Saturday, February 23, 2008
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Since being dumped by a girlfriend without explanation after a four year relationship the navel-gazing narrator was never able to get on with his life. Now, out of the blue, she calls and invites him to be the mystery guest at the birthday party of a conceptual artist friend of hers. Every year the artist makes a birthday party for herself and invites the exact number of guests corresponding to her age, with one mystery guest, someone unknown, like the extra candle on the birthday cake representing the year to come. He goes to the party expecting to confront the ex-girlfriend once and for all. He ends up confronting his own insecurities (seen oddly in his penchant for wearing tutleneck undershirts) and discovering that real life and fiction are more interconnected than he'd ever imagined.
To truly enjoy this novel you have to cut plenty of slack to the narrator's voice, rendered in a self-obsessed, hyper-sensitive Proustian style of prose; deeply "literate" (with a capital L, literary references play a significant part, particularly Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway), passionate, and with a tinge of snobbishness that sometimes marks books written in the "language of love."
You have to appreciate moments like this, as he screws up his courage and rings the doorbell at the strange house, a bottle of vintage wine wrapped in tissue cradled in his arm as his birthday offering: "No buzzer buzzed. No echo greeted this act, which, it seemed, set nothing in motion, as if nothing had taken place, as if - in a word - I did not exist. And for a fraction of a second the world flickered before my eyes and grew dark. How could there only be silence when everything within me cried out that I'd done something tremendous." And it goes on.
The translator does an admirable job, although some phrasing doesn't quite make it into English intact. At times it feels like the translator is figureskating in construction boots. For example, "And I thought she must have noticed certain things about me, too, which she was keeping to herself and which couldn't have been all that pretty, either - and could it be that every second of this party would be a trial and an affront and a calvary of endless disillusionment?" Calvary of endless disillusionment?!
What saves the narrator from being completely insufferable are his insights and clever observations, like when he observes that none of the celebrities at the party look to him like celebrities. "To me they looked more like little bits of bread bobbing around and sinking in a bowl of milk."
Also the book's length is a saving grace. At a 126 pages it's like meeting someone at a party, chatting, sharing a few drinks, and departing before the buzz wears off and the company gets stale.
Monday, February 18, 2008
The quote comes from the novel Beaufort and is spoken by General Kaplan, the only character that the author claims was based on a real person. No truer words are said in the book. This novel questions the sacrifice made by a generation of Israelis who fought an eighteen year military stalemate against Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists in Southern Lebanon. Lebanon has been called Israel's Viet-Nam. Until now it was a wound which was too sensitive to touch.
This bold, imaginative, raw and powerful story was a sensation in Israel when it appeared in 2006, and for good reason. Narrated by twenty-one year old second Lieutenant Erez Liberti it maps the loves, intimacies, fears and doubts of the commander and his squad of "puppies" (a dozen or so men barely out of high-school.) They are stationed at Beaufort, a real-life Crusader fortress located in the so-called "security buffer zone" north of the Israel/Lebanon border. The story covers two tours of duty ending with the harrowing withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon.
Erez calls Beaufort “a cage of ugliness right at the center of heaven.” It's a perfect description. The geography is magnificent, but just below the fortress in the surrounding villages terrorists plan ambushes, rocket attacks and plant roadside bombs along the access routes in and out of the outpost. The "ugliness/heaven" contrast also decribes the experience of the commander and his crew. War after all has its own absurd logic, breeding a kind of euphoria via a surreal co-existence of opposites; stretches of unendurable boredom and fatigue jutaposed with sudden, razor sharp life-and-death moments; love and mutual dependency between comrades juxtaposed with terrible pain and anguish when one is killed. Erez thrives on it. At least for a time. He says, “My soldiers – I was prepared to die for them, I swear it: I really was ready to die for them. That’s not just some slogan; I felt good about it. Seems to me they were willing to die for me, too, and that’s an incredible feeling.” And later, when his second in command is seriously wounded, “That’s Lebanon, you’re totally smeared in blood and the guy lying there is your best friend.” This portrait of these courageous young men is like the book itself, at once heartbreaking and exhilarating. Note: The movie on which this novel is based is up for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film this year.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Friday, February 8, 2008
It reminds me of the discussion my high-school daughter and I had the other night - At least, this is what passes for discussion these days.
It goes something like;
"So Bobby likes Emma, but she doesn't know that Bobby likes her, and Emma would like him if she knew, but instead, because she knows that Joey likes her because Dean told her so and Dean is friends with Lia who is BFF (best friends forever) with Karen who going out with Joey's best friend Mark, Emma is officially going out with Joey and by officially I mean he asked Emma, 'You want to go out with me' and she said 'yeah, okay' and poof! like magic they're going out, and they're stuck with each other, Emma and Joey, because to break up now would be too complicated and it's too bad that no one tells the truth to anyone anymore."
Follow that? Me neither. Except that last part about no one telling the truth to anyone anymore. No wonder these kids are growing up to be theoretical physicists.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Monday, February 4, 2008
Sunday, February 3, 2008
POEM WITHOUT AN END
(translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell)
Inside the brand-new museum
there's an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
Inside my heart
Inside the museum
inside my heart