Format: Hardcover

Wait, Blink by Gunnhild Øyehaug

Posted October 15, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Wait, Blink by Gunnhild ØyehaugTitle: Wait, Blink (Goodreads)
Author: Gunnhild Øyehaug
Translator: Kari Dickson
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018
Pages: 256
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Hardcover

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Longlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature 2018

After reading Love by Hanne Ørstavik, it felt rather strange to go to Wait, Blink by Gunnhild Øyehaug. Not because they are both by Norwegian authors but because they both take a small slice of the everyday and explore it. Although that is pretty much the end of the similarities. Wait, Blink reads very differently, it is contemporary look into the life, mainly three woman at different stages of their lives.

Wait, Blink is riddled with pop-culture references, mainly looking at the connection between art and love. While it also feels like Gunnhild Øyehaug is trying to understand this obsession western films have with women in oversized men’s shirts. The novel makes references to film scenes where a women is in an oversized men’s shirt and how it is often a symbol used to represent sex. One of the key example talked about was Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost in Translation starring Scarlett Johansson. Interestingly enough Yngvild Sve Flikke adapted this novel in 2015 and called it Women in Oversized Men’s Shirts (Kvinner i for store herreskjorter).

This novel had a very contemporary feel to it which made it a very quick read. The film as well as other pop-culture references worked for a geek like myself. At the heart of the novel it felt like a poetic look into the lives of three different women. The way they navigated through their own lives and romantic situations were very different. Although I have to disagree with the subtitle of this book; “A Perfect Picture of Inner Life”.

While this is a novel that explores the inner lives of these women, it felt more like a snapshot into their worlds. We have three different women at different stages of their lives but because they are different people, it is hard to get a perfect picture of inner life. This is small glimpses into the lives of three women and while I would love to follow them further (especially Sigrid the young literary student) we only see a fragment and nothing more. From the National Book Award longlist for Translated Literature, Wait, Blink is one of my favourites and I am pleased it is getting some attention.


Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear by Javier Marías

Posted September 28, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Thriller / 3 Comments

Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear by Javier MaríasTitle: Fever and Spear (Goodreads)
Author: Javier Marías
Translator: Margaret Jull Costa
Series: Your Face Tomorrow #1
Published: Chatto & Windus, May 5, 2005
Pages: 384
Genres: Literary Fiction, Thriller
My Copy: Library Book

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There is something almost genre bending about Javier Marías’ Fever and Spear. To call it a spy novel would do it a huge disservice. The best way I could describe this novel is to call it a character study. Our narrator, Jacques Deza has recently separated with his wife and, to put some distance between the two, has moved from Madrid to London where he meets an old friend, Sir Peter Wheeler. Deza is recruited into Her Majesty’s secret service where he starts investigating the shady underbelly of international business.

“How can I not know today your face tomorrow, the face that is there already or is being forged beneath the face you show me or beneath the mask you are wearing, and which you will only show me when I am least expecting it?”

Look, the plot to this is not really important, and this makes it rather difficult to write about this novel. Fever and Spear is the first book in the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, and it appears to be some kind of metaphysical thriller, meaning it explores the philosophical notions of metaphysics in the form of a thriller. I talked about literary thrillers in my review of Purge and how difficult it is to find good examples of the genre. I mentioned The 7th Function of Language and In the First Circle as great examples and I seem to have stumbled across another one with Fever and Spear.

“One should never tell anyone anything or give information or pass on stories or make people remember beings who have never existed or trodden the earth or traversed the world or who, having done so, are now almost safe in uncertain, one-eyed oblivion. Telling is almost always done as a gift, even when the story contains and injects some poison, it is also a bond, a granting of trust, and rare is the trust or confidence that is not sooner or later betrayed, rare is the close bond that does not grow twisted or knotted and, in the end become so tangled that a razor or knife is needed to cut it.”

I struggle to find the words to describe how much I enjoyed this novel. There is something about the way Javier Marías explored the past, present and the future that makes it difficult to write about. I had such an amazing experience here and I want to tout this book out but I lack the words. Needless to say, I would have picked up Dance and Dream (book two) right away if I had access to it, and I did not have a huge reading pile.

