Tag Archive for Eastern Europe

Book Review: The Collected Stories by Heinrich Böll

The Collected Stories by Heinrich Böll A great collection of Heinrich Böll’s work, though with so many stories and novellas, it’s hard to comment on them here. His writing style is appealing, mostly clear and to the point, but with enough detail to paint a scene. The stories focusing on the war and just after seemed best to me; those touching upon religion and/or philosophy did not feel as compelling.

Book Review: Selected Stories from Sholom Aleichem

Selected Stories from Sholom Aleichem I liked the writing style of these stories, and they were interesting in terms of where and who they focused on. But a lot of the stories didn’t really go anywhere and felt incomplete. Some were more like portraits of individual characters, but without a story. Others seemed to be heading to a climax, but then abruptly ended without any resolution. A bit of a mixed bag, really.

Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula by Bram Stoker I’m pretty sure I read this back in high school, but as I started to read it just before Halloween, I realized I had completely forgotten everything about it. It has a good dose of creepy and thrilling elements, though it’s a bit plodding in parts, what with all the journal entries and exclamations of “oh, what brave men!” Some of the characters’ actions were a bit baffling, and they felt like they were written that way to fit in later plot points. (Why on earth would they keep Mina out of things, right after saying how great and smart she was, with her “man’s brain?” And then see what happened as a result!) That said, it’s still a good book, and a classic, at that.

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: The Breaking of Eggs by Jim Powell

The Breaking of Eggs by Jim Powell The Breaking of Eggs by Jim Powell follows the elderly Feliks Zhukovski, a Polish leftist who has made France is home, as he looks back on his life as a strong supporter of the Communists. He starts to feel like his life is unraveling, and he ends up really examining how his beliefs were built, and tries to justify them, despite all the Communists actually did in Eastern Europe.

Initially, I liked the story, but after awhile, it felt like there was a shift from showing the story to telling it, starting with a letter from Feliks long-lost mother. It just started feeling less compelling to me, and I started to lose interest. At the very end of the book, it felt like things were tied up too neatly, like a fairy tale ending had to be tacked on. It wasn’t very satisfying though, and felt too mushy, especially contrasted with the character Feliks had seemed to be throughout the rest of the book.

Book Review: The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas I came across The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas while browsing Shelfari for historical fiction, and I thought it would be a nice change from my usual choices.

The story takes place in the late 1800s, when the Ottoman Empire was still in existence, and we learn of a prophesy about someone who will have great impact. The main character Eleonora, a young girl from Romania, seems like she might be that someone, especially as she stows away on a ship carrying her father to Stamboul to do business.

I don’t want to reveal further events in the book, as they might spoil it for other readers, but it did keep my interest for a bit. However, toward the end of the book, it just sort of fell away, and I was left thinking “that’s it?!” at the very end of the book. It was like the story kept building and building, and then it didn’t go anywhere interesting. It left me wondering if the writer just didn’t know what to do after all this, or if he did this intentionally, with plans to follow up with a sequel.

It could have been so much better than it was, but it was all right for what it was, I guess. You just may feel disappointed at the end.