A Strangeness in My Mind – Orhan Pamuk

In a city, you can be alone in a crowd, and in fact what makes the city a city is that it lets you hide the strangeness in your mind inside its teeming multitudes.

Oh, Mevlut, haven’t you learned, rights don’t matter in the city, only profits.

Mevlut is an old-fashioned street vendor with an old-fashioned sensibility. He moved to Istanbul to attend school and help his father at the age of twelve, leaving the village life behind. The city is simultaneously all that he possibly imagined—vast, sprawling, growing and filled with characters—and so much less. He lives in a dirt-floored hovel his father and uncle built on ill-gotten land. During the day Mevlut attends school and at night helps his father sell boza, a traditional, mildly alcohol drink. Despite occasional visits, Mevlut never moves back to the village, but, unlike seemingly everyone else in his life, neither does he ever realize the dream of striking it rich in the city.

A Strangeness in My Mind follows Mevlut’s life and experiences in Istanbul through a variety of voices, but the driving component of the narrative comes when he attends his cousin’s wedding as a young man and locks eyes for a brief instant with the beautiful younger sister of the bride. Mevlut asks the groom’s brother Suleyman who this enchanting young woman is, but, instead of truthfully saying “Samiya,” his cousin gives the name of the middle sister, Rayiha, who we are told is the least physically attractive of the three. Mevlut resolves to write to Rayiha while he serves his mandatory military service to tell her of his love. After leaving the army, Mevlut and Suleyman arrange for Rayiha to run away with him and it is only that night when he discovers the error. Mevlut and Rayiha come to be parents to two little girls and genuine love each other, but the uncertainty over whom those letters were addressed to casts a pall over the family, particularly when Samiya moves to Istanbul, is courted by Suleyman, and ends up running away with another man.

Mevlut is a man caught in the middle. He supports a mild Islamist political program (including that he votes for Erdogan for mayor of Istanbul) out of his belief in his religion, but he is friends with and sympathetic to the Leftists, while his extended family is extremely right-wing. He is reliant mostly on his cousins for money and social status, but they regard him as a drag whose intransigence over selling boza and the rights to land jointly claimed by their fathers weigh down their monetary ambitions. Most of all, though, Mevlut’s old-fashioned hobbies, old-fashioned honesty, and unbreakable optimism lead people to regard him as simplistically innocent. Mevlut doesn’t care, though, and he only cares about breaking free of the the loneliness that plagues him.

A Strangeness in My Mind fell short of Pamuk’s best work in my estimation. It is poignant, at times beautiful, and has incredible formal structure—the main narrative is told through Mevlut’s lens, but it is interspersed with interjections from the other characters correcting, explaining, or supplementing the main narrative the way that a documentary might—but it is missing much of the mystery that I so love in Pamuk’s writing. In that respect, much of what transpires over such a long span of time seems to be in service of showing how the growth of Istanbul affected one Turkish family rather than having a really compelling plot of its own. The mistaken identity provides adequate narrative backbone for the family drama and is undoubtedly poignant, but it also came across as of secondary importance. All that said, I am very much looking forward to Pamuk’s next book due out later this year.

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I recently read The Kingdom of the Gods, the final book in N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy and just started Tom Wolfe’s Back to Blood.

Silent House – Orhan Pamuk

In the small coastal town of Cennethisar several hours from Istanbul there is an old house, one of the oldest in town. In this house there lives Fatma, a bedridden old Turkish woman who was forced to leave Istanbul years ago because of her husband’s actions, and with her lives Recep, a dwarf, one of her husband’s illegitimate children born to their maid some five decades earlier. For a week every summer the quiet tension of the house is broken by the arrival of her three grandchildren, the divorced historian Faruk, the leftist sister Nílgün, and Metín, a high school student obsessed with the exciting consumer luxuries of modernity. Rounding out this family drama is Hasan, a right-wing nationalist and Recep’s nephew.

The story unfolds over the course of a week as Faruk busies himself in the archives, Nílgün sunbathes and reads leftist publications, and Metín parties with his nouveaux ríche friends. Meanwhile Fatma and Recep are burdened with the memories of Selahattin, with the former being particularly concerned that Recep might be twisting her grandchildren against her. Despite how Fatma treats him, Recep is not threatening her legacy and the children are lost in their own little worlds. There is, however, imminent danger in the obsessions of young men.

