In the High Peaks

Saturday, June 28, 2014

La Peur by Gabriel Chevallier--A World War I Novel

What struck me most about this novel narrated by a French infantryman of the intelligentsia is the utter isolation of his experience apart from his comrades. Yes, I know so far I'm not explaining myself well. Aside from a just a couple of comrades, Negre being one, the narrator experiences this universe of the absurd alone. We know his fellow infantrymen are near and that they share their bodily and psychic miseries, but the narrator doesn't draw us into these relationships or into these characters. The focus is solely on the narrator's personal relationship with Total War.

While reading this book, it seemed to me that the French infantryman was less well-provided for than his British counterpart, in terms of food, clothing, and other sustenance. I may be wrong in my interpretation, and I should study the facts. But the French war machine seemed less well-prepared to care for the men in extremis. I was shocked that in the Vosges mountain region that soldiers were expected to endure -25 to -35 degrees below zero. I'm assuming that's Fahrenheit? Was Celsius the norm in France in World War I? (If you know, I'd love the information. Obviously, I need to research that as well.) In any case, I know how extreme cold can fatigue the human body to a point where an individual ceases to care about anything, including his survival, very quickly. I was so surprised that it was that cold, and that they had to endure it without respite. When it is -25 below Fahrenheit here, everything stops.

I loved the narrator's rebellious, solitary nature and admired his sneering, scathing point of view of the military, the war machine, the governments involved, as his thinking evolved.

I feel Chevallier's voice is one of the very strongest in WWI literature. So why isn't he more popular? Yes, his work was censored during WWII, but it was available during the 1930s and after WWII. I wonder how popular it is in France, and in the rest of Europe.

The only copy of the novel that I could obtain was for my Nook. I found much text to highlight.

Friday, June 27, 2014

La Peur (Fear) by Gabriel Chevallier: Mention Today, To Be Completed 6/28

Many thanks to Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat for selecting Gabriel Chevallier's 1930 World War I novel, La Peur for the Literature and War Readalong for the month of June. I've been so excited to connect with a French novel about World War I, and I have nothing but positive things to say about it, but I'm not able to write my thoughts this evening. It's on my docket to write a post tomorrow, Saturday the 28th. My excuse: It was a glorious summer day today, and I spent it hiking early in the morning, then sketching and painting en plein air by a local lake, and then swimming in an outdoor pool. Lovely.

I'm also halfway through Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch at the moment. I don't want to say a thing about it until I'm finished. I've had some queasy feelings, I will say, but no point in discussing the novel until I've finished. Are you reading it, or do you plan to this summer?

More to come!

Friday, June 20, 2014

In My Mailbox: The Zhivago Affair

Since my birthday early in June, I haven't stopped indulging myself by buying books. It has to stop, of course, but there have been a number of titles that I have refused to wait for at the library. Sometimes these moods strike me and my bank account.

Recently published and in my mailbox today: The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvee (Pantheon). When I read the review in BookPage, I knew I had to order the book immediately. You see, Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak has been a big part of my life since age 14. It just so happens that the David Lean film was my first introduction to Dr. Zhivago (and it is still my favorite film after all these years). I first saw it in March 1967 with my older brother, and I was astounded, awed, shocked, and swept away. A love affair with Russian literature and history ensued. I turned 15 that June and read Dr. Zhivago the novel while sunning myself at the beach every afternoon for many weeks that summer. I was determined to read every word. I loved it, though I haven't read it since. I'd like to, especially the new translation that was published two years ago.

There is another connection I have to the smuggling of the Dr. Zhivago manuscript out of Russia in 1956. I'm afraid that due to the late hour and empty stomachs, I must save this rare tidbit for another post. In any case, I'm so psyched that Finn and Couvee have written this book.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Summer 2014 Personal Book Challenge

I teach my last class on June 25. Then a few days to grade final exams. Then--Summer!

