Sunday, May 25, 2008
A Dave Robicheaux novel.
As fans of the series know, Dave Robicheaux is a former New Orleans police officer who now works for the New Iberia police force. Set at the time of Hurricane Katrina, Dave has to deal with the aftermath of looting that involves his best friend Clete Purcel and his adopted daughter, Alafair.
Water and chaos fill the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. A group of hapless looters think they have struck the motherlode when they discover the walls of the house they are looting are filled with bundles of cash, drugs and diamonds. While making off with their loot, two of them are shot by what appears to be a vigilante. One is killed and the other is paralyzed when the bullet pierces his spinal cord. A third looter stashes the loot and manages to get the wounded man, his brother, to a medical facility. What the men don't know is the house they stole the loot from belongs to notorious New Orleans crime boss Sidney Kovick. Some very bad people are anxious to get their hands on the property the looters made off with and will do almost anything to get it. Standing in the way is Dave Robicheaux and his best friend Clete Purcel.
A fascinating look at the aftermath of the hurricane that devastated south Louisiana, one can feel the author's grief at the fate that has fallen his beloved country. The hurricane serves as the blank canvas against which the callousness and cruelty of humankind are painted as Burke tells a tale of evil men doing evil for their own corrupt ends. Like the previous Robicheaux stories, this one is well worth reading.
Review from Leslie Budewitz for BookPage.
Boudin: A Cajun sausage filled with anything from meat to crawfish, mixed with rice, and temptingly seasoned. It comes in two varieties: boudin rouge, which is blood sausage; and boudin blanc (white boudin), which is made with pork shoulder. "In a booth at the back of the club I saw a young black man sitting by himself, a beer and a length of microwave white boudin unwrapped from its wax paper in front of him."
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Edgar Freemantle was almost killed when a crane crushed his pickup truck. He received brain injuries and lost an arm and nearly lost his leg. He spent months in the hospital and, as a result of his brain injury, has violent rages and memory loss. His wife finds his rages terrifying and she leaves him. He becomes depressed and, on the recommendation of his doctor, opts for a change of scenery, so he rents a house on Duma Key.
Duma Key is a small Florida island. The beachfront home Edgar has rented, which he calls "Big Pink", is owned by a rich old woman who lives farther down the beach. The woman, Elizabeth, has lived her whole life on Duma Key. Frail and becoming senile, Elizabeth has a caretaker, Wireman, a man who is also dealing with a tragic past.
Edgar takes up painting to occupy his time and as therapy. He finds that his paintings have the power to change reality. One of the things he does with his paintings is to heal Wireman of the disability caused by a botched suicide attempt that occurred before Wireman came to Duma Key.
Edgar's talent clues him into the mysteries of Duma Key. He starts to realize that some evil force is at work on the key, a force that has smashed lives in the past and is awake again. It wants Edgar Freemantle and it will reach into the lives of those dearest to Edgar, causing death and destruction.
In Duma Key, King has written a compelling story about evil and one man's struggle to do the right thing, even through events that would crush most people. I really enjoyed reading this story. It may not be high art but Stephen King is a great storyteller.
For a synopsis of the novel, check out Wikipedia.
Review by Alison Flood for The Guardian.
Juco: An acronym for junior college.
Docent: A docent is officially defined as a professor or university lecturer, but the term has been expanded to designate the corps of volunteer guides who staff many of the museums and other educational institutions in the world.
Friday, May 23, 2008
This collection of short stories won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1979.
John Cheever's stories are cruel and mean and nasty and occasionally slightly amusing. Very rarely do they end happily. Mostly they are about ordinary yet creepy men and the women who like to make their lives a misery. According to the Wikipedia article about Cheever his most famous stories are "Goodbye, My Brother", "The Enormous Radio", and "The Swimmer." The only one I was previously familiar with was "The Swimmer" which was made into a movie starring Burt Lancaster and which I saw on TV as a kid.
In "Goodbye, My Brother", a family gets together at their summer home on the beach. One brother is a spoilsport who always has some critical comment to make. His brother gets fed up with his sourpuss brother and clonks him on the head with a chunk of wood.
In "The Enormous Radio", an old radio gets replaced with a new radio. It has such an acute receiver that it picks up the conversations of the other tenants in the apartment building. The wife listens in to these conversations and is shocked and dismayed at all the shameful things going on in the superficially happy homes of her neighbors. Her husband chides her, pointing out her own foibles.
In "The Swimmer", (which doesn't appear til almost the end of the book) a man is attending (or thinks he is attending) a pool party when he decides to swim home using all the neighborhood pools via a route he calls the Lucinda River in honor of his wife Lucinda. He does swim home but when he gets there the house is abandoned.
I found these stories interesting and engaging, even if they are a rather twisted view of ordinary people. I didn't find the book hard to read, even though I don't care for short stories for the most part.
Fitch: Polecat; dark brown mustelid of woodlands of Eurasia that gives off an unpleasant odor when threatened. "Irene Westcott was a pleasant, rather plain girl with soft brown hair and a wide, fine forehead upon which nothing at all had been written, and in the cold weather she wore a coat of fitch skins dyed to resemble mink." From "The Enormous Radio".
Vitiated: Marred, made imperfect, corrupted. "Hills blocked off the delicate, the vitiated New Hampshire landscape, with its omnipresence of ruin, but every few miles a tributary of the Merrimack opened a broad valley, with elms, farms, and stone fences." From "The Summer Farmer".
Plangent: Loud and resounding. "He mowed, cultivated, and waxed angry about the price of scratch feed, and at that instant when the plangent winds of Labor Day began to sound he hung up his blunted scythe to rust in the back hall, where the kerosene was kept, and happily shifted his interest to the warm apartments of New York." From "The Summer Farmer."
Snath: The long wooden shaft of a scythe. "Then the wet wind climbed the hill behind them, and Paul, taking one hand off the snath, straightened his back." From "The Summer Farmer."
Copore sano: Latin for "sound body". "They were people who emphasized copore sano unduly, Baxter thought, and they shouldn't leave Clarissa alone in the cottage." From "The Chaste Clarissa".
Sumptuary laws: Laws intended to restrain or limit the expenditure of citizens in apparel, food, furniture, etc.; laws which regulate the prices of commodities and the wages of labor; laws which forbid or restrict the use of certain articles, as of luxurious apparel. Sumptuary means regulating or controlling expenditure or personal behavior. "He dressed -- like the rest of us -- as if he admitted the existence of sumptuary laws." From "The Five-Forty-Eight".
Banlieue: French for outskirts of a city. "I served four years in the Navy, have four kids now, and live in a banlieue called Shady Hill." From "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill."
Parablendeum: a kind of plastic wrap; a word that may have been created by the author. "I went to work right after the war for a parablendeum manufacturer, and seemed on the way to making this my life." From "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill".
Schuhplattler: A traditional folk dance from Bavaria and Austria. "It seemed to me that if it had been my destiny to be a Russian ballet dancer, or to make art jewelry, or to paint Schuhplattler dancers on bureau drawers and landscapes on clamshells and live in some very low-tide place like Provincetown, I wouldn't have known a queerer bunch of men and women than I knew in the parablendeum industry, and I decided to strike out on my own." From "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill".
Riggish: Wanton. "I was thinking sadly about my beginnings -- about how I was made by a riggish couple in a midtown hotel after a six-course dinner with wines, and my mother told me so many times that if she hadn't drunk so many Old-Fashioneds before that famous dinner I would still be unborn on a star." From "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill".
Gymkhana: A meet at which riders and horses display a range of skills and aptitudes. "I'm having a little gymkhana next month, and I want your children to ride in it." From "The Bus to St. James".
Soubrettes: A soubrette is a stock female character in opera or theater; in theater it is a vain, girlish, flirty comedy character. "On Saturdays after the movies they go into one of those bars called Harry's or Larry's of Jerry's, where the walls are covered with autographed photographs of unknown electric-guitar players and unknown soubrettes, to eat bacon and eggs and talk baseball and play American records on the jukebox." From "The Bella Lingua".
Upzoning: The process, often controversial, of changing the zoning in an area, usually to allow greater density or commercial use. Sometimes the term is used to mean the opposite -- changing the zoning in a broad area to limit growth and density. "The Wrysons' civic activities were confined to upzoning, but they were very active in this field, and if you were invited to their house for cocktails, the chances were that you would be asked to sign an upzoning petition before you got away." From "The Wrysons".
