The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill. Set in Laos just after the communist victory in l976 and the establishment of People's Democratic Republic. 72-year-old Dr. Siri Paiboun is one of the last doctors left in the country and is completely unqualified for the position of national coroner, but is "drafted" for the position. This is a mystery, as Dr. Paiboun tries to solve not only the physical cause of death for those bodies brought to him, but also to discover how they were killed...especially when there are contradictions or puzzles to be solved. I knew very little about the cultures of Laos, or about the changes brought about in the country and how the communists functioned when instead of being a rebel faction they are actually running the government, and enjoyed learning about these. There's also the interesting addition to the story that Dr. Paiboun is contacted by the spirits of the dead!
This sounds like a really interesting book. I LOVE Crime, Mystery, Thrillers and Medical Crime books and this seems like it would be right up my street. The fact that it's set somewhere completely different to the usual "Procedurals" which are mostly set in the US, UK and a lot more now than ever, Scandinavia, it'll be interesting to see how things are done in Laos compared to these other countries. I think I will add this to my reading list...just have to get through the 20 books I have sitting on it right now, first!! lol
Maruzza Musumeci by Andrea Camilleri.
Maruzza Musumeci is a novel by Andrea Camilleri, one of his novels which don’t belong to Montalbano series.
It is a sort of supernatural, visionary, mythological tale, told in a very archaic language. Once again, it's in Camilleri's Sicilian.
It is the story of a Sicilian emigrant who goes back to his home place from New York at the end of 19th century. Gnazio Manisco, this is his name, buys some land to cultivate, some farm animals and begins to build up a house which is a work in progress, with rooms that, from time to time, get added, or overlapped to, the original ones. His house his close to the sea, but it has no view on it, all its windows are on the opposite side. Moreover, a huge, ancient olive trees hides the sea itself. Gnazio is deeply scared by the sea, so scared that he doesn’t even want to see it. Gnazio is in his late 40s, and he decides to take a wife. He asks to Gna Pina, a local traditional healer, to introduce him to some women, cause he has no much social life. And Gna Pina introduces him to a stunning beautiful woman, much younger than him, who has a peculiar grand grand mother, Minica, a old but still attractive woman. Maruzza and Gnazio get married. Maruzza and Minica are not women, they belong to the watery realm, the realm of mermaids. They talk to each other using the verses of Homer’s Odissey. Mermaids choose humans to mate and to get offspring. But they select men who dislike the sea, have no interest in it, fear it, the opposite of Ulysses. And don’t get mad when they hear mermaids singing. Gnazio is perfect. Gnazio accepts this weird wife and they get their own daily routine. The love between the two is strong enough for Ignazio to put up with his wife peculiarities.
Actually, I don't know if there is an English translation of this novel, which is a very poetic work and is definitely worthy reading.
Wow, Fulvia, the plot sounds exciting! I will be really disappointed if this book wasn’t translated! I studied Italian a bit and could try if it will be just Italian, but Sicilian for me is something beautiful but incomprehensible. By the way, I like your Sicilian singer Carmen Consoli
Valentina, Sicilian, other than to Sicilians themselves, is comprehensible to Italians from the South only. Camilleri's language is intertwined to Italian and this makes it accessible to people from the North, plus, it's an evocative and musical language and intuition plays a determinant role here. Further more, people have become familiar with Sicilian thanks to the TV series dedicated to Montalbano. I'd love to translate Maruzza Musumeci myseld LOL!
Fulvia, I've been trying to find the Montalbano TV series with English subtitles. I've been reading for the last year that this is "forthcoming", but so far it doesn't seem to exist. There's also a problem with getting a DVD in the right regional format for USA.
I have much enjoyed the books of Arturo Perez-Reverte, "The Fencing Master" is a classic, and I love the Captain Altriste novels. Those have been made into a Spanish TV series and I've seen a preview...I know the novels well enough, and my Spanish, although always ungrammatical, is sufficient to understand most of what is being said...but it is not available in the right regional format for the USA. I'm hoping eventually it, and the Montalbano series, will be available here...in any language!!
I hate dubbing...even if I don't speak the language, I want to hear it as spoken, with subtitles to help me follow, even though I realize I'm still missing a lot that way. Sometimes when I do understand, to some degree, the language I can realize how absurd the translations sometimes are! One of my favorite examples is a Spanish-language film in which someone is described as "mas pobre del ratta" ("more poor than the rat") and the subtitle read "poor as a church mouse"...very different mood indeed. I suppose the intent was to put it into an idiom with which an American English speaker might be more familiar, but being poor as a church mouse is very tame compared to being more poor than the rat. I'm sure this kind of thing goes on all the time.
Fulvia, thanks so much for the link, which I will check out. Wonder why moving to video caused Montalbano's hair to fall out? (ha)
"The Lover" by Abraham Yehoshua
This was my first encounter with this Israeli author, an ardent activist in the Israeli peace movement. To make it short, I'll say that things take place in Haifa, at the time of the Yom Kippur war. A garage owner sets out to find the missing lover of his own cold and hysterical schoolteacher wife. This lover disappeared as soon as the war began, and there's no record of him at the army. In the background, the Arab-Jewish distrust, represented by the 15 Arab garage helper, looking after the lover's 90 grandmother, both framed in issues of proximity, alikeness and hatred. It's a novel to smell, first of all, as full as it is of Oriental scents, a novel to touch, because it touches your skin and your mind with every single written word it has, ligth and heavy at the same time. Unusual and unexpected, never banal, deep and strong.
“Buxton Spice” by Oonya Kempadoo.
Guyanese Tamarind Grove – is a strange place from the first sight. There live so much people with different background - African, Asian, Native American and "Putagee" – Portuguese descendants. Some of them prefer to save their origins and religion pure, other - by mixing their bloods and norms contributed in the Guyanese Creoles community appearance, where Lula’s family belongs. Nevertheless the local policy is quite racist – teenaged girl Lula feels it on herself even at the school running by biased administrator, and the atmosphere around is quite violent. The private life in the small town, as it always happens, is almost absent. Lula, her sister and their girlfriends are observing intersexual context of relationships with the puberty’s excitement and getting first sexual experiences. There exists one more character in the story – the Buxton spice – a mango tree, which is quite indifferently watching all that happening around, neither approving, nor condemning…
To be honest, except the description of the local way of life’s specificity, I didn’t find anything as exciting as reviewers’ suggested. Probably my girlhood, spent in absolutely different context, was just less sexually coloured, even though the time is more or less comparable, so some of the girls’ experiments were quite surprising and unexpected for me :p Moreover, the book was written as a story narrated by young Lula, so the language was not educated, respectively. Of cause, there is also the trait of the poor village life context in the common way of speaking, but I was tired of such kind of reading at the end first of all. Secondly, once I was already excited with a comparable approach, used by Alice Walker in her novel `The Colour Purple` devoted to the place of American women of colour in the USA, when the language of the narrative was growing up with the main character. So, the same tool doesn’t work already so impressive, as well as a bit vague message of Kempadoo’s work.
"On The Road," by Jack Kerouak, is a "classic" novel of the 1940's travels and experiences of this "Beat" author, who gave the "Beat Generation" its name. The "Bea,t" as used by him has a relation to "The Beautitudes."
I must admit that I went to the book with highish expectations, and found it boring before I finally gave up in something like chapter 6, or 8. The book seemed to come down to I/we did this, felt that, and then did this and felt that, and on, and on.
Truman Capote had written a review, soon after the initial publishing, and said that "This is not writing, it is typing." I tend to agree.
Speaking with more than one person, about my experience of the book, i was surprised to find others have also been bored with it.
Once again, I did not finish the book, and may be guilty of a reviewer's sin, here, but having been able to read through many a dense book, I submit this as my perspective, for better or worse.
I must add a hearty "amen" of agreement with Mitchell's review of "On The Road". I read it as a late adolescent and found it boring and pretentious. I tried it again lately, because a young person in my family had just read it and was enamoured, but I had the same response now...maybe even moreso!
“The Quest of the warrior sheep” by Christine & Christopher Russell
I couldn’t leave this book at the library shelf when I saw its jacket:
I have special tenderness for sheep and a friend of mine even calls me “Sheep-traveller”, in part because of our common love to Haruki Murakami’s books and my easy self-perception as a Sheep (wo)Man. Finally, quite often I feel myself the second after Don Quixote mills’ fighter %) So, sheep-warrior is also obviously mine topic!
Of course, this book is childish, but its authors have great sense of humour what makes a reader-journey pleasurable and light. As you can expect, main protagonists of the story are sheep whose life on Eppingham farm was calm and regular until the evidence of the ancient sheep prophecy realization. The Songs of the Fleece tells that the future of sheepdom depends on the results of Aries the Good and Lambad the Bad opposition. Only these two sheep can owe the Baaton, magical symbol of the Ram of Rams’ power. And it happened to appear in their paddock, literally falling down from the sky. Wills, the youngest orphaned Welsch Balwen lamb, who spent first days of his life at the farm’s kitchen was almost sure that the strange object is just mobile phone with the image of a ram’s head on the screen but what he knows about old sheep wisdom? Sal, the Southdown sheep and ecstatic medium of the prophecy, explains that it is of crucial importance to help the Great Aries who is in danger without Baaton. According the Songs it could be done only by Rare Breeds to whom this sheep’s five obviously belongs: beside Wills and Sal there are also Oxo – an enormous Oxford ram, whose next interest in life after the meal is fences’ butting; Links – the Lincoln Longwoll, an easy-going dude with floppy curls who composes rap; and Jaycey – pretty little Jacob, very interested in her appearance and everybody’s impression of her beauty and style. So, the rare breeds are going to the north, to find Lord Aries and give him back the Baaton. Of course, it is not so easy – besides the challenge of distance, they should fight two tricksters, who are there for the mobile phone with clues of their fraud they occasionally lost. And of course their owners – very picturesque old farmer and her grandson, are searching for them too…
The story is especially funny because of allusions with human being world in sheep behaviour and respective exclamations as well as general way of thinking, such as “Ohmygrass!”, “Thank Aries”, “… resourcefulness and cunning for which we sheep are rightly famous!”, etc. The very good motto of the book is about “never give up” attitude. Are we sheep or are we sheep?!? (c)
Albert Camus, was/is a well known Existentialist philosopher, and author, and his "The Plague," is an intensely captivating trip through the human psyche.
The novel utilizes a plague event as the backdrop for examining various perspectives and perceptions, about life and death, and meanings.
Hope and love come to be seen as elemental, I believe, and at the end the narrator says "They know now that if there is one thing one can always yearn for and sometime attain, it is human love."
Optimistically, again, this fellow who lived through WWII, and was a pat of the French resistance, was able to state "...that there are more things to admire in men, than to despise."
This was a good read!
Mitchell, I appreciated Camus The Stranger, probably his best-known work, but personally enjoyed The Plague most.
Valentina, if you love sheep, you might enjoy "Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story" (orginal title: Glennkill) by Leonie Swann.
It's about a flock of sheep whose shepherd George is murdered - they find him with a spade in his body. So the sheep try to solve the mystery, led by Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in the village (and possible the world). There's lots of suspects in the village, like the scary butcher (of course it must be him! ), or the newcomer Rebecca, or the shepherd of another, very strange flock of sheep.
This book is so funny to read, as you get an insight of how sheep think and how they see humans and their problems. And there is a second book as well
I'm reading the third book in a series by Zoe Ferraris, Kingdom of Strangers. The first two books are Night of the Mi'raj (published in the US under the title Finding Nouf) and City of Veils.
The setting is present-day Saudi Arabia and the central character is Katya Hijazi. An unusual Saudi woman in that she works in a largely male environment, in the forensics laboratory of a police department. There is a mystery...a missing person, a murder or murders...as the main plot of each book, but what I enjoy so much about reading these...aside from the fact that they are well-written and well-plotted...is the insights into Saudi culture and the tightrope Katya must walk in her attempts to be a modern woman with a career and ambitions while adhering to the endless strictures put upon all women in her culture. For example, imagine trying to become more involved in solving cases while being unable to drive yourself or go anywhere unaccompanied by a male relative! Katya pushes against these boundaries, but is still vastly restricted simply by the brutal reality that if she goes too far she can be killed for her "unchaste" behavior.
Katya is engaged to be married to a man who promises they will work out their differences and she will not be hamstrung by him, but she questions...as we also do...whether it will be possible for him to keep his promise, although he is completely sincere in giving it. One of the most interesting things about the books is our access to his thinking and feeling. He is a sincerely devout Muslim, thoroughly a product of Saudi male culture, and a kind, thoughtful and good-hearted human being. He genuinely believes that the restrictions placed on women are for the benefit and protection of women, and Katya constantly challenges his beliefs simply by being the person she is.
Zoe Ferraris was married to a Saudi Arabian man and lived in the country, so her insights into the treatment of women come from first-hand experience. She makes her characters, and the daily issues they face living in Saudi culture, real and compelling.
The paperback editions in the US carry a blurb quote from The Sunday Times, "Competition to Stieg Larsson from an unexpected quarter"...but the books are not at all like The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo.
This post was modified from its original form on 23 Jun, 9:19
Laura, thank you for the suggestion! I am really in love with sheep
Mitchell, I remember my own reader experience with “The plague” by Camus very well! That time I was used to the literature with lots of action, while “The plague” is very reflective, contemplative. I was surprised and enchanted. Camus opened to me the beauty of existentialism
"Cheating Death, The Doctors and medical miracles that Are Saving lives Against All Odds," by Sanjay Gupta, MD., is quite an engrossing book.
Dr. Gupta takes the reader on a journey of recent medical history, and some of the philosophy around the issue of defining death. He praises the efforts of several notable mavericks in the medical field, whose consistent dedication to trying methods that were not standard operating procedure (pun just came over me) led to breakthroughs.
My favorite quote from the book is: "Death doesn't happen in a moment but rather unfolds over time. At any point it might just be stopped."
Dr. Gupta enters discussion about near-death experiences, spirituality, and. has a chapter entitled "What is a Miracle?"
This chapter title reminds me of a particular definition of "Magic," which reads: "Magic is technology one simply does not understand."
Valentina, existentialism is capable of a strange sort (to me) of beauty, but it may be the "strange" that holds the beauty. It involves issues people often try to avoid.
There is a psychiatrist I read, a few years ago, whose name escapes me, now, but he is an Existentialist. He wrote "Mama, and the Meaning of Life," as well as "Staring at the Sun," the title of which refers back to an ancient Roman saying, as I recall he said, that goes," "There are two things at which one can not stare, one's death, and the sun."
Miranda, I am going to put "The Stranger," on my reading list.
"Inside The Third Reich," by Albert Speer, is an autobiography by Hitler's professional, personal, architect, who also became a government minister, responsible for armaments across the board.
Speer writes from his perspective, or, as John Kenneth Galbraith, who interviewed him, while attached to Eisenhower's staff, wrote, in his review of the book, 1/10/71, from what Speer would like us to believe was his perspective. JKG suggests that Speer engaged in some self-serving polishing of his roles and views.
Nonetheless, one is treated to some fairly intimate descriptions of Hitler, and his "court," the sycophants, the circus that surrounded him, or that he could tolerate around him. One sees from inside, how the propaganda created the then current legend.
One sees Hitler's narcissism, and delusions from a new point of view; how these played a role in his taking power, and in his creating a system that both fed these, and lead to his collapse.
Speer let himself be enticed into becoming a Minister of The Third Reich, eventually having control over armaments, munitions, and, quoting JKG "No one in Britain, or the United States has made the task of wartime economic mobilization come alive as has he."
At one point JKG says of Speer, "Here, none could doubt, was a person," sounding positively impressed, but later explains that Speer rather overrated his accomplishments.
Towards the end, we see Speer looking back at how he saw himself drawn in by Hitler's bizarre charisma, and moralizing about "insistent ignorance:"
"For, being in a position to know, and nevertheless shunning knowledge creates direct responsibility for the consequences-from the very beginning."
For anyone who has done any reading about Hitler, and WWII, this is rather fascinating.
`The Magnet Book of Sinister Stories` edited by Jean Russell. It is already second book in my baggage I chose because of its jacket:
Yep, I couldn’t resist! It is quite strange, because I am not great fan of paranormal or some horror stories. Probably I enjoyed it so much because it addresses to the children auditorium and not so sinister in the end. It contains short stories of different authors and there is no anything in common besides their slightly ominous atmosphere. For example, the story which inspired the illustrator narrates about a spinster which was helping all girls in the village to fix their broken dolls. A group of the girls after realized that their dolls lost some of their peculiarity during repair, such as special tone of skin, eyes of hair. The story is ending with appearance of spinster’s adopted daughter which should a child of her faraway cousin passed away unexpectedly. All adults are happy for her; she was always so kind with their children and should be blessed by this misfortune. And only three small girls decide to stay away from the child: they are stunned by coincidental similarity of spinster’s adopted daughter and their dolls’ lost physical peculiarity…
Some stories are really good, other - not so exiting, while generally reading was quite enjoyable. I become more and more hooked by children fiction
Alright, call me weird, if you must, but just minutes ago I finished "Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking," and did so in a state of excitement, something one would not expect from a non-fiction study. Hey, I missed most of "Jeopardy," and did not go to it when I realized it!
