Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

deadsouls_gogolYou’re smart people, so by now you’ve probably figured out that I’m not the biggest fan of European classics. Dickens certainly did not meet my expectations, great or otherwise, I did not have a whale of a time reading Melville (heh!) and I’m sorry, but for all the fuss about Dorian Gray, his death was my favourite part of the whole novel.

And yet. And yet . . . I had hopes for Dead Souls. Not really high hopes, of course, but hopes nonetheless. I should have known better.

Now, it’s not that Dead Souls is a terrible read. Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov is a unique character with an outlandish mission that entertainingly sets him against a host of overblown caricatures representing all that was wrong with Russia back in the day (greed, stupidity, general suspicion). So it’s bound to have some good points. But my problem with this classic is the same problem I have with the others . . . it’s just so darn sluggish. Literally (for real, literally) a third of the book is superfluous exposition and hyperbole. And then after all the words he didn’t need to write, Gogol had the audacity to end mid sentence! What’s that about?!

Anyways… no. 1 on my challenge. Have I finally learned my lesson? Probably not. I’ll keep you posted.

The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

girlwhosavedthekingofsweden-jonassonIn my opinion Mr. Jonasson has a knack for three things:

1) Writing characters who make the best out of the absolute worst. Take, for example, Nombeko, the heroine of this jaunty little tale. She was born in a South African slum, orphaned at ten, run over by a car, practically imprisoned for more than a decade, and then, just as she escapes, is accidentally saddled with a nuclear bomb (which is where this story really starts). And yet, she’s good with numbers, handy with a pair of scissors, smart enough to keep her eyes open and her mouth closed, crafty enough to escape alive, and lucky enough to meet the one man in all of Sweden who doesn’t give a fig about her rather dangerous luggage (and who also does not technically exist).

2) Connecting fictional story lines with factual events, no matter how unrelated, far fetched, or arbitrary they may be. For instance (and this is just one of many entertaining examples): Chinese carmaker Zhejiang Geely purchased Volvo from Sweden in 2010. Jonasson’s novel suggests that the purchase was somehow the result of the professional relationship between the fictional Nombeko and Hu Jintao, the real-life [past] President of the People’s Republic of China. (So… satire. He’s good at satire.)

3) Writing light-hearted comedy with such command of his craft that it loses nothing in translation (at least, I don’t think it does), and that even the most horrific scenes are reduced (or perhaps elevated) to hilarity. As such:

nombeko-thabo

UNCLE?!

And because Mr. Jonasson is so good at these three things, I declare this book an absolute joy to read (despite the large doses of scientific and mathematical jargon and two very frustrating characters whom I will let you discover—and loathe—on your own).

No. 19 on my challenge. Because #2.

Book roundup!

I love books and I love lists, so what better way to celebrate the end of the year than with a bunch of Best Books of 2015 lists (a two column bulleted list that I coded myself, I might add):

 

 

 

 

 

 

And from Brooklyn Magazine, a list much like my own: The Best of the Bests: Ranking the 2015 Best Books Lists.

Finally, to commemorate the near end of my book challenge (I’m working on the last three books as you read), here’s an exhaustive gallery of the books I read in 2015 (including those not read for the challenge), in no particular order (my apologies, the covers aren’t linked to their reviews—I couldn’t figure out how to code around that particular impossibility in gallery view):

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

SlaughterhouseFive

This is my first encounter with Vonnegut. Yes, it’s a classic. Yes, it’s satirical and anti-war. Yes, it’s very good. But holy Batman is it odd. I was not expecting Tralfamadorians. So it goes.

No. 19 on my challenge. Not because I didn’t read it in high school, but because my teachers should have assigned it in high school.