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.

the Twins by Tessa de Loo (1993)
 Anna and Lotte are twins born in 1916 in Cologne. After their parents die, at the age of 6, they are separated and Lotte grows up in the Netherlands, while Anna stays in Germany. They don’t see each other again, except on two brief occasions, once during the war and once after, until they suddenly meet each other at a peat bath in Spa, Belgium, 70 years later. 
The meeting brings up painful memories for both sisters, and they tell each other stories, mainly from when they got separated and until World War II ended. It is easy to see that the sisters hold a grudge against one other, and that the war has made them enemies.
This is one of those stories which suck you right in and keep you there. I loved it from the beginning to the end, and it is such a fascinating read. I really like how the war is the background, and how Anna and Lotte blame each other sides for letting Hitler carry on. The history of Anna was the one which I found most interesting as I haven’t read much of ordinary life in war-time Germany before. 
A definite must-read if you’re interested in European history or just want a really good story. I have put the film version (and another book by Tessa) on my wish list. 

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-two.

the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (1994)
 “Between the end of that strange summer and the approach of winter, my life went on without change. Each day would dawn without incident and end as it had begun. It rained a lot in September. October had several warm, sweaty days. Aside from the weather, there was hardly anything to distinguish one day from the next. I worked at concentrating my attention on the real and useful. I would go to the pool almost every day for a long swim, take walks, make myself three meals.

But even so, every now and then I would feel a violent stab of loneliness. The very water I drank, the very air I breathed, would feel like long, sharp needles. The pages of a book in my hands would take on the threatening metallic gleam of razor blades. I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o’clock in the morning.”

 Toru Okada has left his job when the cat in the house goes missing. His wife wants him to find the cat, which leads him to meeting some new and weird acquaintances. A woman called Malta Kano calls him and says that she’d help him find the cat. May Kasahara is a 16 year old living in one of the houses next door who has been in a motorcycle accident and therefore doesn’t go to school. And then there is this unknown woman who phones him and asks him about sex. From there things get more complicated. One day his wife, Kumiko, simply disappears. Toru doesn’t believe that she has gone willingly, and blames his nemesis; his brother-in-law.
This is the kind of Murakami I like. Nothing too weird, amazing characters, cats, corridors and sex. I also liked that Manchuria and World War II is one of the settings, and I definitely want to read more about the subject.  Murakami has turned into one of those authors whom I need to have at least one unread book from on my bookshelves. He is also best in small doses, so one or two books a year is enough.

sixty-three.

the Bat by Jo Nesbø (1997)
 Harry Hole is in Sydney, Australia to help the Australian police investigate a rape and murder of a young Norwegian girl. The body was found by the sea, probably thrown from the cliffs above, and the body was clean. Harry Hole is teamed up with Andrew Kensington, an Aboriginal police man. The case is difficult because there are few leads to go on.

This is the first book about Harry Hole and it has been on my reading list for some years now, and finally I got around to pick it up at the airport before Christmas.  I wasn’t impressed at all by the first chapter and it took a while before I enjoyed the book.

What I really liked was the way Nesbø has used a lot of Australian history and especially the history of the Aboriginal peoples and especially their myths.  I’m not sure what I think of Harry Hole himself. I guess I need to read another book to form a picture of him.

I will put Jo Nesbø on the list of books to look for in second hand stores as I don’t think they are worth the ridiculous price of new books in Norway. And I do prefer second hand books anyway.

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. 

fifty-two.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (1991)
 “ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank near the corner of Eleventh and First and is in print large enough to be seen from the backseat of the cab as it lurches forward in the traffic leaving Wall Street and just as Timothy Price notices the words a bus pulls up, the advertisement for Les Miserables on its side blocking his view, but Price who is with Pierce & Pierce and twenty-six doesn’t seem to care because he tells the driver he will give him five dollars to turn up the radio, Be My Baby on WYNN, and the driver, black, not American, does so.”
Patrick Bateman, 26, strives to be perfect on the outside. He wears the right clothes, goes to the right places, dates the right girls and spends money on art and his body.  But all he can think about is the smell of blood and how to torture his next victim.
First part of the book shows off Patrick’s perfect shell, where you only sense something is wrong when a murder is mentioned, as in a parenthesis. But then he starts to lose control and his dark side starts to show. He gets more and more grotesque and confused.

Some of the scenes described are really disturbing and reminded me a lot of Marquis de Sade in the style and plot. And I skimmed a lot of them and especially the cannibalistic parts. Yet I had to keep reading, just to find out how it would end. Bret Easton Ellis has done a great job writing the portrait of Patrick and I could easily picture him and the 80s on Manhattan among the rich and famous. Still I won’t recommend it to anyone as it is grotesque and what sort of persons recommend those kind of books (yet I would tell you to read Crash by J.G. Ballard in a heartbeat)?

“…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.”

fifty.

the Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (1996)
“Films are for everyone, collective, generous, with children cheering when the cavalry arrives. And they’re even better on TV: two can watch and comment. But your books are selfish. Solitary. Some of them can’t even be read, they fall to bits if you open them. A person who’s interested only in books doesn’t need other people, and that frightens me” 
 Corso is an agent who finds rare books for others and he isn’t afraid to cross the line in order to satisfy his customers. But this time he has two hard cases; he has to find out if a piece of a manuscript is a part of the original The Three Musketeers by Dumas and find the original occult book called The Book of Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows. But the cases are more complicated, mainly because he is nearly killed by a man who looks like the crook in the Three Musketeers. And then there is the young girl who protects him and says she is the devil. Are the two cases connected?
This book had all the ingredients to be a book after my tastes. But having all the correct ingredients is useless when you cannot follow the recipe. My biggest beefs are the language and the horrible editing. It might have been the cheap Kindle version, but almost all sentences lacked punctuation and even some words seemed to be missing. And although it has a great, yet very predictable, plot, the writing style ruined it. How can you make something exciting so boring?
I’m surprised that it has survived four editions of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, but I suspect it is only because it mentions other books and authors in such academic ways. If you plan to read the Three Musketeers you definitely need to do that before reading this one as it is full of spoilers. 
One good thing: Some noteworthy quotes about books and reading. And a lot of other people seem to love it, but it wasn’t for me.   

ps: the film version is called the Ninth Gate and is starring Johnny Depp and I have higher hopes for it than the book.

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-three.

Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord by Louis de Bernières (1991)
 Dionisio Vivo is fed up with the coca gangs and writes critical letters about it. El Jerarca, the coca lord, isn’t pleased and orders Dionisio killed. 
Second book in the Latin American trilogy and it was such a let down after reading the War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts. But still it is a great book. It is probably because I hoped that it would continue with the the village. I also didn’t like how it mainly centred around Dionisio and his lover, Anica. I also found it less hilarious than the previous one.
Here’s hoping the Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman will make up for it.