Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Back Reviews Reel: August 2014

Two classics and three contemporary novels are filed away in my review archive of August 2014, three of them originally written in French and contributions to the Books on France 2014 reading challenge. My first literary exploration of August was dedicated to a very touching love story from France in the 1980s, namely to Betty Blue by Philippe Djian. After this, I stayed in modern times and in the realm of everlasting love, but I left Europe and moved on to Tibet under Chinese reign reading Sky Burial. An Epic Love Story of Tibet by Xinran. My next book was The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, an all-time highlight of Austrian literature that revived the final decades of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy through the eyes of three generations of the Trotta family. In the French-Belgian classic The Abyss by Marguerite Yourcenar two Flemish cousins are tossed about in the maelstrom of European history at the dawn of the Renaissance. And my final review was about A Palace in the Old Village by Tahar Ben Jelloun, a francophone novel surrounding a Moroccan immigrant in France and his attempt to lead his family back on the old ways.


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https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/207402.Betty_BlueStarting in France on a hot summer day in a remote seaside resort Betty Blue by Philippe Djian unfolds the love story of a nameless narrator and the most beautiful girl whom he as ever seen, but the two could hardly be more different. While he takes life easy and accepts whatever fate has in store for him, she isn’t willing to put up with anything, neither with the mediocre life that seems to be waiting for her, nor with what she perceives as injustice, conceit or ignorance. As their affair continues and they move to Paris, the narrator realises that her terrible fits of rage are more than just a peculiarity of her character. Her state of mind is constantly deteriorating and makes her actions unpredictable. Still, he loves her and does his best to protect her.
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https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/977118.Sky_BurialThe protagonist of Sky Burial. An Epic Love Story of Tibet by Xinran is Shu Wen. In the late 1950s, the young dermatologist joins the army to be able to investigate the fate of her beloved husband, an army doctor who was killed in a no further explained incident in Tibet soon after his unit was sent there. On the way to Tibet, her unit saves a half-dead Tibetan woman who speaks enough Chinese to later try to mediate between the soldiers and Tibetan guerrilla fighters in the area. Her efforts are in vain, though, and many soldiers are killed. While the surviving soldiers hastily withdraw towards China, Shu Wen follows the Tibetan woman and her family to find out what happened to her husband. For over thirty years she travels with the nomads sharing their life.
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https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16037435-the-radetzky-marchThe story of The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth begins in the Battle of Solferino in 1859, when combat-experienced Infantry Lieutenant Joseph Trotta saves the life of Emperor Francis Joseph I. and is not just promoted to the rank of Captain, but also ennobled to Baron Trotta von Sipolje. He never feels comfortable in his new social position and resents how his act is exaggerated as heroism. Although he sends his son Franz to cadet school, he makes him promise to never join the army. Franz obeys, studies law and after his father’s death becomes District Administrator in a small Moravian town where he starts a family and raises his son Carl Joseph to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, the hero of Solferino. But in the army Carl Joseph soon succumbs to the vices of his comrades…
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https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/103200.The_AbyssThe Abyss by Marguerite Yourcenar is set in the sixteenth century, against the backdrop of the late Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. At twenty and sixteen years respectively, the cousins Zeno and Henri-Maximilien have separately left their native country Flanders to follow their vocation. While Zeno, an illegitimate son destined to become a priest by the family, travels south to broaden his wisdom of medicine and alchemy, Henri-Maximilien is a young man drawn rather towards adventure and romance than his father’s banking business. Before long Zeno’s research attracts the attention of the Holy Inquisition that chases him across Europe for decades. Henri-Maxilmilien too leads an unsteady life as a mercenary and poet dreaming in vain of glory and wealth. Both bear witness of the confusion and dread on the verge of a new age.
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https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8981613-a-palace-in-the-old-villageMohammed Ben Abdallah grew up in Southern Morocco, but he has been living and working in France for forty years. A Palace in the Old Village by Tahar Ben Jelloun sets in when his company sends him into retirement and he finds himself in an almost empty flat in a country that has estranged his children from him as well as from their Arabic heritage, while he remained a Muslim, a father and a Moroccan through and through. In the end, he decides to return to his poor village and to build a house for the entire family, including his grown-up children who lead their own lives as French citizens. He puts all his energy – and money – into his dream that should bring his family back together and restore the traditional order. Alas, this isn’t how it works!
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