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The Woman in the Dunes (Vintage International)
The Woman in the Dunes (Vintage International)
von Kobo Abe
Preis: EUR 15,09

5.0 von 5 Sternen Profoundly Poetic, 20. Juni 2000
Kobo Abe's Woman in the Dunes in both an existential allegory as well as a masterpiece of sensual terror.
The story begins when teacher and amateur entymologist, Jumpei Niki, decides to get away from things for awhile and searches for insects in an isolated desert region of Japan near the sea. When he realizes he's missed the last bus back to a "real" town, the local villagers offer to find him a place to stay for the night.
Although there are no hotels available, Jumpei is escorted to a rope ladder extending down into a pit in the sand. At the bottom he finds a ramshakle hut and a lone woman living in a bizarre situation; she spends the entire night, every night, shoveling sand away from her home in order to stave off her own burial and the subsequent destruction of the village. The sand is given to the villagers in return for water and other necessities, something the woman views as "community spirit."
To his horror, Jumpei awakens to find the rope laffer gone and discovers he's been targeted as the woman's new partner and "helper." Jumpei resists and even makes a futile attempt at escape, to which the woman says, "I'm really sorry. But honestly there hasn't been a single person to get out yet."
Inevitably, Jumpei and the woman engage in a series of sexual encounters that have more to do with an affirmation of life than with physical or emotional attraction. This book is many things, but a love story is definitely not one of them.
When the woman (who remains nameless) suffers an ectopic pregnancy, Jumpei suddenly finds himself alone in the pit and free to go, yet enigmatically (or so it may seem), he refuses to do so.
Obviously, this shattering and gorgeous story is open to many levels of interpretation; only a few are obvious.
Jumpei clearly represents the "new, Westernized" Japan, while the woman personifies "traditional" Japan and tate mae. Rather than buying into the futility of life, the woman calmly accepts the role life has assigned to her with dignity and patience.
Although she is often treated unfairly (and even abused) by Jumpei, the woman in the dunes still bathes him regularly and cooks his dinner every day, accepting him without anger or scorn.
Westerners may view the woman in the dunes as complacent and weak, but in reality, she is anything but. Her ability to carry on day after day, in the face of overwhelming odds, as well as her seeming peace of mind personify the maxim that suffering exists only in the eye of the beholder.
At times, the message of this book may seem to be that life is futile; that no matter how much you struggle, you'll simply be forced to struggle again and again, so much so that when opportunity does come knocking, a useless existence may seem safer than an uncertain freedom.
The real problem, however, and the crux of this book, is one of perspective. Although Jumpei's "old" life may seem to be the better and the more fulfilling (as well as the more free), is it really? If you were to ask the woman in the dunes, I think she might smile, turn her head shyly and suggest you get back to work.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Chronicle of a Death Foretold
von Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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5.0 von 5 Sternen The Presence of Death in Life, 17. Juni 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Taschenbuch)
The first sentence of this harrowing, surrealistic novella concerns itself with the murder of the wealthy, twenty-one year old Santiago Nasar and every page that follows only serves to broaden and enlarge this action.
The novella, a narrative written twenty-seven years after the murder by Nasar's journalist friend, serves as a detailed history of the hours leading up to the crime. The entire population of a fictional Latin American village comprise the cast of characters and as we become privy to their actions and memories, the one certainty we learn is that everyone had a part to play in this crime.
The night before the murder, Angela Vicario had married Bayardo San Roman in a lavish and costly ceremony. However, when San Roman learns that Angela is not a virgin he returns her to her mother immediately. When pressed to name the man who stole her virginity and disgraced the family name, Angela answers, "Santiago Nasar."
Nothing points to the truthfulness of Angela's assertion, but her twin brothers, Pablo and Pedro, who are pig butchers by profession, sharpen their knives and begin their search for Nasar.
Although "there had never been a death more foretold," every one of the town's citizens has some reason, valid or not, for doing little or nothing to prevent the death of Nasar.
Even Nasar, himself, until the final moments, seems oblivious to what every other person in the town is well aware of. Amazingly, he seems to either feel himself above death or simply resigned to his fate.
The narrator of Chronicle of a Death Foretold presents many instances and situations that could have saved the life of Nasar yet failed to do so, underscoring one of Garcia Marquez's signature themes--irony.
Some of the town's citizens, like Victoria Guzman, Nasar's cook, have private reasons for wishing him dead. Many assume that Nasar must surely be aware of the danger himself, while others simply discount the Vicario brothers announcement as drunken boasting.
By the time Nasar walks onto the dock to meet the visiting bishop's boat, everyone there knows how and why he's going to be killed. And, when the Vicario brothers begin their attack, no one lifts a finger to stop it.
During the final, surrealistic pages of the book, Nasar rises from the bloodied ground and dusts off his own entrails before "entering the house of his mother" and announcing, "They've killed me, Wene child," as he falls on his face in the kitchen.
Garcia Marquez illuminates, not only the duplicity behind the Latin "code of honor," but the hypocrisy of the women as well, a hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the community's strict code of behavior.
The little understood "cult of machismo" is also explored and Garcia Marquez shows us how the men's strict adherence to that cult contributed heavily to the death of Nasar.
While the narrator of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is unable to come to any firm conclusions regarding Nasar's death, he does show us the overwhelming inevitability of it all. Too many forces, including apathy, assumption and even chance are all moving in the same direction and all contribute to the final, harrowing outcome. This sense of the inevitable pervades every line of the book and we know there could have been no way the life of Nasar could have been spared.
Although told in a straightforward (though non-linear) manner, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is not a straightforward story. It is complex, shocking and powerful and surrelistic in its approach. It concerns itself with the power of death in life and how one death affects and transforms an entire community.
The language used in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is, at times, shocking and even brutal, but it is perfectly suited to the shocking and brutal story it tells.
In an early interview, Garcia Marquez mentioned the debt he owned to Juan Rulfo, author of Pedro Paramo. Although Chronicle of a Death Foretold is highly original, Rulfo's influence can clearly be seen. The two novellas parallel each other in their surrealistic qualities, the ever-present sense of death and meaninglessness and the inevitability of life's final outcome. Both works are characterized by unrelieved darkness and a descent into something unamed, from which it is impossible to return.
As with all of Garcia Marquez's works, this book is flawless. It is a highly rewarding, yet disturbing work that forces us to look at the inevitable presence of death in life and the uncertainty of even the next moment.

Against the Grain (a Rebours)
Against the Grain (a Rebours)
von H. Ellis

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5.0 von 5 Sternen The Ultimate Social Dropout, 17. Juni 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Against the Grain (a Rebours) (Taschenbuch)
Des Esseintes, the protagonist of Against the Grain (A Rebours), is, without a doubt, literature's ultimate social dropout. Dissatisfied with the limitations of the natural world, he hides from human society, constructing his life so that even his own servants are invisible to him.
While looking at others with disdain (and this is putting it mildly!), Des Esseintes's opinion of himself grows ever higher until he has "no hope of linking up with a mind which, like his own, took pleasure in a life of studious decrepitude; no hope of associating an intelligence as sharp and wayward as his own with that of an author or scholar."
Just as Des Esseintes eschews the natural, he embraces the artificial. In an early chapter, he chooses the colors for his country house near Paris based on their appearance under artificial light. He comes to the conclusion that one can obtain a satisfactory sea bath at home because "without stirring out of Pris it is possible to obtain the health-giving impression of sea-bathing...for all this involves is a visit to the Bain Vigier, an establishment to be seen down on a pontoon moored in the middle of the Seine."
Eventually, Des Esseintes moves beyond mere artifice and seeks to remove from his life the natural in all its aspects. When he becomes unable to ingest food orally, he feeds himself through enemas and finds this method far superior.
Des Esseintes's realm of artifice soon becomes his only god. He is safe in his virtuality, enjoying travel without risks, lust without passion and social interaction only with imagined beings.
The heart and soul of Against the Grain is really the debate between nature and artifice and man's role as the creator of his own universe. Des Esseintes is the ultimate aesthete; a man whose desire to obliterate the natural is transformed into the limitless experience of artistic creation.
Against the Grain represents typical French decadent literature in which the whole is subordinate to the parts. It must be understood that decadence in literature is an aesthetic, rather than a moral conception; the opposite of classicism, in which each part must subordinate itself to the enhancement of the whole. Each has its virtures, and in order to appreciate one to the fullest, we must learn to understand and appreciate the other.
Against the Grain may well be the greatest novel to emerge from the French decadent experience, and it has exerted much influence over later writers. It is the fullest, most detailed account of the search for artifice, a search that is particularly akin to today's virtual world of cyberspace. As such, Against the Grain is more relevant than ever and should be highly recommended, even required, reading.

