The speaker in this quotation, called “the man” throughout most of this novel, will repel every female reader – and most male readers – with his macho vulgarity, his unrelenting assessment of women in terms of their anatomy and sexual stamina, and his proud alcoholism. Boasting of his ability to consume seven bottles of vodka in his prime, he manages “only” two bottles a day on this trip to a new job site in construction in Mongolia. “The girl,” who has the great misfortune to be sharing a compartment with him on a trans-Siberian train traveling four thousand miles from Moscow to Ulan Bator, had hoped to be alone on this trip. Recovering from a personal crisis involving Mitka, a young friend on whom she had set her romantic sights but who is now hospitalized, the girl is making this trip almost as a memorial to him, since they had hoped to make the trip together. She had met him in Moscow in college, where she studied antiquities and anthropology for three years, and she is especially anxious to get to Mongolia now so that she can see the famous ancient petroglyphs there, some of them dating back to 12,000 B.C. So quiet and repressed that she makes only one or two statements during the entire trip, she is the complete opposite of Vadim, the man, with whom she has been fated to travel, destined to spend the trip fending off his advances. Considering the fact that neither of the main characters is one with whom the reader will identify to any great degree – Vadim because he is so disgustingly venal and the girl because she is so passive – author Liksom does a remarkable job of keeping the reader completely occupied during her novel. Vibrant pictures of life in the Soviet Union from the 1940s to the 1980s emerge as Vadim tells his life story in pieces throughout the trip, and the girl’s own life, though a bit confused and undirected, reflects some of the attitudes of young people and the reasons for her own lack of commitment.
Category Archive for 'Exploration'
There is nothing small-scale about Lily King’s new novel, Euphoria. Here she creates a novel on the grandest scale in terms of themes and ideas, at the same time that she also dramatically changes the time frame and setting from the US in the present to areas of New Guinea so remote that they have never been explored by “outsiders.” American anthropologist Nell Stone and her Australian husband Schuyler Fenwick have been in New Guinea studying previously unknown tribes since 1931, and now, almost two years later, Nell is more than ready for change. For the past six months they have been studying the warlike and cannibalistic Mumbanyo tribe, though most of that study has been done by Fen. Now, however, Nell is weary and frightened of the fearsome Mumbanyos with their bloodlust and their penchant for discarding babies in the river. A meeting with Andrew Bankson, a British anthropologist, gives them a chance to study yet another group, more peaceful, and the three scientists begin to share more than just their research. Based, in part, on the life of anthropologists Margaret Mead, her husband Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson in 1933.
Moments of tenderness alternate with dramatic moments of violence in this semi-autobiographical novel of World War II by Tatamkhulu Afrika, a name assumed by the author late in life and meaning “Grandfather Africa.” As the novel begins, an elderly man is opening two letters which accompany a package. Telling the story from his own point of view, the old man learns in the first letter, from a law firm, that someone the speaker refers to only as “he,” someone he knew more than fifty years ago, has died after a long illness and that the speaker has received a legacy. The second letter is from “him,” a man who has been “lost” to the speaker for virtually all of his post-war life. The legacy and the letter clearly upset the speaker as he wonders “Am I permitting a phantom a power that belongs to me alone? What relevance do they still have – a war that time has tamed into the damp squib of every other war, [and] a love whose strangeness is best left buried where it lies?” Though he knows he should leave the past buried, he is unable to resist. What follows is the story of the four years the speaker survived when, during the long siege of Tobruk, he suddenly found himself a prisoner of war. This is an honest and controlled novel which focuses brilliantly on some of the well-known but less publicized aspects of prison camp life.
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.
Winner of Australia’s highest literary award, The Miles Franklin Award, this dramatic novel is set on the plains of Queensland, Australia. On one level it tells of the long, epic struggle of white farmers to tame a land which has a life of its own—and which sometimes costs farmers their own lives. On another, it is an historical record of the genocide of the native aborigine population by colonizers who do not recognize or care about the aborigines’ centuries-long relationship with the land or any claims they might have to it. On still other levels, it is a mystery story, full of murder and deceit, and the Gothic study of a man who lets his obsession with a particular piece of land and a particular, now-decaying mansion control every aspect of his life. And it is also the coming-of-age story of a young boy who may one day represent a fresh, new spirit—one of respect for the earth, its history, and all the people who have walked it. A Reading Group Guide is available. See note at end of photo credits.