Everything Thomas Bernhard writes has a consciousness of death, owing to his own poor health. He often talks of illness, weakness, sanitariums and mor...moreEverything 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.(less)
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 sli...moreThis 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.(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)
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)
I think this book is a good psychological reading. Taking one through painful details of how pity can hold and seize a person, it analyzes too well ho...moreI think this book is a good psychological reading. Taking one through painful details of how pity can hold and seize a person, it analyzes too well how each pitiful reaction is conceived and exacted. The protagonist is faced repeatedly with moral choices, and he almost always shows a leaning towards doing 'good' and playing God, and is always tormented with the constraint of this choice. At times, I found myself getting impatience with the pace of the book, it seems at times that there is too much questioning,a repeat of the same leitmotif. But in the end, this repetition of pattern is perhaps close to reality, where one continually struggles between having an important do-gooder's life or a free and insignificant life. After reading Zweig's 'Beware of Pity' recently, I came upon a less than generous review of the story in Time's: ...one of those puddle-depth stories that, draining themselves with a sort of literary eye dropper, pretend to contain oceans of ideas. The tedious technique might seem justified if it conveyed vivid people, or even lively situations. Beware of Pity conveys only one droplet of an idea (there are two kinds of pity: good & bad) diluted in gallons of plot. Though the review was being written for the movie, it is clearly meant for the story itself. I personally thought the review rather unjust. Though there were times when I thought the author was purposely leading us to believe that there was far more severity to the situation than there actually was, and was over-analyzing/dramatizing the sequence of events, I found it remarkable for its very thorough analysis of 'pity' and detailing of mind's working when faced with moral choices. By chewing repeatedly the same idea, Zweig has been successful in presenting a complete psycho-analytic case. Which,perhaps, is what he intended, as he apparently 'saw himself as a kind of Freud of fiction'. I also think it is an unreasonable demand to expect an ocean of ideas from every good piece of literature - a good piece of literature can also choose to present one idea completely and thoroughly, and that sometimes has greater merit.
The story, in short is about a young second lieutenant Anton Hofmiller, who after spending most of his life in the military, is rather immature and clumsy in his social behavior. Invited at a landowner's place once for dinner, he asks his daughter for dance, to which she violently reacts as she is a cripple and unable to stand on her feet. Ashamed with his insensitive behavior, Anton tries to atone for it with a friendly visit,and before he knows, is thoroughly engulfed in a vortex of sympathy which finds him spending every day with this girl.
There were a few features in the story which were very remarkable - one of them is a scene where Hofmiller is enjoying a lofty ride on his horse, galloping swiftly, when suddenly reminded of the girl, feels guilty for this speed and his joy at horse-riding, and recedes to a slow halt. What is so remarkable is not just the description of the scene, which is very visual, but also the germination of the idea of pity and commiseration, which marks the rest of the book. At many places, Anton alludes to an Arabian story where a young man takes pity on a flailing old man and puts him on his shoulders. The old man turns out to be a djinn who clutches the man's shoulders in a vice-like grip, refusing to be dislodged. This analogy of pity with a djinn is often repeated and serves quite well to describe the author's suffocation.
I have not read Zweig before, and this is one of his most illustrious works (apparently the only novel that he wrote and published in his lifetime). I would like to read his Chess Story and also The Post-Office Girl. There is a nice article on the latter (and also on Zweig's writing in general) in Nation. BTW, I am quite intrigued with the parallel between the lives of Zweig and Joseph Roth. (less)
Seducer's Diary is primarily a philosophical work from Soren Kierkegaard: a 19th century Danish philosopher, and one of the earlier enthusiasts of Exi...moreSeducer's Diary is primarily a philosophical work from Soren Kierkegaard: a 19th century Danish philosopher, and one of the earlier enthusiasts of Existentialism. It is part of one of his most illustrative works Either/Or, which I hope to read sometime. In Either/Or, with a few fictional pseudonyms, Kierkegaard argues for both the aesthetic (Either) and ethical (Or) aspects of life. It is in the Either or the aesthetic part that Seducer's Diary finds its place. In itself, the Seducer's Diary is a complete book, even though it gives a unidirectional perspective, as different from the balanced perspective that Kierkegaard intended with the complete book . It seductively indulges in aesthetics, in the joy and happiness of being in love.
