Monday, 12 January 2009

Foreign parts

Some books I've just finished took me to Africa ,India and Germany.

Bernard Schlink's The Reader ( now a film, which I've not yet seen) is something that escaped me when first published. Although set in Germany after World War II, this story of a young boy and his relationship with an older women describes how they first meet, how their affair develops and then ends, almost abruptly. However while a student, the boy sees his former lover again, in court being tried for crimes committed as a concentration camp guard. In both parts the boy reads to her, which she loves. Although this is a fairly short book, the depth of emotions described make it one of the most satisfying reads I've had in a while. The issue of illiteracy is one of the most important of all, as without literacy, so much of life is inaccesible, and can be lost, forgotten and abandoned.

I visited Africa courtesy of Chinua Achebe's classic story Things Fall Apart, which is almost a classic novel of the colonisation of Africa. Set in Nigeria in late Victorian times, the story describes the life of an African village, self-sufficient and stable with its own organisation, religion and explanations of events that affect people. The main character Okunkwo is regarded , and regards himself, as a strong, successful man, maintaining three wives and their children, but despite his apparent success, his life eventually ends tragically. Some of the events which bring this about Okunkwo had some control over , but others, such as the arrival of white missionaries in his village during a period of his absence, Okunkwo had no control over, and this lack altered his image of himself. There is an acute sense of loss of the past, which while it may not have been perfect, was nevertheless understood by the village society. I'm really glad to have read this at last.
Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance took me to India in my imagination. Life in a village, and life in the slums and suburbs of a large city are beautifully described, the story flowing along with almost unstoppable impetus. The series of terrible events that happen to Ishvar and his newphew Omprakash throughout their lives are documented almost clinically, and the lives of the other two main characters, Dina and Maneck are also descibed in detail from childhood on. The discussion at the Book Club considered the meaning of the title, and concluded it showed how difficult that balance was to both achieve and maintain.

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