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 · 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.
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 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.
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.
It · 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!
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 · 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.
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.
Where 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.
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 · 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.
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
Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White hinges on identity, on forgery, on rank suspicion, suspicion that gets the better of us and makes us rash instead of rational.
The Woman in White · Wilkie Collins · 1860
Penguin, 2009 · 672 pages, hardcover
The Woman in White is both a sensationalist thriller and a social commentary. Collins takes his shots at the marriage laws and rules of inheritance of 1850s England, and he provides a creeping horror alongside it, the same kind of horror where you realize how very trapped you are and how powerless you are to get out. A close marriage, the words invalid and invalidate; that pernicious horror doesn’t confine itself to money, nor even to love, but asserts itself as an erasure of recognition.
And this erasure necessitates a different kind of forgery – that of reclamation and the forging of a new life.
Food merely whets our appetite, sharpens our teeth; meat makes us ravenous for more meat, as death is ravenous for more death. Murder makes us ravenous, fills the soul with satisfaction that is fierce and then luscious enough to create a taste for further satisfaction.
House of Names · Colm Tóibín
Scribner, 2017 · 275 pages, hardcover
The curse placed upon the House of Atreus…Colm Tóibín’s most recent novel, House of Names, is a retelling of the ancient story of Clytemnestra. It tells of her husband’s, King Agamemnon’s, sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia so that the winds of war may blow in his favor. It tells of their son Orestes’ escape and their daughter Electra’s imprisonment. It tells of Clytemnestra’s affair with the prisoner-come-king Aegisthus and the manipulation they played in the name of love and power.
Clytemnestra, Electra and Orestes – Tóibín tells the story through their eyes. His finesse lies in his control of language and perspective, which shift with each narrative. His words are of the simplest nature, but he pulls the strings of linguistics to make the words bleed from his pages. Continue reading
Orhan Pamuk’s Snow begins as a novel that had a good shot at feeding the intellect but instead contorted itself into a soap opera complete with convenient fixes for its weaknesses.
Snow · Orhan Pamuk · 2002
Maureen Freely translation · Vintage, 2005 · 463 pages, paperback
A political coup that manipulates the theater to confuse and gain power? A string of suicides inspired by Turkey’s uncertain position on the East-West divide? An exiled poet who just might find enlightenment in the forsaken streets of his home town? Pamuk’s writing in Snow (originally published in Turkey as Kar) is too placid for the story he wanted to tell. We read the few moments of heightened drama in this novel in a detached way, as if we’re too tired to keep our eyes open and our brains can’t hold onto the words we’re reading: we just don’t care. Continue reading