Tag Archives: Europa Editions Reading Project

The Carousel of Desire by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt

the-carousel-of-desire-by-eric-emmanuel-schmitt Title: The Carousel of Desire
Author: Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Translated by: Howard Curtis, Katherine Gregor
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 9781609453466
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 672
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I knew the minute I started reading this book, I knew that it would be something different and I wouldn’t mind the fact that it was a tome and kinda tough to get by to initially. “The Carousel of Desire” is about desire – it is sometimes about misplaced eroticism, emotions which are all over the place, relationships that are not long-lasting and those that are have too many cracks in them and above all, it is about romance – free of any moral judgement and yet the kind that looks at human relationships intricately and without making them seem frivolous.

“The Carouse of Desire” is about regular people, stuck in situations beyond their control and how Eros plays its own tricks on their unassuming lives. At the heart of the story are human emotions and experiences and how humans, while being so flawed are the only ones sometimes who have all the chances at redemption – sometimes more than one as well. The human psyche when it comes down to class, love, race and community are brilliantly brought out by Schmitt and just for that I would recommend you read this book.

So, what is this book all about? A love note, that’s what it is about. A love note is delivered anonymously to each inhabitant of Piazza Guy d’Arezzo in Brussels one morning and that’s where it all begins. To me it was the characters, the plot and most of all the dialogues (which have a great blend of love and philosophy) that did it all to love this book. The telling of the story is visual – it is almost like watching a movie and you can see it all happening. To me that is also great storytelling by Schmitt and some great translation by Howard Curtis and Katherine Gregor. I think when reading a translation, you somehow know if a job is well-done or not or when it becomes more than a job and the passion is conveyed on paper. I could feel that while reading “The Carousel of Desire”.

Running between the major characters such as the powerful E.U. commissioner, a confused (almost) book publicist, a banker who is seemingly happily married, and a parrot loving strange woman amongst others, you will also meet some brilliant secondary characters that make for the heart of the story. Like I said earlier, there are no judgements in this story – there is no right or wrong, immoral or morals, something that should be done or should not be done. Schmitt lets his people be and more so makes them live their lives to the fullest, always questioning and always wanting to push themselves more.

As I age, I look out for books that are more fulfilling or those that will bring some comfort and not disappoint. I mean, honestly, you cannot go about reading bad books and pretend that they never happened. So when great books such as “The Carousel of Desire” happen, you take them with both arms and not let go.

Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes

mikhail-and-margarita-by-julie-lekstrom-himes Title: Mikhail and Margarita
Author: Julie Lekstrom Himes
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453756
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I had read “The Master and Margarita” in college. It was a long time ago. It was one of those prescribed classics that you just had to read and I remember loving it a lot, after initially not liking it at all. It was too fantastical for me to begin with and then the allegorical symbols rang home and I couldn’t stop turning the pages, hungry for more. Bulgakov’s writing cannot be described by the words I have at my disposal. He is that good. What you must also remember is that “The Master and Margarita” was written under a totalitarian regime and how it got published is another story. For now, I will stick to the review of “Mikhail and Margarita”.

Most times, I get scared to pick up a book of historic significance and background. More so, if a writer has perhaps reimagined a certain time in history and tried to recreate it for the reader, I try and stay away from such books, mostly. This time I took a chance and read “Mikhail and Margarita” by Julie Lekstrom Himes. I don’t know if the story is real or not, but I know one thing: Ms. Himes sure knows how to tell a tale. I could not stop reading this book and right after I finished it, I wanted to go back to the Bulgakov classic.

“Mikhail and Margarita” as you might have guessed from the title is a story of Mikhail and his love for a woman named Margarita that inspired him to write “The Master and Margarita”. Let me also tell you that in real-life it was Bulgakov’s third wife Yelena Shilovskaya who was the inspiration for the character Margarita. I am guessing that Himes’ Margarita is also inspired by his real-life. Himes has also made this a love-triangle with an agent of Stalin’s police who is also in love with Margarita. The year it is set in is 1933 and how at that time Bulgakov’s career was at a complete dead-end. The book is brilliant – it speaks of passionate love, more passionate ideals, and the regime that will not allow any of this. All it wants is human sacrifice in the name of the country.

Himes’ writing is taut, detailed and well-researched. The book will make you at some points even go back to “The Master and Margarita” (but not so many). Himes’ characters are just everyday people trying to deal with a country and its policies that don’t give them the independence to think, forget falling in love. Much like what is happening today or might happen in the near future where USA and some other countries are concerned. I would highly recommend “Mikhail and Margarita” for the newness of plot, the writing and the way the book will make you think.

2084: The End of the World by Boualem Sansal

2084-the-end-of-the-world Title: 2084: The End of the World
Author: Boualem Sansal
Translated by: Alison Anderson
ISBN: 978-1609453664
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The title “2084: The End of the World” was what intrigued me and I knew I would love reading this book. I think as you age, you also become a little more discerning about what you read. What is also true is that what you read is a reflection of your personality to some extent, but I shall not go there as of now. The book in question though is “2084” and if you’ve not guessed by now, then well, it is a play on 1984 by George Orwell and also tackles the same theme of a totalitarian regime, that is brutal, unreasonable and has no logic attached to it at all. Might I say that this book is a tribute to Orwell’s vision and craft.