I might attempt to review Fever and Spear again in the future, I know I will reread it many times. I need to read the entire trilogy to see if I can get my thoughts straight. I know this is no way to review something you connected with, but my thoughts about this novel do not seem to fall into place. I write this mainly to try and make sense of my opinion. I do not think it helped. I hope I have said enough to at least convince someone to give Javier Marías a go, if not Fever and Spear.


How Frankenstein Changed My Life

Posted June 14, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 2 Comments

Two hundred years ago, a book was published that literally changed my life. It is very rare to say that a book could have such a life changing effect on someone but in my case it is actually true. It happened about nine years, without going into too many details, I was not happy with myself. I was directionless and went through a self-destructive phase. While it was not just literature that saved me, I do have to give credit to my wife as well. Books ignited the spark in me that made everything else click into place. I am a very different person to who I was back then, I suddenly turned into a passionate and voracious reader thanks to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

It all started with when I discovered a little radio show called The Culture Club by Craig Schuftan. This show explored similarities between music and the art world. This peaked my interest and I started reading his book Hey, Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone which looked at the similarities modern rock had with the Romantic period. Looking at bands like My Chemical Romance, Weezer, and The Smashing Pumpkins. The Romantic poets were the rock stars of their time, and their angst felt very similar. I knew I had to read Frankenstein and it all fell into place from there. Reading this classic, I quickly identified with the creature Victor Frankenstein had created. Although his pain was far more real than my angst, I have people who care about me, I was just an outsider.

My feeling of not belonging in this world was similar to what I was reading in this novel. Frankenstein was the first book I picked up because of Hey, Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone and I did that because of one of my favourite Smashing Pumpkin songs, Disarm. In this song Billy Corgan fantasises about cutting his parents limbs off, because he hated them for bring him into the world.

“It’s about chopping off somebody’s arms.. The reason I wrote Disarm was because, I didn’t have the guts to kill my parents, so I thought I’d get back at them through song. And rather then have an angry, angry, angry violent song I’d thought I’d write something beautiful and make them realize what tender feelings I have in my heart, and make them feel really bad for treating me like shit. Disarm’s hard to talk about because people will say to me ‘I listen to that song and I can’t figure out what it’s about.’ It’s like about things that are beyond words. I think you can conjure up images and put together phrases, but it’s a feeling beyond words and for me it has a lot to do with like a sense of loss. Being an adult and looking back and romanticizing a childhood that never happened or went by so quickly in a naive state that you miss it.”  — Billy Corgan on Disarm (RAGE, 1993)

This tenderness that Corgan reflects in Disarm is not dissimilar to the creatures own feeling. One of the most common themes I get while re-reading Frankenstein is this feeling of how society treats people who are different. For the creature, he came into this world and was immediately rejected by his creator. He was also rejected by everyone he encounters. He pleads with Victor Frankenstein to create him a companion; that is all he wants. He came into this world with love in his heart, but was denied it at every turn. Most of my early reading life focused on this idea of an outsider and how the world treated them. Books like American PsychoPerfume by Patrick Suskind and the Dexter Morgan series all deal with these monstrous characters and how the world and their situation has shaped them. I found comfort in the exploration of the outsider in literature. The idea of blaming society for the way I was felt good, but with my new found thirst for literature came a better understanding of myself and the way the world works. Nowadays I like to read transgressive fiction because it is very different to my own life but while writing this article I cannot help but wonder if it was originally because I identified with them more than with a protagonist that gets a happy ending.

Re-reading Frankenstein again I cannot help but reflect on how different each reading experience really is. There are so many different ways to read Frankenstein, commonly there is the idea of science taking things too fast, or the dangers of playing God. Or perhaps Mary Shelley wants to simply say actions have consequences. When I studied Frankenstein in university I knew a little more about Mary Shelley, so I was looking at Frankenstein with some context.

