Monday, April 05, 2010

Escape from Zombieland

I gave up on the publishing industry for a month or two there. The piles of reader's copies stopped speaking to me. The gleaming jackets of the new novels did not beguile me. The letters from publicists and the imploring stares from the reps that still have jobs did not move me. It all seemed stale, repackaged, and if it wasn't written about Zombies it seemed to be written by Zombies or written for Zombies. I am not a Zombie.

Instead I cleansed my mind by reading Madame Bovary and Notes from the Underground. Both were novels I should have read years ago. My favorite Woody Allen short story, The Kugelmass Episode, features a New Yorker going to Yonville in order to carry on an affair with the Emma Bovary. Ah... now I really get it. I enjoyed the novel but wasn't a big fan of Emma. I loved many of the minor characters, most notably Monsieur Homais, the pharmacist.

Dostoyevsky's little masterpiece was the first translation by the dynamic duo of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky that I've read. I compared several paragraphs to the Constance Garnett translation and found the new one more lithesome and easier to grasp. The biggest difference comes in the first sentence. Garnett writes, "I am a sick man....I am a spiteful man." Pevear's reads "I am a sick man....I am a wicked man." Wicked is a much broader word than spiteful. It's particularly important because it is how our narrator defines himself throughout the entire book. To be spiteful is to merely hold a grievance. To be wicked is to dissolute to the core.

After my brief foray into the classics, I returned to the contemporary novel and read three that I really enjoyed. Actually, enjoyed is not quite the right word for Chang Rae Lee's The Surrendered. It's a harsh novel but if you can get through the first 50 pages about the destruction of a Korean family during the war, you've gotten through the toughest part. That's not quite true, there is a brutal sequence later on set in Manchuria that gave me nightmares.

Here are my latest recommendations posted in the store:

The Surrendered by Chang Rae Lee

This harrowing novel follows the lives of both Korean and American survivors of the Korean War. June and Hector are reunited despite their secret of history of violence and lost love. Lee slowly reveals their parallel tales building the novel's tension and showing us a world permanently marked by wars and atrocity.

The Privileges by Jonathan Dee

The Morey family has it all -- looks, charms, wits and money, lots of it. What they lack is scruples, ethics and some basic humanity. Dee tells the story from all four of the family members' perspectives. The Morey's pathological inability to think about their past and the corrupting influence of money leads to family even less savory than their eel namesake.

All Other Nights by Dara Horn

Civil War intrigue, Jewish history and beautiful spies are the foundation for Horn's enthralling novel. Jacob Rappaport, a 19-year old private, is dispatched to New Orleans to kills his plotting uncle on Passover. That's the easiest of his assignments. Marriage to a Virginia spy is the most difficult but delectable mission. Rappaport's cunning and morals are sorely tested during his adventures.


lady t said...

Good to hear from you,Kash and glad that you've replenished your reading spirit there. I know you're all zombied out but I do wholeheartedly recommend The Passage by Justin Cronin.

I won an ARC from Good Reads and it's a truly absorbing book that seems to have the right blend of art and entertainment. I think you may be pleasantly surprised by it.

PK said...

I too recently read the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND and agree that it gives a more definite shape to the sick narrator. It's funny, your experience. A couple of years ago, when I was still at Random, I had a reached a similar dead end, when nothing I read seemed worth it. I felt like chucking all the manuscripts and galleys out the window. I asked LuAnn Walther (editorial director of Everymans and Vintage) whether she ever felt the same, and, if so, what she recommended as a cure. She looked at me and said, without hesitation, "The classics. Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky."