In the High Peaks

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

My Mood is Dreadful--Is There a Book for This?

We had a few sunny, 60-70 degree days a week ago or more. I think. Today, like other days lately, it has been cold, barely hitting 42 degrees, a bit of snow in the mornings, and DARK. I think I have a sunlight deficiency. In fact I know I do. We are not scheduled to have sun for quite a few days. We need at least one leaf somewhere to make an appearance. Not yet.
The migratory birds are held back, because of the cold and the north winds, which makes me mopey. 

I have had a lot of business-type stuff to do, and I've been making good headway with The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton, which is very, very interesting, but I see dark clouds on the horizon there, too.

I finished Jane and Prudence,   early Sunday morning, and I thought it was exceptionally well done, but it is not my favorite. Excellent Women is my Pym favorite thus far, though I did find Quartet in Autumn  to be quite amusing.

I've latched on to The House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. This novel was written by an English writer who is married to a Norwegian. It's set in 1946, the year after World War II ended, and is the story of a young English "war bride" who married a Norwegian pilot who flew for the RAF in WWII, but who died at the very end of the war.
A year after his death, she travels to Norway to become acquainted with her husband's homeland, and eventually, she meets his family and receives a house "by a fjord" as her husband's inheritance. Will she stay in Norway and accept the house? That's where I am now.  A brutal winter, the winter of 1946-47 is on its way.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Classics Club Spin: The House of Mirth & Other Book News

The Classics Club Spin turned out to be very lucky for me because I'm so in the mood to read my #19, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.
In the late 1990s I read Wharton's The Age of Innocence and enjoyed that, and learned a great deal from it. At the time I was reading it partly to inform myself about upper-class society and manners in New York, because I was writing a novel set in Boston during the same time period--"The Gilded Age"--the late 1880s. The novel is still deeply buried in a drawer, but I have fond memories of writing it over a period of several years.
So The House of Mirth is now in transit to the wilderness, where I hope to begin reading it later this week. It's 400 pages, so I need to make it a priority.

In the meantime, I've been reading Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym. (This is a Goodreads link. Go directly to the reviews and NOT the horrible brief synopsis of the book--gads.) I must read a Pym novel at least once each year. I am purchasing them all in paperback because I want to go back and read each one again. Pym is so sharp, so witty, so adroit that I'm really a devotee of her work.

I'm also thoroughly deep into reading the memoir Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by the English writer Sarah Moss, about the years she, her husband, and children lived in Iceland just after the financial crash and after the failure of some of Iceland's banks in 2010. The memoir is all about an English family struggling to live in Iceland--physically, culturally, nutritionally. It is immensely fascinating. What an eye-opener-- What an extraordinary (and unusual!) culture.

I first read Sarah Moss in 2011 or so, when I read her novel Cold Earth, which is a mystery of six archaeologists in Greenland, who are excavating what they hope was once a Norse colony. I don't remember the details, but I do recall enjoying it and refusing to send my copy to the library book sale in case I want to read it again.

Moss has a new novel out this year, Ghost Wall. I took it out in late February and had to return it without reading it. So now I have it out again. It's a short novel about a family taking part in an archaeological dig in England, of an Iron Age site. They opt to live as Iron Age dwellers and so, the story. I think this one has some dark overtones.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Classics Club Spin #20

It's been so long since I've participated in a Classics Club Spin that I'll bet  many of you didn't know I have a Classics Club List, which I began in 2016. Of course I'll never finish it by December 31, 2020. But I would like to join in for this Spin. A few of the listed books I'm reading for the Back to the Classics Challenge this year, which is hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate (see sidebar). (This is acceptable for the BCC Challenge, but if it's not legal for The Classics Club, would you please give me a head's up?)

I'm going to be unusually busy in May, but I set aside time each day and in each week to read no matter what, so I hope I'll make it. Another of my concerns is that I think the Somerset Maugham books may be less than full novel length. If they are too, too short, I'll read both of them.

