Mozart is Thinking of Chairman Mao

Propaganda is only a paper tiger; paper books are the ones with teeth and oh! how they bite! Sijie’s novel shows the underbelly of China’s re-education program, its failure a fait acompli from the beginning.

Balzac and the Little Chines Seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress · Dai Sijie
Ina Rilke translation · Anchor Books, 2001 · 184 pages, paperback

The violin, its varnished wood smooth, reflects the embers, and it fails to be a toy of the Western bourgeoisie when the sonata cut by its bow is given a new name: “Mozart is Thinking of Chairman Mao.” An enemy music made ally by a lie.

The village headman contemplates. Mozart is thinking of Chairman Mao. The violin may stay.

The Great Leap Forward was, of course, a Great Leap Backward and, in the same vein, China’s re-education program was a mandate for ignorance.

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Pop! Pop! Popcorn and balloons, Pennywise is back!

It swells and swells (feeds and feeds). It’s bloated now, inflamed, the boils growing ever larger until Derry, Maine, ruptures in spewed sewage and fallen power lines and 55-mph winds that kill with the things their currents carry. Strokes the clock tower misses at 5 a.m., at 6, at 7 instead show up mortally in the brain of the old cop who knew the kids who knew Its secret back in 1958.

ItIt · Stephen King· 1986
Scribner, 2016 · 1153 pages, paperback

It is one town’s evils given monstrous reign, and, like Georgie Denbrough’s newspaper boat floating down the street on a tide of gray floodwater during that same frightful August, Stephen King’s novel is one that folds up adulthood into a toy made for kids.

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“Good books” and Sept/Oct TBR

I’ve had too many books that I adored while reading them which now carry with them nothing better than that awful, says-nothing, lazy accolade: I enjoyed these books, sure I did! They were good books.

Good books, huh? Well, gee…

I don’t doubt there were a great many good books. But why they were any good escapes me now. You’d think it would be easy to remember the good ones.

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Pawns of the colonel

Riddle me this: how do you find a dozen eggs during a siege that has left people to shoot horses for their meat and boil the glue in book bindings for its protein?

City of Thieves

City of Thieves · David Benioff
Penguin, 2009 · 258 pages, paperback

Lev the looter and Kolya the deserter who isn’t really a deserter (he left his unit because his “balls were ringing like a couple of church bells”) are two young men caught up in the summary justice of Leningrad under siege. Looting and desertion demand execution. But a powerful colonel has a daughter who’s to be married. The colonel’s decree? Let there be cake – and cake demands eggs.

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Fools rush in

The legno trundles through the turns in a wood that lead, ascending, to the small, picaresque, dirty Italian town of Monteriano and, within its walls, to Lilia and to Gino, devil’s temptation.

A Room with a ViewWhere Angels Fear to Tread · E.M. Forster · 1905
Everyman’s Library, 2011 · 250 pages, hardcover

Philip Herriton is half-mad with indignation that Lilia, widow to his brother Charles, should have her head turned by an ass with all the charms of precocious desire. And so, to put a stop to a very bad and very thoughtless marriage, it is with Philip and Lilia’s Sawston neighbor, Caroline Abbot, that we leave behind the straight-laced ways of  England and come out on the side of a village whose character is one that throbs with impulsivity and slumbers in its laziness.

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A cupola full of guns, it runneth over

The bullet drives smoothly into the swelling womb of a pregnant housewife eight blocks over, and Rudy Waltz, in this Mother’s Day double murder, finds himself Deadeye Dick for eternity.

Deadeye Dick 2Deadeye Dick · Kurt Vonnegut · 1982
Dial Press, 2010 · 271 pages, paperback

He didn’t mean to hit anyone; if he aimed at nothing, nothing is what he’d hit. What a sharpshooter! Twelve years old and Rudy Waltz has a lifetime of guilt ahead of him.
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You’re forgetting your Italy, Dear

A Room with a View

A Room with a View · E.M. Forster · 1908
Everyman’s Library, 2011 · 217 pages, hardcover

Oh, Italy! The tourists in E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View are stumbling over each other in their haste to appreciate Giotto’s frescoes, but they can’t appreciate them until they’ve learned which are his (and so which among all of the frescoes are allowed to be appreciated). They affect intelligence. There’s nothing new in a view so stifled.

