12/30/2013 by syrbal-labrys
#44 – People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks
This was a well-researched and engaging novel about an actual historical artifact – the “Sarajevo Haggadah.” A ‘haggadah’ is a family prayer book such is used in Jewish practice; the actual Sarajevo book is famous for being atypically illustrated in beautiful medieval style miniatures. It was created in Spain in that rare golden age when Islam, Christians, and Jews dwelt in relative peace. The novel traces a fictionalized journey based on some idea of how this splendid volume ended up in Sarajevo, and how it was saved from the war which engulfed the city. One of the best reads of the year!
#45 – The Possibility of an Island, by Michel Houllebecq
A reviewer once described another book by this man as a “repugnant read” and that could well apply here. The early 21st century/future setting of his novel imagines current events and a devastated future world inhabited by solitary clones of humans observing “wild” natural humans in dislike and dismissal. His main character thinks that life without sex with younger more beautiful girls is (1) unfair and (2) pointless. A new religion encourages ‘eternal” and hedonistic life via cloning as the world dies. Only a few of the millions ARE cloned: Eternity ends in isolated misery with no point, only the cloned pets provide any real love. Misogyny, sexual obsession and selfishness…YUK. I could never decide if this was a criticism of the direction modern life seems bound to go, or if the writer simply wanted it to work BETTER.
#46 – Kim by Rudyard Kipling
Kipling gets the rap for being a merry colonialist; I think that somewhat unfair since he makes as much fun of British and other European failings as not. He highlights several lovable things about Indians of several faiths in this thoroughly enjoyable romp through the India of the “Great Game” (espionage betwixt England and Russia). It was a nice little vacation while remaining comfortably ensconced in the pillows of my bed!
#47 – The Lampshade by Mark Jacobson
This was one of the cheats of the year, it is non-fiction; I bought it as a Yule gift and hurriedly read it myself first so I could discuss it with the giftee. Fascinating account by a Jewish man who ends up owning one of the infamous (and “mythic”?) lampshades of human skin like those allegedly made at Buchenwald concentration camp. DNA work proves the shade IS human skin, but can’t tell him much else about it. He takes it around the world from the wrack and ruin of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana – where the lampshade was found, post-storm. He goes to most Holocaust museums, all the way to Israel, looking for information and a possible home for the bit of human remains stretched on a lampshade frame. No museum will accept it; the one in the US even calls it a “myth” as if the sheer ugliness of the possibility made their prissy curators too squeamish to deal with the fact of such a shade existing. He considers following Jewish law and burying it back in New Orleans, but as of publication had not brought himself to do so; thus it remains a historical enigma and an ethical bit of zeitgeist…or, a zeitgeisty bit of ethics?
#48 – The City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte
This is a romantic fantasy absolutely NOT of the sword/sorcery sort. It is a bit like a literary cheese plate with every over-done trope reproduced in a strangely relaxing and intriguing manner:
the Sexy Scholar
the Precocious Child
the Looming Mexican (bodyguard to Child)
the Immortal Dwarf
the Prince Charming
a GOP Female Villain
…and of course, various stooges, spies, and minions!
This really is a romp, through Prague and recalling the Soviet dominated history of Czechoslovakia. If you want something amusing for a bathtub soak, this will do, even if it is a mite predictable.
#49 – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This is a better romantic fantasy, no swords of consequence, but plenty of sorcery. It is an enchanting take on the theme of magical duels. And I’m not saying another word; this is the perfect “curl up in bed with a plate of chocolates and bottle of red wine” novel. A good stay-at-home for New Year’s Eve even! I found this endearingly relaxing.
#50 – Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
I used to read a lot of historical fiction, but now, much tenderized by time and actual history? I often find it difficult – sometimes merely because the history is TOO fictionalized or inaccurate. This book was the opposite, difficult because it was exquisitely agonizing to read.
Again, Brooks was painstakingly accurate to her research and produced a marvelous portrait of Puritan life in Massachusetts of the 17th century. Specifically, she deals with the shatteringly sad stories of the first Amerindians sent to Harvard to be educated, using a family much like an actual historical clan of the time to tell the tale. The first half was hard to read due to the unflinching portrayal of religious rigors and thus-induced guilts and terrors of the time; the second half was impossible to put down, but heartbreaking to finish. As the very best of fiction of this type does, it tells a story NOT told enough in history CLASSES.
# 51 – The Mythic Warrior Handbook by Chiron, translated by Carlson and Day
Quite a send up of mythology here, humorously transformed into a how-to book! This was another stocking stuffer I bought and hastily perused myself to better share the laughs. The clan of Atreus takes in right in the armored (but insufficiently) shorts in this little book. Amusing intro to Greek myths…teens would likely find it hilarious!
#52 – Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition by Ben Schotten
Another that is not technically fiction, but it may as well be for anyone who thinks I could REALLY inscribe the contents into my mind as FACTS. This adorable long thin book is full of magnificently tongue snarling multi-syllabic words describing complex things like “the childhood sensation that summer vacation will last forever” (Sommersferienewigkeitsgefuhl !) We all enjoyed this, as most of it was read aloud around the table on Solstice Eve! (Yes, Yewberry, I know this doubtless means that you are somehow correct to insist (with my mother-in-law) that I am somehow German!)
That is it…back to non-fiction for me!