Orhan Pamuk’s second novel, Silent House was published in Turkish in 1983 but only translated into English in 2012.  The core plot in Silent House is a variation on a family or dynastic epic, complete with each character representing a different group within the country and three children of different proclivities. At the same time, it differs from the classic examples of such a device (e.g. Hundred Years of Solitude and The Radetzky March), the conflict is compressed into the space of a week instead of dragging out over the course of years.

The style of Silent House is recognizably Pamuk. Each chapter switches between narrators, but interlocks to present a complete story. Silent House also broaches familiar themes, including that Turkey is torn between looking backward and envying countries they believe look forward, but his characters almost too bluntly embody the issues Pamuk wants to address. This is not to say that the characters don’t work for the story, but all of the younger people do not come across as particularly rounded outside what they stand for. The exception to this, and unsurprisingly the part of the part of the book I thought was the most successful, was the relationship between Fatma and Recep, both of whom exist in the present, but who also have the years of memories in which to round out and explain their characters. The younger people had lives outside of the week in the narration, but those lives are hardly explored with the result that their motivations fall back on their types.

All the hallmarks of a great Orhan Pamuk novel are already present in Silent House. The interlocking chapters, the insights about Turkey, and the interweaving of past and present are all there, but the execution is not as successfully realized as in his later novels such as My Name is Red, The Black Book, and Snow. If I had not already been a Pamuk fan I might have struggled with this book. Silent House is still worth reading, but fairly far down my list of favorite Pamuk novels and is certainly not one to start with.

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I am currently reading the second book in Naguib Mahfouz’ Cairo Trilogy, Palace of Desire. This is a book that has been on my shelf for some time, but I picked it up in light of recent events because it was originally written in Arabic.

Some thoughts on translation

In A Splendid Conspiracy (reviewed here), the police informant and intellectual of the streets, Rezk, covets foreign books, which he diligently reads at the pace of a page a day even though he frequently finds phrases that are beyond his comprehension. At the same time, Medhat, who works the for the town’s newspaper, dismisses the idea of reading books in other languages because people are the same everywhere and the books are going to share the perversity in any language so why bother working so hard.

In The Russian Girl Richard Vaisey stubbornly resists teaching courses in translation because the students cannot then claim to read Russian novels, but only a pale image of the real thing.

Years ago I had a conversation with a friend who declared that he doesn’t read books in translation. In contrast, almost forty percent of my non-academic reading in the past four years has been translated into English. My friend’s concern was over the quality of the translation and I must admit that I have read some book where the translation was distinctly antiquated in such a way that it distracted. Sometimes the issues with the translation are with the translator, but sometimes they is with the original text. But even that dichotomy is too simple. To wit, all translation is going to itself be an art, with decisions about how to render turns of phrase, but where some syntax tracks well with English, some languages do not, while some books like Tyrant Banderas flow between multiple different dialects with varying levels of complexity and each with its own external symbolism in its diction.

The proper solution would, for Richard Vaisey, to read the book in the original. There is a value to this, which I can quite attest to in my academic work with Greek texts, but since there are multiple purposes for reading, translations are usually satisfactory so long as it is realized what they are.

I like explanations for particular word choices, as Alyson Waters offers in her translation of A Splendid Conspiracy, but generally trust publishers to employ capable translators. As a rule, cut some slack on purely aesthetic judgements of the text since it is being passed through a medium. The problem is trickier when there are dueling translations, but thankfully Google provides a service that allows easy access to reviews of the different translations. At the most granular level each will probably have its virtues, but, being interested in collecting stories, I prefer readability to a word-for-word translation. While I appreciate authors who have enough English to work closely with their translators like Umberto Eco and Orhan Pamuk have done, but the truth is that I greedily want access to these stories and (usually) lack the facility with the original language so I happily settle for the translation.

I will likely soon pick up one or more novels in French just to work toward fluency with that language, but I don’t consider it necessary to appreciate a book as a work of art. I believe that one of the things reading enables is to unlock all sorts of people and places, world views and experiences that are not normally available, particularly to someone living in the United States. To reject works in translation is to apply blinders to a whole range of cultures, not mention willfully denying oneself great art.

September 2015 Reading Recap

I finished three books in September, as the academic year picked up and things, as they do, got busy.

Grave Peril, Jim Butcher
Harry Dresden continues his wizarding, only, now in the third book, the decisions he made in the previous two are beginning to catch up with him. I did a little write up about the series after I finished reading this one. The general impression of it still stands, which is to say that they are fun, largely pulpy reads that can be addictive in the moment, but haven’t really compelled me to read on. The third book started to build to a larger plot that could make up for how thin the noir skin began to feel, and the cast of characters is starting to expand, but I am still taking a break from the series.

