This was a difficult one to get through. I went and wavered back and forth, in and out of comprehension, much like the narrative itself - and internalThis was a difficult one to get through. I went and wavered back and forth, in and out of comprehension, much like the narrative itself - and internally kept telling myself, "Nah. What's the point?"
The point is, though, there is no "point". Accept this and get on the tram, and the ride becomes a little less ponderous. You begin to focus on the larger picture(s): the cruel surprises, ugly beauties, sensuous picaresques and "ass backward happiness" related by an unnamed woman who I know I'd have a beer with if we'd only met under different circumstances...
A larger picture which pays off in the end, especially given the narrative's final betrayal and original German-language title: Heute wär ich mir lieber nicht begegnet.
Almost perfect... And almost startlingly, a book about me, from start to finish - I found myself in every character.
Hilarious, sad, poignant, insighAlmost perfect... And almost startlingly, a book about me, from start to finish - I found myself in every character.
Hilarious, sad, poignant, insightfully detailed... Lovingly bitter (and bitterly loving), disconcerting picaresques around the dying (indeed, "failing") newspaper industry, and journallism - at least in the classic truth-telling, "noble" sense of last century - exposed (laid to rest) as the fool's errand that it's become, in this one.
Laugh outloud and then suddenly, sucking in through clenched teeth, "holy sh*t!" - this book delivers. It deserves to be filmed. Well and correctly: With the right cast, the right time and place, the right feel and most importantly, the right script adaptation.
For every stretch of Gary Shteyngart trying too hard, with unfunny JOKES! and the grotesque and/or one-dimensional creatures littering nearly everyFor every stretch of Gary Shteyngart trying too hard, with unfunny JOKES! and the grotesque and/or one-dimensional creatures littering nearly every page... There were laugh out loud bits, and tender evocations and longings which actually (and directly) spoke to me: For New York... for squandered, lost chances and hoped for still love... for a something or someone considered "beloved"...
For every 'Too much (or What the hell??) is going on here', there was a balancing insight or satirical Touché!, which kept me plugging along to the end of the ride; in fact, made me return to Absurdistan, after giving up the journey twice.
In the end, I'm glad I saw it through. With the book at my back now and re-reading the plaudits, all the piled-on praise (ALMOST) starts to make sense.
I went in a little bit unconvinced here... Admittedly put off at first by the casual, street corner 'latino' voice ("Players: never never never f*ck wI went in a little bit unconvinced here... Admittedly put off at first by the casual, street corner 'latino' voice ("Players: never never never f*ck with a bitch named Awilda", readers of all stripes and gender are warned), and the overarching theme of nerdism, which is the title character's bag, but has never been mine.
The more I read, though, the more I realized I couldn't stop reading... The voice, one of urgency; all the fantasy sci-fi stuff -- the 'nerdism' -- balanced, and well, by a family, a culture, a country's history.
What the book didn't do well enough, I thought, was relate the life story of Oscar Wao himself. The King Nerd Title (Non)Player - a "Brief" life, perhaps. But "Wondrous"? I didn't get that, from reading.
To me, the compelling, truly page-turning (indeed, wondrous) lives recounted were those of Oscar's grandfather, Abelard, and mother, Belicia: geneses of the fukú'd Familia Cabral, under the DR's brutal and generation-spanning Trujillo nightmare. These life stories and vignettes of horror were grippingly told... Only for the spells to be broken by revisits to sad, modern-day Oscar and his devoted sister, Lola - "wondrous" too, I'm sure (we're told). But from reading, I just didn't feel Lola like the main narrator / author obviously did.
Small quibbles with a powerful book about tragedy, fortitude, luck and destiny... and in the end, freedom.
I started out really liking this book. Really wanted to like it. A novel about an architect, in one of the world's most beautiful cities, torn betweenI started out really liking this book. Really wanted to like it. A novel about an architect, in one of the world's most beautiful cities, torn between fidelity to his nation and need-driven professional collaboration with the enemy, set during World War II... What could go wrong?
