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Category Archive for 'G – H'

Few authors convey the inner thoughts of characters with the insight and sensitivity of Hungarian author Magda Szabo, and this novel may be one of her most insightful. Setting the novel in Hungary in the 1960s, the novel is surprisingly non-political, though the failed revolution of 1956 against their Soviet occupiers is a recent memory for her characters. The novel, dealing with the subject of love and how one expresses it, focuses not on one main character, but on four main characters, two men and two women of different generations and commitments. Creating a novel which is almost totally character-based, Szabo uses the plot primarily to provide incidents which reveal character. When Vince, husband of elderly Ettie, dies in a hospital, Ettie might have come into her own as a personality, but daughter Iza soon decides to become heavily involved in “helping” her mother in her day-to-day life. Each tries to do what is “right,” but so many gaps exists in their understanding of each other, based, in large part on their very real differences in background, history, personality, and generation, that their connection becomes frayed. Other connections involving other characters face additional problems. Presented honestly and personally, author Magda Szabo creates her characters and their stories, giving them additional depth and universality by organizing them into four parts – Earth, Fire, Water, and Air, as she tells their stories of elemental love.

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Author Irmgard Keun firmly established her reputation in Germany in 1932, with the publication of the hugely popular pre-Nazi era novel, The Artificial Silk Girl, a celebration of youth and the fast life lived to its fullest. Almost a generation and a world war later, Keun published Ferdinand, The Man with the Kind Heart depicting the aftermath of the war and the separation of Germany into two nations, East and West. “Ordinary” citizens of this time and place do not know what to expect in the future, what goals make sense in this destroyed society, and how to live a real life. These are some of the very real goals of main character Ferdinand Timpe. A former POW and fiancé of a girl who is almost a stranger to him, Ferdinand himself is not intrinsically very interesting, but author Irmgard Keun is such a high-powered, energetic writer, so wild in creating scenarios filled with irony, humor, and constant surprises, that once a reader starts exploring her novel, it becomes all-encompassing. Her tornado of images and actions never lets up, bringing even Ferdinand to reluctant life.

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Set during the last summer of World War II in Europe, The Turncoat, Siegfried Lenz’s second novel, humanizes war and its soldiers in new ways. Concentrating on a group of young German soldiers who obey orders, even at the cost of their own lives and sanity, Lenz shows their vulnerability as they begin to reject the myths and propaganda they have been fed and do the best they can simply to survive. Focusing primarily on Walter Proska, a young man in his late twenties who has been at the front for three years, the author allows the reader to know him and his fellow soldiers as people, young men who once had dreams and who now have mostly memories – many of them horrific. They go where they are marched or transported, and do what they are told to do, often with a secret eye to escape. Lenz shows these soldiers as they really are, without demeaning them, sentimentalizing their emotional conflicts, or excusing their crimes. He makes no judgments, depicting the war as it was for this group of young German soldiers and illustrating a point of view very different from what Americans may expect. Written in 1951 but never published, it was rediscovered after Lenz’s death in 2014, and published in Europe and now the US. A masterpiece!

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Described by Culture Trip as “the most prominent female writer in twentieth century Hungary,” Magda Szabó (1917 – 2007) was almost unknown in the English speaking world until 2016. Since that time, three more novels have appeared in translation, to outstanding reviews and literary success. Szabo’s novels are dramatic, psychologically intense, and historically focused, emphasizing everyday life and its trials and complexities, often in particular historical moments. A resident of Budapest when the Nazis occupied the country in 1943, author Szabo writes from experience about that fraught time in ABIGAIL. Main character Georgina Vitay, an independent girl of fourteen, is secretly removed from her home and everyone she knows in Budapest and driven overnight by her father to a severe, almost cult-like boarding school in Arkod, eastern Hungary (now Serbia). From the day she arrives, the school controls every aspect of her life, keeping her safe from any major conflicts or warfare to come. Her father, a general in the Hungarian army, also works as a secret agent against the Nazi occupation, and he knows that if the enemy learns where Georgina (Gina) is living, that she could be captured and used as a pawn to force him into betraying his own goals of a free Hungary. As Gina tries to grow up in this difficult atmosphere, the Germans are invading Budapest. Exciting novel also appropriate for Young Adults.

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In this magnificent collection of short stories, Edwidge Danticat always goes straight to the point, but she does so with grace and an honesty that leads each reader to come to new recognitions about life and death, hope and despair, and love and marriage. As individuals and families face their lives both separately and together, Danticat’s stories cast an almost hypnotic power over her readers as the characters share their lives while they make decisions about who they are, how much responsibility they have for their own difficulties, and what kind of future they may be creating for themselves and others. There is no easy sentimentality here: Danticat’s tough characters have learned from their experiences that life is hard, and that any sweet memories they have must be treasured for what they are – partly the result of their own behavior and commitments, and partly the result of fate – inescapable, changeable, and often cruel. Set in New York, Miami’s Little Haiti, and the island of Haiti, the author creates a vibrant picture of the issues faced by first and second generation immigrants and their long-lasting connections to their heritage.

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