Paramo way, but much more brutal and carnal. The entire village hangs on the dream to escape, and every sweat and the last piece of honor is invested in this dream. The dreams are mixed with signs of death, which people see in everything - the apple tree, its owl, the flowers... it is a slow nightmare, and it is very depressing. But then, the brilliance of the work is in the way it brings the suffocation of an authoritative regime to your reading room and make you feel the alienation. The Passport is at the center of all dreams, because it is the gateway to escape. All authorities whose stamp is required to attain this dream, fall to depths to make the road a nightmare. In short, the work is seeped in tragedy - not as compelling as Land of Green Plums, but a tragedy which is disturbing.(less)
I started reading this book somewhere in April last year, then abandoned it due to travel schedules, and have been reading it amidst different books s...moreI started reading this book somewhere in April last year, then abandoned it due to travel schedules, and have been reading it amidst different books since last month. A long drawn read sometimes hampers a reading experience, but not when the book has been written with as much clarity as Czeslaw Milosz has accorded the Captive Mind.
Milosz, a Polish writer, lived through the Warsaw uprising of 1944 and the Russian rule in Poland, and initially lent his cooperation to the Communist government by becoming the Government's Literary attache to Paris. These were the initial times, when the Red Army was trying to win Intellectuals over by giving them some literary freedom, as long as they did not criticize Russia or its theories in their writing. Neutrality then, was acceptable. But soon, the noose tightened to swerve these intellectuals into praising the regime, and it was no longer possible to be a writer without contributing to the party's agenda. Milosz struggled with this acceptance for a while, until his ideas of literary freedom won and he seeked political asylum in Paris. Captive Mind was completed during this phase, even though the seed had begun during his years of cooperation. This background is essential to a book in which Milosz explains his initial cooperation and the cooperation of several Polish intellectuals. He does this through a couple of concepts, followed by 4 biographies of such writers. The concepts are interesting. Take for example the pill of Murti Bing. In a fantasy written by Witkievicz, an Eastern Invader Murti Bing defeats Poland, and offers a pill of happiness to its exhausted people. People take it willingly, because everyone inherently wants to move to a harmonious state. Milosz likens the pill to Communism - which offers a harmonious existence to all men, dissolving divides. People exhausted from the Nazi rule willingly accept it. What takes the center-stage in the book are the four biographies of Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. All of these are Polish writers, and for different reasons are drawn to the idea of Communism. Alpha is drawn to purity and monumental tragedy, which a war-torn country gives him aplenty. Beta is a disappointed lover, a nihilist who has witnessed first hand the society that builds up in a concentration camp, and is a brutal narrator of it. The realism of Marxist regime appealed to his love for brutal truth, as did its materialism. Gamma, a slave of history was a non-entity in the literary world before the war, but was elevated to a position of prominence & power with his embrace of the socialist regime.Lastly Delta, the troubadour was a jocose storyteller, who liked the regime because it paid him for his popular writing. These portraits are tremendous, and each presents a different logic for embrace of a tyrannical regime. These writers, including Milosz are making some compromises, but considering the alternative - of not being able to write, or of exile to a nation where no can read your writing, their compromise does not warrant a harsh judgment. I would really like to know who these authors are that Milosz represents, and if possible read something from them - at least from Beta, whose writing seems a harsh portrayal of human nature under duress. Milosz' language is a little poetic, he is not a debater and he sometimes digresses from the argument into memory lanes, which makes the book a little charming,and melancholy despite the ideological theme. Once the portraits have ended, the book has become a bit monotonous. Perhaps Milosz should have ended sooner. An interesting term in the book: Ketman. Act of paying lip service to the authority while holding personal opposition. Wonder why it has not come up in my earlier Totalitarian reads.(less)
A perfect companion for traveling through the Himalyan Buddhist states. There is much introspection on the nature and fate of these places and on the...moreA perfect companion for traveling through the Himalyan Buddhist states. There is much introspection on the nature and fate of these places and on the fate of Tantric Buddhism, which lies under threat from more well-spread and widely followed religions. However, it is also a lovely travelogue on Bhutan and delves deeply into it's tradition, history and contemporary way of life. The author has traveled through various regions of the country and found the most defining features of each. Since Buddhism is a central part of the culture, it finds an important place in the narrative, but political, social and economical perspectives have not been forgotten. Reading it while traveling this fantasy land, I found the book an elegant expression of what the country does to a visitor.(less)
It is after a long time that I have enjoyed reading good historical fiction. Mantel's tale is interesting and very well written. Through the eyes of T...moreIt is after a long time that I have enjoyed reading good historical fiction. Mantel's tale is interesting and very well written. Through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, a man of low stature who rose to power through his dexterity and cunning, she has described the time of Henry VII's rule, and his separation with the Roman church. Her descriptions of those times are graphic, and by using an opportunistic, un-philosophical but observant and central narrator, she has managed to pack in a lot of detail. Her writing is pleasurable, and every once in a while you encounter phrases which are beautiful. What I didn't like about the book is its length. In a historical fiction, reference material is usually resplendent, and the merit of the author is in selection of which incidents to deal with in the book. Something which Mantel seems to have faltered at. At 650 pages, here book is daunting, and gets tedious when similar incidents with similar morals keep re-appearing. The number of characters are numerous and sometimes it is very difficult to keep track. Especially so if you do your reading at the end of the day! The other problem is almost a lack of thought in the book. A fallout of a king with Rome is a major event, one with several theological, political aspects. But at no point do the characters seem to dwell on these issues, which seems a bit surprising. Surely, a parliament could not have made the king head of church without facing dilemmas. Though a lot of court proceedings are mentioned - the arguments in neither are presented in the text. Having looked forward to such discussions while picking up the book, I was a little disappointed with the straight jacket narration. (less)