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Alfred J. Kwak

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My Father's Book
My Father's Book
Prix : EUR 11,59

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Stunning companion volume, 14 juin 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : My Father's Book (Format Kindle)
The intriguing mountain state of Switzerland is better known for discreet banking and precision engineering, creating top pharmaceutical and food companies than for its contributions to the arts. This fantastic brief novel is a companion volume to Urs Widmer (UW; 1938-2014)’s “My mother’s lover” whose sheer imagery in its Italian parts invokes Bertolucci’s movie classic “Novecento” and in which UW’s father was mentioned just once. The omission is richly compensated in this portrait full of strong, colorful prose and ideas and with surprises on almost every page.
In mother Clara’s book, UW tried to dispel the notion of Switzerland being immune to the arts with the help of its early embrace of modern 20th century classical music. Here, the focus is on his father Karl’s passion for books and literature (and music and the visual arts}. Karl is creative all the time, teaching, translating and organizing events and amassing tons of books and gramophone records. Other Swiss artists are depicted at best as epigones, elite Swiss as clever early buyers of promising, foreign artists whose works are today the pride of museums worldwide. Father Karl also becomes a Communist and forgets to file his taxes… Time and again, readers already familiar with Clara’s life story, will find new reasons to love this volume.
It all starts with a long, almost hypnotically-described tale of father Karl’s ancient mountain Swiss tribal initiation into manhood at the age of twelve, a fairy tale almost. [Its location and much of its imagery will return many decades later when ancestral duty prescribes that he makes the arduous foot journey again to collect and carry down the coffin made at his dad’s birth, and who died the day before.]
Traumatic Swiss events discussed in Clara’s book are retold, e.g. the bloody general strike of 1918, the crash of 1929, WW II, but differently: we learn, for example, that its writers union asked authorities to forbid aliens to publish. Finally, I confess to having read both volumes in awesomely competent and elegant Dutch translations, which gave them the drive, flow and depth they deserve. Readers want exceptional big novels to go on forever. I galloped through Clara’s exceptional tale, then held my horses reading about Karl, attending to long-overdue chores every few pages, to make the bliss last longer. Highly recommended.


The Shadow of the Sun
The Shadow of the Sun
par Ryszard Kapuscinski
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 11,16

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Collection of artivles on Africa covering 40 years, 9 juin 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Shadow of the Sun (Broché)
During his lifetime RK has produced at least 3 superb monographs, on Ethiopia ("The Emperor"), on Iran ("Shah of Shahs") and on the remains of the Soviet Union ("Imperium"). In addition, he has has written numerous accounts of his adventures as a correspondent of the Polish News Agency during and after the end of the Cold War, in his own language and in journals such as GRANTA. The best of his pieces were brought together in collections such as "The Soccer War". It must be remembered that his entire oeuvre was created in the pre-internet era. He relied on a device called "telex" to get his messages to Warsaw. The original telexes, his notebooks and his elephantine memory have been the main inputs for his books.
The present volume is an overview of his writing on Africa from 1958 to 1998. Unlike most writers on Africa, RK has always elected, perhaps also for lack of funds, to live in close contact with Africans, living in cheap accomodations and giving the diplomatic circuit a wide berth. His insight into what threatens Africa's progress and what spurs its people to continue to struggle for a better life, is awesome. True academics, professional friends and critics of Africa, should take some time out to read this collection, which is not entirely without small errors: plantations of rubber trees in Sudan? Bantu farmers in Mali? Also, it does not deeply address issues like the Cold War, problems resulting from debt and Western-imposed limitations on free trade, or domestic corruption.
However, RK has captured the soul of Africans living South of the Sahara better than anyone. Highly recommended.


You, Darkness
You, Darkness
par Mayra Montero
Edition : Relié

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Enchanting, 7 juin 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : You, Darkness (Relié)
This short novel is a warm, well-researched, -written and -plotted account of the cooperation of two strangers in a hostile and depressing environment, Haiti in 1992-3. Victor is a US-based herpetologist specialized in toads and frogs, who is intent on solving the mystery of the decline and extinction of many of their species worldwide. He hopes that catching a specimen of a near-extinct, perhaps crucial species in Haiti will secure him a new life far away from home and put an end to his poisonous relationship with his mother and his marine biologist wife.
Prematurely aged Thierry is his guide. He is a native of Haiti and has assisted a foreign herpetologist before. The book consists of 20 titled, alternating chapters written or spoken by the two main protagonists, interspersed with short reports about the decline/disappearance/extinction of yet other frog or toad species, in Switzerland, Wyoming, Costa Rica, etc. in the 1980's and 90's.
In the novel Victor and Thierry gradually tell their life stories and record their progress and setbacks while tracking the elusive frog. Thierry tries to protect Victor without falling foul of the spiritual world in which he is deeply involved, or with Haiti's contemporary dangers such as gang- and state-sponsored violence with impunity that inspired Victor's wife to warn him that Haiti is not a safe place.
Thierry wishes to die with no one bearing him ill will and to see his loved ones again in the next world. Throughout their acquaintance he is intrigued by Victor's description of the ostriches his father farms in the US, the birds' properties (they can kill a man with one kick, their meat can feed 100 men) and wishes one for himself. Victor promises to buy him one, once they find his cherished frog. It would make Thierry's wake and burial legendary and put both the spirits and the living at rest, one thinks.
This is a very rich book. Its content will never be fully understood. Nor will Haiti.


Research (English Edition)
Research (English Edition)
Prix : EUR 5,99

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Not for me, not now, 6 juin 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Research (English Edition) (Format Kindle)
A golden rule as reader is to ask myself at page 50, am I curious about what is on the next page and how this book ends? I dismiss “Research” on this criterion. Why? Because of its tone and structure. Narrator and Scotsman Donald Irvine is one of four ghostwriters of a writing ‘atelier’ that helped make John Houston the world’s bestselling author, with John providing rock-solid, perfectly researched 75-page outlines and the atelier fleshing them out into blockbusters. They were well paid incl. copious royalties until collectively dismissed. Not much later, John’s wife is found shot dead in their Monaco apartment and John is missing along with his Land Cruiser…
As a police procedural, it progresses at snail’s pace because of the narrator’s verbosity. As a chronicle of the publishing industry, it contains eye openers and lesser bits compared to e.g. Martin Amis, whose name is dropped repeatedly, along with others. Chatty, opinionated and witty beyond belief about all sorts of things, Kerr slowed, then stalled my appetite for the next 300 pp …
Nonetheless, undoubtedly rich in many respects and probably a joyful excursion from normal duty for the author. Out of respect for his oeuvre, three stars. I may return to this book in winter and possibly upgrade my vote.


Doctor Slaughter
Doctor Slaughter
par Théroux
Edition : Broché

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Perfect novella, 6 juin 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Doctor Slaughter (Broché)
Paul Theroux (PT) has written perhaps 50 travel books, novels and collections of stories situated in Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe and the Americas. A number of his works have been televised; “The Mosquito Coast”, situated in Honduras, was made into a popular movie. He moves easily between fiction and controlled autobiography. His one foray into science fiction (“O-Zone”), written for his children, was quite rewarding. He published two studies of V.S. Naipaul, one admiring about the early works, the other scathing about the man himself, 30 years later.
“Doctor Slaughter” is an unforgettable tale about ambition, confusion, penury, lust and betrayal in London, featuring a new American, PhD-holding female fellow of a British think tank, who soon embarks on a double life. There are many angles: poor living conditions and pay scales in London, the UK's pretension to play a role in a world that has slipped from its grasp; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And Lauren Slaughter's own psychological profile, which is quite alarming after reading the first two dozen pages...
This novella was made into a well-received movie called “Half Moon Street”, starring Sigourney Weaver and Michael Caine.
I consider this brief work one of PT's best achievements. It is a riveting tale and once begun, most readers will read on until it is finished. The 145 pages in fairly large print make this quite feasible. This is a slim stand-alone masterpiece. Publishers should make it available again as such. Why? It has not aged, it has no PC-induced flab, and its message is as acute as it was in the year of publication (1984). And it makes a perfect small surprise present to thinking people.
As a stand-alone work it has been published as “Doctor Slaughter” and as “Half Moon Street”. It is available mostly second hand, with prices starting at EUR 0,01 and USD 0,01; it is also included in a collection of PT's short novels published in 2006. A neat, concise, terrifying story.


