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Commentaires écrits par
Alfred J. Kwak

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Nightwing (English Edition)
Nightwing (English Edition)
Prix : EUR 8,37

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Clash of worldviews and belief systems, 11 mars 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Nightwing (English Edition) (Format Kindle)
Re-reading good books after 30+ years makes some even better today. ‘Nightwing” (1977) challenges readers in the opening chapter, set in an Indian reserve in Arizona to read on, because of the strangeness of it all. It describes a meeting between Youngman, an Indian sheriff’s deputy and 90-year old outcast/witch/priest/gas station owner Abner, busily preparing for a ritual aimed at ending the world as it is. A day later Abner is found dead by external impact. Youngman was his only remaining friend and does what he is paid to do, investigate, and a lot more…
This thriller is the fruit of (perhaps) personal acquaintance with living in an Indian reservation in Arizona and a great deal of research on Navajo and Hopi history, religion and livelihoods, and immunology, rabies and plague. Plus politically-charged subjects like native Indian rights to land, water and mineral resources amidst destitution, drugs & alcohol and horrendous health indicators. And finally, about life in a desert brimming with live creatures becoming host and habitat for a swarm of immigrants from South of the Rio Grande, predatory, highly intelligent vampire bats…
Youngman is an ex-convict operating in a dismal social environment where few people trust him and he trusts no one, much like Arkadi Renko, MCS’s hero of 8 books situated in the (former) Soviet Union and its sphere of influence. There, readers were struck by the authenticity, suffocating atmosphere, the smells almost that his writing evoked. This precursor has all the same qualities plus careful plotting, awesome descriptive powers of natural phenomena and great dialogue. A rich classic.

Arctic Chill
Arctic Chill
par Arnaldur Indridason
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 9,00

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Impecable, great read, 4 mars 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Arctic Chill (Broché)
Originally published in 2005, this gloomy police procedural has two major and two minor storylines. The most acute case is the fatal stabbing of a 10-year old boy who was half Thai, the other the disappearance of a woman. The side stories concern the death of retired Marion Briem, Erlendur’s erstwhile mentor and superior, and occasional flashes from Erlendur’s bleak private life, his vague lady friend, his problematic children. It is mostly about multiculturalism and its detractors, their ideas to correctly deal with newcomers (here, mostly children of Asian women married/divorced to Icelandic men), who have trouble integrating. Many issues raised by the current European migrant crisis have already been discussed here, which is no mean feat.
Faithful readers are aware of Erlendur’s obsession with missing persons and disappearances without trace. The loss of his kid brother during an epic snowstorm has been a life-long burden for him. No trace of the missing woman in this investigation has been found after weeks of meticulous investigations. But it transpires that her husband has a history of adultery; she was one too, because she left a stunned husband for him. When such a couple marries, Erlendur has read somewhere, the likelihood of failing again is 95% and he is fairly confident her body will wash ashore soon, to be classified suicide. Until he receives a brief, mysterious phone call. From whom? From her? Then, days later, another one….
Some readers are upset by the chaotic dates of publication and translation of AI’s books. I think the series was never meant to be about Erlendur. AI’s key interest as a proud Icelander is highlighting major events in its history: the US occupation during WW II, early treatment of TB in Danish times, the Spassky-Fisher showdown, Iceland’s unique genetic uniformity and perfect historical recordkeeping, even the early lure of its cultural heritage to the Nazis. All his books can be read on their own and the list is not complete either, but it explains the occasional prequel book or using alternative investigators for Erlendur.
His frank treatment of issues pertaining to immigration, integration and Icelandic identity is another major contribution to a nation of just 330.000 citizens’ own modern history. This is one of his best and highly recommended.

On The Beach
On The Beach
par Nevil Shute Norway
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 11,93

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Masterpiece, 27 février 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : On The Beach (Broché)
First published in 1956, this novel is considered by many Nevil Shute’s best. It is situated in Australia in 1963 a year or so since the entire northern hemisphere has perished as a result of MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction, a nuclear war between the US, China and Russia. It is a post-Cold War book and a plea for non-proliferation, because all the trouble started with tiny nations gaining access to nuclear weapons and long distance bombers, i.e. Albania and Egypt. They started the trouble. I was briefly tempted to laugh out loud, but carried on reading.
What is the impact on the much smaller landmass of the southern hemisphere of no more oil, trade or news and the knowledge that the atmosphere is slowly carrying nuclear waste toward South Africa and Australia, where Darwin, Cairns and Port Morresby have already been abandoned? What is left of the rest of world? Montevideo (Uruguay) is living on borrowed time too and that is where one of the few surviving US nuclear-powered submarines is berthed following a lengthy reconnaissance of America’s east coast and Europe’s coasts and ports. Its sister ship is based near Melbourne and will make a similar voyage to e.g. Pearl Harbor, Seattle and Dutch Harbor off Alaska. Seattle is esp. interesting since hours of garbled morse signals have been picked up from the area. How the mission ends?
Shute’s style, idioms and 40-page chapters may challenge fresh readers, but not for long. This novel is also a love story and a psychological novel. How does a submarine crew cope with the loss of loved ones? How do Australians cope without fuel for cars and other scarcities and problems facing death from radiation, whose symptoms resemble cholera? Awesome novel which must have inspired Stieber & Kunetka’s “Warday” (1985), reprinted in 2015, an awesome post-nuclear novel in report form.

Undermajordomo Minor
Undermajordomo Minor
Prix : EUR 9,98

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Pseudo fairytale without a message, 18 février 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Undermajordomo Minor (Format Kindle)
Loved PdW’s debut for its portrayal of alcoholism in the rarely-used accusative and second person singular-style. Enjoyed his absurdist “The Sisters Brothers”, shortlisted for Britain’s most prestigious literary prize. Was this novel or novella (my edition is generous with empty space) written to make no sense or point at all? Written in the polite, elevated language of moralistic German fairytales and situated in a country with steam-powered trains and high mountains where gold coins are an accepted currency, it is another exercise in making no sense and being absurd.
It has all the ingredients on a fairytale. A slightly-built, uncourageous youth named Lucien (17, but called Lucy by everyone), strikes out into the world. Thanks to his village pastor he finds employment in a faraway castle high up in the mountains. There, and in the poor village at its feet, he submits to plenty of novel impressions, some nice, some horrid. Such as feeling liked, loved even (Klara!), but also fear and confusion about what he sees. But PdW refuses to turn his novel into a Gothic tale. So what is it?
It is a colorful collection of anecdotes and incidents undergone or seen by Lucy, devoid of substance, meaning or morality. An alienating novel because of its weird personal and place names, gross aristocratic excess, unexplained regional war and other stretches of the imagination. A redeeming feature is that Lucy does have feelings, some strong, others muted by polite manners of speech. There is love and rivalry for the heart of Klara. There is perseverance towards the end, so that he emerges from the pitch dark back to the world as he knew it, the castle, the village below, his place of birth. But there is no point at all to what he has done, no consequence, prize or moral. At times this reader was ready to abandon this novel, thinking why bother with this shit any longer. I persevered right to the final page and am proud of myself. Pointless and disappointing.

The Secret Pilgrim
The Secret Pilgrim
par John le Carré
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 10,76

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Smiley's final appearance, 13 février 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Secret Pilgrim (Broché)
This wonderful book marks the end of George Smiley as a book character. John Le Carre (JLC) uses him cleverly as a prop to allow another lifelong spy called Ned to muse about his own lengthy spying career. Sarratt or the Nursery, where Service recruits are trained, is where GS has been invited to speak to the latest crop of graduates about e.g. being a spy, how it affects one’s personality and how the collapse of the Wall may change their ancient profession. Ned’s 13 case studies pass by chronologically, always preceded by a wise thought or stirring viewpoint by George Smiley made during his final appearance and public performance. The cases are exceptionally well written with JLC reaffirming his width of knowledge and depth of reading and psychological insight, and powers of empathy. Each lovely description is a gem, but two cases are especially searing, the Hansen case situated during the Vietnam War and the dramatic exposure of cipher clerk Cyril.
This grand book’s brief final chapter contains the seeds of what has inspired John Le Carre since. It also deals with Ned’s final days in the Service when he is asked to put pressure on an arms dealer to stop dealing with shady clients in the Balkan, notably Serbia, and Central Africa. Prophetic in spy novel published in 1990, because the Balkans exploded in 1991 and Rwanda and Congo some years later… This book is elegantly composed, beautifully written, full of atmosphere and perfect characterizations, and stunning dialogues, interrogations and tradecraft. Great send off. Stunningly good read.

