So here I am again… I know, I know. I did promise to minimize my book purchases to just 10 books per quarter. PER QUARTER. But it’s just that the temptation is too great, hence, I ended purchasing 12 books in January. Haha! Imagine that, I’ve already met my quota and it is just the first month of the quarter! What’s even scarier is that the Big Bad Wolf Book sale is just around the corner. But before I carry on with my chatter, here’s my book haul for the first month of 2020.
Title: The Savage Detectives
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Translator: Natasha Wimmer
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publishing Date: 2007
No. of Pages: 575
Synopsis: “New Year’s Eve, 1975: Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, poets and leaders of a movement they call visceral realism, leave Mexico City in a borrowed white Impala. Their mission: to track down the poet Cesarea Tinajero, who disappeared into the Sonoran Desert (and obscurity) decades before. But the detectives are themselves hunted men, and their search for the past will end in violence, flight, and permanent exile.
In this dazzling novel, the book that established Roberto Bolaño’s international reputation, he tells the story of two modern-day Quixotes – the last survivors of an underground literary movement, perhaps of literature itself – on a tragicomic quest through a darkening, entropic universe: our own. The Savage Detectives, is, in the words of El Pais, “the kind of novel Borges would have written… An original and magnificent book: funny, moving, important.”
Title: The Use of Man
Author: Aleksandar Tišma
Translator: Bernard Johnson
Publisher: Hardcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers
Publishing Date: 1988
No. of Pages: 342
Synopsis: “Aleksandar Tišma is a leading Yugoslav novelist, and The Use of Man, published in France in 1985, established him as a major European writer.
In precise and luminous prose, Tišma portrays a group of young friends in the small, dusty town of Novi Sad on the Hungarian border during World War II. They are classmates, as serious and as frivolous as their age demands: they take dancing lessons together, they steal kisses, they learn German from a spinster who keeps a diary. Then the war overtakes them.
Vera is half-Jewish – she is sent to a concentration camp. Sep, her cousin, is German – he becomes a Nazi. Milinko, her boyfriend, is a Serb – he joins the Partisans. Sredoje is a Serb, too – he is driven by the magic of killing.
With stunning clarity, Tišma records the human truth. He draws the precariously slender line that divides the innocent from the guilty, the victim from the murderer – all pulled irrevocably into the game of life and war yet all longing for love.”
Title: The Hunger Angel
Author: Herta Müller
Translator: Philip Boehm
Publishing Date: May 2013
No. of Pages: 285
Synopsis: “It was an icy morning in January 1945 when the patrol came for seventeen-year-old Leo Auberg to deport him to a camp in the Soviet Union. Leo would spend the next five years in a coke-processing plant, shoveling coal, lugging bricks, mixing mortar, and battling the relentless calculus of hunger that governed the labor colony: one shovel load of coal is worth one gram of bread.
Conjuring the distorted world of the labor camp in all its physical and moral absurdity, Nobel laureate Herta Müller has given Leo the language to express the inexpressible, as hunger sharpens his senses into an acuity that is both hallucinatory and profound. Hunger becomes an insatiable angel who haunts the camp, but also a bare-knuckled sparring partner, delivering blows that keep Leo feeling the rawest connection to life. Müller has distilled Leo’s struggle into words of breathtaking intensity that take us on a journey far beyond the Gulag and into the depths of one man’s soul.”
Title: The Book of Imaginary Beings
Author: Jorge Luis Borges
Translator: Norman Thomas di Giovanni
Publishing Date: 2002
No. of Pages: 157
Synopsis: “Few readers will want, or be able, to resist this modern bestiary. Here you will find the familiar – Gryphons, Minotaurs and Unicorns – as well as the Monkey of the Inkpot and other undeniably curious beasts. Borges’ cunning and humorous commentary is sheer delight.”
Title: The Ice Palace
Author: Tarjei Vesaas
Translator: Elizabeth Rokkan
Publisher: Peter Owen
Publishing Date: 2013
No. of Pages: 176
Synopsis: “Introverted eleven-year-old Unn is a recent arrival in a rural community where she lives with her aunt. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with a boisterous schoolmate, Siss, and an unusual bond develops between them. When Siss visits Unn they declare their intense feelings for each other, but Siss feels threatened and leaves. Unn, who has been wanting to share a secret, cannot face Siss the next day. Learning of a forthcoming school outing to the ‘ice palace’ – a giant structure formed by a frozen waterfall – she sets off alone to visit it, never to return.
Siss’s struggle with her fidelity to the memory of her friend, the strange, terrifyingly beautiful frozen chambers of the waterfall and Unn’s fatal exploration of the ice palace are described in prose of a lyrical economy that ranks among the most memorable achievements of modern literature.”
Title: The Red-Haired Woman
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Translator: Ekin Oklap
Publisher: Vintage International
Publishing Date: March 2018
No. of Pages: 306
Synopsis: “On the outskirts of a town thirty miles from Istanbul, a master well digger and his young apprentice – a boy fleeing the confines of his middle-class home – are hired to find water on a barren plain. As they struggle in the summer heat, excavating without luck meter by meter, they develop a filial bond neither has known before. But when the boy catches the eye of a stunning red-haired woman who seems as fascinated by him as he is by her, the events that ensue change the young man’s life forever and haunt him for the next thirty years. A tale of family and romance, of East and West, of tradition and modernity, The Red-Haired Woman is a beguiling mystery from one of the great storytellers of our time.”
Title: Sophie’s Choice
Author: William Styron
Publisher: Random House
Publishing Date: 1979
No. of Pages: 515
Synopsis: “Stingo came to Brooklyn by way of Virginia and the Marine Corps – with a brief sojourn as a manuscript reader at McGraw-Hill. He settled in Yetta Zimmerman’s pink-painted rooming house, where the rent was cheap enough for a young man with only a few hundred dollars to devote himself to the novel he wanted to write. Sophie and Nathan lived upstairs, as he agonizingly discovered when their rocking bed threatened to collapse the ceiling.
Thus began a strange relationship: Sophie, the Polish Catholic girl whose wrist bore the grim stamp of a concentration camp…. Nathan, her lover, the charismatic Jewish intellectual… and the narrator Stingo, the sex-starved “South’n” boy who was instantly captivated by Sophie’s vulnerable blond beauty.
As Stingo struggles with his book – and tries desperately to cope with his growing but unrequited love for the woman upstairs – he also becomes Sophie’s confidant, irresistibly absorbed in the harrowing story she tells of Nathan’s obsessive jealousy and her own unshakable devotion to him.
And as Nathan and Sophie’s quarrels intensify, and Stingo is drawn even more into her life, she is compelled, bit by bit, to confront her past – a past strewn with death that she alone survived.”
Title: The Housekeeper and the Professor
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Translator: Stephen Snyder
Publishing Date: 2009
No. of Pages: 180
Synopsis: “He is a brilliant math professor with a peculiar problem – ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.
She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.
And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities – like the Housekeeper’s shoe size – and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.”
Title: Beware of Pity
Author: Stefan Zweig
Translator: Phyllis and Trevor Blewitt
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Publishing Date: 2003
No. of Pages: 365
Synopsis: “In 1913, a young second lieutenant discovers the terrible danger of pity. He had no idea the girl was lame when he asked her to dance – his compensatory afternoon calls relieve his guilt but give her a dangerous glimmer of hope. Stefan Zweig’s only novel is a devastating realisation of the torment of the betrayal of both honour and love, realised against the background of the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian empire.”
Title: The Little Town Where Time Stood Still
Author: Bohumil Hrabal
Translator: James Naughton
Publisher: New York Review of Books
Publishing Date: 2015
No. of Pages: 299
Synopsis: “The Little Town Where Time Stood Still contains two inked narratives by the incomparable Bohumil Hrabal, whom Milan Kundera has described as “Czechoslovakia’s greatest writer.””Cutting it Short” is set before World War II in a small country town, and it relates the scandalizing escapades of Maryska, the flamboyant wife of Francin, who manages the local brewery. Maryska drinks. She rides a bicycle, letting her long hair fly. She butchers pigs, frolics in blood, and leads on the local butcher. She’s a Madame Bovary without apologies driven to keep up with the new fast-paced mechanized modern world that is obliterating whatever sleepy pieties are left over from he defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire.”The Little Town Where Time Stood Still” is told by Maryska and Francin’s son and concerns the exploits of his Uncle Pepin, who holds his own against the occupying Nazis but succumbs to silence as the new post-World War II Communist order cements its colorless control over daily life. Together, Hrabal’s rousing and outrageous yarns stand as a hilarious and heartbreaking tribute to the always imperiled sweetness of lust, love, and life.
Title: Nineteen Eighty-Four
Author: George Orwell
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 2009
No. of Pages: 342
Synopsis: “Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life—the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language—and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written. (Source: Goodreads)”
Title: Grief is the Thing With Feathers
Author: Max Porter
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publishing Date: 2015
No. of Pages: 114
Synopsis: “Here he is, husband and father, scruffy romantic, a shambolic scholar – a man adrift in the wake of his wife’s sudden, accidental death. And there are his two sons, who, like him, struggle in their London flat to face the unbearable sadness that has engulfed them. The father imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness while the boys wander, safe and unsupervised.
in this moment of violent despair, they are visited by Crow – an antagonist, trickster, goad, protector, therapist, and bay-sitter. This self-described “sentimental bird,” at once wild and tender, who “finds human dull except in grief,” threatens to stay with the wounded family until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and the pain of loss lessens with the balm of memories, Crow’s efforts are rewarded and the little unit of three begins to recover: Dad resumes his book about the poet Ted Hughes; the boys get on with it, grow up.”
And that ends my list of January book purchases. It finally dawns on me that, apart from Pamuk, these are all authors whose works I’ve never read before. Moreover, the majority are translated works. Wow. I didn’t realize that until I did this post. I guess I have to pat my back for a diverse collection.
How about you, fellow readers? What were your January 2020 book purchases? Do share it in the comment box.
Happy weekend reading!