lauantai 26. syyskuuta 2009

Leila Aboulela: The Translator

'Loneliness is Europe's malaria,' Rae said. 'No one can really be immune. This is not so hygienic a place, don't be taken in by the idols it makes of itself. You might even feel sorry for it, just a little, not too much, for there is no injustice in this decay.'

I tried to approach this book with an open mind. Considering that the introduction in the beginning of the novel included major spoilers, revealing all but the ending of the novel, I was hoping to get a good reading experience from something besides the plot - perhaps the characters or the language. I did not.

It has to be said that I have never read anything quite like this before. Islam as a religion and way of life as well as the Sudanese culture is thoroughly and quite naturally immersed into the story through the main character, Sammar, a young Sudanese woman living in Scotland. In her job as a translator as well as in her everyday life, she tries to balance somewhere in between cultures and languages, the East and the West. An immigrant widow living alone with a son growing up with her mother-in-law back in Sudan, Sammar's only comforts are religion and her daily work. At the university she works in, she meets and becomes friends with Rae, a Scottish lecturer, orientalist and researcher of Islam. A strange affair ensues.

The story is told entirely from the perspective of Sammar, so much so that Rae's thoughts and motivations remain impossibly obscure. The men's world seems very far away from Sammar and her secretary friend and fellow immigrant Yasmin. They gossip together and share their frustration at the bleak, cold English weather, but they seem to truly exist only in relation to men. When it seems that Rae is taking a friendly interest in her, Sammar immediately jumps to conclusions and speculates as to whether he would consider converting to Islam in order to marry her. Although Sammar's faith is strong and she does not compromise her principles, she is otherwise frustratingly weak and submissive. Rae, on the other hand, remains too distant to be of much interest to the reader. The ending of the book ultimately transforms this implausible story into an unrealistic, soppy romance.

Leila Aboulela: The Translator. Polygon. 1999.

ComtemporaryWriters.com: Leila Aboulela
Al-Ahram Weekly: "Halal Fiction"
Wikipedia: Leila Aboulela

keskiviikko 23. syyskuuta 2009

Michael Cunningham: Säkenöivät päivät

Tätä he siis olivat. Titaanirankaan kiinnitettyä lihaa. Lihan saattoi kaapia pois kuin kermavaahdon. Simon puristi omaa hauistaan varovasti ja samalla tunnustellen peukalon ja etusormen välissä. Sen sisällä kulki tanko, kirkasta hopeaa.

Amerikkalainen Michael Cunningham tunnetaan ehkä parhaiten romaanistaan The Hours (1998, suom. Tunnit), josta on tehty myös Oscar-palkittu elokuva. Cunninghamin uusin romaani ei ole aivan niin syvällinen kuin Tunnit, mutta monitasoisuutta löytyy taas.

Romaani seuraa kolmen päähenkilön, naisen, miehen ja pojan elämää kolmella eri aikakaudella. Mistään aikamatkailusta ei ole kyse vaan pelkästään kolmesta eri ajasta, jolloin kolme eri henkilöä jollain tavalla tuntevat tai törmäävät toisiinsa.

Romaanin ensimmäinen osa, Koneen rattaissa, sijoittuu New Yorkiin teollisen vallankumouksen aikoihin. Catherine on juuri menettänyt kihlattunsa, Simonin, juuri ennen häitä miehen jäädessä jumiin tehtaan koneen rattaisiin. Simonin pikkuveli, Lucas, ottaa veljensä paikan tehtaassa ja yrittää raivata tilaa itselleen myös Catherinen elämässä. Pikku-Lucasin vastuulla on myös apaattinen, päivät pitkät nukkuva äiti sekä hengityskoneesta riippuvainen isä. Koneen rattaissa on synkkä, teolliseen maailmaan sijoittuva kummitustarina.

Toinen osa, Lasten ristiretki, sijoittuu nykyajan New Yorkiin. Oikeuspsykologi Cat vastaa työkseen salaliittoteoreetikoilta ja mielenvikaisilta tuleviin puheluihin. Nämä ovat ihmisiä, jotka "saavat television kautta henkilökohtaisia viestejä, tai joku TV-draaman tähti raiskaa heidät joka yö, tai he ovat keksineet, että Broadwayn ja Lafayetten välisen katuosuuden jalkakäytävässä on halkeamia, joista voi lukea maailman johtajina esiintyvien humanoidien nimet." Catin poika, Luke, on kuollut ja Catin uusi poikaystävä, Simon, yrittää tukea häntä. Sitten Catille soittaa nimetön pikkupoika, joka kertoo tulevasta räjähdyksestä New Yorkin Ground Zerolla. Itsemurharäjähdys myös tapahtuu, ja tekijäksi paljastuu pikkupoika. Cat lähtee mukaan trilleriin, jossa tekijää yritetään selvittää ja lapsiterroristien itsemurhia välttää.