I have some do-or-die challenges for my summer, which formally begins on Friday, June 27.
  1. Paint en plein air, in the lands to the south, where millions of insects are not present to devour me. (Think: Saratoga Springs area.)
  2. Read the following three classics:
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • Snow by Orhan Palmuk
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
Yes, I have many other books I plan to read, but these three require some presence of mind and not a mindless, vacation attitude, which has made me name them explicitly as challenges.

You know, I have so many books on tap, one can only hope for a blistering, hot summer when one has no choice but to be indoors. (NO! I didn't mean that! Let me take that back!)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Thankful for Summer House with Swimming Pool (ARC)

Thank you to Random House (Hogarth imprint) for sending me the Dutch author Herman Koch's blockbluster Summer House with Swimming Pool, which was released the first week of June in the U.S.

I have 35 pages to go with Casebook by Mona Simpson, and it is at this point at the end of good novels that I often find myself delving in to a new book, to help me tolerate the withdrawal symptoms which occur when I complete my previous read.

So all I can say is, "Oh no!" I have work I must complete for my class this weekend. Lots. I have read 30 pages of Summer House, and I am desperately intrigued so far, so much so that all weekend I'll have the novel nagging at me while I'm working and grading and commenting on student essays! Arrrgh!

The chiropractor says that it would be best if I didn't spend longer than 30 minutes reading at one time. (What a Readathon pooper!) Chiropractor's comment on condition of neck: "How did you drive yourself, how did you teach a 4-hour class, etc.? My meek answer, "I try my best to put the pain in a box." Really, what else can a teacher do in these circumstances when you simply have to work or else?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thursday Will Be a Rainy Day Readathon!

Severe neck pain is controlling my reading behavior tomorrow even more than all the rain that's been forecast. I worked for 11 hours with neck pain today, complete with 125 miles of driving. That did kill me. But annihilation of this kind is very, very good, because tomorrow all I'll be able to do is READ. Isn't this fact worth all the pain of today? Well, almost...

I'm currently halfway through Casebook by Mona Simpson, a book I'm enjoying immensely, though I'm becoming extremely more and more nervous as 14-year-old Miles is hot on the scent of what is really going on with Mims, his mother. Yes, he and his friend Hector have been eavesdropping on nearly every phone conversation she's had in the last 3 years or so. They gather information that astounds, baffles, and stupefies Miles and Hector, Miles's best buddy. The tension keeps escalating. I'm so committed now that I couldn't stop even if I wanted to.

And NO! no! no! This is not a YA novel, not one bit! Actually, this fact makes me even more nervous, because most YA novels end on a somewhat hopeful note. So I am truly worried about Miles as he attempts to negoiatie many complex adult relationships. His viewpoint is intriguing--intensely so. Note! I'm just halfway through, but as of this point, I consider it a very worthwhile read.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Wee Postie about The Romanov Sisters (2014)

I'm fuming because our internet was down for several hours at a time earlier this evening, when I actually had the spare moments to write a decent post. Because dinner is overdue, I will postpone the longer post, though I will mention one long-awaited title that arrived at my post office today.

Published on my b.d., The Romanov Sisters :The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexamdra by Helen Rappaport (St. Martin's Press) arrived two days later (June 5). I know I'll be fascinated reading about the four sisters' lives during the years approaching World War I, during the war when the two oldest served as nurses, and the years after the Russian withdrawal from the war, and the time before the Romanov Family's executions (assassinations) during the Russian Revolution of 1917-1918.

The last time I read a book about the Romanov princesses, I was newly married. Yikes! That was about 27-28 years ago. So I've reasoned that because so much new material from the Russian/Soviet archives have come to light, it would be worthwhile to reinvestigate the young royals' lives, their incarceration, and deaths.

I have so many books available right now, all of which are demanding to be read immediately, that I must say I'm going a bit book-crazy. The intensive summer course I'm teaching insists that I spend most of my free time working. What a conflict! Just three more weeks. I need a personal Read-a-thon this weekend, BUT the weather is supposed to be spectacular. Just cannot resist great weather when I know horrid humidity and heat is going to be our summer fare in July and August.