Tag Archives: roberto bolano

Top 20 Favourite Books of Nadeem Aslam

I have loved and enjoyed reading Nadeem Aslam’s books. I have always been curious as to what authors read and what compels them to perhaps classify what they read as their favourite reads over time. With this, I start this series with Nadeem Aslam’s favourite 20 books published within his lifetime, each of which he has read at least twice.

The list is amazing and might I add extremely compelling. You would want to pick up each book and read it at least once. Here goes the list. From here on, every word and emotion is that of Nadeem Aslam’s. Thank you Nadeem for this list.

1982 – Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

In just over 100 pages Marquez tells us everything about men, women, love, hatred, corruption and fate. It includes the great line: ‘Life resembles bad literature.’ After Jude the Obscure it is quite possibly the most despairing novel I know. And it is brilliant.

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1986 – An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist of the Floating World

An old man looks back over his life – and Ishiguro builds up an indelible picture of his fears and anxieties through everyday conversations with his daughters, grandson, people in the neighbourhood. There is very little description and yet you imagine each scene vividly.

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1987 – The Enigma of Arrival by VS Naipaul

The Enigma of Arrival

A book full of long rich sentences that recall Proust, and anticipate Sebald. It made me look deeply at the English countryside I live in. I believe mercy is greater than justice; and so I do not agree with Naipaul’s political outlook, but having read everything he has ever published I think this is one of his enduring works.

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1987 – Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the Time of Cholera

A story about love and other diseases of the flesh. A book full of nouns – river, parrot, ship, almonds… This is the master at the height of his powers, naming the world into being. Everything Marquez touches becomes magical: if he were to remove the frame from around a mirror, the mirror would most certainly flow down the wall like water.

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1987 – Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved

There are subjects on which the world maintains a silence closely resembling sin. Beloved speaks about one such sin. It is a terrifying book, and yet it makes rapturous eloquent use of the sky and land and tree and food and clothing. Beyond everything else it’s a book about how people talk: the dialogue is musical, elastic, by turns funny and serious. Dazzling.

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1988 – The Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz

The Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz

In any crisis I turn to Milosz. What to do when you have to accept a savage emotional wound? Where to find the courage to trust another human being after betrayal? When you want to know how you deserve such a fate? Milosz’s verses address something that remains mysteriously inconsolable within me.

Buy New and Collected Poems

1990 – Omeros by Derek Walcott

Omeros

Walcott – one of the greatest poets in the English language – relocates Homer to the Caribbean, because the past belongs not just to those who created it – it belongs to everyone, everywhere. So the Greek heroes become poor fishermen and Helen is a servant girl. It is profound, beautiful and endlessly inventive. It’ll even break your heart.

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1992 – The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient

The first 120 pages of this book are the holiest pages I know – prose whose beauty eases the poverty of the world; startling images; and characters you care about like your family. The book speaks of love and lovelessness, about the acceptance of loss, and how compared with love almost everything in life is easy.

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1993 – All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
1994 – The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

The Border Trilogy

Most people behave badly because they ask too little of themselves. In these books McCarthy – who is one of my great loves – writes about very young men hurled into unknown landscapes, a world frequently absent of radiance. They survive or they die – but they hold onto their integrity, because only the gentle are ever really strong. And McCarthy’s prose is the closest thing I know to an electric shock. It is energy made visible; what Saul Bellow called ‘life giving and death dealing sentences.’

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1995 – Sabbath’s Theatre by Philip Roth

Sabbath's Theater

From the first sentence on this is a funny, serious, and frightening book – the story of a man at the end of his tether. Dirty, ugly, fearing the loss of his sexual prowess, Sabbath wanders around New England and New York like Shakespeare ranting at street corners, screaming the song of the land.

1997 – American Pastoral by Philip Roth

American Pastoral

A book about a man whose daughter is a terrorist, and how he tries to hold onto the ideas of justice and dignity when the smell of blood is in the air and it’s the age of prominent madmen. I disagree strongly with the political stance of this book, but as a novel it contains some of the most intense dramatic scenes in recent years.

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1997 – Taoos Chaman ki Mynah by Naiyer Masud

Taoos Chaman Ki Myna

A novella from the Urdu master of Lukhnow. A man steals a bird from his employer’s menagerie for his little daughter. This is a hear-quickening tale. I don’t think I understand all of its mysteries but perhaps that is how it should be; if you see a statue of a veiled maiden, you mustn’t try to chisel off the veil in the hope of uncovering the face underneath.

1997 – The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things

The key text about all of India’s yesterdays and todays. It is almost elemental. There are a 100,000 miles of blood vessels in a human body, and every drop of blood in mine is grateful to Arundhati Roy for having written this. By turns sorrowing and ecstatic, it possesses a touch that has a sting of starlight to it.

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1997 – Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

Brokeback Mountain

Not only a painful love story, but also a fierce attack on the economic disparities within the USA. From its astonishing and brilliant first paragraph onwards, Proulx tells us that the two lovers are foredoomed not solely because they are homosexual in an unforgiving landscape, but because that they are poor, men who cannot really afford luxuries like love. The need to make a living and support their families is also what keeps the two men from coming together.

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2001 – My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

My Name is Red

The greatest book by the one of the very greatest novelists of our time. A murder mystery, a monograph on miniature painting, a love story, a rich and subversive inquiry into the past. Its heroine, Shekure, is one of the best portraits of a woman from the Islamic word that I know.

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2004 – Gilead by Marilynne Ronbinson

Gilead

The letter an old priest writes to his very young son, who will not read it until long after the priest is dead. Every single paragraph of this book is full of quiet wisdom – as though a form of music has been found to express silence.

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2004 – An End to Suffering by Pankaj Mishra

An End to Suffering

Pankaj Mishra’s writing is what I turn to first when I need to make sense of the world. And this book is one of the loveliest and most serious meditations on what Buddha brought into the world.

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2007 – The Collected Stories of Intizar Hussein

Exactly 50 years’ worth of stories from the Pakistani master. Read sequentially, these stories chart every single social, historical and cultural event Pakistan has been through in the last half century. Magnificent.

2008 – 2666 by Roberto Bolano

2666

The third world novel as it should be written today – post Naipaul, post Marquez. Part 4 of this book alone should ensure Bolano’s place among the immortals. Please read it.

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Book Review: The Third Reich by Roberto Bolano

Title: The Third Reich
Author: Roberto Bolano
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330535793
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Roberto Bolaño has always fascinated me with his works – absurd, odd, strange, surreal and brutal at times, he ensured that he left a legacy that his fans will never forget and from this emerges his new book, ‘The Third Reich’.
The Third Reich in bits and pieces did remind me of Ian McEwan’s, ‘The Comfort of Strangers’, but barring the basic plot was where the similarity ended. This book was discovered after his death and apparently quite complete, it is his early work. This work has been beautifully translated by Natasha Wimmer. There are traces of immense surrealism in this one, which Bolaño would later use and implement in The Savage Detectives and 2666.

The Third Reich centers on Udo Berger, a German in his mid-twenties, who is taking a vacation with his girlfriend in a beach hotel on the Costa Brava, where he has spent many a vacation with his family as a child. Together with another German couple, they engage in the usual activities – swimming, eating, drinking, sunbathing and making love. However, this vacation is not what either of the couple thought it would turn out to be. All is not well in paradise. They are involved with a local sinister group, called, The Wolf, The Lamb and El Quemado (the burnt one), a South-American immigrant who hires pedal boats on the beach. The four individuals are further taken in by acts of off-stage violence which results in a death and that changes the complete course of events.

The title of the book surprisingly (or not) comes from a game called, “The Third Reich” that Udo plays in a hotel room which becomes something more. I think Roberto Bolaño was obsessed with Germany in many ways. Many of his books deal with German Literature and he also deals with German History in a very peculiar manner.

The novel is delightful. It depicts the war-game scenario to the open, signaling its peculiarities in a poetic, stylistic manner. The book is strange and at the same time it does what it has to – entraps the reader into it. I would highly recommend this book to Roberto’s fans and also to the ones who have never read him.

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The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolaño

The Skating Rink begins as one kind of book, an awkwardly plotted ‘crime’ novel with a self-consciously literary narrative structure. The three narrators are plausible enough as characters but their narrative voices are not natural, not recognizably ‘themselves.’ This is especially so in the English translation, in which they have no syntactical fingerprints. I found myself wondering, as I read, how I would have reacted to the first half of The Skating Rink if I hadn’t already read some of Bolaño’s later novels. I might well have tossed it aside. In short, the first half – make that the first two-thirds – isn’t very good. I doubt that I’d have recognized the ‘promise’ in it.

