Translation

Aslauga’s Knight by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué

Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué (1777-1843) was a German writer. His works mostly belong to the genres of romance and fantasy. Undine (1811) remains Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s most enduring work.

Fouqué’s writing influenced many. Louisa May Alcott and Robert Louis Stevenson were among those influenced by him. In her novels Little Women and Jo’s Boys, Undine is mentioned. In Jo’s Boys, there’s even an entire chapter called Aslauga’s Knight.

Aslauga’s Knight is an archetypal Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué story. Froda, a model knight, reads the century old legend of Lady Aslauga and falls in love with her. Soon he receives a visit from a spectre that is revealed to be the legendary Aslauga and he is bound forever with her.

The story has all the elements of a fairy tale. The brave knights, the fair princess, the wicked witch but at the same time this reads more like a horror story. Froda is in love with a dead woman, Aslauga. The vision of a ghostly Aslauga appears at every opportune moment. Sometimes it is loving but most of the time it seems a bit malevolent. The spectre both aids and hinders Froda. As long as is toiling for honour it helps him but as soon as he has any thoughts of a personal nature it thwarts his plans.

The ending is also, in keeping with the mood of the rest of the story, slightly dark.

The story is very short. It took me less than an hour to finish it. But somehow it didn’t seem short and I don’t mean that in a negative way. The story, despite its shortness, had so many different elements packed into it. Proclamations of love and friendship, songs, warfare, dark magic, ghosts and witches, all the ingredients of romance and fantasy, are abundant among its 50 or so pages.

The characters of young Edwald and the fair Hildegardis are unimpressive. Edwald comes across as a bit of a wimp.

The friendship between Froda and Edwald irritated me at times. It is overly romanticised. The flowery exchanges between them got on my nerves.

I enjoyed reading Aslauga’s Knight and would  recommend it to classic lit lovers, even though it is not really like what I had expected it to be. It is darker than I had anticipated. At times the over-righteousness of the characters annoyed me. But overall Aslauga’s Knight is a good, short read.

(This review is offered as a part of Friday’s Forgotten Books meme. Check out what other reviews are up at pattinase.)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy about two years ago before I started this blog. I didn’t particularly enjoy the first book but I had already acquired the next two books in the trilogy. Due to my ‘terrible’ habit of having to finish what I start I had to read them too. Seriously, why do I do this to myself? Anyway, now that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movie is coming out I have decided to share this review I wrote two years ago. Enjoy (or not!)!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (or Män som hatar kvinnor in Swedish) is the posthumous best-seller by Stieg Larsson. It is the first book in his Millennium Trilogy.

The central mystery is essentially very unsettling and brutal. Also, the sexual assault and torture scenes are graphic and made me nauseous. I agree that some of it is an integral part of the story and just had to be described but some rather explicit sexual violence which are not a part of the main mystery could have been left out.

I didn’t really feel interested in all the rather lengthy discussion on investment, fraudulence; etc at the beginning of the book. I mostly skimmed through Wennerström and Minos and all that.

Then there are the descriptions of various gadgets Blomkvist and Salander use, the foods they eat and what they drink! To say that these are extensive would be an understatement.

I didn’t really care for the relationship between Blomkvist and Berger or between him and Salander. The relationship between Blomkvist and Cecilia serves no other purpose than to describe some rather lame sex scenes. Blomkvist seems to sleep around with every woman present in the story!

The last 100 or so pages were entertaining. That is the part of the book that I enjoyed.

I rather enjoyed the thriller-like parts of the book but all the boring financial talk, a whole lot of unnecessary sex and especially a graphic  sexual assault kind of put me off. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is violent and lame at the same time. Odd combination in my opinion. I won’t recommend it to anyone.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Shadow of the Wind (La sombra del viento in Spanish) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón was originally published in 2001. The 2004 translation by Lucia Graves catapulted the book to worldwide fame.

The story is very dark in tone. This is a true example of Gothic literature. People who are dead, who are forgotten, people who are as good as dead or are better off dead, occupy most of the story. When I was reading the book, I felt like I was viewing the past through a dark glass. The past always seemed like a late afternoon with dark clouds gliding across the sky.

The landscape of the city matches the mood of the story. A dark, dreary Barcelona is presented, a far cry from my sunny idea of Spain. You can actually feel the chill to your bones at certain times especially when the narrative moves around the mysterious Aldaya mansion.

I really enjoyed the touch of supernatural to the story. The history of the Aldaya mansion and Jacinta’s mysterious premonitions gave me quite the thrill.

I liked Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s writing. He knows how to control the pace of the story. He does enough to keep the reader’s attention focused on the central mystery of Julián Carax.

The true connection between Julián Carax and the Aldaya’s didn’t really surprise me. Having read enough Gothic literature, especially the short story The Dead Smile by F. Marion Crawford, I had a vague idea that something like this may be the reason behind Penelope’s disappearance. Only The Dead Smile was even more grotesque.

Julián Carax comes across as a self-centred man. He is always thinking about himself, what he wants and what he didn’t get. What about all the other people in his life? They sacrificed so much and suffered terribly for him but he seemed rather oblivious to all that.

The characters from the past are so strong that the characters from the present time pale in comparison. Daniel Sempere and his lover Beatriz ‘Bea’ Aguilar are examples of this. I found their love story to be bland and kind of awkward. I didn’t care much about their fate. The only character from the present that I found in interesting was the funny yet strangely tragic character of Fermín. I liked the motherly figures of Jacinta and Bernarda.

