logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: movement
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-10-08 14:11
Four stories of the man as a young artist. For lovers of experimental literary fiction and New York.
4 3 2 1 - Paul Auster

Thanks to NetGalley and to Faber & Faber for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I’ve been following with interest the Man-Booker Prize this year and realised I had quite a few of the books on my list to be read and decided to try and read in a timely manner and see how my opinion compared to that of the judges. When the shortlist was announced, only one of the books I had read so far had made it, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, a book I really enjoyed. And then I got the chance to read 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster, another one of the novels shortlisted, and I could not resist.

I had read a novel by Paul Auster years back, The Book of Illusions and although I remember I enjoyed it, I had never read another one of his books until now. It wasn’t a conscious decision, and I had always kept in mind that at some point I should pick up another one of his books but that day hadn’t arrived.

I hadn’t read anything about this novel before I started reading it, other than it had been shortlisted for the Man-Booker, and therefore I was a bit surprised and confused, to begin with.

First, as happens with e-books, I had no idea how long it was. It’s around the 900 pages mark. Second, I didn’t realise it was a fairly experimental novel, or, at least its structure was not standard. The novel starts as if it was going to be a family saga, with the story of a Jewish immigrant arriving in New York, and we follow his story and that of his family for a couple of generations until we get to the birth of a boy, Archibald Ferguson. He doesn’t like his first name that much and for the rest of the novel he is referred to as Ferguson. When things start getting weird is when at some point you become aware that you are reading four different versions of his life. These are narrated in the third person, although always from the point of view of the character, and yes, they are numbered.  So the first chapter (or part), you would have 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and then, the next part would be 2.1… and so on. The story (stories) are told chronologically but chopped up into bits. Some of the reviewers have commented that you need to be a member of MENSA to remember and differentiate the various stories, because yes, there are differences (fate seems to play a big part, as sometimes due to incidents that happen to his family, financial difficulties, relationship issues… the story takes a different turn and deviates from the other versions), but these are not huge, and it is difficult to keep in your mind which one of the versions is which one (at times I would have been reading for a while before I could remember how this version was different to the one I had just been reading). Because the differences are not major (yes, in one version he ends up going to a university and in another to a different one, in one he works at a newspaper and in another starts writing books, in one he goes out with a girl and in another they are only friends…), and the characters are pretty much the same in all versions (although sometimes their behaviour is quite different) it makes the stories very similar. Added to that, all versions of the character are also very similar as if the different circumstances were not earth-shattering and had not affected that much the development of his boy (in the debate of nature, nurture, it’s safe to say Auster supports nature). The devil seems to be in the detail, or perhaps the point is that we might strongly believe that there are moments when our decisions could have sent us down one path or a completely different one (Sliding Doors anyone?), but the truth is that of all the infinite possibilities (and that makes me think of a book I read very recently, Do You Realize?) only one is conducive to life as we know it (the Goldilocks theory of life. Neither too hot nor too cold, just right) and our life was meant to be as it if.

Ferguson loves films and is a bit of a film buff (there are lengthy digressions about Laurel & Hardy, the French New Wave, American Films…), he also loves books and writing, and some versions of the story include his translations of French poets, or his own stories (that sometimes end up being exactly the same as the story we are reading, and others are either full stories or fragments of the books he is writing), and sports, mostly baseball, although also basketball.

Towards the end of the book (well, it’s a long book, so let’s say from the time the characters goes to college), we get much more detailed information about politics and historical events in America. There are lengthy descriptions of reactions to the murders of J.F.K, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, race riots, the Black Power Movement, the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, the Columbia University demonstrations and student political organisations, and also about New York and Paris (more New York than Paris) in the 1960s and early 70s. Although in one of the versions Ferguson is attending Columbia, he is a reporter and even when he is physically there, he narrates the events as an observer rather than as if he was personally involved. His engagement seems to be intellectual above all, no matter what version of Ferguson we read, although the reasons for his attitude might be different.

