Archive for May, 2008

Baudolino

Umberto Eco. I finished this a couple of weeks back, but I must admit it took me about six months to read. My thoughts of the novel are summed up in the sentence: it’s not The Name of the Rose. I loved The Name of the Rose. I found it utterly moving and compelling. I loved the way the story was encased by the monastery, and the relationship between the young narrator and the friar (read it so long ago that I can’t remember names… ah, Adso and William, thank you Wikipedia). The friar William seemed to me unutterably wise, and a lot of what he had to say I needed to hear at the time (I read it at Christmas, four and a half years ago, in Berlin, three months into my masters at York, the same time I read and adored Slaughterhouse Five). And I loved the thought of Aristotle’s lost work on comedy…

I enjoyed the beginning of Baudolino, but I got stuck three quarters of the way through. Eco doesn’t skimp on detail and ideas! The book hinges on the search for the kingdom of Prester John, with some forgery of religious relics on the side. It’s about the power of stories to influence political realities, and the way stories even hold power over those who make them up.

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May 15, 2008 at 9:03 am Leave a comment

The New Life

Orhan Pamuk. I found this pretty slow going, especially in the first half. It’s about a young man whose life is changed by a book, and by unrequited love, and who spends months of his life randomly boarding old and dangerous buses, searching for a mysterious angel. He’s in several bus crashes, which I have a feeling are or were pretty common in Turkey, and it is in these brushes with death that he feels closest to the angel. There’s an undercurrent of encounter between East and West, and a nostalgia for the old Turkish goods which are being replaced by new imports from the West. The one product that survives the transition is clocks:

‘For our people, the ticking of clocks is not just a means of apprising the mundane, but the resonance that brings us in line with our inner world, like the sound of splashing water in the fountains of the mosques,’ Dr Fine said. ‘We pray five times a day; then in Ramadan, we have the time for iftar, the breaking of fast at sundown, and the time for sahur, the meal taken just before sunup. Our timetables and timepieces are our vehicles to reach God, not the means of rushing to keep up with the world as they are in the west. There was never a nation on earth as devoted to timepieces as we have been’ we were the greatest patrons of European clock makers. Timepieces are the only product of theirs that has been acceptable to our souls.’

This process of exchange and transformation is quite interesting, really. I won’t be in a hurry to read more of his books, but you never know.

May 2, 2008 at 8:32 am Leave a comment


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