Welcome back to the Monthly Reviews series, where I chronologically list last months reads, along with a short reflexion and opinion regarding each book.
Here’s what I read in September:
Matias Faldbakken: The Hills / The Waiter (2017)
This short novel is for anyone who has ever had an occupation within the service industry. Faldbakken, who is usually one to speak about societal crises very candidly and incorporate grotesque and violent sex scenes with matching dialogues into his novels (if that’s your jam, you’ll love his Scandinavian Misanthropy series, I found it to be very interesting some years ago).
This, however, is not that.
The novel takes place in a rustic, traditional and rather high class establishment, but is narrated by the anonymous, invisible waiter. The Waiter does describe his regulars with a sense of loathing, although he seems to have one friend among them – who in the end complicates his life even further.
The novel is basically a highly detailed reconstruction of normal life inside the restaurant, as seen from the waiters perspective. Faldbakken describes people who think very highly of themselves, lack empathy, worship belongings and have the need to be seen with certain people and look a certain way. The waiters disdain for his guests is apparent within the descriptions, but the story is still told from a rather neutral perspective. That choice of style in combination with the story itself makes this novel quite macabre and for those weird discrepancies alone it would be a potentially intrigueing read.
However, if the inner workings of a café are not quite what you would look for in a short novel, maybe pick up something different. But personally, I liked it.
Min Jin Lee: Pachinko (2017)
Pachinko is a three or four generation novel and most certainly does for Korea and Japan what Shantaram and A Fine Balance have done for India, and The Cairo Trilogy have done for Egypt.
This wonderful, thorough, exciting story brings us closer to a foreign culture by showing protagonists who manage to escape highly unfortunate conditions just to find another struggle waiting around the next corner.
Min Jin Lee has not only provided a beautiful story of human complexity but also a cultural handbook for Korean and Japanese history. The first protagonist leaves her little village in Korea to become a wife in Japan, and her great grandson fills the last pages with his thoughts from Osaka. The conflicts as well as the history they stem from were described in a fascinating manner, and I learned a lot about Japanese and Korean relationships during and after the World Wars.
Often enough there is a niche an author craves for themselves, which can only appear once they decide to unapologetically be themselves and write about that. Min Jin Lee has opened a new world of cultural diversity and historical conflicts and human emotions for me, that I would have never learned about, had it not been for this complex and wonderful novel.
For anyone who loves long stories packed with detail and emotion, Pachinko is a must-read.
Karl Ove Knausgård: My Struggle, Book 5: Some Rain Must Fall (2010)
I have loved Knausgårds My Struggle series from the first part, and until now don’t know which one I should call my favourite. For one, the last part is still to be read, and I am also planning to autopsy the series thoroughly in this blog.
So, for now, I will say that if you enjoy critical commentary mixed with emotional honesty, and very long but oddly fascinating passages about making sandwiches, this is your kind of book series.
Knausgårds autobiography is rich in detail, filled with vast amounts of self-loathing, self-destruction, equally great amounts of brilliant thoughts, intellectual and physical impotence – and scattered successes which are always critically undermined.
The good thing about book 1 is that you will immediately see if this is something for you or not, and I am still obsessed with it after book 5.
More than enough said. Now go and get into it.
Mo Yan: Republic of Wine (1992)
Republic of Wine is an absurd, comical and grotesque portrait of China’s society. It is also a quick-paced story filled with psychedelic episodes of wonder, blood and sexual tension. This is certainly a unique way of writing if I ever came across one.
Mo Yan has chosen to write in emblems, symbols, allegorys and riddles to ridicule and expose his surroundings. The most absurd and revolting scenes of his novel are the places where one should first searh about the truth of China – the author compares his countrymen to a table of high-authority cannibals eating freshly baked babies along with obscene amounts of liqueur and wine, poured by half-naked pubescent girls who will be taken advantage of later.
A novel that is hard to describe, Republic of Wine starts out with an official who travels into a town to inspect rumours about a terrible crime. Soon he becomes so intertwined in the settings and inner workings of the town that sooner he solve the matter and get on with his life, he either loses it – or loses his mind within the search for the truth.
There is a little bit of Dürrenmatt in there, and also a little bit of Kafka. But also, a very hard-to-swallow element of hardness and cruelty.
Mo Yan’s novel is complicated, and for my taste has a much too loud and weird style of writing. But from an analytical standpoint I can most definitely recognize the complexity and depth of his symbols and the necessity to be ruthless when writing about others that are ruthless without conscience and remorse.
In conclusion: while I would not read another novel by him, Republic of Wine has left me with a feeling of admiration, sadness – and thorough discomfort.