“The Lover” by Marguerite Duras

The Lover (The Lover, #1)(Author: Marguerite Duras) + (Year: 1984) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Vietnam)


Review:

The prose of The Lover is beautiful. It opens for the reader a window into the sensual thoughts of a young girl, thirsty for passion and desire; haunted by the sad reality in which her family lives, but also obsessed with being loved, being noticed, being adored.

This semi-biographical novel tells the story of young Duras, wild, untamed and passionate. But as far as others see the main character as such, she, herself, is a ghost in this world. She is torn between what she craves in life, and what her duties are. She certainly doesn’t want to do what people tell her, but being born in the time she was, she is not always in control of her life. That role often belongs to her brother, a gambling spoiled brat who respects no one and nothing but his own desires; or her mother, a woman distraught by her poorness, but unable to decline her son’s every wish, be it attention or money.

That being so, the young girl is never really alive, and always too alive, too bright, overshadowing everyone around herself, and drowning in their shadow. And this girl falls in love, or is full of desire for a young Chinese heir who can never be more than her lover. As everything about her, this love is also quite the opposite, it is often a fiery hate. It is doomed, but it can also never be any other way.

Because of that, The Lover is a tragic letter to things lost a long time ago, from that love, to youth, innocence and family comfort.

This book, however, defies my beliefs about humanity. Or rather, what I strive to believe in. I don’t want to fully give in to the notion that people can be as horrible, cruel and cold as they are in The Lover. I remain opposed to the idea that humans can be gorged out of emotions in such a way. I don’t want to believe that beauty can only be found in tragedy. Nor that the human is so selfish and powerless.

“Tutsak Gunes” by Ayse Kulin

Tutsak Güneş

(Author: Ayse Kulin) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)

(Around the world: Turkey)


Review:

*** 2.5 stars ***

Maybe I am being overly generous with this book. It is definitely not nearly as good as it could have been, that is for sure.

However, this book is a first attempt, and those are always shaky. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but Tutsak Gunes (loosely translated as “Captive Sun”) might actually be the first Turkish dystopian book!

I have read Ayse Kulin before, enough so to know that she has a certain type of female characters: strong, independent, smart, defying the rules of society, free. At least that is how the author would try to sell them to you. Another thing that both Yuna, the main character of Tutsak Gunes, and, let’s say, Aylin, the main character of Adi: Aylin, have in common, is their fascination with the Sufi symbol of spread wings, signifying things beyond even freedom and a rebellion against rules and chains.

However… what I, as the reader, actually sensed, having rid myself of the author’s not-so-subtle propaganda, was that Yuna is a character totally out of place in this story. In fact, Tutsak Gunes offers two narratives so unconnected that they make it hard to remember that are happening simultaneously.

  1. A shape in the sky has blocked the Sun. The world is living in constant darkness and cold. The borders of the world have changed. The Ramanis Republic is a strict and tyrannical regime in which women possess nearly no rights, lack of education and big families are encouraged, human contact has almost been forbidden. A rebel movement is forming and planning to overthrow the government. Cool, huh?
  2. And then – the actual story of this book – Yuna. A woman constantly out of the loop, barely aware of her surroundings, and only focused on her lost life, lost dreams, lost aspirations. The author manages to tie her to the actual “heroes” of the story only just, so that she has some role in the events, but not really. She is forcefully presented as strong and smart, but we never witness that. We witness her happy with her role in the regime, her only starting to doubt the tyranny when it’s falling apart and not a moment before, her wondering what to do, and yet always so indecisive.

But I cannot neglect the attempt in this book. Ayse Kulin certainly tries to write a new chapter for Turkish literature. She tries to embed the reality of the country to this new, futuristic world. The thing is… she does it blatantly. She is not subtle. Neither is she masterful. The best of dystopian novels show you a world starkly different from the one you live in, and it takes you some time to realize that this is your world, just in a light you didn’t want to see it in. With Tutsak Gunes, you just know. And that softens the blow she makes on society. Not to mention that if you want to address a problem, say rights of women, you don’t do it in a book so unappealing to male readers that they would never bother getting to the heart of the story.

Overall, an admirable attempt at creativity. Not amazing, but could have been much, much worse.

“The Vegetarian” by Han Kang

The Vegetarian

(Author: Han Kang) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: South Korea)


Review:

East Asian literature has a very, very specific atmosphere. If one who knows me personally was aware that my own favourite writer is from that part of the world (Murakami, Japan), they would probably wonder why it is that having comparatively little knowledge about those Far Eastern countries, I love the literature from there so much. And this is probably one of the reasons, the atmosphere. Realistic, yet eerie, at moments eerily realistic or realistically eerie.

Either way, The Vegetarian presents a world close to that of Murakami, where everything is normal at first glance, and then you realize that it is completely wrong and something otherworldly is lurking just around the corner, though not close enough to be tangible.

This book is told from three different perspectives: the husband of Yeong-hye(the vegetarian), her brother-in-law and her sister. Yeong-hye does not have her say in the story directly, but the narratives of the other characters are infused with her personality and her influence on the people around her.

The story begins with how ordinary she is. Her husband marries her exactly because she is ordinary. He does not care for her changing or becoming striking or different in any way. But she does. She has a nightmare that changes her deeply and makes her decide to become a vegetarian. As a sickness, the nightmare sinks its claws deeper and deeper in her personality until it becomes a disease. At least to everyone, but Yeong-hye herself.

Mental illness

Obviously one of the leitmotifs of the book, however the one point only shown through the eyes of others completely. Therefore we are unable to fully grasp what is happening with Yeong-hye. This is probably also my biggest issue with the book. While I did not expect that the point of the book will be spelled out, I did hope that there will be a somewhat coherent sign as to what is actually happening to her. That she is sick, is obvious. But we never get the exact meaning of her condition. And while some might interpret it directly, as the stigma of being a vegetarian in some societies, I think that the entire idea of vegetarianism in this book is a metaphor for something else entirely, which stayed just beyond my grasp and I, therefore, see flaws in the execution.

Sex in Eastern literature

While this is not a major topic in the majority of the books and only in one part of it, I could not help but notice yet again a pattern that exist in the literature of that corner of the world. Sex is not a taboo as much as it is in the Middle East, but it is a dirty, filthy reality of life. It is always described as a sick, gross secret, almost always wrong, violent and messed up. This is one of the things which I do not know or understand about that culture and if anyone has any insight, I would love hearing it. But facts are that from everything I have read, sex is never light, easy and/or pleasant and nice. The people either dislike it violently or want it and are therefore wrong and wretched.

Character-wise I was not happy with the depth of the people. There was a visible controversy between how they see/describe themselves and how other people describe them. Each of the characters that was a narrator was later shown as the polar opposite of what they were. But as interesting as this was to follow, it also cracked my perspective of them as people and made it really hard to believe either source and they were also discrediting one another as reliable narrators. More so, little was explained about the reasons they where how they were, which obstructed me from forming a full picture of this strange family.

But it would be unfair to say that The Vegetarian did not add nicely to my literature world trip. I think it was a good perspective on South Korea and I definitely appreciated it.

“Bitch Planet,Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine” by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine

(Author: Kelly Sue DeConnick) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Ha ha ha. I can’t  believe the time for me to review this finally came. You know, considering the fact that I read it half a year ago and I kind of never found the time and motivation to write this review. Except that now it is exam time, so of course there is time to write random reviews. Uh-uh.

When I was introduced to the story of Bitch Planet by my comic book guru, I thought “That sounds so cool!” Yeah… about that.

It was too much for me on so many levels. So much, in fact, that I once fell asleep while reading it.

Bitch Planet is very harsh, kind of vulgar and trying to be hardcore, while failing to a certain degree. I swear, I have never in my life seen so many boobs. Even if I look at mine 50 times a day, I would still not see as many boobs in a day as there are in Bitch Planet. And do not be fooled into believing that those are boobs from hot sex scenes. They are just random boobs. Everywhere. Night of the Prison Beewbs.

The overall feel of the characters for me was disappointing. I could care less for all of them. They were all depicted as tough bitches with basically no personality traits, aside from that. They were their toughness and their respective looks to set them apart from one another.

And my problem with the story was that as cool as the idea is(and can still become), it wasn’t clear what it was trying to be. Is Bitch Planet a thriller? Action? Horror? Some weird mix of Andy Warhol and noire detective novel? All of the above? What?

But the art was overall undeniably pretty. It had a charm and a grit that I did appreciate. (But too many boobs.) And as much as this was an unsatisfactory first volume, it could possibly serve at least as a good stepping stone for the continuation of the series, which I am kind of looking forward too, because I have put this on my lookout list and I do believe there is a future in this story. (God… I say this every time. I am too big of an optimist. Eek.)

“The Girls” by Emma Cline

The Girls

(Author: Emma Cline) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

I received this book from Netgalley and I had a certain curiosity, sure, but I tried not having too high expectations. The result was that I actually quite enjoyed it. There were negative sides to it, but overall, it was a good read.

In terms of writing, there was a certain poetic masturbation in the lines of the novel. I read some other reviewers downright abandoning The Girls because of it. I can’t say that it bothered me to such an extent, but it could have been dealt with better. Sometimes the descriptions include analogies too far fetched to be good and sometimes – too vague to make sense.

On the other hand, while the writing has its ups and downs, it is nonetheless truthful and engaging. The bit that I enjoyed the most by far – and the one that I think actually makes the book special – is not the events themselves, the cult, the girls and all that. The entire time I thought that the special thing about The Girls is the beautiful yet tragic description of the mind and desires of teenage girls and the lengths they would go to to get attention and affection. Having been a teenager, I do remember the need to get attention, to be liked or admired, enough so that you would act badly, just to get those things. Like I would be much more rude than I am just so that somebody thinks I’m tough. And in the case of Evie, to be so desperate for attention that even years later you would wonder whether you would kill in order to be liked by a person you admired. If not a good person, Evie is a very honest narrator. She describes her feelings, desires and the reasons behind her actions in an almost painfully truthful way and with the realization that she was wrong. Even older, she would put some of the realities of being a woman into very clear and somewhat saddening phrases.

Later I would see this: how impersonal and grasping our love was, pinging around the universe, hoping a host to give form to our wishes.

That same aspect of Evie’s narrative can be used to describe how interesting and accurate her description is of a person such as Russell. While Russell as an individual is not really shown directly, he is described through his manipulations and lies. It makes this book a very clear way of unmasking such a cult leader. As in, it is hard to believe for some people that there are figures so powerful that they would not force their victims to do anything, but instead the victims would want to please such a manipulator. The Girls shows why and how exactly his tricks worked, because Evie describes what flaws in her and the others he used to make them dependent and hung up on him. She shows that he was not charismatic, and yet he had a sway based on her own insecurities and that is much more interesting to read about than if he was just shown as a power figure and/or a tyrant.

To the matter of the cult, while that was the actual story going on, all the other elements added to it made it just a background noise, disturbing, but secondary to the metaphysical aspect. But taking the popularity of cults in the 60’s and 70’s, it was still interesting to receive a look at the form, structure and idea of cults at those times. And what I though was important, the role of drugs, which I think many people just choose to ignore when they talk of such things, instead focusing on brainwashing and insanity, well, guess what, half the time or more they were unaware of the planet they were on. Not too hard to see that that had a huge impact on people like the Manson family or the People’s Temple.