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Category Archive for '6-2011 Reviews'

The film version of this novel won the Academy Award in 2010 for Best Foreign Film. Now the novel itself has been released in English, and it’s proving to be as popular as the film. Main character Benjamin Chapparo, a deputy clerk and chief administrator associated with the investigative courts in Buenos Aires, has just recently retired, and having more time than he knows what to do with, he decides to tell the story of his most compelling case, a murder from 1968 and its aftermath. Alternating between the present and the fraught circumstances of the late 1960s in Argentina, Chaparro lets the reader into his life, a life in which he bemoans his two divorces; his seeming inability to find true love; his commitment to justice at a time in which Argentina was experiencing turmoil from a succession of militaristic dictators; and his thirty-year, unrequited love for a married colleague who seems not to know he adores her. Sacheri’s observations about his characters, their motivations, and the circumstances in which they work or find themselves by accident are particularly astute, giving sociological and psychological explanations for many of the unusual scenes in which they find themselves. The conclusion is full of surprises.

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This breezy commentary by Inez Pereyra, wife of Ernesto, belies her initial shock at discovering a lipstick love-heart, saying “All Yours,” inside her husband’s briefcase and her realization that her husband of seventeen years is probably having an affair. From Inez’s point of view, things have been stressful in the month leading up to this discovery. The housework, she explains, has been “exhausting” because she wants everything to be “perfect,” but life has been bearable, and she has not wanted to go looking for trouble (as her mother did, to her own misfortune). Ernesto has been coming home late, working on weekends, and avoiding her, and except for school meetings involving a senior trip for their daughter Lali, he has been physically AWOL for most of the month. For Inez, selfish and deliberately obtuse, however, “The truth is…why confront Ernesto with some big scenario, when this woman’s going to be history in a week anyway?” In the classic (and very dark) farce which emerges from this opening scene and becomes the body of the novel, Inez exploits her husband’s predicament for her own ends, becoming the perfect wife, even as he continues to remain distant, a situation which absolutely begs for conversion into a play or film. The plot moves at warp speed, with twists and turns, surprises galore, and ironies which will keep even a jaded reader entertained and anxious to see how the author will resolve these issues—and laughing out loud almost non-stop.

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Opening with a brief preface, purportedly written in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, and in Barcelona between 1973 and 1974, the novel’s author describes himself as a “copyist,” asserting that he is trying to make sense of daily notes found in a soldier’s old green canvas rucksack containing “dog-eared exercise books, leaflets, bits of cardboard, scraps of paper covered with an untidy scrawl.” Jakob Bergant-Berk, the soldier who penned these notes during Slovenia’s World War II battles against the Germans and Italians has also included “several selected sayings, quotations, maxims, [which he] entered in the notes, sometimes for no apparent reason, and sometimes as a integral part of them.” The novel itself evolves from this introduction, and battle scenes from 1943 alternate with scenes which take place in Barcelona in 1973, sometimes shifting time and place without transitions. It becomes clear that the soldier and the man in Barcelona are the same person, and it is in Barcelona, on vacation many years later, that this man, Berk, meets a former German soldier, Joseph Bitter. In a series of local bars and tourist destinations, they discuss the war, its objectives, and its Machiavellian strategies, a technique which allows the author to expand on some of the many themes to which Berk, the soldier, has referred, however briefly, in his notes. Images of war as a dance of death – a macabre minuet – accompanied by the “twenty-five shot guitar,” mentioned in the opening quotation, are matched with the ironic rat-a-tat-tat of Barcelona flamenco dancers, accompanied by the throbbing of Spanish guitars in the background as the two men talk.

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This novel was WINNER of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2010, in addition to being WINNER of the National Book Critics Circle Award, the LA Times Book Prize, and the Salon Book Award. Despite the extraordinary literary recognition which this book has garnered, I had not really been very tempted to read it. A “genre-bending,” post-modern novel about the rock music business over the past thirty years seemed so far from my interests that I’d decided to leave it and its reviews to others who are fans of that music. Then I read the Guardian (UK)’s list of the favorite novels of British authors for this 2011 and discovered this novel at or near the top of the list of no fewer than five major British authors, including John Lanchester, David Lodge, and Roddy Doyle. And the book is truly funny and original and brilliant. Lovers of experimental writing will find Jennifer Egan’s approach to story telling, including seventy-five pages of PowerPoint presentations about life in the 2020s, to be unique, and for that alone, the book would be captivating. Fortunately, she also manages to create several fascinating characters who echo and re-echo throughout the short-story-like chapters, even when the narrators change constantly.

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New Server! (Needs new bookmark)

The site is the same, but we have a new server, bigger, better, faster. If you have bookmarked the site, you will get a “could not find” message until you replace the link. (Of course, if you are here, you discovered that all by yourself.) Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Mary

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