Speak Memory is an exceptional autobiography laced with many sentiments. Here you meet a rather emotional Nabokov, trying to hold precious pieces of m...moreSpeak Memory is an exceptional autobiography laced with many sentiments. Here you meet a rather emotional Nabokov, trying to hold precious pieces of memory like moments with his mother and the childhood of his son, not to mention the memories of his beloved Russian home and his first love, Tamara.It really is reminiscing rather than being biographic, and therefore far more sincere and enjoyable.(less)
The collection is a gem. I have read only about 4-5 stories yet, but they have been very impressive. Unlike the typical short story there is no build-...moreThe collection is a gem. I have read only about 4-5 stories yet, but they have been very impressive. Unlike the typical short story there is no build-up to the 'element of surprise' here but a simplistic narration of an individual's adjustments with personal and social demands.
The book is a compilation of stories from her earlier works - Soft voice of the serpent and Livingstone's Companion. All the stories are set in South Africa, and convey its various moods; of neglect, decay, liberalism, materialism and alienation. I particularly loved the title story Why haven't you written, where an engineer who regularly travels on work falls in love with another woman on these travels, and in a drunken reverie writes a letter to his wife telling her about the affair.
Because so long as I accept that you are a good wife, how can I find the guts to do it? I can go on being the same thing - your opposite number, the good husband, hoping for a better position and more money for us all, coming on these bloody dreary trips every winter. But it's through subjecting myself to all this, putting up with what we think of as these partings for the sake of my work, that I have come to understand that they are not partings at all. They are nothing like partings. Do you undertand?
There is so much tentativeness in these words - a longing to have something more passionate than the decorative marriage, and yet a guilt of infidelity to a good wife. Through his return, he regrets the letter, and since there is a snow blizard and a postal strike, he is not sure if the letter has reached his wife. Back at home, he obviously wants to leave things as they are without stirring a storm in his life, and is constantly worried about the arrival of this letter. His dilemma has been well captured in words, with a startling intensity.
From the soft voice of the serpent, I quite liked the two stories: Talisman and The Defeated so far. The former is another variation on the theme of infidelity, where a bored wife starts an affair with an ex boyfriend, walking on the 'tightrope' between the security of the marital and the excitement of the extra-marital, without lending a thought to possible consequences. The latter is a story about an immigrant family, who struggle to give a better life to their daughter. The story describes their colorful and difficult life and gradually a distancing from the daughter who finds comfort in more material pursuits.(less)
I tried and tried to find the Michel Hoffman translation of this illustrious work, but found only the version translated by Joachim Neugroschel. Befor...moreI tried and tried to find the Michel Hoffman translation of this illustrious work, but found only the version translated by Joachim Neugroschel. Before reading, I had read enough about the superior quality of the former, and the wanting standards of latter. May be I do not have the ability to judge translations, but I was quite moved by the version I read. It was masterful story-telling, which was neither dense nor complicated, but a simple narration about an empire which suddenly found itself hung between changing times.
The novel is set in the Austro-Hungarian empire, where Roth had served in the army, and which he was quite nostalgic about for all his life. However, in stead of directly outlining the decline of this empire, in a creative stroke, Roth exchanged the empire with the Von Trotta family and described the empire's fate only in so much as it affected the fate of this family. The novel moves through three generations of the family, and each von Trotta is in many ways a constrained man. The largest part of the story revolves around the youngest generation, Carl Joseph Von Trotta, who is a very weak man, forever caught between the lure of duty (as characterized by the playing of the Radetzky March) and his lack of conviction towards any ideas. He often considers leaving the army, but does not have the motivation to look for a civilian job, and hangs around in anticipation.
In fact, the entire novel is about anticipation. The empire is on a verge of change, and therefore in the chaotic stage where the old order is not respected enough and a new order is not formed yet. This abatement is very beautifully played out by Roth, may be because he felt this abeyance throughout his life after his exile from Austria.
There is so much in the book that makes it a superior work. There is the experience of an empire felt through personal pain, there is a presence of many powerful characters (Dr. Demant the best of them, whose death makes the meaninglessness of times even more pronounced), there is the haunting and helpless presence of the Kaiser in every place, there is a conflict of generations and those of thoughts, there is love, and honour and most underlined - there is death. Mostly meaningless and unheroic, which is not a mean achievement in an epic novel. For isn't every death in a novel about an empire supposed to be a death of honor and valor? And the fact there is no explanation for the decadence of the empire, except the expression of the widespread bias in minor incidents- against Jews, Slavs, Hungarians and everyone else.(less)
I keep trying to write something about it - because it was such a beautiful read. But it is hard to say anything about something so poetic. I loved th...moreI keep trying to write something about it - because it was such a beautiful read. But it is hard to say anything about something so poetic. I loved the book - it takes you to such a different world, and through a web of living memories. (less)
The theme of a wandering man is central to many of Hamsun's characters, so it is perhaps only fitting that a book comprising of two of his writings be...moreThe theme of a wandering man is central to many of Hamsun's characters, so it is perhaps only fitting that a book comprising of two of his writings be called The Wanderers. The cover contains two inter-twined Hamsun writings: Under the Autumn Star and Wanderer plays on muted strings, the latter a sequel to the first - and is a close but stale reflection of Hamsun's themes and moods, perhaps even a reflection of some of his own experiences In the former, the wanderer Knut Pedersen leaves behind his city life with the romantic fantasy of leading a simple village life. He begins to do odd jobs on farms, but finds his heart often interfering with his idea of simplicity as he falls in love with the women of the house. His adopted simplicity is not able to lure him into settling down on a farm with one of the maids as his simpleton companion does. Like most of Hamsun's heroes, he hangs in abeyance in a feverish passion, that works to depress and exalt him alternatively, but also always keeps him on his feet. He is the confused man who does not know what he wants - whether it is the affections of one lady or the other, or merely a life in the woods. It is, in a way comical to read of his mild frustrations, because he seems to be oriented towards what he apparently escaped from while escaping the city. It is also comical because these are the confusions of a real person, whose element is inconsistency and not a singular approach to life which seems to be the characteristic of most other protagonists. In On Muted strings, Pedersen, six years later, returns to one of the farms where he had worked during his earlier wanderings. And if there is a word that can describe the emotion of this narrative, it is the well chosen word in the title - muted. This hero is certainly different from Hamsun's other heroes, he is a quietened, withdrawn soul in contrast to the earlier restless character. There is that lack of the characteristic fervor, although still retaining his element of estrangement and frivolity. He is more a narrator now than the protagonist - as he observes the life of the landowners, which are portrayed in shades of decadence. Though I think he tries to refrain from it, Hamsun does pass his negative reflections on alcoholism and infidelity in his commentary, something that trivializes him a bit in my opinion. Though I do not expect an author to be an unbiased observer, I think he could keep well above the station of passing moral judgements. I recently chanced upon a more detailed commentary on these characters which I found quite appropriate:
Fictional heroes who are estranged from their environment seldom emerge lifelike. With most writers, such heroes are mere shadows, or, at best, symbols. But Hamsun is able to portray both the environment and the alienation, the soil and the extirpation. His heroes have roots even though they cannot be seen. The reader never knows precisely how they have become what they are, but their existence is real all the same. Hamsun’s favourite hero is a young man in his late twenties or early thirties, rash, good-natured, with no plans for the future, always anticipating some happy chance, yet at the same time resigned and melancholy. Hamsun’s hero is frivolous in word and deed. He speaks to people as he would to a dog or to himself.
Perhaps this work does not quite compare to Hunger or Mysteries, and is only a slighted shadow of these, but it is a very good read, describing a real man and his romantic fantasies of a simple village life, and of a lot of other romantic notions. The translation by Oliver and Gunnvor Stallybrass is excellent. (less)
For years, you grow in some part of a country, and know that part as a whole country. Sometimes you even go out and brush through some other bits of i...moreFor years, you grow in some part of a country, and know that part as a whole country. Sometimes you even go out and brush through some other bits of it and put together your nation. But to write about that nation - its essence, its feel, its character, its diversity, you have to feel it at once. This is what Steinbeck did, and like everyone else he met - I am jealous of him for being able to get up and go. I just keep yearning to see the world - and I have not even seen my country as a whole. The pieces I have met do not even constitute entirety. They are just disjointed pieces of a jig saw. I wish I could travel through my country as completely as he traveled his. He might not still have seen a Nation, but he saw them together, changing through state borders. I don't think anyone ever sees a whole nation - perhaps foreigners do it more completely, but I would still like to try. Beautifully written. (less)
It begins as a mystery – a civil guard trying to find three men who have gone missing in a mining village of Peru. But even from the beginning, the my...moreIt begins as a mystery – a civil guard trying to find three men who have gone missing in a mining village of Peru. But even from the beginning, the mystery only seems to be in the background, somewhere hovering only in the mind of this guard and ignored by everyone else. Even the guard seems only to be flirting with this mystery, and is more distracted with hearing the love story of his adjutant and commenting on the social fabric of the village. Llosa spends a long time painfully detailing the romantic escapade of the young adjutant, on the other hand he fleetingly flips through many sublets that he opens and closes in the story. There are several characters in the book who hold centerstage for a while, as Llosa explores their thoughts, ideas, stories – but quickly brings them to a violent death at the hands of Sendaristas (the Shining Path Rebels), to return to the love story.