At first, the quaint, time-capsule setting and 'life during wartime' talk of rations, betrayal, cowardice, Third Reich/Vichy, Resistance and Occupation commanded attention. An unlikely friendship between Lucien (Paris architect of the title) and an occupying German officer, paid off well... And depictions of Gestapo torture, though jarring, seemed apt for the time (I initially thought)... They certainly kept things moving at a speedy pace.
The more I sped through the 364-page book, though, the more 'off' and out of place some of these depictions, and especially, the book's unfortunate dialogue, began to feel.
Things bogged down considerably when modern (not particularly de la mode) terms like "dumb-ass", "motherf-er", "not too shabby" and "Move your asses!" began appearing; and the simplistic writing style overall began to morph from vaguely charming, perhaps "French" in construction, to really sort of bad.
A few of the more wince-making examples:
"He loved and needed the boy with all his heart and couldn't bear to part with him. He didn't want to do it."
"'Did you fall in to the pot and drown?' Alain yelled. He heard Pierre flush the toilet and unlatch the door."
"'Marie, you old wench. I'm going to buy you the finest Parisian dress to stuff that fine ass of yours in'... "
"Get to it, mister, or you won't be seeing the Marienplatz anytime soon. That is in Munich, isn't it?"
"He unbuckled Laval's belt and opened his zipper to extract the old man's penis... 'It reminds me of a shriveled prune', said Voss."
Which brings things back to Gestapo torture.
Whether applying soldering irons to appendages, or snipping appendages off with wire cutters, the relentless scenes of unnecessary roughness stand out in as jarring and unpleasant a way as the anachronistic, embarrassing writing.
Throughout the novel, there are comparatively innocuous, deeply nuanced scenes: Dissatisfaction within a crumbling marriage... A beautiful woman's reflections on her "ugly as a bulldog" (!) sister...
These and other detailed scenarios -- including the unexpected creation of a family unit to work and live for, love and protect -- would seem to be textbook cases of 'art imitating life': The author, Charles Belfoure, as an architect first and a writer second, would certainly infuse his storytelling with 'write what you know' flourishes...
But in my mind, in light of what felt to become more and more gratuitous brutality as the book went on, and some nasty ignorance ascribed to certain characters -
"So what were you muttering in the bathroom? Sounded like Chinese or something" ... "Sounded like you were talking to yourself in gibberish. What language was that, boy?"
... one can't help but wonder how 'true to life' the author's own anti-Semitism -- or at least, detachment from an actual Jewish perpective -- might be?
To open a new chapter with a quote like, "But didn't the Jews kill Christ, Father?", as a Gestapo officer tortures a priest - is not only arguably poor composition. It's also unnatural-sounding dialogue, and to me, begs the question:
Were Charles Belfoure actually Jewish (I can't know, but assume he is not), how much better might The Paris Architect have been? ...more
I'd been confused about this "movement" for some time - The sometimes lazy, often fearful, hyper-emotional misfits demanding the coddling of their helI'd been confused about this "movement" for some time - The sometimes lazy, often fearful, hyper-emotional misfits demanding the coddling of their helicoptered childhoods to continue well past sell-by dates, into their collective twenties and thirties.
A weird skinny lumberjack beard or two later, these (wo)men-children have been, somewhat insultingly, labeled "Twee". If the shoe fits... The problem is, it fits too well. Author Marc Spitz does not even bother to come up with a label as resounding as "Generation X". He simply takes the dictionary definition of the word 'twee' -- summed up by Google's "excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty, or sentimental" (I myself would add "precious", "cloying", "cutesy", "lame", "mawkish") -- and slaps it with a giant brush across several decades and generations.
Chapter after chapter of tedious name-checking does nothing to explain what happened to generations Y and beyond: Why so lazy occasionally, too often frightened, entitled and basking in "whimsy" and yesterdays?
Why the emotional need for escape, and "throwback"?
No answers here. Only octopus grasping, and far-reaching efforts to create a coherence -- a concise and actual "revolution" -- where, in my opinion, none truly exists....more