What Am I Doing Here?

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By Bruce Chatwin.

This was a great collection of articles. I read Utz years back and loved it – so this was a way of getting into Chatwin before starting the ‘novels’. There was much that was illuminating. A passionate traveller who could also write: a very cultured and interested person.

“We shall not lie on our backs at the Red Castle and watch the vultures wheeling over the valley where they killed the grandson of Genghiz. We will not read Babur’s memoirs in his garden at Istalif and see the blind man smelling his way around the rose bushes. Or sit in the Peace of Islam with the beggars of Gazar Gagh. We will not stand on the Buddha’s head at Bamiyan, upright in his niche like a whale in a dry-dock. We will not sleep in the nomad tent, or scale the Minaret of Jam. And we shall lose the tastes – the hot, coarse, bitter bread; the green tea flavoured with cardamoms; the grapes we cooled in the snow-melt; and the nuts and dried mulberries we munched for altitude sickness. Nor shall we get back the smell of the beanfields, the sweet, resinous smell of deodar wood burning, or the whiff of a snow leopard at 14,000 feet.”

 

 

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The Little Demon

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By Feodor Sologub.

This was very enjoyable. It reminds of Deal Souls and other novels in the Russian literary canon. Dead Souls is more amusing, possibly. The novel feels more random and fragmented and dispassionate.

“Indeed a lie is often more plausible than the truth. “Almost” always. The truth, of course, is never very plausible.”

 

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Kolyma Tales

 

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By Varlam Shalamov.

This a powerful collection of stories. Part of the intensity is given by the seemingly objective and non-involved narration. Shalamov did this on purpose – there is no moralising by the writer – he lays everything out. The message that good can come from hardship is not present. There is just hardship.

“Friendship is not born in conditions of need or trouble. Literary fairy tales tell of ‘difficult’ conditions which are an essential element in forming any friendship, but such conditions are simply not difficult enough. If tragedy and need brought people together and gave birth to their friendship, then the need was not extreme and the tragedy not great. Tragedy is not deep and sharp if it can be shared with friends.”

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Men of Maize

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By Miguel Ángel Asturias.

This was very poetic and dream-like. There were episodes or passages I really enjoyed. However some parts just didn’t connect. When there is a collection of loosely connected stories I guess this what can happen.Well worth reading though.

 

 

 

 

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Dark Avenues

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By Ivan Bunin.

This is an absolute masterpiece. Dark Avenues is a collection of stories written in the late 30s and early 40s but they read as one. The themes of love and loss are consistent across them all and there is a strong poetic sensibility in the prose and the way the subjects are treated.

 

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The Jean Christophe Cycle

By Romain Rolland.

Comprising ten novels:

L’Aube (“Dawn”, 1904)
Le Matin (“Morning”, 1904)
L’Adolescent (“Youth”, 1904)
La Révolte (“Revolt”, 1905)
La Foire sur la place (“The Marketplace”, 1908)
Antoinette (1908)
Dans la maison (“The House”, 1908)
Les Amies (“Love and Friendship”, 1910)
Le Buisson ardent (“The Burning Bush”, 1911)
La Nouvelle Journée (“The New Dawn”, 1912)

This is a very impressive work. It feels slightly dated – though this could be the translation. I don’t understand how Rolland could have been marginalised as much as he has, being a Novel Prize winner. Perhaps because his preoccupations with pre-WW1 Europe have been forgotten to an extent. There’s a great amount here about creativity and art – the novel(s) are really an excuse for his musings on these.

 

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