“Another Country” by James Baldwin

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38474I don’t know if I will ever be able to manage a proper review for Baldwin’s “Another Country”. If “uncomfortable” could be used as a compliment, I would start my review exclaiming “What an uncomfortable book!”
“Giovanni’s Room”, my first book by Baldwin, had already introduced me to the complexity of his themes, and “Another Country” took this complexity to a whole new level. Color, sexual identity, fear, discrimination, violence that breeds even more violence, hatred, uncertainty, social pressure, guilt, infidelity and love in all its dimensions are among the themes presented to us by Baldwin. These themes are presented without judgment, leaving the role of assessment and drawing of conclusions to the readers. But are we ready for this role? Would we take wiser decisions than the characters of the book? Would we know better?
At the moment I only know that I’m in a constant need of Baldwin’s uncomfortable and uncertain world, of his ever so subtle straightforwardness, and of his courage to plunge into the most complex matters.

November, 2015

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“The Power and the Glory” by Graham Greene

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3690Although lately I had no time or mood for writing reviews, I can’t just give three stars to “The Power and the Glory” by Graham Greene without at least leaving a comment to justify it. Please, don’t get confused, Greene’s writing in “The Power and the Glory” has never failed me: it’s captivating, deep, and I enjoyed the book until the very last moment. The story resembled a relay-race to me, where the thread of the story was handed over from one character to another like a baton, creating a fully developed and broad vision. Whisky Priest, the main character of the book, was intricate and still very human. The metaphors and parallels with the Bible were interesting and I found the whole book to be an exciting social experiment taken to an extreme level, an exploration of a society where religion is in process of being eradicated. So, my three stars by no means intend to diminish the literary value of the book. They simply mean that I don’t agree with the partiality of the author, with his clear favour for one part of the story, with his attempt to give us an answer instead of leaving us with a open question.

May, 2015

“Waterland” by Graham Swift

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9780330518215After Rushdie‘s “The Moor’s Last Sigh” I could only expect that another family saga will end up in my hands: “Waterland” by Graham Swift. It was my first plunge into Swift’s waters, and I hope that it won’t be the last one. I only regret reading “Waterland” in Lithuanian instead of its original language, and I will not know until I pick up the next book by Swift if my four stars instead of five should be attributed to my not fully identifying with the author’s voice or the translator’s.

“Waterland” is a story about storytelling, a narrative about narration that analyses the meaning and the necessity of history.

“Children, only animals live entirely in the Here and Now. Only nature knows neither memory nor history. But man – let me offer you a definition – is the storytelling animal. Wherever he goes he wants to leave behind not a chaotic wake, not an empty space, but the comforting marker-buoys and trail-signs of stories. He has to go on telling stories. He has to keep on making them up. As long as there’s a story, it’s all right. Even in his last moments, it’s said, in the split second of a fatal fall – or when he’s about to drown – he sees, passing rapidly before him, the story of his whole life.”

And so the protagonist of the book, Tom, a history teacher in a high school, tells us a story. About the “waterland”, the low-lying fens somewhere in east England. About drainage and beer brewing, madness and murder, coming of age, incest, abortion and childlessness.

Swift suggests that history is cyclical, that any revolution for a better future is always based on a vision or an adapted reflection of a period of prosperity and well-being in the past. That a change leads to another change, which does not always mean progress. That there is also regression and repetition. The Fens, where the biggest part of the story is based, serve Swift as the main metaphor of this cyclicality. Despite centuries of efforts to drain and improve the land in the fens, the water had always found the way to return through rains and floods, bringing disasters to the inhabitants.

Do we all live in the fens of history, I dare to ask? And is there more to it than trying to keep our heads above the water of its recurring floods?

I may or I may not find the answer, but I will keep wondering.

“Your “Why?” gives the answer. Your demand for explanation provides an explanation. Isn’t the seeking of reasons itself inevitably an historical process, since it must always work backwards from what came after to what came before? And so long as we have this itch for explanations, must we not always carry round with us this cumbersome but precious bag of clues called history? Another definition, children: Man, the animal which demands an explanation, the animal which asks Why.”

May, 2014

“Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me” by Javier Marías

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60030It had been a long time since I read a book by a Spanish author (probably because I live in Spain for some years) until I finally picked up “Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí” by Javier Marías, recommended by a friend. A great recommendation without any doubts.

I had mixed feelings about the book at the very beginning, about these never-ending sentences and the over-analyzing of every detail until the point of not only stopping the moment but also extending it to what sometimes felt like hours. My doubts didn’t last long though. I felt sucked in the story and in the narrator’s stream of thoughts which created a strange and addictive feeling of living in his head, seeing through his eyes and even thinking his thoughts.

Reading this book felt like going in numerous circles, finding on the way an endless line of open doors, only to be taken back time and again and see them all being closed. What had seemed rambling without any clear purpose at first, gained meaning in the most unexpected ways while I was turning the pages in a strange frenzy.

What an wonderful and unexpected journey, a study of fragility and impermanence.

“So many things happen without anyone realizing or remembering. There is almost no record of anything, fleeting thoughts and actions, plans and desires, secret doubts, fantasies, acts of cruelty and insults, words said and heard and later denied or misunderstood or distorted, promises made and then overlooked, even by those to whom they were made, everything is forgotten or invalidated, whatever is done alone or not written down, along with everything that is done not alone but in company, how little remains of each individual, how little trace remains of anything, and how much of that little is never talked about and, afterwards, one remembers only a tiny fraction of what was said, and then only briefly, the individual memory is not passed on and is, anyway, of no interest to the person receiving it, who is busy forging his or her own memories.”

January 2014