Friday, February 24, 2012

Mr. Mani

Wow, it took me a long time to read this book by Israel's A.B. Yehoshua!  It was a really tough read for a few reasons.  The book tells the story of six generations of the Mani family (the "Mr. Mani's", in particular).  Except for the last section, each generation of Mr. Mani is described from the perspective of someone else who encounters him.  In the last section, you actually hear a Mr. Mani's voice.  But there are two aspects of the writing style which makes this book rather hard to follow (though they also make it really unique and interesting).  First, it is written in reverse chronological order - so the first section actually addresses the last Mr. Mani's (taking place in 1982) and the last deals with the original Mr. Mani's (taking place in 1848).  What makes it even more interesting, however, is that each section is a conversation and we only get to hear one side of the conversation so we have to deduce what's being said by the other party. It took me quite a while to get used to this but once I did I could really appreciate the artistry involved in writing in that manner - the author had to imagine a whole other side of the conversation that he was not writing down.  The story itself is very interesting - each of the Mr. Mani's was a troubled soul and those who encounter them describe their psychological issues.  Moreover, it addresses many historical events over the years - from the Napoleonic wars through the Zionist Congresses, the two World Wars and ending during Israel's incursion into Lebanon in 1982.  It also takes place in a multitude of places - a Kibbutz in the Negev, Jerusalem, Crete, Poland, Constantinople and Greece...

I highly recommend this book, but only if you have time and patience to devote to it.  It's not a breezy beach read.  Unfortunately I'll miss my book club's discussion because I'd be interested to hear what the others think of it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

My Weekend Reads

I read two shorter books this weekend.  The first was The London Train by Tessa Hadley, a Welsh author. It's actually two related short stories, though the connection is not revealed until partway through the second story.  They both deal with characters who travel from Cardiff to London by train and the consequences of a chance meeting between the two.  I preferred the second story, the male protagonist in the first story was a bit weird and not terribly sympathetic.  The female in the second story was more likeable.  Sometimes the descriptive language was a bit too flowery for my taste but overall it wasn't a bad book.

The second book I read was This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman.  The story is actually sort of frightening as you can imagine it innocently happening to your own child.  After a New York City party, a 13 year old girl sends a sexually explicit video of herself to a 15 year old boy she thinks she loves.  He innocently forwards it to his best friend - partly puzzled, partly proud.  The friend forwards it to two friends, they forward it to two friends each, and so on and so on and so on...The e-mail falls in the hands of the school resulting in investigations, suspensions, media attention, lawsuits and ultimately the breakdown of the boy's family.  The picture on the jacket is of a house of cards - it's an apt visual for how quickly a seemingly perfect life can fall apart.  The book's well written and easy to read.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

A really interesting concept...Alice falls off her bike at a spin class, knocks her head and loses 10 years of her recent memory.  She thinks she is pregnant with her first child and madly in love with her husband rather than a separated mother of three.  Based on the reactions of others in her life she's not sure she likes who she's become either.  The book explores the week of memory loss and what happens when she gets her memory back.  Light and entertaining but also makes you think about what it would be like to wipe the slate clean and try again.  Also, the author is Australian which made me realize I haven't read much by Australian authors - I think I'll take a look and see what else I can find out there.