Daily Archives: May 29, 2012

Book Review: Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter HØeg

Title: Smilla’s Sense of Snow
Author: Peter HØeg
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 9781250002556
Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Smilla’s Sense of Snow is a treat to read. There is everything in it which a book can offer – some great writing, mystery, literary fiction, and a sense of dry humour in certain parts. Peter HØeg proves that literature can be both entertaining and artful. Though on the surface, Smilla’s Sense of Snow is genre fiction, it is beyond just being a thriller.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow is based in Denmark and then takes the reader to the Arctic in order to solve a mystery. The book first released in 1993. I read it then and I have read it now and I must say that I enjoyed it more the second time round. Smilla Jaspersen – half Greenlander, half Dane, an unconventional loner and brilliant scientist, is struggling with her emotions (which she doesn’t display enough of) and is devastated when a young boy she had befriended mysteriously falls to his death from the roof of their apartment building. She doesn’t think it is an accident. From there on begins Smilla’s journey and the trail she follows to solve his murder.

The writing is good. The story is wonderfully told. (I do not read books that do not interest me; hence the books that I read are brilliant) The setting could not have been better. However, what stands out the most in this book is the characterization of Smilla. Smilla is an ordinary woman (do not mistake her to be that anyway). She is bold, clever, smart, instinctive and reckless at the same time. She is a rule-breaker (doing it all subtly) and is not afraid to say things the way they are. Peter HØeg has created a woman who will not opt for the role society expects her to play.

Smilla cannot connect with others and she knows that. She feels bad about it but she knows her limitations and that’s what I love about the character. May be that is why she wants to bring justice to the one friend she had made.

The descriptions are dense and required while writing a book that merges the setting and the mystery. One needs to mention the details and Peter HØeg has done a wonderful job of that. Smilla’s sense of Snow is not your regular mystery. It is surprising that at times it takes so much effort to read it, because of the intensity and how it is weaved through Smilla’s perspective and her way through the maze of questions and emotions.

Smilla’s musings are another dimension to the book. I loved reading them (as and when they came along). They added spice and character to the book.

Here’s one of them:

“Deep inside I know that trying to figure things out leads to blindness, that the desire to understand has a built-in brutality that erases what you seek to comprehend. Only experience is sensitive.”

In this world of Lisbeth Salander, I urge you to read Smilla’s Sense of Snow. It is as fresh and compelling as when it was first written. A brilliant feat.

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Book Review: Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Title: Half-Blood Blues
Author: Esi Edugyan
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1250012708
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It is not easy to write a book with Jazz as the main character that is always lurking as the “backdrop”. In fact it isn’t easy writing about music at all; no matter how tuned you are to it and what your sensibilities are made of. Esi Edugyan manages it wonderfully through his book, “Half-Blood Blues”.

“Half-Blood Blues” alternates between 1992 and 1939/1940, whose major characters are three African-American men who met in Weimar, Germany playing together in a jazz group. The book brings out the world inhabited by these three men and their longings, passion, betrayal over the years, while the music silently plays on.

The tale is narrated by Sid, and he moves in time, back and forth to unfold the story of a talented trumpet player, Hieronymus Falk. The musicians struggle against the growing danger of Nazism and each experience varying degrees of safety (or lack of it) in Europe based on their background and citizenship. One of the most endangered is Hiero, a German of mixed race who is taken by the Nazis one night and never returns. Sid witnesses this and the major focus of this novel is Sid’s guilt as he grapples with what he did and what he did not to save his friend’s life.

The book in itself reads like poetry at times. Esi has a knack of writing and presenting the story in a manner that is graceful, lyrical and sometimes heart-breaking. The novel explores the other side of World War II, the persecution of Blacks and German “Mischlings” in Germany. What I loved was that the book is set against the backdrop of Jazz, which was then banned in Germany because of it being seen as, “degenerate”. So there are two biases – one against a set of people and second against a genre of music, both of which are wonderfully brought to surface by Esi Edugyan.

Esi allows the reader to explore the world through Sid’s eyes, where everything is not wrapped up tidy and neat. She creates the historic context, allowing readers to live there for a while with her flawed characters. She makes you think about what it would be like to live in a world where everything seems and has gone wrong, where may be music is the only thing left that one can rely on completely and unconditionally. Music is the only thing that seems to make sense at times.

Esi has a powerful voice though at times I felt disconnected from the book however came back to it to be enthralled for a while. Read it if music and identity interest you together. It is a great combination though.