Friday, July 11, 2008

And Quiet Flows the Don - Mikhail Sholokov (Russian)
This book could have been great. For the first third, when it concentrated on the lives of the Cossacks, the characterizations had intensity, were exotic and fascinating. Shokolov intertwined nature with human life, creating an epic quality. The love affair between Gregor and Aksinia was compelling, primal. Gregor was presented as a person who, at times, aroused condemnation; yet he’s so human, and his virtues come unheralded to the reader’s senses, that we enter into an understanding. Then Shokolov (and I believe this was due to the Communist regime he published under, another black mark of Stalin’s legacy) moved into war, revolution, etc. The book turned into a polemic, a history lesson, with a cast of new, wooden characters. I read on – mainly because I hoped for a return, at the end, to the people and the world I had cared so much about. It never happened.

Jerusalem the Golden - Margaret Drabble
Clara isn’t engaged in a religious pursuit; she wants to be part of the golden world of London sophisticates. She’s calculating and manipulative in achieving her goal, but when you understand someone – and Drabble succeeds in making Clara and her motivations comprehensible – you’re inclined to be forgiving. An interesting work, invigorating in its intelligence, but I finished it with the unsatisfying feeling that Clara’s story was meant to be continued.

Quartet - Jean Rhys
Books can’t be monochromatic; this one is unrelievedly gray. The main character had a fragile appeal, but her constant state of misery (about which she does nothing) and her incomprehensible love for Heidler caused me to lose interest in her plight (if a character loves someone, the author must give the reader a reason for it). In this book Rhys strikes arty poses intended to convey the futility of it all.

The Man Who Was Thursday - G. K. Chesterton
I felt hoodwinked by a lot of nice stage effects into reading a religious tract that disguised itself as a boy’s adventure story. I resent the time I spent on it.

1 comment:

jimmy scoville said...

And Quiet Flows the Don... A major book that marked my young adulthood, leading me to study Russian history at the university. My high school lit teacher my senior year, Mrs. Simons, had us a read this for class along with The Plague & The Stranger -- the only 3 I recall & later re-read. This is the first of trio of works about the Cossacks & the least censored by the Soviet Bureaucracy. The most honest. The rape of the peasant girl towards the beginning still haunts me. The shear brutality of such an act to a naive girl not expecting it. A horrible lesson learned. When I first started writing stories after college, I always had the depth of this book in mind, causing me lots of unnecessary bulk to chapters needing thinning. Still, due to its place in my life, I consider it a sacred work - one of those I still cherish but will probably never read again.