søstre på godt og vondt.

 Jenny og Sol er søstre. Etter morens tragiske død, så overtar Jenny huset, og tar seg av sin blinde bestefar. Storesøster Sol er på kjøret, og kommer bare innom når hun er blakk og trenger et sted å kræsje.
Historien gir også tilbakeblikk på barndommen deres, med særlig fokus på når det begynner å gå galt for Sol. Boka er trist som faen, og det tristeste av alt er vel at Jenny ikke har noe liv; hun forsøker å studere, men må hele tiden passe på Sol og bestefaren. Språket i boka er nydelig og lyrisk. Selv om det tok ei stund å lese den, så ble den dessverre fort glemt. Det er også noe annet som skurrer i historien, men jeg kan ikke helt sette fingeren på hva det er. 
Boka er nominert til Bokbloggerprisen 2014. Nå gjelder det bare å få lest Finny ly av Aina Basso, og så finne ut hvilken jeg skal stemme på.

in the midnight hour she cried more, more, more.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
 “Who what am I? My answer: I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each ‘I’, every one of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you’ll have to swallow the world.”
Saleem Sinai is born at the strike of midnight when India gained its independence, and then he is switched at birth. He discovers that he has a superpower, telepathy. He can communicate with the other children with superpowers whom are born in the midnight hour of India’s independence. Saleem’s life is influenced by the events that shape India’s history.

The book is high up on the list of the most difficult books I have read. I spent nearly three months on the 650 pages, and many pages had to be read over and over so I could decipher some meaning from it. But it was definitely worth it! There’s a myriad of characters, a large dose of magic realism and you will learn a lot about the history of India.

 It’s one of those books which are impossible to explain what it is about and why it is so mesmerising. I guess you have to read it yourself to discover what’s so great about it. I’m actually proud of myself for finally completing a Rushdie. I tried years ago to read the Satanic Verses, but I was way too young. I still don’t think I’m ready for that one yet, but I also have more to choose from on my shelves (and a new one to be published this year).

This was the November read(!) in Line’s 1001 books reading circle.

 “I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”

Germany between the wars.

the Blindness of the Heart by Julia Franck (2007)
The Würsich sisters, Helene and Martha, have a Jewish mother and a father who is fatally wounded in World War I. While their father is away, their mother becomes the mad woman in the attic. The girls have to take care of themselves, and both of them become nurses. When Martha’s lover, Leontine, goes to study medicine in Berlin and also ends up marrying a man, Martha is heartbroken and starts doing drugs. The economy is bad after WWI, and the girls are struggling to find work that pay well. They end up going to Berlin to live with their aunt.

Their aunt, Fanny, is rich, has a string of lovers and throws many parties. Helene is too young for the parties, but Martha fits right in and Helene must often help her sister to bed. And once in Berlin, Martha and Leontine revived their relationship. Years pass, and then Helene meets the love in her life, Carl. But danger and tragedy loom in the horizon.

A book that starts with a woman being raped by Soviet soldiers and then goes back in time and continues with incest, is a heavy read. And especially when you know because of the setting and characters that something is bound to go wrong. But thankfully, this book has its cheerful sides as well. I especially enjoyed the part  from where the sisters lived with their aunt in Berlin and until the epilogue.

It is one of those books which are entwined with history, and I learnt a lot about Germany between the wars. And especially how they executed the race laws. The only thing that really irked me with the book, was the epilogue. I get the main idea behind it and the symbolism, but it just left too many questions unanswered. And the biggest question of all, was the simple why.  But the book is really well-written, sad, beautiful and dark. I have already put the rest of Franck’s books on my wish list.

Poets on the run.

the Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (1998)

“There is a time for reciting poems and a time for fists.” 
Juan Gárcia is a 17 year old, who through his diary tells the story about his meeting with the Visceral Realists, a gang of poets living in Mexico City. They usually hang around in bars, drinking and discussing books. He also falls in love with one of them, María Font, and stops attending classes at the university. Two of the most famous Visceral Realists, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, along with a prostitute, Lupe, and Juan Gárcia,  have to leave Mexico City on New Year’s Eve 1975 because Lupe’s pimp has found them.

