TBR Challenge


In the Country of Men
Hisham Matar

In the Country of MenIn the Country of Men is basically story about life in Libya after the colonel Muammar El Qaddafi’s revolution. The year is 1979 and the narrator is nine years old Suleiman so we see revolution and its consequences through the eyes of nine years old boy. Boy who was much protected from the truth by his parents. It was interesting how some obvious facts (obvious for us, adults) are presented in some naïve language of a kid. We have impression that we are sailing through the sea surrounded with peaks of icebergs. The difference is that we (adults) are aware what’s beneath the surface unlike the child who is telling us the story.

Then there is one nice picture about customs in the Muslim country and again position of woman in it. Suleiman’s mother has been forced into the marriage when her brother saw her in the café with mixed company. Immediately “husband hunt” begins and the Scheherazade-like story. Therefore she was very unhappy with her marriage but in the same time in the husband’s absence she’s even more miserable and becomes “ill”. Her “illness” is another peak of an iceberg and I must say I liked how Matar has described bond between mother and son making her “illness” something sacredly secret.

Suleiman’s family is relatively rich. His father is businessman often on the trip abroad but also man who is part of democratic wing in new Libya. Wing you don’t want to be part in post Revolutionary, Qaddafi’s Libya; full of secret police, man in dark suits and sunglasses, land where national TV is broadcasting public execution of “traitors of the revolution”; where phone lines are tapped, etc. And inevitably consequence for being wrong winged came. But even then it’s a peak of an iceberg.

Matar has done great job in conveying kid’s confusion toward all the events around him. Politics is absolutely incomprehensible to him; he doesn’t have a clue what his father supports or what he actually is doing in spite the fact that some glimpses have been presented accidentally to him. He is confronted with the mechanism of the regime when secret service is following their car or watching his house or taking away his friend’s father but somehow he manages to not recognize that as something bad. He’s explaining that in the most impossible ways. On the other hand his parents aren’t teaching their son anything, they are worsening situation even more and make him confused ‘till the breaking point when he start to scream (finally!):” You always lie. I am not a child and you always lie.” In the meanwhile I was so irritated with the kid and had to (too) often remind myself that he’s only a child.

But what disappointed me the most are last few chapters when we are actually see that the story tells 24 Suleiman and not nine years old boy. I’ve found myself confused why on earth he made this unnecessary contrast with the rest of the novel who has convinced us that the narrator is a boy? The whole novel was through the eyes of a kid, who is not kid anymore and therefore it completely spoils the earlier approach. Now when I know Suleiman is an adult I’d expect story from a point of view of an adult person.

The story itself is nothing new. It’s more/less the same story from a country under oppressive regime. There are only few specifically Libyan spices in this dish.
Indeed this is sad and sometimes poignant story but is that should be enough?

This is part of my Winter Reading Challenge 2008

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Winter Reading Challenge 2008Yes I know I’ve said I’ll avoid reading challenges since I was so unsuccessful in my previous attempt but I decided to try once again (this time with not so many books).

Kathleen is hosting Winter Reading Challenge 2008. It shouldn’t be too hard: simply you should pick as many as you wanted books and read them from Dec 1st till the Feb 28th

Here is my list:
1. Fear and its Servant by Mirjana Novaković (read review here Dec 5th)
2. In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar (read review here Dec 10th)
3. Götz and Meyer by David Albahari
4. Kapo by Aleksandar Tišma
5. Binu and the Great Wall (Canongate Myths) by Su Tong
6. Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass
7. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
8. Goya’s Ghosts by Jean-Claude Carrière and Milos Forman
9. Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan (Feb 3rd; didn’t write review)
10. Beltenebros by Antonio Muñoz Molina (Jan 10th; didn’t write review)

OK that would be it. Knowing myself I‘ll probably add some other title just because.
Wish me luck 🙂

EDIT TO ADD:
As I thought I had to change the list. I’ve read:
1. The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xinran (read review here (I’m zzz); Feb 4th)
2. My Forbidden Face: Growing Up Under the Taliban by Latifa (read review here (I’m zzz); Feb 16th)
3. Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (Feb 20th; didn’t write review)
4. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (read review here; Feb 28th)

The Inheritance of Loss
Kiran Desai

Inheritance of loss“Kiran Desai is a terrific writer” are the words of Salman Rushdie and indeed this can be seen from the opening paragraph of her second novel:

“All day, the colors had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths. Briefly visible above the vapor, Kachenjunga was a far peak whittled out of ice, gathering the last of the light, a plume of snow blown high by the storms at its summit.”

