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von Toni Morrison

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5.0 von 5 Sternen The Power of One Mother's Love, 28. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Beloved (Taschenbuch)
What kind of mother would deliberately cause the destruction of her own beloved child? This is the question Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner (and probably the greatest woman novelist of the twentieth century), Toni Morrison, explores in her rich, densely-layered novel, Beloved.
Set after the end of the Civil War, when slaves were freed by emancipation, but still victims of random acts of violence, the book also serves as a metaphor for the legacy of slavery and asks the chillingly relevant question: Why is the leading cause of death among young, African-American men murder by another black?
Beloved's protagonist is Sethe, an escaped slave and mother of four. Her joy at successfully escaping her former master while pregnant and giving birth before finally finding refuge at her spiritually-nourishing mother-in-law's home, vanishes a mere twenty-eight days later.
The sight of a cruel white slave owner's hat sends Sethe and her children running to a woodshed where she is forced to confront demons no loving mother should ever have to face.
Sethe's demons do not disappear when she emerges from the woodshed, however, and settles down in a small Ohio town. Instead, they remain to both haunt her and help her to understand the violence that occurred so many years previously.
Morrison, as skillful a storyteller as ever lived, spins a gorgeously heartbreaking tale in Beloved, and one whose plot is impossible to predict. With a mastery of language given to only a few, this extraordinarily talented author weaves subplot upon subplot and brings each exquisitely created character to life.
There is Paul D, another slave who escaped from the same plantation as did Sethe but who has not seen Sethe for more than a decade when he once again encounters her and the two of them contemplate what they hope will finally be a bright future for both.
There is Denver, Sethe's daughter, a troubled and isolated teenager whose life encompasses little more than her immediate surroundings and whose social interactions have dwindled down to embrace only her mother and the ghost of her long-dead sister.
And then, there is Beloved, the centerpiece of this exquisitely wirtten, lyrically beautiful book.
While Sethe appears to embrace a logic that says, "Before the while man destroys you, let me do it," Morrison, herself, tells us that it is time for us to look beyond the past and move on.
Today, more than twenty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, African Americans are, in many ways, worse off than they were before. The question plaguing most black Americans seems to be whether to cast their lot with the whites of the community or to separate, turn inward and seek their own redemption...alone.
In Beloved, Morrison uses the character of Ella, one of the leaders of her small Ohio community, to metaphorically explore this issue. "Whatever Sethe had done, Ella didn't like the idea of past errors taking possession of the present...Daily life took as much as she had. The future was sunset; the past was something to leave behind. And if it didn't stay behind, well, you might have to stomp it out. Slave life; freed life; every day was a test and trial. Nothing could be counted on in a world where even when you were a solution you were a problem. 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,' and nobody needed more; nobody needed a grown up evil sitting at the table with a grudge. As long as the ghost showed out from its ghostly place, shaking stuff, crying, smashing and such--Ella respected it. But if it took flesh and came in her world, well, the shoe was on the other foot. She didn't mind a little communication between the two worlds, but this was an invasion."
Beloved is first and foremost a brilliantly crafted and mesmerizing story, faultlessly told by one of the world's most gifted storytellers. It is a story of ghosts--those that haunt Sethe and those that haunt all of us. Beloved is not magic realism, nor does it contain elements of magic realism. Magic realism, by its very nature, requires that the fantastic be accepted as mundane by those experiencing it. There is certainly nothing mundane about Morrison's ghost and her acceptance by Sethe.
Although most of the novel's characters ostracize Sethe and blame her for her past, Morrison, herself, does not. Instead, she wisely extends a vision of harmony to the black community that exhorts them to let go of their past, no matter how painful, and move ahead.
Beloved and Sethe must, eventually, come to terms with the past and with each other, just as the community must come to terms with itself.
In the end, Beloved's protagonists decide on different paths to follow, some of which are quite surprising, although always heart-rending.
Morrison, however, remains true to the vision she created in Beloved: those who cannot let go of the past will ultimately self-destruct; those who can respect its lessons and mourn its loss but not feel indebted to right its wrongs, will find themselves endowed with unexpected, joyous freedom.

Anna Karenina (Modern Library)
Anna Karenina (Modern Library)
von Leonard J. Kent
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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5.0 von 5 Sternen The Eternal Error, 28. Juli 2000
According to Tolstoy, the genesis of Anna Karenina was derived from three specific events: (1) An idea for a story Tolstoy developed in 1870 about a woman who deserts her husband for another man, based, in part, on the life of his sister, Marya; (2) a newspaper story concerning the mistress of one of Tolstoy's neighbors, who, feeling only despair at being abandoned by her lover, hurled herself under a train; and (3) a sentence from Pushkin's Tales of the Balkins ("The guests were arriving at the country house..."), that Tolstoy read by chance one day in 1873. Supposedly, this sentence from Pushkin fueled Tolstoy's imagination to such a degree that he completed a first draft of Anna Karenina in only three weeks.
A novel about the meaning of life and the role happiness does or does not play in it, Anna Karenina is the story of a married woman's adulterous affair with Count Vronsky. As foreshadowed in the book's early pages, the affair ends tragically, for both Anna and Vronsky.
The novel (which Tolstoy's contemporary, Dostoyevsky, considered "a perfect work of art"), also tells the story of Constantine Levin, a gentleman farmer whose lifelong pursuit of happiness and fulfillment culminates, not in his long-awaited marriage to Kitty Shcherbatskaya, but with the advice of a simple peasant about "living rightly, in God's way."
From a few simple, yet melodramatic events (and the depths of a dizzyingly fecund imagination), Tolstoy fashioned a beautiful, profound and enduring novel dealing with stark questions of both life and religious faith as seen through the eyes of the farmer, Levin. Also a morality play, Anna Karenina delves deeply into the damaging effects of society's ostracization, especially regarding the characters of Anna and Vronsky.
Many consider Anna Karenina Tolstoy's most personal work and, indeed, many of the novel's scenes do mirror Tolstoy's relationship with his own wife, Sonya. Levin's courtship of Kitty and his expressions of love for her, written with chalk on a table are reflective of Tolstoy's courtship of Sonya. Even more evocative of Tolstoy, himself, is the soul-wrenching scene in which Levin gives Kitty his diaries to read, exposing his very soul to the woman he has come to love so completely.
The final scenes of the novel, especially Levin's intense search for the answer to the meaning of existence are reflective of Tolstoy's own search, dramatically documented in his beautiful memoir, A Confession, and considered by many to be one of the most truthful, agonizing and soul-searching statements of authentic spirituality.
The publication of Anna Karenina coincided with the end of Tolstoy's life of material and emotional luxury. From this point on, he concentrated on a deeper and more mature quest. Although he would go on to write the beautiful novel, Resurrection, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a true existential masterpiece, Tolstoy's career reached its zenith in the character of Anna Karenina and her seemingly irrational embrace of death. Anna's husband, Karenin, is often overlooked, although he is equally compelling; a complex and emotional character who briefly embraces the doctrine of Christian forgiveness in his emotional denial over the loss of Anna.
No doubt the second most famous line of the book is Vronsky's startling realization: "It showed him (Vronsky) the eternal error men make in imagining that happiness consists in the realization of their desires."
Almost epic in scope and poignantly detailed, Anna Karenina represents the perfect balance of drama, morality and philosophical inquiry. How are we to live our lives, the novel asks, when all the illusions we hold so close to our heart have been stripped away? What are we to believe in and cling to?
With its emphasis on drama over polemic, Anna Karenina thus embodies art of the highest order. In its portrayal of man's timeless struggle to make sense out of life while coming to terms with death, both its theme and its characters remain, now and forever, timeless.

Resurrection (Penguin Classics)
Resurrection (Penguin Classics)
von Leo Tolstoy

5.0 von 5 Sternen Art In It's Purest Form, 26. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Resurrection (Penguin Classics) (Taschenbuch)
When the prostitute Maslova stands accused of murder, Prince Nekhlyudov must serve on the jury at her trial. He recognizes Maslova as the innocent young girl he, himself, once loved, seduced and then, cruelly abandoned. What follows is a mature panorama of Russian life, shot through with spiritual intensity.
The chief themes of Resurrection are the basic themes inherent in all art: love, passion and death, but Tolstoy treats them with such a burning sincerity and unique vitality that they seem almost as fresh and pure as newly fallen snow.
Resurrection is the great imaginative synthesis of Tolstoyism, ripe with the fruits of a lifetime of agony and questioning. In Resurrection, Tolstoy takes aim at the underworld of nineteenth-century Russian life: the legal and penal systems and, above all, the Church.
In the central figure of Nekhlyudov, Tolstoy has created the last of his great self-portraits. In Nekhlyudov he expresses his own deepest aspirations, his own views on every aspect of human existence.
The theme of this book is not new to Tolstoy. The fallen man and his decidedly non-Christian process of regeneration has been explored by this author before, but this time he presents it in an entirely different perspective.
In Resurrection, Tolstoy sets out to produce the artistic rendition of the resurrection of a fallen man. Since he, himself, does not recognize the Christian concept of resurrection, it is Nekhlyudov's regeneration that he describes instead.
Nekhlyudov's life, however, had been one long regeneration after another. Inherited wealth has enabled him to change one lifestyle for another the minute one set of ideals was supplanted by another. A diletannte extraordinaire, Nekhlyudov's life is akin to an unfinished painting, so that when he recognizes Maslova in the witness box he is ripe for another "purging of the soul," as he terms his periodic reappraisals.
And, each time, Nekhlyudov, charts his new course in life with "tears of tender emotion at his own goodness," and vows that this course and this course only, is the one and only true direction in life.
Superficially, the Nekhlyudov's of this world are the ones who are perceived to care for their fellow men, grieve with them and right their wrongs. However, when their mood changes and one inspiration is replaced with something new, all that they had sympathized with is easily forgotten and no longer affects them. This is pointed out beautifully in Resurrection when Maslova, recognizing Nekhlyudov's superficiality, refuses to take advantage of the pardon obtained for her; she would rather marry Simonson and follow him to the mines.
Nekhlyudov is so thoroughly preoccupied with the search for a new "cause" that the sight of several hundred prisoners suffering in their cells, the dead body of a consumptive to whom he had grown "particularly fond," and other horrors straight out of Dante's Inferno, fail to even make an impression on him. He doesn't even wonder how Maslova will survive the punishment she does not deserve and of which he, himself, is the cause.
The technique employed in Resurrection equals Tolstoy's great epics (including Anna Karenina and War and Peace) but actually covers more ground since the essence of a lifetime of suffering and thought and spiritual change is packed into its pages.
Tolstoy's concern in Resurrection is with the "grave, noble face of truth," and he compels us to look at what is bad in society and attempts to inflict upon us the desire to make the necessary improvements.
The same exuberant writing style employed in War and Peace thirty years earlier can be seen in Resurrection, however, there is one great difference. Where Tolstoy's earlier novels shifted their focus from one hero to the other, Resurrection follows Nekhlyudov step by step, barely letting him out of its sight. Other characters have validity only in so far as they affect the protagonist.
From a psychological standpoint, Resurrection is perfect. In order to know a character, Tolstoy studies him in all his aspects. We see, not a moment in time, but the accumulated expression of an entire lifetime. The most clear-seeing of all writers, Tolstoy's genius allows us to see not only an overview but the minute manifestations that make up everyday life: the ill-fitting clothes of a peasant, the crooked limp, the squinting eyes. His vision, as always, goes beyond the ordinary to encompass the transcendent.
Resurrection is the perfect title for any book dealing with Russian life. The Russian Christian, more than any other, has been preoccupied with the search for, and the idea of, immortality. For the Russian mystic (and most Russians contain something of the mystic) morals are thoroughly grounded in the faith in eternal life.
In Resurrection, Tolstoy voices his own conflicts with the Church, conflicts that he numbered as being among the most bitter in his life as he searched for the source of absolute truth. He confined his quest to the ethical plane, however, and when confronted with resurrection or death, he, of course, chose death, having been formally excommunicated from the Church by a decree dated 22 February 1901.
Resurrection is the expression of a mature Tolstoy, one whose search allowed him no indifference, no sparing of himself. As such, it is a book that transcends mere literary masterpiece and aspires to something higher. Something most people would term art is its purest form.

Kangaroo Notebook: A Novel (Vintage International)
Kangaroo Notebook: A Novel (Vintage International)
von Kobo Abe
Preis: EUR 13,73

5.0 von 5 Sternen A Dream World Just This Side of Madness, 25. Juli 2000
"Which situation should I declare 'real' and which one a 'dream?'" This is the question that plagues the narrator of Kobo Abe's Kangaroo Notebook, the last novel written before his death in 1993. We can consider ourselves lucky, indeed, that one of the world's most distinguished novelists left us with this surreal and unique vision of Japanese society that is both disturbingly fearful and hilariously funny.
On a morning that should have turned out like any other morning, the first person narrator of Kangaroo Notebook awakens to find radish sprouts growing out of his shins. Although his doctor in repulsed, the narrator finds he now possesses the strange and unique ability to snack on...himself.
An eerie adventure to rid himself of his malady takes the book's protagonist into an increasingly hostile and mysterious world, one that in turn, is surreal, playful and almost unassailably enigmatic.
The plot is a weird and wild ride to say the least. Unlike Kafka's narrator in Metamorphosis, our slowly unraveling protagonist checks into a dermatology clinic and soon finds himself hurtling on a hospital bed to the very brink of hell.
An attractive nurse, known only as Damselfly, straps him to a hospital bed and begins to administer huge quantities of unknown drugs. A short time later, still strapped to this hospital bed, still hooked up to his IV and still suffering from his mysterious malady, our protagonist is summarily discharged.
A cast of spooky characters is then introduced via visits to a glitzy department store, a cabbage field that serves as the final resting place of the narrator's dead mother and Damselfly's own apartment.
One of those characters, the hirsute Mister Hammer Killer, an American karate expert, has such a love of violence that our narrator once again finds himself confined to a hospital.
His situation only worsens with the arrival of the "Help Me! Club," a club whose members consist solely of demonic chanting children.
The sexy Damselfly, herself, turns out to be a bit of a vampire. Her quest to collect enough blood to win the "Dracula's Daughter" medal is nothing short of relentless. Despite these bizarre plot twists and turns, the finale of Kangaroo Notebook is undeniably perfect and, almost surrealistically, makes perfect sense.
Abe's typical protagonist is an "outsider" who is haunted by a sense of alienation and anxiety over the fragility of individual identity. Although seeking relief from society's pressure to conform, he still yearns for communal emotional connection.
These universal themes, combined with an ironic, satiric and often bizarre manner of expression, have led many to assume that Abe's writing bears a closer resemblance to Western writers, Kafka, in particular, than to traditional Japanese literary models. Yet Abe's fiction reflects his strong Japanese heritage in its vividly imagistic prose, its abundant incorporation of Japanese cultural icons and its satirical treatment of Japanese psychosocial dynamics.
Kangaroo Notebook is one of Abe's signature triumphs. He deftly uses a swiftly-moving barrage of morbidly fascinating images, characters and places to reflect cleverly-disguised, but recurring themes, and he balances hysterical humor with deadpan lines, such as, "Something's really odd." Sure, we think. You don't say.
Surrealistic fiction is so often not given its due since the bizarre and original happenings must, of necessity, supplant traditional storyline and character development, thus distancing readers emotionally. But for those readers who have achieved intellectual maturity and originality of thought, surrealistic fiction offers insights surely lacking in more mainstream works.
In Kangaroo Notebook, Kobo Abe takes us on a masterful, dizzyingly original romp to the razor-thin line between life and death, a theme-park of his own life and art.

The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye
von J.D. Salinger
Preis: EUR 6,99

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5.0 von 5 Sternen A Brilliantly Unique Look at a Universal Problem, 21. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The Catcher in the Rye (Taschenbuch)
In J.D. Salinger's brilliant coming-of-age novel, Holden Caulfield, a seventeen year old prep school adolescent relates his lonely, life-changing twenty-four hour stay in New York City as he experiences the phoniness of the adult world while attempting to deal with the death of his younger brother, an overwhelming compulsion to lie and troubling sexual experiences.
Salinger, whose characters are among the best and most developed in all of literature has captured the eternal angst of growing into adulthood in the person of Holden Caulfield. Anyone who has reached the age of sixteen will be able to identify with this unique and yet universal character, for Holden contains bits and pieces of all of us. It is for this very reason that The Catcher in the Rye has become one of the most beloved and enduring works in world literature.
As always, Salinger's writing is so brilliant, his characters so real, that he need not employ artifice of any kind. This is a study of the complex problems haunting all adolescents as they mature into adulthood and Salinger wisely chooses to keep his narrative and prose straightforward and simple.
This is not to say that The Catcher in the Rye is a straightforward and simple book. It is anything but. In it we are privy to Salinger's genius and originality in portraying universal problems in a unique manner. The Catcher in the Rye is a book that can be loved and understood on many different levels of comprehension and each reader who experiences it will come away with a fresh view of the world in which they live.
A work of true genius, images of a catcher in the rye are abundantly apparent throughout this book.
While analyzing the city raging about him, Holden's attention is captured by a child walking in the street "singing and humming." Realizing that the child is singing the familiar refrain, "If a body meet a body, comin' through the rye," Holden, himself, says that he feels "not so depressed."
The title's words, however, are more than just a pretty ditty that Holden happens to like. In the stroke of pure genius that is Salinger, himself, he wisely sums up the book's theme in its title.
When Holden, whose past has been traumatic, to say the least, is questioned by his younger sister, Phoebe, regarding what he would like to do when he gets older, Holden replies, "Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around--nobody big, I mean--except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff--I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going. I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be."
In this short bit of dialogue Salinger brilliantly exposes Holden's deepest desire and expounds the book's theme. Holden wishes to preserve something of childhood innocence that gets hopelessly lost as we grow into the crazy and phony world of adulthood.
The theme of lost innocence is deftly explored by Salinger throughout the book. Holden is appalled when he encounters profanity scrawled on the walls of Phoebe's school, a school that he envisions protecting and shielding children from the evils of society.
When Holden gives his red hunting cap to Phoebe to wear, he gives it to her as a shield, an emblem of the eternal love and protectiveness he feels for her.
Near the beginning of the book, Holden remembers a girl he once knew, Jane Gallagher, with whom he played checkers. Jane, he remembers, "wouldn't move any of her kings," and action Holden realizes to be a metaphor of her naivete. When Holden hears that his sexually experienced prep school roommate had a date with Jane, he immediately starts a fight with him, symbolically protecting Jane's innocence.
More sophisticated readers might question the reasons behind Holden's plight. While Holden's feelings are universal, this character does seem to be a rather extreme example. The catalyst for Holden's desires is no doubt the death of his younger brother, Allie, a bright and loving boy who died of leukemia at the age of thirteen. Holden still feels the sting of Allie's death acutely, as well as his own, albeit undeserved, guilt, in being able to do nothing to prevent Allie's suffering.
The only reminder Holden has of Allie's shining but all-too-short life, is Allie's baseball mitt which is covered with poems Allie read while standing in the outfield. In a particularly poignant moment, Holden tells us that this is the glove he would want to use to catch children when they fall from the cliff of innocence.
In an interesting, but trademark, Salinger twist, Holden distorts the Robert Burns poem that provides the book's title. Originally, it read, "If a body meet a body, comin' through the rye." Holden distorts the word "meet" into "catch." This is certainly not the first time Holden is guilty of distortion; indeed he is a master at it.
This distortion, however, shows us how much Allie's death has affected Holden and also how much he fears his own fall from innocence, the theme that threads its way throughout the whole of the book.
By this amazing book's end, we must reach the conclusion that there are times when we all need a "catcher in the rye." We are, indeed, blessed if we have one.

Candide: Or Optimism (Penguin Classics)
Candide: Or Optimism (Penguin Classics)
von Francois Voltaire
Preis: EUR 11,49

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Satire That Endures, 20. Juli 2000
"All is for the the best of all possible worlds."
Utopia generally conjures up images of beauty, brilliance and harmony. How is it possible to conceive of the violent and brutal happenings in Candide as "the best of all possible worlds?" Our world is clearly not perfect, so isn't it more logical to conclude that all is not for the best? At least not all of the time? Such are the questions raised in Voltaire's timeless masterpiece of satire, Candide.
Candide tells the journey of a young man through the world and the realities he must face, deal with and eventually come to be defined by. During his ventures, Candide leaves behind the naive innocence of his childhood and assumes the status of an intelligent and distinguished man.
Candide was born and grew up in the castle of the Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, in the land of Westphalia in Germany. Soon after his mentor, the philosopher, Dr. Pangloss introduces him to the idea of extreme optimism, Candide's adventures begin as he is banned from the kingdom for kissing the Baron's beautiful daughter, Lady Cunegund.
As Candide travels through Germany, Holland, the New World and the remainder of Europe, he encounters trials and evils of every sort--war, hatred, betrayal, starvation, natural catastrophes of all kinds, in short, any and every evil to which man has ever fallen prey.
In the course of his travails, however, one thing becomes outstandingly familiar to Candide; the parallels of events that denote the universality of evil.
Finally, coming full circle, Candide settles down to cultivate his own garden and make the best of his own possible world.
As with most satire, the characters in Candide exist for one unique purpose rather than being fully fleshed out. Dr. Pangloss is the most notable. Pangloss is not present in most of Candide's adventures but he does provide the theme underlying the whole of the book. He serves to sway Candide with his one, unrelenting optimistic outlook on life.
The epitome of Pangloss's philosophical outlook, "Everything is for the best," is assimilated by Candide very early in the story. Being young, sheltered and naive at the time, Candide proceeds to live his life according to this tenet. When faced with a problem he always asks himself what Pangloss would do or say in a similar situation.
Candide, however, eventually learns to form his own opinions and concepts and thus the philosophical optimism of Dr. Pangloss is tested and challenged throughout the book.
The "Pangloss Effect" is also demonstrated through Candide's experience in El Dorado, Voltaire's fictional utopia. Candide, traveling with Cacambo, his servant, finally discovers El Dorado, the purported "perfect" place. Why would anyone ever want to leave this perfect place, Candide asks himself? His quest had been to prove the theory of optimism of Pangloss and now apparently, he had succeeded. However, all is not what it may seem, even in El Dorado, and Candide is confronted with many ironic and enigmatic questions.
As his journeys draw to a close, Candide comes to realize that it is man's almost limitless ability to accept the fate that befalls him and move on to new and better things that allows him to remain sane, happy and productive. In this sense, Candide comes to represent change and development while Pangloss remains the apex of the unchanging and inflexible.
While most satire grows stale and dated, Candide remains as fresh as it was when Voltaire wrote it. In the end, as Candide wisely shows us, in the best of all possible worlds, we all tend our gardens as best as we possibly can.

