An interesting site, replete with fascinating tidbits on literary history.
An insightful comparison between Trollope’s London in The Way We Live Now and America’s New Gilded Age, from George Packer in the New Yorker.
Greed is eternal, but when the money flows as plentifully upward as in London circa 1873 or New York circa 2013, and is as unequally distributed, it becomes a moral toxin, saturates the world of culture, makes relationships more competitive, turns desire into the pursuit of status, replaces solid things with mirages.
We read this in our book club a few years ago. It seems to be even more relevant today.
Next up for the book club is Bonsia by Alejandro Zambra.
Winner of the Chilean Critics’ Award for the Best Novel of the Year in 2006
I’ve been remiss and not posted in a long time. So here are a few updates.
The reading group
Currently reading - The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Book blogs and web sites recently discovered
- The new Zoe Szabo mystery should be done by summer
- An e-book of short stories about women artists. I’ll put up a link when it is available.
Interesting post from the New Yorker on literature that lasts.
Posted in Books, Novels
Post this under “recently read.” The book club read Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan–set in post-Soviet Azerbaijan–a few months ago, and then, after finding the book incredibly sexist, decided to read a female take on the changes in Eastern Europe since the fall of communism. For that Tea Obrecht’s The Tiger’s Wife–set in the former Yugoslavia–by fit the bill perfectly.
A propos of Absurdistan is the featured book on the Leonard Lopate show book club on WNYC-FM. Shteyngart will be on to discuss his novel on January 10, 2012.
On the Lopate Book Club page, you can find interviews with Salman Rushdie on Midnight’s Children (also one of our book club post-colonial-themed reads).
On Absurdistan, I found it interesting that Halliburton and the oil industry have replaced the Soviets as a colonizing force. One of our members felt the main character had some of the characteristics in the “holy fool” tradition in Russian literature. Others disliked the book–either because the satire didn’t ring true, they were offended by the profoundly negative and sexualized depiction of women. That all the female characters were prostitutes or near-prostitutes bothered me as well. It seemed to me to be a cheap path for an author to take, although I did find the humor and the critique of post-Soviet globalization sharp and incisive.
The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
I loved this book. Takes one from Proust’s Paris to contemporary Japan, via Vienna and the Holocaust. A history of Jews and anti-Semitism by following a tiny netsuke hare down the rabbit hole. Told by a ceramist with an eye for craft, kitsch, and beauty.
For March the reading is Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.
Novels about Colonialism:
Everyone in the Reading Group enjoyed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. It’s about Dutch colonialism (or trade at least) in the Pacific and the relationship with Japan.
My own thoughts: I especially liked the first and third parts. The second part seemed to me to be a variation on vampire stories (monks killing women and babies to gain immortal life). It was a quick, exciting read, with a dashing denoument. However, I tend to like a slightly deeper treatment of real historical and social circumstances (with plenty of thrills, of course). For many of the members, it was a bit difficult to get into as they found the opening slow.
My preference by way of historical, but still exciting, fiction about colonialism is Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. It’s a difficult read because of the rich use of many languages (Bengali, Hindi, English, French), but extremely rewarding. The book illustrates the social, gender, caste, and class boundaries encountered by Indians, British, Americans (including a mixed race American) in a way that is fascinating and provocative. It will set you thinking about the limitations that our origins impose on us; and about how many limitations and boundaries were affected by colonization by Europeans throughout the 17th-19th centuries. Plus there’s a fabulous, swashbuckling finish!
The next part of what promises to be a trilogy, centered around Britain’s Opium Wars in China, will be published this coming fall. I can’t wait!
The group: Brother’s Karamazov.
On my own: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Hugo’s Les Miserables, Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories.
I’ll post soon on recent group reading and reactions.