The second part of the book are eyewitness accounts from around the world, spanning from 1976 to 1996. Here we learn what Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano are up to in Mexico, Europe, Israel, USA and Africa and all the interesting characters they meet on their way.  It took some time to get used to the jumping from one eyewitness to another and piecing together the story, but once I got used to it, it became addictive.

The story is interesting, but I think you have to be really into poetry, and especially Mexican, to get everything out of this book. I usually skimmed the very detailed poetry part of the book. The rest of the book was right up my alley. Arturo Belano is the alter ego of Roberto Bolaño, and most of the characters are based on real persons (Wikipedia has a nice who’s who).

I read the book as a part of a book originally written in Spanish in Bjørg’s off the shelf challenge, temporarily being supervised by Hedda. I’m about a month late for the challenge as I have been a super slow reader this summer. the Savage Detectives has been on my shelf since 2011, so about time.

“Everything that begins as a comedy ends as tragedy.”

nineteen.

the Beggar and the Hare by Tuomas Kyrö (2011)
 In order to earn easy money and buy his son a pair of football boots, Vatanescu from Romania,  signs a contract with a Russian human trafficker, Yegor Kugar, who quickly puts him on the streets of Helsinki as a beggar. Vatanescu is crafty and discovers that a lot of edible food is thrown into dumpsters and is feasting on the food when Yegor discovers it. Yegor is furious and sacks Vatanescu, but Vatanescu fights back and runs away with a lot of money.

And then Vatanescu saves the rabbit from a group of angry men. Together they travel through Finland, wherever their luck takes them.

The story is entertaining and I really felt sorry for Vatanescu and really hoped that he finally could buy those football shoes for his son. And it was also interesting to read the narrative of Yegor. It became disappointing towards the end, and I think the part about the political party was a bit too much over the top. But I forgave everything when I came to the last page. Perfect ending.

I stumbled upon this book at Waterstones in Edinburgh and it was the perfect companion to three meals and many glasses of wine. The Beggar and the Hare is a modern rewrite of the Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna, where Vatanen injures a hare and then they go into the Finnish wilderness together. I read that book six years ago while living in Finland and I really enjoyed it. Read it before reading this.

seventeen.

Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez (1998)
 Pedro Juan is content as long as he has some money, rum and a woman. Rum and women are easy to find, money is harder as Cuba in the 90s is a rough place. Pedro Juan goes from woman to woman, job to job and also spends some time in jail. The book is more like a collection of many short stories, some with Pedro Juan as the main character and some are stories about others.

I’m guessing this isn’t the Cuba that tourists get to explore. It is the life within those crumbled buildings that they are taking pictures of. The life of whores, the unemployed, the crazies and poorest of the poor. It’s about the ups and downs and those random life altering events. And of course sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

Dirty is definitely the right word for this book. Not only because of the sexual content, but also because of the conditions Pedro Juan finds himself living and working in. A work that manages to combine both sex, drugs and rock’n’roll and state of the nation is easily one of my instant favourites. The genre is apparently called dirty realism and Charles Bukowski was of course the king of it. 

Read it for the social commentary, or the sex, or both. 

fourteen.

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih (1966)

‘You remind me of a dear friend with whom I was on very close terms in London – Dr Mustafa Sa’eed. He used to be my teacher. In 1928 he was President of the Society for the Struggle for African Freedom of which I was a committee member. What a man he was! He’s one of the greatest Africans I’ve known. He had wide contacts. Heavens, that man – women fell for him like flies. He used to say “I’ll liberate Africa with my penis”, and he laughed so widely you could see the back of his throat.'”

When the narrator comes home to the village by a bend in the Nile, he notices a stranger amongst the crowd. The stranger is intriguing, and soon the narrator is obsessed about him. His name is Mustafa Sa’eed and he had suddenly settled down in the village and married a local girl. Right before his sudden death, Mustafa tells the narrator about his life.


He grew up around Khartoum and happened to be one of the smartest in his class, so he was sent to Cairo to continue his education. From there, he went to London, where he became very successful and popular, especially with the ladies. So popular that a couple of them committed suicide after he was finished with them. And then he killed the one he married, spent some time in jail and went back to Sudan.

It’s a mix between north and south, old and new, and when you read it, you realise that there are no differences between us and them, regardless of who you or they are. It’s a story about love and madness. I liked the prose and the book gave me a lot of things to think about. It’s definitely a good quick read that will leave you pondering.

I chose this for an African book in Bjørg’s off the shelf challenge and it’s been on my shelf since 2010, so it was about time to read it. 

two.

Cain by José Saramago (2009)
 “The history of mankind is the history of our misunderstandings with god, for he doesn’t understand us, and we don’t understand him.”

After killing his brother, Cain, is condemned to walk on the earth for eternity. He is lead from one major event in the Old Testament to an other, while witnessing the wickedness of God.

Cain is the last novel the Nobel Prize winner wrote before his death, and it is hard to not read it as a personal argument with God. That doesn’t mean that this isn’t an interesting or good book. I really enjoyed reading it, probably because I always teach the kids about God’s bad side in the Old Testament.

Another thing which stuck with me after reading the book, was the style. The first letter in the sentences were written with capital letters, the rest not. And the chapters didn’t have any paragraphs. At first it was hard to get used to, but it totally fits with the story and makes it more intriguing.

I kept comparing the book to the Testament of Mary because of the obvious Bible retelling, and I definitely liked Cain better. I think it is because Saramago dared to be personal and controversial and went a long way with the interpretation and retelling of the famous Bible stories. And the ending is brilliant.

This is the third book by Saramago that I have read, and my favourite. I definitely must read the Gospel According to Jesus Christ one day.

one.

the Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
 Meet the Lamberts; the parents, Enid and Alfred, and their grown children Denise, Chip and Gary. Alfred has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and he’s getting worse. Enid wants all the kids and Gary’s family back home to St. Jude for one last Christmas, but this turns out to be hard to achieve.

Chip is dumped by his girlfriend, Julia, on the day his parents come visit and he leaves them to run after her. Instead he runs into her husband, who offers him a job in Lithuania. Gary is being overrun by his wife in daily battles and their kids usually side with Caroline. And there’s no way Caroline’s going to celebrate Christmas in St. Jude. And then there’s Denise, the little sister, who is a recognised chef and beautiful. But she has a tendency to fall for her bosses and/or their beautiful wives.

Are any of the Lamberts likeable? I found them more dislikeable by every book, and I guess that is one of the reasons why I liked the book so much. And there is so much dark humour in here. My absolute favourite part was when Enid and Alfred were on their cruise and they were seated with a Norwegian and a Swedish couple. That conversation was so spot on, especially with the whole Norwegian-Swedish rivalry. Hilarious!

I can’t believe I waited so long after reading Freedom, before I read this one. I seem to keep the good authors on my shelves for years and I get anxious if I have read all the works by them. Thus, I need to buy more Franzen books!

fifty-six.

Helter Skelter by Bugliosi & Gentry (1974)
the True Story of the Manson Murders
 Helter Skelter is a song by the Beatles. Charles Manson believed that the Beatles spoke to him through the White Album and that they ordered the Family to start a race war.

On the night to 9th August 1969, four members of the Family broke into the house rented by Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate, and killed 5 people. One of them was Sharon who was over 8 months pregnant. The killers wrote pig on the front door using blood. A day later, seven members of the family set out again to kill. This time the victims were the La Bianca family, and both victims were tied up and brutally murdered. The killers wrote the words healter skelter, rise, death to pigs with blood when leaving the house.

The investigation is a mess, and it took a long time before the police connected the two cases. The trial which followed, was the longest and most expensive, and resulted in the death penalty for Charles Manson and three of the girls.

The book is written by Vincent Bugliosi who was the prosecutor in the case, with the help of Curt Gentry. That means that this is a thorough account of the entire case, starting with the murders, and then to the trial. It also gives a detailed account of Manson’s life and the way he gathered the Family members. The afterwords, written 25 years after the trial, tells what happened to the members of the Family since then.

It is a long and really detailed book, with nearly 700 pages. As it is written by the prosecutor, I felt that a lot of it is not really necessary to get a clear picture of the murders and the trials. But then again I don’t feel that I need to ever read another book about Manson again. It is the most sold true crime book in history, read it if you’re curious about the cult and the murders.