Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Back Reviews Reel: November 2014

There were four Fridays in November 2014 and consequently the archive of the month is filled with four book reviews. For the Books on France 2014 reading challenge and The Great War in Literature special I picked Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline that became a famous classic although it’s a rather bitter satire. My next read was a collection containing The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield first published in 1922. Then I presented an Austrian historical novel Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider that was much acclaimed in the early 1990s. And my last review was of a contemporary novel from South Africa penned by one of the few female Nobel Prize laureates in Literature, namely None to Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer.

- - - - - the student of medicine Frédéric Bardamu the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 means the beginning of a comical, though very bitter Journey to the End of the Night which Louis Ferdinand Céline traces over several decades through the trenches of Flanders, the military hospitals of France, the jungle of French West Africa, and the industrial hotspots of the USA back to Paris. Disillusioned and deprived of all faith in the human race, Frédéric finishes his studies of medicine and leads a humble life running a private practice, until an army comrade from Flanders whom he met ever again on his way through life turns up. Frédéric can’t help getting involved in the man’s misery that is fuelled by unfulfilled dreams as well as lost hope and that eventually leads to a terrible crime.
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- - - - - fifteen almost impressionist studies of everyday life combined in the original 1922 collection of The Garden Party and Other Stories, Katherine Mansfield evokes with great skill and sensitivity the outwardly intact world of well-to-do British society in New Zealand, England and France during the early twentieth century. At first sight, the protagonists of the stories – many of them women of different ages and background – seem to be blessed with a carefree and worriless existence, but sometimes almost forthright, sometimes only between the lines, it loses its brilliance and boredom as well as great suffering come to light. Social standards and traditions as well as common habits and expectations are the framework of a society that hardly leaves them room to behave freely and to shape their lives according to their own tastes and wishes.
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- - - - - Schneider puts the life of musical genius Elias under the sign of Brother of Sleep. It begins in a small village in the Austrian mountains on Saint John’s Day 1803. Early on his father realises that the boy is somehow different because music brought him to life and the sound of the organ during baptism makes him rejoice. But it’s only at the age of ten during his miraculous transformation into a man on a winter afternoon that Elias himself fully grasps his unusual musical talent. Refused lessons, he teaches himself playing the organ and soon the whole village is under the spell of his music. Then a terrible fire breaks out during Christmas Mass and rescuing his little cousin Elsbeth from the burning house Elias knows that she is the one meant for him.
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- - - - - in the early 1990s, None to Accompany Me by Nobel Prize laureate Nadine Gordimer shows the democratic and peaceful transition of South Africa by the example of two couples, a white and a black one. Vera and Ben have been married for over forty years. Vera is a highly respected lawyer who within the bounds of Apartheid laws fought for the rights of her coloured clients and before long she is asked to work on the country’s new constitution. Ben, on the other hand, sacrificed his artistic ambitions for her and now has to face his failure as a businessman. Their old friends Sally and Didy can finally return from exile and enter the political stage, but it’s Sally now who rises while Didy’s star as black activist is constantly fading. Husbands and wives are drifting apart.
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