Tag Archives: bookblog

Ways to Disappear

Although I finished Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear today, I lost interest about half way through.  After checking reviews on NPR and the New York Times, I changed my approach.  At page 89, I stopped, went to the back of the book and starting reading it backwards – very satisfying.

Because Novey’s chapters are so short, sometimes only a paragraph, this approach may not have worked in any other book.

Novey, a poet and translator of books from Spanish and Portuguese into English, focuses her debut novel around a popular Brazilian writer, Beatriz Pagoda, and her American translator, Emma.  Beatriz climbs an almond tree in Copacabana with only her suitcase and her cigar and promptly disappears; Emma decides to leave her boyfriend in Pittsburgh to find the author in Brazil.

The story has fits and starts as Emma meets the author’s adult children, falls in love with Marcus, her son, and discovers Beatriz is a secret internet poker player with a massive debt. The local loan sharks are determined to recover their cash, and the search for Beatriz becomes a race among her publisher, looking for her next book; the cartel, looking for their money; and Emma, who uses clues from Beatriz’s novels to try to find her.

The action includes kidnapping, torture, and death, but also romance and adventure, and offers some reflections on how writers affect their readers.  In the end, Emma finds her true place, and the writer may or may not live on in her words. And yes, she is found.

The book was not a translation but it often read like one that had been originally written in another language, a little choppy and disconnected, but with enough intrigue and adventure for a good script.  If you are thinking Ways to Disappear is another version of Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, think again –

Delay Tactic 247

Unknown    I have a stack of books from the library I should read – award winning, thoughtful, well-written books – The Year of the Runaways (Man Booker), Fortune Smiles (National Book Award) among them.  I’ve renewed them, and they sit accusingly on my coffee table.

But I need something else – something light, distracting…

What I Am Reading:

P. G. Wodehouse’s Something Fresh on audible

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson on iPhone

Cruel Shoes by Steve Martin on iPad

Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain – battered old paperback

One of them should work to improve my mood.

Do you have any suggestions?

The Noise of Time

9781101947241_p0_v1_s192x300    To grasp Julian Barnes’ stream of consciousness rambling in The Noise of Time, background information on the narrator, famous Russian composer Shostakovich, is necessary, as is listening to his music.

With fleeting references to Dmitry Shostakovich’s youth as a musical prodigy, Barnes focuses the first part of his book on Shostakovich’s early success with his orchestrated Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Listening to the discordant and sharp tones can be both other worldly and agonizing. Despite world-wide acclaim, the opera irritated Stalin and the dictator left in the last act before the opera ends. As a result, Shostakovich was attacked in the Soviet press – usually a harbinger to miserable consequences in Stalin Russia. Fearing imprisonment – Barnes has him waiting every night by his elevator, expecting to be arrested.

Barnes successfully gets inside the composer’s head as he recounts the beginning of the Great Terror, in which many of the composer’s friends and relatives were imprisoned or killed, including his patron Marshal Tukhachevsky. Fearing for himself and his family, Shostakovich withdrew his next symphony and managed to write a conservative and non experimental Fifth Symphony in 1937 – conveniently title by the press as “A Soviet Artist’s Reply to Just Criticism.” Suddenly, he was back in favor. The seesaw continued through World War II in 1948 when a government decree accused him of perversion for his modernist music.

Part Two focuses on Shostakovich’s famous trip to the United States, as an emissary for Soviet Russia. The composer struggles with his inner convictions about music, and Barnes offers the theme of this tortuous tale, reflected in his title:

“Art belongs to those who create it and those who savor it. Art no more belongs to the People and the Party than it once belonged to the aristocracy and the patron. Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time.”
As Shostakovich unconvincingly parroted the the voice of Power in Russia – “what he was supposed to think” – his renunciation of Stravinsky, the composer he revered, seem to affirm the American view that he was only trying to be safe. For years Shostakovich’s wrote works glorifying Soviet life or history, quietly endured a tutor to indoctrinate him in Marxist beliefs, even joining the Communist Party in 1960, under duress. Barnes offers Shostakovich’s inner turmoil as absolution for his betrayal of fellow artists in the name of the government.

Throughout, Barnes identifies the constant struggle of the artist – “When a composer is bitter, or in despair, or pessimistic…{his} music…strong and true and pure {is} enough to drown out the noise of time…” His life continued to be a balancing act between being true to his music and satisfying his government.

Not an easy read, The Noise of Time opens the history of Russian politics and the music of Shostakovich in his fearful and oppressive world.

I found Shostakovich’s banned opera – Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – on the internet, and the library had a CD of his Seventh Symphony, which I played in my car whenever I was out and about.  Together, listening to his music and reading Barnes’ treatise, gave Shostakovich’s life  substance – but I doubt I will ever really understand either.

Related Review:  The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee

9781602862845_p0_v2_s192x300   Knowing my proclivity for both coffee and reading, a friend recommended Agnes Martin-Lugand’s Happy People Read and Drink Coffee.  I expected a book of affirmation, but the title is the name of a literary cafe in Paris and the story, a delightful romance set in Ireland.

Diane is a young French woman trying to cope with the death of her husband and five year old daughter. A year after their death, she rents a cottage by the sea in Ireland, with an irresistibly attractive Irish photographer as a neighbor.

I read the book in an afternoon, thinking it would end like the Hallmark romance it resembled, but the author surprised me – not at all the happily-ever-after I’d expected but a realistically satisfying one.  If I had noted that Martin-Lugand’s day job is as a clinical psychologist, I might have guessed.

Nevertheless, hope floats for romantics – Martin-Lugand cleverly added the first chapter of the sequel coming in 2017 – Don’t Worry, Life Is Easy – to the back of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee.  

The Quality of Silence

9781101903674_p0_v4_s192x300Rosamund Lupton’s newest suspense thriller – The Quality of Silence – had my undivided attention throughout the day.  Following a mother and her deaf daughter as they drove a ten ton rig in a fast-paced chase through the Arctic cold, I could not put the book down until I finished.  What a ride.

The story focuses on Ruby, a clever ten year old who was born deaf, and her mother, Yasmin, a beautiful astrophysicist, as they search for Matt, father and husband presumed to be dead in a lethal explosion at an Eskimo village.  Not willing to believe he is dead, the mother and daughter hitch a ride along the Dalton Highway in Alaska to the Arctic Circle to find him.  When the driver of the truck has a stroke, Yasmin takes the wheel to drive into a snowstorm and across narrow frozen rivers.  Afraid to leave Ruby to try to communicate with strangers, she takes her along, but when they realize they are being followed, the tension escalates.

Villains come from obvious as well as insidious sources.  Lupton uses the effects of fracking on the environment as the major villain in the story, with  sharp observations about its effects on the ecosystem, and the dire consequences for the environment in the future.  As a ten year old deaf child, Ruby feels excluded from friends at her mainstreamed school as she deals with silent bullies.  And, Yasmin worries that her wildlife documentary-maker husband, Matt, who has been working for months in the Arctic night, has betrayed her with an Inupiaq woman; his last email – “I kissed her because I missed you.”

Lupton cleverly uses Ruby’s young voice as a distraction from the terror, and grounds the story in the family dynamics.  Ruby’s optimism was often a welcome distraction from the nail-biting drama.

All ends well with the bad guys getting their due, thanks to Ruby and her tech savvy.  Once again, Lupton delivers  a satisfying and compelling tale.  All of Lupton’s books offer a thrilling ride, but this one was chilling.

I look forward to the next one.

Reviews of Other Lupton books: