Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My books: October 2010

It’s only the 2nd issue of my new monthly series featuring the books I read the month before and I am already hiding from my computer. Of course I WANT to write about these books, because they are great. But on the other hand I don’t want to because it is too personal, too close and too many quite abstract thoughts and emotions are attached to both of them.
It will be very hard to stick to my short and clear I like / I don’t like system I decided to use as a concept for this series and at the same time to do justice to the quality of the books and what they are meaning to me, but I’ll give it a try.

Marica Bodrožić – "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen"
So let’s start with my left heart chamber. The Croatian or - to be exact – the Dalmatian one represented perfectly by the wonderful Marica Bodrožić and her new book.

“Das Gedächtnis der Libellen” tells the story of Nadeshda (a self given name of the character – we never get her birth name) and how she said good bye to her lover. This is the golden thread of the story, but we also hear about her childhood in Dalmatia, her parents and the cruel secret they kept, about different places she travelled to and lived at and her best friend Arjeta. So it is much more than just a story about the end of a love.
When we of DVORI e.V. invited Marica Bodrožić to a reading session here in Munich last year, she already mentioned that she was working on a novel, which would be less abstract and more stringent in story telling than her latest release – a collection of poems called "Lichtorgeln".
She kept her promise, but if you know Marica then you know that she would find a way to leave the regular format of a novel behind – and so she did:
“Das Gedächtnis der Libellen” never changes the perspective. There is never a story teller, never the invisible third person, who describes the scenario from the bird’s eye perspective. The whole novel is a never interrupted flow of Nadeshda’s memories, feelings, emotions, reflections and observations – strictly and uncompromisingly subjective. It feels very much like one huge piece, when you read it – like it was created in one monstrous writing session, although I know that it was not that way.
To avoid that this here is becoming an essay nearly as long as the book, I will give you my main thoughts about “Das Gedächtnis der Libellen” condensed to some key statements:
  • I love the scenes when Nadeshda describes her lover with for example telling all details about his hands. It is the way you look on somebody you love, when you focus on all the tiny things which define the distinctiveness of this special person.
  • Silently this book destroys the romantic myth that the love between two people is all what counts. Of course love is essential and indispensable, but love alone is not enough. It’s true. I’ve been there.
  • If you do not read carefully you think this story is tragic because the two lovers don’t make it together. But it is not. The happy end is hidden in a tiny sentence, when Nadeshda mentions that she lives now with a man, who has everything her lover didn’t have. The one who has more to offer than just love. Don’t miss this sentence – it changes the whole perspective.
  • I LOVE the way how Marica Bodrožić talks about Dalmatia. She finds a way to express in GERMAN words (which makes it even more extraordinary since it is so hard to explain or describe Dalmatia in German) the feelings, sights, scents, the atmosphere of Dalmatia in a way that I find myself in it. Things I barely have own words for.
  • To avoid spoiling Marica's elegant writing I quote one of my favorite paragraphs:
    “Vielleicht würde er auch sagen, dass der Zufall nur etwas für Leute ist, die sich sehenden Auges ihrer Blindheit schon in der Vergangenheit anheimgeben.“
    I love it, when I find evidence of other people, who share my total disbelieve in the existence of coincidences.
  • I told you already when I wrote about Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll" that it is helpful if you would have read some Milan Kundera. Same here :) 
There’s much more, but I’ll stop here and instead of writing I'll enjoy now the extremely pleasant anticipation of the upcoming reading of “Das Gedächtnis der Libellen” with Marica Bodrožić Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 8.30 pm / Buchhandlung Lehmkuhl, Leopoldstrasse 45 in Munich.
If you live in Munich or close by, I hope to see you there!

Michael Chabon – The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
Okay – we are done with the left heart chamber. So let’s do the right one. Let’s do America – the country the girl loves, too. If you look at the map it seems to be far away, but the book of Marica Bodrožić has many US links (New York and Chicago mostly) and we do not even start talking about Aleksandar Hemon’s fascinating balancing act of placing a Sarajevan soul into an American context and US English words (at least we do not now and here). With this in mind “far away” became already a relative term.

But let's talk about Pulitzer Price winner Michael Chabon, who is in Germany best known for his novel "The Wonderboys" and the related movie with Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire and the wonderful Francis McDermond.

“The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” was his debut novel and the story is located in his Pennsylvanian hometown (like you can easily guess from the title), but funny enough Michael Chabon wrote most of the book in Oakland – but the one across the Oakland Bay Bridge from San Francisco not Oakland like the neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Writing was the remedy for his homesickness. It is not that Michael Chabon didn’t like the bay, but he missed Pittsburgh like he notes in his own comments to the book.
This is a well known phenomenon – misplaced Burghers often feel homesick a lot and make the away matches of the Steelers to a strange black & yellow experience for the home team ;)
So when he sat down and decided to write a novel he decided to go home – at least on paper.

The novel follows the 20something Art Bechstein, the son of classic oldschool gangster. Art himself has nothing to do with his father’s mafia world until the events of a long hot summer change almost everything in his life.
The story is about friendship, fun, love in more than one variation (attention: nothing for tweedy souls – some explicit scenes included), crime and the long and winding road of growing up. It is a funny, tough, emotional and suspenseful story with very special and vivid characters.
I had a lot of fun reading it.

And here are is short list of things I liked in particular about the book:
  • The Cloud Factory: It is a quite important location in the book and I just love the expression. I find the idea of an industrial structure producing clouds poetic.
    In real life the cloud factory is a boiler plant and the main heat supply for Oakland – the Pittsburgh one.
    Funny enough following the related Wikipedia entry it seems to be not 100% clear if Chabon adopted an already existing Pittsburghese (yes – this is actually a language ... kind of ;) nick name of the place or if he invented it and then the Burghers adopted it.
  • The Gangsters: Bechstein senior and his mates are old school gangsters and I love it.
    Although Bechstein junior has to get his head out of the sand and learn the hard way what his father is really doing - something he knew but kind of ignored – there is a romantic flair around this old fashioned band of brothers with their suits, hats, epic restaurant dinners and conspirative hotel room meetings.
  • The Summer: I am totally a summer person and so I really love the fact that the summer is the basic framework of the story telling in this novel. The excitement and energy of June. The strange mixture of lethargy, heat, humidity of July, which stretches the limits of reality and makes room for some certain craziness. The melancholy of already cool nights spoiling the summer fun in August and making you want to hold the moment before everything will change for sure. That’s really it.
    Chabon’s btw admits in his notes it was Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby”, which unfolds the whole drama in the lifecycle of one summer as well.
So far for today – watch out for more Pittsburgh stories to come before I will very likely move myself over the Atlantic to New York City and … Pittsburgh in February 2011.

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