I don’t want to end up with a review as long as the book itself, and after checking other reviews of the book, I thought I’d share a couple I particularly liked, so you can have a look.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1909935118?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/paul-austers-novel-of-chance

What I thought the book did very well, in all its versions, was to capture the feelings and the thoughts of a teenager and young man (although, as I’m a woman, I might be completely wrong). Although the emphasis is slightly different in each version, that is fairly consistent and rings true. As a writer and film lover, I enjoyed the comments about books and movies, although these could be frustrating to some readers. I also enjoyed the works in progress of the various Fergusons (some more than others) but this could again be annoying to readers who prefer to follow a story and not wander and float in flights of fancy. I agree with some of the comments I’ve read that the latter part of the book is slowed down even more by the endless description of incidents at Columbia that, no matter the version of the story we read, are analytically reported rather than brought to life.

My main problem with the book is that I did not connect that much with the main character. Considering the amount of time readers get to spend with the different versions of Ferguson, we get to know him, but I did not feel for him. Strangely enough, sometimes I felt more connected to some of the other characters in the story (his mother in some versions, some of his friends, a teacher…) than I did to him. I’m not sure if it was because it all felt very artificial, or because none of the versions completely gelled for me. I admired his intellect but did not connect at an emotional level and I did not care for him. I’m aware that readers who know Auster’s oeuvre better have commented on the biographical similarities with his own life, and I’m aware that he has denied it is (or are) his story. There are, for sure, many points of contact. Some readers have compared it to books that have used a somewhat similar format to tell their stories, but as I haven’t read any, I will not comment on that. The ending, metafictional as was to be expected, will probably satisfy more those who enjoy formal literary experiments than those looking for a good story. I do not think many people will find it surprising, but I don’t think that was the author’s goal. The writing is good, sometimes deep and challenging, others more perfunctory. And yes, I still intend to read other Auster’s books in the future.

In sum, a fascinating exercise in writing, that will be of interest primarily to followers of Auster’s career, to those who love experimental literary fiction, particularly those interested also in films, literature, the writing process, sports, and New York. Not a book I’d recommend to those who love dynamic stories with exciting plots, or those who prefer to emotionally engage with characters. Ah, and it requires a reasonable memory and a serious investment of time.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-10-01 00:32
Okay, not quite what I thought it would be.
The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Mo... The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear - William J. Barber II,Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

I had heard of the Rev. Barber but it did not click until I saw him speak at the 2016 Democratic Convention. But once I connected the dots and saw that this book was available I was excited to read more, especially on the Moral Mondays movement and how it developed.

 

The book is a story of his life, with information of how Moral Mondays came to be plus advice for organizers at the very end. After seeing the convention speech I had expected (perhaps incorrectly) something either along those lines or more of a history of Moral Mondays (as the title indicates). Unfortunately that wasn't the case. 

 

I have a hard time with books that deal with religion (any religion whatsoever, it just doesn't interest me) in great detail or if it's a big underlying theme, etc. So I'll admit to being disappointed. There are reviews that talk about how it's not quite a history and that it's information that can be found in videos of his speeches. Unlike other reviewers I'm not as familiar with his work but I can understand why they were disappointed and think maybe this was something that should have been more for YouTube watching.

 

Still, for the right person this could be something that could really work for them/speak to them. It just didn't do it for me. The last part about organizing was probably the most interesting and informative one was more in line of what I thought the book was going to be. I borrowed this from the library and it sounds like that was best.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-03-08 01:00
An excellent read for a very important part of history.
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement - John Robert Lewis,Michael D'Orso

Rep. John Lewis has been in the news more and more recently, especially with the election and the new president. With the end of Black History month it seemed like a good time to read his book. 

 

Most of the book chronicles his work in the Civil Rights Movement. We get introduced to his early life and growing up and we gradually see him move into working with the CRM. These early parts were really interesting to me. It really hit home that it was (and remains) a body of work that required a lot of time, energy, labor, bodies (literally), emotional effort, etc. The participants spent years, decades putting work into the movement.

 

It hit home for me that movements like CRM isn't something that can appear out of nowhere but requires a large chunk of people in ways that are sometimes intangible. And even though we live in an age of people getting messages instantly and want things done right now, something like the CRM couldn't be accomplished in that way. It was definitely a book that has given me a lot of food for thought in light of current and recent events.

 

That said, I agree with a lot of the reviews that said it could have been edited more. As a chronicle it is a book that will probably remain critical and important for historians. But as a layperson who had read his graphic novel trilogy ("March") and had read some civil rights history very recently (and therefore it is relatively fresh in my mind), this was still easy to get lost in the myriad of names, group acronyms, etc. 

 

However, of course I don't mind regret reading it or buying it. It was an enjoyable read and I learned a lot. There are quite a few people who could really benefit from reading this. That said, it might be helpful if you've read his graphic novel trilogy as mentioned above and have at least a grounding in the CRM. The movie 'Selma' might also be a good compliment to this book as well. Already having that foundation made it easier for me to be able to put down the book when life got in the way yet still understand at what of history I had dropped off. Great if you need a long book, non-fiction read or want to read up on the Civil Rights Movement.

Like Reblog Comment
review 2017-02-08 09:47
Diverse voices skilfully captured and more relevant than ever
Under the Shadow: Rage and Revolution in Modern Turkey - Kaya Genç

Thanks to Net Galley and to I.B. Tauris for offering me a free ARC copy of the book that I freely choose to review.

This is the first book by Kaya Genç I’ve read, and I hope it won’t be the last. He does a great job of collecting testimonies of many youths, from different social classes, religious backgrounds and political beliefs, and presenting a balanced account of the different points of views and how the interviewees developed their stance and thoughts. It is clear that the author is a great communicator, in sync with his subjects, and understands them well. He is also skilled at capturing the nuances and peculiarities of the youths he interviews, whose voices come across clear and distinctive.

The author does not take sides (if there’s such a thing as sides), but he provides his reflections on Turkey and Istanbul itself, in a language that is nostalgic and poetic at times. He does draw historical parallels (also mentioned by several of the participants) with previous movements in Turkey and in the introduction mentions recent events (that are not discussed in the body of the book, as it looks mostly at the period between 2013 and 2015). It is difficult to read the book and not to think about the historical moment we live in, and some of the comments made throughout the book (about the role of public protests in democracies, about banning headscarves and outward religious symbols, about imprisoning journalists and the influence of social media) are as relevant to the situation in other countries as they are to Turkey’s.

A couple of examples of some of the sentences that made me think:

Now, as cries for an east-west war echo throughout the world, I am afraid of the world turning into a place like Turkey, governed almost permanently by martial law.

**********

Once he concludes his story, Fettahoğlu seems calmer. ‘What I just told you about is not the result of politicization’, he says. ‘It is the result of a sort of void. People are radicalized and they act like hooligans. Politicization should be an intellectual process… To hate the other side’, Fettahoğlu says, ‘is not, cannot be, politicization. No.’ A final pause. ‘It is only hatred of ignorance.’

I enjoyed, in particular, the different voices and individual accounts, like glimpses into the young men and women’s lives, the clear links between the personal and the political (the book is about political ideas but mostly about people, who sometimes reach similar conclusions or feel similarly about certain issues even if they come at them from different political positions and outlooks are very different), the passion and the determination and the touching moments shared too (a mother who didn’t like her daughter’s political ideas sharing a picture of her signed book on Facebook, a young man surprised on seeing his father cry when he hears about the death of a journalist…)

I am not an expert in Turkish politics or history and enjoyed enormously the book, which is skilfully and beautifully written, and I’d recommend this book to anybody who has even a passing interest in the subject. I also look forward to reading more works by the author (and I’ve heard he’ll publish a novel soon. I’ll be on the lookout).

Like Reblog Comment
review 2016-11-05 17:45
The Bat Boy and His Violin - Gavin Curtis,E.B. Lewis

Another story I have read to my 4th graders! I read this book the same week as Teammates, and we compared & contrasted the two. We talked about theme again, and how the moral was the same and different. We also discussed the time period again and how it was the same as Teammates (the civil rights movement). Another part of the book we discussed as a class is how the characters felt. We used pictures and context clues to determine if they felt happy, sad, determined, upset, encouraged,etc. 

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?