Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Back Reviews Reel: February 2014

Three years ago my bookish travels took me to four most enchanting and enjoyable reading destinations in Europe, East Asia and the Carribean. My first stop was in Paris, France, where I visited The Cat whom the famous writer Colette made part of an unexpected love triangle and the wedge between a young couple. Then I moved on to Lisbon, Portugal, with the en-NOBEL-ed author José Saramago to see what the proofreader Raimundo Benvindo Silva makes of The History of the Siege of Lisbon and the entry of the supervisor Maria Sara into his life. Right from Lisbon I embarked for Tōkyo, Japan, to plunge into the fascinating world of numbers that The Housekeeper and the Professor and her little son discover under the deft guidance of author Ogawa Yōko. And finally I made my way from Japan across the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal to pre-Castro Havana, Cuba, to meet Our Man in Havana and to be drawn into Graham Greene’s satirical representation of spying in the early years of the Cold War.

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/275350.Gigi_The_Cat
Set in Paris in the 1930s, The Cat by Colette is a short classical novel about a quite unique love triangle made up of Camille, Alain… and his three-year-old Chartreux cat called Saha. Alain is an introverted twenty-four-year-old bourgeois who loves his carefree life at his mother’s house, his habits and his cat. Even after his marriage to Camille he longs to continue as before, but how with a young wife who has a different idea of life as a couple? In fact, Camille is a bold and energetic young woman of nineteen who wants her husband to completely belong to her alone and to share her desire for extraverted entertainment. Between them stands Saha, the purring link to Alain’s solitary past and the furry obstacle to the common future… and Camille is ready to go far to get rid of her.

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29567.The_History_of_the_Siege_of_Lisbon
Despite its title The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago doesn’t revolve around the proven historical facts of 1147, but they serve the author only as background for a love story taking place eight centuries later. Correcting the proofs of a history book Raimundo Benvindo Silva intentionally adds a minor mistake that reverses the meaning of a central sentence. When it is discovered the publishing house engages Dona Maria Sara to supervise all proofreaders. The encounter of the bachelor Raimundo Silva and the divorcee Maria Sara is the beginning of their hesitant love story. Encouraged by Maria Sara the proofreader sets out to write his own, alternative history of the siege of Lisbon. At the same time he courts Maria Sara, at first with much restraint because he can’t imagine the younger woman to be interested in him, but day by day they get closer.

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6688335-the-housekeeper-the-professorThe story of The Housekeeper and the Professor by Ogawa Yōko is that of the two characters already mentioned in the title plus the housekeeper’s ten-year-old son… and the poetry of mathematics. It begins in March 1992 when the narrator takes up her job as the professor’s housekeeper in a shabby back yard garden pavilion. The professor used to be a renowned mathematician until a car accident in 1975 left him with an eighty-minute memory. The housekeeper is intrigued by the professor’s capacity to see figures of everyday life in a mathematical light. One day she mentions her ten-year-old son and he insists that the boy comes to the pavilion after school to be in his mother’s care. It is the beginning of a strange friendship held together by the beauty of mathematics and the love for baseball, a simple story which is much less bizarre than it may seem at first.

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/824389.Our_Man_In_Havana
Cuba in the 1950s was such a strategically important place that the spy trade bloomed there and in the satirical novel Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene the general desire for first-hand intelligence has strange offshoots. One day an Englishman approaches Jim Wormold, the agent of Phastkleaners vacuum cleaners in Havana, and recruits him as a spy for the British Secret Service M.I.6. With an extravagant teenage daughter in an exclusive private school, he can certainly use the money and thus begins to play his part in the Cold War game. In London nobody notices that his reports are all made up and because he is such a success his superiors soon send him staff for support. From there the fake reports develop dynamics of their own pushing Wormold into the dangerous (and in several cases fatal) net of real espionage and towards his attractive as well as understanding secretary Beatrice.

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4 comments:

  1. I have read Our Man in Havana. I will never forget those vacuum cleaners!
    Last week I read The Time of the Doves, you being the one who introduced the book to me. It was beautiful and a special book for me. Thank you!

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    1. Yes, to make a slightly run-down agent of vacuum cleaners stationed in Cuba a spy was quite an idea. The scene that I can't forget is when he finally decides to write fake reports because he needs the money for his daughter...

      How nice to let me know that you read one of the books that I recommended! The Time of the Doves or rather the Spanish translation of the original Catalan that I read was a true delight. The newer English translation titled In Diamond Square seems to be a little flawed or awkward, though.

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    2. The translation I read was done by David Rosenthal, published in the US by Graywolf Press. The original title, The Time of the Doves was kept and the prose was wonderful.

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    3. I'm sorry, there are no doves in the original Catalan title. La plaça del diamant is simply The Diamond Square in English, but since professionals usually refrain from translating names (and justly so!), David Rosenthal preferred to give the book another title.

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