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 thI 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. ...more
**spoiler alert** The book revolves around a reader who picks up the latest Calvino, which begins with a promising plot (which is shared with the othe**spoiler alert** The book revolves around a reader who picks up the latest Calvino, which begins with a promising plot (which is shared with the other reader - YOU) - then finds a printing error in the book, and goes to return the book, to realize that due to an error at the publishing house, the book may have got mixed up with another. Enamored by the plot that he had begun, he buys the other book - but realizes that this is a different book from the one he had begun. Unfortunately this book too is blank after the first chapter. Thus begins this reader's surreal and comic trail of the 'real' book - never going beyond the first chapter and never being able to find the same story again in any of the books. Amidst this pursuit, he also encounters another reader - a girl, whose presence adds a renewed fervor to his book-hunt.
The book is brilliant, not in the ten openings that Calvino has concocted, but whatever goes in the book between these stories. To a compulsive reader, the protagonist in the book is immediately identifiable, and at many points - for instance while describing the process of purchase of a book, Calvino makes you think that he has really come to know you and is talking to you. The fact that he uses a second person narrative also adds to this feeling. I loved the second person narrative - specially the technique of suddenly shifting the second person from one reader to another.
Then at one point Calvino himself comes into the story in the form of Silas Flannery and takes us through the writer's mind, also in a way defending this book by explaining it away as a dream-book that is "only an incipit, that maintains for its whole duration the potentiality of the beginning, the expectations still not focused on an object". The entire chapter picked from Flannery's diary was, to me the best part of the book. Here he describes the process of writing, and the various possibilities that can arise from a simple event. I also liked the last part of the book, in the library - which again tries to explain this hilarious anti-novel by talking about readers' interests, their quest for a novel they read sometime in the past in everything they read, etc.
This book uses all techniques that could perhaps be taught in a creative writing class - actually this is the one thing that I found kind of annoying in it - it tried a little too hard to be 'smart' and 'creative'. There also wasn't something particularly great about the ten novels that begin in this book and end in the reader's mind - most of them are beginnings of pulp fiction works, perhaps with very predictable courses. But that does not take away any edge from the stories - they are interesting possibilities as I said earlier. And these stories are secondary to the theme, which really is the reader's hunt.
I enjoyed Calvino's wit and humor, which kept the confusion pretty manageable. I found it whenever I thought of exchanging this anti-novel for a real novel. And so in the end, I had a satisfied smile of a person just off a mad roller coaster - mind-boggling and fun!...more
I tried and tried to find the Michel Hoffman translation of this illustrious work, but found only the version translated by Joachim Neugroschel. BeforI 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....more
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 beThe 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. ...more