Rubato: To play with a flexible tempo. "He threw the tempo out the window and played it rubato from beginning to end, like an outpouring of tearful petulance, lonesomeness, and self-pity -- of everything it was Beethoven's greatness not to know." From "The Country Husband".
Neurasthenics: Neurasthenia is an old-fashioned unspecific word usually meaning weakness of the nervous system or nervous exhaustion. Not a phrase that is used much these days. "They took so many hot baths that she could not understand why they were not neurasthenics." From "Clementina".
Hoardings: A temporary wooden fence around a building or structure under construction or repair; a billboard. "All scornful descriptions of American landscapes with ruined tenements, automobile dumps, polluted rivers, jerry-built ranch houses, abandoned miniature golf links, cinder deserts, ugly hoardings, unsightly oil derricks, diseased elm trees, eroded farmlands, gaudy and fanciful gas stations, unclean motels, candlelit tearooms, and streams paved with beer cans, for these are not, as they might seem to be, the ruins of our civilization but are the temporary encampments and outposts of the civilization that we -- you and I -- shall build." From "A Miscellany of Characters That Will Not Appear".
Laconic: Crisp, brief and to the point. "In closing -- in closing, that is, for this afternoon (I have to go to the dentist and then have my hair cut), I would like to consider the career of my laconic old friend Royden Blake." From "A Miscellany of Character That Will Not Appear."
Contumacious: Wilfully obstinate; stubbornly disobedient. "It was one of those places where lonely men eat seafood and read the afternoon newspapers and where, in spite of the bath of colored light and distant music, the atmosphere is distinctly contumacious." From "The Ocean".
Suffragan: An assistant or subordinate bishop of a diocese. "Should he ask the suffragan bishop to reassess the Ten Commandments, to include in their prayers some special reference to the feelings of magnanimity and love that follow sexual engorgements?" From "Marito in Città".
Tufa: A type of stone. "The tufa and pepperoni and the bitter colors of the lichen that takes root in the walls and roofs are no part of the consciousness of an American, even if he has lived for years, as Bascomb had, surrounded by this bitterness." From "The World of Apples".
Orison: Prayer. "The man's face was idiotic -- doped, drugged, and ugly -- and yet, standing in his unsavory orisons, he seemed to old Bascomb angelic, armed with a flaming sword that might conquer banality and smash the glass of custom." From "The World of Apples".
Lordosis: An exaggerated inward curvature of the spine; also called swayback. "Her back and front were prominent and there was a memorable curve to her spine that could have been a cruel corset or the beginnings of lordosis." From "The Jewels of the Cabots".
Thursday, May 01, 2008
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for 1976.
Poor Charlie Citrine. His life is a shambles. A petty gangster has pounded Citrine's beautiful car to a pulp. Charlie's ex-wife is suing him for a bigger share of his assets and a judge has frozen Charlie's money telling Charlie that Charlie can always make more money. It is true that Charlie has been successful in the past but lately he hasn't done much of anything except sit around his house and meditate on death and the afterlife. Also, Citrine's girlfriend is angling for a marriage proposal and Charlie doesn't care to commit himself again. Charlie and the girlfriend are supposed to head off to Europe but Charlie has to deal with a legacy left to him by his old, estranged friend Humboldt. Humboldt was a failed poet with an alcohol addiction and mental problems so severe that he had to be committed. Humboldt and Charlie became estranged when Charlie wrote a play that was based on Humboldt's life without his permission. The play was very successful and made Charlie a lot of money.
Charlie is a strange fellow, a kind of walking encyclopedia, with literary allusions constantly falling from his lips. He is involved in something called Anthroposphy and he worries about death and about life after death and about art and destiny and reincarnation and philosophy.
Supposedly, the Charlie character is based on Bellow and the Humboldt character on his friend and poet, Delmore Schwartz. Bellow won the Pulitzer for this book, but in the story, this is what the Humboldt character says about the Pulitzer Prize: "The Pulitzer is for the birds -- for the pullets. It's just a dummy newspaper publicity award given by crooks and illiterates." That's probably one of the funniest things in the whole book.
Frankly, this book was a giant pain to read. There is practically not a page where some literary name (or two or three) is not dropped. In fact, I made a list of most of the names; you can see it below the list of new words. It includes names of books and other works and fictional characters and mythological characters. Too much of the book is about Charlie and his philosophy or search for a philosophy. I had never read Saul Bellow before and, after reading this book, I never want to read him again. Too much gobbledygook. I guess this book is just too sophisticated for me.
Review by Richard Rayner in the Los Angeles Times.
Grenadier: A member of the British Grenadier Guards or a soldier formerly bearing grenades. "With grenadier tails they [cats] bounded to sharpen their claws on trees."
Busby: A tall, full-dress, fur hat worn in certain regiments of the British Army. "His head was shaped like a busby, a high solid arrogant rock covered with thick moss."
Crepuscular: Of or like twilight; hazy, dim. "They brought crepuscular fortune to people down in the streets."
Anthroposophist: A spiritual philosophy based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner which postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development. "Under my head I put a needlepoint cushion embroidered by a young lady, ... a Miss Dora Scheldt, the daughter of the anthroposophist I consulted now and then."
Orphic: Of or ascribed to Orpheus; mystic, occult, esoteric. "He got a Rationalistic, Naturalistic education at CCNY. This was not easily reconciled with the Orphic. But all his desires were contradictory."
Sortilegio: Sortilege is the art or practice of foretelling the future by drawing lots; sorcery; witchcraft. "'What? Sorcery! Fucking sortilegio!' 'It's not sortilegio. It's mutual aid.'"
Morphology: The biological study of the form and structure of living organisms. Protoplasts: The living material of a cell as distinguished from inert portions. Ergastic substances: Metabolically inert products of photosynthesis, such as starch grains and fat globules. "I obtained a large botany book by a woman named Esau and sank myself into morphology, into protoplasts and ergastic substances, so that my exercises might have real content."
Attainder: The loss of all civil rights legally consequent to a death sentence or to outlawry for a capital offense. "The hereditary attainder rule was very strict."
Relume: To make bright or clear again. "I remember the shine of his [Humboldt] eyes when he dropped his voice to pronounce the word "relume" spoken by a fellow about to commit a murder, or when he spoke Cleopatra's words 'I have immortal longings in me.'"
Antinomian: In theology, the idea that members of a particular religious group are under no obligation to obey the laws of ethics or morality as presented by religious authorities. "But it was only antinomian, not free."
Theosophy: Religious speculation dealing with the mystical apprehension of God, associated with various occult systems; or the doctrines and beliefs of a religious sect, the Theosophical Society, incorporating aspects of Buddhism and Brahmanism. "If he added theosophy to literature and the insurance business, what would become of him?"
Exousiai: In anthroposophy, based on the teachings by Rudolf Steiner, the Exousiai represent the sixth realm of the Christian angelic hierarchy of the Roman Catholic tradition. This hierarchic level of divine spirits is immediately above the three levels comprising the Angels, Archangels and Archai/Principati. The role of the Exousiai in spiritual evolution is essential, since the human Self has emanated from them. Having their residence in the spiritual spheres of the Sun, the Exousiai are specially devoted to the development of Earth and humanity. "But when Humboldt cried, 'Life!' he didn't mean the Thrones, Exousiai, and Angels."
Havelock: A cloth covering for a cap, having a flap to protect the back of the neck. "On her head was a garrison cap and a Sam Browne belt crossed her chest --the works: fleece boots, mittens, her neck protected by an orange havelock, her figure obliterated."
Tinia crura Tinea crura is a fungal infection in the skin of the groin. "And Dr. Tim Vonghel gave me a bucket of gentian violet to sit in. He told me I had a bad case of tinia crura."
Hydrostatics: The statics of fluids, especially incompressible fluids. Statics is the equilibrium mechanics of stationary bodies. "He was quite old now, and the unkind forces of human hydrostatics were beginning to make a strained and wrinkled bag of his face, but his color remained fresh and he was still the Harvard radical of the John Reed type, one of those ever-youthful lightweight high-spirited American intellectuals, faithful to his Marx or his Bakunin, to Isadora, Randolph Bourne, Lenin and Trotsky, Max Eastman, Cocteau, André Gide, the Ballets Ruses, Eisenstein -- the beautiful avant-garde pantheon of the good old days."
Mansard: The upper story formed by the lower slope of a mansard roof, which is a roof having two slopes on all four sides. "Renata was still criticizing the mansard room."
