Archive for January 2013

Book Review: A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe I’m not really sure why this book caught my eye at the library, given its somber subject, the horrific plague that struck London in 1665. I was browsing nearby and decided to pull it out and take a look. I think I had 1600s England in mind, having just watched part of The Tudors on New Year’s Day, and wanting to read something from around that time period, so it seemed of interest.

Now, this book is categorized as fiction, but it certainly doesn’t read like a typical novel. It does read like someone’s journal, and does include a mixture of personal experiences, charts of numbers (mostly of how many died when and where), and occasional stories passed on from others. It does get a bit dry in parts, especially with the charts, and it’s also somewhat repetitive, with multiple mentions on certain topics, either to reintroduce them or add further detail.

That said, I thought it was also fascinating, considering this was written by someone who lived in London and actually survived the plague (and went on to write several famous novels as well!). I found some of the theories about how the plague spread really interesting, because some of them weren’t entirely off. Although some physicians thought the disease was passed by smell or breath, others theorized that it must have gotten into people’s blood, due to cases where some people may have passed it on to others, while not appearing sick themselves. They just didn’t understand fully how this worked, but they were right in some ways.

It did take me awhile to read this book, and I admit to skimming a bit at the end, but it was still interesting. Don’t expect it to be a typical work of fiction though, or you’ll be pretty disappointed.

Book Review: Journey into the Past by Stefan Zweig

Journey into the Past by Stefan Zweig Another book republished in the NYRB Classics series, Journey into the Past by Stefan Zweig is about a German man who does well at his job, and is asked by his employer to become his private secretary. He initially turns down the job, as it would require him to move to his employer’s family home, but he later accepts the job.

Without knowing it at first, he falls in love with his boss’s wife. The realization hits him after he agrees to go to Mexico for a lengthy project for his company. He sees just after and suddenly imagines not being able to see her daily, as he’s done up until now. He finds out that the feelings were mutual, but they aren’t able to do much about it before he has to leave.

The rest of the book follows his time in Mexico, with years going by, a world war beginning and ending, until finally he is able to return to Europe. Although he has since married, he wants to see this woman he fell in love with many years ago, and the book focuses on this later meeting. I wasn’t really surprised at how it turned out, but it seemed like there could have been a little more to the book. It was simple and short, but maybe because so much of it was building up to something that could happen but didn’t, it was a little disappointing.

I did like the book, but I just didn’t feel as enthused about it after I’d finished it. I’d previously read another book by Zweig — The Post-Office Girl — and I think I just liked that one a bit more.

Book Review: Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark

Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark The cover of this book caught my eye, while I was browsing the new books at the library. I didn’t realize it was by the author of “The Great Stink,” but this book did also stink. So much rambling, I just kept thinking, get to the point already! I let it go pretty early on.

Book Review: Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi

Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi When I first discovered the NYRB Classics series, I thought I’d try to read all of the books they’d published, especially after enjoying the first one I’d read (Don’t Look Now: Selected Stories of Daphne du Maurier). Unfortunately, not all of them were hits, and after a few misses, I took a bit of a break from this “goal.”

I followed some of the new books NYRB published last year, and then, while perusing my library’s web catalog, decided to try a few more. The first one this time around, and the first book of the year, ended up being Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi. I won’t say it was a total hit, but it wasn’t a total miss either.

The book takes place in early 20th-century Hungary, focusing on a small family made up of an elderly couple and their adult daughter, who they’ve nicknamed Skylark. They are happy enough, though it’s made clear early on that Skylark, who is 35-years-old, is rather unattractive and hasn’t been able to marry because of her looks. The book starts with her heading off to the country to visit relatives, and her parents are very upset about the idea of her being gone for a whole week.

The summary on the back of the book described a sort of transformation that the couple goes through in Skylark’s absence, and that is somewhat the case. Not only do they eat out at local restaurants and notice things in town that they’ve always just passed by, but they both — especially Ákos, the father — end up socializing with other people, some of whom they’ve known but had not kept in touch with.

The story mostly follows Ákos, who is seemingly reunited with his old buddies from the Panther Club, and he seems to be realizing what he’s missed and how much has changed. And yet, it’s not clear quite what this all means to him, until near the end of the book, and it didn’t quite match what I expected. He comes home drunk after staying out late, and he and his wife end up fighting a bit, after he makes some very bold statements about their life and daughter.

The ending is actually rather depressing, because it seems like the family will all just go back to living their simple and boring life together, despite the difference this week without Skylark has made. It’s not that she’s dragging them down though, just that they wish they could do more for her, but know they can’t. And Skylark returns home with some realizations of her own, though she keeps them to herself.

Overall, I really liked the writing style, though I realize this was translated from Hungarian, so it’s hard to say how direct a translation it was. There were a few awkward bits, including a theatre performance the couple sees, which has content that would not be considered appropriate today. Despite having less of an eventful ending than I expected, I thought it was a good book. I would be interested in reading other works by the author, though I don’t know how many are available in English.

Book Review: Elizabeth I by Margaret George

Elizabeth I by Margaret George Rather tedious writing, with an overabundance of facts presented as character’s thoughts, and not very well.

Book Review: Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani

Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani Meh.