ARRAY(0xaf5afa2c)
 
Profile for Reader in Tokyo > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Reader in Tokyo
Top Reviewer Ranking: 9,506
Helpful Votes: 396

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Reader in Tokyo

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-19
pixel
Moscow Circles
Moscow Circles
by Venedikt Erofeev
Edition: Paperback

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tedious, Poignant, Self-Indulgent, 1 Feb 2012
This review is from: Moscow Circles (Paperback)
This novel or "prose-poem" was completed in the USSR by the author in 1969 and published in the West in the 1970s. The English translation I read, by J. R. Dorrell, came out in 1981 under the title Moscow Circles; another translation, by H. William Tjalsma, had been published in 1980 as Moscow to the End of the Line. The book eventually came out in the author's homeland in 1989, the year before the government collapsed and the author passed away.

Apparently Erofeev and this novel are much loved, especially by members of his generation. In his introduction, the translator wrote of the book's praise as an example of samizdat literature reacting to hopelessness and repression under Brezhnev, in the satirical, grotesque tradition of Gogol, Bulgakov, Olesha and Zoshchenko. The translator also noted how the author's character was intended partly as a parody of heroes of socialist realism.

In the book, an educated, alcoholic man named Benedict Erofeev described his journey by train from Moscow to visit his woman and child in the town of Petushki. En route, he talked with himself at tedious length and with other travelers about things such as drinking, characters from Russian history and literature and the "poetic Russian soul." The story was disorienting and hallucinatory from the beginning, but as the novel progressed and his drinking continued, it became even more so. It ended with Erofeev back in Moscow, chased by four mysterious characters -- the translator's notes suggested they were Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin -- and an outcome resembling that from The Trial by Kafka.

This reader often got the impression from the novel that the author was an old man. In fact, he was barely 30 when the book was written.

The most interesting parts for me were ones that resembled the more ridiculous skits from Monty Python, parodied absurd test questions from Soviet textbooks, or showed clearly the author's religiosity and love for his homeland, as opposed to the government. Late in the book, there was a reference to Alexander Dubcek, whose comparatively liberal government in Czechoslovakia had been crushed by Soviet intervention the previous year. Was this event a factor behind the author's despair?

Unfortunately for me, many other parts of the book were virtually unreadable -- 170+ pages of a drunken narrator talking mainly to himself. Poking fun at slogans and circumstances of Soviet times, and drowning in alcohol and self-pity as a reaction, didn't make for much of a novel. The ramblings seemed far from the more comprehensible writing of Gogol, Bulgakov and Zoshchenko. Other writers from late Soviet times -- like the author's contemporary, Vladimir Voinovich, and his younger compatriot Victor Erofeev -- could be understood somewhat better.

Excerpts from the novel:

"We're going for a ride on the merry-go-round,' repeated old Dimitrich, speaking like a man on death row . . ."

"'Living the Turgenev way means sacrificing everything for a loved one . . . . You, for example . . . could you bite off the finger of your friend . . . for the sake of the woman you loved?' `What's a finger got to do with it?'

"Senators! I see that no one in the world wants friendship with us or war with us. Everyone has turned away from us with bated breath."

"[Americans] are the playthings of monopoly ideologists, puppets in the hands of armament kings -- and yet, look at their appetite! They stuff themselves five times a day, and always with the same limitless dignity."

"Why don't you like the darkness? Darkness is darkness, you can't change that . . . . And even if you don't like the darkness, you can't stop it being dark. So there is only one thing you can do: accept."

"I lost consciousness. I have not come to since and I never shall."


I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere
I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere
by Anna Gavalda
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly Love Stories for Yuppies, 29 Jan 2012
This book came out in 2003 and contained 12 short stories. It was the English translation of the author's first short-story collection, published in France in 1999.

Most of the stories concerned the absence of love and the search for love, or at least sex. Here it was the longing for love that got attention, rather than people already in a relationship and trying to make it work. Other stories followed sensitively a woman's experience of pregnancy and a woman's efforts to get her first book published. Three others shaded into black humor (involving an expensive car) or tragedy (a traffic pileup, a violent assault). Nine of the pieces had first-person narrators, five of whom were men.

The most interesting things for this reader were the internal monologues by the narrators, especially convincing when they were women. Also the snappy, wise-cracking conversations, which recalled American TV sitcoms or romantic comedies of recent years and were new to me in contemporary French writing. The stories about pregnancy and the courting rituals of French yuppies were the most absorbing.