Before Shelley wrote Frankenstein she had given birth to a daughter, two months premature. This daughter only lived a few weeks, a year later she gave birth to William Shelley. After the birth of her son she suffered from postnatal depression. The birth of William happened a few months before the story of Frankenstein was conceived, so it wasn’t too surprising to see William’s name in the novel. William was Victor Frankenstein’s youngest brother, who was strangled to death by the monster. So, either Mary Shelley’s depression manifested an urge to strangle William, or there is something far more complex happening in the novel. Looking at the story arc of William’s death, we know a young woman is accused of the murder. So maybe there is something here to be said about the mother-child relationship, especially with the idea of maternal guilt and thinking about her lost daughter.

Maybe you want to explore this idea of creating life without the need of a woman, or maybe this is just a parody of creationism. Even the subtitle of ‘the Modern Prometheus’ means you can look at the similarities between this novel and Greek mythology. Paradise Lost by John Milton is another piece of literature that is often explored in relation to Frankenstein. I am struck by how many different ways we can look at Frankenstein and as I develop my own skills in analysing literature, I often return to this classic and see what I can find with a re-read. Mary Shelley is a very interesting person to read about, and I have picked up a few biographies on her, including The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler and Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives by Daisy Hay (my next one will be Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon). I find knowing the context only enhances my enjoyment of a book. I know people read for many different reasons but for me it is all about educating and improving myself. I do read for escapism but I tend to enjoy a novel more if there is some interesting themes to explore.

For someone who has only been a reader since 2009, I feel like I have a lot of literature to catch up on but I still feel the urge to revisit my favourites over and over again. I started off wanting to re-read Frankenstein every year but that quickly faded away, but I still like to revisit the text, it still remains one of my favourites. Did you know there are two different editions of Frankenstein out there? The book was originally published in 1818 but it was then republished in 1831 with revisions made by Mary Shelley. While the 1831 edition is commonly the one that gets published, I like to switch between the two different editions.

I have lost count of how many copies I own of Frankenstein. I own some beautiful editions including a new hardcover of the 1818 text from Oxford World Classics which I am currently reading. The book means so much I have copies all over the house, and one at work. Plus there is the ebook and audiobook edition I can access from my phone at any time. Literature plays such a huge part of my life, even I have trouble imagining my life without them. Frankenstein played a big part in my own transformation. All I can hope is that people continue to find something in this piece of classic literature. I will be re-reading this for years to come and I hope it continues to make an impact to people over the next two hundred years.

This beautiful edition of the 1818 text of Frankenstein was sent to my by Oxford World Classics

This review was originally published in the literary journal The Literati


Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Muñoz Molina

Posted May 16, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 4 Comments

Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Muñoz MolinaTitle: Like a Fading Shadow (Goodreads)
Author: Antonio Muñoz Molina
Translator: Camilo A. Ramirez
Published: Tuskar Rock, 2017
Pages: 320
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

In 1968, James Earl Ray evaded the authorities after shooting Martin Luther King Jr. by using a fake passport and making his way to Portugal. During his last days of freedom, he wanders around Lisbon rehearsing his fake identities. In Like a Fading Shadow, Antonio Muñoz Molina reconstructs Ray’s final days, but it is also a meditation on the city that also inspired his first novel A Winter in Lisbon. Turning this into a blend of historical fiction and memoir, Muñoz Molina’s tries to weave his own experiences in with that of a man on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

Everything about this novel sounded so appealing from the premise but reading it was so difficult. First of all, I thought the idea of having the James Earl Ray narrative interwoven with that of Antonio Muñoz Molina’s did not work as well as the author might have hoped. In hindsight, it would have been better to just read A Winter in Lisbon and then search the internet about Earl Ray’s final days. Secondly, I felt like this book kept going in circles and never really progressing in any satisfactory way. Which is disappointing because I think this was one of the books on the Man Booker International Prize longlist that I was excited to read.

This is so disappointing, the idea to make a fictionalised account of what might have happened when James Earl Ray was in Portugal sounds amazing. I was fascinated that he was able to sneak across the border to Canada and use a fake passport to get to London and eventually make it all the way to Lisbon. He spent his time trying to get to Angola, which alone would have made for an interesting narrative; why is a pro-white supremacist trying to get to Africa? Then you have this memoir-like narrative of Antonio Muñoz Molina trying to write his first novel, A Winter in Lisbon. Separately this could be stimulating to explore the writer’s process and the emotions behind creating a novel. However, as a combination it ended up to be too little of each and together it never came together.

