Saturday, December 29, 2007

3M's Challenge Wrap-Up

Thanks, Wendy, for a wonderful challenge!

I committed to reading ten and finished ten, though I did switch out some titles. I loved the top three, which were truly outstanding books. I'm really glad I read the middle of the pack, and I could have done without the last two.

Here they are, ranked in order of enjoyment:

  1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

  2. Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky

  3. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  4. The Translator by Leila Aboulela

  5. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

  6. The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

  7. Lisey's Story by Stephen King

  8. Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolano

  9. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

  10. Everyman by Philip Roth

Suite Française - 3M's Review

suitefrancaise.JPGSuite Française is the incredible incomplete set of novels by Irene Nemirovsky, a Russian Jew who had been living in Paris for 10 years before ultimately dying in Auschwitz. The preface to the French edition states that:
She dreamed of a book of a thousand pages, constructed like a symphony, but in five sections, according to rhythm and tone. She took Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as a model.

Sadly, only two of the planned five were completed. In these stories, she creates such vivid characters and situations that it is a shame we never get to find out what happened to them. She was a fine writer. Her characters were so well-defined; I cared about the worthy ones and loathed the loathsome ones. Even in her description of the latter, there was humor to be found. Both good and bad die, and of course the question is always, "Why?" The accounts of the flight from Paris as the Germans descended on them during 1940 were chilling and frighteningly relevant to what could happen today. Then, during the section depicting the occupation of France, I was most surprised at her portrayal of the German soldiers, in which some could be seen as sympathetic.

Her two daughters had kept these stories in a suitcase for years, not even looking at them as it was too painful. When one of her daughters did finally take out the papers to type them, she found this wonderful, incomplete novel and it was published in France in 2004, sixty-two years after her death in 1942.

Highly recommended.

2006 for the English translation, 367 pp.
Rating: 4.5

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Last Evenings on Earth - 3M's Review


Bolaño is a Chilean author whose book The Savage Detectives was also named to the most recent NYT Most Notable list. It seems to be getting a lot of buzz on many 'Best of 2007' lists. Although Bolaño died in 2003, some of his works are just now being published in English.

The settings of these stories are in Chile, Mexico, Spain, and many other countries. It has a very international feel to it. Bolaño's writing is fascinating. Without really enjoying many of the stories, I still felt compelled to read them. There is always something literary going on; perhaps that's why they intrigued me. However, many of the stories just had too much violence and seediness for my taste--otherwise the book would have had a higher rating from me.

I'm curious about The Savage Detectives, though, and I may try to read that one in 2008.

2006 (for the English translation), 219 pp.
Rating: 3.5

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Skinner's Drift - kookiejar's review

Eva is a young woman who returns to the remote South African ranch she was raised on when her widowed father falls into a coma. While at the ranch, she reads her mother's old diaries which take her back to her childhood when she was witness to great violence, including a family secret that makes her question her place in the world.

Lisa Fugard seamlessly weaves the past and the present unfolding the events in a way that keeps you curious about the characters until the final page.

My favorite part was when the black ranch hand, Nkele buys his grandson a comic book, but feels the need to destroy it because it has pictures of AK-47s in it.

"He knew how it would end, who would be killed and who would be saved, and the ease with which 'AK-47' had fallen from the mouths of the children, tumbled out soft as the patter of rain, distressed him."

My only problem with the novel was that although the characters were interesting and their problems were intriguing, I was emotionally disconnected from them. It could have been my own problem, just coming off a reading slump, but I would only recommend this book to people who are fans of novels set in Africa or ones that deal with race relations.

This is my last book for this challenge. Of the 15 I finished specifically for the challenge, I'd have to say my favorite was "Apex Hides the Hurt", but my favorite off the entire list was "The Road". Thank you Wendy for hosting the challenge and thanks to all of my lit-blogging compatriots.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Emperor's Children - Wendy's Review

"Well, then." Ludovic sat up against the headboard, cleared his throat. "As parents, we visit our complexes, whatever they may be, upon our children - our neuroses, our hopes and fears, our discontents. Just the way our broader society is like a parent, and visits its complexes upon the citizenry, if you will." - From The Emperor's Children, page 205 -

The Emperor's Children is an intellectual miasma about the superficiality of the privileged classes - and the subsequent collision of values between the haves and have nots. Set in New York City in 2001, the book explores the lives of five major characters: Marina - a rich and spoiled pseudo-journalist; Julius - a gay, confused free lance critic; Danielle - a television producer with attitude; Frederick "Bootie" Tubb - an idealistic and slightly creepy college drop out; and Murray Thwaite - a middle aged, liberal "emperor" who has made a name in journalism. The novel is narrated in alternating points of view and spans a period of half a year, tying together (with an artistic flair) the rather superficial threads of each character's motivations and lives. None of these characters is especially likable, but all are compulsively readable.

Messud creates a novel about the upper classes: their attitude of entitlement, their petty betrayals, their focus on power. In doing so, she reveals some interesting truths about humanity. I enjoyed her observations about higher education:

The Land of Lies in which most people were apparently content to live - in which you paid money to an institution and went out nightly to get drunk instead of reading the books and then tried to calculate some half-assed scheme by which you could cheat on your exams, and then, at the end of the day, presumably simply on account of the financial transaction between you, or more likely your parents, and said institution, you declared yourself educated - was not sufficient for Bootie. - From The Emperor's Children, page 55 -

...about raising children and giving them everything their hearts desire:

Murray Thwaite had little patience for this. He suddenly saw his daughter as a monster he and Annabel had created - they and a society of excess. - From The Emperor's Children, page 66 -

...and about high tech, computerized corporate America:

The company, it seemed, engaged in middle man activity, the procuring of rights - of abstractions - that permitted, elsewhere, the actual trading of information (also abstract) for huge sums of money. Which was, of course, itself abstract. It was a though the entire office were generating and moving, acquiring and passing on, hypotheticals, a trade in ideas, or hopes, to which value somehow accrued. - From The Emperor's Children, page 60 -

Messud has written a sharp, witty expose that intrigued me. Her writing is observant, her characters complex and well developed. Although this is not the type of book I usually enjoy, I found myself unable to put it down.

Recommended; Rated 4/5.