I’ve finished all the books listed in my previous post, but getting them all neatly tucked in on the blog is quite another matter. So I’ll resort to a wrap-up review just in time before getting to eat snails, frogs and foie gras, as is expected from merry French people at the end of a full year.
- Jean-François Parot, L’année du Volcan (2013) (the Year of the volcano, not yet translated)
Indulging in another Le Floch mystery within 3 months? It seems too much, but in fact it was exactly what I needed (always better than overindulging with ice cream or snacks these days… and I feel a lot less guilty).
The last book by J.F. Parot I’d read during summer had a slightly bad aftertaste (not bad, but you know, perhaps one too many in a long, long series), and I was in a hurry to get over this impression, because I was indeed convinced it was a small misstep in an otherwise flawless rendition of 18th century France.
I was right to persevere: the next one is back to its usual (very high) standards. And good news, Le Floch has gotten over his burn-out. 1783 saw weird climatic events linked to a volcanic eruption in Iceland, and people in France took the thick haze, bad consequences on crops and health as a bad omen for the regime of King Louis 16th and Queen Marie-Antoinette. A regime that didn’t actually need any more bad news, given that it was already close to bankruptcy after lavish expenses from the royals and a bad economy. Doesn’t it sound all too resonant with nowadays? Parot obviously plays with the comparison, but doesn’t forget to build a strong plot around the murder of a courtesan close to the Queen, who might have been associated with shady money laundering schemes. Le Floch is summoned by the Queen to investigate and protect her (already bad enough) reputation.
I quite enjoyed reading this book in close association with Chantal Thomas’ Farewell My Queen. Both echoed one another, but Le Floch luckily does not stay in the confined little world of Versailles, he travels back and forth between the town of Paris, and the true feelings of the middle and lower classes, and the palace’s intrigues. So that he has a better view of how bad the country is really going.
- Philip Kerr, A Quiet Flame (2009)
I don’t particularly read books in order, and this is a case where I regretted it. I had jumped from The One from the Other to If the Dead Rise Not, and I had skipped the Argentinian stay of our battered hero Bernie Gunther. Argentina and Nazis seemed a much-clichéd association, until this book got me to fully realize how real and deeply troubling that association was for the immediate post-war world. I kept remembering a very disturbing book about the Argentinian Desaparecidos which I read a few years ago. In A Quiet Flame, Kerr apparently bases much of his historical details on the research book by an Argentinian journalist Uki Goñi, The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Peron’s Argentina (2002). It was as scary as fascinating.
- Slavenka Drakulic, How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed (1987, 1993)
A book I bought early this year while in Zagreb, Croatia. It is a collection of short essays about daily life under Communist regimes, especially viewed from a woman’s angle. It tells of deprivation, or lack of privacy, the ubiquitous sense of being under surveillance, but with a very down-to-earth approach that appealed to me. It was a bit outdated (published just at the eve of the terrible Yugoslavian war), but still worth reading. She argues that a regime unable to provide for half its population’s most basic needs, especially sanitary napkins and tampons, was somehow doomed to fail sooner or later. What may seem like a trivial detail is at the contrary quite meaningful, since these male-dominated regimes kept promising glorious futures, but never managed to deliver something concrete. She also swiftly ridicules Western feminists who visited Eastern Europe with grand ideas but completely missed the reality of women’s struggles under Communism.
- Sarah Rose, For All the Tea in China (2009)
It is a promising book, but how messy it is! It feels as if the writer had enjoyed some much her research that she wanted to put everything in, even if it had a remote link to the main subject. For example, she explains how tea was shipped from China back to Europe together with cargos of china, and then goes on to digress for pages about how ships were built, then how china was invented, etc etc. It was highly frustrating for a hurried reader who wants her to get to the point, but if you’re willing to be patient and forgiving, this is a book that teaches plenty. As a bonus, she made me remember that 15 years ago I visited tea plantations and a tea factory in Taiwan, something I’d totally misunderstood at that time.
Rachel Cusk’s controversial motherhood memoir, A Life’s Work will wait for another year because it warrants a post of its own and I haven’t quite made up my mind about it yet.
In the meantime, I wish you all a very happy new year!