Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Dogs and the Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky

The outside world was full of shapes and colors that were impossible to remember for ever, constantly lost, but seeking them out, pursuing them, was the most precious thing on earth.

"It's not my fault," she thought. "It's because I just can't forget certain faces once I've seen them, or certain houses, or certain sights. They're indifferent or fickle because they remember nothing. But I can't forget, I can't. It's a unique curse that makes me recall every feature, every word, every moment of joy or pain once they have struck me.

A couple of months ago I was looking for books set in the Ukraine for the European Reading Challenge, and I found The Dogs and the Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky. I've read several of her books and enjoyed them all, and this one sounded perfect -- Ukrainian writer, set in the Ukraine and Paris (so it also counts toward Paris in July); also the title fit one of the categories for the Back to the Classics Challenge. And it's just over 200 pages! It sounded like the perfect book.

Oddly enough, it was hard to track down, not a single copy in any library nearby; in fact, I don't think it's ever been reprinted in the US. I found a cheap used copy online and was looking forward to reading it. 

It's the story of four cousins: Ada Sinner; her first cousins, Ben and Lilla; and their distant cousin Harry. They're all around the same age and are born around the turn of the century in the Ukraine. Ada lives with her widowed father Israel and after her uncle dies, her widowed aunt and two of her cousins, Ben and Lilla, come to live with them. Harry, their distant cousin, is from a side of the family that is extremely rich, and they've never met him as he lives in the lower, wealthy part of town (they've seen him and his house from afar but never actually met). Their paths first cross during the pogrom when Ukrainian Jews were targeted by Russian soldiers. Ada and her cousin Ben are running from a mob when they manage to escape to their cousin's property and beg for help. 

The spoiled, cosseted Harry is aghast at the appearance of his cousins, who are poorly dressed and are bedraggled from their flight. Ada and Ben are swept away from their cousin, but are fed and introduced to an uncle, who eventually gives Ada's father some work. He becomes more prosperous and when the children are teenagers, he can afford to send them and their aunt to Paris just before World War I breaks out. Eventually, Ada learns that Harry is also in Paris. She's been fantasizing about him her entire life, and though Ben is in love with her, she's determined to find a way to meet Harry.

If this sounds like a lot for a 200 page book, well, it is. The plot was interesting, but I found it and most of the characters really undeveloped. Lilla basically disappears and I didn't get much sense of Harry's character at all -- it just seems like Ada is obsessed with him because he's rich. It almost seemed like a first draft rather than a finished novel. It was Nemirovsky's final published work, in 1940, just before the Nazis banned the publication of books by Jewish authors. (Nemirovsky was arrested in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz, where she died of typhus a month after arrival). 

What really disturbed me about the book, though, was not the under-developed plot and characters but was the shocking anti-Semitism. There are repeated stereotypings of Jews that made me aghast. I was not expecting it and I was gobsmacked. I haven't read all of her books yet but I've read quite a few and I don't remember any anti-Semitism in the others. Some of the writing was wonderful but this is not a book I really want to read again.

. . . she mustn't find more ways to feed a dream that was gradually becoming less, damaging, only half real, half imagination. As she grew up, she had become more and more distance from it, just as you forget a book you read and loved passionately when you were a child. You may still love it, but back then, you believed in it. Now you realize that it was nothing but poetry, fiction, an illusion, less than nothing. . . . 

I'm counting this as my Ukranian selection for the European Reading Challenge and as my Classic About an Animal for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Back to the Classics 2021: Final Wrap-Up Posts

Have you finished the Back to the Classics Challenge? Congratulations! This is where you'll link up to your Challenge Wrap-Up Post, after you've completed a minimum of six different categories from the original challenge post. This post is only for Challenge Wrap-Up Posts. If you do not have a blog, or anywhere you post publicly, please write up your post-challenge thoughts/suggestions/etc in the comments section below. Please read the directions carefully. 

By linking or commenting here, you are declaring that you have completed the challenge; that each book reviewed fits the correct definition of the category, and was published before 1970 (except for posthumous publications); and that your reviews for each category are linked to the correct post. If I cannot find links to your reviews, I cannot give you credit and thus enter you into the drawing. THIS is where I will look at the end of the year and randomly choose the winner for the bookish prize. 

Please remember to indicate the following within THIS POST, linked below, or in the comments section below if you do not have your own blog:

1. Which book corresponds to each category;
2. The number of entries you have earned for the prize drawing; 
3. Links to your reviews. 

If you do NOT include links to your original reviews IN THIS POST, I CANNOT ENTER YOU INTO THE DRAWING.

  • If you've completed six categories and you get one entry.
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries.
  • Complete all twelve categories, and your name is entered into the drawing three times!

Please be sure and include some kind of contact for me within your final wrap-up post. This year, I will be contacting the winner privately BEFORE posting their name publicly on this blog. If I cannot contact you, I cannot award your prize. If there is no contact on your blog post, please email me at karenlibrarian13 [at] yahoo [dot] com.

