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Current Music:New Pornographers - These are the Fables
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Subject:July Books
Time:11:14 pm
Books I've been reading this month.

Crossing California, Adam LangerCollapse )

What's Bred in the Bone, Robertson DaviesCollapse )

King Dork, Frank PortmanCollapse )

The Little Women, Katharine WeberCollapse )

* * *

In progress.

My Life, Golda MeirCollapse )

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna ClarkeCollapse )
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Time:01:20 pm
I finally (underline that too) finished Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind last night. While the main reason it took me forever to read this book was that I was also reading mass numbers of short stories for English, it was also a slow start for me just in terms of the story.

I must say though... it picked up at the end and for the past few days (and the last 100 pages), all I have wanted to do is read it. The twists and turns are particularly interesting and the duplicity of the characters is also.

I don't have the book with me, but there were several quotes I would have liked to share. It was beautifully worded. So just go read it and guess what quotes I would have included here.
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Subject:honor lost
Time:11:20 pm
I finished reading a book last night called Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan, by Norma Khouri. It was a "true" story about honour killing in Jordan. It was about Khouri's best friend Dalia, a Muslim girl that fell in love with a Catholic boy. When her family found out about the relationship her father killed her. 

The story was heart breaking. You really got to know Dalia in the first half of the book and identified with her dreams of finding freedom one day. When her life is cut short by her family, it is devastating to read. What was worse was reading it from the perspective of her best friend. I cried and cried and cried when Khouri discovered what had happened to Dalia.  It made me want to act. Do something about this horrible custom.

I googled Khouri's name today and tons of pages came up claiming that she and her story were frauds. She apparently grew up in the U.S., and not Jordan at all. Apparently there was no Dalia. I didn't quite know how to react to this. I mean, I was identifying with a real person. A real crime. And it turned out to all be made up. I decided, though, that whether it is true or a work of fiction, the story of Dalia represents a very real custom that is still going on today. Many women in Jordan, and other Middle Eastern countries, whether Muslim, Catholic, or otherwise, do not have the right to live their own lives. They must ask permission of their husbands, fathers and brothers before they are able to do anything, and if they don't they are said to be dishonouring their families. This is grounds for murder. And, according to this book, and other sites, if you are a man who murders a woman in your family to protect your honour, you are protected by law. 

It's unfortunate that the author didn't sell the book as fiction. I think many people would have read it and felt the emotions regardless. I'm sure I would have.
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Subject:memoirs of a geisha
Time:03:08 pm

There is almost nothing that I enjoy more than getting engrossed in a book. I love it when I am out for the night and all I can think about is getting back home to read; or stealing every second that I can to read a book. What makes it even more worthwile is the ending. Feeling like you just can't read it fast enough and being completely and utterly satisfied when you do. It's been a long time since I felt this way (even through Life of Pi, The Da Vinci Code and Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle) but that's how I felt about Memoirs of a Geisha.

I am just amazed by so much of the book. First by the fact that it was written by a man (Arthur Golden) from a woman's perspective. Second by the fact that it was written by an American man from the perspective of a Japanese woman. And finally by the fact that the main character, Sayuri, was just so real and believable even though she was set in a time and place that I could never truly identify with.

A thought I keep having after reading novels by male authors is that they are lacking in something that I need in order to feel this passionate about them. I've come to realise that what's missing is emotional detail. Time and time again the characters lack this raw emotion, but are chock full of (in my opinion) peripheral detail (I felt this way with The Da Vinci Code). I was happy to have been proven wrong by this male author. It was refreshing. Not only did you completely understand Sayuri, but the detail he also put into the "peripheral detail" and the poetic way used to describe it was stunning. I wholeheartily recommend this book.

And now a couple of quotes (they aren't really that representative of the book, I just liked them):

p. 234 - Once you know this sort of thing, you can never unknow it.

p. 255 - Grief is a most peculiar thing; we're so helpless in the face of it. It's like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.

 

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Subject:Captain Alatriste
Time:08:23 am
Captain Alatriste is not a new book by Arturo Perez-Reverte, but it is newly translated into English. This book, unlike his others, is a direct imitation of the adventure novels the author loves so much, especially Alexandre Dumas'. The story follows the adventures of Captain Diego Alatriste and his loyal page, Inigo Balboa, as he meets and makes two enemies, a sinister Italian and the secretary to the King.

The book reads very easily and lightly and is peppered by references to the Spanish literature of the time (1620s), including Calderon. There's a spirit of Cervantes hanging over the book and it is, in general, inoffensive and pleasant. What it is not, however, is exciting. There are one or two thrilling moments which last but a second and then the rest seems like set-up. This is the first in what is a series of adventures and thus many characters are introduced (including an intriguing little girl) but nothing happens with them.

In a sense, then, this is not a book but a first chapter and I would like to read the rest of the book.
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Current Music:Sway - The Perishers
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Subject:The Ringed Castle - Dorothy Dunnett
Time:05:29 pm
SpoilersCollapse )
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Subject:The Sound of Fishsteps
Time:08:31 pm
Last week, I finished reading Buket Uzuner's The Sound of Fishsteps. Written in 1993, the book follows the story of Afife, a 20 year old Turkish special who gets invited by a UN-like organization to come to Scandinavia with 88 other world nationals to engage in a sort of eternal symposium. While there, she meets Romain Gary, Cervantes, Anais Nin, etc., all people who know that they really are or are connected to these famous people. Afife herself is Afife Piri, descendant of Piri Reis, the famous seaman whose astonishingly accurate world map c. 16th century lies in Topkapi Palace. Eventually, the specials as they call themselves come to realize that the normals think they are all insane and have actually lured them there to lock them up in a mental institute and normalize them. The rest of the book details their escape, the revelation of one of the hospital staff as Gengiz Khan (or Attila the Hun or someone), and the love affair between Afife and Romain.

Although the story is intrinsically interesting, I found the style rather stultifying. I don't know if this was the translation or what, but it seemed rather uneven and ... smothering. Despite the brevity of length, the story seemed to move very slowly. Some of the elements that bothered most were also the most clever elements; for example, the various presentations the specials gave including Romain's "As If..." lecture. One element I did love was the tiny diatribe about the special who refused to engage in the game called "breathing" when in "reality" you don't need to.

I've only read 2 of Uzuner's books: this one and Long White Cloud but in style they differ from each other as if from different authors. Either that or she developed considerably within the years she wrote the both of them. Still, it was interesting novella.
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Subject:İki Genç Kizin - 2 Girls
Time:09:12 pm
I just finished reading 2 Girls (ot: İki Genç Kizin) by Perihan Mağden.

Synopsis: The book is the story of Angry Young Woman, Behiye, an 18-year-old girl who has been accepted into the prestigious Bosphorus University (Boğazıcı Üniversitesi) but a single meeting with Handan, a pretty young thing, changes her life in a mere 19 days together. Behiye's family life is hell: her father is a mouse, her mother is a accident-prone self-abuser and her brother is a psycho nationalistic ex-Army nut. Behiye is stifled, angry and bitter. Then she meets Handan, the "baby cat girl" daughter of "blue bunny rabbit" Leman, a revolving-door mistress who acts the same age as her daughter and lives on air. Handan is constantly hungry, acts like a baby and is also desperate for escape, just like Behiye. They each think the other will rescue them. In the beginning, Behiye is taking care of, feeding, etc. Handan. By the end, the power has shifted. 19 days, and a love story ends in tragedy and betrayal.

The style was very punchy and fragmented. I found it very disorienting at first but then I grew to appreciate it as you realized you really live inside Behiye's head despite the 3rd person narration.

One of the problems I had with the book was the series of dropped threads. Maybe it's a matter of cultural literary style (which has hit me in the face before, when I read the great Chinese classic The Dream of the Red Chamber), but there are a series of murders in Istanbul of men coupled with their autopsy reports that never tie into the main storyline. Further, at one point Behiye buys a lancet which is played with as if it will figure in the plot significantly later on ... but never does. A serious anticlimax, it comes to a point where the lancet quite literally never gets put into play although it is there, ready and waiting in Behiye's hand. This latter element may actually be a conscious statement on Perihan Mağden's part to show how helpless Behiye is.

Another thought I had was how much power Behiye seems to have, but how little she has in reality.