I felt really bad for Miquel Moliner. He sacrificed so much for the sake of his friendship and his love but got very little in return. I especially disliked the part where Nuria Monfort decides to forget all about him (though later she shows a glimmer of guilt) just after that terrible scene at the café. Later on he is rarely mentioned.

Fumero’s story was interesting. His abusive childhood, his twisted nature, his adult life and his single minded obsession with Carax, made him one of the more intriguing characters of the book. He makes quite a formidable villain.

I didn’t understand the motivation behind the actions of Officer Palacios. I thought there must be an explanation of Palacios’s actions near the end of the story but that was not the case.

The reason Laín Coubert hates Julián Carax’s works so much and intends to burn them all seems a little thin. Sure, I understand terrible mental anguish and larger than life ideas of romance but the revelation of his identity and motive still didn’t match the intensity of the story in general.

I am not generally a fan of romance. And here the idea that you can be sure about who you want to spend the rest of your life with when you are only 17-19 years old, is something that I don’t agree with. The intoxication of first love can be very exciting. You may think that it’s going to last forever, you may go against everyone’s wish, and you may cry and be very bitter about being disappointed but in eight times out of ten this is just infatuation. Most people grow out of this kind of ‘teen passions’.

The story by the end had begun to bore me a little. Once the truth behind Laín Coubert and the disappearance of Penelope has been revealed, the story kind of peters out. Once again, I realized I didn’t care much for Daniel and Bea’s fate.

Overall, I liked The Shadow of the Wind. It’s a very engrossing read. Any fan of Gothic literature would definitely enjoy reading this modern addition to a centuries old genre.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Sprawling, odd, complicated, scary, these are the words that come to my mind when I say the name, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I tried to keep an open mind and take it all in. But still at times I had to stop and think,

‘What on earth is this?’

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Nejimaki-dori Kuronikuru, 1994-95) is a novel by Haruki Murakami. I read the Jay Rubin translation, first published in 1997.

An unemployed man called Toru Okada leads a perfectly mundane life. Its quiet flow is interrupted when his cat runs away from home. Things take an increasingly bizarre turn as his wife disappears and it becomes apparent that nothing is as simple as it seems.

In this story, many rather bizarre events come as a surprise to no one. After a while these events didn’t feel weird even to me. But the most ordinary things (for instance, Ushikawa’s visit to Toru’s apartment) made me feel uneasy.

This book has many bizarre elements but none as bizarre as the part ‘wells’ play in it. A dried up well takes the life force way from a young man, another dried up well leads to a sinister world of dreams, different characters climb or fall into wells and it changes them irrecoverably. But as I said after a while none of it feels weird anymore.

The character of Toru Okada just goes with the flow of things. He hardly ever reacts to anything but in the end becomes something of a saviour, a hero even. Its strange how disconnected he seems. Yet Toru Okada is strangely real.

The enigmatic Noboru Wataya is the main antagonist in this story. He is everything Toru isn’t. His fortune keeps rising as Toru’s goes down. And yet he is the one who is troubled and anxious. His shadowy presence looms large. He is not present ‘in person’ for most of the narrative and yet he is everywhere.

As Toru himself admits he has too many women in his life. The principal among them is his wife Kumiko. I had a hard time understanding her character. I think that is because we primarily see her from the point of view of her husband. As she doesn’t truly open up to him and keeps most of her feelings to herself, we also don’t get to really see her.

The psychic sisters Malta and Creta Kano are interesting. But how much influence they have over the incidents that take place in the narrative is never very clear. How much good do they really do with their powers, I found myself wondering. The character of the teenage May Kasahara felt superfluous to me.

Nutmeg and her son Cinnamon are really the ones who provide the final clues that bring Toru closer to solving the riddle of his wife’s disappearance. Their past stories, especially the silent history of Cinnamon, really grabbed my attention. For me Cinnamon is the most interesting character in the whole book.

The first part of Lieutenant Mamiya’s narrative I found to be very engrossing. It is the most shocking part of the book. The second part of his narrative disappointed me.

Haruki Murakami is a brilliant writer. Even though I had a tough time with the book’s length and complexity, I felt the undeniable power of his prose.

One down side to this book is that it felt really long. At times I had doubts whether I would be able to finish it this month.

In the end I have only one thing to say, read it only if you can give your undivided attention to this intricately plotted, puzzlingly complex and multi-layered book. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is not a book to be trifled with.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux

The Mystery of the Yellow Room (or Le mystère de la chambre jaune in French) by Gaston Leroux was first published in France in the periodical L’Illustration in 1907 and as a book in 1908.

The book has been praised for its originality and is considered to be a pioneer of the locked room mystery genre. My expectations were high after hearing so much about it but The Mystery of the Yellow Room is barely an okay book for me.

The translation is not good. The language is extremely clunky and uncomfortable. I had a difficult time while reading it and had to stop to re-read certain passages to understand their meanings. The maps included in the text are not that helpful either.

Detective Rouletabille is an odd character. He seems over enthusiastic and rude. I at times found him to be quite insufferable. The way he speaks is juvenile to say the least. But that might have something to do with the poor quality of the translation.

Towards the climax the book becomes unbearably melodramatic. The sensational proclamations in the newspaper about Rouletabille’s departure and the letter he left behind, the people’s reaction to all of this, Rouletabille’s dramatic entrance in the final courtroom scene and finally the big secret that the lady had been keeping, it is all so over-the-top that I didn’t know what to make of it.

In the end it is more of a sentimental melodrama (with a little mystery thrown in) than anything else. A disappointing book.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.