Dracula, Bram Stoker

Jonathan Harker goes to Transylvania to help a rich client, Dracula, who is moving to London. The he stumbles into a backward environment of unspeakable horror. The vampire escapes and descends on an unprepared England, while Harker, his wife Mina, Dr. John Seward, Arthur Holmwood (the beloved of the Vampire’s first english victim), the American Quincy Morris, and the Dutch doctor Abraham van Helsing combine Catholic doctrine, folk remedies, and the cleverness of modernity to hunt this relic from eastern Europe. One of my favorite things about reading classic novels for the first time is that some of them are so utterly familiar and yet completely bastardized by subsequent representations. That is the case here, where many of Dracula’s traits and various descriptions are familiar, yet this specific version is not one often portrayed. I loved just about every minute of reading this beautiful mess of a novel. It is easy to see how this book was (and sometimes still is) considered overwritten and lowbrow, with dozens of concepts and fads mashed together in sometimes bizarre ways, and how it became a classic of Western literature. I have also started posting to Twitter quotes from books I read, and have collected them into a blog post.

The New Life, Orhan Pamuk
Reviewed and quotations collected.

One of Pamuk’s early works, The New Life is the story of a book and a girl that inspired young men to seek a new life, while being ambiguous about what the new life is. Most of the story takes place in shadowy buses careening across Turkey, at a time when and place where identities are transient. The men, particularly, in the story all seek a way to achieve equilibrium after reading the book, but the only way to reach this balance is to suspend themselves from a world that is racing onward. The New Life is not an easy book to describe and while it fits thematically in Pamuk’s oeuvre, it is not part of the same semi-real Istanbul that forms the backdrop of, for instance, The Black Book and The Museum of Innocence. This is also a book that I have grown more fond of upon letting it sink in than I necessarily was in the middle of it, so I’ll tentatively say it was my favorite of the month.


October is probably going to be another tight month for reading, particularly because I am starting off with an ambitious read, at least in terms of time investment. Currently, I am reading Dostoevsky’s Demons.

Live-Tweet The New Life

The collected quotations from Orhan Pamuk’s The New Life, which I reviewed here.

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Previously in this series, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The New Life, Orhan Pamuk

Two things happen to the narrator of The New Life, one after the other, which changed everything: he read a book and he fell in love with a girl. In his accounting of events, the reading of the book was both the first and the more important occurrence, but, really, he only read the book because he saw a pretty girl reading and was smitten. One might even say that our protagonist was entrapped by this distant and unapproachable beauty. This book changed everything and, he is told, those under its sway are wrapped up in a long-standing conspiracy and counter-conspiracy that could cost them their lives. Following Janan, he witnesses the assassination of her beloved and is immediately launched into a journey across Anatolia in pursuit of Janan, in search of answers to the riddles posed by the book, and hunting for a new life.

Most of The New Life takes place on dimly-lit bus-stops and on darkened buses that roar across the Anatolian landscape past–and sometimes into–similarly nondescript vehicles. Each bus seems to take people further back in time. Bloody crashes are a frequent occurrence, and sometimes provide an opportunity to adopt a new persona. The narrator’s obsession with Janan is Quixotic and while his pursuit of the woman sitting beside him spurs him on as a young man, the book proves a somewhat more intimate and more fruitful quest. The principle question is how one is able to reach equilibrium between the promises of the book and a changing world. There is no single right answer.

Pamuk eventually reveals that the name of the book is The New Life, and there is reason to suspect that it is the same as the novel, but for most of the story it is simply referred to as “the book” and its contents are left ambiguous. The closest comparison I could think of is the fanatical devotion inspired by religious texts, but it is emphatically a secular, subversive book. Similarly, there is an ambiguity as to what, exactly, The New Life is. Does it refer to swapping identity papers? Claiming a new name? Revolution? The process of aging? Or is the life in question not the life of the individual at all, but the life of a culture or country? Ought the new life really be an old life? Or is there another transcendence above these all? In the end, The New Life is being told from the point of view of an adult man, married and with a daughter. He has certainly found a new life, but, somehow, it hasn’t totally satisfied the hunger that the book awoke.

The New Life is an early example of Pamuk’s work and while I enjoyed the book, it is lower on the scale of his novels, ahead of only The White Castle. On the one hand, there were features that were engaging, including the two discussed in the previous paragraph, the tension between bus and rail, and the appearance of going back in time and the speedy onset of western modernity; on the other, there were aspects of the conspiracies that left me hollow because they fit in the novel but were not fleshed out. Some of this is a stylistic choice and some is the narrative style, but I wanted it to be spun out further as Pamuk does in later novels.

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I recently decided that I want to prune my book collection somewhat by donating books I don’t actively want to keep around to charitable book drops and/or libraries and have already chosen six or seven volumes to give away. I am militantly against getting rid of my entire physical collection despite the hassle of moving boxes of books, so this is more about culling for space. Along the same lines, I want to be able to talk about every book in my collection either because I have read it or because it is a new acquisition and soon to be read. As such, there is somewhat of a backlog that I need to read, some of which I started once upon a time and gave up on, others I bought and never read. Right now I am read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which falls into the former category, and which I am enjoying quite a lot and thus wondering why I stopped reading it before (other that I am finding myself a more patient and careful reader as I age).

The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk (August Reading Recap)

For reasons that included a trip to Utah and a whole lot of academic stuff that needed to happen before the start of the semester (even being on fellowship this year), I only read one book in August, Orhan Pamuk’s 2008 novel, The Museum of Innocence. Pamuk’s books also take a while to read because they defy being read quickly, at least for me. I need to be in a place and time that I can be sucked in.

Kemal Bey is the scion of upper crust of the Istanbul bourgeoisie and in a good place in 1975. He is thirty, manages his father’s business, and is about to be engaged to Sibel, his “steady” girlfriend. The way that Kemal tells it, the “steady” is important because it is the only way to be sexually active before marriage without frequenting prostitutes, despite that Sibel and her friends aspire to be liberated western women. The engagement party is going to be the event of the year where anybody who is anybody will be there and most of the black market western booze in the city will be served. But the reader knows that this happy, ho-hum existence cannot last, since, in the very first paragraph of The Museum of Innocence, Kemal declares that a sexual encounter with Füsun was the happiest moment of his life.

At first Kemal is what passes for normal. He has his important and beautiful girlfriend, his company, and his life. Then, while in a shop, he runs into Füsun, a distant relative who he hasn’t seen in years. She is eighteen and studying for her exams, so Kemal, inflamed by what he calls love, but that I would describe as lust, offers to tutor her. Naturally, their tutoring sessions mostly involve sex, and Kemal’s life continues with only minor interruption. When this routine is broken and Füsun disappears, Kemal’s life falls apart, becoming estranged from his fiancee, his friends, his business partners, and eventually his family. His only obsession is finding her. When he does finally find her, Füsun is married and still living with her family, and Kemal worms his way into their life. The process takes eight years and only at the end is there any prospect of payoff. Along this journey Kemal begins to collect items associated with Füsun and uses them as a surrogate for being near to her. These objects form the seeds of the collection of the eponymous museum, which opened in 2012.

This is the barest outline of the story and it feels inadequate. I excluded entire plot points, such as the profound changes wrought by deaths in the family, that Füsun was molested as a child, the founding of a movie studio, details of Füsun’s (probably happy) marriage, and Kemal’s teaching Füsun how to drive. The story may be divided into five phases, the initial lust, madness of loss, patience, love, and remembrance, each from the point of view of Kemal, though, as is often the case with Pamuk’s work, the narrator is not necessarily the narrator.

Early in the reading of The Museum of Innocence I hated Kemal, liked Füsun ( who is mature beyond her years), and loved the fiancee Sibel, and was bemused that Pamuk would offer this shallow man who seemed determined to throw away his happy life because he lusted after a beautiful eighteen year old woman as his protagonist. His love, he maintains, inflamed him and was inescapable, but it is petty, jealous, and more interested in possessing her physically than anything else. Over the course of years, though, that seems to change, still lusting, but also developing into something deeper and more sincere, at least in how he narrates the story. Ironically, Füsun doesn’t ever seem to appreciate the change, while her mother seems to have seen the love from the outset. This whirlwind of perspectives even while having a single narrator is something I associate with Pamuk’s writing and was particularly true in The Museum of Innocence as the reader gets selective entree into the other viewpoints and for large swathes of the story characters who were likely present simply disappear from the retelling as the narrator obsesses over his out-of-reach object. For instance, Kemal says that he thinks that Füsun’s marriage was happy sexually in its early years, but, while narrating those years, her husband is a non-entity, being written out by Kemal who would rather not think about that.

The facet of the story that I found most moving was the underlying premise that everybody wants something and, frequently, that desired object is out of reach. The most blatant is Kemal’s pursuit of Füsun, but Sibel wants a “normal” marriage, Füsun wants to be an actress, Kemal’s mother wants her son not to embarrass the family, his father wants him to be happy (and many more). Everybody wants something and each of these desires is at least deferred. Kemal manages to reach a point of acceptance, others are less fortunate.

I really liked Museum of Innocence and want to talk at greater length about Pamuk’s oeuvre, probably after I finish reading my current book, his novel The New Life (and possibly one other). Something that hit me about the novels is that, even though they are not a series, Pamuk has populated Istanbul with characters that continually crop up in different ways in different stories, which has a way of enriching the stories in small ways because the the streets, the shops, the stories, and the newspaper columns are familiar. These are not merely easter eggs for the astute reader, but compose the fabric of the story.

January 2015 Reading Recap

January was a v. busy month for me, so I only read three books and didn’t post here as often as I would have liked. That is just how it goes, though.

The Black Book, Orhan Pamuk
Galip is a lawyer in Istanbul and is married to his cousin Ruya, who is the younger famous newspaper columnist Celal. One day when Galip returns home from the office, Ruya has disappeared, and so has Celal. There are dozens of people hunting for Celal and Galip joins the pursuit, but not for the columnist, but because he believes that Ruya may be there with him. What follows is a labyrinthine tale that, in chapters, alternates between Galip’s hunt and Celal’s columns that are somehow linked to the steps that Galip took to find Celal. Eventually, Galip decides that he must become Celal and think like him if he is going to ever find his wife.

The Black Book is the sixth book (fourth novel) of Pamuk’s I’ve read. It is a convoluted and dense read and Pamuk plays with format and style. The story feels like it is constructed of a number of frayed and loose ends right up until the end when Pamuk ties it neatly together, giving the reader resolution, if not the ending that might be hoped for. This is not the Pamuk novel I would recommend starting with, but I came away with a strange sense of fondness toward it, particularly in this regard: Pamuk creates three distinct characters that orbit the central plot of the story, but you only ever meet one, Galip. The other two exist, but exist off-stage. Further, I felt sadness because Galip loves Ruya very deeply, but the presentation makes it impossible to tell is Ruya reciprocates, and there is the haunting feeling that she does not. Whether that is true, we will never know. This is the sort of narration and craft I love Pamuk for, and I look forward to reading The Museum of Innocence next among his novels.

Paradise City, Archer Mayor
A thoroughly indulgent read on my part, Paradise City is a relatively recent (2012) installment in Mayor’s “Joe Gunthor” series of detective procedurals set in Vermont and New England. The books are fast-paced and engaging, and I feel a connection with them because Mayor evokes that part of the world, i.e. areas within several hours’ drive from the epicenter of Brattleboro, Vermont. The core characters, the dour, fair, human lead agent (former detective, now special agent with an agency called the VBI) Joe Gunthor and his two long-time colleagues Sammie Martens and Willy Kunkle, a couple with a child. Sammi is hard-nosed and capable, Willy is a one-armed, PTSD-survivor, former-alcoholic and wildly unorthodox cop. Along with other regular cast members, they are on the case.

The plot of Paradise City is that there is a human trafficking operation and stolen jewelry fencing operation going on somewhere in Western Massachusetts, which brings events in Boston and events in Brattleboro into a collision course. That is not really the reason to read the story, though. The series has a long-standing cast that has aged and progressed as time has moved on. The specific procedural element is just the trapping for a more human and humane story about these characters who the reader (if you’ve been reading them long enough) come to care for and enjoy spending time with. Paradise City was satisfactory along those lines, but not nearly my favorite. For new readers, I would recommend starting either at the start of the series or with Fruits of the Poisonous Tree or, my favorite, The Dark Root. Mayor introduces all the characters anew so that it is possible to follow along, but since I enjoy the characters more than the stories themselves, usually, it is better to see them in their younger years.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Pat Rothfuss
Set in the same world as Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, Slow Regard tells a brief (to the extent epic fantasy authors can be brief) story about one of the side characters in the main series, Auri. The author’s note at the beginning says that this might not be the story you want. It doesn’t advance the main plot, doesn’t have dialogue, and doesn’t have much besides the daily life of a woman of indeterminate age whose experiences with magic have given her great insight into the nature of the world, but also broken her a little bit inside. There is a haunting beauty in this story and I was reminded of Gaimon’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane in that it is not a traditional story, but a powerful one nonetheless. In particular, I appreciated the presentation of Auri has immensely capable and insightful, but also in a constant battle with anxiety as a way of keeping the world at its rights. I like Rothfuss’ writing and while I eagerly await the third book in The Kingkiller Chronicles, I will also read whatever it is he wants to give me while he gets the book right, as it were. It is best to do things the right way and in the proper time, as Auri would put it.


If I get my way, which is unlikely, February will be a more successful month of reading. I am currently in the middle of Christopher Priest’s Inverted World, a 1974 science fiction novel about a city on tracks that moves around the world in order to stay close to “the optimum,” and am enjoying it a lot. After that will probably be Atiq Rahimi’s A Curse on Dostoevsky.

The Feast of the Goat, Mario Vargas Llosa

From 1930 to 1961, the Dominican Republic was ruled by a military strongman named Raphael Trujillo, also known as The Goat. Contradictions defined Trujillo’s rule. He established environmental protections and allowed a middle class to prosper, but eliminated personal liberties and brutally punished any dissent. He granted refuge to European Jews fleeing the Nazis, but promoted a racially-charged anti-Haitian ideology that culminated in the slaughter of thousands of Haitians. He restored Dominican pride in themselves and independence from US occupation, but oppressed them. Political opponents were killed outright or disappeared, their bodies never found, yet Trujillo was a staunch ally of the United States first against Hitler and then Communism and the D.R. was a charter member of the United Nations. Trujillo’s family in particular flourished, despite their mistakes and flaws. This period is known as the Feast of the Goat.

Llosa’s novel is an exploration of these paradoxes and memory, centered on the last year of Trujillo’s reign. The narrative consists of three distinct timelines, two from 1961 and one from 1995, with the later arc forming a frame for the overall story.

Thirty five years after Trujillo’s death, Urania Cabral, the daughter of one of The goat’s most loyal ministers, returns to the D.R. for the first time since she left as a teenager and is immediately swept back into the trauma that precipitated her exile and her excommunicating her family. Those events and thus her memories fit into the context of the other two narratives: Trujillo’s desperate bid to cling to power against internal dissent, international pressure, the incompetence of his family, and the inevitability of aging; and the assassins on the night of their coup. Llosa slowly weaves these three timelines together, bringing them closer and closer until they meet in the assassination of Trujillo, the purges that followed, and the subsequent creation of the modern Dominican state.

Like another of Llosa’s book, The War of the end of the World, the core events of The Feast of the Goat really happened and could be considered more appropriately the province of non fiction. however, Llosa is not primarily interested in causation or change or social structure. His story is much more visceral. Llosa’s tale evokes the experience of life during Trujillo’s dictatorship and the transition, examining the processes and changes on a personal, extremely limited level and thereby bypassing the events as a historian would look at them. Llosa builds on the internal contradictions of Trujillo’s D.R. through the medium of memory in order to explore the characters. Trujillo dies, but it is hard to say the story has a happy ending. Everyone suffers.

I knew nothing about Trujillo and little about the D.R. (other than baseball) when I picked up this book, but am looking forward to reading Julia Alvarez’ In the Time of Butterflies, which focuses on one of Trujillo’s particular atrocities, the assassination of the Mirabal sisters.

As I said in reviewing The War of the End of the World, Llosa is an incredible storyteller and, with Orhan Pamuk, is one of my favorite currently-living high literature authors. The added caveats are for simplicity’s sake. I am currently reading Pamuk’s The Black Book and wanted to take a moment to compare the two nobel laureates, whose subject matter and writing styles differ wildly, but whose interests in identity and memory overlap. Llosa is the easier author to love. He paints with every color of the rainbow in sharp, graphic quality every experience and image from the most grotesque suffering to the most titillating encounter to the most poignant loss. At his best, both here and in The Bad Girl, Llosa meshes all three into a single scene. The story can be understated, but the writing itself is not. Llosa’s style tends toward the straight forward and brash, drawing the reader forward with the sheer charisma of the characters. In contrast, Pamuk’s style is understated and subtle. Other than in My Name is Red, where bright colors are central to the story itself, he prefers the muted and the drab. Not shabby, but shades of gray that make colors all the more potent when they appear. His stories give the reader nothing certain, with a path to follow and the answers eternally a step into the darkness.