And this, almost liquid style is something which will carry you on one melancholic and funny and sad and (for me quite) educational journey. You just have to relax and let the stream to carries you away. I must say I did use dictionary a lot (in her river you’ll find beautiful and rare pebbles) and in spite the fact I could understood from the context it would be really such a shame not put little more effort and I was richly awarded. (of course this is something which we from non English world sometimes have to do)

I’ve mention that it was quite educational read. In the background of the story is one historical event: separatist aspiration of Nepalese in the region of Darjeeling and Kalimpong, near the border with Nepal for establishing Gorkhaland. This is something I completely wasn’t familiar with so I had to search a little bit. Of course that is not necessary to understand the book (and especially if history of your own country is full of numerous separatist movements) because misery and consequences are more than evident. In the first plan is the effect of this struggle on the life of common people in the region and personal … well, tragedies of the main characters.

The main characters (including the ones which surround them) are one colorful specter of different personalities that divide story in two (inseparable) parts: Indian on the Eastern Himalayas and American in the cheap restaurants and filled, dirty basements of NYC. Each of them is composed with numerous so emotional, so personal and histories so blind for the histories of others but in the same time so dependable on them. Because misery is more bearable when is not alone. I’m not going to write any spoiler because some of my friends are about to read this novel so I’ll write in general.
There is story about gloriously failed ambition as a “consequence” of wrong genotype (or wrong inheritance), story about too high ambitions and fake image of life that depends only on the talent for mimicry (if you’re good enough maybe you’ll convince yourself that you are one of them), different love stories with political or religious or (wrong) sexual obstacles, story of American dream (or was it nightmare?), immigration, exile, globalization, post colonial disorientation … etc.

Clashes of cultures are so hilarious and sad in the same time. People who would change their inheritance without thinking but after numerous failures they will decorate themselves with superhuman self convincing that precisely that same inheritance is making them unique and interesting (“…who had hit on the fact that you could escape from being a drab immigrant and have a fantastic time as an Indian among the tie-dyed, spout all kinds of Hindu-mantra-Tantra-Mothar-Earth-native-peoples-single-energy- -organic-Shakti-ganja-crystal-shaman-intuition stuff.”); and when they found themselves in the surroundings with people from the same pot as theirs they will start putting peacock feathers on the crow being nothing more than ridiculous and pathetic.

Oh it’s more/less the same thing with our immigrants when they come back here. I really love this part:

“… that immigration, so often presented as a heroic act, could just be the opposite; that it was cowardice that led many to America; fear marked the journey, not bravery; a cockroachy desire to scuttle to where you never saw poverty, not really, never had to suffer a tug to your conscience; where you never heard the demands of servants, beggars, bankrupt relatives, and where your generosity would never be openly claimed; where by merely looking after your own-wife-child-dog-yard you could feel virtuous. Experience the relief of being an unknown transplant to the locals and hide the perspective granted by journey”

I belong to the nation with unfortunately huge expatriated population and I know many that quote from above refers to. And I do think this transformation is the worst consequence of immigration. That morbid tendency to be assimilated, morbid tendency to be someone else and incurable disease to represent themselves as someone else when they come back in motherland to exhibit their success to the family and left-behind (once) friends. And their universal defending mechanism/explanation (precisely as Desai said as well) is “jealousy, jealousy”… *sigh* how wrong they are…

However I must say that I expected a little more from this novel. I’m not sure what exactly but somehow I have a feeling that something is missing (for my personal sensation). Indeed I think she ended book (too) quickly but that’s surely not the reason for this feeling. I finished book 30 minutes ago so maybe it’s too early to find the right answer so when/if I do I’ll update this post.

Of course I highly recommend this novel.

This book is part of my TBR 2007 Challenge. I’m horribly late with this one thanks to my faculty obligations.

8/10

If on a winter’s night a traveller
Italo Calvino

This is my February book for 2007 TBR Challenge.

