The 100-Year-Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared: Jonas Jonasson

I have officially finished my degree folks! So I bring you new book reviews.

Today, I would like to discuss a recent read. The 100-Year-Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared was a suggestion from the same friend who recommended The Kite Runner to me, and she was spot on with that one so thought I would give this one a try. When I found it in my favourite second-hand book shop, an Amnesty shop round the corner from the York Minster, I knew it was meant to be. Apart from anything else, the blurb was very intriguing – detailing the escape of an old man and the ensuing highly criminal chase. What’s not to like?

The book follows Allan Karlsson, an elderly man on the brink of his 100th birthday. Instead of attending the landmark birthday party thrown by his care home, he instead decides to make his escape, going wherever the whim takes him. Having acquired a suitcase full of cash he embarks upon a trip across Sweden, finding a group of friends/accomplices en route. The book flits between Allan’s adventures in the present day, and back to incredible events throughout his past. It quickly emerges that Allan has been present for most of the world’s biggest historical political moments, despite his hatred of politics.

I loved this book. It was refreshing and witty and strangely pure. I really engaged with the concept – I think a little old man running away from his care home is comedy gold. This book was also particularly great for me, as I was reading it in between studying and in snippets before I went to bed – it was really good to drift in and out of due to the switching between ‘history’ and present. The alternate history sections were particularly hilarious, the conversations Karlsson has with Harry Truman, Lyndon B Johnson, Stalin, Chairman Mao and Kim Jong Il are brilliant works of fiction.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a light but engaging read, perfect for casual reading around busy schedules!

The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov

Long time no post! – I seem to have gotten lost in the world of seminar readings and procedural essays over the last couple of weeks, reading for fun has been put on the back-burner!

I had to write a review for this book. It is rare to pick something up and love it, even for me (I seem to feel pretty positively about most of what I read). I have come across reference to Bulgakov a couple of times, particularly in relation to other Russian writers like Vladimir Nabokov. I just thought I would give it a try, as a lover of twentieth century literature – I cannot say that I was disappointed.

The Master and Margarita begins with the Devil, otherwise known as Woland, and his arrival at Patriarch’s Ponds in Moscow. From here, havoc is unleashed on the city, with everyone who encounters Satan or his followers; Behemoth the giant black cat, Koroviev the valet, Azazello and Hella the naked witch (apparently to qualify as a witch nudity is compulsory, who knew), are driven to insanity at the sight of such chaos. Thus ensues the slow destruction of the mental state of Moscow. Meanwhile, the story of Pontius Pilate and the truth of Jesus runs parallel to this tale in the work of the Master, a man driven to depression by his literary failures and left isolated from his true love and number one fan, Margarita. Lots of very strange, bizarre and frankly hilarious events unfold, before the Devil and his disciples eventually tire of Moscow.

It all sounds kind of weird, but it only took me a chapter or two, at most, to get into this novel. Whilst I was reading I felt obligated to tell everyone how great it was. That is rare for me! The writing style and wit, do not read like something written around 1928-1940, it is the definition of timeless.

I enjoyed The Master and Margarita tremendously (even enough to use the word tremendous), a definite recommend to anyone who fancies something a bit different.

 

The Vegetarian: Han Kang

Translated by – Deborah Smith

I could not tell you why I decided to read this book. During my large Waterstones order (honestly, next day delivery on books is fantastic), I happened upon it and it looked pretty interesting. The Vegetarian even won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. I have never read anything by a Korean author before and was intrigued to try this out. Han Kang is a South Korean author, who also teaches creative writing at Seoul Institution of the Arts.

This book emerged from a line of poetry from Yi Sang – “I believe that humans should be plants.” The Vegetarian is the story of Yeong-hye, a young woman who becomes convinced of her transformation into a tree. The novel is told from the viewpoints of those around Yeong-hye, her husband, brother-in-law and her sister. After Yeong-hye stops eating meat and all animal products, she embarks upon her journey towards plant-hood. Her fear of flesh leads to a sexual awakening and liberation from the constraints of human nature and obligation. Her loss of grip on reality is something that confuses and fascinates those around us, who wish to understand her freedom.

Dark is probably one of the best ways to describe this book. It is tumultuous and twisting, complex and confusing. Whilst reading this I found something gripping, yet terrible about Yeong-hye and her mental journey. The writing is haunting, something I would not normally discuss in relation to a translated works – yet I feel this is what Han Kang would have wanted. I would most definitely recommend this novel, yet I would perhaps suggest that a good head space is needed to tackle this.

 

The Ministry of Pain: Dubravka Ugresic

Increasingly, my life appears to be taken over by my dissertation topic and anything that can be related to it. For anyone interested in the 1990s Bosnian conflict itself I cannot recommend strongly enough the 2001 film, No Man’s Land, directed by Danis Tanovic – but if, like me, you search for something a tad more literary and poetic, try The Ministry of Pain.

This book addresses the psychological phenomenon of ‘Yugo-nostalgia’, a yearning for the past of the Yugoslav Republic that was lost in its collapse in 1991. The Ministry of Pain is written from the perspective of Tanja, a temporary lecturer in the Slavonic languages department of a Dutch university based in Amsterdam. It chronicles the rememberings and coping methods of Tanja and her students, as they attempt to come to terms with the loss of their country of origin and with it a mutual understanding and language. Complex and conflicting, the fact that nothing really occurs apart from the passing of time is in itself the momentous occurring of this novel – asking if time really does heal all wounds.

Oddly, the theme of loss and missing parts of self are something I could empathise with. I shall leave you with this extract from the diary I have recently started keeping, whilst home for the holidays:

” Whilst I was out I kept considering the point Ugresic seems to be making in the book I’m reading at the moment – leaving home, its an irreparable state of events. Some never truly leave but I think that those who do, return to everything seeming so similar…but it isn’t. There’s something you can’t recapture. I mean, she’s talking about the loss of a country so its kind of different…”