Monday, 28 May 2012

The Lacuna - #5

Straight up. I will make no apologies but I was brought up on musicals. 1950s musicals to be exact. According to my wonderful father, Frank Sinatra is the best singer, Fred Astaire is the best dancer, but Gene Kelly is just the best. This has nothing to do with this book, besides the fact that my mind thinks in musicals and finds links to any song possible. Which is helpful as a singer. However reading a book (as demonstrated in the last post) can be very annoying.

So, this book had Living Lacuna Loca in my head the entire time. While not Ricky Martin's fault, as it is not the actual title of the song, I am still annoyed.

That being said. That is where my usual "annoyance" ends.

This is a brilliant book. Not perfect but pretty damn close. I loved The Poisonwood Bible, and this is comparable.  Harrison's childhood and then young adulthood in Mexico was tangible. Parts of it made it feel like I could reach out and touch things. You respect Harrison and wish, no LONG, things to work out better for him.

You love Trotsky and Kahlo as secondary characters. Frida Kahlo was a big thing here in Canberra while I was in College (Yrs 11-12 for non-Canberrans). She had a exhibition here then, yes 50 years after her death,  and made a stir. One of my favourite Aussie bands mentions her in one of their songs of that time (also in my head the entire time).

Besides the brilliant first half of the book in Mexico, the rest of the book leaves me terrified in America. I'm not going go in to an anti-American diatribe. But the the last half of the book, with it's anti-Communist-for-the-sake-of-it focus is heart breaking. Not the author's point of view but the society's.

I have never ever though about post war America. My father mentioned above was a kid when the war hit. He lived in England, in the North, and he met so men who trained up North and were fed at his Grandmother's house and went to war. He was a sailor in Korea and Vietnam and trained in the States, but you could not get him to say a nice thing about the States in WWII. To them and him, America only came in when they themselves were threatened.

I am not going to argue with anyone here. My father is gone so I can't convince him otherwise. My point is as an Australian with a Yorkshireman as a father who lived through the war, I never though about America post war. It just happened, and then there was Mad Men. But this book explained, if it was close to what happened, the American psyche. It explained to me the terror, the void of identity, that needed to be plugged. It if nothing else explained to me the blatant fear of socialism and communism that exists in the country today.

I don't need a political debate and that is not what I am after. However, when a President for example looks at introducing something the rest of the Western world has and is labelled a Communist or/and a Socialist, the end of this book explains why that is so for the rest of us who cannot fathom it. Too us it is madness, this book explains where madness comes from.

It was amazing, liberating, for a borderline socialist, invigorating, historically balanced, and just bloody well written. I may have a girl crush. I also crave enchiladas. So 4.5 controversial stars from me.

Next: The Elegance of the Hedgehog in France

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Heart of Darkness - #4

I was excited for this book. It's been sitting on my shelf for a little while and had been so built up. You know, one of those turn of the century novellas that shaped English literature into what it is today and challenged the ideas of morality and what not.

And you know what it felt like? It felt like reading an Old Spice ad.

It was the characteristic flowery over-description that I can tolerate, but after Purge was a bit of a smack in the face of how old Londoners (not English, Conrad was Polish) waffle on a bit. And by a bit I mean a lot. Now don't get me wrong, I like a good old fashioned, Victorian/Edwardian waffle. Oscar Wilde is my prime example.

However, what Mr Wilde does, that Conrad doesn't, is mix it with wit. Conrad however mixes it with self-indulgent musings. And I can't deal with them at any time. It's like when you go on a date with some guy who spends the whole time giving a soliloquy (as he won't let you get a word in edge wise) on why what he thinks is so insightful and fantastic, and let him enlighten you on that (not that you have a choice). In fact, the only enlightenment you get is how much you want to stab him in the eye with your fork.

But back to the Old Spice ad. The bit that frustrated me the most was that he was telling the story, or narrative for those English teachers among us, about how they were fixing a boat and couldn't ever get parts because they are in deepest darkest Africa. Then he went on to a paragraph of self-indulgent, let-me-tell-you-how-clever-and-insightful-I-am drivel. And the next paragraph they are sailing down a river. On the broken boat. That wasn't broken any more. What the hell? I re-read it 3 times, I have no fricking idea how they got there. Suddenly it was all "I'M ON A BOAT!". And any person who gets that in my head while I'm reading a book needs to be taken out the back and put down.

And you know what? Do you think that Mr Conrad was content with doing that to me once? No. Not at all. He does it again. In the climax. The guy has attention issues!

This book, I can concede, was probably very confronting and thought provoking in 1902 or whenever the magazines where first published (that's the book publication date). I was more confronted by the use of the n-word and the term savages. Otherwise, the book was a meh, and has been added to the list of books that have been thrown once finished 

So, in the end, this boils down to

Next: Mexico with The Lacuna

Monday, 7 May 2012

Purge - #3

This book was different. It had a mood. It enveloped you like a thick, sticky fog and wouldn't quite let you out. It drew you in so far, you felt like you were in the Estonian forest, probably in a log style farmhouse, and surrounded by the mist. You could pretty much smell the horseradish, feel the charcoal on your teeth throughout this book. It was an experience.

I wonder if it is just something we don't do in Western novels/stories. I liken my experience with this novel to my partner's when we sat down to watch the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He wasn't overly keen to watch it, but within the first 5 mins (which was only the intro titles) he was on the edge of his seat desperate to see where the movie went. In those 5 mins, the mood (his words not mine this time) was so unlike any thing that we were used to, and he was lapping it up. For him with the movie and for me with this novel, we weren't patronised, we weren't talked down to, we were just taken along on a story.

As a Westerner who's biggest problem in life at the moment is that her phone battery doesn't last more than a day (what the hell Ericsson!), being thrown into a world of either being occupied in your own country by the Soviets, then the Germans, then the Soviets again for good measure or finally being able to get to the promise of the West only to be forced into sex slavery, was needless to say perspective finding. The worlds these women experienced while not entirely unheard of, casts the light my cushy Aussie lifestyle.

Both Aliide and Zara were likeable to some extent, and you were able to empathise and sympathise with them both, although Zara more. You understood and even respected their decisions, and honestly I do not know if I would have made entirely different ones from Aliide to keep myself safe. The desperation of the women oozes off the page and into you.

Criticisms, as we all know I always have some. While I felt that the "darker things" (trying not to spoil here, so work with me) was dealt with delicately while still conveying the horror of it all in the Soviet area parts of the book, I felt that it was overly explicit when mentioned in the 1990s timeline. Although it could have been mentioned more I guess... so maybe that was the delicate way of putting it... Secondly, I think that Part Five of the book was kinda unnecessary, and the book could have end those 10-15pp earlier. It didn't alter the story or decrease my like of the book, just was a bit... meh.

Overall a highly recommended read. There are one or two bits that sort of burn into your mind so make sure you have some youtube videos of hilarious animals to get you to sleep. And for some reason I had a dream that I single-handedly had to save Latvia last night... not sure if that is related... Anyways, 5 stars from me.

Next: Congo with The Heart of Darkness.