Female. Slavic mind. Avid reader.
I read across a broad range of book genres, with an emphasis on Aus/NZ lit, Russian and Ukrainian literature, Latin-American literature and European history.
This book is a collection of short stories set in Soviet-era Russia and Germany prior to WW2, during WW2 and post-war.
Though it was interesting to read Vollmann's interpretations of historical figures and events in both countries, I disliked how liberally he strew the theme of sex as an instigator of creativity or impromptu 'casus belli' for all the interpersonal conflicts throughout the texts. That is so typical an approach for American novels of this genre it's irksome to see it in yet another novel. Additionally, the emphasis on sex by the author struck me as disrespectful to the all too eminent pathos which is leavened even in the barebone narratives of the involved historical figures' lives, particularly the Russian ones whose fates turned out to be especially tragic. Since many of the historical figures in the stories were artists, the strong element of pathos to their fates had a somewhat mythopoeic quality, which I felt the author failed to disinter in his writing discussing their legacies, and crudely spat upon it by shuttling forth some trashy sexual fantasy in its place.
Perhaps this may be appealing to someone who doesn't have a penchant for the spiritual and cultural side of things, however I was left with the impression of a unconvincing, superficial piece of writing.
A rather interesting collection of essays ruminating and reflecting on the topic of what it means to be a New Zealander, spanning from the 19th Century to the 21st Century, including a variety of different perspectives.
My favourite essay by far in the book was "Fretful Sleepers", for its scathing, albeit often relevant criticism and analysis of the average New Zealander's mentality, which I find has not significantly changed since the author's day. Although it may be viewed by some as a disdainful portrayal of New Zealanders, it is essential for every people to be able to accept a harsh depiction of themselves as a normal part of overall positive cultural development.
I thought the final essay, Tze Ming Mok's "Race You There", raised several important key points in terms of Asian-New Zealander identity, however I felt she delved somewhat into the absurd with her clumsy Asian-Maori solidarity ideas. She approached the matter as though NZ is a racially-strained society on par with countries such as the US, which it certainly isn't.
Pretty good narration by an upper-class lawyer in 1920's Croatia who decides he's sick of all the bullshit of socializing, kissing ass, and wearing the thin façade of amiability which his profession and social life demand of him. At a staid formal dinner, he calls the most powerful man in town a reprobate with no moral compass (because it's true), and then suffers all the social and professional consequences.
This could easily be made into a comedy, but it was just a bit too light on irony. It's more comparable to that movie "American Beauty", where Kevin Spacey's character goes through a similar transformation, which also ends in tragedy.
Come to think of it, there seems to be a whole genre of "Aw fuck it" stories about people who are sick of filling all the rigid requirements of respectability, and just give up. I think it might start with Rameau's Nephew (Denis Diderot). のCharles Strickland does this in "The Moon and Sixpence" (Sommerset Maughm), and so does Bob Slocum in "Something Happened" (Joseph Heller). Holden Caulfield seems to have done this, in a manner, at the end of "A Catcher in the Rye" (J.D. Salinger). The unnamed narrator from "Notes From the Underground" (Dostoyevsky) may possibly have done this; it's unclear. Pretty much all of Jack Kerouac's characters have already done it, before the opening act. Sadly, Sinclair Lewis' "Babbitt" never does.
Ironically, through this 'bugger all' attitude the protagonist effectively sharpens into view the inherent fallibility, hyposcrisy, vulgarity and tastelessness of contemporary society.
A rather interesting novel about a Christchurch GP inadvertently catapulting himself from the confines of his predictable, comfortable everyday life into the midst of the seedy and hazardous world of the city's Maori gangs, by refusing to prescribe a copious quantity of heavy drugs without any medical basis to a Maori youth who walks into his office one day. Our medical professional is not one to be intimidated by the fact the unruly young man trashed his car immediately afterwards, and goes ahead to try confront the youth for wreaking so much damage to his property. Little does he know into what a cunning trap he was ensnaring himself into...
Though this novel is written in a characteristically quick-paced thriller style, the way Carson has managed to subtly weld a rapprochement of philosophy and NZ history in addition to the action was what made the book memorable for me, its contents ruminating in my mind well after I had put the book down.
The only qualm I have with the novel is that its bottom line boiled down to the all too typical for the genre, "if you don't have a gun, you lose" sort of scenario. I'm a bit too used to seeing this theme override above all else in thriller novels. Plus the overall 'Pakeha-Maori' unity theme left a tad bit unrealistic aftertaste. In reality, it often doesn't work so smoothly as Carson describes. Just ask Witi Ihimaera or Alan Duff.