  1. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
  2. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  3. Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf
  4. Home of the Gentry by Ivan Turgenev
  5. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
  6. The Things They Carried and Other Stories by Tim O’Brien
  7. Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden
  8. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  9. Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath (Book One) by Sigrid Undset (re-read)
  10. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
  11. The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham
  12. Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek by Annie Dillard
  13. The Emigrants (Book One) by Vilhelm Moberg (Swedish classic)
  14. The Professor’s House by Charlotte Bronte (re-read from 43 years ago)
  15. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  16. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  17. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
  18. Snow by Orhan Pamuk
  19. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  20. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Radetsky March Readalong, Part 3

As I close the book on The Radetsky March, again I'd like to thank Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life and Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat for hosting this Spring Readalong. I'm so glad I had the chance to read The Radetsky March, and if it had not been for this Readalong, I would still be ignorant of the book's existence. And a hearty thank you to both of them for sponsoring the annual German Literary Month, which is scheduled each November.

Question: There seems to be only one true and honest relationship in this novel—the friendship between district administrator von Trotta and Doctor Skowronnek. Would you agree? What did you think of their relationship?

I definitely disagree, and I would add that the nature of relationships in The Radetsky March is very much restricted or constrainedaccording to the culture and societal norms of the Hapsburg Empire at the time. 

In the case of Baron Von Trotta and Dr. Skowronnek, the Baron's difficulties, including the tragedy of losing his only son and family member, is conveyed to the doctor, but from what the author Joseph Roth shows us, the relationship is very much one-sided. The Baron can "unload" his burden, so to speak, while maintaining gentlemanly conduct, but the doctor does not do the same. Roth never shows the Doctor sharing anything personal at all.  Is this because Baron Von Trotta is nobility (or gentry) and the doctor is not of that class? I think it is. The doctor is not the baron's personal physician. They pass afternoons companionably,  they play chess together daily and talk about lots of things, but it would not be "seemly" for the doctor to take his woes or his grief to Von Trotta. That was my impression. I do hope that if readers have alternative viewpoints that they feel free to comment and say how they view it.

Lieutenant Carl Joseph Von Trotta cares a great deal for his military servant Onufri, just as Onufri is willing to part with his life savings to help Carl Joseph. But, because of the military hierarchy and strict code of conduct, they are so constrained that they cannot express their thoughts about their emotional attachment. Anything that is communicated is heavily draped by military propriety and is an expression of rank.

Carl Joseph and Dr. Max Demant appear to be on a more equal footing. They do care about each other, but the tragedy is Carl Joseph is powerless to prevent or to change the course of action when  the duel with (so sorry--can't remember  his name) becomes an inevitable destination in time. Carl Joseph played a part in it, but he can do nothing except finally to sputter to Dr. Demant, "I do not want you to die!"  Yet again, Carl Joseph and Dr. Demant are not military or social equals, and I wonder, and others may disagree, but is that why Carl Joseph felt he could visit Dr. Demant's wife when he was not at home. Did he feel some sense of entitlement, perhaps? I think this was the case with Sergeant Slama, who, of course, was no friend of Carl Joseph, and was of a lower class than Dr. Demant. But did CJ feel emboldened to freely visit Katherina, Slama's wife, because there could be no really, really serious or dangerous consequences?

I think Chojnicki feels for or cares about what happens to Carl Joseph. He acts in such a way and helps him as an older brother would a younger brother, or so it seems to me. And they are on approximately the same social footing, though the Count definitely outranks the son of a baron.

What do you think about Carl Joseph's death?
I did not view his death as pointless at all. His men were suffering, really suffering from thirst. And because of Carl Joseph's state of mind (not firmly rooted to the present or to self-preservation) he decides, or says to himself (perhaps), "To hell with it! I'll get the water! I will at least preserve my men!" And I think that was a noble thing to sacrifice your life for, in a metaphoric way. For water, aqua vitae, to sustain life. Nobody anywhere was making sustaining life a priority at this time. So I think that "people," perhaps his father, the army, the newspapers (if any recounted his death) would see it as pointless, but I don't think JosephRoth was saying it was. Just my take.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Nectar in a Sieve and Lucky Me--I Discover Dr. Ruth Galloway!

Readers of this blog may recall that I had a bit of a mix-up with my 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge choice of book for Asia, Africa, Australia.
All is well now, because I am deep into my reading of Nectar in a Sieve and I see now why it was such a popular book in the 1960s and 1970s. It was published in 1954, and is the story of a poor farming family who must struggle and live by their wits to survive in a village in India.
It is a first-person narrative, told from the point of view of the fourth (and last) daughter of a middling family. A huge wedding and dowry for the oldest daughter, then a good match and smaller wedding for the second daughter, followed by an even smaller village wedding and a marginal match for the third daughter. By the time the narrator is to wed, there is no money and no prestige to be gained from having her marry well. Moreover, she is no beauty. So she must marry a poor tenant farmer. And given this fate, she discovers, at age 12, how very lucky she is to have a kind, honorable man like Nathan who deeply cares for her and values her.
This novel is fascinating and the prose is simply written but lyrical. I'm loving it.

