Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Nobel Prize”

genericwhitegirl’s #CBR4 Review 8: Blindness by Jose Saramago

I was in Portland on business and heard that one of Portland’s treasures is Powell’s books. So I checked it out. If you haven’t been there or heard of it, Powell’s is a new and used bookstore that literally takes up an entire city block. Each room has a genre, labeled by a certain color (Want a mystery book? Head to the gold room. Children’s? That’s rose). There’s also the rare book room, whose hours, if you’re only visiting for a few days, seem just as rare as the books inside. And there are other little treasures hidden within as well. If you want to take a book and read for awhile, you’re welcome to go to the coffee shop and relax. And I discovered my new favorite book “Go the Fuck to Sleep.” (If you are one of the last people, like me, to hear about this little treasure, I’ll review it next.)

I say all that to say this…there was a Nobel Prize section that featured several books by Portuguese author Jose Saramago. I had read his book, Death with Interruptions, last year, and selected it as one of my top five. So I was excited to see what else I could pick up. I saw what appeared to be several histories, like The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and The History of the Siege of Lisbon. I figured Saramago had a boring side to him, but I should have known better. Apparently the former is a highly controversial book about the fictional retelling of the life of Jesus. It won him critical acclaim but also instant disapproval with the Roman Catholic Church (among others). But hey, cut the guy some slack. How many atheists do you know that would even give JC another thought?

And the latter is a book about “Raimundo Silva, assigned to correct a book entitled The History of the Siege of Lisbon by his publishing house. Silva decides to alter the meaning of a crucial sentence by inserting the word ‘not’ in the text, so that the book now claims that the Crusaders did not come to the aid of the Portuguese king in taking Lisbon from the Moors.” (thank you wikipedia).

What I like about Saramago is his out of the box, creative, and some would say, dangerous thinking. Each one of his books has some strange twist. If you really want to dig deep, you can talk about modern parables and allegories and whatever other literary devices people who KNOW throw out. But it’s simple for me. He’s interesting. You just have to get past his style…

Saramago has a thing about punctuation, especially commas and quotation marks. His characters engage in dialogue, but besides using a capital letter with each new speaker, he doesn’t differentiate between speakers. He also writes from a third person, narrative perspective. So I feel disconnected from the characters. But I have to say this book was loads easier to read than Death with Interruptions. I don’t think that’s because it’s actually written in an easier to read style, it’s because you can get used to Saramago’s style. And it was easier for my mind to adjust, having been conditioned by his first novel. I guess.

So on to the actual review…Blindness is about a country that is struck with a mysterious disease, only described as the white blindness, where (surprise surprise) people are instantly and seemingly randomly struck blind. Saramago begins with patient zero and those who shortly follow. The government decides to quarantine the blind and those who have been exposed to the blind. The first half of the book is about the quarantine. At first dozens, and then hundreds of people occupy a hospital, which is guarded by the military. Unable to organize, and with no one to guide them, the living conditions in the hospital degrade exponentially. To make matters worse, a group of internees withhold food from the rest of the wards. It’s almost like Lord of the Flies meets World War Z.

SLIGHT SPOILER AHEAD…

The second half of the book involves the release of the quarantined after the sickness strikes the entire country. Here’s where comparisons to a zombie apocalypse really become evident. Saramago follows a small group from the hospital as they try to survive, looking for food, housing, and their families.

END SPOILER

It took me awhile to get into the book, probably because I was stumbling through it at first. But as I got used to the writing style, and the story developed, I became more interested.

In comparison to Death with Interruptions, I felt Blindness was a heavier book. Death with Interruptions, despite the subject matter, had a playful, light feel to it. Blindness, on the other hand, had a couple of disturbing scenes and emphasized the worst in humanity during the quarantine. But that’s part of what makes the book interesting. And without telling you the title of the next book (possible spoiler as well)…there is a short snippet from Saramago’s sequel to Blindness at the end.

So a solid recommend if you’re up to the challenge!

Check out The Blist to read more reviews by genericwhitegirl

ElCicco#CBR4Review#07: The Appointment by Herta Muller

The Appointment deals with repression under the Ceausescu regime in Romania. No date is given for the story, but it seems to be the 1970s. Herta Muller, of German heritage, was born and raised in Romania and was herself subject to oppression under Ceausescu in the ’70s. Her depiction of the psychological state of someone being followed and tormented is disturbing and revealing but also at times confusing, perhaps intentionally. Muller was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009 for this novel.

The narrator is a young woman, perhaps in her twenties, who is on her way to an interrogation because she attempted to smuggle notes to foreigners in the linings of clothes that she helped manufacture. She had hoped to find an Italian man to marry her and take her away from Romania. She has already been interrogated several times for this and never knows when her final interrogation will come. As she rides the bus to the appointment, she reflects on her life and how one survives under a regime that sucks the life and hope out of its people. Her narration shifts between what she observes and thinks while on the bus and various experiences of her life — her betrayal by her boss and former lover, the death of her friend Lilly, her mother’s coldness toward her and her father’s infidelity, her disastrous first marriage, her second marriage to an alcoholic who seems to have a secret life of his own, and her encounters with agents of oppression: Albu, who is her current interrogator, and her former father-in-law, who in his younger days was responsible for divesting people of their land and sending them to camps.

Muller provides compelling descriptions of the fear, desperation and resignation that repression engenders in her characters. One particularly powerful passage describes the narrator’s former father-in-law removing her own grandparents from their land in 1951 and sending them to a camp where the grandmother went mad and died. Later, the father-in-law had a breakdown of his own related to a loss of some of his property. He then changed his career and his name. At the narrator’s first wedding, her grandfather recognizes his oppressor, but what can he do? I imagine it was not unusual for “retired” agents of the regime go back to a “normal life” amongst the population they oppressed.

Much of the novel though was quite confusing, and I’m not sure if it has to do with translation, cultural differences, or simply the difference between the mind that has been psychologically tormented and the mind that has not. She describes several people who succumbed to madness, including her grandmother and a neighbor’s wife. The narrator talks about holding on to her luck by engaging in certain rituals before her interrogations. She says, “…whenever I’ve been summoned, I put on my green blouse and eat a walnut.” She thinks the walnut causes her interrogations to be shorter, but it has to be cracked and eaten that morning because, “Once the nut’s been cracked, it loses its power if it lies open overnight.” The narrator also states, “Every day or so I declare: I’m doing just fine.” Her husband’s response to this is, “You feel fine because you’ve forgotten what that means for other people.”

“The trick is not to go mad,” states the narrator. But has she crossed the line to madness? At the end of the novel, she makes a startling discovery about her husband, but is it only startling to her because she has lost touch with reality? I wished the story had continued. I felt that much was left unresolved, especially regarding her husband and her own interrogation. As much as I liked it, this is the kind of novel that makes me feel that I am only scratching the surface when it comes to truly understanding the author’s intent.

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