SassyLassy Sallies On

KeskusteluClub Read 2020

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SassyLassy Sallies On

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 17, 2020, 9:00am

New Year, New Decade - time to sally forth.

However, my annual thread start with Pantone's colour of the year is not quite so energetic. In a real change from last year's Living Coral, we now have Classic Blue, designed says the company to give us ... a solid and dependable hue we can always rely on", something that "...provides an anchoring foundation." Snooze.

The company then picks up the pace, saying "Classic Blue encourages us to look beyond the obvious to expand our thinking; challenging us to think more deeply, increase our perspective and open the flow of communication"

I'm all for thinking more deeply in the new year, and hope that at least some of my reading will reflect and encourage that, but for the rest, this year's choice just doesn't do it for me. Bring back Radiant Orchid (2014) or Emerald (2013). They provide stimulation at least!

tammikuu 2, 2020, 6:45pm

Here are some slightly better takes on the colour from other sources:

from CBS News

from jetfreshflowers

from economic times.india times

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 3, 2020, 6:44pm

Well every year lately I bemoan my previous year's reading in terms of quantity, so 2019 will be no different. It came in at 50 books. I do tend to read longer books and don't use audiobooks, but there is still no reason for reading so little when I think back to former times.

Naturally I am resolving to do better this year, but that depends on the weather gods. This will be the year I finish Zola's Rougon Macquart opus though. At the other end of the reading scale, I may even convince myself to abandon books that aren't working.

My other aim is to get my books in translation back up to at least 50% of my reading

Books read in 2019 that didn't get discussed in my thread:


A Death in the Family by James Agee
The Sea by John Banville
Outside Looking In by T C Boyle
Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather (read on the property where it was written)
The Boat Rocker by Ha Jin
The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett
Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag-Montefiore
Autumn by Ali Smith
Emmeline by Charlotte Smith
A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani

Fiction in Translation:

Beowulf translation by Seamus Heaney - superb, especially in the illustrated edition

By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano Chile
The Night before Christmas by Nicholai Gogol Russia
Travelling Light by Tove Jansson Finland
Babi Yar by Anatoly Kuznetsov Ukraine
People in the Room by Norah Lange Argentina
Empty Words by Mario Levrero Uruguay
Light by Torgny Lindgren Norway
Nada by Jean Patrick Manchette France
To Leave with the Reindeer by Olivia Rosenthal France
Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb Hungary
Castle Gripsholm by Kurt Tucholsky Germany

Non- Fiction in Translation:

Memoirs from beyond the Grave by Chateaubriand France


In Search of Lost Roses by Thomas Christopher
I Feel Bad about My Neck by Nora Ephron
My Garden (Book) by Jamaica Kincaid
Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life by Marta McDowell
Bringing a Garden to Life by Carol Williams

Book Club:

The Very Marrow of our Bones by Christine Higdon
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga

tammikuu 3, 2020, 4:01am

Loving this year's Pantone colour! Much more palatable than others have been.

Look forward to following your reading in 2020.

tammikuu 3, 2020, 6:42am

>1 SassyLassy: While I was tempted to agree with you about 'classic blue' being a bit of a boring choice, but then saw the blueberries and the lapis lazuli and was smitten.

tammikuu 3, 2020, 8:00am

As soon as I saw the color in >1 SassyLassy: I let out a sigh of satisfaction. Such a soothing, calming color feels very necessary this year.

tammikuu 3, 2020, 11:37am

My favorite color, so I’m happy. I hope your new year is filled with good books.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 3, 2020, 12:56pm

Blue is my favourite colour too

tammikuu 3, 2020, 12:58pm

Especially as opposed to red this election year.

tammikuu 3, 2020, 6:57pm

>4 AlisonY: >5 avaland: >6 ELiz_M: >7 NanaCC: >8 baswood: >9 lisapeet: It looks like Pantone really hit it on the mark with blue. It's a good thing I don't do colour selections!

>5 avaland: However, I definitely agree with you about the blueberries and lapis lazuli.

>9 lisapeet: Hadn't thought of blue from that perspective, but you're correct. Maybe there's a subliminal message there?

tammikuu 3, 2020, 9:16pm

>2 SassyLassy: the last picture intrigues me. Looks like a rock under a microscope.

>3 SassyLassy: can I request a morsel on the Willa Cather? Did you like it? Did the context bother you at all, or even spoil it for you?

>9 lisapeet: 🙂 🌊 2020? We can dream for now, but I appreciate your perspective.

tammikuu 4, 2020, 1:11pm

Happy New Year!

>9 lisapeet: What Lisa said.

tammikuu 5, 2020, 6:31pm

>9 lisapeet: >10 SassyLassy: Should have added that blue in Canada is the colour of the Conservative Party and red is for the Liberal Party, so sort of the reverse of US politics, although both these parties are to the left of the Democrats.

>11 dchaikin: I went back to the Economic Times article but it didn't bother to specify the exact rock.

About Death Comes for the Archbishop: I read this on Grand Manan Island, the place Willa Cather lived every summer from 1922 -1939. The cottage was on the actual property where Cather had lived, and I suppose this influenced my reading of the novel. All the cottages had books from that era, and in the short week there, I read 10% of my yearly total - it's amazing what a week without any form of electronics can do!

Anyway, that's not what you asked. The title of the book had intrigued me since I was a child, so when I found a copy in the cottage, it was the time to read it. I just reread your review of it, and found the remarks on the subtext perhaps stronger than mine. I did like the novel, particularly the friendship between the two priests in a strange land so far from home, as it developed into maturity over time and was maintained later over distance. I didn't find as much of the idea of religious superiority on the side of the missionaries as you did, although that sense is certainly implicit in any kind of missionary work. I was looking for it, but again, for the time the novel was written, I didn't really find it. There was certainly the juxtaposition in behaviours between the resident priest and the two newcomers, but it was a recognition at least of the evils that can arise from missionary and other forms of colonization. Unfortunately, I don't know the subsequent history of the Catholic church in New Mexico, but given what we know now, suspect it was no different from that in other areas.

I also liked Cather's treatment of the indigenous and Mexican peoples, which I felt also stood out for its time. The Spanish influence and history in the US is a part of its history which I find really interesting, and in this country at least is not something you really learn about in school.

I've read three other books by Cather, and liked The Professor's House best. I did have a strong negative reaction to Shadows on the Rock, which I felt was simplistic and presented Québec culture in a caricatured way. Perhaps this is an insight for me into the way you felt about the Archbishop, as you would have more knowledge of New Mexico history than I, and I felt Cather really lacked any depth when it came to New France.

While I was on Grand Manan, one of the other books I read was The Country of the Pointed Firs, and I felt this was the perfect place to read it.

>12 kidzdoc: And to you!

tammikuu 5, 2020, 7:03pm

Ok, wow... on your location and what a week. Lots to respond to here. I hope my comments on DCftA in my review made it clear she did win me over. I’m now planning to read all her books and that was the initial spark. She just left me lingering with some worry and uncertainty for the length of the book. The Professor’s House is the next book in my Litsy Cather group, I’ll start next week. More excited now. I was worried. Interesting about Shadows on the Rock.

I also hunted down the Economic Times article to try to figure out what that picture was of, and also came up empty...

tammikuu 5, 2020, 11:17pm

I hope to finish Rougon Macquart this year too. I started before rebeccanyc, but I haven't read any in probably 5 years or more. I'm on The Masterpiece.
Can I ask about Light by Torgny Lindgren? I have it on my TBR shelf, with no recollection of when or why I bought it, or what it's about. Did you like it?

tammikuu 6, 2020, 6:29pm

>15 arubabookwoman: Light was an odd book, slow to get into. However, it grew on me and I did like it, getting to the point where I just kept reading. It is a sort of timeless fable, written in a way that you could imagine hearing it told to you. Perhaps that is a result of the setting and people involved (rural Sweden in an indeterminate past time).

It would be an excellent book for a day when you want to read but want something outside the ordinary.

What got you back reading Zola again?

>14 dchaikin: Coincidentally I read The Professor's House and Stoner fairly close together, and it was a good pairing.
I'll be following along with your Cather reading.

tammikuu 6, 2020, 8:12pm

Light sounds intriguing and like something I’m going to like a lot.
Re Zola, the question really is why did I stop reading him. I really liked everything I’ve read by him. Then for some reason I just couldn’t get into The Masterpiece, surprising because I was really looking forward to Zola’s take on art. I set it aside and tried several times to start up again, and then one day I set it down, several years passed, and here we are. I’m hoping to read one Zola every other month or so.

tammikuu 6, 2020, 10:03pm

I'm another who will enjoy following your Cather reading. I've read quite a few of hers and just love them.

tammikuu 7, 2020, 7:29am

>17 arubabookwoman: I read The masterpiece recently, in my trip through Zola, and enjoyed it, although it’s a bit of an odd leap after Germinal (the more so since the protagonists of the two are brothers who seem unaware of each other’s existence...). It’s worth persevering with.

Let’s see if all three of us can get to Doctor Pascal this year!

tammikuu 7, 2020, 10:02am

Belated Happy New Year and happy reading in 2020.

tammikuu 9, 2020, 12:19am

>19 thorold: I do plan to persevere—hope those aren’t famous last words. Of the remaining volumes, I have previously read Earth, and I remember liking it almost as much as Germinal, so I’m looking forward to a reread.

tammikuu 16, 2020, 9:18am

>19 thorold: >21 arubabookwoman: A good resolution. It seems though that Doctor Pascal does not have a more current translation into English than 1957, so that may be tricky for some of us. I may have to put my ongoing French lessons into practice and see how long it takes me to get through! Otherwise I have been using mostly the more up to date Oxford translations.

>20 rocketjk: Happy reading to you too, wherever in the world it takes you.

tammikuu 16, 2020, 9:59am

Trying to adhere to my habit of a quick first read at the beginning of the year, I picked up this book at the library. Usually that first read is a mystery, but the boundaries of that definition seem to be shifting, so this year and last year the books didn't quite fit the bill, although they may have been described as such.

1. Cloud by Eric McCormack
first published 2014
finished reading January 7th, 2020

Cloud was a book that seemed to hold a lot of promise; a modern day gothic tale told by a man whose writing was compared on the back cover to Borges and Saki. Having read these latter two authors, as well as a previous book by McCormack, I knew this was overblown, but I had liked the previous book, so had hope.

The novel starts with a sort of prologue, involving the discovery of a nineteenth century book found in a second hand book store in Mexico. The book, The Obsidian Cloud was a collection of legends from an isolated Scottish mining town, Duncairn. Having spent a summer in the mining town in his youth, and had his heart broken there by the girl he considered his one true love, our protagonist bought the book and decided to send it off to a cultural centre in Glasgow to determine if there was any significance to the book.

Harry Steen then recounts his life and what brought him to Duncairn and Mexico, and so many more places in between. He also tells the developing story of the research into the old book. All starts off well enough, with descriptions of his early life in the slums of Glasgow in the 1930s and early WWII. As soon as Harry left home, however, and started to make his way in the world, things started to fall apart.

The mining town was in the moors. Cue Wuthering Heights. The love of his life lived in an isolated old stone home with her opium addicted father, who had come there to indulge his addiction in peace. McCormack often uses intertextuality in his writing, and sure enough, echoes of other books appear as our hero travels the world, everything from Lord Jim to The Island of Doctor Moreau.

His heart broken, Harry strikes out in the world, how else but by signing on as a deck hand on a freighter. In truth though, our hero is not a hero at all, but merely a sorry specimen who succeeds in spite of himself, mainly because he is spineless enough, and possibly lucky enough, to take direction from a dominant prospective employer, who sees in Harry a means to his own ends.

