Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stalins køerStalins køer by Sofi Oksanen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stalin’s cow is a goat! The Danish title of the debut novel "Stalins Køer", by Finnish writer Sofi Oksanen, is fantastic. It both means “Stalins’ cows”, but also “Stalin's queues” - those famous queues in front of the socialist stores, to which Oksanen makes frequent references. Those queues where did not matter what was sold, because anything was sold, everybody needed it. Otherwise, "Stalin's cow is a goat" is the sentence that actually refers to the essence of the novel: the depersonalization and disimulation of him/herself.

As in Purge (the book with which Oxanen won in 2010 the Nordic Council Prize for Literature), "Stalin's Cows" episodically describes the lives of three generations of Estonian women. The grandmother - survivor of the Stalinist nightmare from '40s-'50s, the mother – who, being raised in the full soviet era, succeeded to marry and escape in the neighboring, "enemy and capitalist country", Finland and finally the daughter - half western, half eastern, lost somewhere in between two worlds. Three generations of women who became traumatized by changes that more or less they could not control. Women who lost their individual freedom, but by dissimulation they did sharpen their self-preservation instinct. And loss of freedom seemed to evolve hereditary from the obligation, to the option.

In "Stalin's Cows" grandmother, Sofia, became kholhosnic and stahanovist because she had no choice. Mother, Katriina, had a choice and married a Finn, and became more Finnish than the Finn. Daughter, Anna, had apparently no choice since her mother forced her to hide their origin, because only like that she could avoid the "whore" label, which all Estonian and Russian women in Finland bore. And Anna ate, ate, ate and vomited, lied, and stole and hid from herself in a shrinking 50 kilograms body. The self-retrieval is the chance only for Anna, and it occurs with the return "home", return to the roots...

Oksanen is a gifted writer with a great force of evocation. She is honest, sometimes rough honest, brutal, and melancholic. Her prose ranges from the upper lyrical and naturalistic poetry to the most grotesque nostalgia. "Stalin's Cows" is worth reading, though the "Purge" is with one star atop.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are so many excellent reviews for this book! And they made me, I think, to read (actually to listen) it with a very critical eye. I expected to disappoint me, but this didn’t happen. Because “The Help” is the very good example for a book that soon and safe becomes a bestseller.

The story is entertained and well written. The subject, which once was controversial, is now solved and classified as racism. The characters are sharply, strong and well defined. The rhythm is alert, vivid and easy to follow. But, unfortunately, this is all. Despite the fact that I very much enjoyed the audition, I find nothing to really impress me. The entire book is monochrome and one dimensional from the very beginning, until the very end and I got annoyed of the predictable and, somehow, cheap happy end!
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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Mrs. DallowayMrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a wonderful book! It is round, deep, fresh, sophisticated, daring, tragedy and comedy, has wit and humour…it’s mesmerizing. Reading "Mrs. Dalloway" is like looking at a Picasso’s portrait, with its many surfaces (un)matching within an imagine that is far away from perfection, from the Divine Proportion. But if you come closer and look attentive at each detail, shadow, and perspective, you are overwhelmed by the beauty of all meaning. Mrs. Dalloway and her own nemesis, Septimius Warren Smith, are actually the human being in all its depth. In its splendour and futility, its happiness and fears, its hopes and disappointments, in its struggle with the transient condition of the mortal soul.

The style is splendid. It has the madness and sweetness of a dream; it is equivocal, but perfectly balanced. The passage between voices, memories, images, and moments is magnificently pointed by the hours, by the almighty sounds of the Big Ben. Everything has middle, and what is next is only the reflection of the past. The symbols and metaphors are subtly used and the references to Shakespeare and Ulysses are smartly placed in the text. Nothing is too obvious or too explicit.

But beside all the ambiguous and contradictory characters, we also have London, the imperial town hit by the hot wave of midsummer. We have its streets and squares, its houses with their opened windows. It is a sensorial abundance of views, sounds, colours, smells. London is vivid and alive despite the disillusionment with what once upon a time was The British Empire, and with… life.
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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

El sueno del CeltaEl sueno del Celta by Mario Vargas Llosa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Without any doubt, this is a good book: a great story about an interesting character, written in the well known fluent and catching style of Llosa. But unfortunately, not as good as I was expecting. Yes, I understand that Llosa wanted to present his representation of Roger Casement, the controversial Irish hero who was adulated and hated, honoured and despised, respected and forgotten and then respected again. And the resulted portrait is quite a success, but somehow Llosa was too expeditive. The stories about Casement’s work in Congo and Amazonia are pretty much the same. They developed in the same frame of black and white and they had the same generic characters with almost no exception. Moreover, these stories are considered to be the reason for Casement’s political radicalism and nationalism, and therefore I think, Llosa failed to explain the big change in his hero’s life, the gap between his early believes and late actions. He idealised Casement, though he intended the opposite. His own interpretation of The Black Diaries is also part of the idealisation process: yes, Casement was a homosexual, a sinful catholic, but no, under any circumstances he was not able to really do what he pretended that he had done.

"The Dream of the Celt" reminds me very well of "The Way to Paradise", and I find many similarities between Roger Casement and Paul Gaugain, as they were portrayed by Llosa. It is both touching and disturbing their destructive way of following their dream. But being honest, I enjoyed more “The Way to Paradise” .
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