The-Sound-of-Things-Falling-Book-Cover1The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Bloomsbury)

I was moved by something in this book that I have not read quite in this way before: the relationship of the individual to their country when that country is a place of violence and uncertaintly, even though it is not at war.

Colombia, in recent history, was the world’s drug central with druglords practically making the rules and ruling the country. The people of Bogota, the main city, lived perilously and in fear. What effect does this have on the individual? How does the constant threat of harm insert itself between strangers and wedge itself between lovers?

The narrator, prickled by a media story in 2009 about an escaped hippopotamus recalls a fatal meeting, decades earlier, with a pilot.

Informative, resonant for South Africans, stimulating, effortlessly themed, engrossing and sensitive, this story- in which many of the events actually happened – will make you want to know a lot more about Colombia.

ancient-lightAncient Light by John Banville (Viking)

Banville’s books are a weave of overlapping characters and Ancient Light provides yet another thread. However, the book stands wholly on its own and, while I appreciated its density and almost exaggerated poetic language, I don’t imagine it’s everyone’s cup of tea.

Alex Cleave is an ageing actor recalling – at the same time that he is asked to star in a movie about a sinister man named Axel Vander – an affair he had as a teenager with his best friend’s mother.

The anagrammatic names are an indication that nothing can be taken at face value in Alex’s recollection, and the narrator teases himself constantly with the veracity of memory.

The book’s greatest joy is the earthy sensuousness with which the physical relationship is recounted.While the self-awareness of the author’s approach is at times intrusive, the sum is entrancing.

toby's roomToby’s Room by Pat Barker (Hamish Hamilton)

Elinor Brooke, who studies at the Slade in London in the early part of the last century, rigidly refuses to get involved in the abominable war that descends on Europe.

But as it drags awfully towards its end she is drawn in and begins work with Henry Tonks – a forbidding, exacting surgeon and artist, and a previous tutor of hers – working at a hospital concerned with facial reconstruction for wounded soldiers.

While Barker examines on one level the role of the artist in war, she also pits herself against war’s ability to fundamentally change the landscapes of lives, of inner worlds, and of relationships. And she does this without compromising the plot. It is harrowing stuff, but told with powerful restraint, engaging the reader intellectually, emotionally and viscerally. Do not skip the author’s note at the end.

Posted under: Book Reviews

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  • sandra murphy on January 23, 2013 at 10:27 am said:

    Hi Karin – I am wondering whether you have a review on the book “Swimming Home” ?, which I read in December & really loved.

    • KarinSchimke on January 23, 2013 at 10:43 am said:

      Hi Sandra, I’ve just posted a short review of the book

      It is not a discussion of the book per se, but it would be nice to hear what you thought of it. I read and enjoyed it too, but I find it hard to remember why. I must get into the habit of writing notes about books I’ve read even if I don’t have to write reviews on them.