von Saul Bellow
  Gebundene Ausgabe

5.0 von 5 Sternen Vintage Bellow But Maybe Even Better, 19. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Ravelstein (Gebundene Ausgabe)
Dying of AIDS, internationally renowned professor, Abe Ravelstein commissions his friend, Chick, to write his biography in the form of a memoir.
A bold and brash novel, Ravelstein is reminiscent of Humboldt's Gift; each contains an admiring narrator and each is based on actual persons in Bellow's life.
Ravelstein, however, is more of an extravert than is Humboldt, becoming almost a comic figure who lives the high life on a grand and glorious scale. He tosses his hand-tailored clothes about with abandon, orders lavish meals, and in general, has a passion for material possessions while maintaining an utter disdain for money.
Ravelstein is certainly a far cry from the dour figures that usually people Bellow's novels; in fact he is just the opposite: flamboyant, perverse, bizarre, passionate and material. Considering what fate has in store for him, perhaps his personality simply adds to the overall tragedy of the novel.
The other characters in Ravelstein are vintage Bellow. The men are removed academics, the women devouring and unreasonable.
It is Chick, however, who comes to dominate the book. A big-city, Jewish type, he is still unprepared for his disastrous marriage to Vela, a stereotypical Bellow female straight out of Herzog. His second marriage, however, to Rosamund, one of Ravelstein's former students is more successful, but since Bellow seems averse to giving us anything resembling a fulfilling relationship and a sympathetic female character, Rosamund remains little more than background music.
Fighting demons of his own, Chick decides to escape the pessimism surrounding Ravelstein and leaves the gloomy Chicago winter for the sunnier climes of the Caribbean where he comes face to face with his own mortality.
If one accepts Herzog as the benchmark against which to weigh Bellow's work, then Ravelstein succeeds. The characters are, for the most part, larger-than-life, the mood is sufficiently pessimistic and the setting depicted with meticulously accurate details. The thing Ravelstein lacks are the cast of secondary figures and the braided running subplots. This is, however, not a criticism, and Ravelstein is all the better for its clean and crisp narrative.
Ravelstein is, at its heart, vintage Bellow, and it shows us that this master writer has lost none of his power to observe life with both sympathy and cool irony. If anything, he is even better than before.

Vineland (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin)
Vineland (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin)
von Thomas Pynchon
Preis: EUR 15,83

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4.0 von 5 Sternen A Trip Into the Past, 18. Juli 2000
In Vineland, Thomas Pynchon takes us back to the Reagan era of 1984 California.
The book begins with Zoyd Wheeler waking up on a fine summer's morning to some Froot Loops with a little Nestle's Quik on top. Zoyd lives in Vineland County, California, a fictional, forest-filled refuge for ageing flower children. And Zoyd play the part of ageing flower child to the hilt. He is a parttime keyboard player, handyman and fulltime marijuana grower who retains his disability benefits by jumping through glass windows once each year on television.
Zoyd has become a single parent to his teenage daughter Prairie since the mysterious disappearance of his wife, Prairie's mother, Frenesi Gates. A radical filmmaker during the 60s, Frenesi allowed herself to be seduced by Brock Vond, a federal prosecutor who was responsible for Frenesi's transformation from hippie radical to FBI informant.
Two decades after Frenesi's "disappearance," Zoyd is still looking for her, as is Vond, as is Prairie. The plot then becomes dense and tangled with flashbacks and flash forwards. Much of the book is simply gross exaggeration that is fairly preposterous and, at times, very funny.
Pynchon has a penchant for working symbolic meaning into his titles. Vineland is no exception. Vineland is, of course, the name of the mythical California setting of the book, but it is also the name Leif Ericsson gave to North America. As such, it was the name for a land untouched by human hands.
The exact opposite happens to be true of 1984 California, as anyone who's ever visited the area knows full well. Vineland exhibits none of the experimental prose that made Gravity's Rainbow so famous. In fact, the language employed in this book is flat and simple.
For some reason, this flatness seems to work. Essentially, Vineland tells the story of an aftermath that seems inevitable when viewed in retrospect and, as such, it is Pynchon's darkest book.
Pynchon celebrates the sixties but goes on to lament their aftermath. He celebrates America while condemning the way its inhabitants have been destroying themselves.
With Vineland, Pynchon took one step closer to hell than he did with even Gravity's Rainbow, becoming ninety-nine percent suicide and one percent nostalgia.
Vineland's one ray of hope shines in the character of Prairie, yet even Prairie shines none too brightly. During one of the book's most pivotal moments the only thing she can think of to do is to sing the Gilligan's Island theme song.
Vineland is Pynchon's only book dealing with the present. While the ludicrousness of Home Shopping, MTV and malls have not passed unnoticed, Pynchon does see more humor than unrelieved bleakness in the present state of America. But he is worried, that is plain to see.
While more bleak and barren than Gravity's Rainbow, Vineland at least holds out a few rays of hope.

Anil's Ghost
Anil's Ghost
von Michael Ondaatje
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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3.0 von 5 Sternen An Island Paradise in Flames, 17. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Anil's Ghost (Gebundene Ausgabe)
Anil's Ghost is set on the island of Sri Lanka against the backdrop of the civil war turmoil of the mid-1980s and 1990s. Here, three opposing groups battle for control: the government, the anti-government insurgents in the south and the separatist guerrillas in the north.
The book centers around the character of Anil Tissera, a thirty-three year old Sri Lankan born forensic anthropologist sent to her homeland as a United Nations human rights investigator whose mission is to explore various "disappearances," i.e., murders.
Her government-appointed partner is Sarath Diyasera, a forty-nine year old government representative who gives Anil little reason to relax. Although Sarath is capable of reconstructing a vibrant picture of the past based on the flimsiest of clues, his motives and alliances seem more than slightly questionable. Sarath, however, is often misunderstood, for this is a man who understands the moral complexities of the modern world in their historical context, who knows what can and cannot be done and who views "truth" as the ambiguous statement it is.
While excavating a site in a sanctuary containing nineteenth century bones, a skeleton of recent date is unearthed, one whose remains also appear to have been moved twice.
This unidentified body is given the name, "Sailor," and provides the catalyst for Anil and Sarath's search, a search which leads to the introduction of several engaging secondary characters: Palipana, an interpreter of ancient ruins, seventy-six, blind and living in a grove of ascetics; Gamini, Sarath's younger brother, a dedicated doctor and participant in a tragedy whose work consists of patching up the war's innocent victims; and Ananda Udagama, a drunken miner and artist whose skill and genius allowed him to paint the eyes of the statues of Buddha, a ritual that brought the statue to life.
Ondaatje threads his way between past and present, giving us some stories that relate to the plot and others that do not. Some major plot lines and characters are dealt with far too swiftly and summarily as Ondaatje takes off on yet another political tangent. At times, the characters, who aren't developed enough to form a connection with, seem to be completely forgotten until Ondaatje suddenly makes an abrupt turn and brings us back to the story at hand.
Those expecting the lush, dense prose of The English Patient will find themselves sorely disappointed. Yes, the trademark Ondaatje poetic prose does remain (though toned down) and it is gorgeous, but it is simply not enough to sustain us in what should have been a larger, more fleshed-out novel.
Anil, herself, seems out of place in this book, for she is essentially a Westerner. Although born in Sri Lanka, she is not of Sri Lanka and does not share the same values and ideals as those with whom she interacts. Had Ondaatje concentrated only on those who had lived their lives amid the fire and flames of this island paradise, the book would have proven far more compelling and true.
The final chapter, however, is beautiful and touching, in part because it deals not with Anil or the crime with which she became obsessed, but with Ananda and the spirit that is truly Sri Lanka.
Ondaatje has done a marvelous job of dissecting the secrets, identities and memories that form the intricate layers of Sri Lanka and its tumultuous past. His quest seems to have been a personal one, one that was both essential and compelling. It is just not quite as essential for the reader.

von Nuruddin Farah
Preis: EUR 14,63

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Birthed in Blood, 16. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Secrets (Taschenbuch)
Before its independence in 1960, Somalia was the bloody battleground for power between the fading British and Italian empires; in the late 70s it became a staging ground for the cold war maneuvering between the US and the USSR. In 1991, after Somalia's genocidal dictator was overthrown, equally bloodthirsty warlords began vying for control and, tragically, Somalia collapsed into anarchy. Ironically, this racially, ethnically, religiously and linguistically homogeneous people are now controlled by clans and subclans. Unless and until the country confronts its past, Somalians will render Somalia into nothingness.
Nuruddin Farah places responsibility for Somalia's plight on Somalian's themselves: "If you take the Somali nation as a family, the betrayal is no longer that of colonialism, it is no longer from outside, but from within. And the cure must also be found from within."
Farah strives to keep his homeland alive through his writing and his most recent trilogy, culminating in Secrets, is polemic disguised as obituary disguised as parable disguised as local drama.
In Secrets, one family serves as a metaphor for Somalia, itself; a family whose own checkered past and its members failure to understand one another tears apart and destroys their lives.
Kalaman, the protagonist of Secrets, has always wondered about the secrets surrounding his origins, beginning with his own name. For the name, Kalaman, came from the cry of a bird heard at his birth and, as such, is devoid of any sense of history or family heritage. Family heritage, though, is essential to Kalaman, for he was a child who had always been "interested in the origins of things, how rivers came into being and why they ran and where."
As a result of the secrets surrounding both Kalaman and his family, his grandfather, Nonno, cannot die, his mother suffers from violent nightmares and Kalaman's world is filled with an ever-increasing emptiness.
On the eve of Somalia's collapse into anarchy, Kalaman's sensual and demanding childhood sweetheart, Sholoongo, appears in his home and announces her intentions of bearing his child. Her presence incurs the wrath of Kalaman's mother and pulls Kalaman back into a despair-filled past where he disassembles the myth that represents his family and unleashes all of its long-held secrets.
Secrets displays Farah's superb talents to the fullest. The plot is rich, the language sophisticated and exotic without being overwrought. Displaying elements of magic realism, totemic animals drift through scenery, dreams are symbolic, folktales, prophetic. When Kalaman asks Nonno about Sholoongo's own secrets, Nonno gives him the enigmatic reply: "A man shuts himself away in a dark room, raises his index finger, pointing at the ceiling. Reemerging, he challenges the community members to tell him what he did in the dark room. Another man describes accurately what he did in the dark room when alone."
Conceived in violence rather than in love, and ignorant of his own history, Kalaman is a metaphor for Somalia, itself. Sholoongo, who was born a "duugan," a baby to be taken to the desert and buried, represents Somalia's festering, unspoken history and like that history she "lived to haunt the villagers conscience." Sholoongo is the book's catalyst and her arrival brings back an ugly past for each of Farah's characters, yet, once confronted and embraced, this ugliness is transformed.
Nonno tells Kalaman his "undealt-with troubles began the instant he introduced a decisive element of blame-the-other syndrome into his guilt ridden sorrow." Nonno then begins to associate Kalaman even more closely with Somalia: "There are moments in a person's or a nation's life when collapses can be avoided, even if at first they seem inevitable...Kalaman could have brought an end to this rigamarole sooner, if he had been true to his own instincts, if he had been forthrightly frank with Sholoongo herself: the Somali collectivity could have reversed the coming decline. He had no right to blame his parents or Nonno or others for his own failure...Give people a chance to speak their pieces, and many will display their personal and collective hurts: they all see themselves as ill-used by the dictatorship. Press them further into the corner, ask them for their contributions to the struggle against one-man tyranny, and they fall silent, many unable to deny being accomplices in the rain."
Secrets is a magical story, evocative of the beauty and tragedy that is Africa today. Its politics are metaphorical and never intrusive, for Farah is not a politician but a storyteller extraordinaire.
His life-affirming message, however, to the family that is Somalia is clear: Heal your wounds, Sister. Shout your secrets from the rooftops as loud as you can.

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