Tiffany’s, that place of places where nothing bad can ever happen to you, is a place Holly dreams of but never ventures to step inside.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s · Truman Capote · 1958
Vintage, 1993 · 87 pages, paperback
Holly in sickbed: Lipstick, eye liner, perfume and pearls but this is no glamour. It was never about glamour but about disappearing.
Holly in hospital is Holly in actuality, and we see what we never noticed before, just as all the men at her dinner parties never saw the bare walls or the emptiness of her apartment and dutifully ignored that quiet little word – traveling – on her mailbox.
Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s is about trying to find a sense of belonging in a world that will accept anything, especially false perceptions, as matters of fact. It’s easier this way; things fit together so nicely this way. Continue reading
Iago. Meanness, villainy, devilry…spite. His villainy inflamed by changing motives, Iago plays his spitefulness for sport.
Othello · William Shakespeare · 1603
Norton, 2008 · 82 pages, hardcover
William Shakespeare based Othello on a work by the Italian writer Cinthio. In the original Iago seeks retribution for his wife’s disloyalty, and it becomes a drama driven by vengeance. In Shakespeare’s version this motive is diluted: the affair between Iago’s wife, Emilia, and Othello is only a supposition (Iago admits to as much and Emilia makes light of the rumor). It’s no more than barracks banter and is hardly alluded to in the play.
Iago’s evilness is more terrifying and Othello a more difficult work for this revision. Othello isn’t a drama about jealousy or vengeance anymore; it’s a drama about manipulation and the fortitude of rumors and lies. Continue reading
For all its hurt, Kavalier & Clay is an optimistic book – Chabon’s protagonists show us that a superhero is a very human thing.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay · Michael Chabon · 2000
Random House, 2012 · 704 pages, paperback
Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a novel about the creation of one’s own life, the constant molding, assessing and reassessing in pursuit of some very individual version of the American Dream.
Two minutes, $25-$30, one hardcover book and a thrilled heart overflowing with impatience and happiness. What’s the book about? Damned if I know; I don’t even know what the title is if I’m to be completely honest.
Some authors are just that good, and you’ll read anything they write.
I winnowed my own list of auto-buy authors to include living writers only lest it become merely another list of favorites (though I may have cheated a little with numbers 3 and 4).
Autumn Quail shows the honesty that, sometimes, underlies corruption. It also reveals an optimism for the coexistence of old and new ideals. It is Mahfouz writing from the perspective of Egypt’s old regime – the constitutional monarchy and the liberalism of the then-dominant Wafd political party – as the ’52 revolution unfolds.
The novel opens with Cairo in flames. It promises to be a novel of Egypt’s entropy as independence and fledgling self-governance struggle to reconcile the past with the future. It shows the fall from power and the post-revolution purge of government ministers and those who are connected with them.
Mahfouz has done this more thoroughly in many of his other writings, and Autumn Quail is one of his weaker novels. Somewhere between short story and novel, Autumn Quail, for the purpose Mahfouz gave it, should have been a much shorter work.
I’m shooting to have the review up by mid-week for Autumn Quail and am working on a series recap to come shortly afterward that compares the three novellas. Mahfouz was a tremendous writer and keenly aware of the lifeblood of Cairo’s every corner. He was Egypt’s Tolstoy. He did win the Nobel prize for literature.
My introduction to Mahfouz was through his Cairo trilogy a few years ago. The way he wrote about the British occupation and then of Egyptian independence through one merchant-class family showed all the glamour, richness, decrepitude, sadness; showed all…everything…that was alive in Cairo through the first half of the twentieth century. He gave this same attention to his writings of the ’52 revolution that I am now reviewing.
♠ Also reading…
I’m halfway through Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I’d been meaning to get to his work for a while and started in on this one per the recommendation of books n’at.
I might also pick up Julius Caesar once I finish Mahfouz – we’re near the storied Ides of March after all, and I haven’t read Shakespeare in years – but a couple of other books are also pulling me into their orbits. Read on.
Said Mahran is a fugitive once more. Imprisoned for four years on counts of burglary, he pursues vengeance for the perceived treacheries of his erstwhile friends and ex-wife at the same time that he seeks the affection of his 4-year-old daughter who never knew him.
Already new loves blossom and old thieves live ensconced in palatial villas, denouncing their old trade without irony. Said Mahran remains unchanged, though he nurses an embittered heart.
The Beggar is about a man who sees his passions and ideas dragged through the streets and spit upon to end up, once institutionalized in the full regalia of a new government, a dastardly version of what they should have been.
It is a novel, therefore, of the disappointment implicit in Egyptian politics.
Sharpened rays of sunlight and four trigger pulls, how to live when life and death are interchangeable?
The Stranger · Albert Camus · 1946
Matthew Ward translation · Vintage, 1989 · 123 pages, paperback
Albert Camus was a proponent of the idea that life becomes absurd once a man learns he is living only, one day, to die. Whether any one of us came into being in the first place is a chance occurrence that alters any other life on only a very insular level. And when we do die…well, we won’t be here to remember the things we did.
And we know this and yet we live this short little march with our full attentions. This is what Camus said was absurd. The Stranger is a slim book that puts Camus’ ideas in the clearest terms.
Oryx and Crake · Margaret Atwood
Random House, 2003 · 376 pages, paperback
Chickens have been reduced to tits and meat (heads no longer required) and pigs have become living organ farms. Live executions, porn, assisted suicides and naked news anchors stream freely online. Botox is laughable because new skins, head to toe, can be grown if you have enough money. Art and language are, at best, mere tools for marketing scientific achievements or, at worst, subjects of derision. Jimmy grows up in a future that is a grotesque parody of our own present.
And then plague erases this comedy and it really is time to start anew. This second future is the milieu of the Crakers, and it isn’t always easy to tell which is the more bleak.