This post is a continuation of this one. I planned to published it on 31th of December (that way it would follow the first book round up that was published on 30th), but I had guests coming over for dinner and NYE celebration (last minute thing ) so I put it on hold and I'm publishing it now. Between these two posts, I think I managed to cover most of book reviews I did last year. I decided I won't include them all in this round up because it would just be too much. I didn't include any books reviews from my other blog either- much for the same reason. I think these two round ups are more than enough. I did discover some new writers I haven't yet reviewed on this blog last year (for example Oriana Fallaci), but don't worry they will come up in my talk sooner or later. I never forget a good read.
Ova objava je nastavak ove. Planirala sam je objaviti na staru godinu (tako da bi išla nakon prvoga dijela pregleda knjiga godine), ali su mi u zadnji tren došli gosti na večeru i proslavu Nove godine, pa sam je odgodila i objavljujem je sada. U ove dvije objave, mislim da sam uključila većinu ogleda knjiga koje sam napisala prošle godine. Odlučila sam da ih neću uključiti sve jer bi to bilo previše. Nisam ovdje stavljala nijedan ogled sa svoga drugoga bloga iz istoga razloga. Mislim da su ova dva sažetka knjiga sasvim dovoljna. Otkrila sam neke nove pisce o kojima još nisam pisala na ovome blogu (npr. Orianu Fallaci), ali bez brige, prije ili kasnije ja ću ih se sjetiti. Nikada ne zaboravljam dobru knjigu.
1. Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan
It was a pleasure for me to review this novel, because it often comes to my mind. I think it is a great example of why one should never feel too young to write. Anyway, this was my first novel by Sagan and it also happens to be the first novel she wrote. I would say that it was a lovely introduction to this author. The second novel of hers I read was Scars On the Soul and I simply fell in love with that one. Scars On the Soul is still my favourite novel of hers, but I shall talk about that one some other time, alright? Today we’re talking about Bonjour Tristesse (sometimes translated as Hello Sadness which is close enough, but well you all know what bonjour means in French). The title of the novel is taken from a poem (you can read it at the end of this post. Having read the poem both translations of the title seem to make sense to me). This novel was published in 1954, causing quite a stir and becoming popular instantly. Sagan was only 18 when the novel was published. That means she was 17 when she wrote it. That’s quite interesting, isn’t it? You can read my full review here.
2. Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is certainly a novel I would recommend. Not only is it a beautifully written novel, it is also a great classic. If anyone ever happens to ask you: "Who was the first women to win the Pulitzer prize?", well now you know the answer. Not only that, you can also elaborate on your response. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1921. I must add that it really deserved that Pulitzer, for it is, in many ways, a unique work. It is set in a particular historical time and place (1870-ties, New York, the so called Glided Age) and it delivers a brilliant portrait of New York society of that time. The title of the book is said to be inspired by a rather well known painting titled Age of Innocence, but it might also be a reference to the author’s upbringing and childhood. Wharton was in her fifties when she had written this novel and that is, quite often, the time when we recollect our childhood. After all, childhood is an age of innocence. The author is both critically and nostalgically inclined when she describes this period she had grown up in. This creates a rather potent mix of emotions that contributes to the novel’s complexity. Personally, this title always makes me think of William Blake and his Songs Of Age and Experience. Like Blake, Wharton is bringing her own experiences in this novel (following that write about what you know rule) and describing the things she has observed, for Wharton has grown up in this somewhat rigid (pre-first world war) New York society she described so eloquently in this novel. You can read my full review here.
In this post, I wrote about Hemingway. I didn't review this book because at the time, I was still in the process of reading, so in that post I just wrote about Hemingway in general. However, now (having read most of the stories from this short story collection) I can say with full confidence that I absolutely loved Hemingway's short stories. They have me such a great insight into him as a writer. They are surprisingly diverse in tone. Hemingway always retains his signature writing style, but he writes about such an array of topics. I must admit that until I read Garden of Eden, I underestimated Hemingway. That novel really opened my eyes to just how complex Hemingway could get. I think that without it, I would have probably be blinded for the subtle gender questioning that takes place in many of his short stories. Hemingway exploration of genre identity is remarkably bold for his time.
4. La Dame Aux Camelias, Alexandre Dumas
This novel was one of those reviewed in "Books that made me cry" feature on my blog and that by itself says enough about the effect it had on me. Let's face it, deep down I'm obviously a romantic. Lady of Camellias was written by Alexandre Dumas junior (the son of famous writer Alexandre Dumas) and it is better known as simply Camille in the English language. It was first published in 1846 and it was well received, becoming quite popular- albeit somewhat controversial because of its theme of a love between a young man and a courtesan. In fact, it was because of the novel's popularity that the author adapted this novel for stage and this play saw its premiere in 1852. It became an instant success and Verdi was quick to take note of it. In record time Verdi composed an opera based on it that premiered in 1953. In other words, it was only a year after the play La Dame aux Camélias was first performed, that Verdi put his opera La Traviatta on the stage. That’s quite something, isn’t it? If you want to read my full review of this novel, you can do so here.
In this post, I wrote about the raw power of Sylvia Plath's poetry and the effect it has on me. In addition, I reviewed her celebrated novel The Bell Jar. If you read the post, you will know that I didn't like the novel. In fact, the novel was a let down. However, that doesn't mean that Sylvia Plath wasn't an amazing writer for she certainly was. I'm sure that if she had lived, she would have written many more fantastic works. I suppose it was just not meant to be. Wondering what might have been still makes me quite sad.
Fever 103 is one of Sylvia's best known poems and for good reason, I might add. I very much like it, but I must confess that I'm not quite sure that I fully understand it even now. Perhaps it is better that way, for this way I can always search for new interpretations of it. Fever 103 continues to fascinate me to this day. It is written in typical Plath's style. Her almost simple language is contrasted with the complexity of her themes. Like some other Plath's songs, it is composed of 18 stanzas ( 3 lines each). It strikes me as a very powerful indeed, especially after I had listened to Sylvia's own reading of it. Moreover, I must say that I think that the best way to experience Plath's poetry is not by reading it, but by literally listening to it being read by Plath herself! It was only through her own physical voice that I understood the depth of her poetical voice. Another poem I recommend listenting to is her famous poem Daddy.
6. Gay Gavriel Kay, Sailing to Sarantium
Gay Gavriel Kay is a writer I discovered a long time ago. He often creates his fantasy worlds having in mind a specific historical period. This novel, being set in a world very much akin to 6th century Mediterranean world, is no exception. Many of its characters are based on real historical figures, for example emperor Justinian I (known as a man who never sleeps) becomes Valerious II in this novel and his empress Theodora (a former courtesan turned great ruler) appears under name Aliana. Sarantium, the embodiment of culture and art in this novel, is based on Constantinople during the reign of Justinian I. This novel has a lot to offer. I'm sure that historical lovers will enjoy parallels with the actual historical period and places that appear in this book. Likewise, art lovers and artists will surely love all those meditative passages about the nature of art. This novel opens with artisan Crispin, who having lost his family in a plague has nothing to life for. His love for his craft ( he creates mosaics, a form of art in that time) is probably the only thing keeping him alive. So, when Crispin’s elderly mentor asks him to travel to Sarantium in his place to work on a royal commission, Crispin accepts knowing that this journey will surely change his life. That’s the opening of the story and I assure you, it is a very enjoyable story to read. Now, I’ll say something about the downsides of this novel. It feels unfinished, but that is due to the fact it is meant to be read with its sequel (it is a duology). In addition, female characters are a bit one dimensional despite being intelligent. You will notice that spiritual experiences happen to men and that ladies are more focused on this material world. However, it was still a fine novel. I'm sure that fantasy, art and history geeks will love this one. If you want to read by full book review you can do so here (goodreads review).
7. Johannes Mario Simmel, Čovjek koji je slikao bademova drvca
original title: Der Mann, der die Mandelbäumchen malte
This novel (sadly not translated to English), is such an interesting read. I I feel like there is a way to read this story in which the married couples are really in love but the opposite could also be the case. I guess we will never know. We’re all sometimes so relentless in the way we read others that there is no point in trying to prove us wrong. Perhaps this is even more case with those we love, we’re so certain we know them well that we become possessive over their identity. He is like that or she is like that- every wife (girlfriend) and husband (boyfriend) are so sure they can describe their spouse (partner) but what do we really know of each other? What is love after all? Passion or loyalty? Is true love more common between friends or between mere strangers? Can we be truly ourselves with those we know well? Removal of inhibitions can be a powerful feeling, but isn’t love always about intimacy? However, what is intimacy? Johannes doesn’t exactly ask these questions, but he makes you want to ask them and I think that is what makes a good writer.
