Books!

15.08.2017 um 15:52 Uhr

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

von: magger

Androgyny

How we are used to the common roles of women and men! The women’s everlasting feelings, the male exemplaries of us stuck inside ourselves and inapt to express any emotions... It could remind us of Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo, couldn’t it? It is about time to aproach sex and gender with a fresh mind. It did begin though! Don’t we love the appearance of David Bowie, Brian Molko (the frontman of “Placebo”), Boy George, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stipe, Tanita Tikaram, k.d.lang, Marla Glen, Annie Lennox, Michael Jackson and meanwhile many other singers and actors playing deliberately with genders? Anything seems possible like in the antiques, where nobody was wondering about Hermaphrodites. They were even worshipped as holy people and prophets – see Tiresias, being first a men and changing into woman.

Jeffrey Eugenides’ book is all about this matter. Even the title, “Middlesex”, though mainly an adress of Detroits suburb Grosse Pointe, can be an allusion to the third sex, the gender in the middle of female and male.

Callie Stephanides, our hero, is expieriencing this in her own body, being born as a girl and turning into a boy with 14 years...

She is the teller of our book, sometimes omniscient narrator too, beginning the story even before her birth or consception, telling us about the doings of her parents while away in California or even going inside Father Mike’s head. Actually she/he is 41 years old, living in Berlin, just finding a new girlfriend, doing big flashbacks into the story of her family, her grandparents Desdemona and Lefty, her parents Tessie and Milton, her brother Chapter Eleven, her aunts and uncles.

“Grow up in Detroit and you understand the way of all things. Early on, you are put on close relations with entropy.”

There is but a big lifespace in between Bursa in Anatolia and Detroit. The unifying motive is the silkworm, doing it’s metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly and doing this by spinning itself into cocoons.... In my opinion this is the hidden motive of the whole book.

The main theme though is sex and gender, and we get aware again, how fluent the borders in between sexes are. At one point it even is said about hermaphrodites: we are the new gender, the one of the future. But even samples of the past are cited: The Oracle of Delphi, Tiresias, Homeros, Heraklit with his “panta rhei”, the nymph Salmakis (whose pool,by the way, is to be found in Bodrum!) turning to Hermaphroditos, the poet Sappho...

Eugenides though is very less didactic but always good for a joke. I like his wry sense of humour:

“She didn’t surrender until after Japan had.”

“The days of the harem were over. Bring on the era of the backseat! Automobiles were the new pleasure domes. They turned the common man into a sultan of the open road.”

“I crossed to the intercom and put my mouth against the speaker and said in a deep voice, ‘I’m not going into that church.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Have you seen what they charge for those goddamn candles?’”

“The slight gracelessness of my walk, which Dr. Luce had commented on, predisposed me to join the graceless sex.”

“Sing, Muse, of Greek ladies and their battle against unsightly hair! Sing of depilatory creams and tweezers! Of bleach and beeswax!”

“On sunny days the lake still managed to look blue. Most of the time, however, it was the color of cold pea soup.”

“By April of 1972, Desdemona’s application to join her husband in heaven was still working its way though a vast celestial bureaucracy.”

 

1st Encore:

Some have the opinion, only the initial story of the village near Bursa, the war in between Turcs and Greeks, the terrible end of Smyrna and the escape of sister and brother to the New World and finally to Detroit is catching, the rest of the book rather boring. I am not in that opinion: I read this thick book until the last page like a police-novel.

2nd Encore:

The figures emerging all along the plot are quite interesting: Peter Tatakis, Jackie Halas, Father Mike, Sourmelina, Aunt Zo, Dr. Philobosian (“Dr. Philobosian smelled like an old couch, of hair oil and spilled soup, of unscheduled naps. His medical diploma looked as if it were written on parchment.”), the prostitute Irini, Captain Kontoulis, Jimmy Zizmo, Sophie Sassoon, Marius Wyxzewixard Challouehliczilczese Grimes, the Charm Bracelets, the Obscure Object, Maxine Grossinger, Mr. Da Silva, Zora, who doesn’t want to be a woman, Bob Presto, Julie Kikuchi and many others.

3rd Encore

All along the book the thesis of the surroundings, the education being important for the gender of someone against that of the genes (“I try to go back in my mind to a time before genetics, before everyone was in the habit of saying about everything, ‘It’s in the genes.”) are elaborated. But finally the author solves the opposite theories by stating, that everybody has her/his own free will.

