Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
A series of conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. For the most part, Invisible Cities is Marco Polo describing to the Khan the peculiarities of the cities he saw on his journeys; much of the rest is the Khan taking the reigns of the imaginary descriptions. Thematically the book examines cities (both form and function), communication across language, and Truth in the sense of whether there is a Form behind everything to which specifics must be added or whether every possibility exists in the universal city from which particulars are removed to form the specific city. It is possible to structurally chart the individual stories within the book and it is possible to just read each individual story for the imaginative descriptions of the cities, many of which are wonderful little vignettes, but I had trouble tying the two together. As has my experience with most post-modern literature, my inability to reconcile the form and the content leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Invisible Cities is still worth reading, it just was not among my favorites–which was a recurring theme for my August reading.
The Castle , Franz Kafka
A book that is not likely to rise on my list of favorite books, this statement should not diminish the brilliance of The Castle. Kafka’s incomplete novel is an excruciating tour de force about bureaucracy. Halfway through the book it seemed to me that Kafka was playing a relentless,vicious joke on the reader and the fact that the book just trails off instills in this reader a sense of the eternality of bureaucracy more effectively than any actual conclusion could. The story was effective, but it was almost too effective and I have decided that, at least in the near future, I will only read Kafka’s shorter works.
The Quiet American, Graham Greene
Set in French Indochina, The Quiet American is the story of Thomas Fowler, a British journalist who is covering the war between Vietnamese nationalists and the French and an American, Alden Pyle, who is working against Communist influence in Vietnam. The novel is decidedly anti-war, and, while interesting, all of the featured characters had enough odious characteristics that I never really connected with any of them and therefore didn’t like the book as much as I expected.
Tyrant Banderas, Ramon del Valle-Inclan
Another book that I expected to like more than I did, Tyrant Banderas, is one of the first novels about tyranny in Latin America (originally published in 1929). The introduction to the book indicates that it is a rarely translated book, in part because del Valle-Inclan included multiple dialects of written Spanish that are hard to duplicate in English. Perhaps as a result of these dialect issues, there were certain spots of the translation that were just strange English, particularly with types of dialogue that may have been faithful to the Spanish but awkward (at best) English–what appeared to be the type of idiomatic exclamation that just aren’t used in even a facsimile of dialogue. That said, like other stories of Latin America, there were excellent descriptions of tyranny, colonialism, and some unforgettable descriptions of characters. Tyrant Banderas was probably my favorite book among those I read this month, but more in the sense that I was glad to have read it than in that I adored the book.
Future reading: I just finished a David Foster Wallace short story collection and am reading The Rebel by Albert Camus next.