It's a short book - and there are some parts of it that are fabulous. Like the way the relationship at the center of the story begins and ends. Long aIt's a short book - and there are some parts of it that are fabulous. Like the way the relationship at the center of the story begins and ends. Long ago, I had someone tell me - if you can see the end, the end is already here. And never have I seen those thoughts mirrored more accurately than here in this slim novel. I liked the way characters are kept at edge, deemed unimportant to the story. And I like how they still barge in, demanding a larger space, even in such few pages. Towards the end, the story steered off into another dimension, and i did not much care for it. But by that time, it had already endeared itself. There is something about the Latin American writers - they read. A lot. It always comes back in their writing. And sometimes, you can read them to build your reading list....more
I would have rated this a five star, merely for educating me on the Transylvanian history and offering a different perspective on the Hapsburg empire.I would have rated this a five star, merely for educating me on the Transylvanian history and offering a different perspective on the Hapsburg empire. But the novel seems so utterly focused on foolhardy decisions, on wasted, self indulgent young men who rarely do anything of value, that it became tedious to go through. If Banffy was trying to criticise his country-men as being unclear, unfocused and uninspired people, he came out a success. But if he intended to do only that, it seems a highly biased work. And if it was just that, the Anna Karenina drama was misplaced. To me, a great setting was wasted on description of mundane balls and social engagement. The motivation of Hungarians to demand more power is ignored to the extent that the entire set of politicians end up looking like jokers...more
There were a few moments when I felt the book was upto something great, especially in Balso Snell, but it soon faded. The Day of the Locust seemed preThere were a few moments when I felt the book was upto something great, especially in Balso Snell, but it soon faded. The Day of the Locust seemed predictable, and even in its relative shortness seemed pretty lengthy. The book is about showmanship and how people get addicted to it, a theme which has already been beautifully depicted by showmen themselves, so much so that a book on that subject seems dull....more
Nothomb's short novel is a curious work. It is the story of a child, narrated by herself, but filtered through growing up. Filtered here does not meanNothomb's short novel is a curious work. It is the story of a child, narrated by herself, but filtered through growing up. Filtered here does not mean filter out,because Nothomb does not really filter out her thoughts, obsessions and world view of childhood as she writes this. But she lets some of the latter experiences seep into the tale, a quote from Wittgenstein here, a little reference to Lolita there. It is remarkable how she never seems judgmental or dismissive about the fantasies of nonage - that is perhaps the most outstanding quality of this book, which lets it be a story told by a child.
The book is about a part of Nothomb's own life, spent in China as a diplomat's daughter. Most diplomatic families live in colonies (which Nothomb christens ghettos) that are separated from the local population. As a result, many different nationalities come together in a microcosm of the outside world.
At appropriate intervals Nothomb, the child is funny, and these comic sightings keep the book interesting. Though the narration is based in China, there is little China that you meet - it is just somewhere out there, and never penetrates into the story, which is a bit disappointing, especially because the back-cover gives you the impression that it is going to be about an imaginative childhood in a troubled country (I immediately imagined Pan's Labyrinth, my fault, but you always anticipate based on what you have already experienced).
In all ways, the book is a capsule of a larger, more conscious adult life given to a child. She experiences war, love, suffering and lives in a microcosm....more
Reading Natalia Ginzburg felt like watching a neo-realist movie by De-Sica. Despite being placed in the backdrop of the war (1939-44), it is still focReading Natalia Ginzburg felt like watching a neo-realist movie by De-Sica. Despite being placed in the backdrop of the war (1939-44), it is still focused on the life of people, and keeps itself slightly distant from political agendas. Instead, you are forced to know individual characters, understand their worldview, even sympathize with their stupidities. All our yesterdays is about the children of two neighboring families - one of them rich and owner of a factory, the other not so well to do. In their adolescent years, the children find themselves in a Fascist regime and in a country which decides to go to the war on Germany's side. In the excitement of youth, two of these children begin to prepare for a revolution, which soon fizzles out. As their adults die or become preoccupied with the oncoming war, these children spend idle hours going astray, unhurried and unconcerned about their studies. Things change, and the youngest girl, Anna, is married to an old family friend with whom she moves to a poor village in South Italy. The life in this village is drawn in plain strokes by Ginzburg, and it is easy to see that it is a vastly different world from the town of Anna's growing up. It is here that war becomes a reality, and the writer makes us come face to face with the dangers and concerns of common Italian people. People who do not support Fascism and thus often celebrate Italian and German defeats against the English. The writing is often minimalist, though not excessively so. The story is told by a narrator, who does not involve itself very much with dialogues, but does sketch feelings in rough outlines. With minimalism, Ginzburg is able to weave in many characters and events into the story. There are several deaths of various kinds, and each of the children grows up in a different manner, finding own ways of dealing with the changes. The several characters with their own forms of cowardice and heroism and their own voices ('lived and died a Socialist') make this book a very interesting read. The character of Anna, placed at the center seems most unformed as she drifts along life, but is also quite realistic. This is one of the plainest war novels that I have read with few tortures, fewer gunshots and even lesser bomb attacks, and yet with a simple paucity of lemons and carefully guarded cellars, the author makes the pinch of war felt....more
Everything Thomas Bernhard writes has a consciousness of death, owing to his own poor health. He often talks of illness, weakness, sanitariums and morEverything Thomas Bernhard writes has a consciousness of death, owing to his own poor health. He often talks of illness, weakness, sanitariums and mortality. So in a work written/published close to his death, it is not surprising that death finds a prominent place. Through describing a friend's last days, Bernhard describes the decay that death brings, how friend recede in the face of it and how life force vanishes much before the physical death sets in. However, an awareness of death also makes the life before it intense. Bernhard describes it in his and his friend's acute interest in the arts, the inexhaustible visits to the opera or concerts, the endless discussions on performances. So much so that both friends feel alive only in the city ( which offers these intellectual stimulations) and abhor countryside, which they think deadens the brain. It is a remarkable prose, which does not feel like fiction but a memoir, and reading it is apparent to see why parallels are drawn between Sebald and Thomas Bernhard. They both remove the line dividing fact and fiction, memories and imaginations....more
This is an excellent introduction to Heinrich Boll, an author I have been wanting to read for a while. It is a short book, yet quite impactful and sliThis is an excellent introduction to Heinrich Boll, an author I have been wanting to read for a while. It is a short book, yet quite impactful and slightly disturbing. It is a very controlled, almost impassive reportage of how a young woman is persued by a sensationalist journalist after she spends a night with a man wanted by police. Very impassionately, it also reconstructs how this persual and wide-spread destruction of her character mentally affects her peace of mind and the consequences it leads to. The most disturbing thing about the book is its brevity and the logical construction of the story. As if a vile act was not being committed and a very biased Government and society were not destroying a private, sensitive life. Of course the report wants us to see that the young girl was a victim, but there is no appeal to our sense of judgement, no vehement cry against injustice being done to the girl. The impartiality is forced, perhaps because Boll was trying to chronicle his reactions to a more personal incident of similar nature, where one of his articles was used to reconstruct his character as a leftist and he became the target of many hate mails. He wanted to show, how even impartially, the behavior of the Right-winged press could be seen to be abominable. ---Possible Spoilers, though not really considering the nature of the book--- There is one anomaly though. The character of Katharina Blum, shown as a petite young woman, sensitive to criticism and rather prudish, suddenly turns around and murders a man. What is even more surprising that the murder is not one committed in a passionate moment of disgust, but is planned and pre-meditated at least a day in advance. This seems anomalous to the character so far presented to us, and a little forced. Perhaps it was done to bring a strong ending to a strong story, but in my opinion a sudden shot in anger would have been much more fitting than a plan. Even though Ms. Blum is a highly organized person, this is not the kind of planning which goes with her reported character. not withstanding this anomaly, it is a great novella, and highly absorbing....more
Some years ago I had read Saramago's controversial version of the new testament - Gospel according to Jesus Christ and had instantly fallen in love wiSome years ago I had read Saramago's controversial version of the new testament - Gospel according to Jesus Christ and had instantly fallen in love with it. In it, he had strongly questioned the stern and punishing ways of God. In Cain, he goes several steps further in arguing against the cruel divine methods, picking stories from the Old Testament to demonstrate the irrationality and cruelty of religion and faith. In these stories, Cain, the son of Adam and Eve is the unifying thread. It is him we follow as he takes us to Babel, to Sodom, to Abraham's sacrifice of his son, to Lot, to Moses and to Job and to Noah, showing us again and again how vindictive and capricious God is. What is missing in the tales, however is depth of exploration - the characters are brushed and are out of focus. They hardly utter words or are explained. Job, Noah, Abraham - all appear as unthinking puppets, blindly following the God's bid. It is almost as if man had never eaten from the tree of knowledge. It is only Cain who is drawn out carefully and thinks - his character is drawn beautifully. He is resentful of God from the time he murders his brother, yet there is a certain acceptance in him of God's mercy, who pardons his crime and allows him a long life, albeit that of a wanderer. Slowly however, these stories begin to stir him and his bitterness towards God increases. The end of the book brings God and Cain at loggerheads in an interesting manner.
Cain is clearly written by an atheist, which Saramago famously has been. At the launch of Cain, he condemned the Bible as a chronicle of the worst in human nature, something which obviously found him many detractors. Unlike the Gospel...there is little debate in this book. Although God and Cain confront many times, they speak in cliches and you understand very little of God except consider him a stubborn child who wants all the attention. Cain was an interesting read for me, a non-Christian who is not very familiar with the details of the bible and knows these stories only in bits and pieces. I wonder whether the stories will be appealing and fundamentally different for people who have grown up on their Biblical versions. And I do have to claim that much of my opinion of the book had already leaned to favorable with the knowledge that this was the last book to come out of saramago's hand. ...more
It is a paler sequel to Boyhood and Youth - both exceptional books. There are many repetitions, and Coetzee emerges as an unwarm, slightly desperate aIt is a paler sequel to Boyhood and Youth - both exceptional books. There are many repetitions, and Coetzee emerges as an unwarm, slightly desperate and uninspired person. But because he himself has written it - you do not know how much of it is true, how much is self-criticism/modesty, and how much is his fiction. Because, as he says in the book, coetzee is a fictioneer and if some of the passages in the book are to be believed, he has fictionalized components from his life several times - even in acknowledgements and preambles of his works. However, the writing is original, as Coetzee is. ...more