“Let It Bleed” by Ian Rankin

Let It Bleed (Inspector Rebus, #7)(Author: Ian Rankin) + (Year: 1995) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Scotland)


Review:

Another book from my world challenge and, unfortunately, not a very good choice.

I can’t really say I enjoyed Let it Bleed. Despite it being only 360-something pages, it felt like 800. The story was dark, dreary and slow, and it had next to no emotional pull. I realized rather late that it’s one of those money-machine series with tens of novels, each the same as the previous one, and full of flat, uninteresting characters.

Inspector Rebus was a very unpleasant main character, he lacked charisma, he lacked compassion, he was terrible to his daughter, disrespected authority and personal rights and only kept going with the investigation because he had decided so and no one was going to stop him.

There were many characters in this book and not a single one was developed more than the generic background story. Even the villains had next to no motive for the crimes they committed. I’m pretty sure even Rebus himself mentioned that.

Not to mention that the entire solving of the crime was a hot mess of useless and meaningless details and conversations, and little pieces of information which, through Rebus’ far-fetched deductions, lead to him solving the crime thanks more to guesswork, rather than evidence.

I admit that I am not generally a fan of detective novels, for many of the reasons that lead me to not liking Let It Bleed, as well, but even as far as those go, this is one of the worse ones I’ve read.

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“Sofia Wizards” by Martin Kolev

Софийски магьосници(Author: Martin Kolev) + (Year: 2017) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Bulgaria)


Review:

After a whirlwind of a year and after moving away from Bulgaria, I ended up nearly finishing 2017 with a Bulgarian book. And what a book it was.

While I was eager to start Sofia Wizards (I got the translation from the author’s Facebook page. Alternatively, I would think Wizards of Sofia would sound better), I didn’t have very big expectations. The friend I borrowed the book from told me that it’s basically Bulgarian Harry Potter, which was more or less scary, because no book would live up to that name.

It turned out that while they had many similarities, including a first chapter almost identical to the main points of the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the book was not a rip-off. That is not to say that it didn’t borrow many ideas, like the hidden streets (similar to Diagon Alley), or the magical pubs, etc., but it was not done in a blatant way.

Kolev actually brought a lot of little things to the book that I quite enjoyed, such as the quest games in which you actually physically get sucked in, or the schools of magic which are separated by abilities, rather than personality traits and preferences (nature magic, mirror magic, fire magic).

Something that I really loved about the book was the alternative look on Sofia. Having made the decision to leave Bulgaria, I didn’t think I would miss it very much. But while reading Sofia Wizards, I did remember fondly the streets and places mentioned, as well as imagine this other Sofia that I would have liked to be a part of, if it existed.

Overall, a very enjoyable read. I’m looking forward to the next installments in the series (as I saw the author mentioned on his Facebook page that there will be others).

“The Joke” by Milan Kundera

(Author: Milan Kundera) + (Year: 1967) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Czech Republic)


Review:

One of my all-time favourite books is Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. So when I went to the Czech republic, I wanted to get a new Kundera book along my plan of buying books from the countries I visit. I had heard about The Joke from several people, so I told myself “Why not?”. Well… I shouldn’t have.

This book represented everything I could possibly hate about Kundera. I had heard before that he has many misogynistic tones in his books, something that didn’t strike me as hard in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but it did so in The Joke. In fact, I had an extremely hard time finishing this book because of the terrible representation of human emotions, interpersonal feelings and the role of women in them.

In The Joke, women are nothing more than playthings. The only thing they do is serve a purpose. They are not beings on their own but only in relation to what men need from them. The characters themselves admit it at certain points, but it was not my impression that while the author does self-mock, he also criticizes this open misogyny. I don’t think that Kundera actually disagrees with his characters. He might realize that the roles he attributes to women are wrong, but I don’t think he has any other way of thinking, and that is clearly visible in the entire book.

This fact bothered me so deeply that I could focus on little else outside of it.

Throughout the entire book, I was deeply disturbed and disgusted by the fact that this is how some men see and treat women. This indifference, this humiliation, it was so scary – if we are to accept the world as seen through Kundera, it would be a sad world indeed. And the most terrifying part of it all is that this type of behaviour is not only real, but also very common. I noticed even more of the exactly same attitude toward women, while I was reading the book, in the world around me.

Indifference was also what was killing the characters in the book. Helena was tortured by the indifference of her lovers, Ludvik – by the indifference of the other people to his sorrows and need for revenge, Jaroslav – by the indifference of the modern world to his beloved traditions and folklore.

I believe that we all shudder at the idea of indifference. Anger is passion, same as love. It means that a person cares, one way or another. But indifference… that is altogether different and scarier. It means that to someone, or to a group of people, or even to the whole world, something that you care about, or worse yet, your entire being, is something of no importance and no consequence. And there is nothing at all to do to fight indifference. A cold and indifferent heart can hardly be shaken by any desperate action.

There was one character that I found more tolerable than the entire bunch – Kostka. He was the only character that was not entirely closed off into his own world and wanted to give and not just get. There was also one quote from Kostka that made me think long and hard until I ended up agreeing:

“I can understand you, but that doesn’t alter the fact that such general rancor against people is terrifying and sinful. Because to live in a world in which no one is forgiven, where all are irredeemable , is the same as living in hell. You are living in hell, Ludvik, and I pity you.”

“I Served the King of England” by Bohumil Hrabal

I Served the King of England(Author: Bohumil Hrabal) + (Year: 1971) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Czech Republic)


Review:

I bought this book during my trip to Prague as part of my project to get a book or two in each new country I visit. Now, this is not my first Czech book, but I wanted to try a new Czech author nevertheless.

In my opinion, one of the best things about the book was actually the foreword. Unfortunately, I don’t have the book right now, so I can’t mention the author of the foreword, but they wrote a very informative, interesting and engaging analysis of both “I Served the King of England“, and Hrabal’s literature in general. Not knowing the author, it really helped me see some tendencies in his writing and in the themes he uses.

The book itself was not exactly to my liking. The story was rather interesting, but the atmosphere was very tight and suffocating. The main character was such a narrow-minded little man that his world was equally as small and claustrophobic. His experiences, even the ones he was most proud of and most happy about, always had a pinch of wrongness and just this general feeling about something dirty and repulsive happening. For example, as you can see in the cover of the book, he liked to put flowers in the pubic hair of the women he slept with. But those women were either prostitutes, or his Nazi-to-the-bone wife, and there was something very unpleasant and private about reading about his joy from this action.

I feel like this is something that often happens in European literature, and especially that of the ex-Communist countries. While in American literature even murder and gore are kind of shiny in description, in European literature, there is this sense of the author wanting to create shock in the reader through showing the reality in the most vulgar way possible. It is a thing I have always noticed in in every piece of art in Bulgaria – be it literature, movies, paintings, there is always sex. But it is not appealing, erotic sex. It’s always the kind of description of sex which makes you feel uncomfortable and in need of a hot shower and a lot of scrubbing.

This is how I felt while reading this book. And spoiler alert for my next Czech book – The Joke, – same thing there.

One thing which was mentioned in the foreword of the book which I couldn’t help but notice later on, was the fact that the character is always in need of proving himself and he is in a desperate need of attention and achieving every physical element of happiness and obtaining every material proof of success. While in character he is a spineless worm, in aspiration, he wants, and even briefly manages, to be rich and famous.

Setting everything about the story aside, Hrabal, undeniably, has a very good writing style. The descriptions he uses are very poetical and thought through. He guides the reader into his world and helps him see everything through exactly the right prism.

“I knew for certain that this girl could never be happy, but that her life would be sadly beautiful, and that life with her would be both an agony and a fulfillment for a man.”

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“The Last Wish” by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish(Author: Andrzej Sapkowski) + (Year: 1993) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Poland)


Review:

I’ve been hearing about this series for years, but it somehow never seemed like the right time to start reading it. I might or might not have mentioned recently relocating to Poland, but I did, and it somehow seemed like it was about time I also read Poland’s most famous fantasy series. Also, I was craving playing a game like Witcher, so I wanted to get into the mood before doing so.

This book had many pros and many cons for me. Most importantly:

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  1. The folklore. I loved the fact that the book included more original and unusual characters. The folklore in Europe and especially the Slavic countries is quite interesting and colorful, and for the most part, unpopular in Western media. I enjoyed the strange and obscure monsters Sapkowski used in the book.
  2. The setting. I really liked how the book basically showed this older version of the Slavic world/old Poland. The villages, the Slavic mentality, the originality of it all. I’ve been reading Western literature for the majority of my grown up life and it was very refreshing to see a more or less authentic look into my world as it once used to be. Instead of shiny kings and queens and knights, the world of the Witcher was all small villages and grimy old castles. Fun!

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  1. The first book was an anthology. Me no likey. It would have been much better if it had a continuous story instead of these short stories about different monsters the Witcher fought. Because that leads to…
  2. Repetitiveness. In a story like this, having similar events inevitably leads to having the same short story again and again with slight modifications in the personality of the victim and the monster.

From what I managed to find out, there will be a continuous story somewhere in the future of the series, so I guess I will be looking forward to that, at least, because I don’t want to give up on the Witcher yet.