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Tag: :CP’s Bookshelf:

Review: Ismail Kadare’s “The Palace of Dreams”

ismail kadare the palace of dreamsBook two of my Kadare experiment. The Palace of Dreams is Kadare’s version of living and operating within the mechanisms of a totalitarian State; the novel was banned upon publication in Albania in 1981. It examines the pseudo-Ottoman Empire’s Palace of Dreams which collects, catalogues, analyses and responds to the meanings of the citizenry’s dreams – especially those which threaten the Empire’s future. The novel traces the path of Mark-Alem, scion of Albania’s prestigious (and historical) Quprili family, as he moves upward through the Palace hierarchy. Interesting, a fair representation of a dystopian novel; perhaps I’d already read enough of the genre, though, as I didn’t gain any particular insights from this one.

Where it came from: CP’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
An evening armchair gulp
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Jose Saramago’s bureaucratic nightmares
Who I’d recommend it to:
Cultural explorers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Shirley Hazzard’s “The Great Fire”

shirley hazzard the great fireI’d kept seeing this one around, and wanted to balance CP’s collection of Great Men with a woman writer I was unfamiliar with – and this was simply excellent. Set in SE Asia a couple of years after WWII, it explores the survival of the soul of Aldred Leith and the coming of love with (very) young Helen Driscoll. It is a delicate, finely honed novel, with simply gorgeous turns of phrase and contemplation. Somehow, I think of it as dignified. I think the romance really left Helen with little choice, and that she was a leetle too much of a paragon, but the insight into all characters, and especially the hero’s, was splendid and humbling. A great book, very highly recommended. Feels like the best book I’ve read in an age, outscoring even the earlier highlights from the same bookshelf.

PS 200 posts ahoy.

Where it came from: CP’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Bed sample, followed by sunny, grassy read, and 200pp hot-bath delectation for wrap-up
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: The miraculous difference between good and excellent writing
Who I’d recommend it to:
Seekers of a truly good book
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Ismail Kadare’s “Broken April”

ismail kadare broken aprilCP’s favourite author, Albania’s most-loved writer in many genres, apparently. This novel made his fame in the Anglosaxon world, an exploration of life in the High Plateau where the rules are dictated by the Kanun, or local Code ruling daily existence and all blood feuds. Centuries old, the Code dictates that each death must be paid for by another (for men only), leaving entire villages empty of menfolk or financially stricken for paying blood-fines. The novel particularly follows Gjorg, who opens the book by killing his man then living out his thirty-day truce to 17 April, and newlywed cityslickers Diana and Bessian on their honeymoon in the charming archaic bleakness of the plateau.

By turns fascinating and tedious, Kadare explores the intricacies of the Kanun thoroughly, but lacks subtlety in doing so – I never forgot I was being systematically educated about this traditional social code. Also, there are only three women characters of any substance (only if you count the inveterate romantic Diana, and I wouldn’t really), and one can only assume that every woman who faces the murder of some or all of her menfolk might well have an opinion on the matter. Just an idea…

So, I wasn’t enamoured of this book, but for the first fifty pages I was terribly impressed by his writing. I reckon I’d try one more book to see if he could set his pedagogical hat aside.

Where it came from: CP’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Various bleak bed, armchair and couch reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: The rarity of the gift of minimalism
Who I’d recommend it to:
Cultural explorers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Fatima Mernissi’s “Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood”

fatima mernissi dreams of trespassFatima Mernissi, now a sociologist and academic in Rabat, was brought up in a domestic harem (aka extended family under one roof, inc. polygamy) in Fez, Morocco in the 1940s. This memoir recounts the lives and experiences mostly of the women she lived with, and explores the diversity of harems that still existed in Morocco at that time. Simply written but lovely (lovelily?), Mernissi’s stories brim with the hanan or boundless tenderness which she so admires, and give a gently personal introduction to a misunderstood concept. Recommended.

PS After debating with myself and Google images, I have classified this title as part of the Global Women of Colour Challenge. I don’t know if Mernissi would count herself as a woman of colour, though.

Where it came from: CP’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
One determined armchair read
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I
d recommend it to: Seekers of a lyrical cultural experience
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Vladimir Sorokin’s “Day of the Oprichnik”

vladimir sorokin day of the oprichnikAndrei Danilovich Komiaga is one of the oprichnina, the priveleged fists of Russia’s reigning monarch in the pseudo-futuristic world of 2028. Bound by religion and brotherhood to enforce His Majesty’s law, Komiaga is immensely fortunate in that he delights in the responsibilities assigned to the oprichnik: the deceipt, arson, rape, pillaging, murder, bribery, drugs, capital punishment and ritual group sex uniformly delight the man whose job is also his hobby. The disconcertingly chirpy tone of the day in the oprichnik’s life, the razor-shape political accusations against modern Russia, the sleek and inventive plotting: an impressive and absorbing novel, well recommended. (The only exception was the terrible poetry, but I can only surmise that it was deliberately awful in the original Russian, and the poor translator had to suck it up.)

Where it came from: CP’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Gripped afternoon and evening armchair reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: —
Who I’d recommend it to:
Again, most thinky readers
Also reading:The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Review: Jamil Ahmad’s “The Wandering Falcon”

jamil ahmad wandering falconThe publishers at Penguin USA must have nearly wet themselves when they came across this manuscript: a well-written, cultural exploration of the tribal lands between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as told in the first book by an 81-year-old Pakistani former international aid worker. What a gift! Well done Penguin and Jamil Ahmad, for it is a good book and I’m most glad I read it. A set of interlinked short stories, united by the enigmatic Wandering Falcon himself, the book provides cultural snapshots of various among the tribal communities in the most contentious part of Central Asia. (Time to revise my definition of “tribe”: one in the book is stated as having over one million members.) The Falcon’s connections are sometimes a little tenuous, but I enjoyed the insight into cultures utterly unknown to me. Recommended.

Where it came from: CP’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair thoroughness and library waiting
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Great personal backstory + political relevance + good art = publisher’s coup
Who I’d recommend it to:
Culturally curious readers
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Review: Arto Paasilinna’s “The Year of the Hare”

arto paasilinna year of the harePossibly the first Finnish novel I’ve ever read, and quite a gripping introduction – I even had dreams I was learning to speak some Finnish-type language afterwards! Paasilinna relates the escapades of un-hero Vatanen (quite different from an anti-hero, in my book) as he drops out of an unsatisfactory midlife in Helsinki. Instead, he saves a wounded wild hare, and the two roam Finland in increasingly erratic and bewildering adventures with bears, WWII materiel, forest fires and Soviet gaol cells. AP’s writing is Hemingway-sparse, Vatanen’s adventures unexpected and oddly exciting, and the incidental exposition of Finnish life good for the curious. Enjoyable and recommended.

Where it came from: CP’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair and bed reads over the course of one evening
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse-Five – madcap, slightly military, increasingly surrealistic
Who I’d recommend it to: Most thinky readers
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier