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July 08, 2010


Very interesting mix. I'm going to try to get "A Mind at Rest" soon. When you wend your way back to Faulkner, try "Sartoris." It's my very favorite Faulkner, the one that got me reading the whole of his books one wonderful winter.

Great that you are reading books set in Turkey. I haven't yet read Tanpinar but love Elif Safak's 'The Bastard of Istanbul'. I was living in Cihangir at the time Pamuk describes it in his book and so that book is very resonant, I will have to acquire the Tanpinar. By the way I am also interested in the power of translators. Pamuk's success out of his own country was limited until Maureen Freely started translating his books, at least I see it that way. Often think how many authors' works fail because they don't get the 'right' translator.

Since Pamuk's Istanbul, Memories of a City and The Museum of Innocence are amongst my favourite books ever, I'm really going to have to read A Mind at Peace!

I enjoyed the two de Bernieres novels a lot, and learned from them, and they continue to resonate, although I think he is a messy writer of sprawling uneven novels that don't perhaps ever quite reach their potential. Also Elif Shafak's Bastard of Istanbul, in a quite different way - a fairly light read, but with important things to say and saying them vividly. Have not managed to finish anything by Saramago or Marukami - a pretty rare thing for me - although from what I knew of their preoccupations and from the enthusiasm expressed by many readers I expected to. These things are so personal and unpredictable, and therefore every book a new adventure. Enjoy your summer adventures!

Oh, and yes, the largely unrecognised power of the literary translator! I found Pamuk pretty unreadable in English until Maureen Freely became his regular translator. I remember giving up on The Black Book in the first English translation (as noted above, a rare thing for me). But liked it very much (though not an easy book) in Freely's more recent translation. I know very little Turkish, but I gather it is subtle and complex in structure and nuance and very far from an easy language to translate.

Here's an article and audio recording of conversation with Maureen Freely on translating Pamuk: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/17/AR2009031701998.html

Thanks for giving me several new books to check out, Beth. I especially appreciated the review of Conrad. I never took to Conrad; could never understand why he was considered great, but you finally explained it in a way that will make me revisit his writing.

Mary, thanks a lot for that recommendation. I've never read it either because, I guess, the big famous novels were the ones assigned in school. I'll try it.

Pat and Jean - yes, this issue of translators is a huge one, and I noticed right away that the Tanpinar didn't have the same flow in English as Freely's translations of Pamuk. She must be a brilliant translator, and Jean, I enjoyed listening to her and to Safak on the BBC which I think you also recommended! Thanks for that additional link, I'll listen to it later. If either of you read Tanpinar, please be sure to tell me what you think of it!

Hi Jan -- yes - his books are surprisingly hard going for me, in the same way as Henry James or Dickens, and I have to appreciate them in a different way from the books I usually like! Good luck with them.

Beth, I'm particularly fascinated about what you learned about Champlain. I only recall some of the major historical things about him from Canadian history back in childhood! Must put that book on my to-read list. Along with the others.

I've recently discovered the novels of Donna Leon (American, has lived in Venice for the last c. 25 years). They're set in Venice, among Venetian people, and are "detective" books but of the highest type (like P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, and Susan Hill's Serailler books). She writes such atmospheric descriptions of the city, the people, streets and interiors, and deals with problems of justice and corruption. Trouble is, they're completely glueing!

I love good descriptive novels, and one of my favourites is "The Secret Agent" (shorter than Conrad's other books!), with its depiction of London's Soho about a hundred years ago, when the streets, now brash and neon-glaring, were rather gloomy, sooty and car-less.

Well done with the sketching - always interesting and lively pictures.

Just thought - if you like "The Secret Agent" you might like "Riceyman Steps" by Arnold Bennett, if you haven't already read it. It's set in London's King's Cross area, about 1910, a similar rather strange psychological drama, with evocative descriptions of place. (The Steps are still there, though without the houses and shops). Arnold Bennett is one of my favourite writers - he wrote "The Old Wives' Tale", set in the Potteries in the Midlands of England, which I knew as a child, and in Paris, and also the Clayhanger trilogy. A very modern writer for his time, in terms of subtle depiction of character, though he wrote in a traditional way.

I understand just what you mean about Conrad. But I think his penchant for exposing flaws is exactly what draws me in. There is something compelling about the characters, even though they aren't likable. You read so many authors that are unfamiliar to me. I need to pick something you like and read it. Lately, I've been dipping into short little things. I recently read "Rappacini's Daughter" by Hawthorne and "The Time Machine" by Wells. The combination of Oklahoma's terribly hot weather (100 degrees F today) and my boys underfoot all day shorten my attention span!

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.