thirty-five.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)
 “…there was another, gorier parturition, when two nations incarnated out of one. A foreigner drew a magic line on a map and called it the new border; it became a river of blood upon the earth. And the orchards, fields, factories, businesses, all on the wrong side of that line, vanished with a wave of the pale conjuror’s wand.” 
Dina Dalal’s life hasn’t been easy after her husband died after just three years of marriage. Refusing her brother’s pleas for her to get remarried, she has to support herself. When her eyes are failing her, she hires two tailors to do her job, Ishvar and Omprakash and takes in a boarder, Maneck, as well. And she hopes that the landlord won’t notice the three extra people in her flat.
A mesmerising read from the first page to the last. The story takes you through the history of India from its independence through the eyes of its people. It mainly focuses on the four people in Dina’s flat, but also the people they meet. There are many wonderful stories within the story. There are so many tragic stories, but it is written in a dry witty style. 
The only thing I didn’t like with the story was the ending. Why did it have to end that way? But I guess it’s one of those books that just don’t work with a happy ending.
 
“You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.’ He paused, considering what he had just said. ‘Yes’, he repeated. ‘In the end, it’s all a question of balance.”

thirty-four.

Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (2001)
 Cannie discovers that her ex-boyfriend is writing a column about their love-life in a popular magazine. Most furious is she about the way he is describing her big body. Humiliated, she realises that she is not over Bruce yet and tries to get him to stop writing about her and get him back at the same time.
Cannie, why are you so angry? I definitely didn’t like her personality, and although she is meant to be snarky, I found her whiny and bitter. Yet there were many things I could identify with (and I guess every girl can). Still, she isn’t the kind of heroine I need or want.
Not my favourite genre by far, I read it because I had it up to here with wars and other sad and difficult topics I usually read about.  It is an entertaining story for sure, sort of a modern fairytale and quite predictable. Love the cover and I loved the author’s introduction more than Cannie.

twenty-six.

Captain of the Steppe by Oleg Pavlov (1994)
“They used to deliver newspaper like potatoes to the company stationed out in the steppe: a month’s worth at a time, or two, or even enough to see them through to spring, so as not to waste fuel and not to pamper the unit.”
Khabarov is the captain of the 6th regiment far out on the Kazakh steppes. Surrounding their camp there’s nothing as far as the watch towers can see. Food is always scarce, so when the captain gets the brilliant idea of planting the potatoes instead of eating them, he reckons he has solved their food shortage. But this is Soviet where no one does anything without a permission from someone above them in the system, so Khabarov soon finds himself in serious trouble.
My first reaction after reading it was: all that trouble because of potatoes? Second: what the hell did I just read? Definitely too much confusion and those Russian names I never can tell apart, made this a hard one. Yet there are definitely good parts and some parts had me snickering. And I do have a feeling that this will get better with a second read. It is the first book in a trilogy, and I do hope that And Other Stories is going to publish the other ones as well, as it has received grand reviews and prizes, not only in Russia, but also abroad.

twenty-five.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1817)
No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her.”
 Catherine is 17 when she is to follow her neighbours to Bath for a couple of weeks to be introduced into society. She quickly makes friends with the Thorpes and she adores Isabella, and along with their brothers they explore Bath and its surroundings. And although John Thorpe has an eye for Catherine, she has fallen head over heels for Henry Tilney. And she tries and succeeds to befriend his sister, Eleanor. And when she is invited to go with them back to their home, Northanger Abbey, which she believes to be like Udolpho, nothing could be more perfect.

The part where Catherine is exploring her room with the curious chests and cabinets had me laughing out loud. I love how Jane is using Ann Radcliffe’s the Mysteries of Udolpho so much, and I’m glad that I read it before this. The naivety of Catherine was something which irked, but also amused me. And  the whole conflict between the Thorpes and Tilneys over Catherine was also amusing. I didn’t like how quickly things eloped at the end, and I’m sure it would have been fascinating to follow the exact events which happened after Catherine went home again.

This was one of the first books Jane wrote, although it was published after her death. And her latter works are definitely better. For me, it was the mocking of the gothic novel and especially Udolpho which made me like it. This book was April’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading challenge.

“The person, be it gentlemen or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

sixty.

the Last of the Vostyachs by Diego Marani (2002)
They came out silently, without exchanging a glance; unhurriedly, expecting to be shot at any moment, to crumple on the spot, on to that mud they’d traipsed over so often.” 
Ivan has been living almost his entire life in a gulag in Siberia. After his father was shot while they tried to escape, he hasn’t uttered a word. Then one day the guards have suddenly disappeared and Ivan is free to walk. And when he realises that he’s free, he utters a long cry, a sound which stirs all the animals.
When Ivan returns to the place he grew up, he discovers that he is alone. Driven by hunger, he eventually makes his way into a small village where he meets a woman, Olga. Olga is a linguist and is shocked to discover that Ivan speaks a language, Vostyach, which is believed to be extinct.  She learns his language and persuades him to come along with her to the Finno-Ugric languages conference in Helsinki.
Don’t judge this book by its cover! Which is certainly one of the ugliest I have seen. The story within is amazing. It starts on the desolate Siberian tundra and journeys to Helsinki where it turns into something resembling pulp fiction with pimps and whores, a murder plot and the release of zoo animals. But it also deals with the loss of languages and although Vostyach is an invented language, the theory behind it is true. 
Diego Marani turns out to be the perfect December read for me. I read New Finnish Grammar last year and it was a linguist’s take on the English Patient; small, beautiful and powerful. And the Last of the Vostyach is like a book by Arto Paasilinna, but with a linguistic twist. I hope that Diego Marani’s works will continue to be translated so I can continue to read them in December.

fifty-five.

the Crow Road by Iain Banks (1992)
 “It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.”
The book dwells around Prentice and his near and far family from Gallanach in Scotland. Prentice is a history student in Glasgow and clever as fuck, in love with one Verity, doesn’t speak to his father because of religious dispute and has a tendency to occasionally drink too much. His family is a bunch of eccentrics and the biggest mystery is the disappearance of his uncle Rory who wrote an amazing travel book about his experiences in India.
I love Prentice, I love his amazing family and I had dreams about castles and whisky and I found myself reading out loud in an horrible Scottish accent.
If that first sentence doesn’t get you to read the book, I doubt anything will. And then you will be really missing out on one of the best books ever. If I weren’t broke right now, I’d totally buy all books by Iain Banks because I think he has quite the possibility to become one of my favourites. 

forty-seven.

the Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis (1987)
“and it’s a story that might bore you but you don’t have to listen, she told me, because she always knew it was going to be like that, and it was, she thinks, her first year, or, actually weekend, really a Friday, in September, at Camden, and this was three or four years ago, and she got so drunk that she ended up in bed, lost her virginity (late, she was eighteen) in Lorna Slavin’s room, because she was a Freshman and had a roommate and Lorna was, she remembers, a Senior or a Junior and usually sometimes at her boyfriend’s place off-campus, to who she thought was a Sophomore Ceramics major but was actually either some guy from N.Y.U, a film student, and up in New Hampshire just for The Dressed To Get Screwed party, or a townie.”
Camden, New Hampshire, 1985. Simple version: Paul likes Sean, Sean likes Lauren and Lauren likes Victor. They are all seniors, but haven’t quite figured out their majors yet. But there are always parties to go to, drugs to be taken and people to fuck.
How do you write about your favourite book, a book that you have read so many times that you can quote it? It’s been three years since the last time I read it and yet I know most of it by heart. I’ll admit it is also because the film version is the film I have watched the most. This time around it took about 5 hours to get through the 330 pages.
The film came out in 2002, starred Ian Somerhalder, James van der Beek and Shannyn Sossamon. What I really love about it, is that it differs quite a bit from the book in some parts and then quotes it perfectly in other. I saw the film many times before I realised that it was a book. I’m not sure why I love the film and book so much, nothing much happens except a whole lot of partying. I love the way it’s narrated by many people, but mainly Sean, Lauren and Paul. And the simple fact that the name comes first makes it a whole lot easier to follow than many other books. Some of the chapters are the same scene (or party) seen from various angles and they all reveal something new.  And most of the people in it are mentioned more than once. I love how I connect more dots every time I read it.
I need to see the film again. Now. And read American Psycho so I can get to know Seans big brother, Patrick.

forty-five.

“In the constitution of the city it states that “It is strictly forbidden to procure abortion by hanging a woman upside down in a sackful of ants and beating her until she miscarries. But it is permitted to procure abortions by means of dried llama foetuses.” It also states that “All visitors wishing to use the whorehouse must carry a certificate of clean blood from the clinic in Ipasueño,” and that “Anyone giving bad advice is responsible for what follows from that advice.”
Cardinal Guzman is the perfect cardinal on the outside, but he has a secret affair with his cook which has resulted in an illegitimate son. He is given reports saying that the country is full of heretics and they must do something about it, so he sends out some priests. But the priests are behaving worse than the Spanish Inquisition and they are heading for Cochadebajo de los Gatos.
Yes! This book is exactly how I hoped it would be, only many times better. In fact, it’s my favourite in the trilogy. The main reason for this is because it mainly dealt with the people of Cochadebajo and gave a lot of answers to things I wondered about in the first book (but also raised some new questions). And I got a much better picture of Dionisio in this one than in the previous book which bore his name. 
But the cats are still my favourites. And perhaps the President’s sex life.

forty-two.

the War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts by Louis de Bernières (1990)
 A fictitious country in South-America is ravaged by war. All kinds of war. It has gotten so far that no one remembers who they are fighting against. The people have to take care of themselves as the government is not to be trusted. 
The book has countless of characters, but mainly focuses on the people in a small village somewhere in the interior. The military comes now and then to sleep with the whores and occasionally kills a few of the inhabitants in drunken stupor. And then they may face being captured by one of the guerillas in the area. Or join them if they are fed up with the military.
Louis de Bernières has created an amazing country with excellent portraits of the characters. In the beginning it was hard to figure out who is who, but then as the characters are killed off, it gets easier. There are a lot of stories within the main story, and I haven’t quite determined what the main story is. I love those chapters which can be read as short stories. It is a political satire, but has plenty of horrid scenes of rape, torture and murder. But also wonderful things like a woman giving birth to a cat and people waking up from the dead.
This is the first book I have read by de Bernièreres, although I have had 5 of them on my book shelves for years. I’m glad this is just the first book in a trilogy because I simply fell in love with the nameless country. 

twenty-seven.

Happiness is Possible by Oleg Zaionchkovsky (2010)
Suddenly I was swamped by the noise of the city, as if someone had jacked it up to full volume. Leading the acoustic assault with its screeching and howling was a trolleybus, followed by a tumultuous herd of invisible cars, roaring and snarling in every possible register. Birds’ wings started clapping, music stared playing, invisible crowds of people started babbling and scraping their feet. We were in Moscow.”
A writer is residing with his dog, Phil, after his wife, Tamara, suddenly divorced him. Yet, he sees her and her new man all the time. He is struggling with writing his next book and spends his days wandering around Moscow, going to the datcha and drinking too much alcohol. In this way he meets many interesting people who gets a space in his narrative.
I’m torn between really liking this book and it being just an okay read. I really enjoyed reading it, but then an hour later I can’t hardly recall anything from it. Does the writer even have I name? I can’t remember. But I know that I read most of it with a smile, and sometimes even laughed out loud. Because the old writer’s observations and stories are funny.  And somehow it moves, but slowly, forward. But I guess I’m really not that impressed.
This was the first book of the year published by And Other Stories which I started subscribing too. There’s something special seeing your name in the back of the book and knowing that my book is special because it’s numbered.