This one is a study of our capacity to "thin slice." "Thin slice" refers to the almost instantaneous taking in of information, and making judgments/decisions in that blink of an eye. The author, Malcolm Gladwell, he of "The Tipping Point," describes the finesse with which our minds can do this, and the wonders, and problems, this can create; how we can recognize truths as if we had e.s.p., and how our unconscious biases can infect our judgments, and throw us way off the mark, with not a clue.
`World of Strangers` by Nadine Gordimer
Toby – is a young Englishman just arrived in Johannesburg to run family’s publishing business. He has a bit contradictive background – family capital which allowed his parents to live decently even being in non-stop fight against any kind of discrimination in a whole world. Being quite tired from his mother’s efforts to push him the same way, he starts his new life in Africa from the most unpredictable for his family acquaintances among local beaumonde, not to protest or something like this, just to have a curious look on such kind of life. He understands perfectly that the only thing grants him the access there – it’s his English origins and his mother ancient acquaintance with a wife of the richest men there. He makes fun of this contradiction that in Africa Englishness unites the people under the same roof who never could be in the same company being in England. He starts to sympathise a girl who formulates that point underlying that she is just a daughter of a butcher. Of course, not that kind of butcher with his arms in blood, but wholesale butcher. Well, she is beautiful and posh also. At the same time Toby starts to explore the other world – a place where live “less decent” people, such as people of colour or that one who deals with them. As the story narrates about first half of the 20 century, the segregation is still high and almost unquestionable. Occasionally he meets another white girl - Anna, who is a quite opposite to spoiled and lazy Ceciel. Anna advocates for all supressed people whom she can help, sometimes for her own expenses. Her origins are also from pretty privileged part of the local society, but her family preferred to forget her when they knew what she is doing as a job. Thanks to Anna Toby meets some black people, who become his dark side of life. No, he isn’t ashamed about such acquaintances, but their way of life sometimes supposes to visit illegal places, doing illegal things and other similar staff. One of them, Steven, became especially important person for Toby, who feels that they are like twins. Even though Steven’s life is quite miserable he lives it as Toby was never capable to live his life for himself. If first part of his time in Africa Toby’s life was divided among 2 worlds and 2 women, after occasional death of Steven it divides on after and before. Toby is leaving for England and thinks that now he will be back soon for sure (before he was certain that this period of life is just one episode among many others). His black friends think they never meet again as always happens with friendship among blacks and whites. We never know, will Toby back or not. What we can know for sure, that he finally found out something about himself and his position, which he ever denied to choose before…
In "Neanderthal Man, In Search of Lost Genomes," Svante Paabo, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Liepzig, tells of the painstaking journey through the technical, and emotional, ups and downs on the way to sequencing the genome of the Neanderthals, and then the Denisovans, another group of hominids.
He explains that his group was able to determine that non-Africans have Neanderthal genes, and that Papuans have both Neanderthal and Denisovan genes.
Of possible interest, to some, is the finding that that one of the genetic changes in Homo Sapiens, and Neanderthals, is the loss of encoding for "a protein that might limit the extent to which neurons divide and might have something to do with how the brain got larger in humans," as well as Neanderthals. This gene remains in the apes.
Of possibly more stimulating interest to many, may be the fact that the Neanderthals, and ourselves, lost another gene, also still present in the apes, that encodes for a protein that is responsible for "penile spines," which are structures on the penises of apes that cause males to ejaculate very quickly. These spines are not present in humans, nor were they in Neanderthals.
Mitchell D. This sounds like an intriguing book. I must say though that the last paragraph was great for a little chuckle! Thanks!
"Unbroken," the biography of Louie Zamperini, 1936 Olympic track star, met Hitler, was a WII veteran of the war in the Pacific, and was a POW in Japan, was engrossing.
He died, not long ago, at age 97, having suffered abuse hugely while a POW of a culture that viewed surrender as a shameful act; not that he surrendered. The path Louie's life took is fairly amazing.
One more item about that pre-war culture: they believed that Providence "meant" for them to rule over all Asians. Hitler, on the other hand, thought that Providence meant for HIM to rule over the known world!
Along with learning of his struggles, one learns some things about pre-war japan's culture of which, I expect, huge percentages of us are totally unaware.
A "food for thought" piece comes up in the epilogue, when the author states that two of her Japanese sources wished to remain anonymous, as the war is STILL seen as "controversial" in Japan; not openly discussed.
I would like to hear from anyone who may be able to shed some light on that situation.
“Scented Gardens for the Blind” by Janet Frame
Janet Frame amazed me again even exploiting the same topic of human madness. This novel is narrating the story of one quite special family – Glaces. Why special? Edward left his family many years ago for investigation of another family’s history – Strangs, and still considering himself as good husband and father. He strongly believes in his mission to save humanity with his research. His daughter – Erlene – stopped to speak once and is spending her life in front of a window, communicating with Uncle Blackbeetle, whom alone she believes she can confide. Erlene’s mother – Vera – was trying to cure her, addressing to the doctors and accompanying Erlene to the hospital to attend some appointments with a psychiatrist. When even Erlene’s father appearance after almost 2 decade absence didn’t change the situation, she just gave up and decide to stop eat at all…
It is even difficult understand who is here the main character. Erlene, whose distrust to the world around contributes so significantly to the lives of her relatives? Her psychiatrist, manipulating Erlene’s affection to the windowsill’s insect? Her father, with his mission to save the world who failed even to save his family? Uncle Blackbeetle with that his philosophical stories he was telling Erlene? Or Vera, whose trials to fix all imperfections of her family life will lead herself to the psychiatric ward once? Maybe the main hero of Janet Frame it is the whole humanity and all of us, its minuscule grains fighting our own battles against predestination?