His travels now over, Harry moves to Canada to fulfill his destiny. All attempts at tension in the plot dissipated for me at this stage, as anyone familiar with a thinly disguised Kitchener - Waterloo would suffer a certain cognitive dissonance between the fictional menace of evil, and the environment of these two cities. Had Harry returned to Glasgow, the setting would have been much more conducive to such a plot.

All in all, an odd book. There is humour here, well-employed, for McCormack likes making use of the absurd. However, the promise of better that so often seemed to lie beneath the surface, never really materialized, and there was disappointment once again. As for the ending, the coincidence is just too unbelievable unless McCormack is trying to send up Dickens.

Having said all that, Cloud was published twelve years after McCormack's previous novel and after a period of life changes, so I will read another book by McCormack, hoping this one was just an aberration in his long writing career.

tammikuu 16, 2020, 7:03pm

Oh, sorry, you were disappointed with the first read of the year. Let's hope it only gets better.

tammikuu 19, 2020, 9:34am

Interesting, Sassy. 12 years seems like a long time for a book that maybe doesn’t work. Like Lois, hoping you have better reading down the road.

tammikuu 31, 2020, 12:55pm

Blue is definitely not the colour for me, and it startles me every time I open this page.

There is, however, blue I do like - something that has been obsessing me for months/years and taking up far too much reading time:

photo from The Independent

"Leave a light on..." Michael Russell

helmikuu 2, 2020, 5:56am

>26 SassyLassy: Moving to Scotland right now. I had the disorienting experience of entering the EU as a citizen on Friday and leaving it as a foreigner on Saturday.

helmikuu 2, 2020, 10:22am

>25 dchaikin: McCormack says he had a lot of upheaval in his life in the intervening 12 years, and found it difficult to settle into a writing rhythm.

>24 avaland: It does seem to be getting better, although I am behind already in reviews.

>27 haydninvienna: Disorientation indeed. Welcome to the thread and I hope this isn't just a metaphorical move.

helmikuu 2, 2020, 10:40am

This was my book club's choice for January. Despite my feeling about this particular book, I will finish the quartet.

2. Winter by Ali Smith
first published 2017
finished reading January 9, 2020

Winter was my second Ali Smith novel in as many months. The first was Autumn, which I truly liked. I had not read Smith before that, and was struck in both books by her exuberance around language, and her obvious love of its many complexities.

These are employed to the full in Winter. Without them, this would have been a rather dreary tale of a disconnected family, gathered together without celebration for Christmas. What the point of the story was, however, left me somewhat baffled. I found the symbolism of the young woman as Lux somewhat heavy handed. I picked up on the references to Brexit, to dissolution and breakdown, both political and personal, but there didn't seem to be a path forward, either positive or negative. It just was.

Winter perhaps can best be enjoyed like one of those songs whose lyrics (read storyline) don't mean much, but whose music (read rhythm and words) stays with you. Not well put, so in the words of The New Yorker's James Wood,
At times you have the suspicion that Smith needs her characters to play around with words like this because she doesn't know how to animate them as actual human beings, motivated by need rather than whimsy. January 29, 2018

Well said.


Wood's review:

helmikuu 3, 2020, 9:57am

Winter was a library book, so by the time I got around to writing about it, it was long gone, and I had lost any jottings I had made. Naturally I found them today. This one stands out, linking as it does that book and my post at >26 SassyLassy::

It isn't a good enough answer, that one group of people can be in charge of the destinies of another group of people and choose whether to exclude them or include them.
Ali Smith in Winter, p 206

helmikuu 4, 2020, 4:39am

>26 SassyLassy: Lovely Blue thread

helmikuu 4, 2020, 4:38pm

I was wondering if you might share a high-level mini-review of Journey by Moonlight. I read it two years ago, inspired by rebeccanyc. What did you think of it?

helmikuu 12, 2020, 12:44pm

>31 baswood: Here's hoping.

helmikuu 12, 2020, 1:04pm

>32 labfs39:

Well I had to stop and think about this - which reflects well on the book, thus precluding a glib answer. So, just a few thoughts:

First of all, I would definitely recommend Journey by Moonlight. While as you know, it is a book full of death and suicide (the latter a "national obsession" according to translator Len Rix), it escapes being dark, balanced as it is with the daily life of Mihály, Erzsi, and their world. There is a grounding there that prevents the novel from becoming some kind of gothic cognate.

Mihály is someone we all know: the eternal adolescent, clinging to a world he never wants to leave, a world where consequences can never be all that bad. Meanwhile, those who made up that world around him have moved on, each in their own way, knowing there is no way to alter the past. I thought Szerb wrote this all superbly without judgement, letting events unfold as they will. Mihály's world was still haphazard in the extreme, but that may be what would eventually save him.

This is a book I wish I had read for the first time when I was 17 or so. It would have made a very different impression then, but it would have been one of those books to return to every fifteen years or so. It's still that book, but the starting point is different.


About a month ago, I saw the film Don't Look Now. The Venetian setting and sense of dreamlike menace made me think of Mihály wandering the city, and I wondered if there were any film adaptations. I don't see any references to one.

Have you read any other of Szerb's works?

helmikuu 12, 2020, 1:41pm

My nearest town, population around 2,000, has three independent bookstores. Not only that, one of them even brings in not only NYRB classics, but also Icelandic authors. I wandered down there just after New Year's and came up with this next book.

3. Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Olafsdóttir translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon (2018)
first published as Ör in 2016
finished reading January 9, 2020

At first I thought I had stumbled upon an Icelandic version of A Man called Ove. Disappointment, and my new resolve to stop reading books that don't engage, threatened a quick end. Luckily, what appeared to be the path of least resistance won out, and I settled in. After all, a quick read on a stormy day didn't seem like such a bad thing.

It turned out that Auður Ava was carefully building her story, just as her protagonist Jónas Ebeneser was carefully trying to finish his. Leaving Iceland so that no one he knew would find his body after his planned suicide, he wound un in a far away war torn seaside town now experiencing a cease fire. The cab driver told him
Once there were ancient Roman ruins here, now it's just ruins... It will take us fifty years to build up the country again. The refugees won't come back while things are still a mess... And we don't get tourists anymore. We are no longer on the news. We are forgotten. We no longer exist.
The Hotel Silence was just the place.

So began a new life for Jónas in a new country starting its own new life. There is the discovery of new cultures on both sides, each so old but so different. Asked when the last war was in his country, Jónas replied "1238".

Each day he found a reason to delay his end. Slowly he began to find a way into this world. There are no guarantees here. Developers have moved in, paving over the past. People mourning their country and their past are forced to adapt to survive. Auður Ava is wise enough to make no promises for the future. As the ending shows, however, the past never leaves us, something borne out by the Icelandic title, which translates as Scars

helmikuu 12, 2020, 6:07pm

>35 SassyLassy: That sounds like one to look out for: I enjoyed Butterflies in November
>34 SassyLassy: I agree that Journey by moonlight is a book we should all have read when we were 17! What a shame Mr Rix didn’t come along a bit earlier... I’ve still got Szerb’s short stories on the TBR.

helmikuu 12, 2020, 6:38pm

>35 SassyLassy: I am so envious! Three independent bookstores. Sigh. I have lived on the Florida panhandle for the last 22 months (but who's counting), where there are no bookstores. I've felt like I've been living in Penelope Fitzgerald's novel, The Bookshop, where the people in the town don't want a bookstore. It's hard to imagine. Thankfully change is on the horizon, as I'm moving.

Hotel Silence sounds intriguing. Is the place where Jonas moves to named? I immediately thought of the Dalmatian coast.

>34 SassyLassy: As for Journey by Moonlight, I hadn't thought about the impression the book would have made on me at a younger age. Did you see it as a coming-of-age story? I reread my review of the book just now, and in it I mention parallels with The Divine Comedy. Dan and I were just talking about how one begins to see connections to one's reading everywhere, and he is currently seeing Dante in everything. Now I am too.

helmikuu 12, 2020, 6:39pm

P.S. I have The Pendragon Legend on my TBR.

helmikuu 13, 2020, 4:42am

>35 SassyLassy: you're very lucky to have so many bookshops near you. The village I live in has over 2,000 residents and it can barely keep a corner shop going.

helmikuu 13, 2020, 5:18am

>38 labfs39: The Pendragon legend is great fun, and a quick read. Quite different from Journey by moonlight.

helmikuu 19, 2020, 1:28pm

>35 SassyLassy: Ooo, she's a new Icelandic author for me. I just brought home the newest Olaf Olafsson, although I'm not sure when I will get to it. At the time I went to Iceland in 2010, there were still so few Icelandic authors translated. I had hoped to find more at a bookstore there, but there was nothing I hadn't seen before. Since then of course, there has been a great uptick of tourism in Iceland and with that an uptick of translations.

Hmm. Three independent bookstores in a town of 2,000 (all selling just new books?). Me thinks they are not in it for the money.

helmikuu 20, 2020, 9:39am

>36 thorold: I will be looking out for others by her.

>37 labfs39: The place in Hotel Silence is never mentioned, although like you, I immediately thought of the Dalmatian coast. Others have suggested Lebanon, but that didn't quite ring true with some of the details.

I read your review of Journey by Moonlight, as well as reviews by others in LT (after I did my own) and saw your mention of The Divine Comedy. The ideas of levels of states of being would certainly ring true here. I will be reading more Szerb, so will look for The Pendragon Legend, especially as >40 thorold: says it is great fun.

>39 AlisonY: >41 avaland: One of the bookstores is entirely second hand with some ephemera. It often doesn't open until after 20:00h, much to the confusion of tourists. One is mostly new. My favourite, which advertises itself as "Arguably one of the three best bookstores in" town, is maybe a 65:35 ratio of used to new, and has a great selection of nautical books. Here is a picture of it from a couple of years ago, with the recently much discussed on LT author John Lanchaster in view:

This is a wall of the used book section.

>41 avaland: Two of the three bookstores seem to be doing well; not sure about the quirky one, which I think is a labour of love.

I had an funny experience just before Labour Day. I was standing in line to pay with five books in my hands. Two people up from me was an American at the cash. She was asking how the bookstore ever stayed in business in the winter, or did it close, because obviously in her tourist eyes, nobody in a place like this would ever read - only tourists like her would keep them in business! The person at the till was making eye contact with me, smiling, as she reassured the tourist that indeed they were able to operate year round, and that there were local readers.

I think one of the reasons the two stores with new books on offer are successful is that a lot of readers here are stubborn enough to order from them instead of online, even if it is slightly more expensive. Also, the one with nautical books is trying to promote that as a specialty; not a bad idea in this shipbuilding town. If you've ever been to Dogtown Books in Gloucester MA (one of my favourites), the local store's used books' inventory seems like a smaller version (although I haven't been there since it changed hands in 2018, and suspect I would miss Bob).

helmikuu 20, 2020, 10:34am

>41 avaland: Bookstores are still a labor of love or a cause of some kind (perhaps both) and most owners are happy to end the year in the black, to be able to pay their bills and employees and maybe have a wee bit leftover. Jeff Bezos is laughing all the way to the bank, though.

I have not been to Dogtown Books, as I am rarely in the north-of-Boston 'burbs these days. We have four used bookstores north of us in and around a tiny college town about 45 minutes to an hour away. There is a nice restaurant there that overlooks the river and a "destination" quilt shop just down the street, so it's a nice outing once in a while.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 25, 2020, 10:39am

Yesterday I discovered le Cochon Bleu in Lectoure (South West France) which brilliantly combines two of my favourite pleasures in life eating(and drinking) and reading. We went there with some friends and while I was eating an excellent maigret de canard I was in touching distance of wonderful books. Heaven. We were invited and so our friends paid for the meal and I bought books for everyone.

helmikuu 23, 2020, 1:31pm

What a lovely place! And that sounds like a reasonable trade.

helmikuu 24, 2020, 9:27am

>44 baswood: I'd take you out to lunch there any day! What a lovely looking bookstore. When are you going back?
I see colour is creeping into the spines on the books. Are those imports or is the industry changing?

helmikuu 24, 2020, 9:44am

This book was found in a tidyup. At first I had no idea where it had come from. Then I realized it belonged to a friend, so since I was going to the city to visit her, I read it before taking it back.

4. The Breakdown by B A Paris
first published 2017
finished reading January 18, 2020

What would you do if on a dark rainy night on a lonely wooded road you saw a car pulled over on the side, with a solitary driver at the wheel? Cass pulled over in front of the parked vehicle to help. After all, it was a quiet road known only to locals. However, unable to clearly see the driver through the rain streaked windows, she reconsidered, pulled back out and drove home.

Next day, it was announced that a murder victim had been discovered in that spot. Cass's first thought was guilt - she could have helped. Then guilt turned to fear. What if the murderer had seen her and would now come after her? Hadn't the time of her stop coincided with the time frame given by police? Turns out Cass even actually knew the victim, making her feel even worse.

This is just the beginning. The rest of the novel is devoted to the aftermath for Cass and finding the murderer, also told from her perspective. Paris has thrown in a few contemporary devices to pad out the process. At the time of the murder, Cass was on bereavement and stress leave following her mother's untimely death from complications arising from early onset dementia. Could Cass be suffering from the same disease? Is that why she feels so unfocussed and forgetful?

It's all a pretty thin peg on which to hang a plot. Part of the solution seemed apparent by page 17. Giving some credit to the author though, she did manage to portray Cass's fears and behaviour in a believable and sympathetic way.

Not a book I would recommend, but it worked as an escape on a stormy day. Turns out my friend felt the same way. It had been on her discard pile and was returned there.

helmikuu 24, 2020, 10:19am

Another book from another friend - I just may have to get my own copy.

5. Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively
first published 2017
finished reading January 27, 2020

Penelope Lively is one of those authors I've always meant to read. It seemed odd, however, to start with Life in the Garden, as the author looked back over her eighty plus years, her life in both metaphorical literary gardens and in real gardens. Even if you don't garden yourself, if you think your life has nothing to do with such things, just think of all those gardens you've read of, from Peter Rabbit, through Alice in Wonderland to My Antonia and Zola's The Sin of Abbé Mouret. Gardens are at the heart of these books; they couldn't have been written without them.

When Lively said in her introduction, right there on page 1,
"I always pay attention when a writer conjures up a garden, when gardening becomes an element of fiction. I find myself wondering what is going on here. Is this garden deliberate or merely fortuitous? And it is nearly always deliberate, a garden contrived to serve a narrative process, to create atmosphere, to furnish a character.
I perked right up, for this is exactly how I feel.

Lively jumped right in with Virginia Woolf:
' her fiction, gardens and plants are manipulated, reinvented, bent to the purpose of the narrative in question. This happens time and again... in different hands; the fictional garden will have roots in its creator's own experience, but on the page it becomes a metaphor.

Children who are read to and read are introduced to the garden early, as a place not only of magic and wonder, but also as a narrative of life through fable. Not only the books above, but others like The Secret Garden and Tom's Midnight Garden are singled out as examples over the generations. With books like these in mind, Lively quotes Auden writing on Alice in Wonderland:
There are good books which are only for adults, because their comprehension presupposes adult experiences, but there are no good books which are only for children.

Turning to actual gardens, Lively takes on the "fashionable garden" devoting a full chapter to it. As she says "By their gardens ye shall know them". Mansfield Park makes an appearance here, as once again a character is revealed through his comments on a garden. Moving from fashion to style as a social indicator, she delves into The Age of Innocence.

There's a lot more here for people who love gardens and/or gardening, including a bit on one of my favourite topics with which to bore my city friends: the difficulties of rural gardening versus urban gardening.

Lively of course was privileged to have grown up in lovely gardens, and to always have been lucky enough to be able to pursue her interest in her own succession of gardens. She herself acknowledges this. However, she is not about to let the idea of the garden disappear in an increasingly urbanized world. She cites a horrifying incident from her children's book writing years when "... politically correct children's book editors reminded authors sternly that a garden is not an appropriate feature in a children's book, on the grounds that most - or many - children don't have one, forgetting that we read to escape and expand our circumstances, not to replicate them."

At the end of this book, I was left wondering, as fewer and fewer people have an acquaintance with gardens, let alone the natural world, how will these books be read and interpreted in the future? Will their meaning be lost? What happens if Candide stops cultivating the garden in all its senses?

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 24, 2020, 2:43pm

>48 SassyLassy: It took Candide some time to discover his garden. Some people never get out of their gardens. Sound like you enjoyed the Penelope Lively book.

>46 SassyLassy: Most of the spines of French books are white or of one colour - I am thinking of sandstone (I don't know what the official colour for Gallimard is) the red flashes usually indicate a prize winner or a scholars edition.
However most science fiction and crime novels are multicoloured and so you can tell at a glance where they are kept. I am just starting to enjoy myself in French bookshops, but I have little knowledge of the publishing houses. I am sure some people on these threads know a lit more than I do.

The books I bought for myself were:
La Petite Bijou by Patrick Modiano
En attendant Bojangles by Olivier Bourdeaut

helmikuu 25, 2020, 5:24am

I am not surprised you would be interested in Penelope Lively, and I would be very interested myself to read Life in the Garden.

I don't know whether this essay is included in that book but otherwise you might like reading Lively's essay on Virginia Woolf and gardens "Penelope Lively on Virginia Woolf: Serious Gardener?
On the Rich Landscapes of To the Lighthouse and "Kew Gardens", the link to which I posted on the MESSAGE BOARD last week (message #21).

Just ten days ago, I finished reading her autobiographical book A House Unlocked, published in 2001, which also has three chapters on nature and gardening.

helmikuu 25, 2020, 1:32pm

>29 SassyLassy: Wood - phew. He kind of spoils the fun with that sharp comment. He’s spot on

>47 SassyLassy: so, of course with that opening I’m thinking Dante. Sorry...

>48 SassyLassy: wonderful review. You might have sold me on this book. I’m already rethinking The Professor’s House - since the professor cares quite passionately for a garden.

helmikuu 27, 2020, 12:13am

>48 SassyLassy: What makes you say that gardening is declining. That certainly isn't so in my neck of the woods. More people in my acquaintanceship are gardening than ever before. Some of them are nearly boring about their gardens. There are more books, more gardens, more time in the garden. I was dragged to a nursery by a friend yesterday, to buy some plants, some seeds, and some attractive pots. Two of my sons are deeply into it, my husband, and one daughter.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 28, 2020, 2:31pm

>48 SassyLassy: Life in the garden is definitely a book bullet. I'm hoping it will get a little warmer here tomorrow so I can get outside in my yard. Hoping I can at least get some herbs planted this year. It's been awhile since I've tried a garden.

huhtikuu 5, 2020, 7:16am

Where are you? Are you well? Just checking, it's been a while since you have posted....

huhtikuu 18, 2020, 1:52pm

>54 avaland: Thanks - see PM

huhtikuu 18, 2020, 1:54pm

Well it is a while since I posted. This next is out of order, but since I posted it for the Reading Globally South Africa quarter, I thought I would post it here too.

13.Praying Mantis by André Brink
first published 2005
finished reading April 16, 2020

Cupido Cockroach did not have a father. His mother had told him many stories about how he came to be. Cupido's favourite was of an eagle swooping down to pick him up from the veld where he had been left to die, only to be flown in the eagle's beak untold miles before being dropped in the lap of the sleeping woman who would become his mother.

This eagle was not the only animal to feature in Cupido's history. That very night, the child died, and was laid out to be buried the next morning. When the hung-over villagers arrived to bury him, they saw a bright green mantis praying over the body, restoring him to life. Clearly, this child was destined for a life that would take him far beyond this farm. As his mother said, "If you ask me, he has been chosen to become a man like no other... he will be a free man."

The year was 1760 and freedom was not a likely proposition for this child of a Hottentot labourer. Cupido's childhood and adolescence did not offer much hope of fulfillment for his mother's prophecy. While he was bright and ambitious, he was not at all diligent, preferring instead to pursue those things which interested him. When Cupido was about seventeen, an itinerant pedlar turned up on the farm. Like Cupido's now disappeared mother, Servaas Ziervogel was a teller of tales and a singer, but this man's tales came from something called the Gospel. There were other stories too, of lands far beyond the horizon, places with strange and unusual names like Damascus, Vladivostock and even Pluto. Cupido absorbed them all. It was a time of learning. Ziervogel taught him to read, but also gave him a taste for arrack, women, and fighting.

Eventually the two parted amicably. Cupido wooed and won the indomitable Anna Vigilant. Anna believed true freedom was only given to white people. A soap-maker, her desire to be free had led her to put her foot in the boiling lye in an effort to whiten herself, as her soap whitened everything else. She was left lame for life. She was also left with a strong distaste for the ways of the white people, especially when it came to their religion. Cupido, on the other hand, felt its pull and succumbed.

Brink has used a straightforward narrative up to this point. Part II, covering the years 1802-1815, switches format and perspective. It purports to be written retrospectively in memoir form by the disgraced Reverend James Read. It is set against a warring background between English and Dutch for control of South Africa. It depicts more immediately the struggle for domination of all around them, be it land, animals, or souls. Read is unusual in his sympathies for, and belief in, the indigenous peoples. He happily took on Cupido as a protégé. Learning in turn from Cupido, Read developed in his mind an almost mystical feeling for the land. Travelling with Cupido, he
came to see it through our brother's eyes and be made aware of the manifold minutiae in which life can express itself: an ever renewed discovery of riches in indigenous peoples, animals, birds, insects, plants, even rocks and stones.

While continuing with some of Cupido's more extreme eccentricities, this section introduces hard reality. Brink, through Read, does not hold back on the treatment of the indigenous peoples by the Europeans.

Read's summary ended with the year 1815. Part III returns to the narrative structure of Part I. Cupido was now far in the outback, in an area prone to drought. Quoting Deuteronomy, Brink says "He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness." Like many before him, Cupido was being tested in the desert by his faith. The question for him was which faith: the animist ones of the people, or the new ones brought by the Europeans.

Although Praying Mantis deals with questions of belief, it is not a book with an obtrusive religious message. Rather, it takes the reader back to a time when two groups of peoples came together with very different ideas of the world. How were new ideas to be reconciled with existing ones, or was reconciliation even possible?; would cultural clashes and their resulting wars ever be resolved?

