Hello! I hope you are all healthy and safe, and that you had a happy Diwali if you celebrate. I’ve read the first parts of two massive novels this week, and have reviewed them below. I’ve also included a list of organizations you could donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need. Please do so if you are able.
Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming, Part 1, by László Krasznahorkai, Translated by Ottilie Mulzet
“…I see in advance what will be, I hear in advance what will be, and it shall be sans joy and sans solace, so that nothing like this will ever come about ever again, so when I step onto the stage with you, musical gentleman, I won’t be happy in the least, if this commission, predicated upon a possibility, comes to fruition—and I now wish to say this to you as a way of bidding farewell: I don’t like music, namely I don’t like at all what we are about to bring together here now, I confess, because I’m the one who is supervising everything here, I am the one—not creating anything—but who is simply present before every sound, because I am the one who, by the truth of God, is simply waiting for all of this to be over.”
This is a book that’s supposed to be about the homecoming of some baron, but this first part is only about a famous professor of mosses who gets visited by the daughter he’d abandoned and goes on to kill people. It also has a lot of run on sentences. The entire 100ish-page section is probably told in 10 huge sentences or less.
While the sentences are meant to be an experiment, I found they made the book harder to read. It was sometimes hard to keep track of what was going on, and when I had to take breaks from reading, I was never sure where to pause because the sentences just flowed so relentlessly. I was also struck by how long winded the author seemed (probably due to the massive sentences).
On the other hand, parts of the book were funny, and he seemed to be building up some kind of metaphor. So maybe he does have something to say that’ll make this book worth reading. I look forward to reading more and finding out (and of course if you’ve read it and have any thoughts, let me know).
Germinal, by Émile Zola, Narrated by Frederick Davidson
“A rebellion was germinating in this little corner.”
This is a book about a bunch of miners who get exploited all day and eventually stage an uprising. They rebel because a new miner named Etienne has arrived to inspire them.
The first part of this book is about Etienne’s arrival into their midst. Etienne comes, falls for a girl named Catherine, and has to make the decision—should he stay or should he go away to look for more work?
I had previously tried reading Zola’s The Masterpiece only to give up because of its lack of realistic-seeming characters. Meanwhile Germinal was surprisingly good. It had very interesting descriptions of the mines that made them seem evil from the start. Its characters were also well-written (Etienne’s penchant for rebellion is established by the fact that he’d gotten fired from his previous job because he’d slapped his exploitative manager). Sure, Etienne kind of objectified Catherine, but it wasn’t so blatant that it took that much away from the book.
Also, it was interesting to compare Zola’s book to Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. Read the first chapters of each and you’ll see just how influenced Grossman was by Zola.
Overall, if you’re looking for a massive classic to read this Halloween, I’d recommend Germinal (at least based on the first part—and I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read the rest of it, as well!)
As promised, here’s a list of some organizations supporting Ukrainians in need. Please donate if you are able.
Art of Living Switzerland—Helps Ukrainian refugees evacuate, find shelter, and receive food, transportation, and trauma support. Donate here: https://www.artofliving.org/ch-en/donate-ukraine
International Medical Corps—Expands access to health and medical support to Ukrainians in embattled areas and helps refugees evacuate. Donate here: https://give.internationalmedicalcorps.org/page/99837/donate/1
Save the Children—Provides food, water, money, hygiene kits, and psychosocial support to children. Donate here: https://www.savethechildren.org/us/where-we-work/ukraine
Voices of Children—Provides psychological counseling for children and helps refugee evacuations. Donate here: https://voices.org.ua/en/