Saturday, 30 November 2013

fifty-four.

Ali and Nino by Kurban Said (1937)

"And for me this was the bell that went wrong; my first impulse to go to war as soon as possible. Now I had time to think. The caravan was wandering eastwards over the soft sand, lost in dream. The train was pushing westwards along its iron rails, mindless and mechanical. Why did I not raise my hand to pull the communication cord? This was where I belonged, to the camels, to the men leading them, to the sand! What was it to me, this world behind the mountains? These Europeans with their wars, their cities, their Czars, Kaisers and Kings? Their sorrows, their happiness, their cleanliness and their dirt - we have a different way of being clean or dirty, good or bad, we have a different rhythm and different faces. Let the train rush to the West. My heart and soul belong to the East."

Ali Kahn is a Muslim of noble heritage, yet he falls in love with a Georgian Christian princess, Nino. They have been friends ever since they met on the way to school. Their worlds are completely opposite, Ali loves the eastern traditions and loathes the Russian dominance, while Nino loves Europe. Despite their differences, they love each other, and Nino says yes to Ali's proposal on two conditions; he must never force her to wear the veil or put her in a harem. Nino's parents give consent to their marriage on two conditions; Nino has to graduate and it must happen after the war.

The war happens to be the first World War, and it brings a lot of change to Baku. Ali wants to fight, but he doesn't want to help Russia, so when Turkey goes to war against Russia, a lot of the Muslims of Baku decides to rise up against the Russians. But the uprising goes wrong, and they are forced to flee to Persia, where life changes completely for Nino.

This book will give you a crash course in religion and the history and geography of the Caucasus. It is also an intense love story. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it away. It is a great story and the language is lovely. In the beginning, I felt that the contrasts were too obvious and forced, but fortunately as the story gathered speed, they became less important.

Although Ali is the narrator in the book, Nino is in my opinion the real hero. I loved the parts where she fought with the eunuchs in Tehran. She also sacrifices everything for love. I have more mixed feelings for Ali and his beliefs. And why couldn't this book have a happy ending?

Sunday, 24 November 2013

fifty-three.

the Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998)

“We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself. There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so...” 

In 1923, Virginia Woolf is working on a new novel, later to be named Mrs Dalloway, while trying to pull herself together. In 1949 in Los Angeles, Mrs Brown is pregnant with her second child and it's her husband's birthday, but all she wants to do is lay in bed and read Mrs Dalloway. In present day New York, Clarissa, who is called Mrs Dalloway by her former lover, Richard, is holding a party for him as he's dying from AIDS.

The book starts with the suicide of Virginia Woolf, and that really sets the mood for the rest of the book. I kept wondering whether both Clarissa and Mrs Brown would kill themselves as well. It is beautifully written, and I really like how Cunningham has included passages from Mrs Dalloway. It was a perfect read for my current mood, and it really hit home. Save it for your blue periods.

Another thing I discovered while reading this, is that I totally didn't understand Mrs Dalloway at all. I definitely need to read it again, but it needs to mature for a couple of years first. I also need to watch the film again.

This was November's read in Line's 1001 books reading circle.

Friday, 22 November 2013

fifty-two.

the Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (2013)

 Walter Moody, fresh off the ship in Hokitika, the booming gold town in Southern New Zealand, wanders into a gathering of 12 men. The 12 men are talking about a curious case, which they all have some information about. The curious case involves the death of one man, a suicidal whore, forgery, shipping crates and, of course, gold. All the men present have something to add to the story. They have all witnessed one thing or another, and they take turns explaining what they have seen.

I have been struggling for three days now to come up with something clever to say about this book. It is simply a brilliant old-fashioned mystery novel with plenty of intrigues. I really love the design of the book, something which is definitely lost in the Kindle edition. But I discovered the X-ray tool on Kindle while reading this, and it has plenty of information about the places mentioned in the book. It also has a feature where you can see how much a name or place is mentioned in the book. Fun for book nerds!

The Luminaries won the Man Booker Prize 2013 and I have yet to read the others on the short list to see if this is a worthy winner. But it is definitely a great book! 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

fifty-one.

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (1997)

Joe and Clarissa are on a picnic, celebrating Clarissa's return. Suddenly they see a hot air balloon in trouble, and they, along with some other men, rush to the rescue. The accident ends tragically with the death of one of the rescuers as he didn't let go of the rope and was carried upwards.

Although the accident is very unsettling for the couple, the affairs which take place in the following months are worse. Shortly after the accident, Joe receives a phone call from one of the other rescuers, Jed. Jed claims to be in love with Joe, and stalks him. For unknown reasons Joe hides the fact for a while from Clarissa, and when he finally tells her, she believes that he is imagining it as she never she or hears Jed and his handwriting is awfully like Joe's.

What drives this beautifully written slow story forward is the madness, and the fact that it's unclear who the mad one is. I, as always, am never right. Joe is the perfect narrator, and I really like how a lot of the story is left untold. The only thing I disliked about the story is that it felt too rushed towards the end.

I have been holding off for years reading a new McEwan book after I read Atonement in 2008, as I loved that book and I have heard that McEwan can be a hit or miss. But I know he must be a great author as no less than 8 of his books are on the 1001 books list. I'm glad I picked Enduring Love as it didn't disappoint. Read it if you are in the mood for a passionate story with a crazy stalker.

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