Saturday, April 29, 2017

"Journey Into The Past" by Stefan Zweig ****

  • Austrian author
  • Originally published in 1987
  • This novella was found in Zweig's papers after his death 
  • Review:  The manuscript of this novella was found in Zweig's belongings after his suicide.  Apparently it is partially autobiographical.  As is common with other books of Zweig's, the plot is deceptively simple.  It consists of the story  of a young man and woman who fall in love, but due to her marriage and his work they cannot be together, and the are separated on separate continents during WWI.  The inevitable reunion is thrilling, then tentative, and then sadly unlikely.  I think the primary is about all that was lost during the war, on a much deeper level than a first love.  It was about the loss of individual and national identity, the loss of lifestyle and about society's very fabric coming apart.  Zweig's prose is simple, yet emotionally evocative.  Certainly his writing improved in his later novels, but the seeds are all here!

"Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne" by John Keats. ***

  • Non-Fiction, Poetry, letters
  • New Zealand author
  • Keats died at age 25
  • Review: John Keats died at the young age of 25.  This collection of love letters and poetry capture the fevered passion, which seemed heightened by the social, financial, and medical obstacles in the path between these two lovers, at least from his viewpoint.  I am not a huge fan of his poetry, but enjoyed the juxtaposition of the poetry and the letters.  Nice.

Friday, April 28, 2017

"Ella Minnow Pea" by Mark Dunn *****

  • US author
  • Originally published in 2001
  • Review:  Oh My Gosh!  I had heard about this book several years ago and had it on my "Book Recc" list.  Now I certainly know why and it was worth the wait.  Readers can fully enjoy this at the level of a really clever story about a fictional island community who gradually decree a ban on letters of the alphabet.  The entire book consists of written communication between islanders.  It can also be appreciated for its humorous highlighting of the precious value of words as a means to connecting people to one another, and even as a means to human existence.  On the most profound level, the reader understands how horrifying it would be to live under a set of rules set by close minded, megalomaniacal leaders who refuse to listen to scientific facts.  Sounds a bit more relevant than expected?  Marvelous story and disturbingly vital message!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"Natural Novel" by Georgi Gaspodinov *****

  • Bulgarian author
  • Originally published in 1999, translation published in 2005
  • Debut novel
  • Review:  This novel is unique, it is a somewhat stream of consciousness tale, it is a tale of disconnection, both interpersonal and literary.  This is Gospodinov's debut novel, and I found it to be witty, original, and wonderfully creative.  In fact, as the reader, it felt as if I was in the inner mental workings of the writer's mind.  A man struggles with impending divorce and his emotional world is reflected in the novel's character and his efforts to disconnect from unnatural writing.  Sometimes I felt deeply moved, sometimes I laughed out loud, and sometimes I felt disturbed.  Excellent read!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"Aracoeli" by Elsa Morante *****

  • Summer Reads with Beth
  • Italian author
  • Originally published in 1982
  • author's final novel
  • Review: "This one, unlike the other, was not the herald of weeping, but certain individuals are more inclined to weep for love than death."  This is the final sentence of this amazing novel. The reader is lured into a tale of the cataclysmic meeting of past and present, of a psychopathic love of son for mother, of the despair of lonliness, and of a single love beginning in the womb and coming to rest in the mythic El Almedral, where the mother's life began.  Cryptic enough? Reading this novel is like participating in a lifelong fever dream which is inhabited with deep fears, monomaniacal love, and the depths of despair.  The writing is magnificent and emotionally descriptive to a degree I have rarely seen.  This is a translation that uses the highest level of vocabulary in English.  I wish I read Italian!!  The intensity of the protagonist can be a bit overwhelming, but what the heck.  It is an Italian novel after all, isn't it? (I write that with the greatest affection!)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky" by Lesley Nneka Arimah **

  • Audiobook 
  • Debut
  • Short Stories
  • US author 
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Review:  I found these stories very difficult to listen to.  In all fairness it may have been the readers.  The stories struck me as unnecessarily harsh.  Is there really so much anger in all these relationships?  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Chronicle of a Blood Merchant" by Yu Hua *****

