Monthly Archives: June 2010

Almost Dead

I stumbled across the most wonderful story by an Israeli writer, Assaf Gavron. I have never heard of him before and I have the website “Words Without Borders” to thank for the introduction.

Apparently he is well published in Hebrew and is translator to the works of Jonathan Safran Foer (a favourite of mine), amongst others.

http://www.wordswithoutborders.org features an interesting piece by Gavron entitled “Almost Dead“. I’ve just read it and am still digesting. It’s incredibly confronting and gives a real indication of what life is like for ordinary people (in this case, Israelis), living in a state of terror. The fear in this piece is staggering and the questioning that goes along with that fear is incomprehensible to anyone living outside this state of existence:

“Why is everyone so paranoid in this country? Can’t dark guys get on buses with suit bags any more?” says the protagonist in this story. As the story unfolds, the answers to these rhetorical questions are clear.

I am in awe of the subtleness of this author and the delicate way that he has dealt with this complex issue.

According to Geraldine Brooks:

Assaf Gavron has done the impossible: written a darkly funny novel about suicide bombing. In a dazzling display of empathy, Gavron creates two equally compelling narrators, the bomber and his victim. This is a virtuoso work; a pitch-perfect rendering of real Israeli life in all its chaos, energy, humour and terror. I couldn’t put it down.”

This is just an extract from the novel and I cannot recommend it enough. Looking forward to hearing your views!

If you like this author as much as I do then you might be interested in his website.

Cheap as chips!

Want to find the cheapest version and copy of a book without leaving the comfort of your home? Check out these two websites!

booko
bookoffers

Waterless Deluge take 2

So, I hope you’re sitting comfortably for this one… Perhaps you should refill your cup and grab a biscuit before I begin? Do you like the prints that I’ve added, and those beautiful drapes? I think they make the place more conducive to discussion!

Margaret Atwood. What can I say? I’ve already shared my disappointment at various aspects of this book and I’ve hinted at the fact that my expectations might have been somewhat unrealistic. I’ve considered a myriad of excuses: it was my first ebook, I’m not a greenie, I’m tired, I have a cold, insomnia, Atwood’s gone stale, McCarthy’s The Road has destroyed all predictive ‘destruction’ fiction for me.

It is true that Year of The Flood had a good opening. I was intrigued by the biblical, prophetic allusions, by the notion of a waterless flood, the implied environmental holocaust. However, after a few pages, this became too overdetermined. The flow of characters’ narratives was confusing and the constant interjections of hymns and allusions became irritating rather than inspiring.

It wasn’t until I was about 62% (ah the joys of the little counter thing at the bottom of the ipad screen which tells you how far you are in the book!) that I suddenly began to enjoy the two central narratives. Ren and Toby. These two women are in their own ways trend setters, feminist gurus who embrace life and whose searches are filled with a deep desire for acceptance and belonging. What a great shame that this wasn’t crystallized earlier in the text! By the time My enjoyment kicked in, I felt as though I had had to plough my way through a whole lot of fat to get to the meat (a pun if you know that these gardener characters are all hyper vegetarian.) And then, of course, as I became intrigued by Ren and Toby, the book ended – might I add, unsatisfactorily leaving me hanging mid air in a cliched space of the author’s making.

Did I enjoy the journey? I’m as yet undecided. Still digesting all this fat!

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone. I think that you need to be an Atwood devotee or else extremely interested in Green issues, sustainable living and mankind’s impact on the environment.

Will I still be drinking coffee produced by large corporations? Yes, in much the same way that I will still be buying books from similar corporations which support authors like Atwood! Beware people in glass houses and all that!

If you happen to be one of those types who is interested in this type of text, I would be most interested in hearing your views about this novel. I am still feeling somewhat displaced by the text and would welcome any sort of reassurance or feedback from others.

On the Value of Footnotes

According to Noel Coward, “Having to read a footnote resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love.”

