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review 2017-09-03 18:32
The Discreet Hero, Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. Edith Grossman
The Discreet Hero: A Novel - Mario Vargas Llosa,Edith Grossman

This book put me in a bind: while I found the story and characters engaging, fun, even, there are aspects that offended me. As I read, I would wonder: "Is this attitude or behavior endorsed by the author, or just described by him in depicting this place and these personalities?" By the end, I decided that there are definite ideologies at work here, including the beliefs that when it comes to family, blood is all; that the younger generation is responsible for squandering the hard work of their parents'; and the conservative viewpoint that if one only works hard enough, one can be successful. Other troubling attitudes that are questioned by characters but nevertheless feel condoned by the narrative: blaming victims of rape or sexual coercion; treating women as objects; racism; masculine pride as more important than the lives of loved ones.


After I finished the book, I read several reviews as I tried to work out my opinion of it. These mention that Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature but that this may not be his best work; that he used to be a social progressive but became a conservative who ran for president of Peru; that some characters appear in other books of his; that some elements are based on real events and his own life.


The book is divided between two alternating and converging narratives with separate protagonists, both fitting the "discreet hero" label of the title. The stories take place in two different areas of Peru, one Lima, one provincial, and their plots appear to have no connection. When they link up, it's very satisfying, even though the connection is quite minor. Each plot has elements of a mystery-thriller that propel the story; I found it hard to put down. The characters are often charming and easy to root for (until they're not). In story one, a man who worked his way up from nothing and owns a transport company is anonymously threatened unless he pays for protection; he refuses. In story two, a man on the verge of retirement and a long-awaited trip with his wife and son finds his life upheaved when his wealthy boss decides to marry his servant to punish his errant sons; at the same time, the protagonist's teenaged son is being approached by a mysterious stranger who may or may not be real, the devil, an angel, or just the kid fucking with his parents (this last mystery is left ambiguous).


Other elements I enjoyed included the relationship between the second protagonist and his wife, his feelings about art's role in life, the police sergeant from the first story, and learning about Peruvian life across two settings.

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review 2017-08-01 22:02
For discerning readers who enjoy books about the human condition
A Horse Walks into a Bar: A novel - David Grossman,Jessica Cohen

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Jonathan Cape for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is the first book I’ve read by David Grossman. I hope it won’t be the last.

The description probably gives a fair idea of the plot. Yes, we are in Netanya, Israel, and we are spectators of the act of a stand-up comedian, Dovelah Greenstein (or Dov G.). He is 57 years old (as he repeatedly reminds us through the evening), skinny (almost emaciated), and seems to become increasingly desperate as the night goes. He tells jokes, anecdotes, makes comments about the city, the spectators, Jews (yes, the self-deprecation readers of Philip Roth, for example, will be familiar with), says some politically incorrect things, tells a number of jokes (some really funny, some odd, some quite old), and insists on telling us a story about his childhood, despite the audience’s resistance to listening to it.

The beauty (or one of them) of the novel, is the narrator. Yes, I’m back to my obsession with narrators. The story is told in the first-person by Avishai Lazar, a judge who was unceremoniously removed from his post when he started becoming a bit too vocal and opinionated in his verdicts. The two characters were friends as children, and Dov calls Avishai asking him to attend his performance. His request does not only come completely out of the blue (they hadn’t seen each other since they were in their teens), but it is also quite weird. He does not want a chat, or to catch up on old times. He wants the judge to tell him what he sees when he looks at him. He wants him to tell him what other people see, what essence they perceive when they watch him. Avishai, who is a widower and still grieving, is put-off by this and reacts quite rudely, but eventually, agrees.

Although the novel is about Dov’s performance and his story (his need to let it all hang out, to explain his abuse but also his feeling of guilt about a personal tragedy), that is at times light and funny, but mostly sad and even tragic, he is not the character who changes and grows the most during the performance (his is an act of exorcism, a way of getting rid of his demons). For me, the story, sad and depressing as it can be at times (this is not a book for everybody, and I suspect many readers will empathise with quite a few of the spectators who leave the performance before it ends), is ultimately about redemption. Many narrators have told us in the past (The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness) that in telling somebody else’s story, they are also telling their own. This is indeed the case here. The judge (at first we don’t know who is narrating the story, but we get more and more details as the performance advances) is very hostile at first and keeps wondering why he is there, and wanting to leave. But at some point, the rawness, the determination, and the sheer courage of the comedian, who keeps going no matter how difficult it gets, break through his protective shell and he starts to question his own actions and his life. If this might be Dev’s last performance, in a way it is a beginning of sorts, especially for the judge.

