I am a bit disappointed in myself with this month’s misstep. Enough so that I feel some need to make amends. Therefore, rather than simply identify the books that fail me in a month, I will add those that surprise me or are better than anticipated.
Why am I disappointed about the one book I gave up on this month? That’s because just before I started it, László Krasznahorkai’s novel Satantango made the longlists for both the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the 2013 Best Translated Book Award. But it perhaps shows how being an illiterati can sometimes outweigh one’s interest in certain types of fiction. Put simply, despite Satantango being considered a classic of Hungarian literature, it was too modernist for my tastes.
Here’s how it’s been described in two highly favorable reviews (neither of which I read prior to starting the book):
- The Guardian — “If this summary of the first half of the novel sounds baffling, it’s a hell of a lot clearer than the book itself. László Krasznahorkai’s scenes are designed to disorient and defamiliarise.”
- Los Angeles Review of Books — “His textual ambiguities make any concrete reading of Satantango nearly impossible, and we are put in the same befuddled, liminal state of mind as the fictional residents themselves: missing the thing by waiting for it.”
I was disoriented and befuddled enough that I abandoned ship after only two chapters.
A pleasant surprise, though, was Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea. Although written by Mark Kurlanksy, I still anticipated a dry tone, perhaps akin to that which tends to occur in “A Very Short Introduction” series by Oxford University Press. Yet Kurlansky brings to the book the talents he used in making Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World and Salt: A World History bestsellers.
Nonviolence is a wonderful combination of being highly readable and entertaining while educating. Kurlansky blends history and theory to illuminate an idea many of us tend to think started with Gandhi. He traces the concept and treatment of nonviolence in religion and western civilization, showing how it truly can be and has been considered a dangerous idea. There are a few flaws (such as chronologies seeming a bit odd at times) but the book was undoubtedly an enjoyable revelation.
War is always more popular with those who don’t experience it.
Mark Kurlansky, Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea