Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Back Reviews Reel: February 2015

Three years ago the books that I chose to close the literary cold season, i.e. my WINTER Books Special, were either fantastic or historical fiction, sometimes both in a way. I started my seasonal reads in Denmark’s past with classical Winter’s Tales by several times Nobel Prize nominee Isak Dinesen who is better known today as Karen Blixen and continued them in New York City jumping between beginning and end of the twentieth century with contemporary American writer Mark Helprin and his magical-realistic Winter’s Tale. Then I switched to the time of Tsarina Katherine II the Great and joined her in her Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg as contemporary Canadian writer Eva Stachniak saw it through the eyes of a woman working there. And finally, I accompanied a Don Juan in nineteen-century Spain on his adventures recalled in the classical Autumn and Winter Sonatas by Spanish author Ramón del Valle-Inclán.

- - - - - Danish writer Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blixen) combined eleven very diverse short stories in her 1942 collection titled Winter’s Tales. While most of them evoke average people, notably women and parsons, living in Denmark of the nineteenth century, one takes place in the author’s present, another much earlier in the legendary times of thirteenth-century King Eric and the final one reminds of The Arabian Nights. Although there’s no magic in the strict sense even in the Persian fairy-tale, some of the stories have a slightly paranormal, not to say mystical dimension which makes them kind of magical after all. More importantly, however, several stories criticise power in general aiming clearly at German occupation of Denmark during World War II in particular although this must have been a daring, probably life-threatening enterprise considering the time.
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- - - - - in 1983 Winter’s Tale by New Yorker writer Mark Helprin is at the same time a historical and a dystopian novel in the tradition of magical realism. The scene alternates between New York City in the early 1900s and the months before the turn of millennium in 2000. The protagonist is a petty criminal called Peter Lake. After having betrayed the mad leader of his gang to save the people who found him as a baby and took care of him in the Bayonne Marsh of New Jersey until he was of age, he is constantly on the run not only from the police but also from his former fellows. When he faces certain death the magical white stallion Athansor comes to his rescue and they are mysteriously transported to the year 1999.
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- - - - - the title Winter Palace Polish-born Canadian writer Eva Stachniak portrays two women at the eighteenth-century Imperial Russian Court whose lives are closely linked to each other for twenty years. One is the petty German Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst who, scant fourteen years old, comes to Russia in 1744 to become the wife of starry-eyed Russian heir apparent Grand Duke Peter and can’t imagine that one day she will be the ill-famed and much feared Tsarina Catherine II the Great. The other is an orphaned Polish palace girl of no consequence in the entourage of the German princess, but before long her innate curiosity and intelligence attract the attention of the Chancellor of Russia and she makes her fortune as his as well as Catherine’s eyes and ears around the elderly Empress Elizabeth.
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- - - - - classical Autumn and Winter Sonatas are two novellas from the pen of the Spanish modernist author Ramón del Valle-Inclán, the final two of a set of four making up The Memoirs of the Marquis of Bradomin. The narrating protagonist is a nineteenth-century Don Juan whose unexpected reencounters with old loves make him look back on his life, above all on his amorous adventures with great nostalgia. In accordance with the seasons of the titles, he is a middle-aged man visiting his cousin whom he loved dearly as a teenager on her deathbed in autumnal Galicia in the first novella and an aging fighter in the Carlist Wars recovering from a grave bullet wound in a convent in wintry Navarre in the second. His love changes and at last he realises that he’s growing old.
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1 comment:

  1. I have read and loved Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. I would like to read The Winter Palace.


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