My main goal in life is to devour and digest as much literature as possible. Considering my work and university schedule and a select few social engagements, I have set a realistic goal of reading one book per week on average.
Although I aspire to write on a wide-set grid of topics, literature is and remains my main obsession. This is the first of the Monthy Reviews series where I will be chronologically listing the books I’ve read in the past month and add a short reflexion and opinion for each book.
So, without further ado – here are my January Reviews.
Raul Oreškin: Kui ma vananen… (2018)
A beautifully designed collection of short stories regarding growing old in a fast changing Universe. Oreškin is a highly intelligent writer and thinker – although this collection was originally a bunch of blog posts bound into the theme of “If I grow old…” (the title of the book and the beginning of all story titles) and filling the three dots with the most absurd and at the same time the most natural endings. In a very short form Oreškin visualises several complex worlds in the future and in alternative realities, where people sleep in cryogenic cycles to prevent Earth from overpopulation, teleportation and world peace are tangible and very real scenarios, where a human body is no longer really a physical entity, and where growing old is not even growing old anymore at all.
Oreškin paints these small pictures with a flowing brush and vibrant colours, so the reader is left with various visual and scientific possibilities, and simultaneously growing old sitting on a park bench feeding ducks.
While I don’t think Oreškin can spin a narrative with a weight to carry a novel, in this short form the stories are remarkable and deserve to be translated into other languages.
Your imagination absolutely needs Oreškin in its life right now.
Karl Ove Knausgård: Dancing in the Dark. My Struggle Book 4 (2010)
I’ve been following this series since its first part translation into Estonian, and now we’ve come to the point of youngmanhood in Knausgårds life. It’s most definitely not the best one of the six, but even the ‘puberty edition’ of the My Struggle series is an amazing read. Knausgård is anything short of brilliant in how he describes everyday occurrances like making a sandwich in the smallest detail, just mentioning a scandalous murder incident in passing while spreading butter on his toast.
How can one not be intrigued by him? The discomfort and embarrassment he makes his reader feel are natural everyday feelings we don’t like to share, but the familiarity of those taboos helps to better digest the self-loathing every normal individual with issues has on a daily basis. Thus, the protagonist becomes our friend and we forgive his alcoholism and violent tendencies. I do because in My Life, Puberty Edition, I’ve lived through things like this myself. You might, because you have motherly or sisterly feelings towards this very intelligent individual.
In any case, Knausgard is, in my opinion, a writer one finds it impossible not to have strong feelings for. Therefore I will most certainly keep being drawn to whatever this man publishes and recognizing him for the genius author he is.
Markus Zusak: The Book Thief (2005)
This very popular and beloved novel about a young girl discovering the beauty and magic of books while enduring the horrors of WWII infested Germany was so horribly and completely botched by Zusak that I found absolutely no good points to emphasize.
I can, however, rant for days on end about how the narrative is without suspense, since everything is revealed before it happens – or how overemotionalized and visually emphasized paragraphs ruin any chance for authentic empathy and make this rather serious topic look like material for a children’s book. I believe this to be stylistically appropriate reading for a 12 year old girl, but no intellectually evolved adult should touch this book.
I also belive it drags a serious topic into the territory of children’s stories, showing it as a magical fairy tale of horrible fable lands, and consider this way of handling historical material to be extremely ignorant.
The Book Thief is the most disappointing book I have read in a very long time and I strongly discourage anyone from taking an interest in it. Obviously this is my subjective opinion and I’ll happily discuss if you would like to leave a comment.
V. S. Naipaul: A House for Mr. Biswas (1961)
Set in postcolonial Trinidad, Biswas is a detailed and eventful life story that describes psychologically interesting characters and also tackles quite a few essential topics like the status of the Indian community in Trinidad and the social implications of the caste system in an evolving world. Mr. Biswas, whose life is described from birth to death, is by no means a good man – but he strives for success, freedom to be himself and to build his own house.
These universal aspects of the novel and the anatomy of an unsuccessful writer are highly interesting – however, they are suffocated by other, more current-to-the-period themes like social structures, the housing situation, corrupt politicians and the problematic westernisation of colonies.
For our century, this novel remains interesting only for those who take a specific interest in the aforementioned topics and cultural sphere. On the whole, however, Biswas is a book of the past, touching his own zeitgeist in a sharp manner, but leaving ours uninterested, and thus destined to collecting dust on a shelf. At least in my eyes.
Have you read any of these four books? Do you have any other recommendations by these authors? I’d love to have a chat down in the comments.
(cover photo from here)