Inductive: Of reasoning; proceeding from particular facts to a general conclusion. "'It isn't mysticism,' I said. 'Goethe simply wouldn't stop at the boundaries drawn by the inductive method.'"
Epistemologies: Epistemology is the philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge; a theory of the nature of knowledge. "Five different epistemologies in an evening. Take your choice. They're all agreeable, and not one is binding or necessary or has true strength or speaks straight to the soul."
Tremor cordis: Irregular heart beat. "I recalled how he had looked in Connecticut, when he quoted me King Leontes in my yard by the sea. 'I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances; but not for joy, not joy.'"
Carabiniere: A military body that polices both military and civilians. "Thaxter's carabiniere costume looked sick by comparison."
Soutane: A cassock worn by Roman Catholic priests. "'Priests' pockets are picked under the soutane.'"
Chandala: An untouchable; especially someone engaged in the profession of carrying of dead bodies and in the process of cremation. "I knew all of that would-be Shavian wit you could hear at dinner tables on Lake Shore Drive: they wanted to make an untouchable and a chandala of Flonzaley, a scavenger, but he would take their gold into the gloom with him, and he would be a Prince there -- that sort of stuff I could do without."
The List of References from Humboldt's Gift:
Adventures of Ideas by Alfred N. Whitehead
Aida opera by Giuseppe Verde
American Mercury magazine
Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare
Antigone by Sophocles
Balzac sculpture by Auguste Rodin
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
Bonnie and Clyde movie
Carmen opera by Georges Bizet
Comédie Humaine by Honoré de Balzac
Deep Throat porno film
De Anima (On the Soul) by Aristotle
Diaries by Franz Kafka
Elégie song by Jules Massenet
Encyclopedia of Unified Science
Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce
From Hegel to Marx by Sidney Hook
Guernica painting by Pablo Picasso
Hamlet by Shakespeare
I Am Curious Yellow movie
Ils Ne M'auront Pas (They shall not have me) by Jean Hélion
Intimate Journals by Charles Baudelaire
King Solomon's Mine by H. Rider Haggard
Knock play by Jules Romains
Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment by Rudolf Steiner
La Comédie Humaine by Honoré de Balzac
Les Amours Jaunes by Tristan Corbière
Letters by John Keats
"Liebestod" from Richard Wagner opera
Maja paintings by Francisco Goya
New World Symphony by Antonín Dvorák
Oedipus at Colonus play by Sophocles
Pagliacci opera by Ruggero Leoncavallo
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Pastorale symphony Ludwig van Beethoven
Phaedrus by Plato
Phenomenology by Georg Wilhelm Hegel
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Revista de Occidente magazine
Satyricon movie by Frederico Fellini
State and Revolution by Vladimir Lenin
Symposium by Plato
The Barber of Seville opera
The Dial magazine
The French Connection movie
The Godfather movie
The Great McGinty movie
The Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics by James Hastings
The Magic Flute opera by Mozart
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek movie
The Modern Theme by José Ortega y Gasset
"The Pardoner" (excerpt) by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Psychopathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Sense of Beauty by George Santayana
The Spoils of Poynton by Henry James
The Tempest by Shakespeare
The Triumph of the Therapeutic by Philip Rieff
The Winter's Tale by Shakespeare
Timaeus by Plato
Women's Wear Daily magazine
Acheson, Secretary Dean
Adams, Henry & Mrs.
Amin, General (Idi Amin Dada)
Babbitt (character by Sinclair Lewis)
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Balzac, Honoré de
Baron, Salo Wittmayer
Batista, General Fulgencio
Beethoven, Ludwig van
Bergotte (character by Proust)
Bernini, Gian Lorenzo
Bretonne, Restif del la
Browning, Edward West "Daddy" & Frances Heenan "Peaches"
Bryan, William Jennings
Buchalter, Louis "Lepke"
Burton, Sir Richard Francis
Caliban (character by Shakespeare)
Carus, Titus Lucretius
Charlus, Baron de (character from Proust)
Christian (character by John Bunyan)
Clarissa (character by Samuel Richardson)
Cohen, Morris R.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
Corvo, Baron (Frederick William Rolfe)
Cutting, Sen. Bronson
Closerie Des Lilas (restaurant)
d'Evry, Baron Hulot (character by Balzac)
Dimmesdale (character by Hawthorne)
Dirksen, Sen. Erv
Don José (character by Bizet)
Douglas, Justice William O.