The Complaints
The Complaints
par Ian Rankin
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 13,05

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Debut of a new crime fighter in Edinburgh, 6 juin 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Complaints (Broché)
In 19 successful, award-winning, televised books Ian Rankin (IR) let Inspector John Rebus (JR) age and mature like a single malt whisky, then retired him. His new hero has abstained from drink for 5 years, but a few molecules of a single malt poured yards away in the pub reach his nose and make his mouth water. His name is Malcolm Fox (MF), a big lad in his forties, once briefly married, living alone, paying for his ailing father's care in a retirement home and keeping an eye on his alcoholic sister. Despite his appearance, he has earned the nickname "Foxy", because he is clever. He serves with the Internal Affairs (IA) section of a branch of the Edinburgh police.

In real life and in many crime novels the IA section and its staff are deeply loathed by policemen. IA is what the Military Police is for the army. It investigates complaints from within the police and from citizens. They range from parking a police car on a place earmarked for invalids to accusations of corruption and links with criminals. Lee Child has written a series of great books about a former MP called Jack Reacher. But a police procedural written from within IA is rare. Unique?
At the start of the book MF has little time to rejoice about the suspension and possible prosecution of a shifty police inspector living a high life, when he is asked to discretely investigate brigadier Jamie Breck (JB). He is suspected of being part of a child pornography ring run by a policeman in Australia. A day later the body is found of his sister's abusive boy friend. And the investigator of this murder is JB...
Enough has been said. "The Complaints" takes 18 days in February 2009 to introduce the new hero, his problems and his search for solutions. The novel unfurls at the height of Scotland's own banking and credit crisis, with money-laundering project developers pursued by criminal investors who want their money back, lots of abandoned construction projects, bankers treated as pariahs, and Edinburgh traffic in turmoil thanks to a payment dispute with the German contractor of a new tram line.
IR makes a diverse cast of characters work hard to turn "The Complaints" into a memorable read. Readers in the UK have been overwhelmingly positive about his new creation Malcolm Fox. Many hope MF will one day find a reason to bring back John Rebus out of retirement. If not, IR has created the basics of a new star investigator operating from a deeply-hated department. Perhaps too much dialogue and a wee bit too long.


Brooklyn
Brooklyn
par Colm Tóibín
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 6,79

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Searing tale about 1950s Ireland, 3 juin 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Brooklyn (Broché)
This book has perhaps been written with female readers in mind, rather than men. The author is male and a good writer, because what he has done is full of risks and pitfalls. He portrayed an unemployed Irish girl with a head for figures, her father deceased four years earlier, her three brothers having moved to Birmingham, there being no jobs in SE Ireland in the early 1950s. Thoughts, conventions, fears of what neighbors might think, 1950s brand names and business practices are superbly described.
Living with her mother and elder sister in a state of respectable poverty, Eilis Lacey (EL), is offered the chance of a lifetime by a visiting Irish priest to work in the US, in Brooklyn, NY, in a department store specialized in women's clothing.
Strict Irish conventions delay EL's ability to react to new situations and her own feelings. This becomes clear during her sea voyage to America, at work and the first months in the boardinghouse for single girls of Irish extraction in Brooklyn. Suffering badly from homesickness, the same priest who arranged for her to come here, arranges evening studies for her and involves her in parish Christmas dinners for the poor and invites her to attend fund-raising Friday night dance parties.
Now the book picks up pace. She meets Tony, a very good boy indeed. They plan a life together, but when fate strikes in Ireland. she has to return. And there she meets Jim again, a much-changed person...
Readers must take over and read and enjoy this book and decide, perhaps in book discussion meetings, what prevails, love or responsibility? What about the role of Eilis' mother? And is Eilis a naïve or a bad girl? Highly recommended.


Granta 110: Sex
Granta 110: Sex
par John Freeman
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 17,95

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Great collection of stories, 28 mai 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Granta 110: Sex (Broché)
This GRANTA issue caters to many tastes. “Tokyo Island” by the awesome Japanese woman novelist Natsuo Kirino evokes a fairy-tale world of two waves of shipwrecked people stranded on an unpopulated, lush tropical island. Kiyoko is the only female in a population of 30+ Japanese and Chinese men named Tokyoites and Hong Kongers. They don’t mix, divide the island between them and evolve in different directions, always with Kiyoko on their mind. Also a parable for Japan and China’s recent territorial disputes?
Strong eroticism is provided in a uniquely-structured declaration of love via a story by Emmanuel Carrère’s “This is For You”. The fictional author/journalist is a love-struck control freak who has been planning the publication of his ode to his loved one months ahead, to coincide with her traveling on a Saturday afternoon on a high speed train towards him, with her choosing “Le Monde” with its weekend edition (circulation 600.000) as her natural choice of entertainment during the journey… .
At least three stories deal with being gay, its discovery, full blast enjoyment and lonely aftermath. Alan Founds’ portrait of a moody, confused and nasty vicar in a London suburb is intriguing and perfectly written. For this straight reader, Mark Doty’s coming-out story ”The Unwriteable”, summarizes it all: the charm, glory, joy, fulfillment of gay-hood can never be conveyed through writing to non-gays.
Tom McCarthy’s story “The Spa” is more about constipation than sex. Its victim is a male English adolescent in an old Central European spa brimming with history, meeting a beautiful anemic girl of his own age… His and Mr. Founds’ story really evoke smells, sounds, images to an almost cinematographic degree. Not one rotten apple in this basket. Very rich volume, not to be missed.


My Mother's Lover
My Mother's Lover
Prix : EUR 11,59

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Super rich and memorable novella, 27 mai 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : My Mother's Lover (Format Kindle)
Powerfully written, colorful and lyrical novella describing an unrequited love story, contrasting deep poverty with stolidly guarded-wealth and status and highlighting an early passion for nascent 20th century classical music. It is also a tribute to mother Clara and her loved one, Edwin. It covers many decades. It is situated before and after 1929 and the here and now in Switzerland and Italy, with the historical founding father of mother Clara’s family a stowaway from Abyssinia. In 1929, rich family fortunes evaporated or halved in value, but the Swiss have always had - in good times and bad - plenty of business acumen and management skills.
The action hurtles along at breakneck speed, and I would be a spoiler if I went into further detail. Awesome powers of description. Cameo appearances of e.g. Béla Bartók and Benito Mussolini. Wonderful sketches of the Swiss and how they survived WW II. But the mother is the quirky, borderline hero of this fable about lions and dogs. This fabulous tribute is written by her only son. What about the father? He is mentioned only once in this tale, but Urs Widmer (1938-2014) of whose existence I was unaware until a few days ago, made him the subject of his next novella, “My Father’s Book”.
What a writer to create so much excitement, richness and enjoyment in so few pages! Reading groups will enjoy discussing mother Clara’s life and times.


Indignation
Indignation
par Philip Roth
Edition : Broché

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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Sensitive masterpiece about a forgotten era, 26 mai 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Indignation (Broché)
Late 19th and early 20th Jewish immigrants in the US worked long hours in physical jobs, hoping their children would do better thanks to education. This book is about the years 1950-1952 during the Korean War. From a young age Marcus Messner (MM) is a model son who helps his parents run a kosher butchery in Newark, NJ. He graduates with straight A’s from high school and helps his father in the shop until his departure to a nearby college. The signs were already there, but once MM has moved out his father is developing ever more irritating and intrusive bouts of anger at the world around him and anxiety about his only son's safety.
MM always has Korea on his mind: if he flunks he will be drafted and killed. Better to graduate with top marks and become an officer and improve his chance of survival. But his father’s frantic behavior prompts MM to move to a mediocre college in Ohio, where he does not always deal smartly with a series of new challenges and problems. Only two of the 15+ fraternities accept Jews, but he refuses to join the only Jewish one on campus, suspecting (rightly) his meddling father asked them to recruit him. When he joins later on, he will come to regret his decision…
Philip Roth became world famous with “Portnoy’s Complaint” (1969) and is today an institution among American literary writers. This short novel is often funny, often sad, always moving and a pleasure to read. Readers have to find out for themselves how MM will solve his different problems. Roth has written a domestic American history of an almost forgotten war. To recreate the atmosphere of the time, create a tense plot and a range of believable characters is a great achievement.


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