Despair

If I were not perfectly sure of my power to write and of my marvelous ability to express ideas with the utmost grace and vividness…

This might be the first Classic (is it a classic, or is the author only considered a Classic-writer because of Lolita?) that really disappointed and angered me. I really hope there is a big difference between the main character and Vladimir Nabokov, because else I’m calling an author a super selfish airhead. No matter how much “satire” is involved.

The majority of the book is about Hermann Hermann and how incredibly smart, stealthy and smooth he is while everyone around him are paupers, silly and beneath him. He writes a story about how he discovers his almost perfect döppelganger, but writes more about his own life and how he thinks through every word and way of writing because he’s Intelligent.

Despair is sold as satire and darkly humorous, but is nothing more than a monologue about the amazing main character. Not even the “dark turn” can save it.

Despair, Vladimir Nabokov, Putnam 1965

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In Cold Blood

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there’.

For the category Classic with a capital C It took me a while to get into it, but I liked it tons better than my previous Classic, Despair.  I think the very densely printed lines were the biggest struggle to get used to.

As the complete title says, it’s an account of multiple murder. But calling it just a detective, a chronological story of murder and murderers caught, wouldn’t be sufficient, nor complimenting. This is every piece of the puzzle, from the life of the victims to the trails of the murderers, the homes of the police men and the setting of the court.

Truman Capote calmly sets out the pawns and the play-field, sketching a situation only overlay it with ink later. The account is the main character and it all fits needly together. It’s a slow burner that you will keep close after entering the field.

In Cold Blood: a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences, Truman Capote, Random House 1965

The Republic of Thieves

Place ten dozen hungry orphan thieves in a dank burrow of vaults and tunnels beneath what used to be a graveyard, put them under the supervision of one partly crippled old man, and you will soon find that governing them becomes a delicate business.

Part three of the Gentleman Bastard sequence. I’m pretty sure I’ve praised Scott Lynch’s world-building before (here and here) and therefore won’t repeat myself.

The Republic of Thieves is the fattest novel yet, very probably due to the flash backs that offer an “intermezzo” between every chapter. On the one hand it’s a nice way to know more about the thieves, it continues world building and gives everyone involved a more human and/or fallible face. It also creates a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter, like it’s a little advertising block intervening, keeping you from the main plot line. Locke and Jean have to make sure a political party wins, with any means necessary. Old friends turn out less-than-friendly and the ways of gathering votes can be called original, entertaining and lethal.

Again, Scott Lynch offers a can’t-put-it-down, silly, sweet adventure in a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy setting. I can’t wait for the final part.

The Republic of Thieves, Scott Lynch, The Random House Publishing Group 2013

The Titan’s Curse

The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons and took me to a new boarding school.

After watching the two movies based on these series, I’ve decided to try one of the books (“The films were all wrong, the books are so much better!” Is there ever someone that liked the film version over the book version?).

As per the title, there is a prophecy with a Titan’s Curse involved. Friends disappear, threats are made and a quest has to happen. Just like the myths Rick Riordan borrows his gods from. Because – for those not in the know – Percy Jackson and his friends are half-breeds, children of the gods of Olympus and a human parent. This creates a very entertaining mix of teen adventures and mythology (and a successful one, looking at how large the series are).

The Titan’s Curse is packed with action, entertainment and teenage emotions. I don’t know if there will be a third movie, but I’ll definitely continue with these series.

The Titan’s Curse, Rick Riordan, Hyperion Books For Children 2007

Wizard of the Crow

There were many theories about the strange illness of the second Ruler of the Free Republic of Aburiria, but the most frequent on people’s lips were five.

With over 700 pages and a lot of ugly truths about Africa and (Western) society sometimes I lot to work through, but definitely not a book to give up on easily. Because besides the truths and the amount of pages there is humor, a gritty yet warm world-building, satire, lessons about the African continent and some small history lessons.

The Wizard of the Crow has several story lines going on at the same time, but the main ones center on the title character, the woman he meets and the dictator of the country they live in. Turning to magic, having the right and wrong people believe in it, coups, rebels, an insane leader with a God-syndrome and a super religious couple are the cherries on the milkshake.

This book is a – sometimes awkward/uncomfortable – encyclopedia to underline the fact that people outside your culture aren’t less human, weirder or scarier. In the end and beginning of all things, they’re human beings that try to get by in their daily life, in any which way. Even in the fictional country of Aburiria.

The Wizard of the Crow, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Harvill Secker 2006

Juliet, Naked

They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.

I saw more of Nick Hornby’s book-to-film projects than read his books. Feeling like a laugh (I never seem to learn about books with the “comedy” genre sticker), I took a risk with Juliet, Naked. It paid off.

Annie’s boyfriend for fifteen years is obsessed with an eighties’ musician. Both of their lives circle Tucker Crowe; his for unknown reasons, hers because her boyfriend can’t live without linking everything back to Tucker Crowe, his music and his life. Everything else is simply (permanently) put on hold. And, being human, Annie kind of gets used to it. She didn’t want this, but how do you change?

Tucker Crowe’s newest CD is the trigger to that change. Annie’s and Duncan’s life together finally splits and it’s up to them to look at ‘Now what?’ and who they have become after fifteen years of symbiotic living. This sounds pretty dramatic, but Nick Hornby’s dry English humour builds a coming-of-age-at-forty-something story without any bitterness or sentimental toppings. ‘Life happens when you’re busy making plans’ never rang more true.

Juliet, Naked deserves the sticker of comedy genre, without being horribly try-hard or  laugh-or-I-shoot.

 Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby, Viking 2009

Amerikanah

Princeton rook ‘s zomers nergens naar, en hoewel Ifemelu hield van het stille groen van de vele bomen, de schone straten en statige huizen, de subtiel te duren winkels en de kalme, tijdloze atmosfeer van overgeërfde elegantie, sprak deze afwezigheid van een geur haar het meest aan, misschien omdat alle andere Amerikaanse steden die ze goed kende allemaal verschillend hadden geroken.

Eindelijk had de bieb ‘m voor me. Eindelijk kan ik mij met een stel argumenten bij de positieve recensies aansluiten. Een boek dat door zwart, wit en alles daar tussen gelezen moet worden. Een boek dat uitlegt waarom Amerikanen een ander idee hebben over ras en racisme dan niet-Amerikanen, in dit geval zwart. Een boek dat weer eens onderstreept dat anders-dan-Westers niet synoniem is voor slecht.

Maar vooral een heel leesbaar boek. In den beginne is het een romance. Liefde op de middelbare school, vol hoop en dromen in een land waar daar niet zoveel ruimte voor is. Beiden willen een betere omgeving, de ene probeert die in de VS te vinden, de ander in Engeland. Dingen gebeuren, de tijd gaat verder en zelfs de terugkomst van beiden naar Nigeria is misschien niet de oplossing.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie schrijft met licht over zware onderwerpen en zorgt er voor dat de mensen nooit in karikaturen veranderen, hoe dichtbij de stereotypes ook komen.

Amerikanah is informerend, amuserend en confronterend. Lezen.

Amerikanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, De Bezige Bij 2013