Saturday, July 26, 2008

Summer Carry-On Book List

NPR Nancy Pearl has put together a nice summer carry-on book list to distract you from the guy in the seat in front of you reclining way-back-into-your-lap.

I libri piu venduti

The Italian organization Arianna publishes weekly statistics based on the sales in the Italian bookstores.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Life of Gauguin

Gauguin: a Biographyis a fascinating book written by the French writer Henri Perruchot in 1961. I bought an old copy of its Bulgarian translation while at the seaside and was enjoying it on the beach. The translator is the famous Bulgarian scholar and intellectual Nicola Georgiev. Learning the details about Gauguin's struggles as an artist before the acknowledgment of the French public is extremely inspiring. The text of the biography is woven by precise chronological events from the painter's life but also many excerpts from his personal letters. Perruchot not only describes well the influences that Gauguin's artistic views went through, but also reveals in a beautiful way the painter's struggles to come up with his own style. The reader of this life account learns about when and where Gauguin made each one of his paintings; at the same time, he is able to understand the slight but quite elaborate differentiations between Gauguin's art and that of his contemporaries. Last but not least, the books provides a clear perspective on the artistic movements in France and abroad.

Now, I feel like I need to have a Gauguin reproduction in my house. Even a small one. I am thinking about The Yellow Christ and the self-portrait with him, or the self-portrait that Gauguin painted together with his friend Bernard to send from Pont-Aven to their other friend Van Gogh who was living at the time in Arles, in the former province of Provence.

A curious note: Emil, Gauguin's first son, and I are born on the same date. Different years though ...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Deadline in Athens

Deadline in Athens is the most recent book by the famous Greek mystery author Petros Markaris. This is part of my "summer transcultural mystery reading." As pointed out in the interview by the Italian translator of the book, the text is fairly filigreed and difficult to render in a different language. The English translator, David Connolly, does a great job of matching the expression of Markaris with its proper English equivalent (or so it sounds). Inspector Haritos is a realistic character with his down-to-earth desires, his mundane family life and problems. The mysteries in the novel proliferate at an incredible speed as life in modern Athens implores.
More... later.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Netherland: A Post-9/11-Novel

The Slate's Book Club is discussing Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. The main question is what is a post-9/11-novel? Isn't every novel that is published today a post-9/11-novel? How do we define a novel of that type? Life leading to 9/11 or life after 9/11?

"Interfused with the psychological reality of this marriage and its deterioration."
"This is a novel that goes way beyond 9/11."
"You know how the book ends by the way it begins."
"... sort of Prustian reverie..."
"It begins in the present and moves back. It has this kind of beautiful (associate of) movement of circling; it reminded me of skaters doing loops... over and over, of circling around, going back..."

The Guardian's review

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Silenzi Vietati

Silenzi Vietati e' il nuovo libro di Francesco Ceccamea.

I listened to an interview with the young author in Fahrrenheit - il libro del giorno on Radio 3. It was interesting to hear how a writer who is comparatively young and new decided that fictional characters don't work for his writing and sticks with the real stories of his life. Apparently Silenzi Vietati tells a story of a complicated relationship in a family, or more so - gets its fleshy stories from the family of Francesco Ceccamea. He started writing this book after he wrote an email to the famous critic Massimo Onofri and received as a response from him an encouragement to use this email as the first chapter of his future book. It is intriguing enough that Onofri published recently a book with the name Sensi vietati. When Ceccamea's mother was listening to the news on the radio, she decided that Onofri, her son's university professor, stole the title from him. She had obviously misheard the first word of the title.

Franscesco Ceccamea's Blog

Se qualcuno mi potrebbe spedire una copia di questo libro, pagerei volentieri il prezzo doppiato e anche potrei spedire libri dagli Stati Uniti.
Contatto: kotzeva CHIOCCIOLA

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rushdie wins Best of Booker Prize

Midnight's Children won the Best of Booker Prize. My favorite Coetzee's book Disgrace was nominated as well. BBC: Peter Carey, Pat Barker, JM Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer and JG Farrell were also shortlisted for the prize.
BBC News

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Šest miliard Amerik

Šest miliard Amerik is Iva Pekárková's guide to life in the US. Being a fan of Pekárková, I expected a lot more from this account of her ten-year stay in the United States. When I ordered the book through the Interlibrary loan I had no idea that the only copy available was in the catalog of the National Library of the Czech Republic.

Šest miliard Amerik arrived to America about three weeks after I placed the order. According to my librarian friend Allan, it is amazing that the Czechs trust the Americans and send their books overseas since there is no way for recourse if anything happens with the book.

My disappointment with the book has little to do with Pekárková's skill to enchant the reader with stories from a far-away land. On the contrary, the text reveals her skill to write for a specific audience and about a specific place - a talent that shines through in all of her previous works. Šest miliard Amerik is tailored for the Czech reader who is interested in learning about different aspects of life in America. It is written with Pekárková's recognition of the Czech-ness: things are explained in Czech language and through Czech concepts. Pekárková's style is sincere, revealing, at points journalistic, and also educational. There are numerous footnotes on the different terms that are part of the popular culture; some have made it into colloquial Czech language. The curious reader will learn about the drinking laws, driving habits, eating in the new world through the author's critical eye.

Šest miliard Amerik is a guide for the curious Czech; it could be a coffee-table book; it may well be seen as a tool to learn about the popular American culture; and in the end, it is an insightful critique of the birthplace of contemporary popular culture by a society that lives by its standards and presumably wants to learn about its history. After all, it was just yesterday that the Czechs and the Americans finally came to an agreement to have the U.S. missile shield built in the Czech Republic.

This is how Šest miliard Amerik begins:

Strávila jsem jedenáct let v Americe a vdala se za Američana. Měla bych o Americe hodně vědět. Přesto mě otázka „Poslyš, JAKÁ je vlastně ta Amerika?“ znovu a znovu uvádí do rozpaků. Tahle otázka mě totiž uzemňuje svou bezbřehostí…
V dnešní době na zeměkouli existuje nějakých šest miliard Amerik. Každý má svou vlastní Ameriku, ať se mu to líbí, nebo ne. Tahle kniha je pokusem definovat jednu jedinou z nich — tu mou.

Nakladatelstvi Petrov

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hundezeiten: Heimkehr in ein fremdes Land

Yesterday I found this book already translated into Bulgarian. It took only nine (!) years for a Bulgarian publisher to become interested in this account by Ilija Trojanow of the years after 1989. There is too much unpleasant information, I suppose. Or as one of his interviewees says, "[t]his nation does not want to remember. The best thing that can happen to you in politics is to lack biography; biographies tend to only kindle the bad consciousness of the others."

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Winter Queen

I just read The Winter Queen translated into English by Andrew Bromfield (original title Азазелы). I have to say that if I there is at all a good rendition of the picturesque Akunin language this translation would be classified as great. Andrew Bromfield does a fantastic job in preserving the lengthy phrase in Russian and giving it a wonderful life in equivalent vocabulary from the same time period in English. Last time I read the book in Russian, I was marveling in the author's skill to mimic the classic Russian language. In fact, I bought it on purpose to work on my Russian language skills. I have never even thought that the beauty of Akunin's tongue, much like the Russian classics, could retain its eloquence and vivacity in a different language. Not only does Bromfield find an appropriate historic tone for his translation of the mimetic end-of-19c. Russian language, but he also manages to preserve the sophisticated humor. Bravo, Mr. Bromfield! I cannot wait to read the next one of your artistic works; I will also make sure that I have a copy of either the original, or at least one in Bulgarian. Comparison proves always the best tool for learning. The mastery of the phrase is an innate skill, but the renditions of vocabulary units can be mastered with comparative work only.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What's Your Reading Personality?

Take the QuizLinkI turned out to be An Eclectic Reader!

La Cina in Vespa

Giorgio Bettinelli discussed in an interview for Radio Feltrinelli his new book La Cina in Vespa (Travelling around China on a Vespa). "Avere una moto dall'Italia in Cina non e facile. E arrivata gia targatta." - this is how the problems start. With one kilometer on the meter, this is already a used vehicle for the Chinese, and therefore the administrative procedures for registering the Vespa - a lot more complicated.

Giorgio Bettinelli Fans Club

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The History of Love

This was a fantastic read. I am truly happy that I suggested it in the Readers Anonymous Club, and the members voted for it. Nicole Krauss is obviously very well-read which is always delightful with new authors. Normally, you don't expect young writers to invest so much intellectual knowledge in their first fiction novel; however, Krauss does a great job in combining an innovative plot with a good deal of themes explored by classic authors. Besides the central themes of love and loss, life and death, the form of the text offers an interesting angle on reading and writing. The multiplicity of texts within the text are interwoven in a masterful way, which also allows for the innovative plot. On several occasions, Krauss plays with the reader's expectation as established by an initial contract between author and reader. For example, there is a part in Alma's diary when she imagines how she meets Isaac after the reader has ascertained his death through the suffering of his father and by going to his funeral. The imagined meeting in the diary of Alma sounds like a real scene from her life and thus peppers the sense of the reader with suspicion: is Isaac somehow alive. Just a few lines later, the following entry of Alma's journal reveals the joke that Krauss played on her reader.

There is a lot to be said about the Jewish theme of the book. However, I don't consider it as an advantage or as a particularly interesting element in the novel. Perhaps, there are a few characteristics of Bird that stem from the Jewish theme: he believes that he is a vovnik, or even the Messiah. Well, Krauss does a great job in picking memorable characteristics for her characters even without incorporating the Jewish theme. I suppose that there is a certain attachment of American authors to see Polish characters only in relation to Jewishness. I feel like Krauss would have done better, had she distinguished herself from the majority in this regard.

Some critics blame Krauss for using too many elements "similar" or even "identical" to ones in her husband's books which happen to be more popular. There is one blue glass vase which Leo Gursky finds in the house of his son. Apparently, this is a vase that the writing couple owns and is a family relic. I am not sure why the critics would even try to hunt for similarities of the sort, though I am convinced that good fiction owes its virtues to the small and remarkable elements. Still, how they made it to the text is less if an interest to me as a reader.

At the end of the book, Krauss uses an innovative way to reveal the decisive meeting between Leo Gursky and Alma. The technique, in which each character's first-person thoughts are related on a separate page, creates an intriguing mode for the reader. Still, I was expecting it to break and provide one more of Krauss's narrative jokes. It did not. In fact, by the end of the conversation, I was tired of its persistence. After such a radical narrative technique, I was not ready at all for the last page of the book with its formality that killed some of the book's poetry.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

You sound completely American to me...

... said one of the listeners to an excerpt of The Garden of the Last Days read by its author, Andre Dubus III. So far I agree: the cocky tone, the conviction that he possesses the ultimate writer's knowledge, as well as the way he talks about his book evoke an urge to viciously categorize Dubus. An American or rather a Westerner is what the woman meant. Her question continued, "and I wonder how you manage to get not only into the mind but into the heart of the main character of The House of Sand and Fog.... He seemed more Iranian than anyone I have ever met." That was actually supposed to be a compliment. It turns out that he fell in love with an Iranian girl when he was in college.

The best part from the interview was when Dubus (oh, Dubus III, excuse me) admits that whenever he tries to write something that provides answers, he kills it. Also, he also says, "Hemingway has a great line, I try to live by creatively: the job of the writer is not to judge but to seek to understand."

Chinese line: "If the mad dog comes at you, whistle for him."

NPR Book Tour

Herald Tribune Review