Readers become the ersatz club audience, and it is very difficult to stop watching something that is so extreme and desperate, but it is also difficult to keep watching (or reading) as it becomes more and more painful. It is as if we were spectators in a therapy session where somebody is baring his soul. We feel as if we are intruding on an intimate moment, but also that perhaps we are providing him with some comfort and support to help him go through the process. Although other than the two main characters we do not get to know the rest in detail, there are familiar types we might recognise, and there is also a woman who knew the comedian when he was a child and, perhaps, plays the part of the therapist (a straight faced one, but the one he needs).

The book is beautifully written and observed. Grossman shows a great understanding of psychology and also of group interactions. Although I am not an expert on stand-up comedy, the dynamics of the performance rang true to me. I cannot compare it to the original, but the translation is impressive (I find it difficult to imagine anybody could do a better job, and if the original is even better, well…).

As I said before, this is not a book for everybody. Although it is quite short, it is also slow and intense (its rhythm is that of the performance, which ebbs and flows). None of the characters (except, perhaps, the woman) are immediately sympathetic, and they are flawed, not confident enough or too confident and dismissive, over-emotional or frozen and unable to feel, and they might not seem to have much in common with the reader, at first sight. This is not a genre book (literary fiction would be the right label, if we had to try and give it one), there is no romance (or not conventional romance), no action, no heroes or heroines, and not much happens (a whole life happens, but not in the usual sense). If you are interested in characters that are real in their humanity (for better and for worse), don’t mind a challenge, and want to explore something beyond the usual, I recommend you this book.

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review 2017-07-26 02:16
The Magicians (The Magicians, #1) - Mark Bramhall,Lev Grossman



I watched the show first.  My husband checked out the DVDs of season one from the library. I quickly got hooked, and when I noticed that the show was based on a book, I put in a request for the downloadable audiobook, from the library's e-collection.  It took a while for the audiobook to become available, and when it did, the library's summer reading program was in full swing.  Since the theme for week four (this week) is "award winner or classic," I hoped against hope that this book was award winner...  And it is!  ALA Alex Award (2010) and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (2011).


While in the show, Brakebills is a graduate school for magicians, in the books, it is an undergraduate program.  I initially had a moment of "Aw, boo."  But then it occurred to me that this helps explain why, on the show, I thought Brakebills didn't "feel" like grad school.  I am guessing that the change was because certain mature situations from the book might seem less objectionable for 22-year-olds than 18-year-olds.


So, The Magician focuses its third-person limited narration on protagonist Quentin  Coldwater.  It traces his acceptance into the Brakebills program, his completion--in four years--of its five-year program, and his first few post-Brakebills years.  I enjoyed this book, though it some ways, the pacing seemed odd.  In some respects, the narrative felt rushed--like years at Brakebills would race to their conclusion.  But then certain conversations and actions would seem dragged out, bogged down with more detail than needed.


One of the primary differences between the show and the books is that the first season mapped to one year of school.  Presumably, each season will be devoted to a year of school (though if they want to go more than three seasons, they'll need a post-school era, since the grad program on the show is three years).  One of the things I appreciated about the book is that all of Quentin's friends from Brakebills have read and loved the "Fillory and Beyond" books (a series that, in the book's universe, has the popularity of the "Harry Potter" franchise).  On the show, the other characters treat Quentin as if liking the books makes him a bit of a dork.  Otherwise, although the way the stories are unspooled differs, the show and book hit many of the same major plot points.  But I will say the differences are significant enough that viewers of the show and readers of the books can still enjoy the other medium.

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text 2017-07-25 21:11
Which Fantasy to Pick?
The Shadow Of What Was Lost - James Islington
The Way of Shadows - Brent Weeks
Gardens of the Moon - Steven Erikson
Johannes Cabal the Necromancer - Jonathan L. Howard
The Magicians - Lev Grossman
The White Rabbit Chronicles: Alice in ZombielandThrough the Zombie GlassThe Queen of Zombie Hearts - Gena Showalter
The Wheel of Time: Boxed Set #1 - Robert Jordan
The Malazan Empire - Steven Erikson
The Night Watch Collection: Books 1-3 of the Night Watch Series (Night Watch, Day Watch, and Twilight Watch) - Sergei Lukyanenko
His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik

I want to read a great fantasy series. I like it when there are lots of mythical characters/creatures. I like it where the main characters are not normal human type. I do like Tolkien, but I want something a bit grittier. I uses to read a lot of fantasy book, but lately have found myself zipping through para romance. I have recently not been enjoying them as I uses to though. 


I have most of those above in complete, or near complete series. I also have King's Dark Tower books, most of Brooks' Shanara books, a lot of Robin Hobb, and Sanderson. Most of what I have I have not read past the first book and do not remember much of what they we're about.



Any suggestions would be appreciated. I don't mind if it is something I don't have, I will get it. 

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review 2017-07-19 09:07
Ist Magie ein Vorrecht der Kindheit?
The Magician's Land - Lev Grossman

Wieder einmal steht Quentin Coldwater vor dem Nichts. Aus Fillory verbannt, ist er gezwungen, zur Erde zurückzukehren. Er muss sich ein neues Leben aufbauen, noch einmal von vorn anfangen. Fast von selbst lenken ihn seine Schritte zum Brakebills College für magische Erziehung. Der verlorene Sohn geht heim. Seine alte Schule empfängt ihn mit offenen Armen und langsam beginnt Quentin, sich in der irdischen Realität zu akklimatisieren. Er arbeitet hart und bleibt meist für sich. Doch seine Vergangenheit lässt ihm keine Ruhe. Noch immer quält ihn der Gedanke an Alice, seine große Liebe. Entschlossen, herauszufinden, was mit ihr geschehen ist und unterstützt von der begabten Schülerin Plum wagt sich Quentin in die zwielichtigen, gefährlichen Gefilde der Magie, in der Hoffnung, Alice vielleicht zurückzuholen.
Währenddessen spitzt sich die Lage in Fillory zu. Das verzauberte Land stirbt. Verzweifelt begeben sich Eliot und Janet auf eine letzte, alles entscheidende Quest, um ihr Königreich zu bewahren. Allein können die beiden allerdings wenig ausrichten. Sie brauchen Hilfe. Hilfe von dem einzigen Menschen, der mehr über Fillory weiß, als irgendjemand sonst: Quentin, dessen Schicksal untrennbar mit dem magischen Land verbunden zu sein scheint. Welten und Leben stehen auf dem Spiel. Wird Quentin Fillory retten können und endlich Vergebung für seine Sünden finden?


Das nenne ich mal einen Abschluss! Lev Grossman versteht es wirklich, eine Geschichte emotional befriedigend zu beenden. „The Magician’s Land“ ist meiner Meinung nach mit Abstand der beste Band der Trilogie „The Magicians“. Ich bin begeistert und war am Schluss sogar zu Tränen gerührt. Während all der Zeit, die ich mit dem Protagonisten Quentin in den Vorgängern „The Magicians“ und „The Magician King“ verbrachte, war ich enttäuscht von ihm, weil er einfach nicht zu schätzen wusste, welche Privilegien ihm zuteilwurden. Seine ziellose Rastlosigkeit faszinierte mich, entsetzte mich allerdings auch, da ich nicht verstand, was er denn eigentlich noch wollte. Er wusste es ja selbst nicht. Jetzt wird Quentin endlich erwachsen und schließt mit all den losen Enden in seinem Leben ab. Zum ersten Mal habe ich ihn als echten Magier wahrgenommen, der begreift, mit welchen Kräften er arbeitet. Aus Fillory rausgeworfen zu werden, war das Beste, das ihm passieren konnte. Andernfalls wäre er auf ewig der kindliche, naive Träumer geblieben, der sich stur weigerte, sich seiner Vergangenheit zu stellen. Er konnte dort nicht leben, er musste raus aus diesem zauberhaften, magischen Land, weil er es viel zu sehr brauchte. Er war zu abhängig davon, was ihn ausgerechnet mit Martin Chatwin verbindet, der ebenfalls nicht loslassen konnte und wollte, als es Zeit war. Martins zerstörerisches Schicksal, das Grossman in „The Magician’s Land“ erfreulicherweise noch einmal ausführlich beleuchtet, hätte ebenso gut Quentins Schicksal sein können. Er klammerte sich so fest an Fillory, dass er gar nicht merkte, dass es ihm irgendwann nicht mehr um das Königreich an sich ging. Es ging um ihn selbst, um seine egoistischen Empfindungen und Unzulänglichkeiten. Ich denke, das ist der Grund, warum jedes Kind, das Fillory besucht, nicht mehr eingeladen wird, sobald es beginnt, erwachsen zu werden. Das ist keine willkürliche Grausamkeit, wie Quentin behauptet, sondern ein Schutzmechanismus. In Fillory kann man nicht erwachsen werden. Das Land ist dafür nicht geschaffen. Es ist der Unschuld der Kindheit vorbehalten. Magie dieser Art verdirbt durch die Anwesenheit irdischer Erwachsener, was der Verlauf der Regentschaft von Eliot und Janet eindrucksvoll beweist. Obwohl sie Fillory niemals direkt schadeten, kann es kaum Zufall sein, dass ihr Königreich nur wenige Jahre (in der Zeitrechnung Fillorys) nach ihrer Machtübernahme im Sterben liegt. Es war nie vorgesehen, dass Erwachsene die Throne beanspruchen. So läuft das nicht. Ich bin fest überzeugt, dass Quentin Fillory gerade noch rechtzeitig verließ, um endlich die längst überfällige persönliche Entwicklung zu durchleben, die ihn paradoxerweise als den einzigen Menschen zeichnet, der Fillory retten könnte. Grossman beschreibt seine Entfaltung brillant, zeigt all ihre schmerzhaften, desillusionierenden Facetten extrem ehrlich und realistisch. Endlich ist er der Magier, der er immer sein wollte: er gebietet über die düsteren, unberechenbaren Mächte der Zauberei, indem er sich ihnen mit einer Mischung aus kindlicher, begeisterungsfähiger Neugier und erwachsenem Verantwortungsbewusstsein nähert. Ich bin unglaublich stolz auf ihn.


„The Magician’s Land“ vermittelt eine andere Atmosphäre als die vorangegangenen Bände der Trilogie. Diese ist zwar noch immer bedrohlich und verdreht, doch darunter liegt eine gewisse majestätische Ausgeglichenheit, die meiner Ansicht nach aus Quentin als Protagonist entspringt. Ich habe mich ihm so nahe gefühlt wie noch nie zuvor und mache mir keinerlei Sorgen um seine Zukunft. Er wird seinen Weg gehen. Ich bin sehr glücklich mit dem Finale dieser bizarren Geschichte, die über das Motiv des Zauberlehrlings weit hinauswächst und diesem eine Tiefe verleiht, die ich am Beginn von „The Magicians“ niemals erwartet hätte. Lev Grossman hat ein Epos erschaffen, das meinem Empfinden nach tatsächlich der würdige Nachfahre der „Chroniken von Narnia“ ist, wenn auch erwachsener, moderner und ernsthafter. Subtil stellt er sich der philosophischen Frage, ob Magie ein Vorrecht der Kindheit ist und ob der Verlust der Unschuld beim Erwachsenwerden den Verlust der Magie impliziert. Natürlich gibt es auf diese Frage keine einfache Antwort. Ihr werdet den verwirrenden Fall durchs Kaninchenloch gemeinsam mit Quentin selbst wagen müssen, um sie zu finden. Geht es nach mir, solltet ihr das unbedingt tun, denn gerade Bücherwürmer, die mit einer reichen Fantasie gesegnet sind, können durch die Trilogie viel über die Träume ihrer Kindheit lernen.

Source: wortmagieblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/19/lev-grossman-the-magicians-land
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