8. The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
The Heart of Darkness is one of the most famous works of Polish- British writer Joseph Conrad. This novela criticizes European colonialism, but I think it also speaks about the battle between the right and the wrong- a battle that exists within every soul. Marlow, the narrator of the story in question, starts off his tale with reminder that for Romans, this 'biggest and greatest' city in the world (London) was a place of darkness. What is darkness after all? What is light? I believe that there is always a choice and it is up to us to stand by the light or by the darkness, to choose good or evil. Darkness exists in every corner of this world. Those nations and countries that call themselves great do not escape it. Being good is always a matter of personal initiative. Just because we live in some country that had achieved certain things (like financial prosperity), it doesn't mean that we should feel that we are above those who live someplace else. At the end of the day, only personal accomplishment exists. For example, if you live in a country that has had many famous painters, does that make you good at painting? Naturally it doesn't. Celebrating one's cultural identity is one thing, looking down on others is another- and it is always wrong to assume that anyone is superior to anyone based on where they happen to live. You would think we have figured it out by now, but no.
9. Anđeli će samo zaspati, Merlita Arslani
This is a novel whose idea felt very fresh and original, but sadly it wasn't developed well. I'm sure that this writer has a lovely imagination yet somehow the novel didn't work out (at least for me). The characters were stereotyped and probably for that reason the story failed to move me deeply. It is not a bad novel, but it is not a masterpiece. You can see the original post where I mentioned it here. I didn't write much about the novel, mostly because it wasn't translated to English so I don't think that most of my readers would be able to read it.
10. Knjiga o Tari, Zdenko Lešić
This novel enchanted me. What kind of novel is it? I would describe it as a profound philosophical and autobiographical novel, written in a post-modernist style. Its author is a well-known Croatian University professor who has written numerous academic works, papers and books on the subject of literature. This unique book is skilfully, beautifully and eloquently written. There are several leitmotifs that are masterfully explored, becoming an essential part of the narrative, for example the subject of memory.Who is Tara? Tara is neither she or he. Tara is the divine mercy, an echo of Buddha perfection, calling out to all beings, trying to lead them towards a path of salvation. Tara is not a goddess, even if sometimes she is revered in that way. Tara is, simply said, the embodiment of mercy. Very early in the narrative, we’re introduced to Tara concept by our narrator, a professor from Sarajevo, who is (in the novel) currently teaching at an University in South Korea. The protagonist/narrator of the novel, in many ways, the author himself, searches for comfort in this Tara concept (taken from Buddhism) while trying to write a novel that would allow him to come to terms with his traumatic memories.
11. Hot House by Brian W. Aldiss
Hothouse is a rollercoaster. That is what reading this book feels like. It is very eventful and fun. This novel by British author Brian W. Aldiss, is a work of unique imaginative scope. Originally published in 1962, it won many awards, most notable one being the Hugo award for best short fiction (that same year). Originally it was published as five separate short stories but the award was granted to all of them. Some have complained that the novel is a bit episodic and that is certainly true. Probably this is due to the fact that it was originally published (and written) as a serious of story. However, I feel that these stories work quite well together. Despite some minor flaws ( I will get into them in this review), I still consider this novel to be well worth reading. It is a highly successful SF novel that still has many fans. It is one of those books that haven't age, a true classic of the genre. If SF part doesn't put you off, you might enjoy this one. Hothouse is set in future. Far, far away kind of future- with practically no ties with our civilization as we know it. Here are the facts of this new world that bears almost no resemblance to our own. The Earth has stopped rotating (that part is not very plausible but hey you can’t have it all) a while back hence life on Earth is now very different from our own. The sun has been growing and growing, until it has grown enormous. So, as the Sun approaches its natural end, the life on Earth is mostly plant life engaged in a crazy frenzy of eating and being eaten, speedy growth and decay, something like a tropical forest on steroids. It’s a jungle of the wildest sort and the writer does a great job describing it. I do recommend this one.
