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review 2018-04-23 21:11
The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić
The Bridge on the Drina - Ivo Andrić,Lovett F. Edwards,William Hardy McNeill

This is a sort of fictionalized history, which the author referred to as a “chronicle” rather than a novel. It spans about 350 years in the history of Višegrad, Bosnia, telling the story of the town and its Ottoman-era bridge from the 16th century to World War I. The book dips into the lives of individual characters, usually for vignettes of a chapter or less, but focuses more on the general feeling or changes in the town and the reaction of townspeople in general to key events than on particular characters. There are some astute character sketches; Andrić seems to have a good understanding of human nature. But overall it is a sweeping history told much more in narrative summary than specific scenes, and the town and bridge themselves, rather than particular families or plot threads, provide continuity between chapters.

It is a well-written (or well-translated) book, though a dense and slow read that felt much longer than its 300 pages. There’s a melancholy atmosphere throughout, with time passing and empires marching on indifferent to the fates of individuals. Readers should know that in the first 60 pages there is a horrifically graphic impalement scene that I did not need in my head and that a few years from now may be all I remember about the book. I persevered only after learning that there are no other graphic torture scenes, though death is a frequent occurrence throughout.

It’s also worth pointing out that, although to English-speakers this may seem like timeless storytelling, Andrić – a Bosnian Serb who ultimately made his home in Belgrade – is a controversial figure in Bosnia, and some see the book as advancing an anti-Bosniak political agenda. To me, as an outside reader, he seems to treat the Muslim and Serb populations of Višegrad both with humanity and fairly evenhandedly, with the important caveat that the Muslim population is referred to as “Turks” and “Turkish” throughout. Based on a bit of online research, this is inaccurate: the Bosnians were Slavs who had their own Bosnian Kingdom prior to their conquest by the Ottoman Empire in 1463, after which most of the population converted to Islam. But a reader ignorant of the region’s history might take Andrić’s terminology to indicate that Bosnia’s Muslims were Turkish colonists or transplants and that the Serbs were the original population. It occurs to me now that the impalement might be another subtly political decision: no such detailed brutality is described from any rulers other than the Ottomans, and Andrić imbues this scene with the maximum body horror, at a time when graphic violence in media was likely much less common than it is now (the book was published in 1945). Surely he knew how much this would stick out in readers’ minds.

Overall, the book did teach me something of the history of the Balkans, and presents a plausible chronicle of how history was experienced by everyday people over the course of hundreds of years. While I struggled a bit to get through it, I wouldn’t discourage readers who enjoy this sort of thing.

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review 2018-04-15 03:03
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, translated by Cathy Hirano
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit - Nahoko Uehashi,Cathy Hirano

The last time I read and reviewed this book was back in 2010, when my posts included spoiler-filled synopses that were as long or longer than the reviews themselves. I figured that a new review was in order, especially since my opinion of this book has improved.

After Balsa, a female bodyguard, rescues young Prince Chagum from drowning, she finds herself being roped into being his protector. Chagum is believed to be possessed by the same creature that once caused a terrible drought. It's thought that the drought will be averted if Chagum is killed, so the Mikado himself has ordered several assassination attempts against him. Chagum's mother, the Second Queen, enlists Balsa's help to save him.

While Balsa attempts to hide Chagum and keep him safe from his pursuers, she also seeks out several friends in the hope of figuring out what's going on so that she can somehow both save Chagum's life and prevent the drought.

The first time I read this book was, I think, too soon after having seen the anime. They're both good, but the time I spent noting similarities and differences to the anime made it hard to judge the book on its own merits (yes, I know the book came first, but my first exposure to the story was the anime).

Balsa makes me wish more than the first two books in this series had been translated into English. She's a great character - an experienced and talented warrior with an intriguing past. In general, the book had some nice gender role reversal, with its female stoic warrior character and male healer interested in the spirit world. There was a hint of potential romance between Balsa and Tanda, the healer, but it was handled in a very low-drama way. Tanda was a little frustrated at Balsa's lack of desire to settle down, but it never got to the point of wrecking their friendship.

