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David Benioff (Otisville, NY)

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Disgrace
Disgrace
von J. M. Coetzee
  Gebundene Ausgabe

5.0 von 5 Sternen The Mercy of Autonomy, 20. Juni 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Disgrace (Gebundene Ausgabe)
Coetzee is a masterly writer, but he's a harsh master, unwilling to grant his creations any lasting comfort. David Lurie, the hero of Disgrace, suffers punishment out of proportion with the suffering he has inflicted, and this seems to be the point. Suffering is not a zero-sum game. The pain we inflict may be revisited upon us a thousand-fold, or we may entirely escape retribution. There is no justice and there is no abiding judge; the innocent, in the form of a crippled dog, are not offered reprieve.
While reading the book I thought of Chekhov's injunction, that we must have "compassion down to our fingertips," and I wondered how such a commandment applied to Coetzee. Perhaps I misread, but in Disgrace compassion takes a decidedly non-interventionist form. Coetzee allows his characters to stubbornly choose their own paths, even when such paths must lead to misery.
This autonomy is an illusion, of course: Coetzee is writing all the dialogue, all the actions. But the characters seem to establish themselves as independent forces within the writer's mind, as all good characters must, as Byron's lover Theresa stands apart within David Lurie's mind, singing for her lost poet.
Lurie must allow his daughter to choose her own fate, despite serious misgivings about her choice. Likewise, Coetzee allows his protagonist to be his own man: unlikeable, brilliant, stubborn. Lurie claims to be too old to learn new tricks, but this is plainly wrong. His attitude toward animals changes utterly, and his attitude toward the offence he commits early in the book.
Forgive the long-winded spiel; I just finished the book and am working out some thoughts in text. The book should be read; there is no more important writer in English today than Coetzee.


Flags of Our Fathers
Flags of Our Fathers
von James Bradley
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 19,60

5.0 von 5 Sternen The Debt We Owe, 14. Juni 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Flags of Our Fathers (Gebundene Ausgabe)
Reading Flags of Our Fathers made me nostalgic for a time I never lived through. I was born well after the events described in the book, and sometimes it's hard to separate the truth of World War II from the versions I've seen in movies. Though other books (like Brokaw's Great Generation) examine the time period, the beauty of Bradley's work is the specificity. We get to know these young soldiers intimately. Their heroism was that of ordinary men forced to do extraordinary things, and the debt we owe them, as free citizens, is monumental.
I look forward to the day when my children are old enough to read this book. It's vital that they understand what a gift we've all received from these brave and modest men.
In an era of incessant self-promotion, an era when brand loyalty is more pervasive than flag loyalty, it helps to read about a hero who never once boasted of his heroism.


The Very Hungry Caterpillar board book
The Very Hungry Caterpillar board book
von Eric Carle
  Pappbilderbuch
Preis: EUR 8,00

5.0 von 5 Sternen Just as good as I remembered, 14. Juni 2000
Sometimes it's scary revisiting a childhood favorite. A book we remember as haunting and lovely turns out to be trite and dull; the words that moved us when we were young now sound banal.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Board Book has aged beautifully. The classic cover remains unchanged, and the bright, whimsical artwork inside brings me back with a rush. What a great book to rediscover with your children! Charlie, my youngest, actually abandoned his beloved Pokemon to investigate the Caterpillar.
After reading this book with your children, you'll have a hard time squashing another caterpillar.


Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
von Seamus Heaney
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 19,60

5.0 von 5 Sternen Heaney was the right man for this job, 27. April 2000
I don't have the academic background to compare Heaney's translation with the many that have come before; the only time I had read the poem previously was back in college, and all I remembered was Beowulf tearing Grendel's arm off. So, as someone coming to the poem blissfully ignorant, I'm happy to report that Heaney does a spectacular job. Someone smart once said that the only way to judge a translation is on the translation's own merits; that's lucky for me as I'm a dunce with Old English. I looked over the facing pages (the Old English pages, in my edition), and sometimes read them aloud to get a feel for their cadence and sound, but I trusted in Heaney to tell me the story, and what a story he tells.
I've always admired the tough beauty of his poetry; his lines tend to stomp about, a brawl of consonants, irredeemably masucline. What better interpreter, than, for the hypermacho world of Beowulf, where the men gnaw on bones and gulp down their mead and stagger off to fight monsters and get eviscerated. I'm not mocking the saga-- it's awfully good fun, and I'm pleased to see it's selling so well. Heaney's favorite themes, violence and memory, lurk in the heart of Beowulf.
Very nice to see a Nobel laureate refusing to rest on his laurels.


Interpreter of Maladies
Interpreter of Maladies
von Jhumpa Lahiri
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 10,90

5.0 von 5 Sternen Unfair, 27. April 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Interpreter of Maladies (Taschenbuch)
It's not fair that Jhumpa Lahiri is so insanely talented AND ridiculously beautiful. I keep reading the stories and then looking back at the author photograph and thinking, unfair, unfair, unfair.
The oddest thing is that Lahiri doesn't write like the youngster she is. There's a serenity about her prose-- not that it's boring or sedate, far from it, but she doesn't need to show off. Like Joe DiMaggio, she's good enough to make it look easy (and I bet that's the first time anyone compared Jhumpa Lahiri to Joltin' Joe).
While so many of her contemporaries are feverishly screwing with the margins, inserting page-long footnotes and multi-color font, Lahiri writes with the classical assurance of a master. The comparisons to Jane Austen are, perhaps, premature (we've yet to see if Lahiri can pull off a sustained narrative with the grace and genius of Austen), but certainly this book points to future greatness.
Note: If this is my wife reading this, please skip the first paragraph.


Jesus' Son: Stories by
Jesus' Son: Stories by
von Denis Johnson
  Taschenbuch

5.0 von 5 Sternen The most powerful short story collection I've read, 27. April 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Jesus' Son: Stories by (Taschenbuch)
These are stories you read and xerox and send off to friends, breaking all sorts of copyright laws, staying up way too late, reading and reading and then thinking, wait, they got Ethan Hawke to play the lead? Whatever you do, read the book before you see the movie. Maybe Mr. Hawke will shock everybody and pull off the acting performance of his life, but this book will not translate onto the screen. Denis Johnson's language, street-smart and lyrical and fierce, cannot be replicated in another medium.
There are moments in this books so strange and beautiful and hallucinatory (as when the cotton swabs in the emergency room begin crying for help), they make you want to grab the highlighter and begin marking. People write "hallucinatory" all the time in reviews, and usually I have no idea what they mean, but Jesus' Son truly is hallucinatory. No, more than that, it is revelatory. I think it's the most important short story book of our time. I'm jealous of you if you're about to read it for the first time.


The Reader: A novel (Vintage International)
The Reader: A novel (Vintage International)
von Bernhard Schlink
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 11,52

3.0 von 5 Sternen I know my mother loved it, but..., 27. April 2000
I'll have to vote with Mostafa on this one. Schlink is a decent writer, calm and understated; unfortunately, in this case, still waters run shallow. Much of the novel revolves around what is meant to be a shocking mystery, but the mystery is stupidly obvious. The characters are meant to be opaque and emotionally numbed, a favorite ploy of postmodernist writers, but I'm sick of flat characters bluffing produndity.
To be fair to Schlink, the story starts beautifully; I really believed I was opening a modern classic. Instead, the narrative loses momentum and the characters become less and less interesting.
Yes, the book was a sensation in Europe, and yes it has a beautiful cover, but if you're looking for great contemporary European novels I'd recommend two others: The Pigeon, by Patrick Susskind, and Class Trip, by Emmanuel Carrere (one of the spookiest books I've ever read).


Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (Caldecott Medal Book)
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (Caldecott Medal Book)
von Simms Taback
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 12,30

5.0 von 5 Sternen Every Generation Has Its Classic Children's Book, 19. Januar 2000
You know the ones I'm talking about. The Cat in the Hat. Goodnight Moon. The Giving Tree. Where the Wild Things Are. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat is in that league-- and this edition is immensely superior to the one that Mr. Taback produced back in the Seventies.
Sometimes it's hard to predict the books your children will love. As much as you love your kids, you can never completely know their minds. While I hoped that they'd like this book, I was amazed at the intensity of their affection for it. All four of them-- ranging in ages from three to eight-- have wanted to read nothing else since I bought it.
The writing here is very spare. Don't expect the mad versifying of Sendak or Seuss. But if you're looking for a book with the ineffable charm of a classic, give this one a try. Your kids will thank you.


The Magician's Assistant
The Magician's Assistant
von Ann Patchett
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 22,20

5.0 von 5 Sternen Parsifal is dead. That's the beginning of the story., 17. Januar 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The Magician's Assistant (Gebundene Ausgabe)
Ann Patchett, who lives in rural seclusion with her pet raccoons (at least according to the profile in Modern Tennessean), is so good I wish she wrote the morning paper. That way I could wake up and read her sentences all day long.
If you've glanced at the editorials above, you know the novel's plot. Two of the most fascinating characters are already dead when we begin reading; they occupy the heroine's dreams, refusing to rest like peaceful corpses should. Among her other talents, Patchett is masterful with adolescents-- a notoriously tough breed to write about. And she's excellent with violence, too. Not the habitual, ritual violence of genre fiction, but the quick, mean violence of unhappy men.
I don't want to tell you too much. Read the book. If you don't like it, e-mail me and complain about what an idiot I am.
I don't think I'll be hearing from you.


Snow Falling on Cedars: Movie Tie-in Edition
Snow Falling on Cedars: Movie Tie-in Edition
von David Guterson
  Gebundene Ausgabe

2.0 von 5 Sternen I know a lot of smart people loved this book..., 17. Januar 2000
...and I respect their opinions. Still, I'll offer mine in the hopes of sparking a civilized debate. For me, this novel was boring, trite, and predictable. The characters were not cardboard, but I'm involved in the manufacture of cardboard and I don't want to insult such a fine and resilient material.
It's not that the author is a bad writer-- his sentences are clean and carefully constructed; his plot is well-rendered-- it's just... well, so what? Nothing here is startling; nothing makes you sit up in your chair to reread the words.
This is my point: if you're going to spend the time and money on a novel, you might as well read a great one. (The best I've read in the last few months are Appointment in Samarra, by John O'Hara, and The Last Picture-Show, by Larry McMurtry.)


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