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Archive for December, 2012

I noticed in today’s Writer’s Almanac that today is the birthday of Junot Diaz. I’ve been reading his stories in The New Yorker for a long time, most recently I enjoyed the one in the science fiction issue which added a touch of fantastic suspense to the usual themes of family, relationships, the diaspora and tragic history of the DR. I learned a lot about this history when I recently listened to The Short and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  The audiobook has its pros and cons, but a distinct advantage is when wonderful accents and foreign language phrases are a part of the narrative. I’ve always loved the liberal sprinkling of (untranslated) Spanish throughout Diaz’ work, but when listening to one of his books, I almost start to feel a glimmer of fluency in the language. In addition, beneath the flippant tone, one gets a grim history lesson about the horrors of the reign of Trujillo and his followers and the scars left on the people of the DR. There is a joyous anger in Diaz as  he reveals these monsters for what they were, even as there is sadness because of the trauma that continues down the generations. Diaz has a refreshing, unique style, and his erstwhile narrator is appealing even as he reels along his path of self-destruction. Diaz refers to Yunior as his own “terrible half-brother,” and his writing seems like therapy for himself and his homeland.

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Les Mis

I noticed when adding Good Reads to my sidebar that I had Les Miserables on my “to read” list. Of course, I do want to get back to reading Hugo’s masterpiece (only got to the battle of Waterloo last time), but it hasn’t been on the front burner lately. Last night while reading The New Yorker on my Ipad, I came across the “page turner” blog and a relevant post by Adam Gopnik. Triggered by the new movie version, he focuses more on Hugo’s intentions with the book. First, he references Julie Rose’s “masterly translation” which caused me to take note as I recently discovered the importance of translators (after the great Volokhonsky version of Anna Karenina which seemed to up the ante considerably). Gopnik delves into Hugo’s vision of human nature and why, when moved to the stage or big screen, it sometimes suffers in translation:

Hugo believed in, relished, luxuriated in, contradiction—he thought that we show  ourselves most truly when we are seemingly most opposed to our double natures.  This kind of characterization is the essence of the classic nineteenth-century  novel—sometimes as mere hypocrisy; sometimes as the subtleties of inner  scruples—but its sense of pervasive ambivalence is very hard to dramatize, and  part of the wisdom of popular drama is to simplify it.

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/12/the-persistent-greatness-of-victor-hugos-les-miserables.html#ixzz2GYgHX6XC

This idea of contradiction and living with doubt, grey areas, uncertainty is something I’ve been vaguely considering for some time. This, in Hugo’s vision, is simply the human condition:

Thinking, Hugo tells us, in one of his most memorable aphorisms, always involves  a certain amount of inner revolt. I think, therefore I doubt…..what destroys Javert is not his implacable lack of compassion but his absolute  certitude, which is inadequate to Hugo’s conviction that life is inexorably  two-pathed, even when we struggle for just one.

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/12/the-persistent-greatness-of-victor-hugos-les-miserables.html#ixzz2GYhy6jih

Gopnik weaves in Hugo’s vision of a united Europe, one that has moved beyond the battlefield, pointing out that it is one that is largely realized today, despite the current economic turmoil.

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When I first moved to Lowell about 20 years ago, I got interested in Jack Kerouac and was intrigued by a reference in “On the Road” to a book by Eugene Sue entitled “The Mysteries of Paris.” I often thought I should find the book and read it, but, in those pre-internet days, never did track it down.  Recently, while (finally) reading “The Proud Tower” by Barbara Tuchman, I was reminded of this long-ago impulse when I read that Eugene V. Debs was named after two authors (Sue and Victor Hugo). I decided to do some googling and learned that Sue’s novel, serialized in 90 parts from 1842 to 1843, had been so popular it had spawned a “city mysteries” genre.  The article added that Michael Chabon had written a book in 1988 as a tribute these works.  At is happens, that book, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” is sitting, as yet unread, but highly anticipated, on my nightstand, purchased after listening to and thoroughly enjoying “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.” For some reason,  I didn’t draw a connection between the two titles until the Tuchman reference started me thinking of the earlier work. I immediately opened up and started enjoying “Pittsburgh” and may yet get around to “Paris.”

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