Some stories were little more than vignettes and/or contained endings that felt abrupt or otherwise unsatisfying. The author appeared to rely generously on the element of "love at first sight," and with a few pieces you wondered what the characters would have to say to each other when they woke up the morning after. "Who are you?" perhaps.

A trendy French magazine called this writer a direct descendant of Dorothy Parker. There was something akin to Parker in the inner monologues of the narrators, in the author's sardonic view of how men and women treat each other. But Parker's stories at their best contained more compassion ("Clothe the Naked"), revealed more despair ("The Waltz"), and showed what might be called greater social awareness ("Arrangement in Black and White"). Parker could also be very funny on things like class differences and celebrity pretensions ("Glory in the Daytime").


Dance Of The Happy Shades
Dance Of The Happy Shades
by Alice Munro
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction to the Author's Early Career, and A Lot of Her Best Work, 29 Jan 2012
This book came out in 1968 and contained 15 short stories. It was the first of the 12 or so collections of short works Munro has published to date.

The stories here were set in farmlands or small towns, presumably in Ontario's back country. The collection showed a range of narrative voices: in the first person by girls, although it was clear the narrators were adults and recalling events from childhood; by adult women, married or unmarried; and even a teenage boy. And in the third person, either omniscient or following the viewpoint of a woman or girl. Eleven of the pieces were written in the first person, and for me these were where the author's work was most memorable, particularly when she was speaking through the girls, recalling the past.

Examples included "Boys and Girls," in which the narrator recalled, amid a description of her farming childhood, a growing awareness of differences in the expectations for each sex; sensitivity was allowed only for girls, and not necessarily approved even then. And "Walker Brothers Cowboy," in which the narrator recalled a visit with her traveling salesman father to the father's old flame, with much emotion apparent but left unexpressed. For me, these were the standouts. Other stories covered a narrator's attending a school dance, a piano recital, and the first experience with alcohol.

What I enjoyed most in the pieces was the sensitivity to the passing of time; the strong moral sense, understated but present, as in the title story; attention to the complexities of family ties and girls' experience; a sharp ear for the way people speak; and a strong feeling for small-town life, which wouldn't be out of place in the American South. Where people knew everyone else's business, and a highlight for children was to visit the local pond or play in the cemetery. Even down to the "soft-drink bottling plant, some new ranch-style houses and a Tastee-Freez." Where men spoke as little as possible, when they weren't raising hell or playing practical jokes on each other, and women shared their emotional lives mainly with other women. One thing that felt left out was any reference to church as the center of the older women's social lives.

It was remarkable in these stories how remote the world of the women -- the main focus -- was from that of the men; after early childhood, their paths didn't often appear to intersect. Some of the stories contained families where the fathers or husbands were absent. On the other hand, mothers were frequently distant, sick and troublesome, while fathers were humorous, good with people and admired.

Besides the fathers in some of the stories, few indeed of the male characters were prominent or likeable. In some of the longer stories, the narrator's memories and descriptions seemed to go on and on; it was more of an effort to finish the last few. But even the least interesting of these often contained something striking.

The stories in the present collection were written between the mid-/late 1950s and 1968. In the pieces, there were occasional flashes forward and backward, but they were brief and the stories were mostly linear. Compared to works published later in the author's career, there was an absence of multiple story lines or extended jumps back and forth in time. Nor was there any questioning of a narrator's early memories, or mixing of third- and first-person narratives. Or anything focused on a narrator's partner and children, or set outside the back country or before the author's lifetime. Yet with a few exceptions, it was the stories in this early volume -- much less elaborate than the author's stories in later collections -- that were the most moving for this reader.


Selected Stories
Selected Stories
by Alice Munro
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Too Many Things. Too Many Things Going on at the Same Time; Also Too Many People", 29 Jan 2012
This review is from: Selected Stories (Paperback)
This book came out in 1996 and selected 28 short stories published between 1961 and 1994, from seven of the author's collections through the mid-90s. There were four stories in it from the 1960s, nine from the 70s, ten from the 80s and five from the 90s. Seventeen of the stories from the 1970s onward had made their debut in the New Yorker. Since Selected Stories came out, Munro has published four collections of new short fiction.

Two of the very early tales here, from the 1960s, were the simplest and enjoyed the most by this reader ("Walker Brothers Cowboy," "Dance of the Happy Shades"). They were written in the first person and generally contained a narrator recalling an experience from girlhood -- incidents from time spent with a father, a piano recital -- or an adult recounting another's betrayal.

In the stories from the 70s, things started to become more elaborate. More characters and story lines, more locations outside the Ontario back country, and a greater focus on adult relationships -- women living their lives and looking for a place in the world. There were flashes forward and backward. The stories got longer. A decent male character other than the narrator's father was introduced ("The Turkey Season"). About half of the stories were written in the third person; the author's earliest pieces had also been of this type but were left out of the present collection. Most enjoyed from the 70s was "Chaddeleys and Flemings," the narrator's recollection of relatives on both sides of her family, their contrasts and similarities, and the passing of time.

From the 1980s and 90s, the stories got longer still. There were more pieces about married, separated, divorced or remarried women and their partners and friends. There were a greater number of works written in the third person, mostly from a woman's point of view but sometimes including other characters, occasionally even partners, ex-partners, friends or sons. Some stories were more open-ended, with motives or actions remaining ambiguous.

A few works from these decades mixed third- and first-person narratives, in stories set at least partly in the 19th century ("Meneseteung," "A Wilderness Station"). From these decades, most enjoyed was "Miles City, Montana," in which a narrator recalled a driving trip with her husband and daughters, paired with a memory from her own childhood, which she wasn't completely sure of. There was much else of interest going on in this work: a beautiful description of children, a near-tragedy, the relation between parents and children, and thoughts on death.

Many of the other stories from the later decades contained back stories, parallel threads or other description that were just too meandering for this reader, approaching self-parody. One example, midway through a story focused on something else: "She and Georgia worked out the history of the Empire window, and Georgia was added to the story as a grumpy, secretly Socialistic hired companion named Miss Amy Jukes. The widow's name was Mrs. Allegra Forbes-Bellyea. Her husband had been Nigel Forbes-Bellyea. Sometimes Sir Nigel. Most of one rainy afternoon in the Moghul's Court was spent in devising the horrors of the Forbes-Bellyea honeymoon, in a damp hotel in Wales." A number of the later stories were almost unreadable, but contained observations here and there that were still evocative: on the passing of time, aging, the end of life and so on. It was surprising that despite the frequent focus on relationships between people, so few of the pieces concerned long-lasting, mutual understanding between couples. The women in these stories -- and the characters generally -- often felt isolated from those around them.

This writer has frequently been compared to Chekhov. Similarities could be felt in descriptions of how life was lived -- the pathos, the way people soldiered on despite everything -- especially vivid when Munro wrote in the first person. But Chekhov introduced a greater range of characters and situations and offered a few of his characters the possibility of religious faith or redemption ("In the Ravine"). He was a master of brevity and -- especially in his earlier work -- humor.

I read Munro's collection while in the middle of something by an older Canadian writer, Gabrielle Roy. Roy's book involved a narrator's memories of childhood, of beginning to understand adult sorrows. It concerned elderly people who shared their wisdom with a child, and encouraged her feeling for the beauty of the land. Momentarily at least, some of the people in it could share their understanding and joy. In many ways, these simpler fictions of Roy were preferred.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 16, 2014 3:37 PM GMT


Vertigo
Vertigo
by W G Sebald
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars For Those Entranced by Mystery, Ambiguity and Coincidence, Not Substance, Plot or Clarity, 29 Jan 2012
This review is from: Vertigo (Paperback)
This book, Sebald's first, was published in 1990. It was translated into English in 1999, in the wake of the critical success of works like The Emigrants and The Rings of Saturn.

The four chapters in Vertigo contained respectively an overview of the life of Stendhal in 19th century Italy, a description of the introspective narrator's own 1987 travels and thoughts in Italy, his tracing of Kafka's time in Italy before World War I, and the narrator's return in 1980 to the German village where he'd come of age after World War II.

I found the chapter on Stendhal to be a sort of summary of what Sebald seemed to be doing, showing the texture of life lived between countries in the course of a journey, the search for connection with others, the love of art and travel, and so on. We search, we write, we live in our heads, we endure various degrees of anxiety and dislocation, and in the end we die. After showing this with Stendhal, he turned to his own life, taking us through his minute concerns and random encounters. There was a certain level of meandering, but also sensitive descriptions of what it felt like to walk the streets of Venice and endure enormous crowds in a buffet at a nearby station. The title of the book, and the occasional allusions in the text to vertigo, recalled the title of Sartre's Nausea.

The writer began to lose me initially in the chapter on Kafka, whose point I couldn't grasp, and utterly in the last section, where the piling up of detail and jump from thought to thought felt increasingly random, oblique and unreadable. The narrator made no concession to readers in terms of supplying hints about the points he was trying to make. Particularly in the last two chapters, the book felt like a journal--hermetic and self-indulgent if you're not the writer.

The sense of dislocation and occasional menace reminded me somehow of Borges, without that author's flawless sense of logic and structure in his best works. I found the various coincidences--two boys looking like Kafka in one chapter, another chapter with a photograph of Kafka and two men with identical mustaches--pointless. And what the author might've been trying to say about memory--that it might play tricks on us, for example--didn't seem original. Other things that struck me were the writer's inability to form meaningful connections with others in the course of his travels and the relative lack of a sense of humor.

In the end, I was able to grasp a few interesting fragments from the book. The black-and-white illustrations added immeasurably to the text.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 29, 2012 12:48 PM GMT


The honourable picnic / by Thomas Raucat ; translated by Leonard Cline ; decorations by Lorraine Combs.[ Lhonorable partie de campagne. English. ]
The honourable picnic / by Thomas Raucat ; translated by Leonard Cline ; decorations by Lorraine Combs.[ Lhonorable partie de campagne. English. ]
by Thomas Raucat
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile, Especially If You're Interested in Japan, 29 Jan 2012
This novel was published in French in 1924 and translated into English in 1927. It was written under a pen name by Roger Poidatz, a Frenchman who lived in Japan for a time between the end of World War I and 1924. Donald Richie, the American writer on Japanese subjects for more than 60 years, has described it as "one of the most observant and honest novels ever written" on the nation, as well as the best novel on Japan written by a foreigner. Little information is available in English on Poidatz, but it appears that he published very little besides this book.

It was set in Japan sometime in the early 1920s. It began in Tokyo's Ueno Park, where a young Swiss man with seduction on his mind invited a local woman to accompany him on a daytrip to Enoshima, a seaside resort to the south. He intended their trip to end up at a local hotel. (The author's pen name--which in Japanese sounds like "Shall we stay the night?"--was a play on this invitation.) Unfortunately for the seducer, a Japanese acquaintance invited himself along for the day and things snowballed from there, as more and more people were drawn into the excursion.

Each chapter of the book was written from the viewpoint of a different participant, all but one of whom were Japanese. There was the local girl, who was concerned almost entirely with how best to show off her clothes, in minute detail, and who invited along a girlfriend, a mother and a baby. The foreigner's Japanese acquaintance, who invited several business connections he wanted to impress with the foreign presence. The pathetic foreigner himself, who knew nothing of what he'd set in motion. The stationmaster at a rail stop near Enoshima, who together with the local police was tasked with monitoring the foreigner for security reasons. The mother invited by the girl, who was concerned most of all with decorating her new baby with good luck charms. The owner of the hotel in Enoshima where everyone ended up, who sought to use the foreign presence to her lodging's advantage. A geisha at the hotel, who observed the evening's festivities with boredom and disdain for the foreigner's uncultured ways. (He quickly spit out the local version of "Bordo," for instance.) And finally, a local student who encountered one of the characters late at night, walking along the beach.

The humorous ironies in the book were many. Although the foreigner initiated events, he rapidly became little more than a bystander, a footnote, as everyone else used him for their own purposes. He was oblivious to, and uninterested in, the local culture. His only concern, sex, was far down the list of everyone else's priorities: enjoying a change of scene, displaying one's clothing, spying, advancing a business, and so on. Not that they didn't have a place for sex. The foreigner could've saved himself much trouble by just checking into a hotel and making a private arrangement.

Most characters were mocked, together with both local and foreign ways. But it was the Japanese who received the bulk of the author's attention. In abundant display were an obsession with keeping up appearances suitable to one's station and making the right impression at all costs. Rounds of elaborate gift-giving. The frequent expression of the opposite of what was felt. The lack of what a Westerner might call a sense of proportion. A focus on minute detail--the right color for a kimono sash, the best lucky charm to buy--to the exclusion of all else. Undertakings that grew to require the planning of minor campaigns. Authorities' over-riding concern with national honor. Frequent misunderstandings of foreign ways, combined with a search for differences over similarities. And mixed feelings of superiority and humility before the foreigner--the former thought, the latter expressed.

The details certainly attested to the author's powers of observation in a place he knew only briefly, and to his ability to write beyond race-based stereotypes of his time. Not to mention his ability to impersonate characters from a culture not his own. How much the book is enjoyed, on the other hand, might depend in part on how closely you're in tune with his depiction, funny though it often was. For me, it was difficult to care much about any of the characters, they served mainly as butts of the author's humor.

Most of the book was written as farce, with a surprising twist in mood at the end. Was the twist intended to deepen the reader's appreciation of the local people and values? And how affectionate was the author's mockery, ultimately? In the end it seemed unclear, and maybe this ambiguity was another of the author's achievements.

The novel was an early attempt by a foreign writer to describe Japanese characters' points of view. Later ones included Richie's Companions of the Holiiday (1968) and Audrey Hepburn's Neck (1996) by Alan Brown. Depressingly, it was only in Brown's work that a Japanese and a foreigner succeeded eventually in finding common ground.


A Tomb for Boris Davidovich
A Tomb for Boris Davidovich
by Danilo Kis
Edition: Paperback

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Regrettably, Too Opaque to Understand, 29 Jan 2012
Before opening this book, my understanding of it was that Kis tried to write a fictionalized account of the destruction of devoted members of the Comintern, in a style inspired by Borges. The book's seven short chapters followed -- by means of allusive, digressive vignettes -- the lives of Poles, Russians, Romanians and others in Europe who believed in the Revolution, were betrayed by it, and died. In the book's introduction, Joseph Brodsky described the work as history transformed into mythology.

Unfortunately, this approach didn't speak to me at all. The novel felt willfully pedantic and opaque, and detached in the extreme. The author seemed to rely generously on citation of obscure names and dates and other digressions. I failed to grasp how these advanced the story or supported any points the writer was trying to make.

I found a book like Darkness at Noon to be a much clearer and therefore more powerful indictment of willful enslavement to an idea. And a book like Kolyma Tales to be a much clearer depiction of the treatment of people by a dehumanizing regime, written unforgettably. Reading Kis's Tomb, in contrast, was like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard. Those with a much greater tolerance for obscure, digressive writing will get a lot more from the book than I was able to.

Some of the more exciting passages:

"The only historical personage in this story, Edouard Herriot, the leader of the French Radical Socialsts, Mayor of Lyons, member of the Chamber of Deputies, Premier, musicologist, etc., will perhaps not play the most important part. Not because (let us state at once) this part is of less importance to the story than that of the other person--unhistorical though no less real--who appears here, but simply because there are many other documents about historical personages."

"All this is more or less written on the walls and in the frescoes of Kiev's Saint Sophia. The rest is only historical data of lesser significance: the church was founded by Yaroslav the Wise in 1037, in eternal memory of the day he triumphed over the pagan Petchenegs."

"As irrelevant as it may seem at first (we shall see, though, that this irrelevancy is only an illusion), we cannot fail to mention at this point . . ."

"'The Book of the Evil One' is only one of the famous metaphors for the no-less-famous Talmud."

"Also on the mother's side was an aunt, Yadviga Yarmolaevna, who was living with them and slowly drifting into dementia--the only respectable fact in the poet's early biography."


Serve the People!
Serve the People!
by Yan Lianke
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.92

3.0 out of 5 stars More than a Sex Comedy, and Not Just a Satire on the Cultural Revolution, 29 Jan 2012
This review is from: Serve the People! (Paperback)
SPOILERS AHEAD:

This book was published in 2005 and translated into English in 2007. Set in the period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-73), it began as a sex comedy, following the development of an affair between an aging general's young wife (Liu Lian) and the handsome male soldier who was her servant (Wu Dawong).

The book jacket and many book reviews emphasized the sex and romance ("red hot love story," "crackl[ing] with sexual tension"). But ultimately the novel seemed to be about how an authoritarian society distorted relations between people, the ways human nature found to overcome restrictions, the real meaning of self-sacrifice, and the massive gap in China between past and present values. Judging from the book's ending, the author didn't necessarily approve of all the changes since liberalization.

Initially there was much humor in the way the affair developed. The author seemed to be poking fun at social characteristics of the old days like permanent mass mobilization in service of national goals, and the need at all times for dedication to something larger than merely oneself, as expressed in an endless stream of national slogans. He seemed also to mock people of the time who paid lip service to national ideals while keenly pursuing self-interest. The woman, for instance, tried to convince her unwilling servant -- a nave, simple man from the countryside -- that in "serving" her he was ultimately serving the people. (This phrase, "Serve the people!" appeared throughout the book, with multiple levels of irony.) She also tried appealing to his own selfish motives.

The couple's yearning and frustration built up until they could be repressed no longer. For a short time, they locked themselves away and enjoyed bliss in privacy -- in a manner recalling the film Last Tango in Paris, except that in Communist China the greatest taboo and pleasure came from smashing busts of Chairman Mao. Ultimately, though, it proved impossible for them to move beyond the satisfaction of physical desire. For one of them, the stakes grew too high.

The book's ending floored me. Here, the story flashed forward to the near-present. The Cultural Revolution was over, and people were in headlong pursuit of material wealth. The action at this point seemed to indicate how bereft of ideals so many had become. Then the book shifted to the faraway past, to a time near the start of China's Communist Revolution, with a speech indicating the fervent beliefs that had motivated the cadres of the day. Here in the last few pages, it seemed that the novel became something much deeper than a clever sex comedy, and much more than a satire of authoritarian behavior. Not that the author approved of the Cultural Revolution; but while contrasting an oppressive society with the progressive beliefs that had motivated its establishment, he seemed also to be contrasting the dreams of that time with the loss of social values in the present.

Excerpts:
"Newly Reconstructing the Superstructure . . . Consolidating the Great Wall of Socialism."

"To think hard but say little, to channel ingenuity into practical ends and to blunt intelligence into worthy dullness--these were the survival strategies that Wu Dawang picked up from the veterans around him."

"'If a person won't Serve the People in practice,' he replied, 'how can he Serve the People in theory?'"

"A long-hidden resentment at the rigid hierarchy all around him was about to burst forth."

"Her breasts maintained an attitude of furious immobility, her nipples jutting forward like the pin noses of two indignant white rabbits, bearing solemn witness to the scene playing out before them."

"It was an emotional and biological event that broke down all the moral, social, cultural and political boundaries of their world."

"His was a face that admitted failure, its strength sapped by the social transformations that had bewildered and exhausted his generation."

"The secret sank without trace, like a piece of gold thrown into the sea."


The Suitcase (Oneworld Classics)
The Suitcase (Oneworld Classics)
by Sergei Dovlatov
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed Some of the Stories, 29 Jan 2012
The Suitcase was published in Russian in 1986 and in English in 1990. This 2011 republication by One World Classics contained a revised English translation by Antonina Bouis. Dovlatov (1941-90), a Russian author who was half-Armenian and half-Jewish, left the USSR in 1978 and died in New York.

There were eight short stories, each featuring an object found in an old suitcase the writer had taken with him into exile and rediscovered in a closet years later: crepe socks, half-boots, a suit, belt, jacket, shirt, hat and gloves. The clothing, so to speak, in which the narrator had lived in his homeland. Prominent in the works were black-market activity, boredom and slacking off in the workplace, drunkenness and fistfights, occasional pointless interrogation by authorities, a wife's emigration, and so on. Family and close friends helped people cope. Occasionally in some of the stories, a note of melancholy was sounded at the passing of time.

The best of the tales for this reader was "An Officer's Belt," which described an incident from the narrator's military service in the 1960s and blended humor with wry observation of human stupidity. It flowed smoothly and contained nothing beyond what was needed to tell the story. Many of the other tales in comparison seemed rambling, less focused, or ended weakly or abruptly. And yet his descriptions of life lived certainly felt authentic.

Most of the stories were set mainly in the near-present--for this book, the late 60s or 70s. In two tales, the author opened up another dimension by going further back into the past and following his characters through a good part of their lives: describing his life in parallel with the pampered son of a famous actor, and his life with his gentle, faithful wife.

From these stories alone, it seemed that the narrator wasn't a political dissident of any kind, more someone who just couldn't fit in and was drawn to those like himself. Nor were the stories taken as straight condemnation. The book was prefaced with lines from a poem by Blok: "But even like this, my Russia / You are most precious to me . . ."

"Belt" was one of the few works by contemporary authors included in a recent anthology, Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida (2005), in a polished translation by Joanne Turnbull.


Walking Wounded
Walking Wounded
by William McIlvanney
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile, 29 Jan 2012
This review is from: Walking Wounded (Paperback)
This book was published in 1989 and contained 20 short stories, the author's first published collection.

The writer's best known for works set in or around contemporary Glasgow. The pieces here portrayed people stuck in dead-end jobs, marriages or lives, and sometimes rebelling against them. Themes included unfulfilled dreams and private longings, the need to seize the day, marriage or a job as a prison sentence, and the power of imagination to liberate.

After many downbeat stories, the last few contained a few positives such as a prison inmate's refusal to capitulate, an adult's second chance at love, an older couple's continuation despite their bickering, and the hopefulness of youth. I enjoyed the linked themes of many of the works. A few of the lesser pieces remained vignettes.

Dubliners it's not, but it was worthwhile for the use of language and insight into the author's concerns.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-19