RSS

Tag Archives: 2014 reading challenges

{Review} A Matter of Death and Life – Andrey Kurkov

Read for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge 2014 (Ukraine)

I meant to read ‘out’ from the UK, slowly reading my way across countries until I ended up poised on the edge of Europe, about to step out into Asia. So obviously I went in search of a copy of the Ukranian, A Matter of Death and Life in the local library and decided to give Kurkov another try after the slight misunderstanding we had back in May 2013.

Due to the political situation in Ukraine, I’ve been doing my best not only to keep abreast of developments in the region but also trying to get to know a little more about the nation in the 20th century. As such, I felt better-placed to understand a little more of Kurkov’s famous satire.

Blurb
Tolya, our main character, begins the novel with a despondent, self-destructive attitude to life. No-one cares about him while he’s alive but he’s realised that if he dies in tragic, mysterious circumstances then people will remember him. He’ll seem ‘interesting’ and be talked about in his absence. By cutting short his life, his memory will live on far longer than he could ever hope to.

The problems start after he hires an assassin to bump him off in a rather prominent café. With so little time left, Tolya starts to value all the things he had previously looked forward to avoiding in the next life.

But he cannot call off his killer or his date with death…

Review
Whether fleetingly or seriously, I’m certain most of us have considered suicide at some point. Kurkov takes this to the next tragicomic level with ease.

As in Death and the Penguin, Kurkov hints at links between death (especially the being-bumped-off variety) and various prominent political figures. He writes about the ‘everything that can be bought’ mentality with a matter of factness that boggles the mind. I’m still not entirely sure as to what to make of those parts of his commentary on contemporary post-Soviet society but it’s interesting to note that they’re some of the main themes that Kurkov explores in his work.

Is this observational satire or critique? Is it a little of both? Think I’m going to have to read some more Kurkov before I can answer that one satisfactorily.

The ending of this story was far more satisfying than that of Death and the Penguin as Tolya’s actions felt more in character and there wasn’t the same degree of bitterness mixed in with the sweetness of the conclusion.

Note on the translation: George Bird’s translation feels direct and sometimes as though there’s more that’s lingering between the lines than in them. I put this down to Kurkov’s ‘between the lines’ sort of satire.

It’s a really good translation though- it puts me in mind of the pictures of post-Soviet Ukraine I saw in a gallery once.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure if that’s a little rude of me to imply that post-Soviet Ukraine’s a little grey around the edges… :/

Overall
Either I was better prepared for Kurkov’s satire, or A Matter of Death and Life is a little better (or both?).

Whichever way, this was a pleasure to read and I’m looking forward to improving my knowledge of Ukrainian politics and society before reading the next of his stories.

I’m not sure that his social and political satire are the sharpest I’ve ever come across but he’s still very good and this novel’s more than worth the 100 minutes or so it takes to blaze through it.

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

{Review} No Word from Gurb – Eduardo Mendoza

¡Hola a tod@s!

I’ve been meaning to read and review Spanish books for caffeinatedlife’s Everything España: a 2014 Reading Challenge but as of last month had made as many steps towards doing so as Russia has towards backing out of Ukraine.

Today this changes! Today, I review!

And it’s a fairly good book I’m reviewing too: No Word from Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza

Blurb (from back of book)
A shape-shifting extraterrestrial named Gurb has assumed the form of Madonna and disappeared in Barcelona’s back streets. His hapless commander, desperately trying to find him, records the daily pleasures, dangers, and absurdities of our fragile world, while munching his way through enormous quantities of churros. No stone is left unturned in the search for his old pal Gurb.

Will Barcelona survive this alien invasion? Will the captain ever find his subordinate? Are there enough churros in Barcelona to satisfy his intergalactic appetite?

Review
I suppose that this novel counts as a Space Opera on some level. There are aliens and there is strangeness and a lot of hilarity. I also like this novel much more than I feel that I should as I’m the only person I know who has thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

So why did I find it highly entertaining? Possibly because of the commander’s ridiculous transformations into different people, from Delia Smith to Miguel de Unamuno (as he felt fitted the situations) were brilliantly timed and made me grin a fair amount.