And there’s nothing emphatic in erudition, not when it’s had for making a point. Continue reading

Currently reading…

upcoming reviews 2

That yellow rain slicker, the gray rapids of a flooded street…the little newspaper boat that floats toward the stormdrain…and then the carnival smell of popcorn and the shining silver eyes of Pennywise the Clown as he offers up a balloon to young Georgie Denbrough.

The first scene in Stephen King’s IT is one of my favorite openers of any novel. It’s been probably two years since I last read any King. A new IT movie comes out September 8th though, and the novel is out in a great new edition from Scribner, so…I’m getting back into it! Truth be told, I left this one 70 pages to the end last time I read it (really, 94% through the book and I left off!) I remember the story slowing considerably toward the end, but from what I’ve heard I was at the edge of something good.

Kurt Vonnegut who, when reading him is to do mental gymnastics, is hit-or-miss for me. Slaughter-house Five is a great book and Sirens of Titan amused me last summer, but this one – Deadeye Dick – is so far just a jumble of stuff that is kind of a chore to read. I’m only about a fifth of the way into it, and I hope he’ll come around to please me with the usual zaniness.

I’m nearly finished with E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View and want to publish the review by end of week. Forster was a bit like an English Edith Wharton: wry, compassionate and, at times, acerbic.

What are you reading?

Interlude: second quarter wrap-up at the Masthead

The Masthead is closing out its second quarter! A quick look at the past three months:

Books reviewed: 8 (6 novels, 1 book of short stories and 1 play, Rose’s Twelve Angry Men)
Translated fiction: 2 (from 2 languages: Russian and Turkish)
New-to-me authors: 7: all except Tolkien were new for me!
Oldest book: Collins’ The Woman in White (1860)
Newest book: Tóibín’s House of Names  (2017) *but…it’s the oldest story 😉
Longest book: Collins’ The Woman in White (672 pages)
Shortest book: Rose’s Twelve Angry Men (73 pages)

A pithy recap of each book read and reviewed here since April 15:

4321, Paul Auster
A master book of meta-fiction! Auster’s recent novel is full of what ifs and, with the help of four Archie Fergusons, tells us there’s no point in dwelling on the past (or, for that matter, on the future either).

Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
Disappointing. A cut-and-dry mystery that lays bare the evidence and alibis of 12 people and then virtually ignores it in favor of a hunch felt by Christie’s cult hero, Monsieur Poirot.

The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories, Nikolai Leskov
A book to keep close at hand, there is so much to these stories! Leskov, he just wants to tell you a story, even if it you think it’s a little far-fetched. A little magic and a little fairy tale.

Twelve Angry Men, Reginald Rose
When the jury couldn’t give a damn but the verdict is life or death…what then?


The Fellowship of the Ring
, J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien’s classic fantasy plays on our simplest fears. Middle-earth is alive in its history, in its shadows, in its very hills…terror crescendos in an instant and drops back in the next. Prose and poetry and characters – every one of them satisfies.

Snow, Orhan Pamuk
This one could not have contributed to Pamuk’s Nobel. A good premise and the potential for artistic politics but instead…reads like daytime T.V.

House of Names, Colm Tóibín
A modern retelling of an ancient Greek story. Tóibín ennervates his characters through the tricks he pulls with linguistics and brings the cursed House of Atreus (with its hand-me-down violence) into our popular fiction.

The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
Victorian gothic: all sneaking suspicion and none of the usual Victorian fussiness; a thriller to meet our modern thirst.

♠ Be sure to check out the Masthead’s first quarter wrap-up and the review archive! ♠