Dzerzhinsky, Felix E.
El Greco (Domenicos Theotokopoulos)
Emerson, Ralph Waldo
English, Woody (baseball)
Escamillo (character from opera Carmen)
Figaro (opera character)
Gabor, Zsa Zsa
Galvani, Dr. Luigi
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
Haggard, H. Rider
Hamlet (character by Shakespeare)
Haydn, Franz Joseph
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm
Held Jr., John
Hickok, Wild Bill
Holmes, Justice Oliver Wendell
Hoover, J. Edgar
Jacobsen, Dr. Edmund
James, Dr. William
Javits, Sen. Jacob Koppel
Jenner, Sen. William Ezra
John of the Cross, St.
Johnson, Dr. Samuel
Karamazov (character by Dostoevsky)
Karo, Rabbi Joseph
Keynes, John Maynard
Kinsey, Alfred C.
Lear, King (Shakespeare character)
Leontes, King (Shakespeare character)
Levi, Paul Alan
Lorca, Frederico Garcia
Lovelace (character by Richardson)
Loyola, St. Ignatius
Macbeth (Shakespeare character)
Maja (Goya subject)
Malthus, Thomas Robert
Marshall, Gen. George C.
Mosca, Count (from Stendhal)
McCarthy, Sen. Joseph
McCormick, Colonel Robert R.
Mill, John Stuart
Olivier, Sir Laurence
Ortega y Gasset, Jose
Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da
Pershing, General John Joseph
Plautus, Titus Maccius
Poe, Edgar A.
Polonius (Shakespeare character)
Prospero (Shakespeare character)
Prufrock, J. Alfred (TS Eliot character)
Qaddafi, Muammar al
Rhadames (character from Aida)
Rilke, Rainer Maria
Robinson, Sugar Ray
Rommel, General Erwin
Roosevelt, Franklin .D.
Sarnoff, Gen. David
Scott, Robert F.
Sejanus (Lucius Aelius Seianus)
Shelley, Percy Bysshe
Smith, Al & Johnny Walker
Snerd, Mortimer (Edgar Bergen dummy)
Spens, Sir Patrick
Stanton, Edwin M.
Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle)
Swinburne, Algernon Charles
Temple, Sir William
Tennyson, Alfred Lord
Thaw, Harry & Evelyn Nesbitt
Thompson, William Hale "Big Bill"
Thoreau, Henry David
Thurmond, Sen. Strom
Tocqueville, Alexis de
Toklas, Alice B.
Van der Weyden, Rogier
Vesco, Robert Lee
Von Trenck, Pandour
Walker, Johnny & Al Smith
Wheeler, Sen. Burton K.
Whitehead, Alfred North
Wimsey, Lord Peter (Dorothy Sayers character)
Yeats, William Butler
Yerkes, Robert Means
Yokum, Mammy (cartoon character by Al Capp)
Zuckerman, Solly Baron
Misha Vainberg has a problem. He is in Russia but he wants to be in the United States. Too bad for Misha that the US won't let in. Seems like his father, the gangster, has murdered a citizen of the US and thus Misha is not welcome. Sons of murderers can just stay home.
Misha is not a stranger to America. He went to college there. But now he is back in Russia where his father wants him. Next thing he knows, he father is blown up by a rival gangster and Misha is free to do as he pleases except the only thing he wants is to get back to America.
Misha is told that if he goes to the former Soviet satellite country of Absurdistan he can buy a Belgian passport and use it get to America. Happily he heads off to Absurdistan and gets his Belgian passport. He is scheduled to leave the next day when a revolution breaks out and Absurdistan's borders are closed. Misha is now trapped in the crazy political crisis that has overtaken Absurdistan and he finds himself allied with the very people who have engineered the country's downfall. Getting to America is farther away than ever.
One of the biggest jokes in the story is Misha's weight problem and his gluttony. His eating habits are minutely described and the gyrations of his blubber are gone into in depth. All of which was very gross and akin, I think, to pointing and laughing any disabled person's trials. I did not find it amusing. Another big joke is the political double dealing that is the theme of the whole Absurdistan experience. Again, I did not find it amusing. I just don't find liars and corruption to be funny. Still, this book does have its funny moments. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea but it paints a vivid picture.
Review by Patrick Ness in The Guardian.
Agitprop: Communist term meaning revolutionary agitation and Propaganda. Khui: Penis. "After decades of listening to the familial agitprop of our parents ('We will die for you!' they sing), after surviving the criminal closeness of the Russian family ('Don't leave us!' they plead), after the crass socialization foisted upon us by our teachers and factory directors ('We will staple your circumcised khui to the wall!' they threaten), all that's left is that toast between two failed friends in some stinking outdoor beer kiosk."
Laphroaig: Scotch whiskey. "In the next 318 pages, you may occasionally see me boxing the ears of my manservant or drinking one Laphroaig too many."
Popka: A Russian term for a baby's behind, considered more polite than ass. "'Because there's no future in this country for a little popka like you.'"
Oblomov: Oblomov is a character in a novel of the same name written by Ivan Goncharov. Oblomov is indecisive and lacking in will power and self-confidence. "The Oblomov inside me has always been fascinated by people who are just about ready to give up on life, and in 1990, Brooklyn was an Oblomovian paradise."
Vitrine: Cabinet with a glass door. The sides and top may also be of glass, and it is designed to store and display china and curios. "She reminded me of a lovely olive-colored mannequin I had seen in a store vitrine."
Shapkas: A Shapka is a Russian fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, or tied at the chin to protect the ears from the cold. "I had seen a dozen kindergarten pupils trying to cross the boulevard, each bundled in a jaunty collection of misshapen coats, their shapkas falling off their tiny heads, their feet encased in monstrous hand-me-down galoshes."
Oligarch: Oligarchy is government by the few, especially by a small faction of persons or families. "The Yeltsin era was still ten years away, but already Papa was angling to become an oligarch."
Shtetl: A small Jewish town or Jewish enclave within a town in eastern Europe. Klezmer: A style of Jewish or Yiddish music. "It was a shtetl funeral, in many ways, a kind of impromptu klezmer act minus the musical instruments."
Shawarma: A Middle Eastern-style sandwich featuring shaved lamb or chicken or other meats. The typical shawarma is pita bread filled with meat, hummus, tomato, cucumber and toppings like tahini. "The windswept Fontanka River, its crooked nineteenth-century skyline interrupted by the post-apocalyptic wedge of the Sovietskaya Hotel, the hotel surrounded by symmetrical rows of yellowing, waterlogged apartment houses; the apartment houses, in turn, surrounded by corrugated shacks featuring, in no particular order, a bootleg CD emporium, the ad hoc Mississippi Casino ('America Is Far, but Mississippi Is Near'), a kiosk selling industrial-sized containers of crab salad, and the usual Syrian shawarma hut smelling invariably of spilled vodka, spoiled cabbage, and some kind of vague, free-floating inhumanity."
Baldachinos: A baldachino is a canopy. "The palaces of Nevsky Prospekt, wishing to properly say goodbye to me, dusted themselves off and bowed their chipped baldachinos in my direction..."
Superannuated: Obsolete; antiquated. "After we'd boarded and the plane had hobbled down the rutted runway and ascended, we looked down at the country beneath us, at the strange shaped of superannuated factories squatting below."
Payess: The uncut sideburns worn by male Orthodox Jews. "By the time they started boarding our flight to Svanï City, he had curled me a nice set of payess."
Fin de siècle: Of or characteristic of the last part of the 19th century, especially with reference to its artistic climate of effete sophistication. "I could even make out the fin de siècle Parliament building on the Pest side and the old Austro-Hungarian seat of power on the Buda..."
C'hai: A Hebrew symbol and word which means "living" and it is worn as a medallion. "He was wearing nothing but sweatpants, his naked chest sporting a standard Orthodox cross and a Jewish c'hai."
Dyophysitism: A theological term refering to the two natures of Jesus Christ, human and divine. Monophysitism: The theological position that Jesus Christ has only one nature which combines both the human and divine. "She used complex terms to describe the religious differences, such as 'dyophysitism' and 'monophysitism,' along with frequent allusions to some Holy Council of Aardvark that rocked the region in A.D. 518, not to mention that whole Good Thief, Bad Thief hullabaloo."
Knout: A leather scourge formerly used for flogging criminals in Russia. "I was ready to reach for my knout."