Thursday, 12 November 2015

Update 1: A Year of Reading the Med

Several weeks ago, I began a project of reading at least 1 book from each of the 23 Mediterranean countries. The start of the project taught me a lot about what I read and why.  This next phase of summarizing what I’ve read is also teaching me that literary criticism is a serious profession requiring skills that I don’t have.  I thought of just sticking to a star system, but in the interest of making this project more of a challenge, I’ve decided to push myself a bit further to try to give you enough information to decide if the book might interest you or not.  Here it goes:

Star system:
* = don’t bother
** = okay 
*** =  good 
**** = excellent !

FRANCE:  Bonjour Tristesse by Fran├žoise Sagan.  ***
A coming of age novel set in the French Riviera of the 1950s, Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) follows a young woman as she struggles to choose between a bohemian lifestyle or finishing her baccalaureate degree, and discovers with tragic consequences her own power to manipulate the adults around her.    

FRANCE: Granite Island: A Portrait of Corsica by Dorothy Carrington. ****
For those who know and love Corsica, this masterpiece of history, anthropology, archaeology, art history, architecture, linguistics, folk tales and travel literature from 1971 is essential reading.  Informative, entertaining, and lyrical, her love for the island and respect for the fast-disappearing Corsican peasant culture is documented over the 20 years she lived and worked there.  Reflections such as this abound: “I was to marvel at the command of words by those who can neither read nor write them.  But perhaps this was general in the days before universal education began mass-producing minds.  I have often wondered how far the Elizabethan writers were indebted to the virile, vivid speech of an illiterate majority.”  To read and re-read. 

SPAIN: A Heart so White by Javier Marias.  ****
This gem of a novel forces the reader to repeatedly ask whether actions are pure or cowardly, two competing interpretations of “white”.  Written in 1st person prose voice similar to Gabriel Garcia Marquez or William Faulkner (e.g., stream-of-consciousness-punctuation-be-damned…but still very readable and even endearing), the story follows an interpreter – someone whose job depends on listening carefully and evaluating the meaning of words – as he learns about the dark past of his father.  And for those of you who have worked in the international arena, there are some hysterical passages about what interpreters think of UN assemblies and delegates !

ITALY:  If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler… by Italo Calvino.  *** ½
This novel (or is it 10 novels?) takes a mad, wild, fantastic look at what it means to read, to write, to be a reader, and to be a writer.  The disconcerting beginning quickly sparks to brilliance as the reader realizes what the author is doing, and the many laugh-out-loud twists and turns keep the pages turning.  That is, up until then end, where this reader got a little tired of the same tricks and began skimming some parts.  But the doldrums don’t last long and the end, where things come together in an unexpected way, is well worth pushing forward.  A great read for book lovers.

MALTA:  Ironfire by David Ball.  ****
This majestic fictional romp through Maltese history brings to life a formative period in Mediterranean history that covers the crusades, the knights of Malta, the Barbary coast pirates, and the Ottoman empire. Reminiscent of the great historical fiction works of James Michener, Ironfire is an intelligent swash-buckling page turner.  Brain candy with a little bit of fiber.  Enjoy ! 

ALBANIA:  Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare. ****
Winner of the 1995 Man Booker International Prize.  A young Albanian boy leads us through the daily life in his village during the Second World War as Albania is alternatively occupied by the Italians, the Greeks, the Italians again, then the Greeks again, then the Italians return, then the Greeks make a short re-appearance, and then the Germans show up.  Folklore, village life, colourful characters, the incomprehensible savagery of war and the magic of childhood create a kaleidoscope of life in a critical period of history. 

GREECE:  Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis * ½
Lest ye think I loved everything I read recently, I give you Zorba the Greek.  If you think the meaning of life can be boiled down to eat, drink, screw, and dance, Zorba is your man.  If, however, you are looking for more out of life or out of a book, don’t look here.  Do yourself a favour and watch the movie instead.  At least there are some great songs there.


Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor said...

I like your star rating system. I have "If on a Winter's Night" and I'm going to bump it up on my reading list after reading your review.

Sailing Mareda said...

Thanks Ellen. I think you'll really enjoy it, especially as you write your novel ! said...

Thanks for the list! Some of these look great. said...

Thanks for the great list! I'm taking note of a few of these for my kindle.

Sailing Mareda said...

Thanks Ellen and Melissa. I picked the low hanging fruit first - the books I was pretty sure to like. I'm now moving into the second string and finding it a bit harder to be so enthusiastic. But with the madness going on here in France right now, I'm happy to stick my nose in ANY book to try to escape...