"What’s the reason for studying history? To understand the present or avoid it?”

Lets end with the motto on the flag of Detroit: “Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus. ‘We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.’”

30.06.2017 um 07:13 Uhr

James Salter, All That is

von: magger

(read in English)

Another book I read two times, but not because it is difficult, but because I love it! Straight away coming to the end I returned to the beginning.

"His mind moved elsewhere, to the great funerary city with its palazzos and quiet canals, the lions that were its feared insignia. 'You know,' he said, 'I’ve been thinking about Venice. I’m not sure Wells was right about the best time to go there. January is so damned cold. I have a feeling it would be better to go before then. So what, if there’re some crowds. I can ask him about hotels.' 'Do you mean it?' 'Yes. Let’s go in November. We’ll have a great time.'"

This is the last paragraph of his novel. In the beginning there are some pages about his being a soldier against the Japanese. The rest is describing his life, his loves, his jobs and his holidays in New York and its surroundings. Salter, though widely unknown, is another of this great American laconic writers. Please read "A sport and a pastime" too!

22.06.2017 um 18:10 Uhr

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

von: magger

(I read it in English, but it is available in other languages and there's even a movie)

Big Bang! Particularly because Margaret Atwood just took the Peace-Prize of German Editors. Though this book isn’t peaceful at all: People are shot, hanged and even lacerated. There’s peace of the graveyard in the whole country since a group of fundamentalistic-religious officers shot most of congressmen and suspended the constitution. Now we have –Old Testament-like – Republic of Gilead. I bet you know the saying: “Who sleeps in Democracy will wake up in dictatorship”?

Gilead is in war, there are even nuclear contaminated regions (the “colonies”). But inside the country there’s a strict order: women are covered and divided in castes, the girls (dressed in white), the wifes (blue) the handmaids (red), the Marthas (green), the Aunts, who control the handmaids (grey). Men are mainly soldiers, guardians, chauffeurs, etc. Handmaids are used for reproduction, as the birthrate is very low and makes big problems. If a wife is not getting pregnant (and this is by law always women’s fault), the handmaid takes their place in a weekly ceremony: she lays in between the legs of the wife and is fucked there by the husband. To get pregnant is life-saving! But the baby has to be given away.

Our story is told by such a handmaid. Her name is “Offred” along the name of the commander (or does it mean”offered”? a nice word game of Atwood). Names and words are strictly regimented and a lot of words are forbidden. The dystopic novel reminds us of Orwell and Huxley, I had some nightmares while reading it, especially when we are told how it all began. But the language is poetic,sharp and precise. So please read it!

21.06.2017 um 11:39 Uhr

Volker Weidermann, Ostende

von: magger

(Original in German, read in German)


Is that book a novel, a documentation with quotes of famous people or the description of a place? Anyhow,Ostende nowadays doesn’t look like in 1938 or 1914.

In Ostende, and this is what Volker Weidermann tells us in a beautiful and simple language, Irmgard Keun, Stefan Zweig, Ernst Toller and his wife, Joseph Roth, Hermann Kesten, Arthur Koestler – all of them rather well known writers – meet for a last time in the summer of 1938. They are mostly on half way to exile and fleeing the Nazi-Reich which threatens them. Except Keun they all are Jews, and we know what happened to Jews in Germany. For this reason their parties are interlaminated with fear and sorrows.

Volker Weidemann (he is the moderator of ZdF’s Literary Quartet) mixes his report with lots of quotes. His researches are (at least for me) very instructive. Additionally most of us know some other books, f.e. “Das kunstseidene Mȁdchen” by Irmgard Keun, “Sternstunden der Menschheit” by Zweig, “Eine Jugend in Deutschland” by Ernst Toller or Roth’s “Radetzkymarsch”

Are Weidermanns researches fitting to our imaginations? Or is he giving a new image of those authors?

20.06.2017 um 14:06 Uhr

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

von: magger

(read in English)

A really mysterious book. I am about to skip it, because it is incredible hard to read. As far as I get it now it is all about tennis and drugs, mainly about people of one family, it must be in the near future, the USA and Canada are one big country. Sometimes we are in Massachusetts (in Boston?), sometimes in Arizona. David Foster Wallace has an incredible vocabulary; I don't think I read the same expression twice. He additionally has the gift to make one dizzy - as if the drugs were spread out in the book...