On the other hand, it's a thriller novel after all. What else do you really need from it other than fast action and a good storyline?
|Diego Marani, New Finnish Grammar (trans. J. Landry). London: Dedalus, 2011, p. 56.|
A melancholic yet eerily captivating story about a young man who has been so severely injured he loses his memory and speech ability, set in WW2 Europe. He is taught the Finnish language from scratch by the Finnish doctor, who supposes his patient is a Finn from the 'Sampo Karljanen' tag stitched on the clothing he was wearing when discovered lying beaten to near death on a German quayside, of a nearby ship he was taken upon, then as soon as he garners a minimum ability to reproduce the unconventional phonetics of the Finnish lamguage is sent to Finland, out of the hope that among the icy, unforgiving Nordic landscapes he will discover some trace that will unfurl his memory and help him rediscover his identity.
Exquisitely written, I enjoyed the fact that I was able to relate to the protagonist's feelings of existential crisis and being not just a foreigner in his adopted country but, worse yet, a stranger among all people, incapable to chivvy himself into establishing a profound connection emotionally or intellectually with them because of incertainity about his identity, a great deal. The story ultimately magnifies the importance of language and the memories, history of times erstwhile it keeps alive within its particular anomalities to the future of a nation, as well as the effect memories and language have on individuals. The storyline made me recall plots involving characters pursuing happiness while holding the foolish presumption that happiness isn't a temporary state of mind, that it is something that should be felt at all times, for its similarity to this one in the sense that the protagonist was also pursuing something intangible, within the ruminations of ancient land and the souls of the surrounding people,- his memory and subsequently his identity, esentially his heart, as an individual who seeks to create substantial meaning in his world. It made me wonder about the inextricable connections between memory, language and happiness, three rudimentary aspects of human life.
Additionally, I highly appreciated the references to and supplementary insight provided regarding the Kalevala epic throughout the text, which added a sense of the mystic to the work and gave it a multifaceted finishing. In short, this is a book which has carved a niche to occupy in my heart.
This novel is a rather unconventional take of the original story of Judas' betrayal, centred around the question: what if Judas was a good individual, fulfilling God's will as necessary, whereas Christ's apostles were the real traitors, proving too pusillanimous to defend their rhetor?
The result is a mentally stimulating, highly engaging work of literature retelling the story of Judas from an unconventional perspective in third person narration. An idea presented in the text which impacted me most profoundly was that if Judas was a good individual, the best individual, in fact, who are we then? If so, who is good, who can righteously defend good by the end of the day? Where does our salvation lie then? The harsh answers prompted by these questions may be perturbing to a person who does not truly know the underpinnings of human nature, however will strike someone with a more sober, sombre outlook as being replete with keen insight and perspective into human misery and suffering.
In any case, this book by Andreyev has compelled me to get my hands on more of his works. His way of writing truly is unique, but may not be palatable for all.
The central question on which this book is based on, as I understood, was where exactly does the modern-day American's belief that everything related to urban centres has negative connotations and living a simple lifestyle in a rustic setting is ideal originate, and what it says about the American nation/culture as a whole. Marx (Leo, no relation of Karl's as far as I gather) sets about to answer this question by examining the imaginations of America's foremost classical authors (e.g Cooper, Thoreau, Melville, Faulkner, Frost and Hemingway) and thus delve in the depths of what Marx calls 'sentimental pastoralism'.
The 'machine' that acted as the focal point of this book was inevitably none other than the train- a symbol of industrial progress in most European states during the late 19th century/ early 20th century and no different in the U.S. The book can be generalised by stating that it is an analysis of how the railroad affected American culture, through the voice of the American canon- whether the railroad interferes with someone's meditation in the countryside or it is the corruption new appliances causes to traditional principles of pastoralism: many examples are provided to demonstrate the rise of sentimental pastoralism in the U.S. According to the author, the American Dream (theoretically) cannot be achieved with the attitudes and environment cultivated by this special kind of pastoralism.
On a personal level, I think what interested me the most in this book was the author's explanation of art as an entity with an ever-evolving definition . Art as it was defined by the European immigrants was completely different from what a modern person would consider to be art. These pre-modern pastoralists believed there was a very distinct mediating ground between "art" and "nature" (an idea that would be difficult to fathom for the averagemodern person). From this Marx proceeds to postulate that
there are two different types of pastoralism, one simple and one complex. The argument is which one of these is better: occupying the middle ground between art and nature, or going for something simpler? In a way, I thought that by the way America has gone it has essentially chosen a simpler kind of relationship with nature, something that no one can agree that is something wholly good.