What a summer! The weather here has been amazing, with more sunny days then we know what to do with, and HEAT. We’re not entirely sure what to do with that either. I’ve been getting browner and browner while gardening (finished my garden today!!), reading at the beach, kayaking, and going to festivals (recently, the North Atlantic Blues Fest, and the Vermont Brew Fest). Having weekends off for the first time in years is wonderful – no desperate efforts to rearrange the schedule when something too good to pass up comes around, and lots of flexibility when it comes to just the usual fun to be had on off days. I’m having a thoroughly good time.
I’m here to talk about books today though. I’ve been sticking to short ones – beach read length, although not really beach read topics. So far this July I’ve read The Thief and the Dogs by Naguib Mahfouz (trans. by Trevor Le Gassick), Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys, A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe (trans. by John Nathan), and Death In Spring by Merce Rodoreda (trans. by Martha Tennent).
I’ve had The Thief and the Dogs since last August’s annual library book sale, and Mahfouz has been an author on my TBR list for longer than that. This tiny book (108 p.) was an intriguing introduction to “Egypt’s most famous novelist”. It tells the tale of a few short weeks in the life of Said Mahran, who having just been released from prison is in search of revenge. In concise yet immensely vivid sweeps, Mahfouz brings to life both the physical setting and the mental landscape of his character in his place. The story is purely from Said’s point of view, and much of the narration is his own thoughts and rationalizations. Pared with how events unfold, this offers a fascinating look at what being inside a mind driven to madness might be like. There are also some interesting insights into the society that drove Said to the brink. A sad book, but a well crafted one.
I received Henrietta’s War from Frances and the generous folks at The Bloomsbury Group this past winter. It is just the nicest book! Composed of a series of letters written by Henrietta to a dear childhood friend who is on the front line, it rapidly and delightfully brings to life a Devonshire village populated by a spirited and colorful community. Henrietta is an amusing but thoughtful writer, and the little drawings that accompany her letters are the cherries on top. Witty, insightful, and thoroughly entertaining – as I said to begin with: just the nicest book.
I’ll talk about A Personal Matter closer to August 30th, as it is our Non-Structured Book Group read for July.
Death In Spring has got to be one of the strangest books I’ve read in a long time. Almost fairy tale like, but brutal in a way that your average fairy tale just hints at, it is the story of a young boy struggling to come to terms with the culture he lives in. And what a culture…! His nameless town is governed by bizarre and violent rituals, anything from painting the houses pink every year, to pouring cement into the mouths of the nearly dead so that their souls won’t escape, to forcing a young man to swim under the village every spring in order to make sure the river isn’t going to wash the village away – a feat which often leaves the man maimed or worse. Whoa. My mind is still reeling from the onslaught of images and weirdness…! Not an enjoyable book, but written with such an interesting and compelling style that I was completely mesmerized. While the possible metaphor for Franco’s Spain went pretty much over my head, I was wowed by Rodoreda’s use of language and rhythm. I will have difficulty forgetting the mysterious and seriously twisted society that Rodoreda created, and meanwhile I will definitely be looking for more work by her.
This has been a month of very memorable reads, which is always fun. I hope to squeeze a few more books in before August heaves its fuss and bother into my lap…!