I don't know whether it is a positive of Llosa's work that the political motivation has been completely ignored in the book. The Sendaristas have been glossed over. They appear only to kill or punish or plunder, and remain as unexplained and mysterious as the pishtacos, the mythical vampires. It is almost as if they had no motives or reasons for the violence, and are only fulfilling the purpose of keeping death alive in Andes. Perhaps Llosa is being unjust to the rebels in doing so, or perhaps it is his polite way of rejecting their ideals completely. Once the villainy of the Sendaristas is completely established, they are suddenly dropped, and the ancient Peruvian love for death and sacrifice turns into focus. I suppose Llosa himself continuously experimented with the possibilities and followed them to a certain length till they appealed to him, and then abandoned them once they became stale. In a way, it does lead to some charm to the story, but to me the confusion created is slightly more compelling than this faint charm.
What is good in the book to me is the presence of many characters. It presents a collage of several stories, all leading to wasted lives, and you feel a certain gloom in every page. (Except the love story, which even though the main plot, appeared to me an anomaly in this tale of despair) For that matter, even the love story is sort of doomed, but the adjutant is so juvenile that it is impossible to feel depressed with his love.
I also loved the interplay between past narration and current dialogue. Especially, the civil guard's comments interspersed in the adjutant's story make it very interesting – it is like watching a trash movie with friends – you keep interjecting with comments, and later you can never separate the movie from those evil comments.
For all its failures, the book does succeed in inspiring fear. You see a land seeped in violence, and you can feel that the perpetrator of this violence or the cause is immaterial. From the ancient times, it is a land that has lived and breathed violence and worships spirits that demand death. Perhaps it is too imaginative a notion, but perhaps it is true that you cannot escape your history and continue to pay homage to it. (less)
It is understandable why this book was such a hit so many years ago. But today, I think it has come dated. After observing closely some variants of hi...moreIt is understandable why this book was such a hit so many years ago. But today, I think it has come dated. After observing closely some variants of his "beat generation", I find that this book holds nothing new to charm me. It is highly self-absorbed, tells the same sequence of events over and over again. If it had stopped a hundred pages short, it may have had some merit of describing the generation and its disorientation. Now it is the story of one man doing the same things repeatedly and gaining neither fun nor perspective in exchange.(less)
Every holocaust book that I have read have as many similarities as they have dissimilarities. Each of them is smeared with a horror and a feeling of u...moreEvery holocaust book that I have read have as many similarities as they have dissimilarities. Each of them is smeared with a horror and a feeling of utter hopelessness, but each one brings out an aspect of the holocaust that I had not known through previous books. Elie Wiesel's Night surprised me, because I found it unfathomable that as late as 1944 there were European Jews who did not know about the death chambers or had not heard of Auschwitz. There were towns and villages that refused to look at the truth when warned of it, recognize it to save their lives. The other aspect of the book, which though present in other books of the genre has not been so expressly dealt with, is relationships in the camps. Everyone desperately holds on to the last threads of their families - a brother, a father, a distant relative even. And yet, faced continually with the looming chimney, they are ready to abandon them in their helplessness and fend only for themselves. The need to eat and be strong enough to avoid the chimney remains the single obsession. (less)
The Penguin book of Indian journeys is a very nice collection of memoirs.Memoirs which are not necessarily travelogues, but are written by travelers....moreThe Penguin book of Indian journeys is a very nice collection of memoirs.Memoirs which are not necessarily travelogues, but are written by travelers. These travelers journeyed to India or some parts of it and recounted their experiences in their works. This book compiles those experiences from different works to make a nostalgic dive into Indian territory. Eminent and expressive writers recount Himachal and Ladhakh, and go through the mazes of Delhi. They take the Indian trains, and live in Darjeeling. They come to face with some of the Indian oddities and stereotypes. In each experience, a part of the country is reflected through a foreign eye. Each experience triggers a memory or a wanderlust.
I particularly loved Salman Rushdie's essay on the riddle of midnight and Chatwin's On the road with Mrs. G - both a reflection of a socio-political India of the 80's(less)
Weights and Measures is a powerful short narrative. At the center of the story stands a weights and measures inspector, who has left his military life...moreWeights and Measures is a powerful short narrative. At the center of the story stands a weights and measures inspector, who has left his military life on the bidding of his wife. Placed in a small border town, he is nostalgic about the army. His life changes further on discovering the infidelity of his wife, after which he begins to frequent the border tavern and falls to the charms of a woman. Typical of Roth's hero, he is unable to stay happy for long even in this affair and his life slowly dissolves into complete imbalance. The story is about nostalgia and loneliness, a recurrent theme in Roth's novels. It is replete with the hopelessness of Roth's sentiments in his final years before his suicide. He has almost completely glossed over the short happy phase in the inspector's life to focus heavily on his unhappiness and futility of life. It is evident that in his disillusioned state, Roth saw the virtues of neither hope, nor love, nor nobility - something which makes this book both hard-hitting and depressing. David Le Vay's translation is fluid and alive.(less)