Friday, June 19, 2009

Mustafa by Nikoai Grozni

Here is a treat for anyone interested in Eastern Europe.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How in the World Did I Get Again into ...

... the Holocaust theme??!! I am not sure, but the fact is that I am concurrently reading three books that are either primarily concerned with the extermination of Jews or their characters question others of their memories of the Holocaust in order to find the truth.

The first book is Bernard Schlink's The Reader. Usually, I read the book prior to watching the movie made after it, but this time it was the opposite. The movie was fantastic. Now that I am reading the book, I can say that the book is even better. Enjoying the book after having seen the movie rarely happens. However, this is not the case with Schlink's narrative. His prose is sensitive, vibrant, erudite; it embraces the reader with its tentacles and does not let go even after you are done with the whole text. The questions that emerge from the read are much more prolific than those addressed in the movie version of the story. As much as the performance in the movie is impeccable and the plot flows well, the book poses the most important moral dilemmas that the younger generation during the Third Reich faced, and the movie slightly touches on these issues. The main question becomes where one can draw the line between duty and humane actions. Michael, the narrator of the story, who is a 15-year old boy, is exposed to the dilemmas of his generation in which the kids of those involved in the Holocaust ponder over the actions of their parents trying to decide if what they did was prompted out of fear for their lives or call for duty. Michael suffers mostly because it is not his parents that have committed the crime, but it is his lover and beloved who has done so. He has chosen to love a woman who has clearly trespassed the lines of humane actions in fulfilling her duties as a Nazi camp guard. Does his love for her make him an equal culprit?

Besides the moral questions that the text raises, the reader of The Reader is overwhelmed by the simplicity and tenderness of the words Schlink uses to describe love and passion. The act of reading which precedes love-making in Hanna and Michael's world ties indelibly to the newly discovered concept of loving for the young boy. Love of books and love between two people live in an indisputable connectedness throughout the novel. In fact, Michael and Hannah foster their love through the love of books even during her long years in prison. The love of the erudite activity overpowers the love of the physical touch. In this sense, it is not surprising, though many readers/viewers could have found it to be strange, when Michael finally visits Hannah in prison, their urge, desire, or habit to touch each other or even to hug has faded, but their spiritual connectedness has remained pristine throughout the years due to the act of reading and listening. Michael has read aloud dozens of books for Hannah, and she has listened to them. Their consumption of love has taken a completely different form. Through words only they have achieved a harmonious relationship. They have been lovers through all these years when they were apart, even more passionate lovers than when they actually were together and made love. This is the bitter truth that Michael and Hannah discover during Michael's visit in prison before Hannah is to be released. And her decision to commit suicide comes only naturally: she is not ready to change the relationship that they have had; she is not ready to mar the love constructed and consumed through books by the act of reading and listening. A poignant moment - that of the realization. It could smother a pregnant lady with her own tears.

The other book that I randomly selected for my summer reading pleasures unfortunately did not provide me with the sophistication of The Reader. Despite its international acclaim, The Book Thief did not touch the proper cords as it must have happened to many other readers. The style was easily digestible, in fact it could be considered innovative in many ways - Death tells the story of a little girl and his foster parents during the last years of Hitler's Germany. The most annoying part of it all was the slow pace of the narrative. Although it seems to be important to see how Liesel, the little girl, develops her love for books (close to the theme from The Reader), the story still crawls way to slowly before any real predicament comes along. The text is peppered with fresh humor, and for someone who has the patience to wait until a gratifying moment (somewhere towards page 500 perhaps), I am sure it has been a different experience. However, the image of the book created by its American classification as Young Adult Literature does not prepare grounds for such patience. I approached it as a quick (though 550-page) read, and was disappointed.

I have planned to read Everything is Illuminated for a long time now and am really glad that I finally got to it. It is one of the best reads that I have come across in the last year. The young author, Jonathan Safran Foer, reveals incredible story-telling skills. Elements of magic realism are masterfully weaved through a text that talks about an American searching for a woman in Ukraine who saved his grandfather by helping him escape the Nazis. The plot is brilliant, and the narrative style breaks the rules of the mundane English phrase, not only because of the "broken English" that the Ukrainian translator speaks, but simply because Foer's phrase bursts with images to reveal an unprecedented in recent literature imagination. I will have to write about Everything Is Illuminated in a separate post. It truly deserves its own spot.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nowhere Man

Nowhere Man is a multilayered narrative portrait of a Bosnian boy by the name of Jozef Pronek. The diverse voices in the chapters of the book intercept to paint the multiple faces of Pronek. He is a man with many fates, but none that is coherent; he is a man with many homelands, but none that makes him feel home. The voices of the narrators trace Pronek in Sarajevo, Kiev, Lvov, Chicago, even Shanghai. Displaced from his home because of the war, Pronek never finds one place to live in, one job to work, one girlfriend to love. Even his sexuality is on the verge of the ambiguous. In this beautifully written text, through which unique images chase each other hastily like drops of mercury, Hemon reveals his skill to give an expression of the inexpressible state of the migrant, the nowhere man. And he does that in a second language - one that relates to his home only by the image of the missing home in the nowhere place in which the author lives.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Does Your Kid Have a Drum Set?

When asked the above question, the wife of Paul Auster answers:

- No, that's Paul writing.

An interview by Granta magazine about the last book of fiction by Paul Auster - Invisible.

Granta Paul Auster Interview from Granta magazine on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

After a long pause... on ugliness

I finally had a moment to go through the beautiful volume On Ungliness by Umberto Eco. The collection of essays is divided in several chapters looking at the concept of ugliness through time - from ancient Greece to modernity. There is a part dedicated to the martyrdom of Jesus Christ. The book is definitely worth-owning with its exquisite photos (representing ugliness through the centuries) and excerpts from the works of Plato to the radical feminists. Eco's text manages to succinctly and beautifully talk about the development of the concept of ugliness. He makes sure that the reader understands from the very beginning that there is no idea of ugliness without the concept of beauty. Now I am looking forward to reading his History of Beauty.

Here is an interview with Eco by New York Times.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Payback: Margaret Atwood on Debt

The prolific Canadian writer Margaret Atwood reads excerpts from her new book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth on NPR's Book Tour. With this collection of essays, Atwood proves once again her versatility as an author: from a poet and a novelist to a nonfiction writer and a philosopher providing timely commentary on perilous economic situations. When you say "Hello" or "Good morning" to someone, when you open the door for someone, they owe you back something - at least a "Thank you", explains the basics of the debtor-creditor relationship Atwood. She muses on the different types of debts and the synonyms that debt has developed in modern Western culture. Forgiveness, according to the author, is often a type of debt. When Nelson Mandela was leaving the prison, for example, he wanted to forgive for all they have done to him right at this point so that he will not suffer later with the memories.

Debt is related to memory, says Atwood. Also, there is a story and a plot connected to every debt. Even in the animal world, the economic system works in a similar way: when a chimpanzee scratches another one, the receiver of the favor owes him a scratch back (they remember the debt), unless there is a hierarchical structure in which the scratched chimp is above the others and therefore exempt from paying back the favor. Very much like in politics - remarks Atwood. My favorite example that she gives concerns silver fish: when the male silver fish does a dance for the female silver fish, if she appreciates the dance, he then gives to her something called "sperm package"!

Thinking about creditor-debtor relationship, when someone reads your blog, don't they owe you something? Perhaps just a comment, or maybe a copy of a recently reviewed book! Come on, don't be stingy!