Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Woman at Point Zero (1975) by Nawal El Saadawi


Book Review
Woman at Point Zero (1975)
 by Nawal El Saadawi

Replaces: The Newton Letter by John Banville

    Any thorough reader of the Western literary canon will notice a paucity of works translated from Arabic, let alone works published in English where the writers are the children of immigrants to the West.  Only one writer in Arabic has won the Nobel Prize in Literature (Naguib Mahfouz- 1988).  Mahfouz is absent from the 1001 Books list- I found some Audiobooks in the Libby Library app but just can't generate the energy to tackle him.

   Woman at Point Zero is a feminist era book that blends fiction and non-fiction- with the text purportedly based on a real interview El Saadawi conducted with a female prisoner awaiting execution for murder.  Nawal El Saadawi is interesting in her own right, a female doctor and public intellectual who clashed with the- also secular- dictatorship of Anwar Sadat, eventually being stripped of her public status and even sent to prison.   Obviously, prostitution is an issue in Egyptian society but it isn't really out there, Egypt being a pretty conservative, repressive place, even during the secular 70's. 

  It's an easy choice to replace The Newton Letter by the excellent but overrepresented Irish author John Banville.   The diversity bonus from a book written in Arabic, by a secular, Egyptian author, about a member of the urban underclass- that's like quadruble diversity bonus points- the mere fact that it has been translated into English is enough to warrant a canonical inclusion.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Southern Seas (1986) by Manuel Vasquez Montalblan


Book Review
Southern Seas (1986)
by Manuel Vasquez Montalblan

Replaces: The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul by Douglas Adams


  Southern Seas is one of a long series of books featuring the exploits of Pepe Carvalho, Barcelonian private detective and gourmand.   The thirteen book series is notable both for the gritty, "noir"-ish presentation of Barcelona, the writing about food and a take on politics that leans left and reminded me of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Swedish marxist Steig Larrsson

  Pepe Carvalho is sure to win you some cool points if you run into a sophisticated fan of detective fiction, and if you have been or are planning to go to Barcelona for any reason I'm sure any of the thirteen books makes for a fun backgrounder on the city.  There's a level of sex and violence that registers at the "R" level in the USA: readers who are fed up with straight white guys and their tough talk won't find any relief with Carvalho and his man servant, Biscuter.

  In this book, Cavalho is hired to solve the mysterious murder of a wealthy industrialist who had allegedly decamped to the "South Seas" a year before he was found murdered in a half-built apartment building in an unfashionable suburb.   

Love Medicine (1984) by Louise Erdrich


Book Review
Love Medicine  (1984)
by Louise Erdrich

Replaces: Black Dogs by Ian McEwan

  The absence of Chippewa-American author Louise Erdrich from the first edition of the 1001 Books list was a major omission, and they rectified the oversight in the first revision, replacing Black Dogs by the highly over-represented Ian McEwan with Love Medicine, Erdrichs' first book.  Erdrich won the National Book Award in 2012 for The Round House, and she has a galaxy of lesser awards and nominations.   Until Sherman Alexie broke through a decade later, she was the only Native American writer of literary fiction with a national/international profile.   Certainly, this was the case in the early 2000's, when the editors of the 1001 Books project were formulating their list, so her omission is puzzling.  It's probably due to the part that the UK isn't a big market for Native American issues and the editors were mostly or all from the UK.

   Love Medicine is exactly what your would picture in your head if you only knew that Erdrich was a writer of literary fiction, a Native American from Northern Minnesota, i.e. a complicated multi-generational family saga with plenty of inter and intra generational drama revolving around substance abuse and the genocidal legacy of the Europeans at the hands of the Natives. 

  The Ojiibwe suffered like all Native groups, but their experience was more akin to the managed retreat of the Iroquois than the genocidal experience of the tribes of the plains and southeast. Today, they are the fifth largest Native group in the United States.  So, the dysfunction is bad, but not the worst, and Erdrich's early emergence as a writer of Native themed literary fiction speaks the relationship between Natives and the locals (Erdrich herself is the daughter of a German-American and his Native wife.)

  

Monday, October 21, 2019

HHhhH (2012) by Laurent Binet


Book Review
HHhH (2012)
 by Laurent Binet

   HHhH is what you might a call a "dazzling work of metafiction" and it won the 2010 Prix Goncourt for first novel- different from the main Prix Goncourt- which is like the Pulitzer Prize for France.   The unnamed narrator is determined to tell the story of Nazi leader Richard Heyrdrich, notable for this role as an architect of the "final solution" and Nazi leader of the occupied Czech Republic.   Heyrdrich was killed by two partisan's during World War II, and his assassination was the most significant assassination of a Nazi by a partisan group during World War II.

   HHhH is about Heydrich, the plot to murder Heydrich and the life of the unnamed narrator, who is not Author Binet but resembles him in several notable respects, including time living in Prague.  The narrator is not unaware of contemporary trends in Nazi inspired lit- notably The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell, published in 2006 and winner of the Prix Goncourt, it covers similar territory but is closer to a late 19th century realist novel than the metafictional wizardry of HHhH.

   I enjoyed this Audiobook, which wasn't long- racing through it to the detriment of the other books I was listening to at the same time.  There is something...fun, about Binet- fun in the hatefulness, in the same way that Michel Houllebecq is fun. If people are going to be hateful miserable fucks they should at least be fun about it.  

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