Brief thoughts on a few books
March 5, 2013 § Leave a comment
But I can give a few brief impressions about books read in recent weeks. These are not true reviews (notice the tag used), but just brief thoughts of a musing nature about a few. The first book that comes to mind is one I read a couple of weeks ago, Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds. I enjoyed Lord’s first book, Redemption in Indigo, but her sophomore effort just did not click with me. It’s not that the writing is poor; sometimes the prose can be excellent and the story just ends up being unappealing to the reader. This certainly was the case for me. I am not a fan of most extraterrestrial SF settings, as too often the setting is “Earth, just slightly different or “exotic,”” and my mind loses interest before the characterizations begin to develop. I think this was likely the case here, as I just found myself not interested in the overall story and that disinterest made it difficult to focus on the characters or what themes Lord wanted to explore. So in lieu of writing a formal review that explores just why the story did not appeal to me, which would be unfair I suppose in terms of reviewing the book, this little paragraph can serve as a record of my initial reaction to the book. I suspect for many other readers, it will be much more appealing than it was for me.
Lately, I’ve been reading more of the translated works of Albanian writer Ismail Kadare. I enjoyed his The Palace of Dreams a few years ago, but I never really thought about exploring his other works, since I didn’t know they had been translated into English. So over the past few days, I’ve read three books by him: Agamemnon’s Daughter; The Successor; Chronicle in Stone (and I just received a hardcover copy of his latest novel to be translated, The Fall of the Stone City, which came out in the US in January). It’s hard to think of a succinct summation of Kadare’s fictions. At times, it feels as though the past is superimposed on the present and the two function simultaneously within the text to create multiple levels of textual interpretation. The “real” and the “mythic” are not separate but are conjoined in a strange fashion. This leads to stories that ostensibly are about Albania’s past (20th century and its mythic, perhaps self-created origins) yet which possess some troubling elements that make the reader pause to reflect on what she has written. These certainly have been stories worth reading, although the enjoyment is on a more nebulous level than mere entertainment, I guess.
Don’t think I will have time to write a formal review of Serbian writer Danilo Kiš’ A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, but these stories that outline separate betrayals of Jewish Communists is a blistering series of tales that do more than just castigate the Stalin era communist regimes. No, they haunt the reader with stories of dreamers, idealists who live just love enough to see their visions destroyed by those in which they have placed their faith. Beautiful writing certainly makes these tales even more poignant and moving.
Maybe this weekend I’ll have time to review John Thavis’ The Vatican Diaries and Alain Mabanckou’s Black Bazaar, which was recently nominated (along with Kadare’s above-mentioned book) for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Over at Gogol’s Overcoat, there should be another review of a Flannery O’Connor story, “The Artificial Nigger,” up on Friday (or predated to Friday and posted on Saturday if I don’t have time on Friday to write it). Or maybe the squirrels will rise up and blog before then. One can only hope, no?