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Journey to the End of the Night
Journey to the End of the Night
von Louis-Ferdinand D. Celine

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5.0 von 5 Sternen The Sound of Wild and Raucous Laughter, 19. September 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Journey to the End of the Night (Taschenbuch)
In George Steiner's novella, The Portage to San Cristobel of A.H., Nazi hunters discover an aged Adolf Hitler living quietly in the Peruvian jungle. Their plan is to kill Hitler, however they offer him the chance to defend himself instead. He is defiant, reckless and taunts them. "I am an old man...You have made of me some kind of mad devil, the quintessence of evil, hell embodied. When I was, in truth, only a man of my time. Oh, inspired I grant you...with a nose for supreme political possibility. A master of human moods, perhaps, but a man of my time."
Louis-Ferdinand Destouches (Celine was a pseudonym) was, like Steiner's Hitler, certainly an inspired man of his time, perhaps terrifyingly so. Born in 1894 to a lowly Parisian family, he had a brutal childhood. Poor, dysfunctional, but recklessly ambitious, he longed to escape all that constrained him. He eventually found a release of sorts through the study of medicine and, after patriotically enlisting, in the trenches of the western front. He was seriously wounded and later decorated.
Celine's revulsion against his wartime experiences infused his debut, Journey to the End of Night (1934), perhaps the greatest work of nihilism, as well as one of the finest novels, of the century. The first hundred pages or so contain descriptions of the absurd carnage of war that few works, not even Erich Maria Remarque's, All Quiet on the Western Front, have matched. After the war, Celine qualified as a physician and traveled in French and Belgian colonial Africa before returning to work as a doctor among the urban poor of Paris.
Celine draws freely from his bank of experiences in Journey to the End of Night; the adventures of the hero-narrator, Fedinand Bardamu, mimic exactly those of the author himself. He travel from the "fiery furnace" of the western front to the screaming jungles of central Africa, and from New York to the slums of Paris. The engine of Celine's disgust is an irrational misanthropy. It is irrational because it is contradictory: those he scourges, he later pities; those he helps, he comes to despise.
In Ferdinand's despair at what industrialization and incipient democracy have done to the contemporary soul, we are reminded of the anguish of Nietzsche's raging free spirit, Zarathustra. Like Zarathustra, Fedinand rails against the instincts of mass man and of the "herd," then crowns himself with laughter. For without laughter he knows he is nothing. "Death is chasing you, you've always got to hurry, and while you're looking you've got to eat, and keep away from wars. That's a lot of things to do. It's no picnic."
In this astonishing book, Celine immerses the reader in a torrential flow of language--fragmented, coarse, street poetic, blackly comic and full of neologisms and ellipses. For this reason, one can only reap the full impact of Celine when he is read in the original French. He writes of suffering, debased lives and poverty with reckless abandon. His vision of humanity in thrall to its own weakness is utterly cynical. He leads his characters--Robinson, a romantic wanderer, conscripted soldiers, abused prostitutes--to the edge of the abyss, the pushes them over. As they fall we hear only the sad echo of their voices--and Celine's wild and raucous laughter.

The House of the Spirits
The House of the Spirits
von Isabel Allende

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Luminous and Spellbinding, 19. September 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The House of the Spirits (Taschenbuch)
The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende's luminous saga of the Trueba family, as seen through the eyes of the women, is more than a wonderful book; it is an ode to the courageous, compassionate and forgiving spirits that all people are capable of becoming. Even after witnessing the horrors of Chilean military oppression, Allende dared to write a novel that denies a basic pessimistic view of humans and instead reveals mankind's capacity to endure suffering and self-transformation for the sake of life, love and justice.
In The House of the Spirits, Allende shows us that the cruelest outbursts of evil and violence of which man is capable are committed during civil war: genocides, mass murders, concentration camps. Man is definitely mankind's greatest enemy. It is truly horrifying to think that the sufferings of Jaime Trueba could be supported by authentic testimony: "They tied their hands and feet with barbed wire and threw them on their faces in the stalls. There Jaime and the others spent two days without food or water, rotting in their own excrement, blood and fear, until they were all driven by truck to an area near the airport. In an empty lot they were shot on the ground because they could no longer stand, and then their bodies were dynamited."
Jaime is just one among many characters who suffers horribly under the military oppression portrayed in The House of the Spirits. Yet, Allende courageously dares to offer hope that reconciliation is possible and that people are capable of much more noble actions and emotions.
In this book, Allende seems to be telling us that evil is not a simple thing and that violent behavior is a complex act. She also portrays every act as having a cause, whether known or unknown. Alba, one of the main characters, is able to understand why Colonel Garcia, hating her so strongly, sets out to destroy, slowly and painfully, both her life and her spirit. Ironically, Alba is Colonel Garcia's own cousin, through both her grandfather and her father.
A luminous character, Alba, through an understanding of not only her own position in time and place, but also through an understanding of her greatest enemy and torturer, reconciles herself with life and chooses to forgive and "break that terrible chain" of hatred. Instead of hating, this extraordinary woman focuses her life and her love on the one man in her life, the guerilla leader Miguel, and her unborn daughter.
Allende's novel captures Alba's spirit of reconciliation in her name, which means, in Spanish, "dawn." Alba is, indeed, the embodiment of hope as she proves that people are not bound to be evil. Alba, herself, even suggests that that her enemy's hatred had a definite cause and that she, or anyone else, could prevent further malicious acts and emotions when she says, "And now I seek my hatred and cannot seem to find it. I feel its flame going out as I come to understand the existence of Colonel Garcia and the others like him...It would be very difficult for me to avenge all those who should be avenged, because my revenge would be just another part of the same inexorable rite. I have to break that terrible chain."
Allende has told us that she writes to bring about necessary changes in Latin America of which the most important are "real revolutions of spirit, of values, of life." She says that the attitudes and beliefs of people's minds can shape the destiny of multitudes that so far have been living in only pessimism and despair. No one was born good or bad, says this book, and reality is what people believe it to be.
This absence of a judgemental tone may be partially explained by the fact that the military is an integral part of the people. Soldiers came from the families whose members were persecuted by these very same men. The characters of Esteban Trueba and his son, Jaime depict the sharp contrast between good and evil.
This is a book that will haunt you with its swirling romanticism, its superbly crafted interweaving of close family observation and political raison d'etre. Allende is a writer so graceful and elegant that she manages to break our hearts and fill us with joy at the same time.
Even after witnessing the horror that people are capable of committing, Allende refuses to despair. By exploring the causes of both the evil and loving actions of the characters in The House of the Spirits, Allende reveals the immense power for change that lies in our own spirits as long as we believe that we can make our world and ourselves a better place.

Memoir from Antproof Cas
Memoir from Antproof Cas
von Mark Helprin

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4.0 von 5 Sternen No Coffee Please, 19. September 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Memoir from Antproof Cas (Taschenbuch)
Mark Helprin has the uncanny ability to move with power and grace through the entire range of reality, both human and divine. His previous works, the majestic A Soldier of the Great War and the visionary Winter's Tale show this most aptly. Even more amazing is Helprin's ability to juxtapose the holy and the profane, not as literary device, but as something directly perceived.
Memoir From Antproof Case, while not the masterpiece of A Soldier of the Great War or the genius of Winter's Tale, is still artistry and fun of the highest order. The book's protagonist introduces himself in the opening sentence with a parody of Moby Dick: Call me Oscar Progresso.
Oscar Progresso is, in fact, the pseudonym of an eighty year old American, hiding in the Amazonian jungles of Brazil and consigning his memoirs to an antproof case so that his wife's young son (conceived with another man but loved by Progresso) will someday be able to read his "father's" complete history as well as having a chance at finding the millions in gold bullion that Oscar stole from an immortal investment banking firm in New York years earlier, thus forcing him into hiding in Brazil.
Although Progresso is now living in one of the world's premiere coffee-growing regions, he ironically possesses a fanatical and pathological loathing for coffee...anything. Moreover, he blames any number of physical, emotional and spiritual degradations in the world around him on the evils of caffeine. Cruelly, he says, "every child in the Western World is pressured to accept this drug." And, since Progresso has not been able to convince even one person to give up what he considers to be one of the world's greatest vices, he has come to consider the addiction to coffee to be stronger and more powerful than all the world's religions, than love, and even "perhaps stronger than the human soul itself." Progresso in exile, a person who is nauseated by even the smell of brewing coffee, is amusing, to be sure, but he is definitely not a happy man.
Progresso, though, has lived a wonderful life and he knows it. His early childhood on a farm in the Hudson Valley was magical; he lived through physical and spiritual adventures as a fighter pilot in WWII; he married a billionairess, with whom he was immensely happy...until she, herself, succumbed to the coffee habit. As a highly successful, though somewhat eccentric, investment banker, Progresso romps through exotic episodes that are woven into the story in meandering folds that loop back on one another and are nothing if they are not spirited.
The one blot in Progresso's seemingly carefree existence was a murder to which he, himself, holds the clue. Although he finds no salvation in revenge, Progresso does manage to take it when he snaps a bank president's neck.
Childhood and children play an important role in this Helprin tale, not only Progresso's "son," Funio, and the millions of children hooked on caffeine, but the spiritual energy of children and of childhood, which is often invoked in characteristically original scenes.
When Progresso is sent by his bank to greet the Pope, Helprin wastes no time on more moral subjects that preoccupy lesser authors. Instead, Progresso immediately forms a bond with the pontiff because, as he puts it, he can see directly into his soul. After a simple dinner together, Progresso asks the Pope about his parents and the pontiff is moved: "In all these years, no one has ever asked me about my father and my mother, and yet I think of them every day. Why did you ask?" Progresso's answer is simple, brilliant and thoroughly Helprin: "God puts more of Himself in the love of parent and child than in anything else, including all the wonders of nature. It is the prime analogy, the foremost revelation, the shield of His presence upon earth. As you don't have your own children, you must refer to that holy relation in memories dredged deep with great love."
These words carry even greater weight when we consider that Progresso is a man who could be described as a wag or an eccentric; a man in whom good and evil, sanity and madness are deeply and irrevocably intertwined, but who is always uplifted by the sheer joy of simply being alive.
Helprin's wizardry as a storyteller is proven again in this book by his ability to maintain suspense until the very last page. He takes many chances along the way, because, since it is Progresso who is telling the tale, we know he survived the threats described during the telling. Yet Helprin is so masterful that you will still find yourself wondering how, or even if, Progresso will manage to handle the bandits and the bullets, the storms and the failures. Most lesser authors couldn't keep a reader that enthralled if they were telling the story in chronological order; that Helprin manages to do so when we already know the outcome is nothing less than sheer magic.
There is magic, too, in Helprin's variety and steadiness of vision. He seems to know all there is to know about warfare, finance, engineering, history and several other fields. Yet his writing becomes tender and lyrical when Progresso relates his childhood memories of the Hudson Valley and later, New York City.
After spending time with a Helprin novel, the reader comes to believe that life really does contain all the magic the heart intuits: tragedy, pain and horror, but also glory and love beyond all expression.

Ellis Island and Other Stories
Ellis Island and Other Stories
von Mark Helprin

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Brilliant Beautiful Stories, 19. September 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Ellis Island and Other Stories (Taschenbuch)
My first encounter with Mark Helprin was his long novel, Winter's Tale. I thought it was perfect: glorious and mysterious, realistic and magical, funny and fantastic and wondrous and sad. It was almost too much of a good thing; sort of like chocolate decadence topped with mocha ice-cream and drenched in hot fudge sauce.
The stories in Ellis Island and Other Stories offer the same enticing overdose of goodness but in smaller doses. Lest you be thrown off by the cover or the title, these stories are definitely not history or even historical fiction. They are not exclusively about immigrants, Europe or the War, although threads of these subjects do run through them.
The title story, Ellis Island is the longest and the last. It is about the Ellis Island and immigration, of course, but it is also fantastic fantasy complete with a wonderful machine that melts the snow from the streets supported only by its own jets of fire, the Saromsker Rabbi and his glorious sermon on bees, the lovely Hava, and Elise, whose hair is nothing less than a pillar of fire. Of the eleven stories, Ellis Island comes closest to Winter's Tale in its spirit of fantasy, although A Vermont Winter best describes the perfection of a deep Northeastern snow. As in Winter's Tale, in Ellis Island, Helprin is not averse to destroying beautiful things for the sake of a larger good, even if the logic of his narrative does not demand that he do so. But that, you see, is Helprin; for him death is just another part of art.
All of these stories are brilliant and all of them are beautiful. In The Schreuderspitze, a photographer deals with tragedy in the luminous beauty of the Alps; in Letters from the Samantha, questions of humanity and guilt are dealt with on an iron-hulled sailing ship in 1879; in Martin Bayer, we get to know a small boy on the eve of war; in North Light and A Room of Frail Dancers, we glimpse the devastating effects of battle on soldiers. La Volpaia is wonderful, wise and witty and Tamar is nothing if not lovely in the extreme. White Gardens and Palais de Justice defy any sort of description; you simply must read them and then savor them yourself.
Anyone who has read any of Helprin's other works knows he certainly has a way with words. Here are words from the end of Tamar that not only describe the story's beautiful seventeen year old protagonist, but serve to sum up this volume as a whole: Perhaps things are most beautiful when they are not quite real; when you look upon a scene as an outsider; and come to possess it in its entirety and forever; when you live in the present with the lucidity and feeling of memory; when for want of connection, the world deepens and becomes art.
These stories are nothing if they are not art.

Bee Season: A Novel
Bee Season: A Novel
von Myla Goldberg
  Gebundene Ausgabe

4.0 von 5 Sternen The Unraveling Fabric of Family Life, 19. September 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Bee Season: A Novel (Gebundene Ausgabe)
The Naumanns are an ordinary Jewish family. Saul, the father, is a cantor who spends much of his time in his study absorbed in Jewish mysticism and he considers himself to be the respected head of the household; Miriam, the mother, is a successful but emotionally distant attorney who also does her best to keep the house clean and food on the table; Aaron, the son, is intelligent, if somewhat nerdy, and, much to his father's delight, he wants to become a rabbi someday, he is the vessel of all of his father's spiritual ambitions; Eliza, the daughter, is the disappointment of the family because she is the only one who does not seem to be "gifted" in some special way. Instead of studying like her brother, Eliza would rather spend her afternoons watching television reruns. The conflicts and problems these characters face seem, on the surface, to be the ordinary conflicts all families must deal with: competition, work, expectations. By the end of this amazing book, however, these "ordinary" illusions are shattered as each character's internal struggles prove stronger than the synthetic family unit.
The pivotal occurrence in the Naumann's family life is nothing more than an ordinary spelling bee. Eliza, wins, first the elementary school spelling bee, then the district bee, the state bee and finally is propelled into the national bee. As the Naumann's come to realize this daughter is not quite as ordinary as they thought, things begin to change. Saul inducts her into his hallowed study and lavishes upon her the attention he previously reserved for Aaron, who, in his displacement embarks upon a lone quest for spiritual and emotional fulfillment.
The picture the Naumann family presents as they proceed to fall apart can, at times, be very funny, and by the end of the novel nothing is as it seemed to be or as it should be.
Although it is anticipated from the beginning of the book, it is the struggle between the father and his children that is the most emotionally interesting, since Saul is a deep and emotional thinker, a "Cheerleader Mom" who cannot see his own faults.
Although Goldberg has a keen eye for detail that brings her characters to life, the book is not without its faults. Some of Eliza's struggles to discover her own mystic talents become dry as much of the theory and subsequent trances are written in great detail from the mind of a nine year old child. The struggles between Aaron and his father become a little tiring and Aaron's break is complete long before his struggles end on paper. In contrast, Miriam's struggles and ultimate transformation occur too abruptly. Her psyche is odd and not well-revealed.
Still, Bee Season is the work of a lyrical and gifted storyteller and it delicately examines the unraveling fabric of one family. The outcome is unconventional, as is Goldberg's prose, which wields its metaphors sharply and rings with maturity. This is a different sort of book about an altogether too familiar subject and it will certainly enrich and enliven anyone who reads it.

Narcissus and Goldmund
Narcissus and Goldmund
von Hermann Hesse

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5.0 von 5 Sternen The Fullness of Life In Death, 31. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Narcissus and Goldmund (Taschenbuch)
Throughout this beautifully-written and mystical book, Hermann Hesse continuously explores the conflicts we all face as we search for our true identity...that which best expresses the essence of who we truly are.
Pure Appolonian and Dionysian archetypes, Narcissus and Goldmund are two medieval men whose characters are actually metaphors for the book's underlying theme of the universal phenomenon of the search for self through life experience.
Brother Narcissus, a monk at the Mariabronn cloister is the epitome of the analytical intellectual; his student, the young Goldmund, is the total opposite, an individual with the soul of an artist and a lover, born to live life to the fullest, yet fighting his desires due to paternal forces. It is Narcissus who recognizes Goldmund as "a dreamer with the soul of a child," and urges him to leave the cloister and pursue the life he was meant to lead.
Acknowledging his suppressed childhood and, most of all, the image of his mother, Goldmund leaves Mariabronn and becomes a wanderer of the medieval countryside, a seducer and lover of women and a student of painting and sculpture. It is through the revival of the memory of his mother that Goldmund is able to accept his life as a free spirit and yield to the temptations of love.
Goldmund had remembered little of his childhood and next to nothing of his mother. "Mother had been a subject he was forbidden to mention--something to be ashamed of. She had been a dancer, a wild and beautiful woman of noble, though poor birth."
Having been denied a mother, Goldmund had filled the void in his life with thoughts instilled by his father, thoughts intended to insure that he lead a holy life of prayer and meditation in repentance for what his father termed Goldmund's mother's sins.
These impression led Goldmud to believe his destiny was with the Church. Upon meeting him, Narcissus knew otherwise, perhaps because he saw reflected in Goldmund that which he had denied himself.
Once Goldmund recovers the lost memory of his high-spirited mother, "he knew the meaning of love again and his father's image had suddenly shrunk next to hers and become joyless and almost repugnant." It was only after releasing his fear of love that Goldmund found the identity of that which he was seeking as well as the ability to love to the fullest measure.
Goldmund lives out his life as a wanderer, a lover and an artist, only returning to Mariabronn and Narcissus when it is time for him to die.
In the characters of Narcissus and Goldmund, Hesse was no doubt stressing the fact that any lifestyle, lived to an extreme, can be dangerous to the individual. In a interview with Rudolf Koester, Hesse, himself, said, "The development to become a personality with privilege to think, feel and act independently is the primary responsibility of the individual. Extremes such as a complete withdrawal into a hermetically sealed ego are as dangerous as the individual who succumbs to the allure of conformity while yielding to pressure. The individual must establish a balance between the two forces."
Hesse expresses these feeling beautifully in Narcissus and Goldmund as each character exists in the mind of the other throughout their separate lives. When Goldmund is carving a statue of John the Baptist he realizes that he has subconsciously carved the face of Narcissus. Each man sees, reflected in the other, that which he desires and finds unobtainable.
As Goldmund lays dying, his final words to Narcissus are of his mother, words that Narcissus finds painful and that "burned like fire in his heart."
"But how can you die when your time comes, Narcissus, since you have no mother?` Without a mother, one cannot love. Without a mother, one cannot die." Perhaps in embracing life in all its fullness, Goldmund found it easier to embrace death as well.

Tale of the Unknown Island
Tale of the Unknown Island
von Jose Saramago
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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3.0 von 5 Sternen It Could Have Been and Should Have Been So Beautiful, 31. Juli 2000
Jose Saramago's book, The Tale of the Unknown Island is a little book that presents a little story. Both a love story and a fable, The Tale of the Unknown Island presents an elegant and exquisite premise that is disappointingly flawed in its execution.
The book begins beguilingly enough, when a man with a quest knocks at the door of a king and begs for a boat to make an expedition to an unknown island. The king is not immediately agreeable but our hero finds an unlikely ally in the king's cleaning woman and, after receiving the ship he has asked for, he and the woman join forces.
There is one problem. There are no unknown islands. All that exist have already been mapped and claimed by the king. When the harbormaster attempts to dissuade the man from his dream, and no one signs on board as crew members, the hero of this little tale finds that only the cleaning woman will help him pursue his seemingly impossible dream.
The island is discovered, but unfortunately, the journey taken is literally one of which the stuff of dreams are made. REM sleep and narcoleptic love play a big part in this story. It is here, in the land of dreams, where the story really falls apart and our suspension of disbelief grows harder and harder to suspend.
Nobel Prize winner, Jose Saramago, is the author of breathtakingly beautiful books such as Baltasar and Blimunda and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and works of stunning originality like Blindness, so I expected far more from The Tale of the Unknown Island. Perhaps these high expectations were a part of the problem.
The book is written in Saramago's signature style: a breathless, barely punctuated, almost stream-of-consciousness manner that is, as always, flawless, and that captures the innocence and high spirits of the protagonist perfectly. The metaphors created, however, are highly overstated and, at times, highly irritating.
Thematically, The Tale of the Unknown Island should have worked so beautifully. There is a lazy and wicked antagonist in the guise of the king, there is the pure and innocent hero, there is the classic quest necessary for the hero to prove himself and become whole and there is the requisite healing power of true love. The key to the ending is faith and the key to that faith is love.
With all of the required elements of fairy tales and fables, why, then did this book fail to hit the mark?
Fairy tales and fables are, by their very nature, simple little tales. The Tale of the Unknown Island is quite complex but told in a simplified manner. And, as we all know, "simplified" does not quite equal the beauty inherent in "simple." Saramago's abrupt switch from satire to allegory was jarring, to say the least, and definitely detracted from the book's could-have-been charms.
The gemlike playfulness and grace embodied in a tale such as The Princess Bride or The Last Unicorn is sorely lacking in The Tale of the Unknown Island.
The illustrated edition, however, is still well worth the time and money. Peter Sis' drawings, composed of clean lines and classical beauty have a fey air of antiquity about them and achieve all that the story set out to do but did not.
Saramago is a world class writer. That cannot be denied. The fact that The Tale of the Unknown Island failed to make the grade is a flaw as tiny and insignificant as is the book itself.

Miss Wyoming: A Novel
Miss Wyoming: A Novel
von Douglas Coupland
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 22,16

