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Monday, March 26, 2018

Uncertain Weights & Measures by Jocelyn Parr | Book Review


Description: Set in Moscow, 1921, Tatiana and Sasha meet as two young intellectuals in a bookstore. The bookstore is bombed that night and as they run away, hand in hand, it’s the start of their romance. This is a witty and tender book about growing up, losing trust in the system, the bureaucracy of adulthood in an ever-changing Communist regime, and all the small betrayals between mentors, friends, and lovers. These are unforgettable characters who alternate between being wise and foolish. I loved it. In particular the story between Tatiana (a scientist) and Sasha (an artist) and how the idealism and contradictions of Russian politics affects where and how they live, what they believe, and how they grapple with those tensions.

• Shortlisted, 2017 Governor General’s Award for Fiction

Perfect Read for fans of Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing. If you like the slow unfolding of characters and situations, are interested in cultural revolutions or the formation of ideologies, especially through the lens of young minds, then this is the perfect read for you. It has a love story, some history of post-Revolutionary Russia, a cool look at the early scientific research done in brain science, and politics and art.

Favourite Moment: The whole book. The scene where Tatiana and Sasha meet is tender and quiet, despite the fact that a bomb just went off. The drinking and debauchery scenes in the artist studios are full of youthful spirit and the tensions of jostling for position. The strained quiet of the institute where Tatiana works, slicing and documenting brain structures, is creepily cool. It feels like every emotion is explored in a tentative and revealing way.

Before Lenin was dead and before my life had properly begun, I used to spend all my time in a bookstore down on Nikitskaya. I was barely a person then, just a girl, and then just a girl staring down the women I’d meet, wondering if their fate had to be mine. The bookstore had no sign. Either you knew where it was or you didn’t. The entrance was several steps below street level. To find it, you looked for the tobacco place next door because it had a glowing green lamp in its window. When the snow shrouded the entrance on winter afternoons, that blur of green was the only indication that you’d arrived. If you knew to look.

Uncertain Weights & Measures by Jocelyn Parr
Published by Goose Lane

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

A General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa | Book Review


Description: A General Theory of Oblivion is an absolutely lovely little book about an agoraphobic woman who bricks herself into her Luandan apartment during civil unrest in Angola in the 70s. Ludo has been brought to Angola from Portugal to live with her sister and brother-in-law. On the eve of Angolan independence she bricks up the apartment door in an effort to stay safe from looters and thugs looking for money and jewels. Her sister and brother-in-law have gone out for the evening and never return. She doesn’t know what’s happened to them, only that she’s afraid, can’t speak the language, and hooligans are threatening to return. The crazy twist is that Ludo stays bricked in for 30 years, living off vegetables that she grows on the terrace and pigeons. This is a story that slowly unfolds, with each layer of the intertwining lives of the characters beautifully unwrapped. A lovingly crafted story about love and survival.

• Winner of the 2017 Dublin International Literary Award!
• Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2016
• Shortlisted for the Three Percent Best Translated Book Award

Perfect Read for fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is a winding family tale with beautiful descriptive prose, and such elegance. Applause to the writer Jose Eduardo Agualusa and translator Daniel Hahn.

Favourite Moment: Ludo sacrifices a lot to stay hidden in her apartment, but there is a hilarious moment when the tenants below her house chickens on their balcony. Ludo fashions a noose and nonchalantly nabs the rooster, who doesn’t seem to give a flap and is still happily alive when released. This gives Ludo an idea that this doesn’t need to be a one-off adventure. She can raise chickens too, so she goes after a hen. The hen is far less enthused than the rooster and kicks up a fuss. It’s a funny and triumphant moment for this poor woman.

Although this is fiction, Ludovica Mano died in Luanda, at the Sagrada Esperanca clinic, in the early hours of October 5, 2010. She was eight-five years old. Sabalu Estevao Capitango gave Agualusa copies of ten notebooks in which Ludo had been writing her diary, in the first years of the twenty-eight during which she had shut herself away. In addition, Agualusa had access to the diaries that followed her release and to a huge collection of photographs taken of Ludo’s texts and charcoal pictures on the walls of her apartment. He’s used her diaries, poems, and reflections to reconstruct much of her first-hand account, albeit fictionalized for the novel.

A General Theory of Oblivion
by Jose Eduardo Agualusa
translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn
Published by Archipelago Books

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Muse by Jessie Burton | Book Review


Description: Bestselling author Jessie Burton delivers! This novel weaves together two stories: one set in 1967 in London and the other in 1936 Spain, just before the Spanish civil war. Odelle Bastien is a new immigrant from the Caribbean and lands a job as a typist at the prestigious Skelton Institute of Art. Her boss Marjorie Quick is a bit like the boss in The Devil Wears Prada. Odelle’s boyfriend inherits a painting that is rumoured to be the work of a Spanish artist who thrilled the art market in the 1930s but then disappeared. The story running in parallel to Odelle’s is that of the painting’s creator. This is a great novel about women in art, and modern working women. Peggy Guggenheim makes a brief appearance as well.

Favourite Moment: The dialogue scenes between Odelle and her friend Cynth are really fun, but so is Odelle’s commentary and observations about her new country and workplace.

For nearly the whole of the first week the only person I spoke to was a girl called Pamela Rudge. Pamela was the receptionist, and she would always be there, reading the Express at her counter, elbows on teh wood, gum poppin gin her mouth before the big fellers showed and she threw it in the bin. With a hint of suffering, as if she’d been interrupted in a difficult activity, she would fold the newspaper like a piece of delicate lace and loop up at me. ‘Good morning, Adele,’ she’d say. Twenty-one years old, Pam Rudge was the latest in a long line of East-Enders, an immobile beehive lacquered to her head and enough black eyeliner to feed five pharaohs.