There was also a movie made of it directed by Kutluğ Ataman that had some major differences. In general, while the movie is quite good, I think the real feel of the book as per obsession and first love, plus the limited perspective and fragmented nature really play very effectively.
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Subject:The Shadow of the Wind
Time:11:01 pm
In September, my cousin Almut gave me a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, in German. I started reading it and was surprised at what an easy read it was, considering my German is not the best. After about 20 pages, I stopped reading and got distracted by work, etc. In January, I saw the book again in English in the bookstore in Garmisch. I bought it on impulse and started reading ... reading ... reading. I couldn't stop. It's completely my style of book: Anthony Hope meets Bujold meets Arturo Perez-Reverte.

The story is of a boy named Daniel. His father is a member of a society that adopts and protects books. One day, his father lets him pick a book to protect and Daniel picks a book by Julian Carax called The Shadow of the Wind. When Daniel reads it he is enthralled and tries to find more books by the same author. Mysteriously they are all being collected and burned by an enigmatic stranger. This discovery entangles Daniel in a mystery to discover who Carax was and more ... that lasts for the next 10 years.

This book was fabulous and kept me mesmerized for the entire day that I read it. These kind of adventure novels that have a keen sense of literary history enrapture me. Although Zafon's book was excellent, it didn't excite me as much of Perez-Reverte's The Club Dumas, but then that would be hard to do.

The ending revelation was particularly good and the turn of events where people are revealed to not be who you think they are is brilliant. A series of discoveries like this occur and they are very effective. Also good is how Daniel's life in some places mirrors Julian's with a happier end.

Recommended!
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Subject:Oryx and Crake
Time:10:49 pm
{I like to write short book reviews. I hope it's okay if I post some of them here. Hi! btw.}

Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake is an excellent peace of post-apocalyptic literature in a genre filled with little gems such as Alas, Babylon, The Stand, and On the Beach. In my opinion, this book is quite superior in many ways.

The story concerns Snowman, the seemingly last surviving human in the world devastated not by nuclear war but by a plague. All that is left are the wild products of genetic experimentation created by the prideful humans of before: the pigoons, wolvogs, and the Crakers, a more perfect and innocent race of people. In the present, Snowman tries to be the caretaker of the Crakers and goes on journeys to gain items to help him to survive (edible food and vital items like sunscreen, flashlights, mosquito repellent). In flashbacks, we are told how Snowman, once known as Jimmy, came to survive and how the Destruction of Mankind came about.

One of the more effective elements is the reason for Humanity's destruction. Instead of nuclear war, which was the big and very realistic fear of humanity's hubris in the 1950s, the novel focuses on genetic manipulation and the greenhouse effect (unethical misapplication of science and pollution). There are other causes as well such as humanity's desire to be ever-young, ever-goodlooking; humanity's superficiality, etc.

Another thrilling element is how Snowman seems at first to be merely narrator and hardly a player in the fate of the world until you realize that he can and has inserted himself into the action quite shockingly. SpoilersCollapse ) Another way he takes or is responsible for the action is the fact that as a "blurb"/propaganda writer he has influenced people to take the pills that cause the plague.

Something I found interesting and almost too subtle was the fact that Jimmy is the most emotional of the characters. As a narrator, a character often is given God-like qualities and assumes a kind of objective if mostly limited perspective. It is fascinating to see the glimpses both in report and in action of how Jimmy is the only truly deeply feeling person in the story. Especially in the final pages, when what compels him to act is the idea of protecting the Crakers, and a request to action from his mother remembered.

A final, scary aspect to the book was the idea of the Arts as dead (who needs emotion? who needs art?) and the strict segregation of people based on intelligence. This idea of specialization (and the marked lack of any real sense of ethics) leads me to the inescapable conclusion that the universities in the book had no Ethics 101 courses and foreshadow the very real danger, in my opinion, that today's world applies a drive for economic success and scientific/technological advancement independent of ethics (not the same as religion).

The writing style itself was fluid and never jerked me from its pages to the real world. The characterization of Snowman was wonderful, of Crake tantalizing. The only one that suffered was Oryx who remained too much of an enigma for her to make an impact on anyone other than Snowman himself. The world was colourfully, vividly and believably portrayed and I was caught in it for a wonderful two days.

Heartily recommended.
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