Welcome back to the Monthly Reviews series, where I chronologically list last month’s reads, along with a short reflexion and opinion regarding each book.
Here’s what I read in March:
Reinaldo Arenas: Farewell to the Sea (Otra vez el mar, 1982)
While I understand and admire the eclectic nature and expressionist core of some Latin-American literature and also have an appreciation for unusual choices in style and composition, this novel just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Farewell is the story of a young couple aspiring towards their individual freedom, and at the same time holding each other hostage inside their relationship.
While the female protagonist’s vivid dreams (or nightmares, as one might subjectively describe them) and her impending sense of losing herself entirely inside her mind while also losing the affection of Hector, her boyfriend, are well-written and grasped my attention at first.
The novel begins with the two driving along the seaside and while Arenas’ descriptions of Cuba’s political, moral and financial decline are excecuted with an intensity that evokes empathy and despair, the novel gets out of hand when the expressionist visions of the female protagonist wholly take over the novel.
The matter of the fact that those two are in a hopeless situation is interesting, as is Hector’s loss of identity, as is the woman’s sense of logging off – however, if those were the aspects the novel actually focused on, not dragging the reader through endless nonsensical visions of orgies between Greek gods or repeatingly showing nameless demons fighting each other, the story in itself would be interesting to follow.
While I find Arenas to be a very inspiring and interesting individual and a very important influence for Latin American literature, I would not recommend this novel.
Andrei Ivanov: Isevärki kalmistu elukad (2019)
One could argue that Andrei Ivanov is one of the contemporary great Russian writers: His reflexions and dialogues reach the depths and lenghts of Tolstoy and Pushkin while the initial gasp-inducing plot of this novel reminded me of Dostoevsky.
However, the plot itself is largely lost once the characters start arriving into it one by one – a balance the greats were able to keep throughout their brick-weight novels.
Creatures of a peculiar cemetary is what I would translate the title as – and although the story starts at a cemetary in Paris, this title is curiosity-inducing, but has nothing whatsoever to do with the novel itself. If one would interpret Paris – the main setting of the novel – as a cemetery for ideologies and individuals, and put the characters into it as temporary pawns in a neverending non-story, then the title would make sense.
Since Ivanov still tries to coax the reader into thinking that there is an actual plot to follow, this allegory does not make sense – unless one would be reaching very, very hard to give some meaning to it.
The introspective novel represents a mood in itself, describing topics of the 21st century by example of the 20th century. The story focuses on emigrants from different walks of the Soviet Union, who are trying to establish an identity in a foreign country, trying to make the city theirs while remaining strangers.
On one side, the perspectives on Paris are somewhat interesting, as are the often rather constricted discussions on individual freedom and distrust towards certain nations. As they all seem to lead nowhere, at one point the suspense flattens and disappears.
The style of the novel also differs from chapter to chapter: some of it is similar to the french who lovingly describe the morning light falling onto certain buildings on certain streets of Paris, at other moments the story has a completely sober tone and states matters of fact. In that sense it did not feel like reading a coherent novel at all.
So, sadly, while I have enjoyed a few novels by Ivanov, I would not recommend this one.
Jackie Thomae: Brüder (2019)
While the story and key points of Thomae’s novel “Brothers” are exremely poignant and intriguing, it is another novel I had small issues with this month.
The main plot focuses on two brothers, who have the same Senegalese Father but never meet him in their youth. The two are born to East Berlin and grow up with their single mothers in Germany and London. What becomes of them could not be more different people.
Although the brothers seem to be polar opposites at first, many key points of the novel are explored from their different perspectives and in the end, they do have a lot in common – but only in retrospective. And while the reader gradually reaches that conclusion, it is still only a cliff note and could have been excecuted in a more coherent way if, for example, the chapters would have been mixed together.
While one of the brothers is a social butterfly, a man gone with the wind, without a routine, wanting to enjoy his life with no strings attached, the other is someone who strives for success and control in hise life. Since Thomae does not mix the two characters together but introduces one after the other, Mick’s character just ends up being the more likeable and interesting one.
Apart from showing two very different lives, the novel is a cultural reflexion on Berlin during the 1990s and although individual human emotions and philosophies are in the foreground, some political reflexions hide in there as well.
What I found to be the main strength of the novel, however, is the fact that it surpasses the race, genealogy and culture questions and remains a reflexion on the human condition.
So while I still feel like the choices in regards to composition could have been better, I liked Brothers a lot. (Here’s my positive review in German to prove it.)
Amélie Nothomb: Antichrista (Antéchrista, 2003)
Nothomb is slowly becoming one of my favourite authors and will most certainly appear in my yearly favourites again.
Her short novel “Antichrista” is the story of a young, charming girl who in the beginning seems to long for friendship and love, but turns out to be an evil sociopath.
For some of the characters, this realization arrives much too late, unfortunately.
The book is too short to reveal too many details, but the female rivalry, the gloomy air of the story combined with Nothomb’s dark sense of humor and, of course, the high suspense level of the entire story make it an excellent read.
It is a speciality of Nothomb to include unexpected twists and turns from the familiar into the macabre, from the pathological into the grotesque, and with this story, she has excelled once more.
Along with The Stranger Next Door (Les Catilinaires), Antichrista is definitely one of my favourite reads by Nothomb so far.
What were your reading highlights this month?
Let me know in the comments below.