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Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

CryBelovedCountry-AlanPaton (SouthAfrica)I'm afraid I put off reading this for a long time, partly because of life, but also partly because I was confusing it with the film Cry Freedom, also set in apartheid South Africa, but about Steve Biko. It wasn't that Cry Freedom wasn't an excellent film, it was that I knew it would be a difficult book to read, and perhaps needed easier times in which to read it. My first book read this year was The Poisonwood Bible, also set in Africa (the Congo), and when I'd finished I knew I wanted to read more African books, and so at last I picked up Cry, the Beloved Country. And of course it was a completely different book to the one I was expecting! But it begins There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. - and I was caught. Beyond any singing of it...

In many ways it was exactly what I'd been expecting from Cry Freedom - Cry, the Beloved Country is about life in South Africa under apartheid, and the truth of it, which is harsh. It was about the terrible things that human beings do to each other, even to the people they love, and the ways that this can rebound on us, and the way hope drains away to despair. But it's also about the corners of beauty that people have inside them, the little kindnesses that they do for each other that can also turn into bigger things, and this kept me reading.

The first half of this book...Collapse )

Virgin Soil by Ivan Turgenev

Published in 1877, Virgin Soil describes the activities of a group of the Russian revolutionaries who were active in the late 1860's and 1870's. They represent the movement now known as Populism. They were persuaded that the Russian peasantry was ready to rise and establish a socialist state and in this idealistic belief they formed clandestine groups, dressed in rustic clothes and spread propaganda among the people. The people, however, were uncomprehending, or suspicious, or hostile, and many of the Populists were arrested and imprisoned. Read moreCollapse )

The Virgin in the Garden by A. S. Byatt

The Virgin in the Garden is a moderately long, complex, well-written, and to me ultimately not very satisfying book. It describes the activities of members of the Potter family: Bill, a fanatic atheist, his wife Winifred, their two daughters Stephanie and Frederica, and their son Marcus. The other principal character is Alexander Wedderburn, who is inspired to write a play in verse about Elizabeth I. The play is performed, in grand style, in summer of 1952, the year of the coronation of Elizabeth II, and the action of the novel revolves around the producing, rehearsing, and performing of the play, which turns out to be a success. read moreCollapse )

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Written in 1938 and set in Los Angles, The Big Sleep presents Philip Marlowe, a private eye hired by the rich but ailing General Sternwood to solve a case of blackmail. Pursuing his assignment, Marlowe runs up against an assortment of bad guys: thugs, hit men, pornographers, gamblers, mobsters, and the like, as well as General Sternwood's two beautiful but immoral, conniving, and selfish daughters. The convoluted plot includes two murders, several attempted murders, robbery, assault, hold-ups, narrow escapes. It's all wildly improbable. But the convoluted (and sometimes obscure) plot doesn't really matter; this is not a realistic examination of the underworld, or an attempt to reveal the psychology of crime or make a moral point. Instead it's a sort of fantasy crime novel. As such, it is an entertaining book, and what makes it entertaining it is Chandler's writing. The writing is vivid and gritty, the descriptions are evocative, imaginative, and sometimes quite funny. The Big Sleep may not be deep or serious literature, but it is fun to read.

The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

The River Between explores tensions between two factions within the Gikuyu tribe in the early days of white settlement in Kenya. One group embraces the new religion of the missionaries. Their leader, Joshua, is a zealous Christian preacher. Inflexible and intolerant, he condemns the traditional native culture, which he regards as superstitious and sinful. The other group rejects Christianity (or in some cases, has rejected it after having initially been converted) and seeks to observe and perpetuate the traditions of the tribe.Read moreCollapse )
The Confusions of Young Törless explores the psychological struggle of an adolescent boy as he attempts to make sense of conflicting feelings and desires. The novel is set in a boarding school in a remote part of the Austrian Empire at the turn of the twentieth century. When he first goes to the school, Törless is desperately homesick. Later, his homesickness becomes less acute, but "its disappearance did not bring a long-awaited feeling of contentment but left a void inside young Törless." In short, his longing for home and his parents had been a source of support, an ordering of his world, and when it subsides he is left with nothing. "Törless now felt extremely dissatisfied and looked around in vain for something new he could use for support."read moreCollapse )

A Heart So White by Javier Marías

Javier Marías is celebrated in his native Spain, but much less known in the United States. A Heart So White (the title is a line from Macbeth) is the first of his books that I have read, which is my loss. A central theme in the book is the quest by the principal character, Juan, who is also the narrator, to discover more about the past of his father, Ranz. How did Ranz's previous wife die? How many times was he married? But "quest" is a misleading description. Juan is alternately curious and uncertain; he wonders whether he really wants to know, and whether the past, whatever it contains, might best be left alone. Read moreCollapse )

The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon

Aaaaaannd....now I know where Inverarity's livejournal username and picture come from. I guess you're a real Pynchon fan, eh Inverarity?

Mercury Shrugged: The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon Collapse )

Burmese Days by George Orwell

George Orwell was born in India, educated in England, and served for five years with the Imperial Police in Burma. Burmese Days describes a small group of English officers and businessmen in a small outpost in Burma. Deeply contemptuous of the Burmese culture and people, they attempt, in their small whites-only club, to live as genteel English people. Only one of them, the central character Flory, takes an interest in the native culture or forms friendships among the people, for which he is ridiculed and despised by his fellow whites. The story is set against the backdrop of the Burmese land and climate, beautifully described, and the the story develops within a web of intrigue and corruption among native officials. Read moreCollapse )

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