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 mean...moreNothomb'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.(less)
Ruth Kluger's memories of a holocaust childhood, are as close to the reality of that sunken, cold, frost-bitten life that I have ever come across. Per...moreRuth Kluger's memories of a holocaust childhood, are as close to the reality of that sunken, cold, frost-bitten life that I have ever come across. Perhaps that's because it is a very honest account; I am surprised she remembered her feelings of so long ago with such remarkable clarity and had the courage to live through them again. These feelings are not those of a tragic heroine who bore the atrocities backed by an unshakable faith, nor do they emphasize dramatically the death that hangs around her life. They are an account of a daily decay, perceived through minor changes at school, the fighting of old women, and many such small events that no one associates with the holocaust. In recollection of all these stages of her life, there is a remarkable perception, clarity and objectivity. In a few words, Kluger is able to capture the moment as perhaps it must have seemed to the young girl. it is a very honest account, and definitely should be read by everyone who has any interest in the holocaust literature.(less)
I did not know anything about the history of the Balkans before reading Andric's book. After reading it, it seems that I could not have found a better...moreI did not know anything about the history of the Balkans before reading Andric's book. After reading it, it seems that I could not have found a better way to get a vivid description of this region's story. Andric gives us snippets from life in a Balkan village across a span of 400 years, all woven together with the central theme of a bridge which stands during this period. It is a sensitive tale, which describes the tenuous but amicable relations between Muslims and Christians of the region, and mingling of even more cultures with the coming of the Jews. Through the four chronicled centuries, though empires change and so do fortunes, life around the bridge undergoes little change. The cruelty that marks the construction of the bridge, continues in different forms across centuries and different heads are beheaded by different empires on different pretexts. By condensing 400 years in a few individual stories, Andric has not only been able to make a coherent whole, but also beautifully shown the repeatability and steadiness in time.(less)
An elaborate and articulate expression of what Tarkovsky imagined each of his movies to be, what mattered to him most as a film-maker, and how he lear...moreAn elaborate and articulate expression of what Tarkovsky imagined each of his movies to be, what mattered to him most as a film-maker, and how he learned and improved in his art as he grew older by each movie. It is a must read not only for fans of his films but also for aspiring film-makers.(less)
I will make my character laugh where sensible people think he ought to cry.
And why? Because my hero is no character, no 'type,' ... but a complex, mo...moreI will make my character laugh where sensible people think he ought to cry.
And why? Because my hero is no character, no 'type,' ... but a complex, modern being.
- Knut Hamsun
I don't know whether Hamsun spoke these words to describe the character of Nagel in his work Mysteries, but I can say that in Nagel, he was successful in what he intended to carry out. Even though he does not want to call his hero a character, I found the (anti?)protagonist of Mysteries to be a remarkable character - for his inconsistencies and realities.
In this novel, a stranger (Nagel) lands in an idyllic, 'simple' coastal town of Norway, for no particular reason. In his unexplained, eccentric existence, he throws the apparently well-formed community into a commotion, bringing out the subtle evil and in-equations amongst the people. Throughout the story, everyone tries to unravel the mysteries behind this stranger - the town, the reader and most of all Nagel himself, who seems to be as puzzled by his actions as others are. Very appropriately, even the writer seems to explore the mystery for a while, and then leaves it unfinished.
I found Mysteries to be a novel of the subconscious. Very often, Nagel seems to act on instincts, which, if he explores, turn out to be conscious logical behavior choices. There are many dreams and memories that seem to guide him, and in each he (and the reader) tries to find a symbol. Although, Nagel's behavior could also be inspired by a very acute level of consciousness (as he suggests a few times), where he is able to predict the impact of his behavior on other people. In this calculation of moves, he appears to me very similar to the Johannes of Seducer's Diary, though Johannes was far more consistent with his premeditation than Nagel. In this, he is much closer to a 'normal' modern man, who is sometimes calculative, manipulative, sometimes moved to humanitarian acts and sometimes just plain silly and argumentative. It is quite remarkable that Hamsun is able to draw out these lapses into the subconscious, and so fluidly merge them into the conscious. Apart from the symbols that drive Nagel, he himself is a symbol of modernism, as he breaks from the norms of a collective conscience and chooses personal and individual confusion. This choice may be the force that thwarts the town's order and poses a question to its apparent stability. He opposes all established beliefs, even though he may not have a very sound logical standing in negating them. He seems to uphold inconsistency, unpredictability, and risk, and is therefore dangerous to the limited town. There is a lot that I feel like saying about this work, which I found remarkably enthralling, but I don't think I am much refined to put them down as a long essay - perhaps I will link those thoughts through in bits on the blog later. For now - I will stop at: I loved Nagel. And Hamsun. I will read more from this writer.(less)
A curious story, which weaves a cyclic loop of loss and the ten thousand stories that one remembers from the times lost. The things that continue to h...moreA curious story, which weaves a cyclic loop of loss and the ten thousand stories that one remembers from the times lost. The things that continue to haunt long after they are gone.
Men in the age of therapy: it says on the back-cover. These 7 men in Michaels short novel do feel the need to talk. For some the talk even appears to...moreMen in the age of therapy: it says on the back-cover. These 7 men in Michaels short novel do feel the need to talk. For some the talk even appears to be therapeutic. The story turns women's club on its head. A group getting together away from the other sex, but constantly talking about this other they are apparently escaping from. If Leonard Michael intended to look reprovingly at such clubs, he has done that well.
He has made each of the men a little vile, repulsive, a bit animal-like. Perhaps the point was exaggeration, perhaps he just thought idiosyncratic characters were easier to create and identify. He supports them with fantasy like stories which are interesting to read, and with a short, neat prose. The ending was very well executed.
I have been told he is a great American writer - well this is certainly not the book that could have given him that accolade.(less)