I can also message the winner via Goodreads, so if you are posting reviews via your Goodreads account, I can contact you that way also.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Classics Spin #27


Third time's the charm? I've failed spectacularly on my last two attempts to participate in the Classics Spin. I'm down to the last 15 books on my Classics Club list, so I've picked ten books I really want to finish this year, listing all of them twice. Hopefully next week the random spin will inspire me to actually read -- and blog about -- one of the books on the list. 

UPDATE: The Classics Spin has spoken, and I'll be reading #6, A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym. I'm very pleased and look forward to reading it August.

  1. The Caravaners by Elizabeth von Arnim
  2. The Caravaners
  3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  4. Crime and Punishment
  5. A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym 
  6. A Few Green Leaves 
  7. Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann
  8. Invitation to the Waltz
  9. Mandoa, Mandoa! by Winifred Holtby
  10. Mandoa, Mandoa!
  11. My American by Stella Gibbons
  12. My American
  13. A Pin to See the Peepshow by F. Tennyson Jesse
  14. A Pin to See the Peepshow
  15. Ralph the Heir by Anthony Trollope 
  16. Ralph the Heir
  17. Westwood by Stella Gibbons 
  18. Westwood
  19. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macauley 
  20. The World My Wilderness 

Bloggers, are you participating in the next Spin? What's on your list? 

Friday, July 9, 2021

We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen


I've settled in nicely for Big Book Summer, and at one point last in June I was simultaneously reading THREE giant books between 600 and 900 pages long -- not the best strategy for finishing them in a timely manner. As per usual, one of them really grabbed me and the others were neglected. I plowed through We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen, finishing it in only five days. 

Originally published in Danish, it's the fictionalized story  of several generations of a fishing town in southern Denmark called Marstal, spanning just about 100 years. The story begins in 1848 when several of the local sailors are enlisted in the navy to fight the German rebels who have decided they don't want to live under Danish rule any more. Though they bring fully armed ships to blast the German port, they're utterly routed and Laurids Masden, one of the Danes from Marstal, is literally blown into the sky. Miraculously, he survives and becomes a local celebrity, until the fame (among other issues) is too much for him, and he promptly takes to the seas and essentially disappears.

When his son Albert is old enough, he also becomes a sailor, and spends years searching for his long-lost father, spanning the globe. Eventually he returns to Marsden, but is plagued by terrible visions of friends and neighbors embroiled in war. 

War was like sailing. You could learn about clouds, wind direction, and currents, but the sea remained forever unpredictable. All you could do was adapt to it and try to return home alive.

I really enjoyed this book, with some quibbles. I loved all the sailing parts, as I'm fascinated by ships and sailing, and I love traveling anywhere by boat. I also really enjoyed all the historical and travel aspects. However, I was not thrilled with how the women in this book were portrayed -- that is, hardly at all, or as mothers or romantic interests for the male characters. And one of the female characters is so sexually and racially stereotyped it made me cringe (there's also more racism and racist stereotyping than I was expecting for a book written and published in the 21st century). 

Also, the structure of this book is sort of odd. It alternates between being told in the first and third person, and it's never quite clear who the first-person narrator is -- it's almost like the author couldn't decide and just stuck with it. 

Overall, though, I did really like it and got absorbed by the characters and storytelling. A great, sprawling book for armchair traveling if you can't travel anywhere, or a perfect beach or airplane read if you can. 

I'm counting this as my Danish selection for the European Reading Challenge; also counts for the Big Book Summer Challenge and the Chunkster Challenge.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Paris in July 2021

It's back! Hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea, Paris is July is one of my favorite summer reading events. I have six possible reads this month, hopefully I'll get through at least three of them. Here's what's on the list:

The Complete Claudine by Colette. I read Colette's biography last summer and hope to finally finish the Claudine novels this year. 

Maman, What Are We Called Now? by Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar. Don't be too impressed, I won't be reading this in the original French! The only English-language edition is the Persephone which just has a plain grey cover. I really love the cover image on this French edition. 

The Dogs and the Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky. Takes place in both Paris and the Ukraine, so I can count it as my Ukranian read for the European Reading Challenge. (Also for my classic about an animal for the Back to the Classics Challenge!)

Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir. Bought at the Frick Museum bookshop at least five years ago. I've really been obsessed with art lately, so I definitely plan on reading this one. 

Emile Zola by Alan Schom. I found a used hardcover edition last year on a visit to Second Story Books in Rockville, Maryland. I don't know if it's the best biography of Zola but it was a bargain and I couldn't resist it. 

The Bright Side of Life by Emile Zola. The twelfth novel in the Rougon-Macquart cycle. I've read 15 of the 20 novels, the end is in sight! (Then I guess I'll have to go back and read them all again, this time in order). 

So that's my reading list for this year's Paris in July! I'm also planning to watch lots of French movies and eat French pastries -- might try to make some homemade macarons! Bloggers, what are you reading this year for Paris in July?