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text 2018-08-10 22:20
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 1360 pages.
The Tale of Genji - Murasaki Shikibu

It's one thing to see a book comes to just under 1,400 pages, its another to unpack it and one by one see the other book clubber's reactions! This is going to take some time.

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review 2018-08-06 01:11
The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg
The Red Address Book - Sofia Lundberg

I'll bend my rule about posting reviews for unreleased books as this 'The Red Address Book' has had considerable success in Europe even if the American edition won't be released for some time.

 

Sofia Lundberg's novel follows 96-year-old Doris as she remembers the people who have come and gone in her life, all of the crossed out names in the address book given to her by her father on her last birthday at home. Her only living relative is a grand niece Jennifer and Jennifer's children in America and Doris depends on their weekly Skype calls.

 

I can't say how accurate of a translation this is, but it read smoothly and had a light, easy to read style throughout. Doris is an independent woman, but a recent injury has left her vulnerable and the indignities attached to being dependent on visiting nurses and facing pressure to give up her home are well illustrated.

 

The novel picks up steam as the narrative picks out a few key people in Doris' address book - a book full of names, the majority of which are crossed out and marked 'deceased'. The conceit of the address book is a good one, but many readers will have problems with how, er, eventful Doris' life turns out to be. It isn't enough that she's lived a long life and taken care of loved ones, she has lived more than anyone else has ever in the history of living. The events of her life become more far-fetched as the story goes on.

 

You may be looking at my high rating. The book can be problematic, narratively and with some objectionable plot elements, but I was willing to suspend disbelief and enjoy the story even with its issues. Sappy, but satisfying.

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review 2018-07-10 01:50
The Three-Body Problem, Remembrance of Earth's Past #1 by Cixin Liuy
The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu,Ken Liu

The look of incredulous disgust on their face when I admitted I hadn't read 'Three-Body Problem'. It was too much to bear, so at my earliest convenience I picked up a copy and devoured it.

This is incredible! I know I've been saying a lot of great, hyperbolic things about a lot of the sf I've been reading in the last years since getting back into professional bookpushing, but Cixin Liu is the real deal.

The official back-cover synopsis sets up the plot better than I can, but the story's roots are in the Cultural Revolution when a discredited scientist is sent to a remote laboratory to conduct experiments with a large antennae set up in opposition to SETI. The People's Republic would have contact with aliens before the corrupt West. Shockingly, they do. Or rather, one woman does, the discredited scientist, but she hides the evidence. It is an advanced and hostile civilization that is contacted, and they are coming to Earth. The invasion forces will not arrive for many years. In close enough to present-day China, and across the world, people are taking sides in the secret struggle to welcome the invaders and those who would oppose them.

Its a fascinating plot, but what makes the story shine is its roots in hard science and in how the story is slowly revealed. There are many surprises and the whole trilogy has been translated into English and is in paperback! Fuck Amazon, and get them from your local bookstore.

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review 2018-06-09 05:15
The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci by Dmitry Merezhkovsky
Leonardo - Dmitry Merezhkovsky

I read this on the recommendation of a friend whose taste in literature is even more antiquated than mine. I know that's ridiculous considering how many new books I'm reading, but I'm most happy when I'm deep in a Trollope.

Merezhkovsky follows the life of Leonardo da Vinci mostly through the lens of his time in Florence and the attitudes of the people, the politics and life in Renaissance Italy. Often the man himself fades into the background in favor of other characters, particularly his apprentice Beltraffio who goes through many struggles with his faith and the genius of a man like da Vinci. I've seen some criticism at how 'Romance' seems to be an awfully Russian sounding Italian Renaissance, but to that I say booooo. Merezhkovsky clearly did his research here, creating a meticulous image of the era as understood by scholars of the time. The philosophy and the style, I grant you, being written by a Russian, will likely be Russian. They have little to do with one another apart from setting and time-frame, but I kept turning over George Eliot's 'Romola' in my mind as I was reading this. It was a startling time. His characterization of Machiavelli and that man's relationship with Da Vinci was the most interesting historical speculation, but I'll be honest and say that the witches sabbath was just the most bat-shit crazy and unexpected bit of reading I've ever found in a novel of this period. It was pure fun.

This forms the middle volume of a thematic trilogy involving the decay of the classic tradition and its inevitable revival. I don't know if I'll read the others, but I'm intrigued.

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review 2018-04-24 06:39
the Awkward Squad
The Awkward Squad - Sam Gordon,Sophie Hénaff

I can't remember where I heard about this book (best bet is here on BL) but it was described as a new mystery series similar to the old tv show Leverage*.  The premise of the show was a group of misfits coming together to right the wrongs big business perpetrated against the people.  The Awkward Squad's misfits are police officers unfit for regular duty but can't be fired, banded together and stuffed away in a remote location with the ostensible task of investigating cold cases.  I loved Leverage, so bought this directly after it came out.

 

It's not quite Leverage - the misfits here aren't conmen, toughs or savants; these misfits are all broken by their jobs in one way or another, but it's close enough.  For a first novel, I thought the story was excellent and well plotted too, although with definite room for improvement.  It was written well enough that I only had vague suspicions about the solution, but not done so well that the author was able to lead me down the blind alley she'd constructed.  The characters were the kind you cheer on, even if some of them aren't always likeable.

 

I didn't know when I bought the book that it was originally published in France a few years ago, under the name Poulets grillés.  This leaves me with a lingering suspicion that it might have been an even better book in the original French.  Not that the translation is bad - as far as I can tell it's flawless - but some of the marketing I've seen raves about the book humor. I can see how it's meant to be amusing, and one scene was definitely shooting for hilarity, but either something was lost in translation or it's a cultural difference of what defines funny.  

 

Either way, I didn't like it less because I suspect I'm missing something, I just wonder if, had those 2.5 years of French lessons stuck at all, and I were able to read it in the original, I'd have liked it even more.  Ce n'est pas grave, if Hēnaff writes another one, I'll happily be on board for reading it (in translation). 

 

* - Has also been compared to Jussi Adler-Olsen’s tales about Copenhagen’s equally marginal Department Q.  I cannot comment on how accurate this is, as I've not read Adler-Olsen.  Yet?

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