2084 is the story of a near-future (I think it is already taking place as we speak and that should scare you enough) in which religious extremists have established a state of their own, and where autonomous thought is forbidden. It is funny how this book came at a time when Trump just got into power and to see and realize what is happening in the US of A is enough for this book and more of its kind to be almost prophetic in nature.

In kingdom of Abistan, named after the prophet Abi, an earthly messenger of god Yolah, there is no individuality and it is also not encouraged. In fact it is punished if anything. No one can think or speak other than what is laid out for them. New histories are being written. Memories are erased. The heretics are being put to death in the city square and for all to see. At the crux of the story is Ati, who has met other people in ghettos, who has heard tales of how it used to be and what does it mean to be a free-thinker. Ati then starts to think, to question and in all of this he has to not only safeguard his thoughts, but himself as well.

“2084: The End of the World” is also a mystery novel. What is the mystery of the number 2084? Ati has to find that as well. How did the world come to this? What happened? How did it lead to the formation of the most fundamental Abistan? This is the book that speaks of democracy and what threatens it, just as 1984 did. What is ironic though is that the world was reading 1984 (in the wake of Trump’s presidency) and I was reading 2084 – a book on similar lines. Sansal’s writing is raw and troubling. You know the future is happening right now and all that is mentioned in the book is being carried out one way or the other. He is almost prophetic when it comes down to delivering a hard-hitting apocalyptic read (in more than one way). “2084” will make you think, contemplate and wonder how we got to this – and this story isn’t just about one religion or one kind of society. It is reflective of all of us as humans – read it, lend it, buy it for people who need it the most.

33 Revolutions by Canek Sánchez Guevara

33-revolutions-by-canek-sanchez-guevara Title: 33 Revolutions
Author: Canek Sánchez Guevara
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453480
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

A short book that has so much to say. I am enamored by books that say so little and end up showing you an entire world of things, ideas and more importantly make you think and a lot more once you are done reading them. “33 Revolutions” by Canek Sánchez Guevara is one such book.

The book might seem vague to begin with but it is anything but that. It is the story of a nameless protagonist living in contemporary Cuba, whose parents were the supporters of the Castro revolution. At the same time, he is black. The reason I mention this is because it plays a role in the story and one which cannot be ignored. The hero’s father died on being accused of embezzlement. His mother flees after her husband’s death and settles in Madrid.

He is separated from his wife and all he does besides his rote work is read. Books open him to a different world and make him see the reality he is surrounded by: the mundane, the ineffectual and the broken records of life – which the book captures beautifully. I think that has also to do with the fact that the author was the grandson of Che Guevara. The ideas of revolution that spring later can be seen lucidly as being inspired by him.

Our hero also has Kafkaesque dreams – nightmares and tethers on the edge mostly. In fact, at most times you as a reader cannot distinguish between reality and fiction of the novel and question the plot. This to me is fantastic as it challenges you – the reader, which doesn’t happen too often in books. The sense of disillusionment is real and how you actually see the protagonist being an informer and then refusing to do what he is told are the hallmarks of this novella.

This novella has actually made me want to read more about Cuba and its revolution of Castro – of how it all began and how it disappointed its supporters. “33 Revolutions” though is a fantastic stand-alone novella. Guevara puts his heart and soul in the writing – while reading it you might also feel exhausted and tired and that is the cornerstone of a good book – to make you feel what you read. Might I also add that the translation by Howard Curtis who also translated Santiago Gamboa’s book “Night Prayers” (published earlier this year and which I loved) is superb. If politics, life, and the disappointment of it all interests you, then this book sure is for you. If not, then too pick it up for the beauty of language.

Baba Dunja’s Last Love by Alina Bronsky

Baba Dunja's Last Love by Alina Bronsky Title: Baba Dunja’s Last Love
Author: Alina Bronsky
Translator: Tim Mohr
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN:978-1609453336
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

In my experience, most of the time, shorter books make for some great reading experiences. What sometimes big books fail to communicate, a short book does magnificently. “Baba Dunja’s Last Love” by Alina Bronsky does just that as a gem of a small book. It just makes you sit back and take count of life in some of the most adverse situations and makes you see how far you have come and how it is all going to be okay (or at least you can hope that it will all turn out okay).

So now more about the book. Baba Dunja’s Last Love is a book that is hopeful and yet stems from despair. It is the kind of book that makes you question mankind and its treacherous ways and also redeems the very same race of man. The story is set in Baba Dunja’s home town – which a stone throw away from Chernobyl. The very same Chernobyl that was the core of the nuclear accident of 1986. Baba Dunja has nothing to go back home to but she wants to and she does.

She lives in her house and returns to her village life. She is in touch with her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter who live in Germany. Marja lives in the house next to her and life has an unexpected twist for her as well. Then there is Petrov who is terminally ill and spends his time reading poems. There are other twisted characters in the village and somehow all seems to be going well, till a stranger and his daughter arrives and Baba Dunja’s life is never the same.

This is just the threadbare plot that I have mentioned. There is obviously a lot going on in the book with its dark humour and wit – which you will eventually come to know if you read the book. The writing is never boring or out of place. It is not a big book either – so you can really sit back and finish it in one sitting, even though the topic might seem grim. Bronsky has this charm to her writing – mixing harsh realities with a constant dream that makes you want to hoot for the characters and hope all turns out well for them.