So change of scene:
I wonder, where has Ruth Galloway been all my life?
Yesterday I started the first book of the Ruth Galloway mysteries, The Crossing Places (2009), by Elly Griffiths. (For those who don't know Elly Griffiths, she is the author of The Stranger Diaries, a standalone mystery/crime/suspense/thriller, which I recently lauded to the heights.)

I love Ruth Galloway the same way that I love Kinsey Milhone of the Alphabet mystery series by Sue Grafton. (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc.)  Both Kinsey and Ruth do not care one iota for what other people think about them. They are both as quirky as hell, both live alone by choice, and both have fascinating careers. Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist, a subject that greatly interests me. I have read only 50 pages, but I've been researching The Bronze Age in Britain, The Iron Age, henges and torques--oh, I am in rapture! Thank you, thank you, whoever pushed the Ruth Galloway series my way--I think that's Katrina of Pining for the West and Cath of readwarbler.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Radetsky March Part Two by Joseph Roth

Warning: Lots of spoilers here...
Decay, dissolution, and a pervasive sense of imminent death infused nearly every scene in Part Two. These are the things that struck me most powerfully in this week's portion of The Radetsky March.

Carl Joseph's face (sometimes appearing yellow, at other times, gray or sallow), his overall lassitude, his deeper descent into anesthetizing himself by consuming "ninety-proof" alcohol throughout the day,  and the increasing sense that although he is not dead, he is certainly not alive--all underscore this impression of decay.  His trip with a rapturous older woman, Frau Taussig, to Vienna provides a glorious, but brief respite. Upon their return to the borderlands of the Empire, he finds himself cast aside and he returns to feeling purposeless and empty.

Roth's description of the Empire's extravaganza in Vienna that Carl Joseph and Frau von Taussig attend, displays in full relief the glories of the Empire, and is a moving, colorful scene. One can imagine the spectators thinking, "How can this Empire ever die? Why, just look at how vital and how exuberant it is--all sectors of the military in full regalia, the martial music, the Lipizzaner horses, the sumptuous food!"  But, as mentioned previously, Carl Joseph returns to his regiment on the border of the Empire, where gambling has been established in the tavern.  More decay and desperation ensues, especially among Carl Joseph's fellow officers. Carl Joseph doesn't seem to gamble--largely because it seems he is past caring about entertainment. He thinks about getting out of the military, but he is paralyzed by inaction.

The section portraying the Emperor Franz Joseph depicts, in extraordinary detail, his decrepitude. Yes, he has brief snippet-reflections of his former glory, but now he is a man in his eighties who is trying very hard not to let anyone guess that his mind and his body have left him. 
In contrast, Roth could have chosen to show us glimpses of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Emperor's heir. He was indeed vital, an excellent marksman and hunter. However, Roth chose to focus on the decay of the Emperor--very telling.
(I found out the fact about the Archduke  by coincidence  yesterday, and it is totally unrelated to my reading of The Radetsky March. I picked up the novel Trieste by Dasa Drndic, a Croatian author, at the library. The first chapter or two has a bit of background information about the Archduke. Aside from what I read yesterday, I know nothing about him other than that he was assassinated in late June 2014, which sparked World War I. But until yesterday, I had never heard that his wife was also killed.)

The soldiers and officers are past hoping for real military action--there hasn't been any during most of their lifetimes. They do maneuvers, and march around, but generally morale, from a military readiness aspect, is low. They're purposeless, and they're in a state of decay. When the workers at the bristle factory go on strike and openly protest their grievances, Carl Joseph is ordered to lead a group of men to stand by, because of the fear of armed revolt by the workers.  He doesn't want this task but has no choice. A confrontation ensues when some of the workers start to attack the soldiers. Carl Joseph gets whacked on the head and shoulder, and other soldiers decide to fire, and the whole thing gets blamed on Carl Joseph. He develops a "brain fever" after his injury and is hospitalized for weeks.

