Archive for June 2011
I’ve recently discovered a new online magazine called Words Without Borders. It publishes stories, poems, graphic stories, etc. that are English translations of works originally written in other languages. (Always near and dear to my heart because I feel my exposure to non-English literature is spotty at best.) Unfortunately, the percentage of women authors featured in the magazine is as strong as I would have liked.
Many of the translations can be viewed side-by-side with the story in its original language. Here’s the page for None of Your Business by Natalia Klyuchareva. I’m fascinated that the original Russian story is so much shorter than the translation. (I think perhaps the end of the story is missing. Otherwise, Russian is a marvelously concise language. Possibly both.)
This is a rather grim story of a boy with alcoholic parents who one day locks his parents out of their flat and refuses to let them back in. Remarkably, it sticks and his parents go on to freeload from friends until they drift away.
Everyone was waiting for Yurka to break. The longer this didn’t happen, the less they sympathized with him. The Krivovs had already attracted the general sympathy.
They lived by migrating among their numerous relatives. They drank, complained about the “monster,” and drank again—until their hosts, out of their wits over their drinking, showed them the door. Then they went on their way. Little by little they moved so far from their own home that even old lady Faya, who knew everything about everyone, lost track of them.
And life goes on for the son who was only in middle school when he evicted his parents – he takes in a lodger and makes ends meet, barely, but the weight of his parents is always in him and something that he carries alone.
The story is rich and grounded in detail, but at the same time almost magical:
When he got back from vacation, Gerka had a gut feeling that something was very wrong. Sparks of a scandal filled the air. Even his hair seemed electrified and stood on end, and his hands, magnetized, stuck to each other.
In the end, family ties are inescapable, and redemption of the parents and the child is, at best, illusion.
On another topic, there’s been a lot of discussion around the internets about the dreadful lack of women in the SF Masterworks series (there are more titles by Philip K. Dick than all women combined) and now there’s a blog devoted to SF Mistressworks (dreadful name, I know.) The only thing I take umbrage with is that young adult SF is not allowed. *shakes cranky old man fist of internet rage* Of course, looking at both proposed Mistressworks list and the Masterworks list, there’s a couple that when I read them I thought they were YA ….
There seems to be a flood of YA dystopian novels these days centered around teens needing to make a decision (or having a decision thrust upon them) when they turn sixteen(ish). As teens of that age are deep into the whole college application hysteria and the sense that the whole rest of your life hinges on this one thing has to be a large part of why books of this type are so popular.
In Matched by Ally Condie people find out their soul mate. In Delirium by Lauren Oliver, people get their ability to love removed. In Enclave by Ann Aguirre, it’s getting a name and learning her career. I could go on and on.
The latest hot book of this type is Divergent by Veronica Roth. In this particular world, the population has divided itself up into five sects which each focus on a single virtue: Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite. There’s also the sectless – the fringes (and downtrodden) of society who failed their initiation into one of the five sects.
Beatrice was born as part of Abnegation, the sect which favors selflessness. She’s not terribly successful at it and yearns to join one of the other sects. During her testing it turns out that she doesn’t have a natural affinity for one of the sects – rather she what’s known as “Divergent” and those in power fear the Divergent as they are free thinkers who are unpredictable.
Tris (as she renames herself) ends up choosing the Dauntless and for most of the book it reminded me a fair amount of Ender’s Game with its pointless competitions and brutality. There is also the obligatory love interest thing where Tris becomes involved with her initiation instructor. (He’s only two years older so it is less creepy than it might be.)
For the most part, I enjoyed this portion of the book – while a number of the kids might as well have “evil” stamped on their heads, there are some interesting interactions among the new initiates. (In particular, when Tris realizes that her friends are much more friendly when they can perceive her as small and weak, but once she excels their feelings change – one to the point that he assists in an attempt to kill her.) Plus, they abseil off the Sears Tower.
I had just about convinced myself that the book would basically end with the initiation – I assumed there would be another attempt on her life/a big standoff where she kicks the ass of the biggest of the bullies.
What I got instead was whiplash. There is a sudden shift to a revolution where all the Dauntless are mind-controlled by the Erudite and attack the Abnegation. In quick succession Tris’s Mom and Dad both die, along with a number of her initiation mates and former friends in the Abnegation. She is able to steal the code for the simulation and at the end she and her boyfriend are on the run.
This whole sequence felt like it almost could have been its own novel and I definitely thought it deserved more space than was devoted to it. (Especially since the pacing in the first half of the novel is rather lackadaisical.) This rush job of a revolution really didn’t work for me.
 I assume wasn’t just me who felt like this.