Nick's Reviews > Solo

Solo by Rana Dasgupta
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Jun 10, 2012

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Read in June, 2012


The story of an ancient Bulgarian man, Ulrich, written by a young English Indian, Solo is an achievement to be sure. The book is more or less divided into two halves, with the first half being reflections of the now blind Ulrich which are more-or-less straightforward, and the second half being a stranger look at Ulrich's past through his dreams and fantasies. The first half is certainly well-written overall, but it is not easy to get into. At points I found it an arduous slog indeed, as someone seems to die, in an uninspired and formulaic way, at the end of every single chapter, and the aura of depression created is overwhelming. If you can make it through the first half of the book, you will be rewarded by the second, which reveals a very complex comparison and distorted, heavily metaphorical linkage with the first half. The two combine to form a book of surprising depth, detail and thought. Themes such as memory, life's passion, and deep love in several varieties are examined with philosophical precision, but this cornucopic and eccentrically-inclusive book is not so limited in its focus. Furthermore, as a bonus, the book provides informative insight into 20th Century Bulgarian history, the lives of the rich and famous, and Albert Einstein. "Solo" is not light reading, and if you are going through a tough time in your life, it may not be the best read, as it is one of those tomes which has you constantly reflecting on and questioning your own core values. For that reason, you may also wish to challenge yourself with "Solo" and see it through to it's satisfying and rewarding conclusion.

Some Favourite Passages -- WARNING MILD SPOILERS BELOW!!

Pg 148

"Once, she opened her eyes and said to him, 'Have you heard the latest joke?' 'No.' 'A woman goes into a store and asks for six eggs. The shopkeeper says, You're in the wrong store. Here we have no meat. You have to go next door if you want no eggs.' He tried to smile. 'The doctor told me that,' she said. She was no bigger than a child under the bedclothes. 'You're allowed to laugh,' she said. 'There's nothing tragic about disease, or age, or empty shops. It's time for me to die. The tragedy is when people don't feel around you, and never laugh. I hope you laugh some more when I'm gone. Look into the eyes of others, Ulrich, and you'll see there's still a field of life there.' Her hair was limp and greasy, and her plait kept falling open. She asked him to tie it up again.

Pg 258

'The big powers need Georgia to be weak,' said Kakha. 'Do you think the Americans could just march armies in here to guard their pioplines if we were a normal, stable country? They keep us on the brink of crisis, so there's alwys an excuse to come in. That's why people in our country are so insane: they know they're only raw material.'

Pg 347

He tells Boris the story of Einstein's pitiable wife, Mileva. He tells him about the Nobel Prize money lost in the Wall Street crash. He tells him about the daughter mislaid somewhere in Serbia, and the son abandoned in an insane asylum. He tells him all these stories and he says,
'I'd imagined that Einstein would live in a realm of uninterrupted success. Fulfilment as far as the eye could see: happy people bursting with rich conversation and achievements. But it wasn't true. He was surrounded by failure. The people close to him were blocked up and cut off. Their lives were subdued, and they were prevented from doing what they hoped to do.'
'And that is exactly the point. That's how he could make such unnatural breakthroughs. Do you see? How could one man do what he did otherwise? He could not summon such earth-shattering energy on his own!'
Ulrich is speaking heatedly.
'How many stopped-up men and women does it take to produce one Einstein? Ten? A thousand? A hundred thousand?'

Pgs 103-106 on Georgi -- an incredible villain passage.

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