"What is Relativity?," by Jeffrey Bennett, is a primer that seems written for young people, but can also be a primer, or refresher course, of sorts, for those of us with some familiarity with the subject.
New, for me, was the realization, in a late chapter, that energy can be a source of gravity, and that in a black hole it is of sufficient strength, that it powers the black hole.
As in E=mc2, energy and mass are the same, when the core of a massive star finally collapses in on itself, a positive feedback loop gets going, "in which the continuing collapse releases even more energy, that increases the strength of gravity, and so on. To the best o our knowledge, nothing can stop this feedback loop." I had wondered where the mass goes, into a singularity, perhaps? But, it seems, no, rather than a point o infinite mass, one gets, apparently, a point of infinite energy.
This is incredible stuff, explained quite simply.
“Seven gothic tales” by Isak Dinesen. This book was written as far back as in 1934 and being devoted to really old-fashioned subjects exploits finally extremely actual problems of marriage, role and place of women in a society and limits of their independence. Of course, all these reflections are in a background of novels, first of all because of the time this book appeared. Nevertheless, it is becoming more comprehensible why the author cares when we look on their personality closer. Isak Dinesen is just one of many pen name of Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, Danish author who wrote in Danish, French and English. Thanks to her relatively high position in society and some financial independence, she might allow herself to separate from her unfaithful husband and tried to express herself in writing. At the same time it is obvious for me that few of her she-contemporaries could do the same with their lives. However, Blixen’s life wasn’t always such a pleasurable journey. She failed to save her coffee-plantation in Kenya from bankruptcy and should return back to Denmark. Her close friend died in a biplane catastrophe. She never gets married again and her writings could be her personal world to live in, to feel, to comfort herself. Her thoughts she lent her heroes were so in advance of her epoque that her works even being plotted in different from our reality are still so fresh in their sense of humour and wisdom, hiding between the lines…
… I pray thee, good Lord, that I may not be married. But if I am to be married, that I may not be a cuckold. But if I am to be a cuckold, that I may not know. But if I am to know, that I may not mind!
The bachelors’ prayer from The poet, Seven Gothic Tales
This post was modified from its original form on 13 Aug, 5:46
"Dairy of a Bad Year" by J.M. Coetzee
The structure of this book is very unusual and interesting. There is a book in the book, because the main character – an old writer, who is working on his contribution to a book with several other authors for German publisher. So, as a reader you can follow the proceeding of the writer with his work. At the same time the writer is a ordinary human being, living his solitary life whose serenity was a bit destroyed by the acquaintance with one of his up-stairs’ neighbour – beautiful young woman. The writer enjoys her naïve and sincere company and proposes her to type his manuscript for him as she is in between works at the moment. She agreed, but her boy-friend is quite suspicious about the writer’s intentions. From this moment we can also follow her thoughts about writer’s materials and sometimes even their discussion of previously written parts of manuscript as well as some arguments among the typist and her partner. The apogee happens at the evening of small celebration when the writing was ended. The typist’s boy-friend drinks too much and speaks even more. After they will split up and she leaves him. But she feels that her relationship with the writer is not finished and continue to think about him in a particular way…
The most interesting part of the book is a psychology of gender’s interaction because we can see how different people can understand the same words, gestures, events. It was the first book I read by Coetzee and I will read something else of his writing, to complete my opinion about him. Let’s say it wasn’t perfect reading to me, but it was quite interesting and unusual.
“Living in Maniototo” by Janet Frame
One more piece of writing by Janet Frame in my personal baggage and I happy with it. This time the main character of the story is a New-Zealand writer, working on her new book. Her heroes are so real and living their lives on their own that once she stopped to understand where is reality and what is just a by-product of her imagination. Frame here was on some way playing with reader when spoken as her main character what a writer can do and what cannot in their work. As regards other heroes of the book, they are so lively that when you realize they do not exist you are amazed and at the same time agreed that they are a bit more than just generic characters, they are almost archetypes and all of us once met them on the life’s roads. There is something more than just a quick eye in the author’s writings. Maybe, it is her great capacity to find right words for manifold human emotions?..
“Other Lovers” by Roderick Finlayson
This book contains three different love stories. Why their heroes are other lovers? Because they are not usual stories of love at all! First one is the most tragic, because main characters are dying at the end and they are lovers only in eyes of people around who are judging different humans so fast and gravely. The second story is other just because of very unpredictable happy end and the last one is a story of run from love in fear of being misunderstood by society what breaks not only main hero’s life, but some others too. The book is a bit outdated in folkways’ description but very honest and capable to illuminate the fact that each story of life, of love is absolutely unique without reference to its ending…
The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. I enjoyed this book as much as anything I have read in a long time. Dr. Umrigar is a journalist and author of fiction, and a teacher of creative writing and literature at Case Western Reserve University. She is Indian and writes in this book about the culture and people of India with great skill and obvious personal knowledge. The story is largely told in two first-person voices, as we are privy to the thoughts of two Indian women...one from the upper caste and the other her servant of many years. The ways in which the two women are deeply bonded, yet constantly misunderstand one another in both small and large ways...and the ways in which caste differences play out in Indian culture...are explored in depth and with subtlety. No one is a stereotype and every person, even the most unlikeable, are presented in a way that allows us to understand why they behave as they do, and to feel empathy for them even while detesting their actions. The final events are entirely plausible as well as heartbreaking. Whether the hopefulness which the lower caste woman manages to find for herself at the end of the story is entirely well-founded we will never know. The writing itself is superb.
In "The Fall," by Albert Camus, a virtual monologue by an unhappy(?) narcissist is used, to plumb the depths of what has become known as "The human condition."
On the surface, there is a bit of cognitive dissonance in the term "unhappy narcissist," but his character seems to have good bit of personal insight.
Given Camus' history of living through WWII, in France, and his participation in the French underground, it may not be surprising that his character sees our "condition" in a negative way.
I'm posting an overall genre review of magical mysteries in "Generes" if anyone is interested.
In "Sex on Six Legs," Marlene Zuk describes research on the social and reproductive lives of various insects, including the evidence for same sex coupling in insects, and the process of evolutionary natural selection.
She also goes into research on language, particularly in Honey Bees, and how those areas in which Homo Sapiens has thought itself so much above all other animals, as in tool use, may not be really set us apart.
In "Black Snow: A Theatrical Novel" Mikhail Bulgakov described theatrical being, so complex due to sly personal intentions and destiny’s caprices, mediocre insinuation and talented naivety, difficult interpersonal relations and complicated characters of artistic people. The other name of the novel is «Memoirs of the departed». This name is quite fair because of the author’s choice to withdraw himself from the authorship’s responsibility – it starts with the preface where Bulgakov stated that he is just an editor and the real author – someone Maxudov, who suicided as soon as sent the manuscript to his friend with a request of a publication. This equivoque happened just to set the author free in his description of the theatre atmosphere and its workers, whose prototypes (as well as theatre itself) where easy recognizable by their contemporaries artists and other bohemia’s representatives of the early 20 century in Russia. It is first-person narrative, telling about a man, who dreamed to become a writer. While any listener of his first roman told him that it couldn’t be published, I was and even been requested as a play by one theatre. The novel is really enchanting with its witty descriptions of bohemia’s way of life and quasi-magical theatrical being. As it tells, even though it wasn’t true, it deserves to be invented. However, it seems to me, most part of the narrative is pretty honest. The only one my disappointment concerns the fact that this novel haven’t been ended by the author and I have great regret that we can’t know the end of the story, become this play the real theatrical production or not because of many strange and peculiar obstacles author met on its road to the stage…
"Knocking on Heaven's Door...," by Lisa Randall, was a fascinating trip through the world of the physicists, and cosmologists, as they explore the world of the phenomenally tiny, and the immensely huge, such as the universe, looking for explanations, based on rational thinking and evidence, about both the presence of the universe itself, and our place in it.
I should confess: even though many specialists in psychiatry claim that Dr Freud's ideas were overestimated and even wrong, I love the writing of Mr Sigmund When I am reading his works I barely can object most of his points and for this reason it is a pity that many people know something just about his studies of human sexuality. For example in "The Future of an Illusion" he reflects on the role of the religion in the civilization development, his contemporaries' mentality and even the future. Being quite tough on the religion negative consequences for people mind, he even metaphorically compares it to the bandaging of children heads and claims that religious up-bringing is responsible for the distressing contrast between the radiant intelligence of a healthy child and the feeble mentality of the average adult. At the same time Dr Freud himself does not suffer from illusions: he doesn't believe that human civilization is capable to set aside such a practice, which helps them to save on the responsibility of the free mind for itself even taking into account the costs of the prescribed by religious norms road...
"The Marshmallow Test, Mastering Self-Control" by Walter Mischel, recounts his studies of children beginning in the 1960's, when the testing (children at a pre-school in California were given a choice between one marshmallow they could have, immediately, and 2 which they would have to wait for, sometimes up to 20 to 25 minutes) was initiated.
The results indicated those able to delay gratification had very different, positive, life trajectories than those who could not, rather overwhelmingly. Testing subjects were followed up for decades.
Any of you who are educators ought to read this book, or, at least , I very much suggest it. Or, look into KIPP schools, a particular type of charter school, as the science in this field shows that it can be TAUGHT.
Finally I finished “Fatti di cronaca” by Andre Gide even though it is a really small book. What can I say? Probably my imperfect knowledge of Italian language prevented me from enjoying it, or it is just author’s style choice. At least I started to think that even though I like postmodern, just modern is not enough. In this case I prefer already classics. The name of Gide’s book describe its style perfectly – the author is only indifferent narrator of the facts took place around. That’s probably why the narrative is so flat, while the facts are quite macabre – suicides and violent deaths, cannibalism and divorce which looks among many other almost optimistic. I even not sure that I will check some of the other Gide’s writing, the aftertaste is quite unpleasurable unfortunately…
"Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People," by Joan Roughgarden, a biological ecologist, at Stanford University, presents an enormous amount of research based information on the presence of other-than-heterosexual-relationships throughout the mammalian, avian, insect and other biological families.
She presents the idea that relationships are the basic structure of societies, and are for acquiring and trading the opportunity to reproduce. "Mating is then more about maintaining...relationships needed to provide food and safety food and safety for the young."
"When we focus on social life as a continual exchange of control over resources to reproduce, then complex MULTIGENDERED societies are not anomalous." (emphasis mine)
In part 3 Roughgarden presents the histories of a variety of groups in different societies, that demonstrate the acceptance of differently gendered people, including the "Two-Spirited People in the Americas." In this section, also, she delves into the apparent acceptance of different gender and sexual identities in the Old , and New Testament bibles.
The book "Nine days in July" I received as a gift from my friend. In fact, it is in Russian what gave me additional pleasure to read on my own language, I am missing it here a lot… The book editor described it as short stories about reckless weirdoes who believe in wonders. Ok, it is too much subjective for me, but in any case the book rested me with good aftertaste and smile on my face. Some stories were really funny, others – sad enough, but most of them – quite interesting and entertaining
This post was modified from its original form on 12 Dec, 11:39
Just posting to get this thread out of archives and back into our Discussions list. Even though we don't have a very recent posting, I do think we want to keep this thread active.
The storybook “The Lemon Table” by Julian Barnes was not as disappointing as I was expected to. Before I had a pleasure to read “A History of the World in 10½ Chapters” by the author and I was positively amazed how different he could be in narrating but always intelligent and quite sarcastic at the same time – two qualities of any author, making the reading pleasurable for me. Unfortunately, the next two Barnes’s books in my reader baggage were not so fascinating: “Talking It Over” and its sequel “Love, etc” are too much melodramatic and lightweight even though funny enough. That’s why I was hesitating for a long time to continue my acquaintance with Julian Barnes’s writings trying do not become disillusioned at all. Now I can say that my score is 2:2 and I am happy to consider Barnes again as a very interesting interlocutor. His short stories’ narrative form even underlines the author’s acidity which concentrates on very important in its casualty aspects of life: relationships between men and women, parents and children; aging and even death. I have an impression that the author knows a lot about music as far as two best (according to me) short stories – “Vigilance” and “The Silence” - are devoted to this field of art on some degree. I would recommend this book only to the readers who enjoy a bit biting, malicious view of the world and human beings.
"Orlando Furioso," by Ludvicio Ariosto, born in 1474, is a fun, renaissance poem of 36,000 lines written in octaves, reminiscent of Homer.
"Japan, 1941, Countdown to Infamy," by Eri Hotta, provides fascinating insights to the dysfunctional inner workings of Japan's political/military complex in the years before the Pearl Harbor attack.
It details the history of "modern" Japan, after the end of the Tokugawa shogunate, in 1868, after hundreds of years of rule.
The book shows how cultural myths can lead a government too believe it, or its country, has a "special" place in destiny...not unlike our myth of "American Exceptionalism."
"Inertia, self-preservation, institutional material gain, and irrational conviction were all at work," she writes. I wold add corporate gain at the level of greed, and one has our current U.S.
Questa storia by Alessandro Baricco is a novel which goes through the whole 20 century – from bolshevic’s revolution in Russian Empire and First World War to Mille Miglia – Italian car race. The story narrates as a diary of Russian girl emigrated in the USA when her life collides with another emigrant – young Italian dreamer, who is living in his own world. They love each other all their lives even though they won’t be together. This story is especially beautiful due to extremely vivid picture of times and places when the main heroes would appear for some time. Even though the romance is a part of the story, the narrative is whole of the many picturesque situations and description of the local life what makes it so interesting to read. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to any reader interested in plotted in the past narrative.
Just about done with "Ancestors in Our Genome," a difficult read (see my post in "What are You Reading), which, just before the end, refers to Svante Paabo's work and the mixing of our genes with those of the Neanderthals and the Denisovians.
Fascinatingly, he writes about Neandertals and humans living in the eastern Mediterranean, at the same time, "around the corner" from each other, at Mt.Carmel, in Israel, in the Tabun cave (Neandertals) and the Skhul cave (humans). This took place, apparently, in the neighborhood of 45,000 years ago.
Harris states that the Neanderthal portion of the genome of those of European descent is 2%, rather than 3%, but, also that South Asian Islanders, and South American Indians have a Denisovian compliment of from 3% to 6%.
"Denisovian DNA in South American Indians is not surprising since genetic evidence points to a mainland Asian ancestry for indigenous American peoples."
In "The Evil Hours, A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," the author provides a deep historic view of wht we now call PTSD, going back to the ancient Greeks, on up to the present. It is also some what autobiographical, as he was a Marine in the Gulf War, and a reporter in Iraq.
One of the most salient points I took frm the book is about how the culture a warrior returns to does, or does not, accept him/her, and his/her experiences has a lot to do with the impact of trauma...and we do a lousy job of it: "You're home now? Good just get on with your life!"
Rape trauma is also surveyed, needless to say.
In "The Big Fat Surprise, Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet," Nna Teicholtz, a journalist who spent 9 years doing research, which included reading the original studies done on diet issues going back to the '50's, we find the back story of manipulated studies, large egos, and how these were morphed into bad food policy; into "received wisdom" in the nutritional field, and kept those in the field with a diferent perspective marginalized.
In "H is for Hawk," Helen Macdonald tells of how she drafted a Goshawk into her attempt to deny the death of her father; to escape into another realm with the hawk, is search of her father.
In the process, she educates, in detail, and quite wonderful language, about goshawks. For me, both a birder and a psychotherapist, this was great reading.
If one is a T.H.White fan, the way she interwove his falconry and his life would only be an extra bonus.
"Connected," was dull, boring, repetitive, again, and again, and again,; put it down early.
"The Existentialist Revolt" was pretty good. I especially liked much of what I read about Karl Jaspers' thinking, up to the point at which he got into the religiosity as many philosophers do.
Nonetheless, I learned about Kierkegaard's religious roots, Marcel's having fallen into his religious maze, and a lot about Nietzche. Sartre lost his aura for me, too many contradictions and assumptions.
Garbage in, garbage out.
I should confess I am quite confused! I heard about change of beloved books’ and movies’ characters perception, that’s why I am afraid to reread Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy or Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. However, I didn’t expect such emotion from Oscar Wilde: I was always in love with his cynical intelligence and thought it is pretty good armor against re-evaluation of heroes and their values. I read the play so long ago for the first time that I even do not remember what was the first in my consumer luggage – play or movie based on it. And now I am trying to understand the origins of the difference in the play perception. Was it me, who changed so much from the first acquaintance with Wilde’s heroes, is it Rupert Everett immense wretch harm or the difference in the Russian translation and original play atmosphere. The point is lord Goring always enchanted me, while I did not see previously his high morality under his charming cynics at all. Moreover, this time lady Chiltern whom I sympathized before now was quite irritating for me, not with her high moral principles but with her willingness to show it up.
And what do you think on the issue, my bookworm-friends?
Lord Goring was always the most admirable character to me, with a strong moral character beneath his charm and cynical observations, with sharpe intelligence. Lady Chiltern always seemed to me to have a priggish side, as does her husband. The play is a great favorite of mine.
Miranda, what more of Oscar Wilde do you like?
An Ideal Husband is my absolute favorite. Of the plays, I also like the foolishness of The Importance of Being Earnest, and somewhat more seriously Lady Windermere's Fan. I like the novel Picture of Dorian Gray and enjoyed reading many of Wilde's essays. And as a child, I loved the short story The Canterville Ghost.
It's good to know someone is still reading Oscar Wilde.
Valentina, By the way, who is the "ideal husband" of the title? Lady
Chiltern's idealization? Her actual husband? Or, Lord Goring?
Well, it seems to me it is more a generalized idealization and Robert Chiltern is just an illustrative example of it. Do you remember his monologue how difficult to live on the pedestal women put their imperfect husbands? All of us we need to have admiration to love somebody and when heshe isn't perfect enough we create in our mind our own picture of the partner much more idealized than it is in reality. The funniest thing, no one capable do not be upset when the picture doesn't fit perfectly It is a great wisdom to percept people who they are and allow them to be who they are... What do you think on the issue, Miranda?
I agree with your observations, Valentina. I've seen so many couples who could have developed a more mature relationship, and who seemed well suited as the people they appeared to be in reality, but who destroyed the relationship because reality contradicted the idealized image one or both of them had of each other. It is indeed one of the greatest wisdoms to allow ourselves to see others without our fantasies and idealizations of them in the way, to accept anyone as a person of full human spectrum. My husband and I were most fortunate to be capable of that from the beginning, which is a large part of why we are together and glad to be together 46 years later.
Reactivating this thread.
"Brave Companions, Portraits in History," by David McCullough, is not the kind of thing I usually read, but an acquaintance said I would like it, I tried it, she was right! It even brought moistness to my eyes, twice.
McCullough paints portraits of the likes of Louis Agassiz, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Roebling, and his son, the builders of the Brooklyn Bridge, a fellow from Eastern Kentucky, whose life was given to fighting the strip miners, Alexander von Humboldt, whose writings entranced Darwin, and many others.
And, in a recent issue of the NY Times Book Review, there is a glowing review of the first biography in a long time, of von Humboldt, "The Invention of Nature, Alexander von Humboldt's New World," by Andrea Wulf. It is going onto my list!
He seems to be the first writer to put together the idea "that the world is a single, weblike, interconnected organism."
Erica Jong's "Fear of Dying" was a great read. I do not ususally read novels, but wanted to check this one out, as it is not just fiction writing, but has serious messages embedded.
At one point I had to remind myself that it IS a novel, not an autobiography. Jong uses the novel style to tell a deeply moving story about real life, but, I guess that that is what all good novels do. Still, this topic is so much dismissed by American society, or avoided, I suppose. Nonetheless, I doubt that many writers can put so much humor into an issue about the impermanence of everything around, and including, us.
Time for a Tiger is a narrative by Anthony Burgess which explores the late British colonial time in Malaya and fates of those English who were engaged in the western culture expansion. Some of them stay endlessly proud of their origins and cultural belongings, while others assimilate to some extent in the local colorful in its colonial mixture community. The novel is pretending to reach the depth of intimate experiences of those who are for some reason seem picturesque to the author. I don’t know is it my prejudice or it is quite fair judgment of mine, but this narrative wasn’t such an ultimate blow-up as A Clockwork Orange appeared to me once. Even though I finished the reading, I have no great desire to track the heroes’ adventures in the following The Enemy in the Blanket and Beds in the East…
I've just finished reading Jeffrey Archer's "Mightier than the Sword", Volume Five of "The Clifton Chronicles". Splendid read, very exciting all the way through but, as usual in this series, it ended with a cliffhanger so that now I will have to wait until next year for publication of Volume Six "Cometh the Hour". Grrrrr!
Arthur Miller's "Focus" was a brilliant depiction of racism, in this case anti-semitism, as it existed in WW2 New York City. It depicts the subtle, insiduous ways racism can live in a culture, can poison a culture behind the scenes, and pave the way for violence.
Arthur Miller's story telling is itself subltle, but makes many quiet, but heavy, points along the way.
I do't usually read novels, but this one captivated my curiosity abut how he was going to tie it together, at the end.
I read "Focus," as above, while another book, form the library, awaited my return. I had not wanted to take te chance that this library book might get soiled when I spent some hours at my favorite auto mechanic's.
So, I finished "ISLAM AND THE FUTURE OF TOLERANCE, A Dialogue," by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, today.
It is a quick, engrossing read, and rather hopeful in its depiction of the potential for engaging moderate, and other, not radicalized, Muslims in an endeavor to reform Islam as a whole, and thus prevent still more radicalization of its members; collapse the Jihadists' recruitment potential.
I found it educational, in that it explained, perhaps as only a Muslim, and a former radical one, at that, subtle, but vastly important aspects of what is fueling radicalization, and helping to create ISIS's cachet among certain Muslims.