Literary Escapades. Monthly Reviews, 9/2020

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.

All links lead to in-depth blog posts from this site.

Here’s what I read in September:

Judy Blume: Tiger Eyes (1981)

This emotion-packed YA novel deals firstly with the loss of a parent: anger, grief and anxiety and caring for one’s mental health are one huge topic cluster. Moreover, other social issues like the ethics of war, the discrimination of American Indians and Latin Americans in white suburbian society, and the blatant racism in the Southern States.

Davey is a strong-willed individual, so the regular temptations like drugs or alcohol have no effect on her – however, one could argue that it is because she is lain into a new environment where she finds a strong connection to nature that her contact with regular teenage woes is minimized.

Of course, since this is a YA novel, the problems don’t result in actual long-term complications since the emotional healing is successfully completed, the family stands up on their feet together, no one commits suicide or starts seriously harming themselves or others, and all is well amongst the Wexlers as mother and children relocate to a new life after the death of their father.

I would certainly recommend Tiger Eyes as a light but serious read for a young adult who is dealing with grief or who is simply interested in personal growth.

Kristof Magnusson: Ein Mann der Kunst (2020)

This is a splendidly humorous novel about eccentric artists, their comparison with ‚regular‘ people, and the imaginary and actual worth behind what art represents and really is.

The story takes place in Frankfurt, Germany, arguably one of the most art-centered – and one of the most money-oriented – cities of the country. It is, after all, the banking capital of Europe.

A ‚regular‘ guy whose mother happens to be the chairwoman of an art pormotion society, travels with a group of art afficionados to meet one of the allegedly most controversial and strong-willed artists in Europe.

Characters clash, tough questions are asked, and unexpected friendships formed.

I would recommend this story to anyone interested in art, or just with a healthy dose of self-irony. It is a marvelous book.

Elizabeth McNeill: ‘Nine and a Half Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair (1978)

This book is a semi-autobiographical novel by Ingeborg Day, published under the pseudonym Elizabeth McNeill. 9 1/2 Weeks is the story of a brief – hence the title – sadomasochistic affair between an art gallery owner and a Wall Street broker.

The style of writing certainly heightens the sense of danger felt in the description of the events. The book immediately starts with a depiction of sex, and goes directly into matters of dominance and submission, showing the male protagonist pinning the hands of the narrator over her head and subsequently blindfolding her. The book doesn’t zoom into romantic sentiment or take time for aftercare: it goes from act, to trauma, and so forth.

Since the contemporary scale for matters such as kink, play, pain and pleasure appears to be somewhere between 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight, it is refreshing to be reminded that there are publications with an actual analysis on such topics, given from a first-hand perspective.

All in all, readers of contemporary fluffy and unrealistic sex fantasy narratives (see above) can consider McNeill’s very real story as the other side of the coin, and in my opinion the book is a very valuable example on the dynamics of power and the many layers of pleasure, pain, humiliation and abuse. However, beware:

This book will linger in your mind.

Gabriele Kögl: Gipskind (2020)

This is a story full of brutal truths about understanding and embracing womanhood in a psychologically stifling climate. And yet, it is also a novel about self-sacrifice, motherhood and love.

Andrea is born with knock knees and has to wear a cast for most of her childhood, so her relationship with her body is already complicated – to say the least.

In addition to that, her mother thinks of her as a burden, an annoyance, a person to let out her negativity on, and only as useful when she brings money to the household. Nevermind if that entails gifting away her daughters virginity.

Fortunately, Andreas grandmother can give her the love and affection her hardened-beyond-saving mother cannot. Under her wing, she grows up to be a confident young lady who has the guts to pursue her own individual dreams and defy her parents‘ idea of a fulfilled life.

‚Gipskind‘ is an emotionally gripping story, and certainly a book worth picking up.

Joachim B. Schmidt: Kalmann (2020)

Kalmann is a rather special young man. He has an extraordinary talent for hunting sharks and preparing their meat; he is quite brave in the face of danger, and he dreams of finding a wife he can grow old with.

However, Kalmann is wired a bit differently than others. He has problems understanding the things others talk about, and sometimes his rage just overcomes him and he cannot control his emotions.

When Kalmann discovers a pool of blood in a deserted place on the Melrakkaslétta peninsula, the speculations on murder and mysterious disappearance grow wild, and as life in the small village of Raufarhöfn becomes more and more tumultuous, certain secrets are kept until the very end of the book.

This novel is not only a murder mystery, but a great read with psychological depths and a dry sense of humor to it. The protagonist is quite extraordinary in his thoughts and ideas about other humans, and the twists and turns of the plot keep the reader on their toes until the very end.

I would highly recommend this great piece of literature.

What were your reading highlights this month? Let me know in the comments below.

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