Possibly because the narrator’s portrait of Barcelona as it prepared to take its place on the world stage in the early ‘90s was interesting and amusing. The comments on Cataluña and especially Barcelona- provided a snapshot of the region at an exciting period in its development and capturing the grittiness as well as the glamour of it. For some reason as I was reading this, I could imagine Almodóvar (in his younger years) adapting and directing this with much more sex, a few more gender-bending moments, more drugs and even more dog poo.

Not entirely sure whether people who aren’t au fait with or interested in this particular era will enjoy it as much due to some of the references made to specific events and places in the text.

Overall
This was a good start to the Everything España challenge. It was snappy and funny and aimed at people who’re particularly fond of their references to different and occasionally obscure people.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 9, 2014 in 2014 Reading Challenges, Books

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Reading Challenges 2014: introductory post

Happy New Year to all of you who use the Gregorian Calendar. 🙂

Seems I have some sort of lung infection thing as I’ve been coughing my guts out (quite literally) for the last few weeks and for the last few days haven’t been able to go up or down the stairs without having a coughing fit/ not being able to breathe for a few seconds.

I’m rooting for my lungs to get better as it’s put a damper on the festive period.

Enough doom and gloom! It’s time to roll out a list of reading challenges that look epic and that I’m going to try to make time for this year!

First of all, Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge, which I’ve already done a post about, but am excited enough to mention multiple times. 🙂

The aim of this is to read and review a minimum of 1 book that’s either set in Europe (irrespective of where the author’s from), or whose author is from a country in Europe.

I’m aiming for the ‘honeymooner’ level, which entails reading and reviewing 4 books that comply with the above guidelines. That’s one book every 3 months, which is do-able.
The 2nd challenge is The Eclectic Reader 2014 Challenge, the aim of which “is to push you outside your comfort zone by reading up to 12 books during the year from 12 different categories.”

I’m not entirely sure which books I’ll read for it, but if I can get my hands on a copy of any of the books in the Adèle Blanc-Sec series, then I’ll definitely read it for the ‘Graphic Novel’ category.

Or should I read Sandman?

Everyone recommends the latter and I do enjoy Neil Gaiman’s writing style, but then Adèle Blanc-Sec has got a really strong female character (namely Adèle) and strong female characters are always a pleasure to read.

Decisions, decisions…

The 3rd challenge that looks really exciting is Words and Peace’s ‘Books on France 2014’. The rules are simple: read any book related to France.

So essentially any book that is;

it can be set in France,
written by a French author,
written in French (not Canadian French), by authors from any country
about a French theme: French cuisine (how the French influenced American cuisine is accepted for instance), French fashion, etc.
it can be a book read for another challenge

There are 5 levels and I’m going to aim for level 3, called ‘passionnément’, for which one has to read and review 12 books.


The final challenge that really grabbed my interest is caffeinatedlife’s Everything España: a 2014 Reading Challenge.

As caffeinatedlife points out, even though Spain has produced some very fine writers, there aren’t as many challenges based around their works. I’m also taking part in this because although I read a fair amount of journal articles about Hispanic socio-linguistics, I tend to forget to read books that are set the country or written by a Spaniard as opposed to a Latin-American.

That will change this year as I’m going to read between 1-4 books in Spanish that are written by a Spanish author or set in Spain.

NB. If you want to take part in the challenge, you don’t have to read a book that’s actually written in Spanish, I’d just prefer to read books written in Spanish.

It sounds like very few books, especially when compared to the 12 French books I’m aiming to read and review, but I feel less confident reading fiction in Spanish, so even reading 3 feels pretty darn daunting right now.

I’ll officially sign up to the challenges and catch up with peoples’ blogs in the next 24 hours: have many things around the house to do before I go back to Uni. for the semester. DX

 
10 Comments

Posted by on January 1, 2014 in 2014 Reading Challenges

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: