Friday, 25 September 2015

New books. (Warning to sensitive readers regarding third book)

I love Hilary Mantel as a child: so early an adult in her own way. Else: great language. Worth rereading. Drugs, school and family life in focus. The drugs were the result of maltreatment, though. In the70's, only doctors could say what the side effects were (unless you read about it in a book, which Mantel eventually did and a doctor mistook her for a doctor...). It is only now that medications come with rigorous labels. Giving up the Ghost: A Memoir is the original title.
When visiting Sweden some time ago, Kim Thúy said in an interview that a friend of hers had read this book (which originally is in French) and had the impression of having done so in Vietnamese. The words were put in such arrangement that made the Vietnamese soul and language visible. I can unfortunately not comment on that reference, even though almost every page in this book carries a new Vietnamese word that has the main "role" in each semi-chapter - with translation - but nevertheless praise this oeuvre. It is like powerful poetry, but light as the feather-like snowflakes on the cover. Man has a precursor: Ru, which I would like to read very soon.
War's Unwomanly Face, or "У войны не женское лицо", consists of assemblied stories about how women participated in the Second World War. It took Svetlana Aleksievich years and years to visit and talk to about 200 women, and the publishing houses wanted in their censoring her to say how great the war was, as the result was Victory. "After this book", they said, "nobody will want to fight anymore." But it is not about medals and numbers - each story is another horror mirror that shows how terrible any war is! Women drowned their newborns to not draw the attention of the German's to the squad. Nurses stripped bare to compress wounds of injured soldiers when they had no equipment left and had to bite off veins and arms when there was no knife to amputate with. A doctor had worked for 72 hours straight and dropped into such a deep sleep that he was unwakable when he was needed to (maybe) save (another) soldier's life. He did not even wake up when they shot a gun next to his ear. SO MUCH DEATH. And so many brave young girls that quit school to shoot and fight and were very competent but frowned at - just because they were girls. Many told them that nobody would marry them if they went (!) and many feared that their faces would get damaged (as this would mean at this time that nobody would lok at them after war was over). After the war was over, teams spent another six years of unmining waters and fields and people who had seen countries outside of USSR were sent to prison to not be able to tell in how much better shape roads and infrastucture is in Germany.

There also was so much love and understanding - kissing the soil of a loving person's tomb is just not enough words to explain it. Women that wrote letters to Aleksievich said " I have to stop... I can not see what I am writing beacuse of my tears..." "thank you for making me remembering my youth again..."


Setting: I am reading this book on the train. Next to me and across are three English-speaking friends, aged ~60, which I see for the first time in my life. Doors are closing, when a young man manages to slide in last second and comes to stand next to us.
Man, ~25 (addressing Man 1, ~60): "It is like in Mission Impossible! I have come to exchange information with you in Russian." (Big smile.)
Man, ~60: "You got the wrong wagon. It is the next one."
Me: "I am actually the one speaking Russian." (I hold up the book.)
Man, ~60: "Is that in Russian? Are you studying Russian?"
Me: "No. I am Russian by origin. This is a book by Ukranian Svetlana Aleksievitch. She interviews people to find out what the world war really was like. It is not about how many weapons were produced, or dry numbers, but what actually happened." (Touching as hell.)
Man, ~60: "Which war?"
Me: "The second."
Man, ~60: "How many were killed?"
Me: "20 millions."
Woman, ~60: "I thought it was 10."
Man, ~60: "In the sixities, when your parents barely were born, one could order 100 grams of vodka, or 200 grams of Vodka. This was at the Metropolitan."
Me: "How strange that they said 'grams' and not 'milliliters'!"
Man, ~60: "But that is how they did it."
Me: "Did you know that 'water' in Russian is 'voda'?"
Man 2, ~60: "That is an expensive mistake to make."
Woman, ~60: "Where did you learn your English?" (Turns out she is British.)

Conclusion: read Russian books, everyone.

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