Those three narrators are all men, writing about their involvement with women. The women remain phantom obsessions in the men’s minds. Two of the narrators are what Bolaño calls “hardened poets,” a sub-species unknown in most northern climates but endemic to Bolaño’s later writings as well. The third is a self-important obnoxious bureaucrat; Bolaño struggles, I think, to make this character psychologically credible. Someone will get murdered, readers are told early in the story, and all three narrators will be involved, but there isn’t precisely a mystery. The murder occurs late in the book, and the victim isn’t who one has been led to expect. The main action takes place in a sleazy beach town on the Catalan Costa Brava, where decomposition rules.

Social and individual decomposition would become Bolaño’s overriding theme in his later books, along with despair and depravity. Don’t expect beauty, joy, or lyricism in this or any other novel by Roberto Bolaño! Somewhere around two-thirds of the way through The Skating Rink a seismic shift occurs in Bolaño’s style, and the characteristics of his mature writing begin to emerge: his sinister cynicism, his queasy indirectness, his nightmarish sense of impending horror, above all his terrifying moral ambiguity. Nothing is ever not subjective, not merely one mind’s partial perception; every thought skates on the edge of madness. Even the eventual ‘murderer’s confession’ seems doubtful, possibly only one illusion in one debauched and damaged mind.

On the other hand, and as a solid recommendation, The Skating Rink is a much ‘easier’ book than Bolaño’s later novels. It’s short, the plot exposition is forthright, the syntax is uncomplicated, and there are few of the obscure allusions to Latin American literature and history that make his work challenging for anglophone readers. Bolaño was a major talent, the most interesting Latin American writer since Julio Cortázar, and his premiere novel might well serve to teach Americans how to read him as effectively as it taught him how to write.

The Skating Rink; Bolaño, Roberto; Picador; £14.99

Top 10 Fussed-Over Books

I have never understood why some people (critics and the common people) fuss over some books. I have tried reading them and failed miserably. May be I just haven’t been made to read them. Sigh. I feel bad that I have not read these great ones, but they just could not get my attention. Hopefully they will in the future. Here are my top 10 of those:

1. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie: Yes I tried and tried and tried again. I reached page 110 and gave it up. His writing was slow and did not captivate me at all. The book is the booker of the bookers and yet I failed to go through it. Was there something really wrong with the book or was it just me?

2. Ulysses by James Joyce: Now I have severe issues with this one. Confusing sentences, droning pace, existentialism (hardly) and an author whose only work that I have loved is his short story, “The Dead”. Sorry Mr. Joyce you just don’t do it for me. May your soul rest in peace.

3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: The movie was better. The movie was fantastic. The plot is too intertwined. The book is boring. Elves and Hobbits and Hobbits and Elves. Description of a tree moving from one side to the other takes a page. Just not my thing.

4. The Alchemy Of Desire by Tarun J. Tejpal: My sister loved it. Again, it was a torturous read for me. Just could not get into the book and it was supposed to be all about love and all that. Mr. Tejpal knows how to edit a magazine. A book, I am not sure.

5. Books by Paulo Coelho: Yes it is kind of bullcrap riding on people’s sentimentality and actually minting money out of  it. All the stories (so-called), all the unintelligent lines that people fawn over, this writer knows his job. Sadly for him, I know my job too. Do not read his books.

6. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth: Heralded a classic, a work of great genius and all of that and it was too long for its own good. I use it as a paper-weight now. Mr. Seth is cute and I agree, his book is another story. An Equal Music though is 10 notches above.

7. 2666 by Roberto Bolano: Kill me for not liking this book. Burn me at the stake. This book – the less said the better.

8. Middlemarch by George Eliot: I prefer The Mill On the Floss anyday. Maggie Tulliver rules the roost, unlike this one. Bring in the yawns and the sleep right back in my eyes.

9. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyers: I will get shot for this or something or a vampire hidden in the night will kill me, however I could not make it after 100 pages. Sorry Bella and Edward. I like you. I do. Not that much though.

10. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Show: Apparently he did and from the sales of this self-help thingy, bought another one  for himself. Kidding! Just could not read it.

So that does it. My Dis List!! And no apologies.