Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Back Reviews Reel: January 2014

Three years ago I started into the blogging year with the last five of altogether 32 reviews for the European Reading Challenge 2013 hosted by Rose City Reader that closed on 31 January 2014 (»»» see my summary including a complete list of books reviewed or just read for it). My final effort to pay a reading visit to at least half of Europe’s fifty countries, took me first to Switzerland on the pages of the satirical classic Once a Greek by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Then it was the turn of the en-NOBEL-ed writers of 1909 and 2006 to show me their countries: I moved northwards to Sweden in the late nineteenth century with The Emperor of Portugallia by Selma Lagerlöf, before heading south to modern-day Turkey via Germany and sinking into the slippery world of Anatolian Snow by Orhan Pamuk. Afterwards I travelled to the Netherlands in the fierce grip of The Storm by Margriet de Moor from 1953 to the present. And my final destination was in the east of the continent, more precisely in Azerbaijan between 1914 and 1920, where I accompanied the lovers Ali and Nino by Kurban Said through the maze of religious, cultural and national traditions trying to keep them apart.

- - - - - satire Once a Greek by Friedrich Dürrenmatt is set in a city somewhere in French-speaking Switzerland. The protagonist called Arnolph Archilochos is an insignificant, middle-aged sub-accountant in a factory and a very principled as well as devout man who leads an ascetic and bleak life following the example of his political and religious idols. One day he places a Lonely Heart’s ad in the paper to find his other half who must be of Greek descent and innocent like himself. Beautiful Chloé Saloniki answers to his ad and enchanted Arnolph doesn’t realise that she is a prostitute. They agree on getting married quickly… and even quicker than the wedding the collapse of his idyllic view of life as well as the fall of his idols announces itself.

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- - - - - in Southern Sweden between 1860 and 1870, The Emperor of Portugallia by Selma Lagerlöf tells the simple and fairy-tale-like story of the love of poor Jan Anderson to his daughter Glory Goldie Sunnycastle. Grown up she persuades her parents to allow her to go to Stockholm to take service to earn the amount needed to buy their home. Jan misses Glory Goldie and anxiously waits for her return, but neither she nor a word from her arrives. Gradually he begins to fill the blank surrounding his girl’s fate with his imagination. Rumours of her immoral conduct can’t shake Jan’s dream world in which Glory Goldie is the spotless Empress of Portugallia… and he the Emperor of Portugallia representing her in the country.

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- - - - - scene of Snow by Orhan Pamuk is the Eastern Anatolian town Kars in the 1990s. A middle-aged Turkish poet of small renown called Ka comes from his German exile to meet his former schoolmate İpek who recently divorced her husband. Right after his arrival he finds himself snowbound in the town. He passes his days courting beautiful İpek and doing research for an article about a series of suicides that he pretends to be writing. Thus Ka is drawn into a thicket of conflicting political convictions and even a violent coup de main, but he is just a man blindly in love writing poem after poem. Then the snowfalls stop, traffic connections are cleared and the old order is restored. Ka and everybody else has to face the consequences of their actions.

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- - - - - Dutch novel The Storm by Margriet de Moor begins in Amsterdam on the morning of 31 January 1953. The protagonists are the sisters Lidy and Armanda, the first twenty-three and married with a child, the latter twenty-one, shy and a bit jealous of everything her older sister has. When Lidy instead of Armanda sets out for the small town of Zierikzee several hours to the South they don’t know that she’ll be caught in the centre of a winter storm of unexpected power. Together with thousands of others Lidy drowns and Armanda takes her place in the family feeling for the rest of her days as if she continued her sister’s instead of her own life.

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- - - - - story of Ali and Nino by Kurban Said (the true identity of the German-language writer is disputed) takes place in the multiethnic Caucasus region between 1914 and 1920. The Azerbaijani Ali Khan Shirvanshir, a Muslim, and Georgian Nino Kipiani, a Christian, fall in love, but just before the big wedding Armenian Melik Nachararyan kidnaps Nino to force her into marrying him. Ali chases after them and kills his opponent with a dagger, so he has to hide from the Russian police as well as from the Nachararyan clan seeking revenge. At long last, Ali and Nino get married after all. Alas, the vicissitudes of history throw them into a wearing cycle of coming home and fleeing again.

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  1. I remember reading Snow and quite a lot of the time really having no idea what was going on, but being completely swept up in the writing itself

    1. Well, I reckon that Orhan Pamuk's Snow is one of those books that can only be understood with some background knowledge. Living in Austria, I luckily was familiar with some bits of Turkey's history and her human rights situation in the past decades. So for me the plot made sense... and that the writing was great was an extra treat.


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