Posts Tagged ‘Around the World for a Good Book’

Book Review: Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya

Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Honduras
Author: Horacio Castellanos Moya
Translator: Katherine Silver
Title:Senselessness
Publication Info: New York : New Directions, 2008.
ISBN: 9780811217071
Summary/Review:

This short novel depicts the narrator as a man in exile hired to edit testimonies of indigenous people who’ve survived torture and slaughter at the hands of the military regime.  His employer is the local archdiocese of the Catholic church whom he works for despite being an atheist with a particular hatred for the Catholic church.  The narrator finds himself haunted by phrases that jump out at him from the testimonies.  This is all beautifully-written and haunting.

Unfortunately, this novel has a serious unsympathetic narrator problem.  The majority of the text is spent with him attempting to satisfy his sexual longings with a pair of women, and then griping when he’s not sated as desired.  The lechery and misogyny page after page is hard to bear.  Most disturbing of all, and I may be reading this wrong, the narrator begins to see his “suffering” as equivalent to that he reads about in the testimonies, as he descends into a state of paranoia.  Adding to my difficulty in reading this book are long sentences in lengthy paragraphs.

So there you have it, a grim novel about a loathsome protagonist in a world of horror.
Recommended booksI, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman In Guatemala by Rigoberta Menchu
Rating: *1/2

Book Review: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić

Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Croatia
Author: Dubravka Ugrešić
Translator: Ellen Elias-Bursác, Celia Hawkesworth, and Mark Thompson
Title:Baba Yaga Laid an Egg
Publication Info: New York : Canongate, c2009.
ISBN: 9781847670663
Summary/Review:

This is a novel in three parts.  The first part features a narrator’s concerns about dementia in her aging mother, and traveling to her mother’s childhood home in Bulgaria with a young folklore scholar.  The second part details the comedy of errors in a  journey of three elderly women to a spa resort.  The final part is a satirical analysis of the Baba Yaga myth expressed in the first two parts written in the persona of the Dr. Aba Bagay (note the anagram), the young folklorist from part 1.  Themes of the novel deal with aging, motherhood, and the Balkan past.  It is often funny, but then punctured by moments of stunning tragedy.  And one learns an awful lot about Baba Yaga, the legend of Slavic folklore who manifests as an old, evil woman living in a hut on chicken legs.

Favorite Passages:

“It was all too much, too much even for a very bad novel, though Kukla.  But, then again, things happened, and, besides, life had never claimed to have refined taste.” p. 210

Recommended booksMules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston and Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Invisible Mountain by Carolina de Robertis

 Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Uruguay
AuthorCarolina de Robertis
Narrator:Christine Avila
TitleThe Invisible Mountain
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2009.
Summary/Review:

This excellent debut novel tells the story of three generations of women – Pajarita, Eva, and Salome – against the backdrop of Uruguayan history of the 20th century.  The structure of a multi-generational family story that tells personal stories with an epic sweep is familiar in Latin American literature, but this novel goes more for gritty rather than magical realism.  This is a fascinating novel and I enjoyed learning more about each of the women as their story develops, and sad when they are reduced to background characters when the narrative moves on to the next generation.  The final section with Salome imprisoned by the brutal Uruguayan dictatorship is particularly gripping.
Recommended booksThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields.
Rating: ****

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Around the World for a Good Book selection for Colombia
Author: Gabriel García Márquez
Title: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Translator: Gregory Rabassa
Narrator: John Lee
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio (2014) (originally published 1967)
ISBN: 9781482939682
Other books read by the same author: Love in the Time of Cholera
Summary/Review:

I always find it difficult to review a book that is a recognized classic.  What can I possibly say that hasn’t been said before.  I enjoyed this book a lot, and I was surprised it was so funny (it was meant to be funny, I hope?), at least parts of it.  I also couldn’t keep track of all the characters but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that is not as vital as the story of the town of Macondo itself with its sleepless sickness, civil wars with civil generals (but gruesome executions), and endless rain.  There’s also the books style and use of words and imagery that set it apart from your typical novel.  This novel is also rich in symbolism encapsulating an alternate history of Colombia.