Personally, I love a good footnote, although according to Coward, this confession apparently sheds some light on my personal life! Footnotes are a well of information, they provide readers and researchers with a whole new journey separate, but connected to the original narrative. They are an inspiration.

Despite the fact that I am rather fond of the old footnote and indeed, prefer them to the endnote (which I find frustrating, to say the least), this article was a wellspring of good information and very well written!

http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/1997/janfeb/articles/footnotes.html

Not Me

In between things, I have read Lavigne’s book Not Me. The premise of this book fascinated me: son tending to father stricken with Alzheimer’s discovers that father might not be the noble holocaust survivor that he believes him to be, that he is in fact a Nazi war criminal. As I said, fascinating! On many levels this novel worked… The relationship between the father and son is fraught with all sorts of guilt and this is neatly amplified by the son’s relationship with his own son and, in fact, his ex-wife. The characters’ relationship with Judaism is also interesting and illustrates some of the complexities faced by second generation survivors. However, the main thrust of this novel is the narrative found hidden in a series of journals supposedly left to the son and written by the father. These journals expose the father as a Nazi war criminal, a cog in the Nazi war machine and as a twisted and at first, immoral human being. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the author’s message is that humanity in its very nature is a complicated and layered beast, that people can change and that we should never underestimate the bonds of love and the lengths that ordinary people will go to in order to defend and protect those bonds.

However, while this should be a great book, it falls short in many central ways. There are far too many loose strands in this narrative – the relationship between the son and his sister is resolved in a way that by its nature requires further exploration. The son, Mikey, as a character is scatty and loose, somewhat deranged in parts without inspiring any empathy from readers. His own connections to those around him are vague. While this might be an element of his character, it works against him for readers do not feel connected to him, and instead of him bearing some sort of hero stance, he mostly comes across as an irritating idiot.

Am I glad I read this one? Yes. It was a most unusual story and has led me to consider morality and humanity from alternate perspectives. I’d be interested to know what others thing?

For a review and discussion of this text, see the link below. Apart from the fact that the author of this link has spelled the son’s name ‘Mickey’ when my version of the text clearly says ‘Mikey’, it’s a good discussion!

interesting review

What I loved …

I have just started reading Siri Hustvedt’s ‘What I loved’. I’m a Hustvedt virgin and know nothing about this author, except the fact that she is married to literary god Paul Auster (do we need to know anything more?).

I’ve read the first 3 pages and already I’m hooked. So far, I can say without a doubt that this book is a masterpiece and it brings home the fact that I am really really really not enjoying Atwood’s ‘The Year of the Flood’ (boohoo).

For those of you interesting in reading this text, here are some links for you to follow:
‘At Long Last – an intellectual page-turner’, Geraldine Bedell, The Observer
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/jan/19/fiction.features

Interview

abc interview

David Huddle Review – Washington Post

New York Times Review

San Francisco Chronicle Review

New York Times Review 2

What an interesting website!

I stumbled across this fascinating website about Arabic books published in English. It Is actually the log of a bookclub and is filled with all sorts of wonderful pieces of information.
To check it out, see: http://readkutub.wordpress.com/category/books-we-have-read/

I have read some of the books that they recommend and the translations are excellent and the subject matter quite enthralling. If you are trying to steer clear of any hype about Israel/Palestine then I recommend that you avoid those books written by Palestinian authors.

books that look worth reading

I just read a New York Times review of Bill Clegg’s book, Portrait of an Addict As a Young Man. It’s a memoir about Clegg’s addiction to cocaine. It sounds well worth the read! I’m interested not just because of the review, but because Clegg’s title is such an interesting allusion to James Joyce’s semi autobiographical work Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.

The Waterless Deluge

“The books I end up writing are the ones that I would rather dodge altogether, but those are really the only ones I can write, because those are the ones I’m obsessed by. It would be so much easier to write an update of Pride and Prejudice and have everything turn out happily. If you don’t have conviction about it, you can’t do it.” Atwood

So, I’m reading my first paid-for ebook on my iPad. Loving the experience but really not enjoying the book. Disappointed by the irony.

I’m a huge Atwood fan. I first read her work in a course at UNSW in about 1993. I was hooked. I went on to read more, devouring the words and stories of this uber-feminist Canadian whiz. When I heard that there was a new Atwood book coming out, I waited anxiously for a reasonably priced copy. Somehow when the price doesn’t drop one comes to expect greatness.

I’m almost half way through this book now. At first I was taken by the biblical allusions, the subtle mix of dialogue and narrative and the very many references and allusions to depressing subtext. Now, I am (and I hate to admit it), bored. Yes, I am bored. Is the subtleness that I first gleened too obvious? Have I missed something?? I’m unsure. All I know is that really I’m only half interested in reading on and while I’ll definitely be finishing this book, I suspect that it will be a painful slog to the end.

Watch this space!

The Help

For some strange reason it took me a long time to get into the flow of this novel. I am as yet unable to put my finger on the cause of my subconscious hesitation … True, the story is quite close to home: set in Jackson, Mississippi, it describes the taut relationship between white female employees and their domestic help in the 1950s and 1960s. While I didn’t live in Jackson, and indeed the very idea of me wasn’t conceived yet, my life experiences growing up in South Africa in the 70’s and 80’s are remarkably similar. We had a live in nanny, although even in hindsight she was more like a second mother to me and a friend to my mother than paid help (possibly much to the chagrin of some members of the family). So perhaps it was the confronting topic choice which led to my slow start with this book.

Interestingly though, while Stockett has apparently set out to write a book which deals with the complex relationships between white female employees and black female help, it is only at the novel’s end when she reveals her own personal narrative and the depth of her relationship with her family’s maid that this conviction becomes entirely clear. She writes: “I’m pretty sure I can say that no one in my family ever asked Demetrie what it felt like to be black in Mississippi, working for our white family. It never occurred to us to ask. It was everyday life. It wasn’t something people felt compelled to examine… I have wished, for many years, that I’d been old enough and thoughtful enough to ask Demetrie that question. She died when I was sixteen. I’ve spent years imagining what her answer would be. And that is why I wrote this book.” This is a sentiment that will clearly appeal to many who have experienced similar situations to that which Stockett describes.

It’s a grand mission that Stockett has set herself and I’m not entirely sure that she’s met the mark. While the book is certainly set against the backdrop of racial issues in the American South, it really comes closer to being about the inner strengths of the different female characters that it describes. Each of the women in this text have their own challenges to navigate, journeys through domestic abuse, infertility, peer pressure and complex family relationships. The book explores each of these with relative tenderness and compassion and it is this at is its strength.

The novel’s language is sound and the way that Stockett has structured her tale with alternating voices serves to provide insight into the lives of the varied characters. While this generates significant empathy between readers and the characters it does at time generate some confusion and certainly at the beginning readers have to pay close attention to who is who!

Part of the irritation with this text, I think, is that at times it seems as though Stockett is avoiding dealing with complex and complicated issues, either because they are simply too challenging or because they do not fit with the scope of this text. Without revealing too much of the plot, one example of this, is that readers are not provided much insight into Celia’s psychological state of mind toward the end of the book and the resolution of issues like Skeeter’s relationship with her boyfriend is simply too convenient and smooth. Overall, these are weaknesses worth bearing as the book itself is a pleasant read.

It is unclear whether Stockett intended to confront readers with this text, and I dare say that most people reading this type of book would find little to be confronted by with the tale. However, without doubt the novel’s concern with the value of friendship is admirable and if this is what readers take from this text then that alone justifies the reading journey.

Perhaps one of the most valuable thing that Stockett does do, is her reference to a stellar article called Grady’s Story, written by Howell Raines and published in the New York Times. With enormous skill, Raines explores some of the issues that Stockett is trying to raise in her book. This article is well worth the read – http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/01/magazine/grady-s-gift.html?pagewanted=all