On Wednesday, I finished my last book, I mentioned that I was going to do some summary posts. I’ll write a qualitative report in a few days, but thanks to Goodreads allowing you to export statistical spread sheets of your books, first I’m going to do a quantitative post.
The year comes to a close, with my final book, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the books tells the story of Subhash Mitri, a young man from a suburb of Calcutta born in the closing years of World War Two, and of his family, focusing on his younger brother Udayan, his wife Gauri, and his daughter Bela. Spanning almost seven decades the book, the Mitri’s lives are not jam packed with excitement, but they are just like any lives, traumatic and tolerable in turns with occasional glimpses of joy.
I’ve read a lot of books that have been translated into English this year, and some of them have really made me think about the mechanics of translation as it were. How accurately can you render true meaning, both linguistic and cultural in a different language? How can someone who only speaks English really understand the works of a Japanese, or Russian author, even when reading in translation? Is that a Fish in Your Ear? is an in-depth story of the history of inter-lingual communication, both written and spoken.
Fittingly, since it is on the shortlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize, A Tale for the Time Being, is, I think, one of the most egregious examples of the ‘pretentious award baiting novel’ stereotype I’ve ever read. A non-linear narrative, appendices, a narrator who’s a fictionalised version of the author, discovery of a hidden treasure that may have been related to a recent tragedy (in this instance the Fukushima earthquake and the resulting tsunami), religion and philosophy, death, and a rather uncomfortable sexual encounter. Despite all of this, it’s a distinctly average book. There are some good aspects, but in general the story was quite boring and the execution made it hard to become invested.
This is going to be a rather strange review, because while I have reviewed non-fiction books before, they’ve been biographical in nature (either auto or historical), or journalistic. I think that philosophy books are rather harder to pass comment on, if only because I don’t know that I’m particularly well qualified to form an opinion on what the author is saying. Add to the fact that I’m combining two separate books into one review, so rather than making too much of a comment on the ideas (aside from saying they I enjoyed it and thought they were both very interesting), I think I’m simply going to give a general overview.
The last of the Booker long-listed novels I finished before the short-list was announced, I think Tash Aw’s Five Star Billionaire is definitely the weakest of the nominated books I’ve read. In contrast to We Need New Names, which was hard to read because of the content, this was hard to read because it was just so uninspiring.
We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo
Where do I begin with We Need New Names? As I mentioned yesterday, I have a lot of issues with the book. I think it’s possibly the hardest book I’ve ever read, not because the prose is particularly difficult, but because of the subject matter. The Booker committee obviously felt it was a good book, but I think it’s a good example of the fact that good does not always equal enjoyable or nice.