Viimeinen osa, Niin kuin kauneus, on tulevaisuuteen sijoittuva scifi-tarina New Yorkista. Maahan on paennut liskomaisia muukalaisia kuolevalta Nadia-planeetalta. Tavallisten ihmisten lisäksi maata asuttavat myös ihmisennäköiset robotit, joista yksi on ihmisiä yksinomaan miellyttämään ohjelmoitu Simon. Simon tapaa ja ystävystyy nadialaisen Catareenin kanssa ja lainsuojattomina he lähtevät pakomatkalle Denveriin. Matkalla he tapaavat kodittoman pikkupojan, Luukaksen, jonka he ottavat mukaan.

Cunningham on kietonut eri genreä olevat ja eri aikoihin sijoittuvat romaanin osat loistavasti yhteen muutamilla pienillä yksityiskohdilla, jotka esiintyvät ja toistuvat kaikissa tarinoissa (esim. henkilökolmikon nimet muistuttavat kaikissa osissa toisiaan). Vaikka en pitänytkään romaanin ensimmäisestä osasta, kirja kannatti ehdottomasti lukea jo pelkästään toisen ja kolmannen osien loppuratkaisujen takia.

Michael Cunningham: Säkenöivät päivät. Gummerus. 2007. 523 sivua.
Englanninkielinen alkuteos: Specimen Days
Suomentaja: Kristiina Drews

Gummerus: Säkenöivät päivät
Gummerus: Michael Cunningham
HS kirjat: "Amerikkalainen päivä räjähtää"
HS kirjat: "Romaani rakkaudesta kolmella kattauksella"
Wikipedia: Michael Cunningham
MichaelCunningham.com [en]

maanantai 21. syyskuuta 2009

Saira Shah: Tarinankertojan tytär

Tuohon aikaan länsimaiden lehdistöstä saattoi lukea mujahidineistä vain vähän sellaista, mikä ei ollut yhden tai toisen politiikan värittämää. Mujahidinit kuvattiin joko vapaan maailman uljaiksi sankareiksi tai taantumuksellisiksi rosvoiksi. Molemmat näkemykset olivat länsimaiden luomuksia. Nämä miehet eivät sen enempää inhonneet kommunisteja (paitsi vääräuskoisina) kuin ihailleet Amerikkaa.

Englannissa asuva Saira Shah kuulee lapsena afganistanilaiselta isältään tarinoita kaukaisesta ja eksoottisesta Afganistanista. Aikuisena hän lähtee toimittajan ammattinsa kautta etsimään juuriaan isänsä kotimaasta.

Saira pukeutuu turvallisuussyistä pojaksi kulkiessaan kunniansa ja ylpeytensä puolesta taistelevien, Yhdysvaltain CIA:n tukemien mujahidin-sissien mukana Kabulia ympäröivillä vuorilla. Hän tekee juttua Pakistanin puolelle paenneista, Peshawarin massiivisilla pakolaisleireillä asuvista afgaaneista. Samalla hän kertoo Talibanien noususta valtaan ja kulkee jalan lumisten vuorten yli Koillis-Afganistaniin filmaamaan dokumenttia erään kylän perheestä kesken Yhdysvaltain juuri alkanutta hyökkäystä lokakuussa 2001. (Uhka)rohkean toimittajan kokemuksista syntyi tämä omaelämäkerrallinen romaani.

Shah poimii ympärillä riehuvasta sodasta yksittäisten perheiden tarinoita ja pääsee kulttuurintuntemuksensa ja kielitaitonsa ansiosta lähelle paikallisia ihmisiä. Toisaalta hän osaa ottaa tapahtumiin myös etäisyyttä ja raportoida niitä ammattitoimittajan taidoilla. Osassa kirjaa on tosin myös sensaationhakuinen, keltaisen lehdistön makuinen vivahde. Mutta Afganistanin vuosikymmeniä kestänyt on-off sotatila varmasti tuottaakin uutisia, jotka ovat länsimaisesta näkökulmasta lähes uskomattoman kuuloisia.

Shah'n omaelämäkerrallinen romaani käy läpi myös Afganistanin lähihistoriaa pähkinänkuoressa kaikille niille, joille eri etnisten ja uskonnollisten ryhmittymien ja armeijoiden väliset yhteenotot alueella menevät suloisesti sekaisin. Taliban-liike tuntui aikoinaan pelastuksen enkeliltä eri heimojen välisistä kiistoista kärsivän kansan mielestä. Ensimmäistä kertaa vuosikymmeniin maahan levisi ainakin nimellinen rauha. Vuosien saatossa Afganistanista alkoi kuitenkin kuulua yhä hälyttävämpiä uutisia mm. julkisista teloituksista ja naisten huonosta asemasta. Mutta tarvittiin suora isku länsimaihin ennen kuin Afganistanin poliittiseen ja humanitaariseen tilanteeseen alettiin kiinnittää huomiota.

Kirja niille, joille Khaled Hosseinin Tuhat loistavaa aurinkoa tai Leijapoika -romaanien maailma jäi mieleen.

Tarinankertojan tyttären mukana on kuljettu myös Satun, Meten ja Nadian blogeissa.

Saira Shah: Tarinankertojan tytär. WSOY. 2004.
Englanninkielinen alkuteos: The Storyteller's Daughter
Suomentaja: Liisa Pakkanen

WSOY: Tarinankertojan tytär
Wikipedia: Saira Shah [en]

tiistai 15. syyskuuta 2009

Sarah Waters: The Little Stranger

Meeting my gaze she said, as if in honest surrender, 'You're right. Hundreds is lovely. But it's a sort of lovely monster! It needs to be fed all the time, with money and hard work. And when one feels them' - she nodded to the row of sombre portraits - 'at one's shoulder, looking on, it can begin to seem like a frightful burden...

Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger departs from her previous novels that are mostly set in Victorian Britain. First of all, unlike her previous novels, this one does not have any lesbian characters, nor does it focus on sexuality as such. The main character is a country doctor, Faraday, a middle-aged man who has rather pessimistic ideas about his personal future. Secondly, the novel is set as late as the 1940s, in the rapidly modernizing rural district of Warwickshire in post-war England. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the genre of the novel seems to lean towards a ghost story - complete with an old, haunted mansion - Hundreds Hall - as the primary setting.

I am no expert on ghost stories or gothic fiction, but The Little Stranger strikes me as a very traditional example of the conventions of this genre. In many ways, it is almost disappointingly predictable. The story unfolds very slowly at first; so slowly, in fact, that I think some readers will feel frustrated because "nothing really happens".

Dr. Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall to see a young patient there. He meets and becomes friends with the somewhat eccentric inhabitants: the old, upper-class Ayres family - a mother, son and daughter - who struggle to survive in the decrepit building with their meagre funds. Strange events soon begin to take place at Hundreds. Is the house haunted or are its inhabitants just imagining things?

Despite the gradually increasing tension and the menacing feeling of uncanniness, the rational narration of Dr. Faraday continues to dominate the story. At first, he seems to mirror the reader's scepticism in asserting that ghosts do not and cannot exist. But somehow his frustratingly logical explanations for all that occurs and his determined refusal to believe in anything unscientific or supernatural gradually turned me against him. Sarah Waters cunningly tells the tale so that we are subtly encouraged to dismiss Dr. Faraday as the authoritative voice of reason and increasingly rely on our own judgement.

The bottom line is that this novel is about more than just ghosts and haunted houses; it's about the social changes that were going on in Britain at the time. The old families are losing their land and houses and can no longer rely on their family heirloom. The heyday of aristocracy is over, and the middle classes are beginning to emerge. The 'Ayres' family are indeed 'heirs' to an older, more traditional, class-based society, but as class divisions crumble, the upper classes begin to lose their wealth and privileges.

The Little Stranger is still very much a Sarah Waters novel. Like her other novels, this was one of those books that was difficult to put down before I had finished it. I can't really pinpoint the reason for this, since the actual story was very slow-paced and leisurely. This isn't a horror story that will make you jump at ghosts that appear from behind every corner, but it is one that will make you think, especially after the ambiguous ending...

The Little Stranger was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2009. Film rights in the book have also been optioned.

Sarah Waters: The Little Stranger. Virago. 2009. 501 pages.

Sarah Waters.com
The Guardian: "Haunted by Shame"
The Man Booker Prize: The Little Stranger
Wikipedia: The Little Stranger

lauantai 12. syyskuuta 2009

Sinclair Lewis: Babbitt

'Now you look here! The first thing you got to understand is that all this uplift and flipflop and settlement-work and recreation is nothing in God's world but the entering wedge of socialism. The sooner a man learns he isn't going to be coddled, and he needn't expect a lot of free grub and, uh, all these free classes and flipflop and doodads for his kids unless he earns 'em, why the sooner he'll get on the job and produce - produce - produce! That's what the country needs, and not all this fancy stuff that just enfeebles the will-power of the working man and gives his kids a lot of notions above their class.'