The Man Booker International Prize longlist has been focusing on narratives the blend fiction and non-fiction and I can see why this book was picked but I do not see the appeal for it to make the shortlist. I wanted to love this book; I went in with high expectations but I ended up struggling through this. Between this and The Imposters (which is very similar in many ways) I almost found myself in a reading slump. Thankfully Flights by Olga Tokarczuk was there to save me.


The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai

Posted April 12, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Short Stories / 0 Comments

The World Goes On by László KrasznahorkaiTitle: The World Goes On (Goodreads)
Author: László Krasznahorkai
Translator: Ottilie Mulzet, George Szirtes, John Batki
Published: Tuskar Rock, 2017
Pages: 320
Genres: Short Stories
My Copy: Library Book

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Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

I normally struggle to review short story collections, do I go through every story and share my opinions? Reading The World Goes On, all I could think is ‘I have no clue how to analyse and review this’. Rather than a review, I am going to just share my thoughts on this book, and hopefully it will eventually resemble a review.

The World Goes On is actually my second László Krasznahorkai, having read The Last Wolf / Herman earlier this year. I was struck with the thought that this might be the first Krasznahorkai that people might read. László Krasznahorkai won the Man Booker International Prize in 2015, before it was repackaged and combined with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP). However the publicsity around that award is nothing like it is today. This could be a combination of the older prize awarding an author for their contribution to fiction rather than a specific book and the rise of social media. Which brings me back to my original point, The World Goes On has been longlisted for the prize but it is not a good place to start for this Hungarian author. This feels like fragments of stories and ideas rather than an actual piece of fiction.

I think the judges for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize has gone out of their way to pick a longlist that showcases interesting narrative structures. While I appreciate the surprising entries on the list, it does make it less accessible. Having said that, I would be so mad if the Man Booker International Prize followed the trend of the Man Booker Prize and Women’s Prize for Fiction and just picked the most popular books. I want to see a balance between discovery and introducing new people to books in translation. I would hate to think how many people will not read more László Krasznahorkai because of The World Goes On.

László Krasznahorkai is a very talented writer; he has a post-modernist style, and it feels like he gets so bored, he has to set limitations on his own writing. In The World Goes On, you will find plenty of examples of him writing a one sentence story. I have to admit after reading this book and The Last Wolf, I wonder what Krasznahorkai has against the full stop. Like I said before, this feels more like a collection of ideas rather than short stories.

While I enjoy László Krasznahorkai as a writer, even I think I was not ready for The World Goes On. I am not giving up on this author, this is a book for the fans. Read The Last Wolf / Herman first, discover some of his novels and if you like his style and his view on the world, then read The World Goes On. I do not think this should have been on the longlist, and I hope it does not stop many people from enjoying László Krasznahorkai in the future.


The Last Wolf / Herman by László Krasznahorkai

Posted March 20, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 2 Comments

The Last Wolf / Herman by László KrasznahorkaiTitle: The Last Wolf / Herman (Goodreads)
Author: László Krasznahorkai
Translator: George Szirtes, John Batki
Published: Tuskar Rock, 2009
Pages: 120
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Hardcover

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László Krasznahorkai is one of those authors that has been on my radar for a long time. Not because I always wondered how to pronounce his name (I know now) but because this Hungarian author’s books were always labeled as difficult or demanding. I like a challenge but I thought I might start with something small. I was told that The Last Wolf was a good introduction to László Krasznahorkai and it was not because of the blurb by Sjón on the cover.  The edition pairs two novellas together, The Last Wolf and Herman.

The Last Wolf is a 70 page long sentence, which means you really need to read it in one sitting. I myself turned back to page one and reread the whole thing the next day. Not because it was dense (it is) but because I was captivated by the writing. How often are you able to find a sentence that long that flows so smoothly?

The novella is about a failed philosophy professor who is asked to write about the last wolf in the Spanish region of Extremadura. Although it is another who is conveying the tale to a bartender in Berlin. This narrative is an interesting journey, full of philosophical musing and some self-loathing. It left me wondering if László Krasznahorkai just wrote a satirical jab at himself. It is hard to say more about these stories, you really need to experience them yourself.

