Book reviews Critiques littéraires Books recently published in english and french.

dimanche 28 juin 2009

JUNOT DIAZ, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Pulitzer Prize, 2009

An anti family epic and the ultimate anti hero. Oscar is not a play boy nor is he a homerunner in baseball as all immigrant males should be apparently among Hispanics. He is a fat little kid spoilt by his family, weird and ugly,who grows up a loser and a nerd. Worse, as an intelligent child, he is profoundly miserable all his life in Paterson , N.J. where he does'nt fit , remains a loner who reads all the time, writes stories and plays hi tech games , and never lands a girl friend during his entire life. I must say that Dominicans in general are painted here as the most awful Hispanics, possibly the most awful Caribbean's of all : Diaz calls them" obnoxious Negroes" obsessed by sex , brutality and insane rivalry or sexy broads constantly hustling and angling at getting the most prized male; poor Oscar does not have a chance.

Now, are poor neighborhoods high schools really that moronic, is male virginity ( not being able to score ) such a heinous shame and are athletic achievements so needed , in order to survive ? Probably and we are made to live this nightmare along with Oscar and his family where the women are tough fighters and economic struggle is the rule. The rhythm of the book is fast; it is high speed ,rambunctious and comical; it reads like a movie . One hopes that Oscar can find a little place in the sun and survive in the rat race, but no, he cannot. He dies young,just 23 years old sand till hoping to be happy, poor little slob, having not lived yet and it is absolutely awful.

This nice and harmless kid is killed by Dominican thugs , beaten to death in a sugar cane field, unprotected by his naive gentleness and idiotic pursuit of a fruitless amorous adventure. Diaz shows us quite clearly the horrors of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in the sixties , which was like Kosovo, a dangerous bloody place from which one flees to emigrate to the USA. In New York and New Jersey , any immigrant is a citizen who can live in peace even if he remains a loser ; losers are the salt of the earth . Diaz does not recognize this reality ,he is writing a book on mean failure and on the horrors of immigration in a country where all aim at success , wealth, sex, and happiness in a ceaseless competition . What a nightmare.

mercredi 24 juin 2009

Milan Kundera, Une rencontre, Gallimard, 2009

Ceci est un recueil intéressant mais inégal de souvenirs de jeunesse à Prague, de rencontres d'artistes vivants occidentaux ou d'intellectuels martiniquais influencés par André Breton par ex, et puis d'essais littéraires sur des grandes figures d'Europe centrale telles que Janacek ou Broch .

L'essai sur Francis Bacon est remarquable : Kundera remarque que la comparaison faite constamment sur le désespoir entre Bacon et Beckett ( à la fureur de Bacon), est erronée car Bacon est en réalité un optimiste qui croit en la peinture, qu'il emploie encore tous les instruments de son art ( le pinceau et la toile), observation pointue, de même que Beckett écrit encore un théâtre d'auteur . Il est vrai que les peintres contemporains sont des vidéastes ou des publicistes du genre Warhol ; n'importe quelle exposition contemporaine le montre abondamment. Bacon pour Kundera est un grand triste, seul de son espèce, tourné vers le passé plutôt que vers le futur, ne se faisant aucune illusion sur l'histoire de la peinture et de la littérature .Tous deux vivent, avec Beckett ,la fin d'une civilisation .

Chez Bacon, la confrontation brutale ne se fait pas avec la société ou l'état, mais avec la matérialité du corps de l'homme.D'où ces corps sanglants, ces blessés animaux ou humains et ces visages brisés dans son œuvre. Bacon parle tout à fait sérieusement de la grande beauté de la viande chez les bouchers par exemple. ( il faut y penser, mais nous sommes en fait dégoutée par le sang ; pas lui.)

Bacon se réclame de l'histoire de l'art dans sa totalité, il descend au fond de Picasso qu'il admire beaucoup. Mais Picasso était ludique et euphorique tandis que chez Bacon, la main du peintre se pose d'un geste brutal sur un corps ou un visage ; « Il y a de l'effroi devant ce que nous sommes dans son art » comme il y a du viol cette manière de peindre le moi enfoui des sujets .Ce diamant caché, dit Kundera, cette « pépite d'or » qu'est le moi d'un visage. Très bien vu., essai remarquable.

E nsuite Kundera connait très bien la musique, il parle avec beaucoup de sensibilité de Xenakis , de Janacek évidemment, et de Varese, tous des compositeurs difficiles. Je pense qu'il joue d'un instrument lui-même, car il parle en connaisseur de la musique ; celle de Xenakis particulièrement, tellement étrange et dépourvue de sentimentalité, lui procura plaisir et soulagement au moment le plus noir de sa vie (l'occupation de la Tchécoslovaquie par les Russes). Il insère des morceaux de partitions dans son texte à la louange de Janacek, dont il trouve les opéra , déchirants. l'Europe centrale ,dont il est l'héritier , a voué un culte à l'opéra du 19e siècle qui est souvent tombé dans le kitch, dernier avatar du Romantisme, que notre auteur se garde d'admirer.Rien sur Wagner ici..

Ce recueil est toujours intelligent ,perspicace , nostalgique et si varié que c'est un plaisir de le lire .Quand Malaparte est évoqué, auteur complètement oublié de nos jours, c'est l'importance des morts , la présence armée, américaine , énorme ,rayonnante et invaincue dans cette Italie exsangue, qui nous dit que l'Europe nouvelle en sortira changée pour toujours : américanisée .

dimanche 21 juin 2009

Jhumpa Lahiri, « Unaccustomed Earth », Bloomsbury ,2008

Jhumpa Lahiri, « Unaccustomed Earth », Bloomsbury ,2008

Excellent group of short stories about Bengali and Indian exiles and immigrants into northeastern academia in the US , that shows their difficult adaptation, their nostalgia for India , as well as their extraordinary expectation towards the chosen land . They are all eager to prove themselves and their imagined superiority, awaiting recognition of their unusual talents. They all without exception ,want to go to Harvard as a right , or an equivalent Ivy league college, and are incredibly snob about what they consider their due .That Harvard is he very best only does not occur to them and that others are better than they are is not possible .Their bourgeois background in India hardly prepares them for the American meritocratic system , its severe competition and its unavoidable cruelty towards the human failures .

The first story tell us how difficult it is to strike new roots in a new earth (hence the title, "unaccustomed earth") and grow things. A first generation immigrant man after a life time in Pennsylvania as an engineer., goes to visit his daughter out west in Seattle and although the west is foreign to him, avoids carefully her allusions to retiring with them in the " Indian way " (showing how American he has become and how little India now means to him now ) .He is content to grow a garden for her to care for when he has gone back home in the East . Her bafflement is sincere and her disappointment also since she is less autonomous than her father and thinks that somehow letting an old man live his own life, is betraying her dead mother and Indian traditional family ties. The father is also hiding a nascent love affair with a middle aged Bengali lady he has recently met, another infringement upon the role of the patriarch in India.

So, in all the stories, there is ambiguity and a betrayal of old customs in the new country and everyone is wondering where to go and how to assuage frustrations. One is not American as yet and not Indian or Bengali any more either. The return to India every summer becomes an ordeal for all indo –American teen agers who do not enjoy the company of all these wailing relatives in Bombay, showering you with sweets. They are vaguely ashamed of their foreign manners and silly cries..

A recent immigrant Indian student who after 5 or 6 years in the US, marries an American girl and not an Indian one chose by his parents at home, with sari and veil is seen as a traitor . A suitor who in non indian but speaks with a British accent is better that one who has an American accent. A son who does not become a surgeon, a lawyer or a scientist is seen as a shameful by his parents afraid of the judgment of other Bengalis . Success at all costs is a necessity and the highest accomplishments are an obligation, failure is only American , Indians exiles are not supposed to fail ever. All these derogatory judgments on the country which has welcomed you are amazingly rude and obnoxious, common to all immigrants perhaps but appear particularly ferocious amongst the community depicted by Lahiri , and to readers quite shocking .One becomes incensed by the pretentiousness and cruelty of these people blinded by their need for recognition and their Indian snobbery.

Lahiri describes all this with cold clarity and ironic detachment, neither apologizing nor judging her people . She shows quite a bit of compassion towards her characters and understand their plight. Immigration is perhaps harder for educated people and old cultures than for ^the poor and truly downtrodden from barbarous lands, who appreciate American generosity and openness, without complex. On the other hand, no Indian or Bengali was ever found to be a terrorist amongst their community as the recently arrived Somalis or Pakistani, Muslims it is true, turned out o be in the attacks of the London Subway . These indo Bengali exiles do not murder or attack, they simply despise most American customs as inferior and rather vulgar , and they want to be superior at all costs .They do succeed and work very hard indeed; universities reward them with degrees and good faculty positions, but they are rarely liked by colleagues or neighbors. They resemble a little Jewish immigrants of the past without their sense of humor "à la Woody Allen.", but with the same determination to wrestle the best of the new land and become one day proud new citizens.



Siri Hustvedt « The Sorrows of an American « 2008.

Siri Hustvedt «  The Sorrows of an American «  2008.

A book of origins and a haunting revisiting of Norwegian ancestors, common both to the author and the hero of this book, Eric Davidson , a Brooklyn psychoanalyst who is in the throes of a huge midlife crisis. Not only is he divorced, lonely, loveless and horny, but he has just lost his father and is wallowing in grief; the load is heavy and so is the book which tackles surely too many plots and subplots as the life of his widowed sister, another deeply troubled New Yorker professor, and his own failed love affair with a Jamaican beauty living next door. The story of the father's life would be enough for one book.

But this book is wonderful and profoundly moving as a tale of the agony of such a personal crisis where everything just about collapses in your inner world.

Thus, we have a powerful and very personal sort of auto biography in the guise of a male hero Eric, who is a part of Hustvedt's personality. In her recent auto biographical work," Plea for Eros" , she reveals her journey to becoming a writer and her extraordinary attachment to her Minnesota family of immigrant Norwegian farmers , and also her recurrent dreams of being a man . These dreams of being a man occur in great moments of self doubt and insecurity .Now, what are specifically the "sorrows" of this one American man, who is obsessed with his parent's plight during the depression and their ruin on the farm. A disappeared life from the landscape of Minnesota is his legacy.

First, in this search for a secure identity, there is the loss of an idealized country life in rural Minnesota, a 19th century model of honesty, self help, austere protestant thrift and virtue where everyone lives in harmony with nature. The great American nostalgia for the small farm re appears here with however a flaw: the hidden drama in the father's life, which is the crux of Eric's search and also his obsession. Whatever happened to Lars Davidsen to make him so secretive and silent; who was the father? Eric, the son, looks through the notes and family archives, enlists his sister's help and flies back to Minnesota to interview aged relatives, relentlessly questioning the past till the secret is revealed. The father had apparently an illegitimate baby daughter with his teen ager sweet heart lisa, , who was still born and buried secretly in the woods. The baby, was in fact not his but , of another boy, but Lars helped the delivery and swore to Lisa secrecy about it .. Poor young Lars carried this terrible shameful knowledge, a lone, and assumed the role of the guilty father all his life being truthful to a whorish ex girlfriend .

This knowledge shatters Eric and his sister, the dream of the wonderful prairie life is gone, but still the father, who appears now as a ghost in his dreams, eludes him as our parents inner life always eludes us when we try to see them as they really were. We all have secrets unrevealed to anyone; Eric must tread the path of his adult complicated life on his own, admitting the past mixing with the contemporary: his patients, his new lover, his sister and niece.. This demanding puzzle is what we all have to deal with everyday of our lives




Courlande, de Jean Paul Kauffmann,2009.

Courlande, de Jean Paul Kauffmann,2009.


Livre splendide d'un lyrisme étonnant sur un voyage dans une région perdue de l'Europe du Nord, la Lettonie, dont la côte sur la baltique fut anciennement un grand duché de Courlande, occupée par des barons germano-baltes qui descendaient des chevaliers teutoniques . Donc d' un grand passé militaire et médiéval, il reste aujourd'hui après la domination tsariste et puis sovietique, qui laissa derrière elle des vestiges militaires polluant, une série impressionnante de châteaux abandonnés dans de vastes jardins couverts d'arbres gigantesques.

L'auteur s'en va faire un reportage à la recherche d'un pays qui n'existe pas, d'habitants morts, de descendants de serfs révoltés lors de la révolution russe de 1905 qui ne parlent que letton et sont farouches et surtout de la légende qui baigne cette région de forets, de grèves désertes,de villages munis d'églises luthériennes et de musées vides de beaux objets.. Récit fascinant d'un esprit curieux et aventureux, qui rappelle la manière de voyager de Montaigne ou même Chateaubriand dans la beauté du style , les citations, l' émergence de souvenirs historiques et les conversations avec les personnages rencontrés sur la route tel un professeur allemand à la recherches de son père mort au champ de bataille de la terrible guerre de 40. Etrange pèlerinage dans ce pays de lumière étincelante en juin , où il n'y a pas de nuit , peuplé de fantômes qui surgissent d'un passé qui affleure ci ou là, au gré des récits sortis des livres de Keyserling par exemple,ou des recherches de personnages qui apparaissent et disparaissent aussitôt.

Kauffmann nous avait prévenu : la Courlande en tant que région définie n'existe pas, elle est un mystère et même en y habitant en hiver dans la neige et le vent, elle est insaisissable comme l'Ecosse ou les iles Féroé.Nous sommes en Europe mais la substance intérieure historique et stylistique n'y est pas, c'est le contraire de l'Italie . Oui, la Courlande est «  méconnaissable « à ce visiteur pourtant si averti et si cultivé, qui est sensible à sa beauté austère et à son dénuement. Le pays est provincial, seul, et très pauvre et essayant de sauvegarder son passé glorieux .issu de barons germano baltes encore détestés aujourd'hui.

Pays de nullle part qui ne pouvait exister que dans un livre mémoriel et dans le miroitement de l'illusion ; le lecteur est envouté. Livre qui me rappelait constamment les » Mémoires d'Outretombe « dans son style narratif et ses évocations, et l'affleurement constant de l'âme de l'écrivain dans le texte.





This volume contains 5 short stories all in the first person, relating small incidents in the narrator's everyday life where he or she is confronted to the inscrutability of another person ,and thus a very thick ambiguity pervades all these stories. The hero is uneasy and tries to understand what goes on, but in vain. So, he asks himself this question : how can we know anyone really and why our certainties about other s, who often are old friends, keep surging time and again. It is very subtle as Ishiguro always is and this psychological obstacle amongst people is a very troubling feeling.

The reader sees misunderstandings amongst old friends that can be very funny but also very upsetting in the sense that no one really communicates with another properly in Ishiguro's world?. We are alone with our own feelings, our conception of the world and mainly our visions of ourselves . We all seem to live under illusions of what our image can be in the minds of our friends and relatives. Often we are seen as utter fools and if we learn this by chance, we are hurt beyond belief and ache to correct this false image. But in vain; it is irretrievable. no one wants to believe us if we say that we are fine and well. Terrible world but a comical effect is found; I found myself laughing hysterically at some clownish scenes, almost like a home movie of gags. Ishiguro can be very funny indeed and this is a surprise.

This volume is a little like Murakami stories where the narrator is remote, a little on the side watching what goes on around him and making you smile , and even laugh. An exquisite writer, and a careful observer of human foibles and follies, Ishiguro is fascinated by the secret workings of human relationship. Comforting normality does not exist among humans.



WHITE TIGER , by Aravind Adiga,2008 , and 2009 Booker Prize,



Now this book is very funny and terribly cynical in an Indian literature which has not so far given us bitter satire and self derision to that level ; in this sense it is healthy and lucid. The new Indian society is a corrupt ,unfair vastly unequal one, and as incredibly cruel to the poor as the old society.This year, the Oscar winning film " Slumdog millionaire" gave us also ( to the discontent of Indian public opinion) a whiff of that unbelievable cruelty and meanness towards the poor and uneducated. That aspect of Indian culture is always a shock to western readers.The story is a simple poor man journey to success: how to become an entrepreneur in the Silicone valley of India where technology and outsourcing are flourishing : Bangalore; success even if one has committed a murder on the way …. ( he killed his own boss on the road, and stole his money bag )The success of a criminal being part of this wild satire on developing nations like India and China," now that we are in the 21 st century which belongs to the yellow man and the brown man" , as White Tiger ( the hero)says in his letter to the Chinese Premier . Because the book is an epistolary novel , in the form of letters sent to the Chinese Premier, a language that neither White Tiger nor Wen Jiabao can speak. Ha ! In the same vein, the most useful English phrase you must use when being an entrepreneur was indicated to Tiger's by the wife of his late boss, aptly called ' Pink madam : what a fucking joke . That is his programme , his motto is clear : the Indian entrepreneur has to be" straight and crooked , mocking and believing, sly and sincere at the same time" .The auto biography of a half baked Indian, that could be the title of his story ( his words) because these entrepreneurs are never allowed to finish their schooling, which means you have to work when you are 12 years old (Tiger is the son of a rickshaw puller)and lead the life of a indentured slave to your employer. So much humiliation and exploitation of the poor and uneducated is described all throughout his tale as a chauffeur to the rich,that one wonders how more employees do not kill their masters !

Total hatred towards all others even your co workers saturates Indian society ,except for fierce family loyalty that borders on the ferocious and soon tires the reade gets bored It is difficult to keep any level of humor in this atmosphere ; this writer is not a new Dickens with his constant drollery and comical descriptions of diabolical cruelty . He is repetitious in his violently insulting remarks of the Chinese Premier ( the" yellow face " epithet can be satirical) to whom he writes , and in his diatribe against the so called Indian democracy; he hates all the hypocrisy but is not sufficiently bitter to make us care, We finally find all of this tale despicable, grotesque even, not particularly funny because all this societal psychodrama is beyond the pale and appears as a national psychosis. Survival of the fittest and the worst indeed. May be you can only laugh bitterly at Indian globalization crisis or weep .


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Brussels, Belgium
Née à Bruxelles, mère résistante et sculpteur, père homme d’affaires, études à l ’Université libre de Bruxelles ( Philosophie et Lettres ; arts primitifs), puis à Harvard ( anthropologie), Rutgers New Brunswick, Duke University .N.C. USA ( littérature comparée, Masters et Doctorat.) Thèse publiée (Ph.D) sur Valéry et Mallarmé. Enseignement universitaire aux USA, en France (Aix en Provence) et au Liban (comme coopérant) ,littérature et philosophie , en français ou anglais. Mariée en premières noces à un avocat américain G.Robert Wills et puis à un peintre et publiciste Français, Jean- Pierre Rhein (décédé). La plupart des publications sous le nom de Wills.Vit à Bruxelles.