Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Me and You by Niccolo Ammaniti, translated by Kylee Doust



The book's description from the publisher's website:

From internationally best-selling author Niccolò Ammaniti, comes a funny, tragic, gut-punch of a novel, charting how an unlikely alliance between two outsiders blows open one family’s secrets. Lorenzo Cumi is a fourteen-year-old misfit. To quell the anxiety of his concerned, socially conscious parents, he tells them he’s been invited on an exclusive ski vacation with the popular kids. On the morning of the trip, Lorenzo demands that his mother drop him off before they arrive at the train station, insisting that his status will be compromised if he shows up accompanied by his mother. Reluctantly, she agrees, and as soon as she is safely out of the vicinity, he turns around and makes his way back to his neighborhood, to put his real plan in motion: for one blessed week, Lorenzo will retreat to a forgotten cellar in his family’s apartment building, where he will live in perfect isolation, keeping the adult world at bay. But when his estranged half-sister, Olivia, shows up in the cellar unexpectedly, his idyll is shattered, and the two become locked in a battle of wills—forced to confront the very demons they are each struggling to escape.

I seem to be on some kind of a European fiction binge right now and I'm quite enjoying it. Just as I did enjoy Me and You. I have to say I'm perplexed as to why it's getting a low rating in Goodreads. Maybe it's just the kind of fiction that doesn't appeal to everyone but when it does get your attention, it possesses it fully.

The main character, Lorenzo, is an introvert through and through and, being one myself, I identified with many feelings and thoughts of his, and most importantly didn't find it all that strange that he had closed himself off for those couple of days, just to be left alone for once. His motives were so very clear to me that I had no problems accepting the whole premise of this novel as perfectly natural. And the appearance of his half-sister, Olivia, only added more sense to the story and made it all the more believable.

Yes, Me and You is a sorrowful and a slightly dark story but because it doesn't have a 'Happily ever after' ending, it's that much closer to real life. And at least in my real life, things don't always have a happy ending, there are sadness and grief and unfulfilled promises to deal with. And it's okay, c'est la vie. And that 'la vie' as portrayed by Niccolo Ammaniti, is not a Disney World one and a lot more precious despite its fallibility.

It is a short novel but it did manage to give me fully developed characters that I couldn't help but be empathetic with. I can easily say that if it were longer (not that it needed to), I would love this pair of imperfect siblings and wouldn't want to part with them. But Me and You is the right length and as such it reminded me of the lessons life teaches us even if we are momentarily blind to them.

FTC: I received an e-galley from the publisher, Grove/ Atlantic, Inc. via NetGalley.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, translated by Tiina Nunnally

The book's description written by (because it seems the most accurate and no simple synopsis will suffice) Brad Leithauser in the introduction to the edition translated by Tiina Nunnally:

Kristin Lavransdatter's dense, decade-spanning plot might be summarized as the story of a daddy's girl who refuses daddy's choice of husband and marries for love, with often harrowing long range consequences. Kristin's father wishes her to marry Simon Andresson, an honorable thoughtful, devoted, and woefully unglamorous man. Kristin falls instead for Erlend Nikulausson, a proud, impulsive, fearless young knight who seems constitutionally unable to steer clear of scandal (...)

When you enter Kristin Lavransdatter, you enter a marriage, a contract expansively unfolding through time. Disturbingly, fascinatingly, it's a union of two people who share a proud, combative stubbornnes that ultimately undoes them. (p.XI)

I have so many thoughts about this most wonderful of all epics that I don't know where to start and I am certain that no matter what I write, will it do Kristin Lavransdatter enough justice. I'll write what I can and you decide for yourself whether you want to enter or, should I say, let the world of 14th century Norway enter your life. Sigrid Undset cetainly wrote about the country and the time, and the people in a way that will never let me forget this diamond of a novel.

There really isn't much I can do about it but mostly it's feelings and emotions that come to my mind when thinking of this masterpiece. There's no need to bother my head with proper character development, exceptional historical detail, the flow of the plot, etc. It's all there, yes, all in proper condition as even the most demanding would seek, but that's not what you pay attention to when reading about Kristin, about wild Erlend, about noble, goodhearted Simon, about the beautiful Norway with traditions and culture long gone (although hopefully not forgotten). You, instead, focus on the life itself, its trials and tribulations, tragedies and sadness, intermingled with happiness, joy and miracles it brings.

Kristin Lavransdatter is the ultimate coming-of-age story following the young girl from the days of her sweet, innocent childhood all through the end of her life ravished with sorrows, misfortunes, but also blessed with many good things that were not given to others. Even Kristin herself ruminates later in her life on how she lost sight of all the good things she'd been granted in life, because she could only think about the next tragedy to come along as a result of her wantonness.

If you're looking for the novel of motherhood, look no more. If you want a romance, this is a story that aces all other romances. and finally, if it's historical fiction you're after, you'll find Kristin Lavransdatter to be the one all other HF novels will be judged upon.

Kristin Lavransdatter is the masterpiece of literature. It's sublime. Just the thought that I've already finished it tightens my throat and almost makes me cry (I kid you not). I miss it, I'm nostalgic and I want to go back to it.

A word on translation: Tiina Nunnally is fantastic and she did a beautiful job, showing the full extent of Sigrid Undset's writing genius. For more in depth information, I'm directing you to the article about Nunnally's translation of Kristin Lavransdatter on Norway, the Official Site in the United States.

Try to look for it at library sales or other used book's sales sites. Chances are you won't find it. At least I couldn't. And I visit tons of sales. That's because most people who've read Kristin Lavransdatter, do not want to part with it. Ever.

FTC: I bought this book.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen, translated by Lisa Hartford



The book's synopsis from the publisher's website:

The Keeper of Lost Causes, the first installment of Adler- Olsen's Department Q series, features the deeply flawed chief detective Carl MØrck, who used to be a good homicide detective-one of Copenhagen's best. Then a bullet almost took his life. Two of his colleagues weren't so lucky, and Carl, who didn't draw his weapon, blames himself.
So a promotion is the last thing Carl expects.
But it all becomes clear when he sees his new office in the basement. Carl's been selected to run Department Q, a new special investigations division that turns out to be a department of one. With a stack of Copenhagen's coldest cases to keep him company, Carl's been put out to pasture. So he's as surprised as anyone when a case actually captures his interest. A missing politician vanished without a trace five years earlier. The world assumes she's dead. His colleagues snicker about the time he's wasting. But Carl may have the last laugh, and redeem himself in the process.
Because she isn't dead . . . yet.
  I really, really enjoyed this crime novel. One of the best I've read (European and otherwise) in a long time. Everything just clicked for me; the pace, the characters, the suspense and the setting worked beautifully and made up for a memorable read in the mysteries department. I absolutely loved Assad, the assistant to Carl, the head of the Department Q (that makes up all of two members of the said department). He is the strongest character in the novel and his interactions with Carl caused me to chuckle quite a few times and helped me enjoy the whole story all the more. 

Call me slow-witted but, contrary to other reviewers, it wasn't obvious to me who the 'perpetrator' was from early on in the novel at all. Which wouldn't have made all that much difference in the end anyway because The Keeper of Lost Causes is a lot more than just a simple 'whodunit' book. I'm very glad it's the beginning of the series and will be jumping on the next installment when it hits American market. 

Let's not forget about the translator, Lisa Hartford. A lot of credit goes to her for doing a wonderful job giving us this Danish crime novel without a blemish and translated it so that an American reader can easily transport him/herself into the world of contemporary Denmark and to the streets of Copenhagen.

FTC: I received an e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley.