Tag: José Manuel Prieto

Back to Moscow by Guillermo Erades

Posted January 25, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Back to Moscow by Guillermo EradesTitle: Back to Moscow (Goodreads)
Author: Guillermo Erades
Published: Scribner, 2016
Pages: 371
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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

Martin has just arrived in Moscow, on the advice of an old girlfriend (she thought it would be easier to score a scholarship from a Russian university). He plans to finish his studies and write a thesis on the Russian heroine, exploring the difference between Russian literature and the western world. However, it is the early 2000s and Moscow is changing rapidly, and the appeal of nightclubs, woman and cheap alcohol is distracting him from his study. Guillermo Erades’ debut novel Back to Moscow is a booze soaked exploration of an aspiring writer in a new setting.

Do not get me wrong, I love those novels that are set in New York that follow to wannabe writers that are often difficult men. I cannot get enough of those types of stories but this is so much better, for starters this is about Russian literature. Back to Moscow thrilled me from start to finish because of the setting and the exploration into Russian classics that appeared at the start of every part.

I am normally am hesitant in picking up a book set in Russia by a western author, but I seem to have decent luck with Spanish authors. Granted I have only read Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia by Jose Manuel Prieto and now Back to Moscow but both have impressed me greatly. Maybe my hesitancy should be directed towards American authors rather than the entire western society. I find the lack of knowledge of Russia often reflects poorly on the author.

With Back to Moscow, the whole novel was structured around understanding Russia and its literature and this is a quest that I am personally on as well, so my gushing review is inevitable. I also enjoy reading about terrible people and Martin fits into that category but I never thought of him as an anti-hero. I had some empathy for him, partly because I have made so many of those stupid mistakes. I have put my desire for pleasure over the feelings of others and as result hurt myself and the people I love.

This does not mean I sympathise with Martin; I did get frustrated with every selfish action but I could relate (as much as I hate to admit it). Add that to the mix of an antisocial writer with a passion for Russian literature, and you have someone that closely resembles me (although the bad life choices are over for me, thankfully). I do wonder if Back to Moscow is at all autobiographical, because the way he writes makes me think this is the case.

I like the focus on exploring the differences between Russia and western society. This becomes the focus of the novel. It is this exploration that allows people to try and gain a better understanding of the differences. One of Martin’s friends even said. “You Westerners are always angry because you want to change everything in life. We Russians are always sad because we know that most things cannot be changed.” This quote really stuck with me in really understanding the differences. There is so much more to understand, but I am working on an essay on Russian literature (stay tuned).

“Russia is lost” she continued. “First we had God. Then we had Lenin. Now we have nothing.”

Without giving away much about the plot, I will say that this debut novel impressed me greatly. There is a definite affection for Russia and the classics coming from the author and I think that is the appeal. The novel ends with the perfect metaphor for the entire story and Russia literature itself.

“In Metro systems around the world, a screen about the platform shows the time left until the arrival of the next train. Five minutes. Four minutes. Three minute. Two minutes. One minute. Then the countdown stops and you feel the breeze and you hear the rattle of a new train approaching through the tunnel.

Not in Moscow.

In Moscow’s metro, the electronic counter about the platform shows the time that has passed since the departure of the last train. With unnecessary precision, the seconds keep adding up one by one, informing you not about the train to come, but the one you’ve missed, the train that would be carrying you, if only you arrived earlier. But that train is for ever gone. You don’t know when the next one will arrive.”

The back of the novel compares Guillermo Erades to Ben Lerner and Bret Easton Ellis, while I can see the comparison with Larner, I debate the other. I think the only thing Erades and Ellis have in common is their ability to write a difficult men. Back to Moscow is one of those books that I wanted to turn back to page one and re-read straight away. I cannot say this is a novel that will appeal to everyone, it appealed to me for the reasons I have mentioned. I do not think there is anything profound to get from this book, but the quotes I have added to this review are lines that stuck with me. I find it hard to review this critically because I got so much out of it personally. If you have a love of Russia and its literature then maybe you need to give this book a go as well.


ArmchairBEA 2014: Introduction and Literature

Posted May 26, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in ArmchairBEA / 30 Comments

abea

This is my third year participating in the Armchair BEA event. While I am not an American I do like the opportunity to join with book bloggers around the world and talk about our favourite subject, books. I am sure most people know already but just in case; BEA is the Book Expo of America, held in New York, where people in the book industry of America get to be enticed with new books from publishers. There is an event now known as BookCon where book lovers can experience the same enticement, however they won’t get any diversity. Putting aside the problems with BookCon, I’m pleased to join all the fun with Armchair BEA. This is a virtual conference for the book bloggers that can’t make it to BEA. Over the next few days I will be joining in with this event and their daily blog post topic suggestions.

For the past two years I’ve been enjoying this event, it is a great way to meet new bloggers and show off your own book blog. As this is the first day of Armchair BEA I probably should move on to the topics for the day. Today we are introducing ourselves and talking about my favourite topic…literature. As a way of introduction Armchair BEA has provided ten questions and asks everyone to pick their favourite five and answer them.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from?

My name is Michael, I hail from North Queensland in Australia and I only became a reader in 2009. I started blogging not long after that over at Knowledge Lost as a way to sort my thoughts and explain what I had learnt along the way. I know I need to spend more time on that blog and I’m hoping to get back into it now that I’m forcing myself to write every day. I started Literary Exploration as a way to document my book journey and soon discovered I’m very passionate about books and book blogging. There is one thing I hate about book blogging but for the most part I really enjoy the whole experience.

Describe your blog in just one sentence. Then, list your social details — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. — so we can connect more online.

Literary Exploration is documentation of my bookish journey as I explore literature in all its forms.

You can normally find me on twitter: @knowledgelost or my blog @litexploration as well as Facebook, Instagram, sometimes Tumblr and Pinterest. I’m also very active on Goodreads (also check out the Literary Exploration Book Club), Literally and Booklikes.

What was your favourite book read last year? What’s your favourite book so far this year?

Highlights of 2013 include;

For more books check out my best of 2013 post

Highlights of 2014 (so far) include;

What is your favourite blogging resource?

One of the best investments I’ve made for my blog is the Ultimate Book Blogging Plugin. This one plugin has saved me a lot of time and makes my life so much easier. I can collect a lot of relevant information thanks to this plugin and it automatically updates my review index. It has a lot of cool features and I highly recommend it to all book bloggers. Of course you’ll all have to move to a self-hosted WordPress platform but that is a good idea anyway.

Spread the love by naming your favourite book blogs:

I’m always happy to recommend some great book blogs; here are some that I’m always happy to see updates from;

Time now to look at that all important topic of Literature: I’m a bit of a pretentious reader, so I’m always interested in reading books that are considered high literature. I’ve even set myself a life goal of reading the entire 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die List, I might even try to review them all too. I find myself drawn to literary more as I become a better reader; there is something about the prose and structure that stands out. As a literary explorer I try not to entrench myself in just one genre, but luckily there is plenty of great literary genre novels out there. I don’t have to sacrifice quality in order to read genre fiction.

However there are so many classics out there that I still have to read and I feel bad for not having read books like Middlemarch, The Brothers Karamazov, The Woman in White, The House of Mirth and so on. I want to catch up on all these great novels and I think classics are an essential part of the reading journey. I recommend every reader try to read more classics and to help you along, I suggest joining something like The Classics Club is a great way to challenge yourself to more classics. I want to take to the conversation to the comments but I’d like to ask some questions of the readers to help the conversation along;

  • What is your favourite literary novel (in any genre)?
  • Which classic would you like to read but are dreading?
  • What genre do you spend most of you time reading?
  • What genres tend to scare you?
  • Finally, are there classics that just seem too hard and why?

ArmchairBEA is a virtual convention for book blogger who can’t attend Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention. Button by Sarah of Puss Reboots


Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia by José Manuel Prieto

Posted February 20, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia by José Manuel PrietoTitle: Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia (Goodreads)
Author: José Manuel Prieto
Translator: Esther Allen
Published: Grove Press, 2013
Pages: 224
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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

Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia tells the story of Cuban immigrant Thelonious Monk (not his real name) living in post-Soviet Russia. Monk loves women, many of them, particularly beautiful women. In St Petersburg he meets a young woman named Linda Evangelista (also not her real name) and after brief affair and some correspondence the two strangers become an inseparable pair. He takes her to Yalta where he starts work on a new novel about her, his notes for this novel comprise of this Encyclopaedia.

This is a really tricky novel to talk about, let alone try to understand but I will try to do my best. The novel explores these two misfits as they try to explore through a world that is changing. They are caught between old traditions and modern consumerism. I suspect that Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia is semi-autobiographical as José Manuel Prieto spent twenty years in Russian. Not knowing much of José’s life only leaves me to speculate, but I have to wonder if he is Thelonious, then who is Linda (real name Anastasia Stárseva according to an entry in the ‘L’). She comes across as a really interesting and mysterious character, a modernist who in a past like was an unorthodox poet and bourgeois muse.

The novel is a fusion of history, philosophy, social-critique and in my opinion autobiographical fiction. Though, like many other postmodern novels, there is a degree of difficulty in reading it; the rewards are great but I can’t help wondering just what I’m actually reading here. It’s a satirical, philosophical, meta-fictional encyclopaedia which is evocative of the era in which it was compiled in. This makes it incredibly complex and that would require more knowledge to understand it better. There are references that range from Bach to Dostoyevsky but also consumerism. I found a lot of nods to Russian literature and a better knowledge of this (especially Checkov) would be a huge asset to this novel.

The characters think of themselves as avatars of consumer culture, navigating the border between art and commerce during the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. This means we get this interesting perpective of a changing Russia. Mixed in are conversations about advertisement copy and art criticism. This is invoking a blending (and changing) from the old traditional high art to a more commercial culture.

I love the way that the novel is broken into mock Encyclopaedia entries; it was an interesting narrative type but surprisingly informative. The book did force me to flip between entries, I often found myself going back and forth but this ended up creating an ever-deepening picture of the world they are living in. Reading Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia runs the risk of looking like an idiot while trying to understand this overly complex novel but the reward is far greater and in the end well worth the effort.

I did take me a while to get through this book and even longer to put together my thoughts from the notes I made (yes, I’m trying to write notes now, does it reflect in my reviews?) but I’m so glad I read this novel. The novel is packed with wit, irony, philosophical thought and the written in a poetic voice. This is a translated book from Spanish and I can’t help but be angry that something can sound so beautiful after being translated out of its original language. If you are not afraid of post modernist novels and are willing to put the time and effort into this book, then reading Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia will be highly rewarding experience.