Please do respond if you notice I've misstated fact, or if you have a different viewpoint, or if you want to comment in any way.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Radetsky March A Bit Postponed and Other Book News

I will be posting my Part Two of Radetsky March comments on Friday morning EST. Physically speaking, I couldn't get to it today. I hope to post on time for Part 3 next Thursday, April 18th.

I'm  nearing the end of Julia Spencer-Fleming's novel published in 2013 and most recently completed novel to date, Through the Evil Days. I'm very sorry to say that I did not enjoy it as much as all the previous novels in the series. I have loved them all, but this one did not predominantly profile Claire and Russ, the usual key characters and the characters with the most interest, in my opinion. To be honest, there was more of a focus on police officer Hadley Knox and her partner Kyle Flynn.
A brutal, paralyzing, and unprecedented ice  storm has crippled upstate eastern New York from Albany to Plattsburgh. The Northway, Route 87, has been shut down (something I find unimaginable), because everything is covered in inches and inches of solid ice. And huge crimes and a child at risk, who all are determined to save.

I really like Hadley and Kyle, it's not that,  but I was sorely disappointed that Claire and Russ are in deadly dire straits of their own deep in the Adirondack Mountains, though very few chapters are devoted to them. Alas!

More News:
The 2019 Booker International shortlist is as follows:

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (Oman) and translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth (Sandstone Press)
  • The Years by Annie Ernaux (France) and translated from the French by Alison L. Strayer (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann (Germany) and translated from the German by Jen Calleja (Profile Books, Serpent's Tail)
  • Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Poland) and translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions) 
  • The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Colombia) and translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean (MacLehose Press, Quercus)
  • The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán (Chile) and translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (And Other Stories)
Do any of these titles interest you? I'm curious about Olga Tokarczuk--she won the  Prize in  2018, and now here she is with another book that sounds interesting. I must look them all up. Maybe reading one or two of these will help with my European Challenge 2019.

Tomorrow I must MOVE FORWARD with books for my various challenges. I need to read another book for the 2019 TBR Challenge. I also must write a review for The Woman in White for the Back to the Classics Challenge. 
I am anticipating a nice, peaceful, very quiet day (oh, please!) with reading. And moving forward with a genealogy project that I will be presenting to a local historical society in late May. This project has been fun and rewarding.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

This Week's Stunner of a Book--The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

The big surprise in my reading life this week has been the new, highly acclaimed, stand-alone novel by Elly Griffiths, The Stranger Diaries. Griffiths is the author of the Ruth Galloway mysteries, which I have never read. Have you by any chance? I wonder if I should try them now.

The Stranger Diaries is a tour de force--thriller, suspense, mystery, and deliciously gothic! Not a single dull second in the book. It has kept me guessing from the first, and now that I have just 50 pages to go, I am still at my wit's end, nail-biting all the way, trying to figure out the puzzle. This was the  London Times Crime Book of the Year for 2018, and was published in the U.S. in March 2019. It earned a starred review from Booklist and Library Journal. Is it my best book of the year so far? Well, it's hands-down the best thriller, definitely the best mystery. Griffiths has hit one out of the park, in my opinion. Deep, deep characters, prejudiced cops, intense. Griffiths has superseded all the genres with  this book.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Radetsky March Readalong--Part One

I'm very glad I learned of the Spring (April) Readalong of The Radetsky March by Joseph Roth (1894-1939), hosted by Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life and Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. Both Caroline and Lizzy host the annual November "German Literary Month," which focuses on literature written in the German language (including works by writers living in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and German-language writers living in other countries. (For example, Franz Kafka was a Czech writer, but he wrote his masterpieces in German.)
 Last year Lizzy and Caroline hosted a spring readalong, and they're repeating it this spring 2019. Thank you, Caroline and Lizzy!

So what exactly prompted me to set aside time to read Joseph Roth's critically acclaimed masterpiece?
I believe I mentioned in a post in February that I had read a Joseph Roth novel  years ago for German Literary Month, but I had absolutely no idea that he wrote a sweeping novel about the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (The Habsburg Empire), right up to World War I.
After the defeat of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in WWI, the Habsburg Empire dissolved and the lands were carved up into small nations according to the provisions of the Versailles Treaty.

In any case, I have read so many novels, and so many historical novels about the UK's involvement in WWI, the U.S. involvement, the French involvement, the German, and the Russian, and the fact that I have never read anything in fiction (or non-fiction) about the Austro-Hungarian Empire's participation was a primary motivator for me.
Thus, the fact that The Radetsky March, published in 1932, was declared a masterpiece by so many writers and critics, coupled with my eagerness to know something more about "the other empire," are what motivated me to tackle this novel. And it is indeed a fascinating novel.

So which translation did I choose?
I am pleased to say that I'm very happy with the Michael Hofmann translation. To get the Hofmann translation in the edition I wanted, I had to order from the Book Depository, which is no hardship at all financially, but is a constraint if you have time pressure. Thankfully I had plenty of time, so a 2-week wait was no problem. (The Book Depository states that they deliver to New York State in 5-8 business days once a book is shipped, but this is not true, never true. It always takes a minimum of 10 business days.)
The other translator for many U.S. editions is the esteemed Joachim Neugroschel (1938-2011). Born in 1938 to Jewish parents in Vienna, the entire family escaped to Brazil in 1939. From there, they migrated to Brooklyn in 1941, where Neugroschel eventually received an excellent education at Columbia, majoring in English and Comparative Literature.  He went on to become a foremost translator of over 200 works into English from the French, Italian, Russian, German, and Yiddish. In an interview, he admitted, "I never read a book before translating it. No reason to. I do not translate the words literally. Only a bad translator would translate literally."
I did not choose his translation,  not on account  of the quotation,  but because the Hofmann translation is that  of a German-language specialist. It would be interesting to read the Neugroschel translation. He seems to have been a polyglot, which is always fascinating.

What particularly struck me in Part One of The Radetsky March:
I was particularly struck by the repeated image of the very young Carl Von Trotta, during his summer vacations, standing upon a chair to view the portrait of his famous grandfather, who was the "Hero of the Battle at Solferino." This grandfather had been the son of a Slovenian peasant, yet he saved the Emperor's life in battle at Solferino. Although the rescue had been a spur-of-the-moment, knee-jerk reaction to save the Emperor's life, this act went on  through the generations and hovered like an anvil over his descendants' lives, something to be forever lived up to.

I think of the very young Carl Von Trotta, the grandson of the Hero of Solferino, whose mother died very young and was not present for his upbringing, so that Carl desperately needed love and  affection and sought it during his teen-aged years from a lower-class woman, Katharina, in a pattern that would afterward be repeated.


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The London Train by Tessa Hadley, for a TBR Challenge

In mid-March I read The London Train by Tessa Hadley for the 2019 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Alex at Roofbeam Reader . I thoroughly enjoyed this read yet was equally perplexed by it.

Well over half of The London Train is devoted to the story of Paul, a writer and father of two young girls with his second wife. They live in a country setting about 20 miles from Cardiff, Wales. Paul is in his mid-40s, and is definitely restless at this point in his life. His mother died not long ago. He seems rootless, as if he's searching for a purpose or a passion to anchor him. He soon discovers that his oldest daughter Pia, a university student, the only child he had with his first wife, has gone missing. His mission to re-establish a relationship with her, by joining her in London, leads him to try on a some new roles and new ways of being with himself.

I was stunned when the novel abruptly shifted to the story of Cora, a married woman in her mid-30s, who is in a desperate and painfully rootless place herself. In my estimation, the Cora chapters were brilliantly (please let me say that again), brilliantly crafted. I think I nearly held my breath throughout the few chapters that told her story. I was so swept up that I lost all sense of myself. I cried, with the keenest sense of empathy and recognition. The reader enters Cora's world, fast discovering that she recently nursed both of her parents to their deaths, one after the other. (Cora is an only child.) It's obvious that her rootlessness is grief-related. Then two paths cross for a brief time.

Most Goodreads reviewers of this book gave it a "3." Because I like Hadley's work, and because I love what she's able to do with minor characters, not to mention her in-depth characterizations of houses and landscapes, I would have given it a "4." It is not her finest book perhaps, but that makes no difference to me because I really admire her as an artist and I'll end up reading everything she's written.

Sometimes I find myself "playing editor" with a novel, and in the case of The London Train, I wondered if it might have been more powerful, and if it might have "jelled" to a greater extent, if the story had been focused around Cora, with Paul playing the lesser role.