While Herman does share similarities, they were originally published twenty-three years apart. Told in two parts, firstly you learn about a master trapper who is clearing a forest of ‘noxious beasts’ in ‘The Game Warden’. While the other story (‘Death of a Craft’) is from the perspective of visitors to the same region. Trust me, these two parts sound like they do not go together but they do.

I am finding it really hard to talk about book, not just because both stories are dense and require many rereads but because it is difficult to express what happens in the books. I am not interested in giving a plot summary, you just have to experience László Krasznahorkai and this does seem like a good place to start. László Krasznahorkai won the last Man Book International Prize in 2015 before it was reincarnated into its current from. Originally the prize was awarded to an author for his entire body of work and he was recognised for his achievement in fiction on the world stage.


A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

Posted April 10, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David GrossmanTitle: A Horse Walks into a Bar (Goodreads)
Author: David Grossman
Translator: Jessica Cohen
Published: Jonathan Cape, 2016
Pages: 208
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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When the Man Booker International longlist was announced for the year, I logged into my library and searched to see which books I could reserve. Sadly they only had five of the longlist, which included one I had already read, War and Turpentine. David Grossman’s A Horse Walks into a Bar was one of the books available. Having now read this novel, I do not think any book has left me as emotionally perplexed as Horse Walks into a Bar.

The novel is set in a small Israeli town comedy club where the audience gather for a night of laughter. Instead they witness a comedian coming apart on stage. This is such an emotionally charged novel and one that must have been difficult to write. I went into the book interested in the techniques used to write a stand up show into a novel and I wanted to see how Grossman would handle this meltdown. Humour is so subjective and I felt myself groaning at the attempts made by this comedian. Obviously this is not the type of comedian I would go see perform.

I do wish I knew more about Israeli culture than I do, because I think there was so much I could have gotten from the novel and I feel like some of it just went over my head. There was so much to be gained and having never read David Grossman before I do not think this was the right starting point. The breakdown was such a tough piece of writing to pull off and I often felt like it was not being handled correctly. Having said that, writing a novel around one stand-up performance would have given the novel many restrictions.

This was such a difficult book to read, mainly because I felt so emotionally drained from reading it. I could not read more than twenty or thirty pages before I need a break from the experience. I think David Grossman is a brilliant writer even if this is not a book for me. I am curious to read more Grossman, I have often heard great things but never sure where to start. While I did not enjoy the experience of reading A Horse Walks into a Bar, I cannot stop thinking about it. This is the type of novel that would make for a great stage performance.


Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Posted April 6, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Magical Realism / 0 Comments

Exit West by Mohsin HamidTitle: Exit West (Goodreads)
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Published: Hamish Hamilton, 2017
Pages: 240
Genres: Magical Realism
My Copy: Hardcover

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Every so often a book comes along that gets you thinking about an important social issue in a whole new light. These are the books I actively seek out, I am always looking for literature that is going to challenge my thinking or even teach me something new. Mohsin Hamid’s latest novel Exit West was a recent example of a book doing this with the topic of refugees. This is such an important issue and Hamid got me thinking about it in a different way with the simple introduction of magical doors.

The premise of Exit West is straightforward following the budding relationship between Saeed and Nadia in an unnamed country. As the novel tracks their developing relationship, it soon becomes apparent that they will need to escape. As the city they grew up in becomes increasingly unsafe, they are soon planning to leave everything behind. Through a door and into another country.

While the concept of these doors might be inspired by Nanina, Mohsin Hamid has stated he used this idea as a way to not get bogged down with the refugee journey. He wanted to explore the story as the events that lead these characters to flee and how it felt to be a refugee in Western culture. While I understand his reasoning, the idea seemed to work differently for me as the reader. The magical journey to another country gave off this idea that Western media do not care about the journey they only care about asylum seekers in their country. It worked to symbolise that missing piece that is often left out of the news when reporting on the refugee crisis.

In an interview with the author, he said the doors also where a symbol of globalisation. In today’s world we are able to talk to someone on the other side of the world face to face with video calling programs like Skype. The world seems smaller thanks to the advances of technology and while the idea of walking through a door into another country sound wonderful, it works as a motif for the complex issue of border control. Some doors are heavily guarded and other doors, like the one to their home country, are left accessible as if to invite them to ‘go back to where they came from’.

What I think Mohsin Hamid did really well in this novel was use the character focus to challenge the perceptions people might have of the refugee stereotype. Nadia wore an all concealing black robe in public not for religious reasons but to make her feel safe. Nadia is not religious and lives alone, she had to lie and said she was a widow to get her apartment. Nadia’s story is one of protecting herself from judgement while trying to explore her own sexuality. She longs for the freedom and individuality of the Western world. While Saeed is not overly religious he is the one that wants to wait to they are married. When fleeing the country he wishes to be part of the community of fellow countrymen, he does not want to give up on his traditions.

The two different points of view allows the reader to explore the idea of refugees from their perspective. Rather than focusing on the journey and the conflict with the Western world. Exit West focuses on their personal identity, as the characters try to understand their place in the world. For Nadia this is a chance for a new beginning, to reinvent herself but for Saeed this is the story of missing what he left, the nostalgic idea he had of his homeland.

Mohsin Hamid intentionally left the country and city unnamed because this could be the story of anyone. He did model it after a city in Pakistan but worried that mentioning any names might have been viewed as a political statement rather than the story he wanted to tell. I am so glad that I picked up Exit West and I know I will be dipping into more of Hamid’s works. This novel was so accessible, I feel like everyone should pick it up, in the hopes that it will get more people thinking about refugees.


In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano

Posted January 16, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick ModianoTitle: In the Café of Lost Youth (Goodreads)
Author: Patrick Modiano
Translator: Euan Cameron
Published: MacLehose Press, 2007
Pages: 160
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Recently I read my first Patrick Modiano novel, Missing Person which I enjoyed immensely. So much so, that I picked up In the Café of Lost Youth soon after. This book follows three different narrators talking about their memories of a woman named Louki. The four different perspectives (one being Louki herself) paints a detailed portrait of this one woman, Jacqueline ‘Louki’ Delanque. A woman that grew up in poverty, the daughter of a single mother working in the Moulin Rouge, and someone that comes across as well liked and popular.

In the Café of Lost Youth is a wonderful character portrayal, exploring someone that has had a hard life but appears to have it together. However, this novel explores the idea of loneliness while also looking at that perception we put to others. I think Patrick Modiano has this unique ability to capture the feeling of loneliness, especially while surrounded by people. The aggrieved husband, a private investigator hired by said husband and a student in a café all show different sides of this woman and piecing it all together allows you to see the complete picture (or is it?).

I said this in my review of Missing Person as well, Patrick Madiano won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2014. The committee awarded him this prestigious prize “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable of human destinies”. This is also used as a blurb (or a stripped-down version of this quote) for this novel, and with good reason. The way that In the Café of Lost Youth explores the idea of memory is what drew me to Missing Person as well and one of the reasons Modiano is worth exploring.

One major concern I have about reading In the Café of Lost Youth so close to Missing Person is the fact that they do draw on similar themes. While the plot is very different it still felt the same. I am not saying I did not enjoy In the Café of Lost Youth, rather that I will need to allow some time to elapse before dipping into Modiano again. I still think he is an excellent writer and one worth exploring. The way he explores loneliness and memory are worth checking out.


Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Posted October 1, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 2 Comments

Doctor Zhivago by Boris PasternakTitle: Dr Zhivago (Goodreads)
Author: Boris Pasternak
Translator: Max Hayward, Manya Harari
Published: Everyman's Library, 1957
Pages: 512
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Hardcover

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When thinking about staples in Soviet literature, one book immediately comes to mind, and that is Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. A novel in the vein of the Russian epics like War and Peace, Pasternak’s novel tells of a tragic hero, Yury Zhivago. The novel follows the life of a flawed character as he tries to control his life and his hormones. While trying to live a moral life, he is often a victim of his own desires and misfortune, while Russia changes around him.

I have mixed feelings about this modern classic and this is mainly due to the fact that some people refer to this as an epic romance. Doctor Zhivago is as romantic as Wuthering Heights as it explore romanticism rather than love. Russian Romanticism often has an emphasis on the metaphysical discontent of society and one’s self. In this way, yes, Doctor Zhivago is a wonderfully Romantic novel but if you are looking for love, you’ve come to the wrong book. I know translator Richard Pevear has called this a moving love story (which cements many issues I have with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky) however, can you call the struggle with morality a tale of romance?

Let’s talk about the relationships found within Doctor Zhivago. The relationship between Yury and Lana is the main focus of this classic; a woman he has lusted after for his entire life. However he marries Tonya, a woman that Yury shows no real affection towards. This is not to say that Yury does not care for Tonya, just the whole idea of marrying someone while in love with someone else is just stupid. Now I know this is an autobiographical novel and it is a reflection of Boris Pasternak’s own relationship mistakes but the relationship between Yury and Lana was always doomed, especially since she shows no interest in him.

There is something to be said about the marriage of Yury and Tonya. Following the loss of his mother and the abandonment of his father, Yury is consistently seeking out a maternal figure. One may even call it an Oedipus complex and Tonya is more of a mother figure to him. This brings up a major theme in Russian literature not just Doctor Zhivago. In the case of this novel, the human desire for companionship plays out in context of the longing for stability. Russia has suffered a lot of tumultuous times and the desire for stability tends to be reflected in their literature.

What interested me the most about Doctor Zhivago was what it had to say about the political landscape. This is why the novel was refused publication in the Soviet Union and the story behind the book is just as interesting. I picked up The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée as soon as finishing Doctor Zhivago. This book is part biography on Boris Pasternak and part history of the novel.

Boris Pasternak was so passionate about writing Doctor Zhivago, he would continually return to it in-between paid translation work. He knew that it would never be published in the Soviet Union but wanted his story out there. Because the novel covered a time between the first Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Civil War. The reader is able to follow the ideological struggle that Pasternak would have had towards his much loved motherland, from the dreams of a socialist utopia to its grim reality. These themes, its criticism towards Stalin and mentioning the realities of the Gulag (covering this topic before Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) were some of the main reasons this book was denied publication. It was the CIA who published the book and distributed it in the Soviet Union as propaganda, the story behind this an interesting one, which I learnt from The Zhivago Affair.

Doctor Zhivago was smuggled out of the country by Giangiacomo Feltrinelli with Pasternak asking him to help get his novel out to the world, who first published the book in Italian. Pasternak also gave the manuscript to George Kutkov in the hopes of a decent and faithful English translation. Katkov promised the best translation possible and settled on Max Hayward and Manya Harari for this task. According to The Zhivago Affair, “The pair alternated chapters and then checked each other’s work. Katkov supervised them both, ‘going over everything for accuracy and nuance.’”

Originally Katkov suggested to Pasternak to use Vladimir Nabokov for the translation but this idea was rejected. “This won’t work; he’s too jealous of my position in this country to do it properly.” I am not sure what the relationship between Pasternak and Nabokov is but he has been quoted in 1927 as saying “His verse is convex, goitrous and google eyed, as though his muse suffered from Basebow’s disease. He is crazy about clumsy imagery, sonorous but literal rhymes, and clattering metre.” When Doctor Zhivago was published in America it knocked Lolita off the number one spot on the best seller list. This lead Nabokov to call it “a sorry thing, clumsy, trite and melodramatic, with stock situations, voluptuous lawyers, unbelievable girls, romantic robbers and trite coincidences.”

Despite the criticism and while I do agree it is a little clumsy in its coincidences, I cannot deny Doctor Zhivago as anything but a masterpiece. I know Boris Pasternak wanted the novel to be accessible and simple, and I was surprised how easy it was to read. There is plenty to say about this novel and I would love to talk more about it. I know this will be a novel that will be read over and over again and I encourage others to read it not for the story but for what is says about the Soviet era. Doctor Zhivago is such a cultural phenomenon and at great risk to its author, in fact apparently when Boris Pasternak gave the manuscript to Giangiacomo Feltrinelli he said “you are hereby invited to my execution.”