In a note at the end of the novel, Brink suggests he may have had difficulty writing it. He started it in 1984, stopped, started again in 1992. However, it was not until 2004 that he actually finished it, after resolving to write a book for his 70th birthday. What precipitated the fits and starts he doesn't say. He does say though that Cupido Cockroach was a real person, Cupido Kakkerlak, whose story appears from time to time in records of the London Missionary Society in South Africa, and also in academic journals. Reverend Read and many others of the characters are also based on real people. Knowing this made Cupido's faults and struggles, his drive and determination, credible in a way they might not otherwise have been. As Brink says "... the enigma of another's life can only be grasped through the imagination (which is no less reliable than memory)."

huhtikuu 18, 2020, 3:43pm

Great review of Praying Mantis, Sassy! It sounds very intreresting, so I'll add it to my wish iist.

huhtikuu 19, 2020, 4:29am

Enjoyed your review of Praying Mantis

huhtikuu 19, 2020, 7:01am

>56 SassyLassy: How interesting. And it reminds me I have one or two of Brink's work unread on the shelf (from back when I was heavily reading African lit).

huhtikuu 28, 2020, 1:04pm

>57 kidzdoc: >58 baswood: >59 avaland: Thanks all. It was quite a change from the other Brink I've read: The Wall of the Plague, so it wasn't what I was expecting. It worked out well though.

huhtikuu 28, 2020, 1:19pm

It’s a terrific review, and interesting that it was on real characters. South Africa has such a fascinating history.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 28, 2020, 1:55pm

Although read in February, early in the year, this may well be one of my favourite books of the year. Living a two day sail away from Cape Cod, in a place very similar to that described by Beston, one where the shoreline can be a daily walk, his descriptions really spoke to me, and so I have quoted him perhaps more that I should, as his writing gives such a marvellous sense of this stretch of ocean.

6. The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston
first published 1928
finished reading February 6, 2020

One hundred years ago Cape Cod was a very different place than the busy area it is today. In 1924, when Henry Beston first saw the ocean side of the peninsula wrapping Cape Cod Bay, it was a wild and uninhabited place. As Beston described it For twenty miles this last and outer earth faces the ever hostile ocean in the form of a great eroded cliff of earth and clay, the undulations and levels of whose rim now stand a hundred, now a hundred and fifty feet above the tides. Worn by the breakers and the waves, it still stands bold."

The immediate attraction and pull of the shoreline was such that the next year he bought fifty acres of dunes, and built himself the Fo'castle, a 20' x 16' two room cottage. There was no road in, only a trail. The closest neighbours were the coast guards at the Nauset station two miles away. In September 1926, Beston went to his cottage for a couple of weeks. Somehow, without any real plan, the two weeks lengthened into a year. As Beston put it,
... as the year lengthened into autumn, the beauty and mystery of this earth and outer sea so possessed and held me that I could not go ... The flux and reflux of ocean, the incomings of waves, the gatherings of birds, the pilgrimages of the peoples of the sea, winter and storm, the splendour of autumn and the holiness of the spring - all these were part of the great beach. The longer I stayed the more eager I was to know this coast and to share its mysterious and elemental life.

So began a remarkable immersion year in the natural world. Beston's observations and writing are such that the reader hears the sea, smells the salt, feels the wind the sun and the rain. Bird populations change with the season, so prevalent in spring and fall, almost absent in winter apart from the eternal gulls. Beaton is able to put all these natural phenomena into words. Speaking of the ocean, he said
The sea has many voices. Listen to the surf, really lend it your ears, and you will hear in it a world of sounds: hollow boomings and heavy roarings, great watery tumblings and tramplings, long hissing seethes, sharp, rifle-shot reports, splashes, whispers, the grinding undertone of stones, and sometimes vocal sounds that might be the voices of people in the sea. And not only is the great sound varied in the manner of its making, it is also constantly changing its tempo, its pitch, its accent and its rhythm, being now loud and thundering, now almost placid, now furious, now grave and solemn-slow, now a simple measure, now a rhythm monstrous and with a sense of elemental will.
This will is dangerous at times. Fishing schooners wash ashore. That winter even a Coast Guard vessel was destroyed. Wreckage from previous disasters lies entombed in the constantly shifting sand. "Eighteenth century pirates, stately British merchantmen of the mid-Victorian years, whaling brigs, Salem East India traders, Gloucester fishermen, and a whole host of forgotten Nineteenth Century schooners -- all these have strewn this beach with broken spars and dead. Although this book covers only the one year, there is a remarkable sense of the eternal cycle of the seasons, of the paradox of repeating patterns coupled with constant change. There is a reassurance in these rituals, something that those who live by the ocean recognize, if only subconsciously, something that keeps bringing them back.

Beston's writing is still as fresh today as when his book was first published in 1928. This edition was a 75th anniversary publication. As for the Fo'castle, Beston donated it to the Massachusetts Audubon Society in 1960. It was swept out to sea in February 1978 in a huge storm. Beston's dunes survive, however, in the Cape Cod National Seashore, the creation of which was partly inspired by his writing.

huhtikuu 28, 2020, 2:14pm

the Fo'castle
image from Harvard Magazine

the end of the Fo'Castle
image from Digital Commonwealth

huhtikuu 28, 2020, 2:19pm

Oh that sounds fabulous. Sure to give me dangerous wanderlust.

toukokuu 2, 2020, 3:30am

I can smell the sea

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 2, 2020, 3:41am

>62 SassyLassy: loved that, I'm at our bit of sea most days now and will listen afresh - in feb we had strange calm, calmer than I've ever known, v. spooky (at night under a full moon in a haven I've heard witches associated with (as a kid))-- but it soon got back to normal. We have big beaches too, I'm guessing not as big.

kesäkuu 18, 2020, 8:00pm

A big leap ahead from book number 6 to 21. I wanted to get it in during the Reading Globally's second quarter.

21. In a Strange Room: Three Journeys by Damon Galgut
first published 2010
finished reading June 12, 2020

Two men, travelling in opposite directions, met each other on the road between Mycenae and Sparta. They chatted a few minutes as walkers on an empty trail do, and then each continued on his way. That night, the unnamed South African found the German, Reiner, in his room at the hostel. They spent two days together before continuing on their separate journeys.

They wrote each other for the next two years, and then decided to embark on a walking trip together. Lesotho was the country chosen. In this first of the three recorded journeys, the narrator, whom we come to know as Damon, is young, unsure of himself. For this journey, he calls himself 'The Follower'. As they walked, Reiner took more and more control of the trip, slowly and oh so assuredly. Damon, furious, repressed his growing rage. Can there be conflict if one side refuses to engage? "... in the end you are always more tormented by what you didn't do than what you did, actions already performed can always be rationalized in time, the neglected deed might have changed the world.".

A few years went by and a more mature, more assured Damon was now travelling in Zimbabwe, but still just as lonely. This trip was more promising, but there was a restlessness, a constant need to move on. Zambia, Malawi, small groups of travellers forming and reforming. "It's all touching and happy, but he's the odd one out here, he keeps a distance between himself and them, no matter how friendly they are." He is, after all, South African, and they all know how messed up that is.

Like the first journey, this trip offers promise, so much so that looking back, Damon will eventually see himself as 'The Lover.' He eventually found a trio with whom to travel: Swiss twins and an older French man. Here too though nothing can be said directly. The limitation this time was language. Damon could never speak directly to Jerome. His words were always translated and mediated through the French man. Once again there is the matter of external control as the older man only once left Damon and Jerome alone together. Damon, still suffering from paralyzing self doubt, could not overcome his fear of forming any kind of bond. In Tanzania, the trio invited him to Greece. "He shakes his head, his voice won't work properly. 'I must go back.' "

Arrangements were made for the future; "There is always another time, next month, next year, when things will be different."

By the time Damon embarked on his third journey, he was middle-aged. Over the years his travel pattern had changed: less restless, more focussed. However, for a man like Damon, this presented a new problem, that of forming connections with people and places he had visited before. This time he was travelling back to India, in the role of 'The Guardian'. His companion was a good friend, Anna, taking a time-out from her lover and her job. Damon knew of her mental health problems, knew he was to keep her on track with medications and away from alcohol and recreational drugs. What he was not prepared for was full blown psychosis and India's health care system. Rage once more, confrontation. Another parting, more letters.

Galgut's writing is powerful. The reader sees Damon through both his own narrative voice and that of Damon writing as a third person narrator, sometimes using present tense, sometime past. Over time, this allows Damon to grow and mature. His decisions and actions may not always be those a particular reader would choose. Some will be frustrated with him. Despite that, In a Strange Room is nevertheless compelling reading. All readers can recognize Damon's lament: "... in the end you are always more tormented by what you didn't do than what you did..."

kesäkuu 20, 2020, 5:51pm

It doesn't sound much like your average travel book or travel memoirs.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 21, 2020, 8:48am

>62 SassyLassy: Beston's book is much-loved in New England., although I might find it a bit sad now. The Cape is not the cape of 100, even 40, years ago. It has gone the way of much of the Maine coast, too...

>67 SassyLassy: I read this! Read quite a bit of Galgut. I wonder why I didn't review it.

heinäkuu 6, 2020, 4:59pm

>69 avaland: I love that coast, which extends right up to here and beyond. Here it is perhaps a bit more like the Cape of 40 years ago.

I can see why you read Galgut. Thanks to you I have more of him on my TBR. The one above though I found locally.

heinäkuu 6, 2020, 5:02pm

cross posted from Reading Globally

17. Rumours of Rain by André Brink
first published 1978
finished reading May 18, 2020

Many of us have met a man like Martin Mynhardt: white, middle-aged, fit, educated, cultured, powerful, charming but only when required. There's an elegant wife and a series of quiet affairs. After all, a person married to him would expect such a thing wouldn't she? Men like this never question their progress through life - it is the natural and deserved course of things. However, if the gods are paying attention, there will be a rare crashing comeuppance for the Martins of the world, unforseen and unexpected.

It was 1976. Mynhardt had just flown to London from Johannesburg to make a presentation to an international group of mining executives. When an embarrassing statement by a member of his group resulted in the withdrawal of his delegation, he decided not to return home, but rather to stay on in London until his meeting in Tokyo the next week. He would write the story of his 45 years, leading up to this week.

Martin started out ever so self assured, in keeping with the certainty which guides the lives of those of his ilk. There were self congratulations for the progress he felt he had made from Afrikaans farm boy to pillar of industry. He congratulated himself on his company's efforts at integration, never realizing the sheer tokenism it represented.

Over the course of the week, uncertainty started to creep into his account. Land deals, politics, his best friend's "desertion" to the anti-apartheid movement, his son's radicalization after being sent to fight in Angola: all were questioned and rationalized, for Martin was a man for whom certainty in thought and deed was paramount. In the midst of all this, there had been a crisis with his widowed mother on her farm. Why would she just not fall in with Martin's pre-arranged plans?

Perhaps there are a few too many "types" here that appear in a number of South African books from this era. They may have been necessary at the time though for a reading public outside South Africa. Brink has written a masterful portrayal of a man completely out of touch with the world around him, and suddenly coming to realize it. If Brink had not allowed Mynhardt to reveal himself so well, it might almost have been possible to feel sympathy with him and his final plea: I've tried so hard, I've acted with the best of intentions. I've tried to remain loyal to the simple fact of my being here and the need to survive. Isn't that enough? However, this is a man who gave no quarter, and consistent with his own philosophy, none should be given to him.


Short listed for the 1978 Booker Prize, which was won by Iris Murdoch for The Sea, The Sea

heinäkuu 6, 2020, 5:58pm

>67 SassyLassy: I'm a Galgut fan too, and really enjoyed this one. I think I've read 3 of his novels now, 2 of which I really liked, but one completely bombed for me (The Imposter).

heinäkuu 6, 2020, 7:41pm

>67 SassyLassy: The Galgut sounds really interesting—I'm not familiar with it, but the name is familiar.

syyskuu 7, 2020, 3:13pm

Skipping around my reading order once more.

This book was purchased at the last minute for a book club read. I am only sorry that delays on the actual day meant I didn't get to the (outdoor socially distanced) meeting, as it would have been lively indeed.

25. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
first published 1929
finished reading July 10, 2020

Many people are familiar with Virginia Woolf's dictum that what a woman needs to write fiction is a room of her own. However, many don't realize that this was only half of Woolf's pronouncement, which was in fact "...a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction". "Money", which came first, was quantified as £500 pa.

A Room of One's Own is actually an essay based on papers Woolf delivered to women at Newnham and Girton colleges, Cambridge, in 1928, in response to their request to her to speak on women and fiction. Her audience was a somewhat unconventional one by the standards of the day, well off and 'well brought up', but differing from their peers in that they, unusually for their time, had chosen university and study for at least a while, rather than the more usual and accepted path of marriage and family.

Just because they were at Cambridge though, did not mean they had all the rights and privileges of their male counterparts. Woolf recounted for them how she had been shooed off the grass before being turned away from the university's main library by a "...deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction."

She discussed for her audience the gold and silver poured into the men's Oxbridge colleges over the centuries, first by the Church, then by lords and kings, then by industrialist and politicians, a changing stream of donors, but one which never ran dry. In contrast to this was the struggle of the 1870s to amass a mere £30,000 to endow a single women's college. How was it that women had no money of their own to contribute to such a cause? And so her proposition that
If only Mrs Seton and her mother and her mother before her had learnt the great art of making money and had left their money, like their fathers and grandfathers before them, to found fellowships and lectureships and prizes and scholarships appropriated to the use of their own sex, we might... have looked forward ... to a pleasant and honourable lifetime spent in the shelter of one of the liberally endowed professions.
But then the snag arose of how was Mrs Seton to produce the next generation of women; yet something else to be worked out. All this led to the question of "...what effect wealth has on the mind."

Woolf went on to expound on women and the changing circumstances of their writing environments: their dearth of worldly experience, time, and solitude to develop their writing, circling back to her imperative "five hundred pounds a year and a room of one's own". Virginia was not the first to come up with this idea. In 1875, Anne Jemima Clough had told potential donors to the college
How much more effectually, and with how much less mental strain, a woman can study, where all the arrangements of the house are made to suit the hours of study, – where she can have undisturbed possession of one room, – and where she can have access to any books that she may need. How very rarely, – if ever, – these advantages can be secured in any home we all know, and it is surely worth some sacrifice on the part of parents to obtain them for their daughters at the age when they are best fitted to profit by them to the utmost.” *

Whatever its echoes of class and elites, it's been a long time since a book fired me up like this. Had I read it in my teens, I would have been insufferable, lecturing all in the vicinity, listening or not, on Woolf's ideas. Today I can accept them as one part only of an ongoing struggle for women, but that takes nothing whatsoever away from the quality of her writing and expression.



syyskuu 7, 2020, 3:49pm

Meanwhile in another part of the forest, still 1929, a completely different world and a completely different book. It was sheer coincidence that these two books were read back to back.

26. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin translated from the German by Michael Hofmann (2018)
first published as Berlin Alexanderplatz in 1929
finished reading July 20, 2020

There's not much to like about Franz Biberkopf: former transport worker, housebreaker, pimp, manslaughterer. However, rather than evil personified our protagonist is a kind of Everyman after the Fall.

Berlin in 1928 was not an easy place for such as he. Fresh out of prison when first we meet him, Franz was faced with making his way in a city where no one cared about him or for him. Berlin itself is such an overpowering force in the novel that it becomes a character in its own right: seedy, pushy, never sleeping, always on edge. That's not far from what Franz must become to make his way in such an environment. Initially full of resolve to go straight, bit by bit he slipped further into the quagmire. He knew this was the fate of people like him, just not how that fate would be dealt:
We can predict what a pig will do when it reaches the sty. Only, a pig is better off than a human being, because it's put together from meat and lard and not much more can happen to it as long as it gets enough to eat: at most it might throw another litter, and at the end of its life there's the knife, which isn't particularly bad or upsetting either: before it notices anything - and what does a pig notice anyway - it's already kaput. Whereas a man, he's got eyes, and there's a lot going on inside him, and all of it mixed together: he's capable of thinking God knows what and he will think (his head is terrible) about what will happen to him.
This is an unusual novel, jumping from place to place, thought to thought, much like life itself. In his Afterword, the translator Michael Hofmann calls it jazz,
"... the real thing: weather reports, articles on nutrition, local news items, personal interest stories, letters from patients, all incorporated into the novel....The work-in-progress of the book matched the work- in- progress of the city... with its own duckboards and drillings and tunnellings and detours and demolitions and temporary closures and promised improvements.

Doblin was a psychiatrist with a working class caseload who knew Berliners well. His Berlin backdrop and its downtrodden citizens make it apparent that something must happen, that the city and by extension the country couldn't continue grinding its citizens up in the way his occasional abattoir reports reflected the fate of its four-legged animals. Franz and his friends may not have been able to articulate the political theories circulating at the time, but they knew each promised a better life. Where was it?

Berlin has another incarnation in this novel: the temptress, the great Whore of Babylon, deceiving people again and again. It would take much stronger characters than Franz's crew to resist and go straight. Yet in the end, Franz offers hope for redemption, something so many would be denied. Doblin himself knew better that to trust her, and left Berlin after the 1933 Reichstag fire.


A note on translation: Althought the back cover of this 2018 nyrb classics edition suggests this is the first translation into English ("In Michael Hofmann's extraordinary new translation, Alfred Doblin's masterpiece lives in English for the first time") there was in fact a 1931 translation by Eugene Jolas which Hofmann praises in his Afterword.

syyskuu 8, 2020, 7:54am

>74 SassyLassy: I enjoyed your review. I've not read this book by Woolf, so I really enjoyed the quotes and background to how it came about.

syyskuu 8, 2020, 4:32pm

>74 SassyLassy:.a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction". "Money", which came first, was quantified as £500 pa.

I had not heard the full quote. A room of her own does not mean "alone"?

syyskuu 9, 2020, 10:11am

>76 AlisonY: For some reason I was reluctant to read this book, thinking it would be dull indeed. I think I only gave in based on the promise of actually seeing real people at the book club meeting, but I am so glad I did read it.

>77 baswood: The room of her own doesn't mean living alone, but rather having a place to which one can go and be alone, safe from interruption and the cares of everyday life. A cynical part of me wonders if you couldn't live alone on that amount, even at that time, and have the mundane details of life taken care of by other without some additional financial input from a partner, and so Woolf didn't go so far as to call for "alone.

She did spend time discussing the circumstances of authors like Jane Austen, who wrote in the sitting room used by the whole family, and had to hide her work under the blotter each time someone came in - not exactly conducive to output, and Woolf muses about what she might have been able to write under more conducive circumstances. She contrasted this with George Eliot who had time and solitude indeed, as living in an unmarried relationship, she did not have the stream of callers that would have interrupted her day.

Virginia and Leonard had the country home in Sussex where Virginia had a shed built for her own writing, but also had a Bloomsbury flat until it was bombed during WWII. Wherever they were, it appears they followed a schedule of going to their separate work spaces in mid morning and writing there for several hours, eleven months of the year.

portrait of Virginia by Vanessa Bell, her sister

Virginia's writing shed

images from Principata scuolo

syyskuu 9, 2020, 10:50am

That's a nice shed.

syyskuu 9, 2020, 12:14pm

>79 RidgewayGirl: Ah sheds. This one was actually more basic when built, without heat or electricity. Apparently the brick seating area was added later as well.
I do love a good shed and in the part of the world where I live now 'bildins' are highly prized for their various uses. It is not unusual to see a property with several outbuildings in different shapes and sizes - not to be confused in the least with farm buildings. Down where you are, they could be used year round - a real bonus.

syyskuu 9, 2020, 12:25pm

I visited Monk's House in 2012 — it's run by the National Trust. Not a luxurious country house (like Vanessa's place down the road) but a real pokey little 16th century cottage, albeit one with various add-ons and a generously sized garden. She would certainly have needed that shed to escape to if the place was full of guests.

The Desk — as reconstructed by the NT:

syyskuu 9, 2020, 1:08pm

Here's a book that didn't even make it to the TBR pile. It's no secret Wilkie Collins is one of my favourite authors, but his books can be hard to find. When I discovered this one in a combination chocolaterie/ second hand bookstore, wiith a great collection of nineteenth century classics, I jumped. I didn't pass up the chocolate either.

27. The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins
first published in serial form in the Graphic from September 1874 to March 1875, then published in novel form in 3 volumes, 1875
finished reading July 26, 2020

It's unfortunate that Wilkie Collins doesn't get much attention these days, for unusually among male Victorian writers, his female characters often illustrate an injustice in society, frequently in the way they are treated in law. The Law and the Lady differs somewhat from those novels, in that here it is a man who has suffered the perceived injustice at law, but his wife who will seek to correct it.

I use 'perceived' here as the law in question is Scots law, with its additional verdict of 'Not Proven', generally taken to mean that the jury cannot in all conscience declare the defendant innocent, but on the other hand the prosecution has not presented enough evidence to prove guilt. The defendant is set free, but naturally a taint of suspicion trails after him or her for life. Collins's protagonist, Valeria Woodville, being English, is unable to accept the validity of such a verdict. She called it cowardly, vowing to "...change that underhand Scotch Verdict of Not Proven into an honest English verdict of Not Guilty"*

The Law and the Lady is a detective novel at heart, a format at which Collins excelled. It is narrated by Valeria. Without giving too much away, it starts with Valieria's marriage to Eustace Woodville, following a brief courtship. It soon became evident that her husband had a secret past. Once Valeria discovered what it was, her husband left, telling her it was the only honourable solution. Determined to appeal the verdict at the heart of it all, Valeria set out to discover everything she could surrounding the trial.

Detectives were a new occupation in 1875, and female detectives were almost nonexistent. Valeria took on the role with all the zest and bravado Collins bestowed on his unconventional women. Her interviews and research, let alone her visits to Scotland, show just how hard it was for a female to get anywhere without a protector or intervenor. Although willing to defy convention Valeria soon realized she must make use of every male connection available to further her cause. Here is a woman who knew how to use social expectations to her own ends, often prevailing on men to help her against their own inclinations.

Amongst these was Miserrimus Dexter. Hideously deformed, brilliant, by turns completely rational and horrifyingly unpredictable, he is crucial to Valeria's quest. His condition and the discussions around it provide not only suspense, but also an insight into Victorian ideas on 'madness' and disability.

Was Eustace worth all this? Probably not. Although presented as an honourable man throughout, this is after all his wife narrating, nonetheless he egregiously decieved her before and after marriage by what could be seen as a sin of omission rather than one of commission. Secrecy and repression are another recurring theme here with Collins, through Valeria clearly advocating for openness, since misunderstanding and worse are otherwise their only outcome. The nature of marriage, property and what constitutes marriage, frequent Collins themes, are all seen from this view.

The pacing here was excellent. Even if some of the scenes were predictable, others were not, and all displayed the writer's skill. Unfortunately the ending was a nod to Victorian convention. It's possible Collins couldn't get the novel published without it, as he had already had to fight to keep in a crucial chapter his publishers considered salacious. Still, the ending is ambiguous enough: "Not as I thought it would end, not perhaps as you thought it would end" to offer possibilities.

*emphasis mine

syyskuu 9, 2020, 1:10pm

>81 thorold: Certainly a place set up for serious work, no distractions there. I would love to see some of these places. The garden would be a bonus.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 9, 2020, 10:03pm

>82 SassyLassy: I love Wilkie Collins too.

syyskuu 25, 2020, 4:30am

>82 SassyLassy: A chocolaterie / second-hand bookshop is a dream combo! Just add cats, and I'd happily move in... Where is that wondrous place?

syyskuu 27, 2020, 8:05pm

Re: A Room of Her Own & Woolf

I'm surprised you hadn't read that just because I think of you as someone who has ready absolutely everything. I studied it in two university classes so it has a special place in my heart. I also made an altered-book homage, so I had fun scouring it for images.

I read somewhere what the 500 pounds translates into in today's money. I think it was something like $30 thousand US dollars, but don't quote me. I'm sure it's buried in my notes somewhere.

syyskuu 29, 2020, 1:11pm

>86 Nickelini: Too funny

Actually for many years A Room of One's Own was high on my completely arbitrary avoidance list, along with Beowulf.
My book club here has actually had me read both to my great enjoyment. Who knows what else will come off the list?

I found a site which I have now lost (buried in my notes like yours) which calculated the 500 pounds into around 30,000 pounds today, adding you could live reasonably on it as a single person outside urban centres.

>85 Dilara86:
The view in the photo is the view from the deck where I stayed.

syyskuu 29, 2020, 2:46pm

>87 SassyLassy: I'm just visualising Virginia Woolf as Grendel's mother...

syyskuu 29, 2020, 8:17pm

>87 SassyLassy: found a site which I have now lost (buried in my notes like yours) which calculated the 500 pounds into around 30,000 pounds today, adding you could live reasonably on it as a single person outside urban centres.

Ah, we probably saw the same sight and I misremembered it as US $ instead of pounds. Pounds makes it more doable.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 29, 2020, 9:06pm

google has £500 (1929 pounds) as just under £32,000 today which would be about $41,000 USD. Probably couldn't afford enjoy living in NYC or London, but Chicago or Toronto would be livable.

lokakuu 3, 2020, 8:55am

>71 SassyLassy: That's an insightful review of the Andre Brink, a book I haven't read, although I have read some of his work.

>74 SassyLassy: It's been years (likely decades now) since I read A Room of One's Own. The revisit through your review was delicious, thanks.

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 5, 2020, 1:02pm

Did she offer any ideas as to how writers could get their mitts on the then £500? Nowadays I'm thinking a job (less easy for women then of course, never mind at that pay grade, even now £32000 is over average income) - but such a job would impact writing time and energy. Then also writing pays so little (now, mostly). But I do wonder if the problem of the £500 is now a bit gender equalised - for those that have to work for it and those (of any gender) that don't and can write without that care. I must read it.

lokakuu 17, 2020, 4:44pm

>91 avaland: Thanks for that. Maybe it's time to revisit your African reading too?! I think you would like it.

>92 tonikat: I think she was anticipating the good old fashioned way to start: husbands, inheritances and so on. This was a well heeled crowd she was speaking to. Then once things got rolling with your writing/ painting/ other career, and that goal had been reached, your own work would contribute the necessary, allowing you to farm out the mundane tasks of life.

I would agree with the gender equalised idea

lokakuu 17, 2020, 4:48pm

Read for Reading Globally's 'Russians Write the Revolution 1881 - 1922"

32. Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others and Me: The Best of Teffi by Teffi pen name of Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, Rose France and Anne Marie Jackson
writings first published from 1919 - 2006
also published by Pushkin Press as Rasputin and Other Ironies
finished reading October 9, 2020

Sometimes when you read a book, the author's personality shines through so strongly that convinced you would hit it off immediately, you wish you could somehow meet. So it was with this collection of writings by Teffi.

Probably such a meeting would be as humiliating as the one the thirteen year old Teffi had with Tolstoy. Recounted in the short story "My First Tolstoy", (1920), Teffi captures perfectly the awkwardness of such a meeting when everything you pictured saying and doing condenses into the briefest of encounters. How else could it be when you plan to ask the great author to save Prince Andrei?

While it's easy to relate to the stories from childhood, seeing yourself in the anecdotes, it's a completely different matter with "Rasputin". Written in 1924, Teffi's encounters with Rasputin are still fresh enough in memory to enable her to convey a chilling picture of a sexual predator, a 'sorcerer' as she describes him, a man who has asked particularly to meet her. Reading of his murder, she remembers his prediction:
...there's one thing they don't know: if they kill Rasputin, it will be the end of Russia.
Remember me then! Remember me!
She did.

Much of Teffi's fame in Russia was as a satirist. Satire usually has a short shelf life. However, reminiscences such as "New Life", recalling the politics of the Petersburg newspaper where she worked for awhile, are just as relevant to any office setting today, and still inspire a chuckle.

Teffi left Russian in 1919, just after writing "The Gadarene Swine", a devastating critique of the Whites. She didn't fully realize at the time that she would never return. Perhaps saddest of all are her reflections written in exile, such as "Ilya Repin", a sketch of a celebrated Russian artist living in Finland. His early portrait of her had disappeared, probably to the US. She wrote in 1951, a year before she died
I've never been able to hold on to anything. Neither portraits, nor poems dedicated to me, nor paintings I've been given, nor letters from interesting people. Nothing at all.

There is a little more preserved in my memory, but even this is gradually, or even rather quickly, losing its meaning, fading, slipping away from me, wilting and dying.
It's sad to wander about the graveyard of my tired memory, where all hurts have been forgiven, where every sin has been atoned for, every riddle unriddled and twilight quietly cloaks the crosses, now no longer upright, of graves I once wept over.

lokakuu 31, 2020, 11:05am

Cross posted from Reading Globally

33. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy translated by Rosemary Edmonds 1966
first published in censored form in 1899
first full publication in Russian in England 1900
cover painting by Leonid Pasternak from a series of illustration he did for the book
finished reading October 27, 2020

Before the publication of Resurrection in 1899, it seemed that Leo Tolstoy had finished writing full length novels. It had been more than twenty years since the publication of Anna Karenina (1877), and more than thirty since War and Peace (1867 in serial form). In the meantime, his interests and ideas had changed dramatically.

No longer interested in portraying Russian life for the entertainment of his readers, he had become interested in a more spiritual life than that he had heretofore portrayed in his novels. He wanted an ethical focus to his art. The plight of the peasants, land reform, prison reform, spirituality: all had become of consuming interest to him, as he searched for ‘truth’. This clearly placed him outside the accepted beliefs of his class.

Prince Dmitri Ivanovitch Nekhlyudov is Tolstoy’s chosen instrument in this search for meaning, one which parallels Tolstoy’s in many ways. Selected for jury duty, Nekhlyudov was horrified to discover that the principal defendant in the murder trial had been a sort of ward of his aunts; a girl whom he had raped and left pregnant when she was only sixteen. Now years later, she was living as a prostitute in a brothel. Had he set her on this road to destruction? Should he make amends, and if so, how?

Wrongly convicted and sentenced to transportation in error, Maslova’s future appeared dire. Overcome by guilt, Nekhlyudov resolved to appeal her sentence, and if unsuccessful in that, accompany her to Siberia. Tolstoy uses this quest for justice to reveal the machinations of the Russian legal system, in all its self serving ways. The lack of interest in correcting this wrong shocked the prince. ‘After all, these things happen’ seemed to be the prevailing attitude.

At the same time, frustrated and guilty about the idle life he was living based on the labour of others, Nekhlyudov was trying to settle his estates by giving the land to the peasants. Here he encountered another kind of incomprehension at the other end of the social scale. The peasants could not believe such a thing was possible, and looked for the catch. Nobody in their world would just give away land.

Nekhlyudov explained his plan to the imprisoned Maslova, but she, with far more insight than the prince himself, replied
You want to save yourself through me. You had your pleasure from me in this world and now you want to get your salvation through me in the world to come.

Through Tolstoy, the reader is able to see the conditions that would lead to bloodbaths in the provinces during the early twentieth century. His unrelentingly harsh descriptions of the convict convoy, the tales told by the prisoners along the way, the conditions in the waystation prisons, the twin curses of poverty and starvation were so shocking and revealing that the book was highly censored in Russia. Its first complete Russian edition appeared first in England in 1900, with the title page proclaiming ‘not mutilated by the censor’.

Tolstoy’s criticism of religion as an instrument of power and suppression was so strong that he was officially excommunicated in 1901. However, it is not actually a Resurrection in the Christian sense that the imperfect protagonist was seeking, rather it was a rebirth, a rising from the ashes of his old corrupt self. However, Tolstoy was portraying an imperfect world, and so this too was imperfect.

The final sentence of the novel hints at a sequel, but that was not to be. Perhaps it is better that way, for in life as in art, there is no final resolution.


This was my second reading of Resurrection, both times reading the Penguin edition translated in 1966 by Rosemary Edmonds. It is a long novel (568 pages), but should I read it again, I would read the newer Oxford World’s Classics edition, 2009 with an “updated” 1900 Louise Maude translation, who was an actual friend of Tolstoy, or the newer Penguin edition, translated by Antony Briggs 2009. It’s difficult to imagine anything was left out in my old Penguin, but the notes in either of the new editions and another take on the language would make them of interest.

I also discovered a five part audio version of the Lousie Maude translation read by David Barnes on YouTube, but found it positively soporific and bailed after a few minutes.

marraskuu 3, 2020, 4:27pm

>95 SassyLassy: Enjoyed your review. It is an excellent read and seems to get better the longer it goes on. I thought the scope of the book increased with the second and third parts when the prisoners made the journey to Siberia.

I also read the Rosemary Edmonds translation, but would want to try a more modern one if I read it again.

marraskuu 13, 2020, 11:52am

>96 baswood: Thanks and I would agree about the journey to Siberia. It's hard to imagine Tolstoy's message without that depiction.

marraskuu 13, 2020, 11:54am

cross posted from Reading Globally's Russians Write the Revolution

34. Seven Hanged by Leonid Andreyev translated from the Russian by Anthony Briggs 2016
also known as The Seven who were Hanged
first published in 1908 as Rasskaz o semi poveshennykh
read November 4, 2020

There has always been a childhod memory lurking in the back of my mind, of a painting or photograph in an old Russian history book: young revolutionaries being hanged together, among them a young woman. I’m not sure why it made such a strong impression, but it was the first thing I thought of when I discovered Leonid Andreyev’s Seven Hanged.

Andreyev was a lawyer, with a side job of court reporter, so he was thoroughly acquainted with the Russian legal system and those caught up in it on both sides. Five of the seven here were idealistic young revolutionaries, bent on assassinating a government minister, but betrayed by an unknown person. The other two, in a kind of crucifixion echo, were common criminals. The trials of those being hanged are told here only briefly, as almost peripheral events. Andreyev was concentrating on what it means to the individual to know life will end at a given date and time and in a terrible way.

Initially, he describes each of his defendants as they were in real life, life before their lives were interrupted, giving the reader an idea of what is being lost in this senseless state directed slaughter. Even before that, however, he spends time on the minister who has been told of the plot to assassinate him the next day. This man, knowing the plot has been subverted, can easily continue in his belief that he is immortal, for death doesn’t come to such as he.

The minister constrasts sharply with the intinerant Estonian peasant, barely able to comprehend Russian, completely alone in the world. Sentenced to death, he can only say “Not hang me”. Such a fate was beyond his imagination. Then there was Gypsy Mike, for whom there was no hope. In court, he asked for permission to whistle.
The desperate agony of a man being murdered, the savage thrill of a killer, a terrible pang of foreboding, a call for help, the darkness of foul weather in an autumn night, a sense of solitude - all of these things were there in that shrieking, wailing sound, which belonged to neither man nor beast... And with easy hearts, without pity or any feelings of remorse, the judges sentenced Gypsy Mike to death.