So there you have it, my very short and very dumb review of a classic work of literature.  Here’s all you need to know: read it!
Favorite Passages:

“Fernanda was scandalized that she did not understand the relationship of Catholicism with life but only its relationship with death, as if it were not a religion but a compendium of funeral conventions.”

“Literature was the best plaything that had ever been invented to make fun of people.”

Recommended booksThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Cousin K by Yasmina Khadra

Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Algeria
Author: Yasmina Khadra
Translator: Donald Nicholson-Smith and Alyson Waters
Title: Cousin K
Publication Info: Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2013
ISBN: 9780803234932
Summary/Review: Yasmina Khadra is the female pen name for the male Algerian author Mohammed Moulessehoul, which he adopted to avoid censorship of the Algerian army.  His real identity was only revealed when he moved to France in 2001.  This thin, stark novel tells the story of a boy in an Algerian village whose father is killed is a traitor, whose elder brother is often absent with the army, and whose mother is dismissive and neglectful of him.  The titular Cousin K is a girl who comes to visit for the summer who becomes the object of the boy’s affection, but she in turn is cruel and mocks him.  The novel creates a sympathetic portrait of a wounded boy which unravels as he’s grows up with shocking results.

Recommended booksThe Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Rating: ** 1/2

 

Book Review: Life Form by Amélie Nothomb

Around the World for a Good Book selection for Belgium
AuthorAmélie Nothomb
Translator: Alison Anderson
TitleLife Form
Publication Info: Europa Editions (2013)
ISBN: 9781609450885
Summary/Review:

Amélie Nothomb was born in Japan to Belgian parents, lives in Paris, and writes about the United States’ war in Iraq.  That’s the kind of worldliness I like for an Around the World for a Good Book selection.  Nothomb creates a fictional version of herself in this novel (how true-to-life, I do not know) in which she carries on a correspondence with an American soldier in Iraq, Melvin Mapple.  The soldier is aware that Nothomb (the fictional one, at least) responds to letters from her readers and that she may be a sympathetic voice.  Over the course of the letters, Mapple reveals that he and other soldiers react to the war through eating and enormous weight gain.  Mapple sees it as a means of protest, forcing the military to pay for food and increasingly larger clothing.  As the correspondence continues, the absurdity increases so that Mapple’s obesity is treated as an artistic statement.   Nothomb creates in herself an unsympathetic sounding board for the pathetic and grotesque Mapple.  The book works well both as a satire of American foreign policy and obesity problem, but also is a gripping read with a number of interesting twists.  On a literary level it works with the ideas of language and reality.

Recommended booksThe Night Listener by Armistead Maupin, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, and Every Inch of Her by Peter Sheridan
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Man of Feeling by Javier Marias

Around the World for a Good Book selection for Spain
Author: Javier Marias
Translator: Margaret Jull Costa
TitleThe Man of Feeling
Publication Info: New Directions (2003)
ISBN: 0811215318
Summary/Review:

This short meditative book is narrated from the perspective of a young opera singer who travels across Europe for performances.  On one of his journeys he shares a train cabin with an attractive woman, her husband, and a man who works as their handler (for lack of a better word).  It seems painfully obvious that the narrator will lust after the woman, that the power-hungry husband won’t like that, and the handler will play both sides against one another, because that is exactly what happens.  Marias narrator is not a sympathetic character, even as he details the reprehensible behavior of the others in this quartet, he still comes off as the worst.  The saving grace is that Marias – and his translator – makes good use of lyric writing with a few turns of the flowery word and a narrative built on a dreamlike quality.  This is not a book to read for the plot or the characters, just the well-crafted prose.  Marias describes his work accurately in the epilogue as ‘a love story in which love is neither seen nor experienced, but announced and remembered.”
Rating: **

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