Sinclair Lewis became the first American author to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930. One of his primary works, Babbitt, introduces us to George F. Babbitt, a successful realtor and family man, living in the 1920s in the prosperous "Floral Heights" neighbourhood in the fictitious city of Zenith. George has it all. In his late 40s, he has a partnership in a profitable real estate company, a club to go to and meet other gentlemen to discuss current issues and to boost each others' manliness, three children and an appropriately subordinate and meek wife to make him dinner after a hard day's work... He's living the stereotypical post-WW1 American dream.

Yet a series of disturbing events in his life make George realize that he is ultimately unhappy. That he hasn't lived his life like he wanted. That his opinions are not his own, but someone else's. That he and others around him are just hypocrites. Somewhere inside George's well-fed, God-fearing, unimaginative, arrogant, ignorant, capitalist, super-Americanized mind, there lurks a desire to rebel against the rat race of his everyday life.

George F. Babbitt's character became larger than life; so much so that the name passed on to everyday use and a "babbitt" now refers to any self-satisfied, narrow-minded, middle-class man.

Sinclair Lewis: Babbitt. Penguin Books. 1987.

Penguin: Sinclair Lewis
Kirjasto.sci.fi: Sinclair Lewis
Wikipedia: Sinclair Lewis
Wikipedia: Babbitt

lauantai 5. syyskuuta 2009

Toni Morrison: Sula

So when they first met, first in those chocolate halls and next through the ropes of the swing, they felt the ease and comfort of old friends. Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had set about creating something else to be. Their meeting was fortunate, for it let them use each other to grow on. Daughters of distant mothers and incomprehensible fathers (Sula's because he was dead; Nel's because he wasn't), they found in each other's eyes the intimacy they were looking for.

I have to admit that I have never read anything by Toni Morrison before, although I know that she is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of black America, especially from the female perspective. While Beloved (1987) and Jazz (1992) are probably her best-known works (the latter published just before Morrison became the first black American to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993), Sula (1974) represents her earlier work as a novelist.

I enjoy the kinds of novels that encourage you to imagine in detail what their fictional world looks like. Sula is like that. You can see the small Ohio town of Medallion in your mind; the black people and their houses on the hill above the town, in a place paradoxically referred to as 'the Bottom'. Morrison's language is full of strange and wonderful adjectives and descriptions, often related to the colours of people, places and objects, even feelings, with the obvious significance of colour symbolism, of course.  

Sula tells the story of two black girls, who are best friends as children, but who grow up to become very different kinds of women. Nel Wright chooses to stay in her childhood town, get married and have children. While Sula Peace, with her birthmark shaped like a rose, drifts away from her family, traveling around the country and adopting a much more independent, rebellious attitude. When Sula returns to her childhood town after 10 years, the community is shocked at her free sexuality and seeming lack of compassion for others.

This is only the main plot of the novel and there is so much more to it. Three generations worth of lives, town eccentrics, visitors and friends make up a colourful and complex collection of intertwined stories at the centre of which is the struggle for equality that is both slow and painful.

Toni Morrison: Sula. Plume. 1973.

Luminarium.org: Sula
Kirjasto.sci.fi: Toni Morrison
Wikipedia: Sula
Wikipedia: Toni Morrison

tiistai 1. syyskuuta 2009

Guy de Maupassant: The Necklace and Other Short Stories

Is it the form of the clouds, the color of the sky, or the color of the surrounding objects which is so changeable, that has troubled my thoughts as they passed before my eyes? Who can tell? Everything that surrounds us, everything that we see, without looking at it, everything that we touch, without knowing it, everything that we handle, without feeling it, all that we meet, without clearly distinguishing it, has a rapid, surprising and inexplicable effect upon us and upon our senses, and, through them, on our ideas and on our heart itself.

The French author Guy de Maupassant is considered one of the founding fathers of the modern short story. This collection includes classics such as "The Necklace" and "Ball-of-Fat" ("Boule de Suif").

The settings of Maupassant's stories range from a hungry carriageful of passengers on the road during the Franco-Prussian War to a religious woman enchanted by an artist's painting; from poor families in Normandy trying to make ends meet to a man discovering he is haunted by a supernatural being. Some recurring themes spring up in more than one story, such as the profession and moral of a prostitute, which seems to fascinate Maupassant.

Maupassant's detailed descriptions of people and places as well as his complex sentences and prolonged settings of the scene may put off some readers who would prefer the more postmodern, simplified method of telling a short story. But ultimately the unique atmosphere in Maupassant's stories is created through the sophisticated, polished use of language and the inevitable tragic twists in the tale, often embellished with black humour.

Guy de Maupassant: The Necklace and Other Short Stories. Dover Publications. 1992. 119 pages.

Wikipedia: Guy de Maupassant
Wikipedia: "Boule de Suif"
Wikipedia: "The Necklace"