Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Euro 2012: Books & Game 2 results

Entry #17 of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight briefly recaps the 16 books used for the second group games. The results are listed at the bottom of the entries which are arranged as per the soccer match-ups.

Group A

Poland: House of Day, House of Night, Olga Tokarczuk

As per the translator’s note at the start of book:

"The book is set in south-west Poland, in the region known as Silesia. This was part of the German Reich until 1945, when at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences the Allies agreed to move the borders of Poland westwards. Many Polish citizens were transported from the land lost to the east (annexed by the USSR) and resettled in formerly German territory to the west, where they were given the homes and property of evacuated Germans.

Readers are advised that some of the recipes in this book should carry the health warning, ‘Don’t try this at home!’ "

In this regard, House of Day, House of Night provides a look at a region of Poland whose history is not as well known. The book is nicely broken into smaller sections with titles such as “The Comet”, “The Fire”, “Franz Frost”, “The forest that comes crashing down”, etc which keeps the overall story engaging. Some of these sections contain some fascinating observations about humans in general thereby giving the book a nice universal feel to it as well.

Russia: A Hero of our Time, Mikhail Lermontov

Mikhail Lermontov’s remarkable book contains a story-within-story and multiple narrators and viewpoints. The 5 stories, packaged in 3 different parts, are not presented in order thereby requiring readers to put things together themselves. Of course, a reader does not have to put things together and can simply enjoy getting drawn into the richly depicted Caucasus complete with memorable characters.

Czech Republic: The Joke, Milan Kundera

"Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long Live Trotsky!"

These hastily written words on a postcard throw Ludvik’s life in an unexpected direction. In this regard, Kundera’s book is even more relevant today because nowadays a single tweet can easily land someone in trouble and alter their fate. As it turns out, Ludvik’s joke totals 98 characters and would easily fit in a tweet.

Greece: Z, Vassilis Vassilikos

A brilliant novel that pieces together how a political murder was planned and executed. The book also shows that even if a crime is clear-cut, getting justice for it can be elusive because the men who are in charge of giving out orders often hide in shadows. Yet, these men are never short of people who are willing to carry out their doing. The people at the lowest rung of the hierarchy carry out murders because of money but as one goes up the ladder, a crime is not about money but power and ideologies.

Group B

Holland: A Posthumous Confession, Marcellus Emants

My wife is dead and buried.
I am alone at home, along with the two maids.
So I am free again. Yet what good is it to me, this freedom?
I am within reach of what I have wanted for the last twenty years (I am thirty-five), but I have not the courage to grasp it, and would anyhow no longer enjoy it very much.

And so begins Marcellus Emants’ A Posthumous Confession. If these opening words don’t get one’s attention, then the following words three paragraphs later certainly do:

Whenever I look in the mirror-still a habit of mine-I am astounded that such a pale, delicate, insignificant little man with dull gaze and weak, slack mouth (a nasty piece of work, some people would say) should have been capable of murdering his wife, a wife whom, after all, in his own way, he had loved.

In order to make the reader understand his motives, the narrator Willem Termeer steps back in time to describe the internal and external forces that altered his personality. At first, the weight of his confession hangs over every page but that weight lessens in the face of Termeer’s brutally honest and unfiltered words which sketch a vivid picture of his transformation and of those around him.

Germany: The Appointment, Herta Müller

"I’ve been summoned". Thursday, at ten sharp.
Lately I’m being summoned more and more often: ten sharp on Tuesday, ten sharp on Saturday, on Wednesday, Monday. As if years were a week, I’m amazed that winter comes so close on the heels of late summer.

The reason why the narrator, a factory seamstress, is summoned for questioning are gradually revealed but there is no end date to the summons. Like a Kafka novel, the questioning that goes with the summons repeat in an infinite loop, much like the narrator’s tram ride through Bucharest. Each day time collapses in the tram, jumping into the past and cutting to the present, thereby making the tram ride last a week or even years. Will the narrator be finally free of the questioning? We may never know but the story gives a glimpse into Romanian life under the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu with a pinch of dark humor similar to the style depicted in recent Romanian cinema.

Portugal: Knowledge of Hell, António Lobo Antunes

When thinking of Portuguese literature, Jose Saramago’s name looms large. However, going by Knowledge of Hell, then António Lobo Antunes certainly deserves to be as well known. Antunes’ training as a psychiatrist and his time spent in Angola clearly serve as fodder for some of the themes explored in the book, which oscillates between Lisbon and Angola. The book is set in a Lisbon mental institution and is told from the viewpoint of a psychiatrist, who is in a prime spot to observe the insanity and slow degradation of the human condition. The book is packed with memorable quotes and the prose paints a descriptive and sometimes disturbing picture.

I discovered that loneliness, he said aloud to himself in the empty car, en route to the mountains, is a child’s gun in a plastic bag in the hand of a frightened 68, chapter 4

The birds, transformed by darkness into monstrous insects, crept noisily in the blackness repelling and attracting one another, scraping the slate of the fields with the red-chalk drone of their 159, chapter 7

Denmark: The History of Danish Dreams, Peter Høeg

The History of Danish Dreams covers about four centuries of two family’s fortunes in less than 400 pages. The book starts off in the year 1520 and ends in 1989 which means some chapters move at a furious pace while others take their time in properly sketching out key characters.

Group C

Spain: Quarantine, Juan Goytisolo

Ab abstract novel that explores the holding place in between death and eternity while blending reality with dreams and nightmares. As per the back cover, the book: "..spans those forty days, during which, according to Islamic tradition, the soul wanders between death and eternity still embodies in a dreamlike form."

The book was written in 1991 and also manages to work the Persian Gulf war in the mix along with Dante and Ibn Arabi.

Italy: The Porthole, Adriano Spatola

Classifying Adriano Spatola’s book is not an easy task. It integrates war, religion, politics, poetry, horror and even porn (in the manner of X-rated comics) with comfortable ease. That is why the words "neo-avant-garde" and "experimental writing" are perfect when describing Spatola’s writing. Spatola’s work tears down the walls of a conventional framework and pushes words to their limit.

Ireland: Kepler, John Banville

Kepler is the second book in Banville’s Renaissance scientists trilogy with Doctor Copernicus and The Newton Letter being the first and third books. Kepler looks at the tough ordeal that Johannes Kepler had to go through to get funding for his research and ultimately to get his books published. The initial chapters are in chronological order and depict the struggles and pressures that Kepler faced while the later chapters present letters written by Kepler. The letters are presented in descending order and have no replies associated with them. As a result, they manage to highlight Kepler’s desperation and his gradual disappearance of hope.

Croatia: The Ministry of Pain, Dubravka Ugresic

Like the Croatian film entry Buick Riviera, The Ministry of Pain shows that pain suffered in one’s native country could result in revenge in another country. The main character in the novel, Tanja, is not looking to open old wounds but she does not realize her free flowing university lectures result in a strong reaction in one particular student who decides to extract revenge.

Group D

Ukraine: The UnSimple, Taras Prokhasko

Taras Prokhasko’s The UnSimple is an fascinating novel that mixes history, folklore, fantasy and philosophy while telling the story of a young woman Anna in the town of Ialivets. The destiny of Anna and other town’s residents are looked over by the unsimple who are mysterious characters that are the heart of the book.

the unsimple are earthly gods. people, who with the help of inborn or
acquired knowledge, are able to do good or harm to others. that point is
important—inborn or acquired. they know something. at the same time this
can also be learned. acquired. in this way it’s possible to become unsimple
by learning something.
part 2, page 73

Note: The Unsimple is the only electronic book used for this spotlight and is available for free online: part I and part 2.

England: GB84, David Peace

David Peace’s The Damned United and the Red Riding Quartet are better known works because of their film adaptations but GB84 deserves to be widely read as it riveting and highly relevant. The book mixes fact with fiction in looking at the coal mine strike that almost brought Britain to a halt. The story looks at a few principal characters and outlines some of secret deals that went on in between politicians and union leaders and how money changed hands.

France: The Giants, J.M.G Le Clezio

The Giants is a work that contains seeds of Alphaville, 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 but instead of a straight-forward narrative, the story deconstructs words and asks its readers to put them together again. For example, a walk across a room becomes an infinite journey that soaks up every little detail of the room while questioning the origin of the words used to describe all the room’s objects.

Sweden: The Dwarf, Par Lagerkvist

A shocking depiction of the evil that lies inside a human soul. The book is set in an unnamed Italian city and that setting combined with the political manipulation brings Niccolò Machiavelli to mind.

Favourite Books

All the books proved to be worthy selections that demanded a lot more time than expected to properly digest the material. In fact, some books required a second reading just to fully comprehend the written text. As a result, there was little time left before the June 8 cut-off date to properly write a separate post for each book. The brief notes don’t do justice to the stellar works that I was fortunate to have read.

I liked several aspects of every book and found each selection to be rewarding in different ways. So it is hard for me to pick a few favourites but these would be my top 4 roughly in order of preference:

1. Z, Vassilis Vassilikos, Greece
2. GB84, David Peace, England
3. The UnSimple, Taras Prokhasko, Ukraine
4. Knowledge of Hell, António Lobo Antunes, Portugal

Game 2: Soccer vs book results

As per the rules, the two possible scores for the book match-ups could be either 1-0 or 1-1. That is why I didn’t expect to see any overlapping scores between the soccer and book results so Croatia’s tie with Italy is a surprize. While The Porthole is far more creative than The Ministry of Pain, the Croatian entry leaves a lasting impact with its carefully etched characters and their personal stories. Hence, a 1-1 tie.

Three nations, Spain, Portugal & England, registered a win in both soccer and book games. Two of those nations, Portugal & England, were involved in the four soccer vs book match-ups that were decided by a single goal. Germany vs Holland & Czech Republic vs Greece were the other two match-ups that were won by a single goal.

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