The week in reading 46-47/15

Tom McCarthy I have not read before – and I strayed into it as it was on the Booker short list this year and a new Book Group I joined had a ‘Booker’ theme. I will not say it is an easy book – it basically has no story and a paucity of characters, enough to put a usually fiction-centric reader off. The protagonist (U), his boss, a sort-of-girl-friend, and a friend dying of cancer – the short novel is a series of entries by U around his encounters with these characters. And of course, of the universe around him. An this is what is disturbing, for in short, crisp observations U, an anthropologist, covers the entire spectrum of modern and post-modern contemporary life. And in that sense it is a kind of wake-up book on the current state of the world – well written. But one that you push yourself to finish,because you must!!

In sharp contrast Susan Abulhawa’s  book, is all about the setting and the life of the Baraka family over a few generations. Through their story, we learn of the creation of Israel, and the status of Palestine over the decades. I must confess, it is the first book I have read from the Palestinian perspective – their condition is one that I have always sympathized with. We learn of the displacements, life in the camps, a permanent status for these people and how through it all they retain their family values and joys of life. The entry of the American grand niece, brings a new dimension to the family and her interactions with her paternal heritage forms much of the story. But her interactions, and her settling in all seem too easy. An easy read…..some what superficial though!

Hanya Yanagihara’s ‘A little life’ was another on the Booker short list this year. I enjoyed the book and when I looked at the author’s earlier books, I found this one “The people in trees”. And the reason that I decided to read it was because it is based loosely on the life of Daniel Gajdusek, a Nobel laureate and he was on of the first Nobel laureates I had a chance to interact with. He worked on the NIH campus in the late 70s, when I was a post-doc on campus. I listened to a few of his lectures, often saw him at seminars and in the cafe. And when the case of his pedophilia became public, I remember following the story closely. This story is similar, but the condition that the protagonist discovers is far more romantic thatn the one Gajdusek did – eating a special tortoise meat from the island, provides immortality. But the best part of the book is the imagined island world the author creates, its fauna and flora, its people are all so realistic. And then there is the rape of the island by the modern world, a statement against the marauding nature of present day capitalism – on the whole an enjoyable book.


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