The "found family" aspect involving Balsa, Tanda, and Chagum was nice. I enjoyed that restful period of the story before everybody had to worry about Chagum's safety again, and it was nice to see Chagum becoming more comfortable and confident in his life as a commoner.

One of the things I really liked about this book was the way the setting and its history mattered. This was very much a story about how knowledge is lost or changed over time. Near the beginning of the book, readers get the history of how New Yogo was founded, but it's entirely from the perspective of the Yogoese, who are currently the area's dominant ethnic group. Later on, readers get more sides of the story - the secret history that only the Star Readers know (which is, again, Yogoese history) and Yakoo stories.

The Yakoo were the people who originally lived in the area where New Yogo was founded. (Supposedly they fled out of fear when the Yogoese peacefully tried to contact them, and I think the Yakoo side of the story agreed with this or at least didn't refute it, but I don't buy it.) They'd lost much of their culture and traditions, and what was left was sometimes mixed with Yogoese culture to an uncertain degree. It gave me shivers to think how close everyone came to not having the knowledge they needed during the chase at the end of the book.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed rereading this. I haven't read the next book in the series yet, but I'm now looking forward to it even more.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-04-09 18:43
Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner by Katrine Marçal
Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?: A Story About Women and Economics - Katrine Marcal,Saskia Vogel

(Translated by Saskia Vogel)

 

This book started off fairly promisingly with a discussion of early economists, the economic man, and why economists love Robinson Crusoe. After a while, though, I found it to get repetitive. Yes, the reasoning surrounding economics and the economic man is circular, but for several chapters we didn't seem to go anywhere and then tiny things were added on like pointing out that all of economic man's traits were traditionally masculine traits and so women were naturally excluded.

 

The book did have some good points but I'm not sure I got all that much out of it in the end. Your mileage may vary.

 

I was also reading this while fuzzy-headed and sick (yes, I've progressed to that stage of sickness where reading is possible but a nap if I could manage it might be better for me), so that may have coloured my reading experience.

 

Previous updates:

158 of 197 pages

108 of 197 pages

102 of 197 pages

56 of 197 pages

 

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text 2018-04-09 17:32
Reading progress update: I've read 158 out of 197 pages.
Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?: A Story About Women and Economics - Katrine Marcal,Saskia Vogel

"Our expectations of men are completely different. No one demands that Jamie Oliver adapt to a female gender role just because home cooking has traditionally been a female activity. The TV chef is immediately taken seriously by trading on his laddishness. Oliver doesn't chop basil. Oliver shoves the basil in a kitchen towel, bashes it one the table, grunts, conquers, forces the basil into submission – before he tosses it in the pot."

 

I know Marçal is trying to make a point but I'm pretty sure Jamie Oliver actually stacks the basil leaves in a small pile, rolls them into a cigar shape, and chops the cigar into strips. Bashing basil doesn't really work.

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text 2018-04-09 15:39
Reading progress update: I've read 108 out of 197 pages.
Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?: A Story About Women and Economics - Katrine Marcal,Saskia Vogel

Marçal is finally having a bit of fun with the language of the market.

 

"When the market is unusually upset (clinically depressed or in some form of free-falling anxiety), then society has to make an offering to it. Great sums of money. The economy must be 'stimulated'. People, the State, or both must consume more to keep the market going. It's expensive, but the alternative is far too frightening to even consider. Consumption becomes sacred blood – at once clean, unclean, beautiful, disgusting and holy.

...

The economy is, on one hand, the clear voice of reason (ideally expressed through complex mathematics). On the other hand, it's all about the emotional life of the market."

 

Later:

"While we describe the market as if it has human emotions, we increasingly describe ourselves as if we don't have human emotions. As if we were empty goods or companies on, that's right, a market."

That sounds pretty messed up, actually. Anthropomorphizing a market to compensate for turning ourselves into identical robots.

 

And,

"While human language is used to describe the market, the language of the market increasingly is used to describe people. The economy has become us, and we have become the economy."

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