Interlude: end of Q3 at the Masthead

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

Books reviewed: 7
Translated fiction: 2 (from 2 languages: French and Spanish)
New-to-me authors: 4 (Forster, Benioff, Sijie and García Márquez)
Oldest book: Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905)
Newest book: Benioff’s City of Thieves (2009)
Longest book: King’s It (1153 pages)
Shortest book: García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold (120 pages)

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

A Room with a View, EM Forster
Please, just say what you think, not what your friends think! A novel that lambasts with humor our need to be exactly like everyone else (bonus: excellent views of Italy)

Deadeye Dick, Kurt Vonnegut
Copious amounts of guilt for stupid mistakes and twists of fate. This one lacks in substance until the end – a patient read, but stick with it.

Where Angels Fear to Tread, EM Forster
Do you keep your in-law’s burdens even when the blood relation dies and the in-law takes a new (and reproachable) husband? Scandal, prejudice and rue grow out of a humble Italian town and creep their way across the Channel into upright English homes.

City of Thieves, David Benioff
A compact story of Leningrad; emotive and original, adventurous and brutal, but brought down a notch by its gratuitous sex jokes and off-the-mark diction.

It, Stephen King
A tightrope walk along the “kid line” of horror and imagination

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie
Simple prose delivers the irony in China’s re-education program with a cute (not cutesy, but cute) love story to boot

Chronicle of a Death ForetoldGabriel García Márquez
The townspeople – every last one of them it seemed – knew who was to be murdered and knew who the murderers were but not one of them did anything. A novel about passivity in the face of crime.

Q1 wrap-up
Q2 wrap-up
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Wedding bells, they ring a death knell

How could this murder have happened when everyone knew it would? Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold is about the death of a man, the guilt of a town and the machismo that celebrates one sin at the behest of another.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Chronicle of a Death Foretold · Gabriel García Márquez · 1982
Gregory Rabassa translation · Vintage, 2003 · 120 pages, paperback

Santiago Nasar was already dead when they came for him. He was lost in the hubbub of one celebration melting into another as the revelries of the previous night’s nuptials, which poured into the wee hours of the morning like so much cane liquor, are extinguished by a mute pause – there is no blood on the bedsheet (why is there no blood? There must be blood) – and then rage as Bayardo San Roman returns his deflowered virgin to the house of her parents.

And now the noise is not wedding bells, but instead the clangor of the docks that travels inland as the five o’clock hour wanes. The whistles scream and the bishop’s arrival is sounded in the square.

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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 that floats down Jackson street on a tide of gray floodwater, Stephen King’s novel takes adulthood and folds it up – creasing at the corners, tucking in the flaps – into a kid’s plaything. Let the good times roll!

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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. To put a stop to a very bad and very thoughtless marriage, Philip leaves behind the straight-laced ways of  England and comes 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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