12. Orpheus Descending, Tennessee Williams
Orpheus Descending is a play filled with tenderness. It is a powerful interpretation of the Greek myth. Williams retells the legend of Orpheus, shaping it in his own unique way, creating a story that is poignant with sorrow and just as capable of causing catharsis as those legendary Greek tragedies. As to why Orpheus Descending wasn't an immediate success, I must admit I'm a bit perplexed. It might have just bad luck. What do you think? It may have been ahead of its time with the strength of its imagism and the immense pain of its loneliness. Sexuality (either repressed or stressed) is always an important theme with Tennessee and this play is no exception. He is never afraid to get psychological when it comes to the potrayal of his characters. I'm sure that Freud would have had loved him, if he had the change to know him. Williams understands that our need for love often manifests itself in the physical need for the vicinity of another human being. Whether it was this bold exploration of human sexuality that had to do anything with initial reception, I’m quite clueless but it might have had an impact of more conservative viewers. The character of Myra, with her open promiscuous ways, is a figure that might have raised a few eyebrows- and it still might. To read this one, especially if you're a fan of Williams' writing. Or even better- go and see the play!
13. Melem, Pavao Pavličić
Melem, is a lovely novel by Pavao Pavlichich. This Croatian writer has (so far) published 95 books (most of them are novels), so he must be doing something right when it comes to writing. His works have been translated to German, French, Czech, Slovakian, Slovenian, Rumanian, Bulgarian, Macedonian and Danish language. Pavao, for me, is one of those authors whose works you're certain you will like even before you start reading them. I always end up liking his novels. Nevertheless, I must admit that his novels don't move me as deeply as works by some other Croatian writers. That being said, I do admire his proficiency as a writer and his writing imagination. His writing style is always fairly simple, but it suits him and I honestly don’t mind it at all. I don't see his minimalistic writing style as a downside, especially in his type of crime novels. Pavao reminds me of Hemingway in some ways. His protagonists, for example, are always men. His plots are great and his stories is always interesting to read. Still, I wish he would surprise me at least once and attempt something more ambitious.I liked this novel and I enjoyed reading it, but it made me wonder if the author is sticking to 'what works' a bit too much. I really think he ought to try to branch out a bit, create a novel with a bit more complexity, but that's just my opinion. The protagonist of this novel is Srećko (his name translates as Lucky) a guy working in a retirement home. The opening of the novel is really funny. Frustrated with his life, this guy decided to make a run for it. So, in a spur of the moment thing, he steals a taxi parked in front of the retirement home. The plot really starts when our young man wakes up in a hospital. You can read my full review here.
14. On The Road by Jack Kerouac
I must admit that I have mixed feelings about this great American classic. I do think it is a great book, in the sense of its significance and legacy, but I do have issues with it. It is like the writer has discovered a new way of writing and he himself is crazy about it. You feel like you must like it as well. What could I possibly dislike? Yet, as I progresses I felt a feeling of tiredness coming over me. As nearer I was to finishing this novel, the more tired with it I felt. How can a masterpiece make me feel tired? I was puzzled with my own reaction to it. Who am I to say there is something wrong with the novel? After all, it is considered (by many) to be one of the best novels of the last century. I admire the way it is written, the boldness of it. I'm sure that the author experimented with different techniques of writing. It is clear he has put so much energy into this novel. He may have written it in only 3 weeks ( I personally believe that), but he must have been carrying it in his soul for much longer. They say Kerouac used to carry little notebooks and write stuff down during his travels. That explains that natural flow this novel has. I also read that he was inspired by long letters written by his friend Cassidy and that he even used parts of them in his writing. Autobiographical writing can be tricky, but as far as writing goes I think he got away with it. As I said, I do think the novel is exceptionally well written. As fascinating as this novel is, I must say I expected more. I expected more depth, more growth, more answers and less hysteria, madness and semi-conclusions. Yes, I do think the characters are described perfectly and very convincing but what is it all about? They are flawed, but what are their redeeming qualities? Kerouac insisted on catholic mysticism, but I don't see in the novel. I'm sorry, but I've read a lot of catholic mystics and I don't see any mystical experiences in this novel. Poetical? Yes. Strong? Yes. Raw? Yes. Powerful in its rawness and poetry? Yes. Yes. Yes. Spiritual? I'm sorry but NOOOOOOOOOO. I believe his spiritual experiences were somewhat imagined. If not imagined, then exaggerated. He imagined himself and his friends to be saints of some-sort. It takes a lot more than contempt for the world to make one a saint. 'Experiences' don't make you a saint, not even 'spiritual experiences'. It is how you deal with those experiences and how you build yourself.