WOW what a strange book!
I mean, have you ever thought about how huge your reading passion is? To be honest I didn’t. Of course I love to read and on question “Without what you can imagine your life?” my answer always includes books but what would you do (not in literally of course) to find your missing book and to heal your reading fever? I’m not sure I ever felt that agonizing reading fever… until now. I know sounds silly but let me explain:

Of course when you enjoy enormously in book you’re reading you’ll finish it in one swallow and maybe (probably) reread some of its parts or entire book; maybe you’ll copy some quote in your special notebook and memorize them etc. and that is I guess normal destiny after meeting right book with right reader. But imagine this situation: You’re reading one of the best books you’ve ever read and you’re aware of that fact so you’re eating, drinking, breathing pages, one after another; film is rolling in your mind, you thinking about surprise on the next page and you’re running to see what is behind the corner and then … nothing… blank wall, no streets, no cars, no people, no nothing … blank page…. OK maybe this is printing error, maybe after that blank page the story will continue … imagine that state of mind: no rereading, no quotes, no following of your new friends destiny. You’re feeling cheated. Isn’t that horrible? Oh it is, it is…
And this book is about that sudden emptiness you’re feeling and that desperate search to find next page. And yes, the main character is “You” (dear reader), and yes precisely you are feeling tachycardia and yes your blood pressure is rising in that dark, surreal chase … for a book (imagine this!)

This postmodern novel is some sort of reader’s nightmare, always in search for your book or women (or both), or feeling writer’s agony. This book is from time to time dark, totally surrealistic, and breathtakingly inventive. Did I mention that “You” are the main protagonist?

With its 260 pages some might think it’s easy, light read but no, not easy read at all; sometimes you just need to rest a little bit to digest all what you eat so far (and it’s a quite menu), this book is for savoring, for letting each sentence to melt slowly on your tongue. Or that is case with me who doesn’t read several novels in the same time. However for some of you who practice that, reading this book will be, most likely, different experience.

Here I’d like to include one quote I like very much:

”Reading is always this: there is a thing that is there, a thing made of writing, a solid, material object, which cannot be changed, and through this thing we measure ourselves against something else that is not present, something else that belongs to the immaterial, invisible world, because it can only be thought, imagined, or because it was once and is no longer, past, lost, unattainable, in the land of the dead…
… Or that is not present because it does not yet exist, something desired, feared, possible or impossible. Reading is going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be …”

9/10

Kandže (The Claws)
Marko Vidojković

This is my January entry for 2007 TBR Challenge

Marko Vidojković is one of the most popular Serbian writers of young generation. And this novel is his most praised work so far. It has won “Golden Bestseller” award for 2005.

The Claws is novel about student protest 1996/97 against Slobodan Milosevic and his vote fraud. From time to time I almost wasn’t sure is this work of fiction or nonfiction. I participated in those events and all of them are very vividly described; night when I “tasted” tear gas for the first time in my life is here in the novel; described precisely in the way I remembered; I even imagined where he (Vidojković I guess) was standing and calculated he was some 20 meters away from me. Strange feeling indeed.

The main character is law student at Belgrade’s University who participates in the protest fanatically; hungry; betrayed by the rest of the world; he goes on demonstrations every day and haeadlong running into the most dangerous situations, comes to term with pointless of life. But everything changes when he meets very unusual girl with cut-off eyelashes…

The Claws speaks in new manner about student protest uncovering it till the final detail, and promoting almost impudently principle of revolutionary justice and rule that in politics and in love everything is permitted. This novel is offering that grotesque reality show of gray and carnival-whirlpooling everyday life in Belgrade in nineties with characters of flesh and blood even when they go astray on the other side of reality.

Here we can see anger in the leading role; anger as completely natural manifestation and only defending mechanism that person can afford during those years. Each character as much as s/he’s angry on his parents or girlfriend or his friends or … whatever; everything is leading to that anger because you cannot oppose to that monster called life or world or …. Especially in such idiotic and abnormal country that Serbia used to be then.
(”[…] AIDS is not the worst thing you can catch here in Serbia; the worst thing that might happened to you in Serbia is to live in Serbia.”)

Indeed those years were really tough and only to think about that period is scary enough! That’s why reading this novel was so déjà vu although this novel is extremely political, with very explicit political attitude (including real politicians (still active on our political scene); including late Serbian prime minister; including hint of his assassination; including hints about events which will lead to the final fall of Milosevic’s regime); written in very urban style with extremely obscene language …
What I like is that here there is no idealizations. Even perfect girl is not perfect (her nose and teeth aren’t quite perfect and she has no eyelashes); Ideal landscape is concrete architecture of New Belgrade; and in the end love which exists and don’t exists is actually sex (in enormous amounts) with amazing women who exists but on the other hand does she exists?

This is modern fairytale: sex, politics, anger, beating, police torture, sex, marihuana, loyalty, revolution, alcohol, magical realism or narcotic hallucinations (?) = strange and interesting combination.

Now I’m really not sure how will anyone who is not from this story understand this novel? Book is full of local stuff: streets, jokes, language, (existing) people, spirit and energy… It’d be very hard (if possible) to explain to someone who is not familiar with this. Poor translator … I could imagine only with glossary twice thicker than the novel itself!

7/10

OK I decided to jump in this train after I saw post about tbr-traveling on lotus’s blog!
Pick 12 books – one for each month of 2007 – that you’ve been wanting to read but haven’t gotten around to and that’s the only rule. Thanks Miz Books for idea! Here is the link for Challenge if you’d like to join

And to be honest I had quite problems to pick 12 titles from my Himalayan TBR.
Since I NEVER know which one will be my next read (it’s always totally accidental) I’m pretty sure I’ll not follow the order from the list:

Since I have Himalayan TBR I’ll have to start from Himalayas with 1-The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. This was SO wanted book and my expectations are quite high!

Let’s stay in India for a while with 2-Manil Suri and The Death of Vishnu. This novel is on my TBR for ages! Truly I don’t know why/how I was skipping it all this time. I really love debuts…

Now we’ll go little on the north, in Afghanistan. Nonfiction 3-My Forbidden Face (Growing up under the Taliban: A Young Woman’s Story) by Latifa. Author was 21 when the book has been published and is using pseudonym for security reason. It says this is like a contemporary Anne Frank this book is an extraordinarily powerful account of a teenager’s life under terrible circumstances and a celebration of the resilience of human spirit. I’m only hoping this is not something like this-is-why-bombing-Afghanistan-was-good-decision type of book.

We’re staying in Asia but now we’re moving in Myanmar with 4-The Piano Turner by Daniel Mason. “Intoxicating, full of sights to see, histories to learn, stories to entertain” so how could I skip it 🙂

Now we’re going on the very edge of the world, in Tasmania where we’ll stay with 5-Gould’s Book of Fish – novel in twelve fishes by Richard Flanagan. I really cannot wait to read this one because it sounds so original and interesting and just as type of books I like.

You thought that Asia is behind us? Oh no, no … let’s see how it looks 6-Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azir Nafisi. I’m sure that’ll be very interesting

Ok now we’re moving in South Africa to see all 7-Ways of Dying by Zakes Mda. Can you imagine professional mourner? Well it seems somewhere there are loads of strange professions.

Now we’re going home (my home) in Europe… first in England with 8-Arthur & George by Julian Barnes. I love Barnes and it seems that this one will be fabulous experience too.

Denmark and who else than magnificent Peter Hoeg and his 9-Tales of the Night?

And then little on the east in Poland where we’ll jump in the train which will take as in all corners of 10-Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski my favourite Polish writer/journalist. I adore his books. This one is about Great USSR and its collapse. This book has been proclaimed as the best one on The Book Fair in Frankfurt 1995.

Now we are in Italy to se what will happen 11-If on a winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino. Truth I’ve read this one very long time ago but I’m sure it’s time to reread it.

And finally we are in Serbia with 12-Kandže (Claws) by Marko Vidojković. He is one of the most popular young Serbian authors and this will be his first novel I’ll read. It won Gold Bestseller Award in Serbia so let’s see why?

Ok that would be main road (now after I see this little story I’d like to follow this order but I’m afraid that’ll not happen) but I we might go on some excursions to earn extra points or to search back up if any of those from above are giving us headache. Here are:

“Milan’s Turk” as my friends are calling him, Orhan Pamuk and his Snow (or maybe Istanbul if I found it)
Then let’s see Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf
Also it would be nice to enjoy in Leonardo’s Swans by Karen Essex
And not nice but certainly breathtaking to visit Rwanda in We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families by Philip Gourevitch
Or to see Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon