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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Three Capsule Reviews - "The Kindly Ones, Wonderful World and The Stalin Epigram" (by Liviu Suciu)

Following the first Three Un-reviews post which I plan to follow with more similar ones, I will be doing occasional Capsule Reviews too, this time talking a bit about recent books that I loved or just liked and for a reason or another did not find their way to a full FBC review.

Considering that I will probably read 250-300 books this year with more than 50% 2009 releases and I only hope to be able to keep the 2 full reviews a week pace, there will be lots of recent books that I cannot cover in full, so the idea of Capsule Reviews is natural.

The first post will cover three superb books by Jonathan Littell, Javier Calvo and Robert Littell (the father of Jonathan as it happens); the first two are big time favorites that I planned to cover in full but got stuck on their reviews and had to move on, while the third I passed on doing a full review since it's pure historical fiction and
at the time I had some genre sff books that took precedence.

The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

This is a book that is very hard to talk about; flawed and unbalanced, but a masterpiece nonetheless and the comparisons with classics of world literature are well deserved as well as the numerous literary prizes it got and the bestsellerdom in Europe at least. Written in French by an American author, I read it twice on original publication in that language in 2006 and on my third read, this time in English, the novel still moved me, engrossed me, shocked me...
If there is one novel for 2009 you want to read, "The Kindly Ones" may just be that one, but be warned it is graphic, very graphic and not for the squeamish.

Wonderful World by Javier Calvo

Wonderful indeed!! The book I mean, not its world which is kind of a darkly funny one; the novel has a very cinematic feel and it reminded me a bit of the movie "Pulp Fiction" in themes, though do not expect a precise similarity. The cover made me open it in the bookstore and then I knew I needed to get it *that day* and so I did.. I just loved it - unexpectedly so for me based on its subject - but the writing style matched my taste very well and the characters grew on me. It has also a direct fan tribute to Stephen King while the Tarantino connection is implicit.

The Stalin Epigram by Robert Littell

Osip Mandelstam's life takes a decisive turn when he decides to "stop beating around the bush" and tell the truth about the horrors of Stalinist Russia; Anna Ahkmatova, Boris Pasternak, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Stalin and several other characters, most notably "simple" weightlifter turned circus performer Fikrit Shotman appear in a darkly funny but ultimately tragic novel about the human meat grinder that was communism and one its worst incarnations in Stalin's 30's. Based on true history and very well written, a notable 2009 mainstream novel for me.


The Reader said...

Hi Liviu

The Kindly Ones has def gotten all kinds of reviews & is gathering lots of attention too. Like you wrote the subject matter is very grapic & definitely not for everyone.

Coincidently the Author is also the son of Robert Litell. Whos also written some pretty heavy stuff.


Liviu said...

Yes I noted the connection between the two Littell; The Stalin Epigram is the first work I read from the father since I am not that much into spy stuff.

Also the elder Littell lives in France too from what I know, though his novels have been about the CIA and seem to be pretty acclaimed.

But The Kindly Ones is amazing; brutal (and violent too, but no cheap violence) it can make your head spin but it was worth it...


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