Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Reading updates [with an update]

- I've stopped reading Life Is Elsewhere. I enjoyed it very much for a while, the poet's mother's stupidity is exasperating but intriguing and somehow captivating. Then the narrative's broken off and I'm afraid the Xavier chapter ruined it for me, because it had nothing to do with anything but the next part didn't quite answer and at the same time wasn't interesting enough for me to go on to find the connection. I didn't care for Jaromil the protagonist, and above all, didn't care for the author. The cynical, misanthropic tone of the narrator became more and more irritating, like he's full of himself. At some point, I no longer cared for Jaromil's mother. 
Think I've fallen out of love with Milan Kundera. 

- These days I'm very busy. I mean, the whole school year. Easter means no class, doesn't mean holiday. There are too many things to do; life is short, there are too many books to read and too many films to watch, I have no desire to cling to a book that I get little out of.  

- My intention after Effi Briest and The Awakening was to reread Madame Bovary. I still haven't. For a while I read nothing but stuff for the course, and some Kate Chopin. But right now, even though I can, Madame Bovary doesn't seem like a good choice, much as I admire Flaubert. Such a book does no good for me, with my insecurities and mood swings (I'm not going to pretend that a literary work doesn't affect me personally). 

- The plan remains the same that in summer I will have a Life and Fate read-along. Anyone cares to join? For anyone that doesn't know, Life and Fate is called War and Peace of the 20th century, and Vasily Grossman is said to be similar to Tolstoy in many ways- the large scope, the humanity. 
"The novel has over a hundred and fifty characters, and each is patiently individualized, delineated with a journalist’s fidelity to appearances and an artist’s clairvoyance into meaning." 
Sounds like Tolstoy's book. 
"True to its title, “Life and Fate” mixes gritty battlefield descriptions with acute psychological insights, wrenching dilemmas and deep philosophical reflections about the nature of good and evil. It is at once funny, gruesome, tragic, informative, romantic and disconcerting. The central message of horror jars with the simplistic but widely held notion that the war was a black-and-white struggle between beastly Nazis and their valiant adversaries.
For Grossman, the Nazi and Soviet systems and ideologies had far more similarities than differences. Both were directed at crushing the ultimate qualities of kindness and individuality." 
This is 1 of the writers I haven't read that I think I'll like. 

- I tend to have reservations when a writer seems to be obsessed with race and/or gender. However, for several reasons, I'm reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun at the moment. 
Let's see how it goes. 


If the 2 reviews above still don't persuade you to read Life and Fate, this is a better pitch: 
"By the end of the novel, what you are left with out of the debris of Soviet Communism is something so banal it could be written on a greetings card: the individual, often random act of kindness – an old woman who picks up a stone to hurl at a captured German soldier and, for reasons she will never understand, replaces it with a piece of bread. People are placed in invidious situations, like Shtrum, cornered by Stalin. Few are heroes. But these acts of kindness recur throughout the novel, not in any context other than the spur of the moment. Kindness alleviates some of the horrors of war. In one brief moment a soldier thoughtfully removes a louse from his girl’s army jacket before kissing her.
Like many of my generation, I’d been shaped by ideas; by a number of -isms, socialism and feminism above all. I saw the world in terms of various us and them groupings. After reading Life and Fate they seemed to matter less. Grossman wasn’t advocating Christian saintliness, and was far from perfect in his own life. But if, even in the horror of war, you can alleviate suffering through some extraordinary action (volunteering to go to the gas chamber to hold the hand of a child so he won’t have to die alone), how easy might it be to behave with less anger, cynicism, irritation or sneery dismissiveness? And that’s what I have tried to do. Life and Fate is a daunting undertaking, but for those who finish it the experience is profound. Few novels that set out to change the world succeed; this one merely changed me." 
(Linda Grant) 


  1. it does sound like a great novel, with some clues about what means life meaningful; or occasionally the end of it... i had a copy, but got intimidated early on and quit reading it... i'm past the time of voracious investigation, currently employing my time in quieter, simpler pursuits... more power to youthful energies, tho...

    1. You don't intend to give it another try? :D

    2. i'll be interested in what your take on the novel is, but i'll most likely not read it... the horribleness of humanity en masse is well known to me and at this stage in my life, i'd rather watch the flowers and smell the pine trees... tx for asking, tho...

  2. When will the readalong start? Curious so I can be sure to clear the decks so to speak :)

    1. My plan is to start some time in June.