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 Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

threemusketeers-dumasLike most things in my life, my love for Dumas’ famous musketeers stems from a Disney movie.

Starring the thespian talents of Kiefer Sutherland (Lordy, that voice), Oliver Platt, Charlie Sheen (long before he had tiger blood coursing through his veins), and the hunka hunka burnin’ love that was a twenty-three-year-old Chris O’Donnell as D’Artagnan, the 1993 version of the Three Musketeers is a rip roarin’, family-friendly interpretation of the classic French novel that I now know does a marvellous job of introducing the infamous musketeers as Dumas first portrayed them—brave, loyal, and chivalrous, with rapier wit and hella impressive skills with a sword (which, fun fact, would have been a rapier). I watched that movie over, and over, and over, and over, and have since enjoyed every big- and small-screen adaptation I’ve seen—especially the recently concluded BBC television series, which I could not get enough of. So you can imagine my delight (and relief) when I loved the book just as much as I have all the adaptions. I guess there’s just something about a pack of unbeatable besties who would lay down their lives for loyalty and honour that warms the cockles of my heart.

No. 12 on my challenge. Originally serialized as Les Trois Mousquetaires in the French newspaper Le Siècle between March and July 1844, the first English translation was produced in 1846 by William Barrow and is still in print today.

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.