The Island of the Day Before
The Island of the Day Before
von Umberto Eco

4.0 von 5 Sternen Great, But Not Eco's Best, 17. Juni 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The Island of the Day Before (Taschenbuch)
Roberto della Griva, the protagonist of The Island of the Day Before, was born in 1614, a member of one of the minor noble families of northern Italy, vassals of the Marquis of Monferrato.
While still a young child, Roberto manages to convince himself that he has an evil brother, Ferrante, kept secret by his family, to whom he ascribes all his bad actions. Ferrante serves to explain Roberto's bad luck, for everything bad that happens to Roberto is Ferrante's fault and Roberto must therefore go through life being punished for Ferrante's misdeeds.
At the age of sixteen, Roberto's father is killed at the Siege of Casale, the fortress guarding the frontier between Italy and France. Roberto manages to return to Italy long enough to arrange a yearly income for himself before travelling to France.
Roberto arrives in Paris in the early 1640s, at the moment of the transition of power between Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Mazarin. Having an interest in astronomy and philosophy, Roberto frequents the scientific salons and we learn much about the early 17th century. During the course of his visits, Roberto falls in love with one the great ladies of Paris and mistakenly believes that she returns his love. He begins writing her a series of leters that eventually fall into the hands of the narrator and form the basis of the book.
Ferrante intervenes, however, in the guise of Cardinal Mazarin and Roberto's carefree life in Paris comes to an end. France is engaged in a race with England to find the answer to the problem of longitude, and Mazarin blackmails Roberto into booking passage on the Dutch vessel, the Amaryllis, bound for the South Seas. When the ship sinks during a storm, Roberto, for once, forsaken by Ferrante and enjoying good luck instead of bad, is the sole survivor.
Roberto eventually washes up on the Daphne, another deserted Dutch ship that was also sailing in the interests of science. Anchored off an island in the South Pacific, the Daphne is located on what Roberto comes to believe is the Prime Meridian. He thus believes that when he sits on the deck of the ship on the west side, and gazes at the island on the east side, he is truly looking at the day before.
Roberto soon learns that the Daphne is not quite as deserted as it had seemed when he encounters the Jesuit priest, Father Caspar Wanderdrossel.
Father Wanderdrossel has also been seeking the mystery of longitude in hopes that the answer will reveal to him the source of the Great Flood. Besides engaging in a series of lengthy discussions with Wanderdrossel, Roberto also spends his time aboard the Daphne writing memoirs and love letters.
Despite the fact that the island to the east is inhabited by cannibals and neither Roberto nor Wanderdrossel can swim, they decide they must reach the shore. Wanderdrossel devises a strange invention that would seem to permit him to walk to the island over the ocean floor, but when Roberto lowers him over the side, Wanderdrossel is never seen again.
Alone, Roberto occupies himself with his writings which now deal almost exclusively with his alter ego, Ferrante. Roberto eventually comes up with a fitting end for Ferrante and soon after, he, himself drowns, leaving behind only his letters and memoirs.
The Island of the Day Before seems to have no point and, in fact, it does not. But this is only part of the book's beauty. Eco uses the book to give us a grand tour of the 17th century while the characters search for cohesion and meaning that just isn't there.
This isn't always bad. In The Name of the Rose, Eco played out the same theme while giving us a discourse on late medieval ecclesiastical politics, but he also entertained us brilliantly with a Sherlock Holmes parody.
For some people, part of this novel's problem no doubt lies in the time period in which it is set. In the 17th century, no one expected life to make much sense. People lived according to signs and symbols. Their prose and politics were complex and obscure. While a few, such as Descartes, searched for answers, most simply accepted what was imposed.
Eco might argue that his novel only parodies life, which, ultimately, has no point. And, who knows, he could be right. But The Island of the Day Before is not real life. It is a book and Eco is a master writer. As beautiful as it is, the journey from beginning to end should have been larger than life and a lot more fun.

Love in the Time of Cholera (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)
Love in the Time of Cholera (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)
von Gabriel García Márquez

5.0 von 5 Sternen THE MANY ASPECTS OF LOVE, 9. Juni 2000
Love in the Time of Cholera takes place circa 1880-1930 in an unnamed Caribbean seaport city. The three main characters form a triangle of love, with the hypotneuse being the quintessential romantic, Florentino Ariza, a man whose life is dedicated to love in all its aspects.
As a young apprentice telegrapher, Florentino Ariza falls hopelessly in love with the haughty teenager, Fermina Daza. Although the two barely meet, they manage to carry on a passionate affair via letters and telegrams, until one day, Fermina Daza, realizing that Florentino Ariza is more "shadow than substance," rejects him and marries the wealthy dandy, Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead.
Florentino Ariza, who has sworn to love Fermina Daza forever, is, of course, stricken to the core, but Fermina's marriage is nothing he can't handle. As one century closes and another begins, Florentino Ariza rises through the ranks of the River Company of the Caribbean and sets off on a series of 622 erotic adventures, both "long term liaisons and countless fleeting adventures," all of which he chronicled and all the while nurturing a fervent belief that his ultimate destiny was with Fermina Daza.
Fifty-one years, nine months and four days after Fermina's wedding, on Pentecost Sunday, fate intervenes and Fermina becomes a free woman once again when Dr. Juvenal Urbino dies attempting to retrieve his wayward parrot from a mango tree. Seeing his chance at last, Florentino Ariza visits Fermina Daza after the funeral and declares, "I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love." Fermina's reaction is not quite what Florentino was hoping for. She orders him out of the house with the words, "And don't show your face again for the years of life that are left to you...I hope there are very few of them."
Fermina Daza, however, hasn't quite gotten Florentino Ariza out of her system and the story ends, symbolically, with a river journey into eternity.
It's hard to believe that Gabriel Garcia Marquez has written a book that is better than One Hundred Years of Solitude, but with Love in the Time of Cholera, he has done just that. Not quite magical realism, it is still magic of the highest order and it is pure Garcia Marquez. An exquisite writer, Garcia Marquez tells his tales with passion, control and unblinking humor with just the right amount of the fabulous woven in.
Unlike some of his slightly claustrophobic works, this novel has an almost epic quality and Garcia Marquez handles the shifts in time and character perfectly; from the opening lines you know you're in the hands of a master. The book is flawless: Not one word is out of place, not one sentence is awkward. Lesser authors might slip into the maudlin when writing an entire book on the many aspects of love, but Garcia Marquez never gives us less than crystalline insight into what it really means to live, to love and to live a life of love. The last chapter alone is a masterpiece no one who's loved, or loved and lost, will ever forget.
As the book closes, we sail down the river with Garcia Marquez at the helm, safe in the knowledge that he is a navigator of the highest order, one who can pilot the river of love unerringly. He certainly does just that in this shining, sometimes funny and always uplifting book of flawless perfection.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel (Vintage International)
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel (Vintage International)
von Haruki Murakami
Preis: EUR 13,95

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5.0 von 5 Sternen ORIGINAL AND BIZARRE, 3. Juni 2000
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle begins with a pot of spaghetti about to boil over as the voluntarily out of work protagonist, Toru Okada parries an anonymous obscene phone call just in time to receive a call from his wife, Kumiko, who orders him to begin a search for the couple's missing cat, Noboru Watanabe, named for her politically important brother. If the above sounds pretty breathless and confusing, you'll be surprised to learn there's a lot, lot more. The lost Noboru Watanabe is simply the device Murakami uses to set this densely-layered, often bizarre book in motion.
Toru's search for the lost cat introduces him to the novel's other characters, who move in and out of his life and lead him into an ever-enlarging labyrinth. There is the Lolita-like May Kasahara, Toru's neighbor, who regards the thirty year old Toru as "interesting" and calls him Mr. Wind-Up Bird. Even more bizarre, are the two sisters and psychics, Malta and Creta Kano, who invade Toru's dreams as well as his reality. (After having psychic sex with Toru, Creta later appears naked in his bed, and, as to how she got there, she doesn't have a clue.)
In the meantime, Toru's wife, Kumiko disappears, much to the delight of her politician brother, who detests Toru and vice versa. And, by the way, the politician brother just happened to have raped Creta!
When Toru learns Kumiko has left him for a man who's better in bed, he's surprisingly surprised, although he shouldn't be and neither should we; signs of her adultery have been rampant.
With nothing else to do about the matter, Toru lowers himself to the bottom of an empty well, the better to meditate on his unpredictable predicament. But May takes the ladder away and three days later, after Creta has rescued him, Toru emerges with a blue mark on his face, one that gives him special healing powers.
At this point things really become confused.
Toru's mark of healing is recognized by Nutmeg Akasako as being similar to the one her father bore. Lt. Mamiya has also entered the story, recounting a fantastic tale of wartime espionage that just happens to involve time spent at the bottom of a well!
Much in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle develops around the elements of chance, destiny and responsibility. Characters drift in and out of Toru's life, yet each pulls him into his or her own world.
Some may think this novel tends to digress a bit too much, but that's all a part of Murakami's trademark, for he's well-known to prefer freefalling through his work rather than planning it out carefully. The result, however, is a cumulative effect of bizarre happenings and black comedy, with Toru being the integral link. Although a recurring theme in Murakami's oeuvre is that of childishness, Toru is, at times, both childish in his innocence and cynical in his outlook regarding his fellow man.
Toru is a protagonist who sees, hears, feels and reacts, rather than does. He attracts a large assortment of unusual characters rather than actively pursuing them. Murakami's prose has a distinctive "Western" feel and, although his characters are Japanese people, living in Japan, they could be anyone, anywhere.
Those looking for the more traditional Japanese novel should look to other authors instead, most notably Yukio Mishima and Osamu Dazai.
Surreal and sprawling, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a detective story, a history lesson and a satire. It is a big book that unites Murakami's signature themes of alienation, dislocation and nameless fears in the voice of Toru, aka, "Everyman." It's an enormous accomplishment that, believe it or not, all starts with a pot of spaghetti and one lost cat.

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (Vintage International)
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (Vintage International)
von Yukio Mishima
Preis: EUR 11,95

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5.0 von 5 Sternen BARBARIC LYRICISM, 2. Juni 2000
In post-World War II Yokohama, Japan, a seaport town, the sailor Ryuji, has become disillusioned with his life at sea and finds himself craving what the land has to offer. Ultimately, he marries the widow, Fusako, the owner of a Western imports shop and mother of Noboru, an adolescent boy struggling to come to terms with his own sense of identity and place in the world. These three people, as well as the presence of the land and the sea, itself, form the central characters in Yukio Mishima's haunting masterpiece of tragedy, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea.
As a true sailor, one whose ultimate quest is inexorably bound to the sea, Ryuji has become Noboru's hero. In Noboru's eyes, Ryuji can do no wrong--until one day Noboru sees Ryuji and Fusako making love. At that point, the young boy realizes his hero has fallen. Ryuji has lost his attachment to the sea, has failed at his quest and is becoming more and more a lover of life on land. When he finally falls under Fusako's spell and forsakes the sea entirely, Noboru, who, himself, has come to feel that only violence can grant him the power and control he seeks, realizes that Ryuji's only salvation lies in death.
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea is a highly symbolic and multi-layered novel. While it is not necessary to have knowledge of Japanese culture or politics in order to enjoy the book, it does add yet another dimension of meaning to the story as well as deepen an understanding of Mishima, himself.
Noboru clearly represents "traditional" Japan. His values are those of an old, patriarchal Japan, and when the story opens, Ryuji symbolizes all the values Noboru holds most dear--stoicism, strength of spirit and the Samurai tradition.
Fusako, on the other hand, embodies the "new, Westernized" Japan, and as Ryuji comes, more and more, to embrace both Fusako's lifestyle and "new" Japan, his fall from grace continues, a state Noboru's honor cannot abide.
The book can thus be seen as a metaphor representing modern-day Japan; a Japan that many feel will only become truly great once more when she forcibly purges herself of all Western influence.
Like all of Mishima's works, this book is astounding in its juxtaposition of savage barbarism and lyrical beauty, with strong currents of eroticism throughout. Mishima wisely chooses to use third person multiple viewpoint, heightening our understanding of the three major characters, for we learn to see them not only as they see themselves, but also as others see them.
Although The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea is a short book, its impact is enormously powerful. Mishima was an amazing writer who was never afraid to venture into the darkest regions of the human soul. His work forces us to do the same, and, in my opinion, we are all better for having done it.

Pedro Paramo
Pedro Paramo
von Juan Rulfo
Preis: EUR 13,37

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5.0 von 5 Sternen SURREAL AND HAUNTING, 27. Mai 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Pedro Paramo (Taschenbuch)
Nothing in literature can prepare you for the impact of Pedro Paramo for nothing in literature compares to this novel from Mexican author Juan Rulfo. Published in 1955, and Rulfo's only novel, Pedro Paramo is the story of Juan Preciado's quest to find both his roots and his father. Fulfilling his mother's dying wish, Juan sets out for the rural Mexican village of Comala, the village of his mother's memories, the village where "she sighed about going back," and where Pedro Paramo, lover, overlord and murderer, spent his childhood and his youth. What Juan finds in Comala is something very different from what he expected, something very different from what the reader expects, for Comala is truly a village of the damned, a hell that one literally descends into, never to return. As Juan Preciado meets first one, then another of the inhabitants of Comala, he comes to an astonishing revelation--everyone in Comala, including his father, is dead. The second half of Pedro Paramo concerns itself with the reasons why Comala became a village of the dead and the emphasis then shifts to the enigmatic character of Susana San Juan, the only woman Pedro Pramo ever truly loved and the one who was forever denied him. Although few details are provided about Susana San Juan, we come to see her as the epitome of two archetypes: the heavenly goddess and the overtly sexual madwoman. When she dies and ascends into heaven, in front of Pedro Paramo's own eyes, the fate of Comala and its residents becomes forever sealed. Although this small book may seem to lack structure (there are no chapter breaks), it is highly structured. It is, however, a structure of silences, hanging threads, truncated scenes, and even non-time. Rulfo moves backwards and forewards between the past (the Comala of the living) and the present (the Comala of the dead). The author moves seamlessly between first person and third person; scenes cut into one another and move effortlessly from one location to another and yet nothing is jarring, nothing is out of place. Although more horrifying than any other book I have ever read, Pedro Paramo does not "fit" into any genre and Rulfo uses none of the usual writer's techniques to enhance his story. Rulfo simply uses straightforward narration, moving from conscious thought to memory, from the world of the living to the world of the dead. In an interview in 1980, Rulfo, himself, said that he wanted to allow the reader to participate in the telling of the story, in the filling in of the blanks. Pedro Paramo is a shadowy, eerie, haunting work, and one whose impact on literature cannot be over-emphasized. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has called this book the most influential reading of his early writing years and has admitted to memorizing the entire text. Yet Pedro Paramo completely lacks the humor of Garcia Marquez (in fact, its bleakness is entirely unrelieved) and it is definitely not magical realism. Although this book defies classification, it is most definitely a masterpiece and most definitely one-of-a kind.

Silk (Vintage International)
Silk (Vintage International)
von Alessandro Baricco

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5.0 von 5 Sternen THE EMPHEMERAL SOUNDS OF SILENCE, 24. Mai 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Silk (Vintage International) (Taschenbuch)
Silk, by Alessandro Baricco, is the story of Hervé Joncour, a French silk breeder living in the small town of Lavilledieu. In 1861, when epidemics were striking the hatcheries of Europe, Joncour began to travel to Syria and Egypt to acquire healthy eggs for the town. When his friend, Baldabiou tells his of the extraordinary silk produced in Japan, Joncour embarks on the first of four journeys to what then was determined to be "the end of the world." Traveling by train, horseback, and ship, Joncour always takes the same route and always deals with an enigmatic man named Hara Kei, "the most elusive man in Japan, master of all that the world contrived to carry off the island." But more important to Joncour than Hara Kei is Hara Kei's concubine, a young girl, of which we learn nothing, excpept that "her eyes did not have an Oriental slant." Even though they do not touch and do not speak, Joncour, a true romantic, falls instantly in love with this strange and beautiful girl and comes to believe that his love is returned, although by his fourth and final trip to Japan, he does resign himself to the fact that she will remain forever out of his reach. Civil was in Japan has torn Hara Kei's village apart and Joncour returns to Lavilledieu and to his faithful and loving wife Hélène, resigned that "in the whole world there was nothing beautiful left." Now a wealthy man, Joncour settles down to life in Lavilledieu with Hélène util the arrival of a letter, posted in Belgium, arrives. Written entirely in Japanese, Joncour believes it looks "like a catalogue of the footprints of little birds, fantastically meticulous in its compilation." When the letter is finally translated, Joncour learns the earth-shattering truth, truth he should have known all along, and his life, as well as the lives of others, are shown to be nothing more than a heart-breaking string of missed opportunities and the vulnerability of assumptions. What is most powerful in Silk is not what is said, but what is left unsaid. The book is highly stylized and enigmatic. We are never given any details about Hara Kei's concubine, Joncour's journeys to the East, or Hélène's feelings about her husband. Yet, I find I must disagree with those reviewers who criticized the book as containing little character development. I felt the characters were developed most excellently and by the book's end, I felt I had come to know most of them and was certainly able to identify with their plight. And, although the writing is lyrical, with strong undercurrents of eroticism throughout, it is both ephemeral and spare. It is most definitely prose and not poetry. Much in this book is reiterative narration, leading us to believe that nothing that happens in Japan upsets the calm day-to-day existence of Joncour and his wife in Lavilledieu. Even late in his life, Joncour spends his days "with a liturgy of habits that succeeded in warding off sadness." Silk is a small, slim book, but one that packs a lifetime of experience between its covers. It is a stylistic tour de force, a haunting haiku, and a heart-breaking allegory of life as a quest, ultimately unfulfilled. In short, it is a masterpiece of love and loss that is well worth reading time and time again.

