With a title which recalls a children’s game which is used to make choices, Rock, Paper, Scissors is filled with the interactions of people who have faced hard times and have somehow survived. The novel opens with Thomas and his sister Jenny dealing with the death of their father in a jail cell where he has been awaiting trial on some unknown charge which will bring a long jail sentence. When they later go to their father’s apartment, neither of them wants anything as a memento, but Jenny decides to take his toaster, simply because hers is broken and she has very little money to buy a new one. Later, when the toaster does not work, Thomas takes it apart for her and finds something surprising inside. Throughout these beginning pages, the novel moves back and forth in time as Thomas, forced to think about his estranged father, obsesses about death – that of his father, of family members, and even of the unknown people he sees in the supermarket – and it is through this introspection that many of the details about his family background are revealed. As compelling as the plot and Thomas’s psychology may be, the novel’s philosophical underpinnings and the universal themes which emerge from the conflicts are even more provocative. Filled with smart, crisp language; carefully described and introduced imagery; and occasionally lyrical passages, the novel owes much of its appeal in English to translator K. E. Semmel. With contrasting themes of life and death, love and hate, accident and design, strength and weakness, selfishness and altruism, and reality and invention, the novel offers much to ponder on many levels.
Category Archive for 'D – El'
In a novel which defies genre, author Horacio Castellanos Moya takes paranoia to new and often darkly humorous heights as an unnamed speaker, a journalist who has been living in exile in Mexico, tries to fulfill his dream of returning to his home in El Salvador, now that that country is beginning to seem less dangerous after its many coups. The author’s real-life experience gives verisimilitude to the speaker’s story, and his sense of perspective regarding his own life allows him to depict the excesses of the speaker’s chronic over-analyzing and unproductive dithering with kind of humor rare for a novel about revolutions and revolutionaries. Castellanos Moya himself lived through many events similar to those affecting the speaker. His first novel, known in English as Senselessness, became a controversial success for its unvarnished depiction of the genocide of Mayan Indians, and when the author’s mother received an anonymous death threat aimed at him, the author went into self-imposed exile in Mexico for ten years. Of the four novels by Castellanos Moya which have been translated into English, this is the lightest, and though it has some serious ideas, it is also the funniest and most seductively involving. Translator Katherine Silver, who keeps the stream-of-consciousness style running nonstop in colloquial English, also makes the details so lively that the story is both compelling and full of fun.
Jussi Adler-Olsen’s fifth novel in the Department Q series, under the “leadership” of Copenhagen Detective Carl Morck, continues the story of Morck and his unconventional assistants who operate out of a basement office dedicated to the solution of cold cases. This novel begins obliquely. A man from a Baka village of pygmies in Cameroon, Louis Fon, is working with a Danish bank which funds development work in the rural Baka area of the country. After receiving a cellphone call in the jungle, he realizes that his discovery of funding irregularities puts his life at risk, and he has only enough time to type out a message (which is unreadable) before he is attacked. Further development of this plot line shows the massive corruption of the funding bank in Denmark, and the administrators in Cameroon who are responsible for using the funds for the betterment of the rural Baka area. A second plot line takes place Copenhagen, where a group of gypsies, mostly children, under the leadership of a sadistic and violent “spiritual” leader, roam the streets, picking pockets, begging, and doing petty crimes in order to meet their monetary quota each day. Marco, one of the young men still in his early teens, publicly challenges the leader, his own uncle, and, as a result, finds himself running for his life. A third subplot concerns a cold case in which a woman is killed in the explosion of the houseboat on which she lives, and questions arise as to whether this was an insurance scam, a murder by her husband, or some other kind of crime. Adler-Olsen has always excelled at keeping interest high both through his dramatic action and through his use of wonderful repeating characters as they continue to develop.
What unites the characters in the first three novels of the Copenhagen Quartet is that all are acutely aware of the role art, music, and beauty in bringing peace to the damaged souls of the main characters as they explore the themes of love and death, freedom and confinement, commitment and betrayal, and the worldly and the spiritual within their Danish environment. The final novel, Beneath the Neon Egg, set in winter, also explores these themes, but it does so within a still different genre from the other three (each of which differs from the others), as Kennedy writes a noir novel of a lost man who haunts jazz clubs and bars in Copenhagen, looking for happiness in alcohol and experimental sex. Employed, ironically, as a translator, Patrick Bluett, a forty-three-year-old transplant to Copenhagen, can work when he wants, the only requirement of his job being that he produce five translated pages a day, leaving him ample time to “follow desire, abandon his work, [and] escape to the wild.” A man who feels betrayed in his marriage but who still wants to be part of his children’s lives, Bluett does not have a clue about what it takes to be a grown-up as he looks for quick and easy fixes for his malaise. Throughout the novel, he plays John Coltrane’s music, with “A Love Supreme” being a favorite, because it “swells his heart with acknowledgement of his existence,” and author Kennedy uses the structure of this four-part suite for his chapter divisions within the novel.
If the title of this book doesn’t pique your curiosity from the outset, the photo of the author in Eskimo dress probably will. The astounding ironies – the contrasts between what we are seeing in the author photo vs. what we expect when we see someone wearing traditional Eskimo (Inuit) dress – are only the first of many such ironies as Tete-Michel Kpomassie, a young man from Togo in West Africa makes a journey of discovery to Greenland. For the first sixty pages, the author describes life in Togo in lively detail, setting the scene for his lengthy journey from Togo to Copenhagen to get a visa for Greenland, an autonomous country within the kingdom of Denmark. As he travels over the next ten years through Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Mauritania, before arriving in Marseille, Paris, Bonn, and eventually Copenhagen, he clearly establishes his background and experiences and the mindset and cultural background he will be bringing with him when he finally gets to Greenland. With a wonderful eye for the telling detail, Kpomassie becomes real, a stand-in for the reader who will enjoy living through his journey vicariously. The people he meets not only represent their culture but emerge as individuals through their interactions with him. Despite language differences, he is able to communicate and share their lives, and because of his honesty and his curiosity about their culture, he makes many friends in Greenland – and with the reader who shares his enthusiasm for discovery.