Martinson, Harry "Aniara - A Review of Man in Time and Space"


(Swedish: Aniara: en revy om människan i tid och rum)

Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read

I have not read this book as I'm really not into poetry or sci-fi (of which we have read too much lately). The book was available online but I'm not into reading anything from the computer, so it was a double (or even triple) no-no.

So, this post is about the discussion in our book club. The comments are by other members but I thought they might be interesting for some of my blog readers.

The story really surprised me. It had many layers, about human psychology, power-dynamics and coping mechanisms in dystopias, very current themes about the passengers thinking back on how they got to where they are, the devastation of nature and thoughts about the life and death of humanity, while trying to somehow keep from sinking into despair.

The story was meant to portray far into the future, with the main character saying "those to blame for the destruction of humanity are long gone", which made me think that those are us, we who live now.

It was especially surprising in its verses and few different types of poetry rhymes and patterns, really beautiful at parts.

I had expected it to be a lot of action and rushing around in space, but it was the opposite, quiet contemplation, more about the mentality of the last people.

And Martinson had this great sensitive way of not saying much out loud, so we had to read between the lines, for example there must have been a few dozen ways how he described someone dying without actually saying it, or quite beautiful descriptions of how the last of humanity was floating away into space in the sarcophagus named Aniara.

Some normal quotes about it: "it is great, despite it being science fiction" or "the only science fiction worth reading".

Though it definitely took a lot more thinking to follow the story and what was really said, and that it definitely was out of my comfort zone and at moments I was not quite sure if this epic poem was genius or just weird, I would recommend it, it was a reading experience that again widened my reading world.

This was discussed in our international online book club in April 2023.

From the back cover:

"The great Swedish writer Harry Martinson published his masterpiece, Aniara, during the height of the Cold War - right after the Soviet Union announced that it had exploded the hydrogen bomb. Aniara is the story of a luxurious space ship, loaded with 8,000 evacuees, fleeing an Earth made uninhabitable by Man's technological arrogance. A malfunction knocks the craft off course, taking these would-be Mars colonists on an irreversible journey into deep space. Aniara is a book of prophecy, a panoramic view of humanity's possible fate. It has been translated into seven languages and adapted into a popular avant-garde opera."

Harry Martinson received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1974 "for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos".

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.

Original Post on Let's Read.

Mahfouz, Naguib "Midaq Alley"


(Arabic: زقاق المدق/Zuqaq El Midaq) - 1947

This is my fifth book by Nobel Prize winning Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz. And every one of them seems to be even better than the last one. But that's probably just because it's the most recent one. They are all brilliant. He was just such a fantastic writer. You get to know the people living in Midaq Alley as if you've lived among them for most of your life.

A war rages in Europe and makes its waves into Egypt, as well, though not the way we might think.

The alley lies in the poorer part of Cairo with its inhabitants belonging to the poorer population, the lower end of the middle class probably. They all have their dreams of a better life, getting out of the street even though most of them know that this is where they belong and that they might not be able to live anywhere else.

It's almost like living in a village. If someone coughs at one end of the street, people on the other side have you dead within five minutes. Everyone knows everyone else's business. That has its advantages and disadvantages, of course.

So, this story could have taken place elsewhere, maybe even on your doorstep but the author tells us the lives of his compatriots. If you haven't read anything by this author, try him.

From the back cover:

"Never has Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz's talent for rich and luxurious storytelling been more evident than in Midaq Alley, in his portrait of one small street as a microcosm of the world on the threshold of modernity. It centers around the residents of one of the hustling, teeming back alleys of Cairo. From Zaita the cripple-maker to Kirsha the café owner with a taste for young boys and drugs, to Abbas the barber who mistakes greed for love, to Hamida who sells her soul to escape the alley, from waiters and widows to politicians, pimps, and poets, the inhabitants of Midaq Alley vividly evoke the sights, sounds and smells of Cairo, Egypt's largest city as it teeters on the brink of change. Long after one finishes reading, the smell of fresh bread lingers, as does the image of the men gathering at the café for their nightly ritual. The universality and timelessness of this book cannot be denied."

Naguib Mahfouz "who, through works rich in nuance - now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous - has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.

Original Post on Let's Read.

Buck, Pearl S. "Love and the Morning Calm"


Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read

Like many of Pearl S. Buck's books, I read this many years ago.
Although the story of the two sisters can be a bit dated, it shows what it's like when two different cultures meet, how people who grow up in one sometimes have a very difficult time fitting into another.

And that is a topic that is more current today than ever before.

From the back cover (re-translated by me):

"They grew up in Korea, the two sisters Deborah and Mary; the active Christianity of their missionary parents and the ancient wisdom teachings of the East formed their world view. When they, one seventeen, the other eighteen years old, arrive in New York,
they appear to their relatives like flowery creatures from another planet, bewildering and alienating - just as they themselves are bewildered and alienated by the strange mysteries that American life throws at them. It is an encounter portrayed with great grace and a humour almost mischievous between East and West, which Pearl S. Buck has made the subject of this little novel. But behind the grace and the mischievousness stands a very serious concern, because the quiet work of the two sisters, carried by selfless concern for the fate of their fellow human beings, in their new environment, like a pure, clear mirror, reveals all the hollow, meaningless nothingness of our own self-centeredness on existence. A story to think about, presented in the most entertaining form."

Pearl S. Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.

Original Post on Let's Read.

Lagerkvist, Pär "Barabbas"


(Swedish: Barabbas)

Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read

Almost a novella, but this novel needs no more pages. We all know Barabbas, the one in whose place Jesus was crucified. But what do we know about him other than his name? Here Pär Lagerkvist thought about what might have happened to Barabbas afterwards.

The story is believable, many early Christians went the way Barabbas goes in the book. There is the wish to believe, the doubt, the inability to come to terms with what happens. Something that still is in every Christian today, I think.

And even if this is not at all what happened to the protagonist, it's an interesting thought to see what could have been.

They even made a film out of the story, Barabbas was portrayed by Anthony Quinn.

From the back cover:

"Barabbas is the acquitted; the man whose life was exchanged for that of Jesus of Nazareth, crucified upon the hill of Golgotha. Barabbas is a man condemned to have no god. 'Christos Iesus' is carved on the disk suspended from his neck, but he cannot affirm his faith. He cannot pray. He can only say, 'I want to believe.'"

Pär Lagerkvist received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1951 "for the artistic vigour and true independence of mind with which he endeavours in his poetry to find answers to the eternal questions confronting mankind".

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.

Original Post on Let's Read.

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