- Name: Udhaya
- Location: United States
I'm still learning.
Monday, October 24, 2016
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Lovers at Chameleon Club--Paris-1932 -- by Francine Prose
Ultimately, I enjoyed it like a substantial hike after gliding through a string of malnourished e-books by self-published authors. Any form of art that inspires me to practice my own has achieved something. That said, it's a bit like after eating Kale; you know it's good for you but damn, some garlic fries sound good right about now.
Thursday, August 02, 2012
Super Sad True Love Story--Gary Shteyngart
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Donald James', "Monstrum"
Donald James certainly can’t be blamed for lacking ambition. His Monstrum is set in a future Russia where a new party is in power with the promise of change, but people’s loyalties rest uneasy. While this grants enough drama as it is, stirring up this potent setup is a plot about a heinous serial killer who cuts up victims in puzzling ways, a subplot about an underground (literally) sex-cult, and the subversive rebels threatening the new government. Populating this universe is a gallery of colorful characters--an American profiler, an opportunistic police chief, a smitten doctor, a reluctant police force, the elusive monstrum itself, and of course the bumbling cop protagonist. Because of his political connections or despite them, a drunken cop is assigned to catch the serial killer. The doctor and profiler both pine for the cop, insisting on his affections, while the cop yearns for his ex-wife who abandoned him to lead a rebel group in guerilla warfare.
More interested in a failed past than the women he beds, more helpful to a subversive cause than his own principles, the cop sports split loyalties that would make for a great character were the story not told from his point of view. Even a first person narrative could’ve been arresting had the cop ruminated on the turmoil and drama inherent in his life. Even in novels, a passive character is a tough sell unless the character conducts enchanting inner monologues or provides colorful opinions on the surrounding life. Unfortunately for the reader, Constantin Vadim, the cop, is not a thinker. But then, nor is he a doer. Instead, Vadim blindly throws himself into every situation damning the outcome and his fate even further.
Since the reader is stuck with the cop, a dreary fatalistic sense of life sets in early like a hangover haze. The pacing is slow for nearly half of the novel as demands from many fronts overwhelm Vadim. The reader feels trapped and helpless as the blundering cop plods on without direction. After chasing red herrings and downing several gallons of Vodka through some ill-advised trysts, Vadim happens upon some clues. These are clues that an average detective would’ve found upon reading the case files of the victims. Meanwhile, fresh corpses pile up all around Vadim. The protagonist is a reactor to the plot, not it’s propeller. So, until the very end the story lumbers on aided only by secondary characters.
Monstrum is a distracted novel whose rich political underpinnings struggle for attention with a sensational whodunit story set in the future. A political novel would actually have been better served in the author’s hands for he’s certainly informed about Russia and its history. Were the intention to make the future a scary place unlike any before, the author fails there too. The new Russia is a Dickensian place and resembles the hopelessness and corruption of the past. Characters sprout cynicism like time-hardened prisoners. Only in historical details of Russia and rich character histories does the novel show its strength.
At least the serial killer investigation should have offered some thrills. There’s not a shred of tactic or cunning in the way suspects are formed or questioned. The police corruption, inept judicial process, the pervading paranoia are all tired retreads of cold war novels. One plot segment involves a character’s stint as a double for the new political leader, a scenario that exists only to serve as convenient plot resolution at the end. Besides, there are lost characters resurfacing, alliances breaking and forming all the time between characters to keep the reader suspicious about everyone’s motives. There are some plot points that seem so obvious that being drunk is Vadim’s only excuse for going along like he does. At novel’s end, I just felt enervated and accomplished; a suitable effect after an important non-fictional tome, not a dismissive novel.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Joe Sacco's, "Safe Area Gorazde: The war in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95"
This book is a special find for many reasons. The book is at once an in-depth account of a war from within its battlefields, an exquisitely drawn graphic report that betters graphic novels (to use the term "comic" or "illustrated book" betrays the gravity of this effort), or even the best war fiction for that matter. War photographs depict the physical destruction; magazines and TV news editorialize; novels make war poignant; but Sacco has surpassed all other available venues in capturing war with its historical, political, social, background statistically and spiritually intact that the effect on the reader is devastatingly personal.
Sacco clarifies what mainstream media stylizes. He puts the Bosnian war in objective context as a culmination of religious animosity that had been brewing for generations with each side taking its turn as victim and oppressor. In a very telling segment he mentions:
Croats are predominantly Roman Catholic, Serbs are Orthodox Christians, Muslims are generally descended from Slavs converted to Islam during a 500-year Ottoman occupation. Religion is the only distinguishing characteristic, otherwise, they are all South Slavs using pretty much the same language.
By illustrating others' personal accounts alongside his own observations, Sacco creates a spellbinding drama of operatic proportions. The narrative is as funny, ironic, and factual as a conversation with a loved one. The shock is in realizing that this is not fiction. Ethnic cleansing stemming from racial and religious intolerance is not just a distant nightmare. Above all else, this book informs the reader on the gradual disintegration of a harmonious society when divisive roots are stoked by rulers seeking greedy entitlement.
Dan Brown's, "Digital Fortress"
This is a high-tech thriller set in the U.S. government's shadow agency, NSA. Deep in the secure nest of the cryptographers' infallible decoding machine there's trouble in the form of an undetectable code. A rebel ex-agent has brought the proud big brother's, snoopy watchdog to a screaming halt. The premise pits us in an increasingly relevant dilemma: government's privacy-invading protection of its citizens versus the individual's unbridled freedom. Interestingly, the book's protagonist depends on which side you lean. Until midway, the author does a nice job of not picking a side. And until the last third, the search for the missing key is strictly trial and elimination of leads.
The swift pacing assures us that characters will barely register their agendas, let alone their characteristics or distinctions. Whenever characters ruminate or converse they betray every aspect the author lauded on them. Clearly, Brown would rather feed us tidbits on Japanese history or word origins than let his characters breathe. But when reading this genre we should only seek thrills not epiphanies, so with that mindset there's plenty to enjoy in this novel. While satisfying every genre convention of mounting obstacles with fortuitous turn for the good guys, a very original final act sends this novel soaring above the usual yarn.
The good guys do suffer long and hard and the journey has its sacrifices. After all the plot twists appear unraveled except for the final one, the villain is exposed. Instead of the anti-climactic resolution at this point, the novel goes on to a puzzle piece of a climax with enough frenzy and thrill to rival any chase or duel. With encroaching hackers, a varied group of experts tries to solve the puzzle and save the day. Surely in a tech-savvy valley such as ours, this novel might seem unsophisticated or inaccurate for its computer details, but Brown manages to move the story along without making technology the novel's main concern. Despite being roughly hatched, the larger social issues and the divisive nature of our dilemmas are clearly addressed by Digital Fortress. From Tom Clancy's post-cold war techno-thrillers, this might be the inevitable path for modern thrillers. In Dan Brown's hands this genre certainly shows promise. For the uninitiated, Dan Brown also wrote the blockbuster, “The Da Vinci Code”.