  • Summer Read with Beth
  • Chinese author
  • Originally published in 1995
  • Considered one of the top 10 works of Chinese fiction
  • Review:  Xu Sanguan is an unforgettable character.  He is the chronicled blood merchant, who literally and figuratively gives his life's blood for his family.  Yu Hua wends this story beautifully, if starkly.  It is the tale of a man and his family, while simultaneously providing a window into a culture.  I found many facets of this novel to be quite striking. Having read several different Chinese authors, I am struck by the harsh familial culture in China.  Horrific verbal slurs can be slung at one another, along with physical harm.  However, it seems to be part and parcel of family life and does not necessarily lead to rifts.  I am struck by stories of people living through multiple regime changes in one lifetime, and the survival skills spawned by those experiences.  I have been fortunate to live in a country whose government has its issues, but whose basic values and expectations have remained static for over two hundred years. I am struck, as always, by the deep abiding love of family, of children for parents and vice versa.  Love rules above all.  Great book!

Monday, April 17, 2017

"We Should All Be Feminists" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ****

  • Nigerian author
  • Essay
  • Originally published in 2014
  • Review:  Ms. Adichie, as always, writes clearly and well.  Given the current status of women in Nigerian culture specifically, and cultures at large, it would be interesting to know more about her personal path in life.  This essay on feminism does not necessarily reveal any new, earth shattering sociological information, yet I set it down feeling that this is an excellent primer for young people, boys and girls.  I will acknowledge that I had fallen into the habit of thinking of myself as a humanist, wanting equal rights for all.  However, using the author's cited definition: "a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes", I am a feminist.  Adichie notes that as long as significant inequalities persist, this term remains relevant.  Sold!

"Human Acts" by Han Kang *****

  • Early Reader edition for
  • South Korean author
  • Originally published in 2014, English version 2016
  • Review:  Set during the labor uprisings in South Korea during the 1980s, this is an utterly profound, albeit grisly and stark, tale of what it means to be human.  Using multiple perspectives as a structure can be distracting unless the reader just gives themselves over to the flow of the novel and just absorbs the story.  Gruesome torture and absolutely incredible determination, along with the human will to survive.  I must continue to ask myself, how is it possible that a creature like a human being can be so coldly sadistic when also capable of such altruistic drives.  What makes the difference?  What sets a person on their side of the equation? To sum it up?  This novel is profoundly terrifying and profoundly hopeful.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia" by Mohsin Hamid *****

  • Audiobook
  • Pakistani author
  • Originally published in 2013
  • Self-help format
  • UCR Book Club
  • Review:  Hamid's writing is brilliant!  The unique approach of a novel constructed as a self-help book is really clever without feeling at all gimmicky.  The dark humor is delivered perfectly in this audio edition of the book, read to us by the author.  Hamid's use of language is nothing short of masterful!  This novel mocks the dream of wealth and the path one might be forced to travel in order to achieve it.  The overall effect is a smart, tongue-in-cheek denouncement of a life spent seeking riches, a somewhat frightening perception of corporate dark machinations, and a resounding socio-political statement!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

"Cockroaches" by Jo Nesbo ***

  • Audiobook
  • #2 in the Harry Hole series 
  • Danish author
  • Originally published in 2014
  • Review:  Not my favorite Harry Hole . I am glad this series improved over time. Not sure I would have continued with the series if I had read this earlier.

"A Strangeness in My Mind" by Orhan Pamuk *****

  • Summer Read with Beth
  • Turkish author
  • Originally published in 2015
  • Review:  I will be honest and say that until about page 250 I felt I was dragging myself through the book a bit.  Suddenly, and OMG moment and I was glued to it right to the end.  The tears are still drying on my cheeks as I write this review.  Tears for love, for loss, for change, for intentions of the heart and intentions of the word.  Mevlut, the dear boza selling protagonist takes us through the streets of Istanbul over fifty years of his life.  Somehow he remains pure of heart despite the dramatic political, religious, economic, and sociological changes which occur during his lifetime.  I will not soon forget this lovely, lovely man. I have a powerful yearning to walk the streets of the Istanbul neighborhoods in which he has walked nightly for fifty years, in which he found peace with the strangeness in his mind!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

"In This Grave Hour" by Jacqueline Winspear ****

  • Audiobook 
  • #13 in Maisie Dobbs series
  • English author 
  • Originally published in 2017
  • Review:  As World War II erupts, Maisie Dobbs and her family and friends must cope with all which that portends.  Once again, the author works her magic with regards to creating the feelings associated with the period of history via characters the reader can identify with.  Excellent installment of this series!