Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Book clubbing

Last Friday I attended the first of hopefully many book club meetings at a friend of a friend’s house. A friend of mine here has put together a book club: organized meetings and ordered and distributed books (big kudos to her!). I am quite excited about being in a book club with a group of ladies, most of whom I don’t know very well, because 1/ it’s a good opportunity for me to chat with other women and make friends, 2/it makes me read books I myself might never have chosen to read, 3/ it makes me have to think about what I’ve read, as well as find out more about the author or the context of the story, and to formulate ideas and theories about the literature, and 4/ it allows me to visit people’s homes, which appeals to my interests in human habitats, décor, and architecture.

The first book we read was the Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak. I found that it was an easy read, unevenly written, with good parts and not so great passages. I’ve read a couple of articles by the author, and an in-depth interview, and for a university professor who seems quite established in life, I think her writing is young. If I didn’t know her age, I would have guessed Shafak to be around her 20’s. The structure of the book was obviously imitated (chapter names add up to ingredients of a certain dish), and some of the descriptions sounded like they came straight out of one of August’s writing course assignments. However, there were interesting formulations here and there, and the general idea of the book was fun. She definitely hit on something there, the mysterious past of Armenian grandmothers. Despite the cliché, I do like it when everything turns out to be interwoven, and destinies catch up with mysterious pasts. Though I found the unwrapping of the mystery came too late and was presented in an awkward way; the book had a classic “Goodness I need to end this book now so I’ll just lay it all out at once” ending: anticlimactic.

The characters of the book were interesting but inconsistent and there were many contradictions – religious, cultural, and political. What’s with the Kentucky thing? And for those of us who travel a lot, really, the paperwork involved in the main character’s trip would realistically constitute a novel by itself. An example of inconsistency: at one point the main character spends her last cents on books, and in the next chapter she buys a plane ticket to travel across the world. How?

The political message of the book – the terrible destiny of Armenians in Turkey - was obvious but not very well argued, and I missed a clear point. (Although it seems the Turkish government disagrees with me here, because they had the author arrested on accounts of having insulted Turkey, after the release of her book. Charges were later dropped.)

Anyways; if it hadn’t been for the book club I would not have read the book, and getting to discuss it in an interesting and comfortable setting made it well worth reading.

Now onto the next book: Herta Muller’s The Appointment.

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