Writing of the five, Andreyev’s portrayal of the suddeness and finality of the trial, the sentence and the thirty-six hours left of life is almost visceral. Each approaches the inevitable in a different way. One is terrified, unable even to walk. One, nameless, is the classic revolutionary, “grown weary of living and struggling”. The young girl, Musya, is almost accepting.

By following these seven and their thoughts right to the steps of the scaffold, Andreyev’s plea against capital punishment is an existential masterpiece with the impossible hope of moving the Russian establishment.

This book was initially published in 1908, at a time when Andreyev was considered by many to be the greatest living Russian author, an assessment he would have agreed with, although most added the caveat ‘next to Tolstoy’. However he opposed the Bolsheviks and in 1917 moved to Finland, where he died in 1919. His works were suppressed in the Soviet Union and he has only been rehabilitated there since its collapse. As early as 1909, however, this book was translated into English by the Russian born American Herman Bernstein, with an introduction by Andreyev, explaining his opposition to capital punishment, which unfortunately is not included in this Penguin edition.*

In an essay in BBC Arts**, the translator Anthony Briggs suggests that ironically other anarchists, particularly those who murdered the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, were influenced in completely the opposite way than that intended by Andreyev. The ringleader of that plot, Danilo Ilic, had actually translated Andreyev’s book. In Briggs’s words, Instead of condemning the young activists for their naive and immoral conduct, he was won over by their idealism, selfless sincerity and courage.


*it can be found here:


Muokkaaja: marraskuu 13, 2020, 6:59pm

>98 SassyLassy: Fascinating story behind the book from the BBC

The cover of the penguin edition is as black as the book?

IMO any country that has the death penalty cannot call itself civilised.

marraskuu 14, 2020, 1:43pm

>99 baswood: The cover is indeed as black as the book - not appealing at all. It is part of a series from Penguin called "Little Black Classics". No introduction, no notes, just a simple unadorned book, smaller in size than the orange Penguins. There are some tempting titles though, unknown to me before now. How could you resist William Shakespeare's Is this a dagger which I see before me?, Charles Dickens's To be read at dusk, or Jean de la Fontaine telling us The World is Full of Foolish Men. The UK price is £2, not sure about euros.

Agree with you.

marraskuu 23, 2020, 6:59am

Excellent review of the Leonid Andreyev book. So interesting. Although I don't think I could read something like that right now.

marraskuu 24, 2020, 9:54am

>101 avaland: I can see what you mean, but in a strange way it removed me completely from the present horrors and put me in the world of the seven. The sign of an excellent writer I guess.

marraskuu 24, 2020, 10:59am

The end of the Zolathon.

Doctor Pascal by Emile Zola translated from the French by Julie Rose (2020)
first published in serial form in La Revue hebdomadaire from March to June 1893
finished reading November 17 2020

Pascal Rougon was virtually absent from the first nineteen books in Zola's Rougon - Macquart cycle. Those novels were Zola's exploration of the roles of heredity and environment in the two branches of one family over several generations. One branch, the Rougons, were legitimate; the other branch, the Macquarts, were not. Pascal appeared briefly in The Fortune of the Rougons, which set up the origins of the family. He had a small role in The Sin of Abbé Mouret in his role as physician. This absence doesn't mean he was insignificant, however. On the contrary, his mission was to document the lives of the entire family in his own study.

Pascal had separated himself so completely from his family that the people of Plassans and its environs, the place where he lived most of his life, didn't even think of him as a Rougon, referring to him simply as Dr Pascal. This detachment allowed him to embark on his great work, seen through his own formulation of the laws of heredity. Each family member was documented in a separate file. Additionally, the entire family was pictured in an annotated family tree arising from the trunk of Aunt Dide, through limbs and branches into the leaves of the current fifth generation.

The novel takes place in 1873. Pascal was a sixty year old bachelor living with his servant Martine and his twenty-six year old niece Clotilde, daughter of Saccard. Clotilde had been raised by Pascal since she was seven. She had been encouraged to read and study following her natural inclinations. If that led her to science, there was no objection. Her education hadn't been focussed though, and although she acted as a copyist and illustrator for Pascal's scientific studies, there were gaps in her knowledge. These she tried to fill with religion, encouraged by Martine. This clash between religion and science was a favourite theme of Zola's.

Clotilde, inevitably, came to a crisis of belief, one that besets believers and scientists alike. She came to think science was wicked, raging against Pascal, again with the support of Martine. The household was torn apart for weeks. Pascal never doubted his own belief in science, but now regretted not having taken charge to direct Clotilde's education.
Where he always stuck to the facts, never went beyond verifiable phenomena, and succeeded in so limiting himself through his discipline as a scientist, he had seen her endlessly preoccupied with the unknown, with mystery. It was an obsession with her, an instinctiive curiosity that went as far as torture when it wasn't satisfied.
The battle moved on to focus on Pascal's scientific writings, and the family files locked away in a cupboard. Pascal became paranoid, terrified that Clotilde and Martine, encouraged by his mother Felicité, would burn his life's work, and so destroy him as well.

Somewhat reconciled, Pascal showed Clotilde the whole sorry story of their family. In an amazing feat, Pascal / Zola was able to sum up the entire history in three hours / a dozen pages. Here were
...the people she was supposed to love: her father exalted through financial crimes, her incestuous brother, her unscrupulous grandmother, covered in the blood of the just, the others almost all depraved, drunks, profligates, murderers, the monstrous efflorescence of the human tree.

Zola has set the scene for his final thoughts on this family. Inevitably Clotilde and her "Maître" become lovers. Zola doesn't hold back in describing waht could only be seen by the pair as rapture. Looked at from 2020, however, the relationship raises all kinds of flags and objections, but there is clearly no sense of wrongdoing in the telling. Instead, there is pure joy. Again, being Zola, this couldn't last, but despite that there is a hopeful conclusion to his grand cycle.

There are strong autobiographical overtones here. Pascal is indeed Zola. Clotilde is Jeanne Rozerot, the woman who became Zola's mistress in 1888 when he was 48 and she was 21. Jeanne would remain with him until his death. As Brian Nelson relates in his introduction, the public dedication to Doctor Pascal reads To the memory of MY MOTHER and to MY DEAR WIFE I dedicate this novel which is the summary and conclusion of my entire oeuvre.
The dedication in Jeanne's copy read
To my beloved Jeanne, to my Clotilde, who has given me the royal feast of her youth and taken thirty years off my life by giving me the gift of my Denise and my Jacques, the two dear children for whom I wrote this book, so that they might know, when they read it, how much I loved their mother and how tenderly they should repay her for the happiness with which she consoled me in my great sorrows.

Hope indeed.

marraskuu 24, 2020, 11:17am

>103 SassyLassy: All that, and spontaneous combustion too...

Congratulations on getting to the finish line!

marraskuu 25, 2020, 12:49am

Congratulations on finishing the Zolathon. I need to start now that you're the third member to finish.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 25, 2020, 12:32pm

>105 lilisin: I was just going to say the same thing. I love Zola and have read a few here and there. Maybe 2021 will be the year that I go back and read the whole cycle.

>103 SassyLassy: Congrats BTW! Very impressive!

marraskuu 25, 2020, 4:16pm

>103 SassyLassy: Congratulations, Sassy!

marraskuu 27, 2020, 5:48pm

>103 SassyLassy: You could start again at the beginning and become the first LT member to read them twice.

Your review have been great, so good to have them here for a reference and guide.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 27, 2020, 11:39pm

>88 thorold: ~Laughing~ (Tildes standing in for carets here.)

marraskuu 27, 2020, 11:15pm

>95 SassyLassy: I didn't even know about this book, and I am thrilled to know about it. Thank you for your thoughtful review.

marraskuu 27, 2020, 11:38pm

>103 SassyLassy: It seems congratulations are in order, from the tone of the next few posts. I didn't even know about the Zolathon--thanks for the inspiration.

marraskuu 28, 2020, 8:44am

That's funny, I have another friend (he's on LT, in the Bookballoon group) who did a Zolathon. Between the two of you, I'm thinking I should at least revisit something I read in high school like Germinal. What would you recommend for a one-off?

marraskuu 28, 2020, 9:19am

>104 thorold: All that, and spontaneous combustion too... Makes me want to reread Bleak House!
Zola's was a great description though, and George Henry Lewes should have been more forgiving of Dickens.
See also

>105 lilisin: I think based on what I've seen of your reading that you would like them.

>106 Yells: >107 kidzdoc: >110 sallypursell: Thanks

>108 baswood: Very funny - although I think I might try one or two in French - it would make for great discussion with my tutor.

>112 lisapeet: Well I think you would certainly come away with a different take on Zola than you did in high school!

My biggest recommendation would be to get a good recent translation, as many of the versions up until about the 1990s were censored. Wikipedia has a list of translations of the entire series here:
It's interesting looking at the dates on the list - it's as if Zola fell out of favour and then was magically rediscovered

After that, you mentioned Germinal, which was certainly powerful and works as a one-off. For other one-offs, I would think of:

The Dream
The Masterpiece
The Sin of Abbé Mouret

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 28, 2020, 11:03am

>113 SassyLassy: Yes, re-reading Bleak House is always a good idea! I suppose the difference between combustion à la Zola and the Dickens approach is that Dickens adds in the moral force of the law’s massively dehydrating effect, where Zola relies on extreme age, alcohol and the Provençal climate.

I think a lot of people read The belly of Paris and The Ladies’ Paradise as standalones, too.

(Though in fact most of the books could be read solo, there’s not much need to know who’s related to whom except in the first and the last book.)

I think Angus Wilson might have had a lot to do with Zola’s first, 1950s comeback in English. Don’t know where the second one in the 1990s came from.

marraskuu 28, 2020, 11:07am

Good suggestions, thank you! I'm sure I have one or two of those sitting dusty on my shelves...

marraskuu 28, 2020, 10:02pm

>113 SassyLassy:

Yes, I've already read a few of the Zola out of order. Maybe I can be the first one to finish the series in the original French. :)

marraskuu 29, 2020, 1:15am

>116 lilisin: Maybe I can be the first one to finish the series in the original French.

Sorry, it’s been done! :-)
But I can recommend it.

marraskuu 29, 2020, 2:15am

>117 thorold:

Oh poop! I’m going to have to pave a new road then.

marraskuu 29, 2020, 3:24am

>118 lilisin: Japanese! (Not totally silly — Zola was close to the Impressionists who were heavily influenced by Japanese art...)

joulukuu 12, 2020, 3:06pm

cross posted from Reading Globally
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin translated from the Russian by Natasha Randall 2006
written 1920 - 21 but not published in the Soviet Union until 1988
earliest (reliable) Russian text published as My by Chekhov House Publishers 1952
earlier versions circulated as samizdat manuscripts and as a publication in Prague
finished reading December 4, 2020

Sometimes a book's reputation builds up a mystique that makes us avoid it completely. Naturally, such books are different for different people. We was such a book for me. I had actually bought a copy back in July 2014, but looking at the name of the bookstore, I realize I was on holiday, and probably overly optimistic. It sat on a shelf for three years, then moved half way across the country and sat on another shelf for another three years, still in pristine condition.

Then along came the Reading Globally Russians Write the Revolution quarter. If there was ever a time to read it, it was now. What was I afraid of? The answer lies partly in the very first sentence of Bruce Sterling's introduction: "Yevgeny Zamyatin has a sound claim to the invention of the science fiction dystopia." In the next paragraph he says "Written with radical invention, deliberate verbal obscurity and cunning political intent, We is a rather hard book to read..."

Happily, although science fiction dystopias are about the farthest thing from my usual reading, I found the protagonist, D-503, strangely sympathetic. Writing hundreds of years in the future, committed to the even further future the One State will create elsewhere, D-503 is the engineer and project manager in charge of building the Integral, a mighty space ship intended to conquer new worlds, to bring their inhabitants "...the mathematically perfect life of the One State."

This is a world where reason is paramount. Happiness, and so freedom, is only possible through reason. Spontaneity, being unreasoned, is non-freedom and must be suppressed. Everything is prescribed and all actions have an allotted time in each unit's schedule, be it eating, walking, work, or sex.

D-503 unwisely ponders how life could have been lived in the freedom of the old days, for instance the twentieth century, when people lived "...without the scheduled walks, without the precise regulation of mealtimes, getting up and going to bed whenever it occurred to them". He frets over the atavistic hair on his knuckles. He worries about the irrationality behind the idea of √-1. He wonders about the Green Wall enclosing the One State; green from the uncontrolled chaos of vegetation on the other side of its glass. Strange creatures appear there from time to time, but best not to think about them either. Best not to think at all in any contemplative way. When D-503 wrote in his diary, he realized this, trailing off his thoughts each time with a "..."

We was written in 1920 - 21 at a time when the idea of a new Soviet Man was being idealized and promulgated. New efficiency models were being tried out in new and rebuilt factories, following the chaos of war and revolution. Zamyatin was an engineer with an interest in language. His satire of this new world, expressed through the symbolism of mathematics, sound, and colour, was suspect. Forbidden to publish in the Soviet Union, it was not until 1988 that his book appeared there officially. Various copies made it out though, influencing George Orwell, and possibly Aldous Huxley. Zamyatin himself was arrested for the fourth time in 1922. He was allowed to leave the country in 1931, but died a few years later in poverty in Paris. Although he wrote essays, satire and plays, We was his only novel. Among other firsts, it was the first book to be banned by the Soviet censors.

joulukuu 12, 2020, 3:13pm

I thought of you when I noticed an article about Pantone's colour choice for 2021 - Ultimate Gray and Illuminating (a bright lemon yellow), said to signal hope.

I like all yellows and this one is hopeful. I like grey but not this "duct tape" shade that I feel signals more pandemic despair leftovers.

joulukuu 12, 2020, 3:22pm

> I'm with you completely on both these colours. Stay tuned for the rant about grey when 2021 rolls around!

joulukuu 14, 2020, 6:48pm

> We Is well worth a read and it has one of the shortest book titles.

joulukuu 27, 2020, 12:42pm

>120 SassyLassy: Your review of We prompted a discussion in this house of whether Bruce Sterling is calling "all" dystopias science fiction, or just ones with that involved technology that has been invented yet (or at the time of the writing of the book). I think our conclusion is it is the latter. Great review, btw.

joulukuu 30, 2020, 12:17pm

>124 avaland: Here I have to make an embarrassing confession. Dystopias are mostly an unknown literary universe to me. I had never heard of Bruce Sterling before reading We, so anything I say in response should be taken with an ocean of salt. However, looking over his introduction again, I think like you, he would be of the technology dystopia makes science fiction faction. Even if I am way of base, I'm happy to have at least prompted a discussion!

Your question also sent me looking up rockets, as obviously Zamyatin did not imagine them. This led me courtesy of Wikipedia to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857 - 1935), a Russian who published The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices in 1902, and after whom the principle governing rocket propulsion is named (the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation). Since Zamyatin was an engineer, it is entirely possible he knew of this work, not to mention that of Jules Verne and other fiction writers. Also according to Wikipedia, Tsiolkovsky's work inspired the formation of the Society for Studies of Interplanetary Travel in Russia in 1924.

joulukuu 30, 2020, 12:56pm

Finished at last. It was now or never, but the Russians Write the Revolution Reading Globally quarter prompted me to tackle it once more. This is a book I found right after it was published in this edition in one of my favourite now defunct independent bookstores: This Ain't the Rosedale Library. I started reading it in 2009, read the first 249 pages, put it down and never got back. I started at the beginning again this time and it made far more sense.

Petersburg by Andrei Bely translated from the Russian by John Elsworth 2009
first published in the Moscow joural Sirin in 1913-1914
published in much shortened form in Berlin in 1922
this translation from the original long version
cover art on this Pushkin edition from an Ilya Repin painting
finished reading December 29, 2020

Petersburg is an exhausting book. Not exhausting in the sense that you just want to crawl off to bed, but rather exhausting because it is full of motion; there is no rest. Things are always moving, they never stay still. Just when the reader might think there is a pause, Bely will repeat some actions, some sentences.

All this movement is accompanied by colours and sound, often smells, adding layers of depth to the narrative.
The Petersburg street in autumn penetrates your whole organism: it turns the marrow of your bones to ice and tickles your freezing spine; but as soon as you escape from it into a warm room, the Petersburg street flows in your veins like a fever. The stranger now experienced the quality of this street as he entered a grimy vestibule, densely crammed with black, blue, grey and yellow overcoats, swanky hats, lop-eared hats, dock-tailed hats, and galoshes of every description. A warm dampness enveloped him; in the air hung a milky steam: steam that smelled of the pancakes.
As the book progresses, it becomes clear that the different colours represent different people and states of mind. A character's change of colour choice often indicates a change of mind. The one constant is the green swirling mist, coming in off the marshes, hiding who knows what, enveloping the Bronze Horseman who created it all. There is a threat out there, undefined as yet, but in October 1905 Petersburg, everyone sensed it.

Just like navigating in a mist, nothing is ever clear. There is a plot on the part of radicals to kill a high government official, but who dreamed it up? Was it the person entrusted to carry out the assassination, or was it the bomb-maker, the Fugitive? Maybe it was even the Person, he who directs it all (maybe). The designated killer and the Fugitive both obsess over ten days until nothing is clear to either. The reader too is often left befuddled until the action circles around again and more is revealed and then a bit more.

This world of obsession and hallucination makes the omniscient narrator work hard; circling back, making connections, speaking up when things get too absurd. Nothing is sure until the very end, when suddenly everything is resolved.

This is a book I imagine people spend years studying, reading it over and over. Despite an excellent translation, I suspect it can only ever be fully grasped in the original Russian. This Pushkin edition did not have notes and they were sorely missed. Reading it, there was always a feeling of "If only I knew more about..."; "If only I knew more about the accepted stereotypes behind regions and family names"; "If only...". This is not to take away from the book in any way whatsoever. Rather, it is to suggest that there is always something more Petersburg has to offer the reader. As the quote from the New York Times Book Review on the back cover put it, this book is regarded by many as "The most important, most influential, and most perfectly realized Russian novel written in the twentieth century."

tammikuu 2, 1:08pm

Since I chose this book as my best fiction book of the year for my book club's annual December bests discussion, I should probably say something about it.

The Door by Magda Szabó translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix (2006)
first published 1987
finished reading June 10, 2020

This partially autobiographical novel is told by an unreliable narrator: the "writer lady". Her work had been banned at one stage, but as conditions in Hungary had changed during the 1950s and '60s, her work was now state sanctioned, and so the search for a housekeeper began.

Enter Emerence. Her origins and WWII experiences were unclear. She demanded references from her potential employer. Once she agreed to work, she ran the household. She also ran a good part of the neighbourhood from her porch, conducting its operations like a military commander. Her house, however, was inviolable, shut off by the door.

The writer lady tells the reader "I truly expected that Emerence would no longer be a stranger, but a friend -- my friend". She had a lot to learn.

This was an incredibly powerful and devastating novel, to be read in as few sessions as possible. It raised so many questions:

What is work? Does intellectual or physical work have more value to society?

Should you expect to be friends with all with whom you come in contact?

Where are the boundaries between what you think you should do for someone, and what they are willing to accept?

Is it true that as one of the characters says "You can't give someone a greater gift than to spare them suffering"?

What are the boundaries of privacy?

This novel didn't shake just me. Two quotes from the back cover from seasoned reviewers demonstrate its impact:

To read the Hungarian writer Magda Szabó's The Door is to be turned inside out-- as if our own foibles have been written in soap on the mirror, to be read when we wake up from the trance of our own self-importance. ( Cynthia Zarin in The New Yorker)

and best of all

It has altered the way I understand my own life Claire Messud in The Times

tammikuu 2, 2:24pm

>127 SassyLassy: It was a wonderful book. I read it as a library ebook, and then raved about it so hard a friend sent me a print copy—such a nice thing to do, and in fact I have gone back and dipped into it again. It's so perceptive as to interpersonal exchanges, relationships, bargains that people make with each other. Plus one of the best dogs in literary fiction ever.

tammikuu 2, 2:41pm

Terrific post on The Door. And everything else. I'm catching from October and just read quite a number of your reviews, always rewarding. A lot to think about. (Also, as I read Nabokov, I have to imagine that many of these last books were on his mind) Also, delayed, but congrats on completing the Zolathon.

tammikuu 4, 12:35pm

>128 lisapeet: What a great friend.
I wonder if dogs in literary fiction could be a theme?

>129 dchaikin: Interesting about reading Nabokov with some of these books in mind. Since you've prompted me to read him in the coming year, although not nearly in the depth you did, I will keep that in mind.

When are you going to start Zola?!

tammikuu 4, 12:54pm

>130 SassyLassy: since i have kind of missed the entire 19th century so far i’m a bit overwhelmed at where to begin. 🙂

tammikuu 4, 1:03pm

The last book of the year, read on New Year's Eve Day and well worth it:

China Dream by Ma Jian translated from the Chinese by Flora Drew
first published 2018
read December 31, 2020

China Dream is a vicious satire on the present day dystopia that is, in the author's view, the current day People's Republic of China. Party official Ma Daode has come up with a scheme to replace people's own sleep generated dreams with dreams created by the State; dreams which will be only positive. Quoting Xi Jinping, he told his office he needed "...not the selfish, individualist dream of western countries" but rather "a dream of the whole nation, united as one and gathered together into an invincible force".

However, if such a dream is to become universal, then somehow all memories and private dreams must be purged from individual minds. Ma (the fictional one) would like his team to develop a neural implant, the China Dream Device, to accomplish this.

As if this wasn't a huge enough project, Ma has his own troubles. His twelve mistresses give him no pause, constantly interrupting his day with lewd text messages. He's beginning to think others are after his job, so perhaps he should be more careful about the "presents" he receives.

Worst of all, his own past keeps flashing before him at inappropriate moments: his time as a sent down youth in the countryside, his battles as a teenage member of the Red Guard, and further back to the Great Famine. He starts spouting incorrect slogans at rallies, slogans from past struggle sessions, not the bright slogans of today.

Ma Jian's goal, stated in his Afterward, is to keep the memory of those times alive; to refuse Xi's China Dream, and to tell the truth. He sees the current regime making a concerted effort to repress and eradicate the turbulent history of the PRC, especially as it relates to the struggle phase of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. He himself has been officially eradicated by the state; living in exile, unable to publish in China, and not even mentioned in official lists and anthologies of Chinese writers.

Ma engaged another exile, Ai Weiwei, for the cover art. As Ma describes it In the shattered branches I see the brutality of autocracy, the splintering of the self, and the human soul's yearning for freedom. It encapsulates everything I wanted China Dream to say.

While neither Ma Jian nor Ai Weiwei would ever want a return to those early days of the republic, their belief that they should never be forgotten will inform their respective arts for life, as it should.

tammikuu 4, 1:22pm

>132 SassyLassy: Fascinating. And terrific about the cover.