Name of the Rose (Harvest in Translation)
Name of the Rose (Harvest in Translation)
von Umberto Eco

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It is November, 1327. Adso of Melk, the narrator, has accompanied William of Baskerville to a remote, wealthy Franciscan abbey in the mountains of northern Italy. Upon arriving, William discovers that a murder has taken place and the body of the monk, Adelmo, has been discovered outside the abbey walls. The abbot, Abo, is very concerned and charges William with solving the murders. For, not only is the safety of the monks in jeopardy, a papal delegation from Pope John XXII in Avignon could well use the murders as an excuse for investigating the abbey, something Abo definitely wants to avoid. By the time the papal delegation, led by two inquisitors arrives, the situation at the abbey has worsened. Two more monks are dead and two more die soon afterward. The abbot's worst fears are realized when the papal inquisitors learn he has been sheltering monks who were once followers of the condemed heretic, Fra Dolcino. Although the abott dismisses Willliam, he remains and a few hours later, the mystery is solved, two more monks have died and the monastery has been consumed by fire. The Name of the Rose is first and foremost a mystery of the highest order, and it is possible to enjoy it on that level alone. But it is also a charming roman a clef, something I think many readers have missed. We don't have to look far to realize Sherlock Holmes in the guise of William of Baskerville or Adso as Dr. Watson. The blind Spaniard, Jorge of Burgos is easily recognized as the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. Eco also challenges us by thinly disguising figures from postwar Italian politics as various other members of the abbey. The figures in the book thus correspond to other figures in different books or in real life. Each figure also represents a metaphysical concept: William, reason; Adso, mysticism; Jorge, evil, and then, in true medieval fashion, characters are thus pitted one against the other as opposing forces. I hate to see comparisons of this marvelous work of literature to Iain Pears's, An Instance of the Fingerpost. The books are as unlike as night is to day. While An Instance of the Fingerpost goes to great lengths to point out that ultimate truth does exist and can, indeed, be realized, The Name of the Rose is, at its heart, a book about uncertainty, especially the uncertainty of truth. In An Instance of the Fingerpost, the reader is asked to interpret a collection of signs and symbols, which, when interpreted in the one correct manner, will inevitably lead to the identity and motive of the criminal, i.e., the truth. In The Name of the Rose, the search for ultimate truth is far more ambiguous. Near the end of the book, William tells Adso that many hypotheses, false though they may be, can still lead one to a correct solution. And, while certainty is what's pursued in An Instance of the Fingerpost, certainty remains an impossibility in The Name of the Rose. As William says to Adso, "The only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from the insane passion for the truth." Umberto Eco's strength lies in his plotting and his layering. His books are like a collection of boxes, each one opening to reveal yet another and another. I found no such layering in An Instance of the Fingerpost. And, finally, while An Instance of the Fingerpost was certainly a phenomenon, The Name of the Rose is definitely much more. This book is literature, a timeless classic to be enjoyed by many generations yet to come.

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