Slade House
Slade House
par David Mitchell
Edition : Relié
Prix : EUR 17,02

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Superb and great fun, 8 février 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Slade House (Relié)
Was totally captivated by this intriguing book and its many compelling characters. It spans more than 125 years but is not written in a linear way. Rather, it bounces back and forth, but moves mainly forward, time-wise and deals with the extraordinary lives and times of Norah and Jonah, who are twins with a rare condition and mission.
SF or science fiction is about upsetting and contradicting the laws of physics. Most SF concerns beings from outer space invading and settling among us, or us invading them. David Mitchell has earlier and successfully played with the concepts of time and space in novels in which time warps, parallel realities and spatial dislocations became seemingly normal events. “Slade House” is a statement and a great book to (re-)read, because it is impossible to summarize and a masterpiece drawing on different traditions dealing with immortality, religion and physics. Mitchell has also enriched the English language with a few handfuls of new verbs and nouns and given a novel meaning to existing ones. Rich in ideas, great characters and dialogues, superbly written and -composed, it contains an added enhancement: the titles of songs playing in crucial scenes, for discerning fans to consult via YouTube while reading. Am sure I will enjoy this brilliant piece of nonsense even more upon re-reading. Not to be missed.

Absolute Friends
Absolute Friends
par John Le Carré
Edition : Broché

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Looking ahead in anger, 2 février 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Absolute Friends (Broché)
Found this 2003 novel in my bookcase, unread. Reading it in 2016-- with Europe trying to stem or at least control an unprecedented stream of asylum seekers from e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria—adds an extra dimension to this JLC novel, which back then must have been highly controversial in countries that signed up to the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ formed in response to 9/11. Do not know how the book was received in France, Germany and Russia, nations unconvinced by the arguments of George Bush Jr. and Tony Blair, whom JLC likens not as Bush’s lapdog, but as his guide dog and the true genius behind the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The key themes of this sprawling, somewhat overwritten novel are permutations of the verb ‘to lie’. They appear time and again in many contexts.
The absolute friends are Ted Mundy (b. 1947 during the Indian Partition) and Sasha (b. 1945 in Germany). They first meet in 1969 in West Berlin where Sasha enjoys a cult-like status as a (non-violent) activist. Ten years later, they meet again, with Ted working out of London for the British Council and Sasha, having reverse-jumped the Wall, an employee of the Ministry of State Security, a Stasi. Or not, or what? Over the next decade, they meet 49 times in centers and outposts of the Evil Empire at occasions the British Council has graced to support with groups of dancers, trade unionists, what not? They exchange carefully-hidden and -doctored fake information… The fall of the Wall disrupts contact between them.
Readers must read themselves how they meet again after 9/11, now in their mid-fifties, with Ted in dire financial trouble and how JLC involves them in a totally callous joint US-UK conspiracy in Heidelberg, a cherished venue in German-American history.
Positive: JLC’s passionate and lyrical writing, awesome descriptions of major and minor characters. Many memorable sayings and observations. His courage to challenge what he hates (lies by politicians and their backers, esp. US Republicans and UK’s New Labour). Ted is another incarnation of a favorite JLC life form, the tall male past his prime intent on undoing all previous mediocrity or failure by a final coup of brilliance.
Negative: JLC is not economical with words. Overlong book and chapters (30 pp). Recorded conversations between Ted and Sasha are endless and frustrating because Sasha remains enigmatic and made out of cardboard. Too slow, regularly tediously so.
Otherwise, the closing chapter explains to confused readers like me what they may have missed as a result of all the lying and lyricism on earlier pages. Deep book that I will read again.

par Arnaldur Indridason
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 7,94

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Dark tales of anger and remorse, 27 janvier 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Voices (Broché)
A week before Christmas, police detective Erlendur investigates a knife killing in a small basement room of a big hotel. The victim is the live-in , uniformed doorman of long standing, dressed up as Father Christmas, below the belt wearing only a condom. This Erlendur case written in 2002 befits the moods of people who hate X-mas and the dark days preceding it. Such as Erlendur. He books a room and from there he directs his team’s investigations for the next five days or so.
Author AI’s main preoccupation is to highlight significant events and/or developments in Iceland’s recent history. Erlendur fits the role of lead character in most of AI’s books, occasionally in the form of prequels. When necessary time-wise, AI finds an alternative for him. In this novel the overriding themes are coming out in Iceland and how to bring up children. Perhaps a third theme is the shock of bereavement when young and its lifelong impact on some people. [This third theme is repeated again in “Hypothermia” (2007). As befits the genre, the investigation yields plenty of lies and half-truths, malicious gossip and red herrings and the real culprit is unmasked at a late stage. Another way to read this work is to consider it a psychological novel full of pent-up fury and incomprehension.
The only tokens of relief and lightness in this work as dark as the days before Christmas, are key witness accounts written in italics and short, ten-page chapters.

The Mask of Dimitrios
The Mask of Dimitrios
Prix : EUR 6,50

5.0 étoiles sur 5 A true classic, 25 janvier 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Mask of Dimitrios (Format Kindle)
Carefully phrased and beautifully-composed and –written account of the search for a faceless international criminal by a British former university lecturer turned author of detective novels. First published in 1939, Eric Ambler weaves a tale of rags to riches of Dimitrios, an evil man whose first and foremost care is to remain in the dark, unable to identify or trace. [Ambler also predicted WWII to start in the spring of 1940, and accused a bank connected to Dimitrios of financing schemes undermining Balkan stability. Surely, there were more banks doing this.] This book’s action consists of forgotten, bloody and treacherous flashbacks dating back to 1922 and earlier, and ongoing, meticulous investigations during 1938-9, which occasionally turn violent and bloody too.
I invite new readers to enjoy and admire Eric Ambler’s great writing skills, whose impact has been considerable. Alfred Hitchcock and Graham Greene were early admirers. Ian Fleming’s fifth James Bond adventure “From Russia with Love” (1957) is a true homage to this novel. There are small and bigger parallels like the occasional mention of roses, use of titled chapters, the books having exactly the same length, its venues of Paris, Turkey and the Balkan region, and the Orient-Express connecting Paris with Istanbul, all playing a part. There is more, for readers to discover..
The character of Dimitrios may have inspired Ian Fleming into creating evil characters aspiring for more than just great wealth and respectability. Fleming’s evil characters had ambitions far beyond Dimitrios’ wildest dreams….

From Russia with Love: James Bond 007
From Russia with Love: James Bond 007
par Ian Fleming
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 9,54

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Homage to Eric Ambler, 25 janvier 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : From Russia with Love: James Bond 007 (Broché)
My latest haul from the library included this 1957 title and “The Mask of Dimitrios” (1939) by Eric Ambler. Both books were freshly (2015 ) translated into my mother tongue. Read it as a teenager in cheap paperback format when school libraries banned authors like Ian Fleming and Georges Simenon. As a book, it is not as thrilling as e.g. “Marathon Man” or “Kolymsky Heights”, later spy thrillers, but still quite good reading today against a backdrop of mounting frustration about New Russia.
James Bond on paper and on screen differ. Writers endow characters with thoughts, the ability to read and far more speech than screenwriters and film directors can deal with. In this book, James Bond is more naive than on screen and even reads books. On his slow flight from London to Istanbul, later in his hotel, Bond is immersed in “The Mask…”, regarded by experts like Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene and John Le Carré as an absolute masterpiece. This fifth Bond adventure is a true homage to Eric Ambler and “The Mask…”. The Orient-Express running between Paris and Istanbul plays a role in both books. So is the occasional mention of roses, having titled chapters and exactly the same length. Most of all, the Dimitrios character, a faceless, rootless international criminal, must have inspired Ian Fleming hugely.
Political correctness was invented long after 1957. Here, Ian Fleming’s good guys are blue-eyed, the bad ones are caricatures with Soviet or Balkan roots, whilst France with its communist labor unions is another suspect nation… Otherwise, a compelling plot, some excellent, some lesser scenes, and not too many brand names. It has not aged much, except re devices and transport. Everyone except James Bond in his prestigious Chelsea street has this new contraption called a television. Flying in 1957 happened 50% (s)lower than today. And the Orient-Express is history.
The closing chapters have plenty of loose ends. The finish is a cliff hanger.

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