Sunday, 27 October 2013

fifty.

the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

“I almost gasp: he's said a forbidden word. Sterile. There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that's the law.”

The republic of Gilead is a strict religious society where the women are divided into groups. The Wives, dressed in blue, are on top of the chain, while the Daughters dress in white. The Econowives are married to men of lower statuses, and wear multicoloured dresses. The Handmaids dress in red and are surrogates for the infertile Wives. Then you have the Aunts in brown dresses who teach the Handmaids how to behave and the domestic servants, Marthas dressed in green.

Offred is the narrator who tells her tale while living in a house of a Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. Her daily life is a routine, and the only joy is the shopping round with an other Handmaid. But although she has been taught this new life, how can she forget her old life, when she was free, and had a man and a child? She doesn't know if they are dead or alive at this point. 

I think this is one of the most provoking books I've read. The society is so anti-women that it made me quite mad. And of course it made me feel grateful for my freedom. It is brilliantly written, but to be honest, the end really disappointed me; I wanted more answers. I never seem to get enough answers when I read dystopian novels, I'm really fascinated with the societies and histories. 

I think this is the best Atwood book I've read. And it has placed her very high up on my list of favourite authors. Read it! This was also October's read in Line's 1001 books reading challenge.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

forty-nine.

Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos (2012)

"'Go and fuck your fucking mother, you bastard, fuck off!' I know this isn't an appropriate way to begin, but the story of me and my family is full of insults. If I'm really going to report everything that happened, I'm going to have to write down a whole load of mother-related insults. I swear there's no other way to do it, because the story unfolded in the place where I was born and grew up, Lagos de Moreno, in Los Altos, Jalisco, a region that, to add insult to injury, is located in Mexico."

Orestes is the second oldest of 7 siblings and their family is middle-class. All the children are named after Greek heroes or mythology. But Mexico in the 1980s is not politically stable which makes the family's economy unstable. The result is that there are several variations of the daily quesadillas; inflationary quesadillas, normal quesadillas, devaluation quesadillas and poor man's quesadillas. 

Orestes is a poet, and loathes his older brother. One day during the curfew, the family needs to go shopping. And in the state owned grocery shop, the twins suddenly disappear. The parents are devastated, but Orestes sees this as an opportunity to get more quesadillas. Then his older brother, Aristotle, is convinced that aliens have kidnapped the twins and goes looking for them, dragging Orestes with him.

The second book by Villalobos is even better than the first. I fell in love with the family, and Orestes is a great narrator. Although the story is funny, the undertones are serious and the downgrade of the family is sad. I was about to get really upset about the end, but fortunately it turned out to be awesome. Juan Pablo Villalobos is an author I will definitely keep reading, and so should you.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

forty-eight.

Jordmora by Katja Kettu (2011)
(Kätilö)

Villøye is the midwife in Petsamo during World War II, and the place is crawling with German soldiers. Villøye falls in love with one of the soldiers, Johannes, and although he has got another girl pregnant, she follows him to a POW Camp with Soviet prisoners where she becomes a nurse. But the war is at its turning point, and Villøye and Johannes have to flee and they end up in an isolated hut in a remote Norwegian fjord.

Ohmygodthisbook! It has everything and so much more. It gives an excellent portrait of the complex Barents region, and the terrible war which devastated the area. It is a gruesome story, and really shows how people deal with the worst situations. And the choices Villøye makes have terrible consequences.

I really liked the language in the book, and the way it's a mix of Finnish, Russian and Sami words in the translation. And it's always interesting to read about the place where you hail from. I really regret that I gave up on learning Finnish because I'm really curious how this is in its original language. The translator, Turid Farbrergd, did a hell of a job and I have learnt so many new words. I also got a better picture of what it was like during the war, and I definitely need to read more about the war in the Barents region.

I hope it will be translated into English soon. If you get a chance, read it! It is definitely the best book I have read this year and on the list of my favourites and I already need to read it again. And Katja Kettu is an author I will definitely read more of. 

Ps: I think Villøye might be the horniest woman I have come across so far in literature, and I love it!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

forty-seven.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)

""How can we fight the French, Prince?" said Count Rostopchin. "Can we arm ourselves against our teachers and divinities. Look at our youths, look at our ladies! The French are our Gods: Paris is our Kingdom of Heaven.""

It is 1805 and Russia and France are about to go to war. In the Rostov household, they are concerned about three things; money, marrying off their children and war. The Bolkonskys' estate is out on the countryside where the old Prince holds the rest of the family in a tight clutch. Pierre Bezukhov is the illegitimate son of one of the richest counts in Russia, and he unexpectedly inherits the money and climbs on the social ladder. He marries one of the important ladies, Helene Kuragina, but the marriage is colder than ice.

Napoleon and his army destroy the Russians, and even the aristocracy suffers horrible losses. The war changed the lives of the noble families, and they lived through tragedies, but also had some happy moments during the war. 

War and Peace is said to one of the best novels ever written. I cannot say that I agree, although I really enjoyed the story. But the bloody philosophical essays in between, and especially in the final epilogue. That really ruined the book for me. And Tolstoy sure takes his time to get to the point, and I believe that it would have been a lot better if only he had a strict editor. If you plan to read it, I suggest you go for a good edition which has put all the essays in an appendix.

But luckily, Tolstoy's genius shines through, and those parts which deals with family life, and especially love, are brilliant and as good as Anna Karenina. I just wish he would have kept to those subjects, as the strategies and details about warfare don't interest me at all. I do, however, see why many men list this as their favourite book. I'm just glad that I can tell the world that I have read War and Peace. 

This was September's read in Line's 1001 books reading challenge (and yes, I needed another week to finish it).