4.0 von 5 Sternen A Comedy of Manners For Generation X, 31. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Miss Wyoming: A Novel (Gebundene Ausgabe)
Douglas Coupland is the writer whose book, Generation X, was so smart, hip and slightly disillusioned that it coined a phrase to describe a generation of smart, hip and slightly disillusioned Americans.
This book, Miss Wyoming, follows the parallel stories of Susan Colgate and John Lodge Johnson and encompasses everything from the American beauty pageant culture to near death experiences.
Susan Colgate is a former pageant "work horse" and low-budget television star. Typical of pageant hopefuls and television aspirants, she embodies a surgically-enhanced, plastic kind of unnaturally-endowed beauty and, as would be expected, her life unfolds much like a trite and manipulative soap storyline. One racing toward a definitely unhappy end.
Susan, however, is a survivor. She has survived a manipulative and grasping stage mother, a plane crash in which she was the only survivor, and a year in which she "went along" with the story of her own apparent death.
John's life hasn't been a whole lot better. The son of a downwardly-mobile and rapidly-fading socialite and her constantly-disappearing husband, John endured a childhood filled with endless illness and depression only to come into his own as a successful maker of films.
Success for John, though, is narrowly defined and means the constant ricochet from one stimulus-induced high to another. For John, the bigger the high, the more thrilling the thrill, and no amount of money is too much to spend.
His "thrilling" lifestyle, however, comes to an abrupt crash landing when he falls prey to a particularly virulent virus and experiences an astral projection, the likes of which he has previously only dreamed.
It is when Susan and John meet that Miss Wyoming really takes off.
Coupland is one of those rare authors whose subject matter suits his writing style perfectly. Yes, much of it is "mind candy" but it is mind candy written with such an infectious joyousness that it is difficult for even the most jaded reader to resist its allure. His characters are victims of the too-much-too-often, freeze-dried, quick-fix excess, yet they are never trite and never fail to amuse.
The plot ricochets from one event to another, much like the characters, and they do their best to struggle and survive and even, at times, connect.
Miss Wyoming is definitely satire and it is modern satire of the highest order. Surprisingly so. The patron saint of satire, Oscar Wilde, defined the genre as being not only witty, succinct and accurate, but also imbued with a love of humanity and all its quirks. Coupland's writing shows this same generosity and love of his fellow man and it is this quality, more than any other, that pulls Miss Wyoming far above other novels in the genre.
What could be more ripe for criticism than the youth-and-beauty-worshiping, celebrity-obsessed, consumerist culture of America today? Yet, Coupland embraces this culture with a sweetness that brings his flawed and failing but always-hanging-in-there characters to life.
Our priorities, says Coupland, are genuinely laughable, but we can and sometimes do, transcend them. While lampooning the excesses of America today, Coupland still manages to cherish his fellow man, quirks and all. It is this very innocence and love that, in the end, make Miss Wyoming a very hip, very smart and very compassionate book to read.

Possession (Vintage International)
Possession (Vintage International)
von A. S. Byatt
Preis: EUR 11,77

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4.0 von 5 Sternen A Love Story That Is and A Romance That Could Have Been, 30. Juli 2000
Possession, labeled a romance, is certainly that. But it is also much, much more. The book is a tremendous undertaking of style and verve, a romance on two levels, and a bizarre detective story all rolled into one.
The main characters of Possesion are Roland Michell, a true academic and Maud Bailey, a researcher, but the stars of the book are really the long-dead R.H. Ash and Christabel LaMotte.
In Possession, Byatt gives much attention to minor detail. In fact, her detailing is so subtle that many nuances may be missed on a first reading.
Byatt's writing is beautiful and filled with simple, descriptive language and gorgeous imagery. The majority of the story is rich in both metaphor and allusion, with the following passage being a prime example: "One night they fell asleep, side by side, on Maud's bed, where they had been sharing a glass of Calvados. He slept curled against her back, a dark comma against her pale elegant phrase."
Most of the chapters in Possession begin with a fictitious work by Ash or LaMotte, but Byatt has not only written them well, she has fashioned each so that it is in keeping with the character of its fictitious author.
Ash and LaMotte are both of the Romantic period, yet Ash is more open and free than is LaMotte, who writes with obvious rhyme and rhythm. It is this--Byatt's ability to create so many different writing styles for each of her characters and fit them to the character so perfectly, that makes Possession come to life for the reader.
Possession is not a straightforward narrative, however. Much of the story is told through the letters of Ash and LaMotte, again, beautifully crafted by Byatt. It is through their letters that we really get to know Ash and LaMotte as well as Roland and Maud. The knowledge gained in the past relationship between Ash and LaMotte allows the present-day relationship between Roland and Maud to come to life.
Possession is a story of lost romantic love and, as such, it may seem, at first glance, to be just another trite book on a trite and overly-written subject. Nothing could be further from the truth. Byatt has conferred a freshness of outlook on Possession that makes it unlike any other novel of failed romance and love gone wrong.
Roland and Maud are, without a doubt, two quite ordinary people. But Byatt has given them something quite extraordinary to do. These two would-be lovers are actually on a quest, and their lives, as well as their love, seem to mirror and parallel Ash and LaMotte's in more ways than one.
But all is certainly not smooth sailing for Roland and Maud. Roland has Val, his live-in lover to deal with and Val, unlike many an "unwanted" lover is not a woman to be summarily dismissed.
What really makes Possession sparkle and sets it apart from any other typical romance is the connection Roland and Maud have to the past and to Ash and LaMotte. This adds a mystical, almost surreal, quality to the story that could have so easily turned maudlin in the hands of a writer less talented than Byatt. Byatt, however, intertwines past and present with perfection and keeps the reader spellbound with the suspension of disbelief.
A few passages containing expletives seem out of place in this otherwise dazzling novel and really seem beneath the obvious talent and ability of a first-class writer like Byatt.
Byatt has titled her novel perfectly. The word, "possession," crops out several times throughout the story: the possession of the stolen letters, the possession of the lovers to each other, the possession of the past to the present. Byatt obviously began working with the motif of possession in mind.
While certainly not of the romance genre, Possession contains enough romance to satisfy even the most voracious. The characters are creations of tremendous depth and we find it easy to love them or hate them or pity them, but never dismiss them.
The intertwining plots work on many levels and work so well that many readers will often find themselves wondering if the story is purely fiction or based in reality.
Finally, the beautiful writing captures and holds the reader's attention and adds to the fantasy that is unfolding. Although some readers might find the many letters and poems contained in this book distracting, they do enrich the story and lend a depth that would definitely be lost had Byatt failed to included them.
A finely-crafted novel of parallel lives and parallel loves, Possession is, for the most part, a lyrical look, not at what really was, but what so easily could have been.

Angels & Insects: Two Novellas (Vintage International)
Angels & Insects: Two Novellas (Vintage International)
von A. S. Byatt
Preis: EUR 15,05

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4.0 von 5 Sternen A Slowly Paced Ballet of Parallels, 30. Juli 2000
Shimmering beauty and shocking sensuality are the only phrases to adequately describe A.S. Byatt's Angels and Insects.
Although this novella really encompasses two distinct stories, my comments focus on Morpho Eugenia, my favorite of the two, and, in my opinion, by far the superior.
Set more than a century ago, in Victorian England, Angels and Insects (Morpho Eugenia) follows the life of William Adamson, a naturalist who has spent years of research in the jungles of South America.
A shipwreck sends him to the home of his benefactor, the Reverend Harald Alabaster, an amateur insect collector of enormous wealth.
Upon arriving at Alabaster's sumptuous country estate, poor William instantly falls in love with Alabaster's eldest daughter, Eugenia, a weak and wan, but still golden, beauty.
Although Eugenia appears to be out of his reach, William embarks upon a shy courtship and is more than a little surprised when his proposal of marriage is accepted. And, on their wedding night, the usually distant, aloof and somewhat mysterious Eugenia has even more surprises in store. Surprises William soon comes to savor.
Complicating matters is Eugenia's brother, a socially misfit snob who takes an instant dislike to William and talks incessantly of children who grow up sans the proper breeding...breeding poor William's genes cannot provide, of course.
Eugenia, herself, soon begins to show a darker side as her mood swings from lustful to ravenous to passionate to melancholy. Feeling a bit over his head in this baronial estate, William begins to experience somewhat of an attraction to his drab and dull, but very intelligent, assistant.
Angels and Insects is a fascinating book and, as always, Byatt lets us become intimately involved with her characters.
The real triumph though, lies in the book's symbolism. The Victorians were fascinated with the insect world and Byatt uses this fascination to refect the social order of the times: the women are doted on by servants as if they were queen bees and colonies of ants mirror the red and black jackets worn during a fox hunt.
Angels and Insects takes a fascinatingly intimate look at the quirkiest of families, one whose secrets and prejudices simply cannot be dismissed.
It is William's drab assistant who sums up the book's theme. "There are three kinds of people in this house: the visible, the invisible and the in between." Angels and Insects is a lyrically sensual portrait of the fascinating world of the in between.

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