Written as part of diary entries of Johannes, the seducer, recounting his deliberate planning and plotting in the pursuit of a girl Cordelia, the book takes us through the meticulous thought process of Johannes. His remarkable consciousness of Cordelia's mind and thoughts is evident in the reading of each entry. He plays on her subconscious, remaining on the periphery, gaining her confidence from this periphery and giving her a false sense of power over himself. As she gets drawn to him, he then introduces an aloofness, feigning distance and indicating a fading of this power, which makes her confused and anxious, and she tries eagerly to bridge this distance and resume power again.
The game seems simple enough. Certainly there are in this world many a men and women playing similar games in a less conscious form. However the consciousness of it is the most impressive part of the work, not to say mildly shocking.
There are some biographical allusions to this work, especially pointed out by John Updike in his introduction to this work (Incidentally, my edition did not have this introduction but I read parts of it in the google preview of this book). Kierkegaard himself broke up his engagement with a young girl (Regine Olson) whom he had coveted for a long time. He remained unmarried, and this work is seen as his confession, his version of the entire episode. Perhaps it could be so. But if it is remorse, there is little of it that is seen in this work, which remains a delicious, arrogant recounting of a laborious victory.
I loved this work, mainly for Kierkegaard's articulate expression of Johannes thoughts on love. There is also some truth in his words which is perhaps felt universally - most people rush to conquer and get engaged in love and they don't know what they have conquered. It is in the drawn out months before a confession or engagement is made, the months of pursuit that are more aesthetic. Hence it is the melodrama of pursuit and mischances that play out the center-stage in most movies, while the 'they lived happily ever after' is always the small inconsequential part which no one is interested in - the part at which people get up and leave.
A beautiful work. I may have idolized Johannes, were it not for his misogyny and nauseating views on women!(less)
Rings of Saturn by Sebald is an account of the narrator's foot journey through East Anglia, covering the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk. Whether Seba...moreRings of Saturn by Sebald is an account of the narrator's foot journey through East Anglia, covering the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk. Whether Sebald actually undertook this journey or if the book is a complete fiction is something I have not managed to find out. The narration, however carries the conviction of memoirs and as you walk through the pages, you feel that not only Sebald, but you yourself also made that journey. Page through page, you can hear the 'rumble of thunder', smell the acrid fumes and sometimes even feel the shuddering chill as the textual clouds cover the textual sky. In so many ways, Sebald has managed to paint on a canvas through words and make his picture come alive.
As I said earlier, the journey transcends the borders of time, and it seems that in stead of being uni-dimensional, time had in stead become a hall with many doors, and you could move through these times at will, or at least at the author's will. The hall, however, is only a ghost of what lies beyond these doors. And Sebald heart-breakingly devours this ghost, through words and images, before entering through one of those doors in a flourishing time. He then makes us meet a lot of illustrious characters who live or lived in East Anglia - the learned and the eccentric, the dedicated and the talented. We see him uncovering the life of Conrad, pondering over the anatomical works of Browne or imagining himself to be a shadow of Michael Hamburger.
Many times, the book seemed to me, more than a travel account to be an account of destruction wrought over by time, almost as if time makes everything worse, and we are merely living in a fraction of the world that was. This thought is no better underlined than in these words:
...time has run it course and that life is no more than the fading reflection of an event beyond recall. We simply do not know how many of its possible mutations the world may already have gone through, or how much time, always assuming that it exists, remains.
At such times, the reading became very disconcerting and disturbing and I found myself wading through my memories and weighing these words, of course never finding the answer, or even knowing if it exists.(less)