Jun. 2nd, 2015

winterbadger: (books)
Shinju by Laura Joh Rowland (24) Though this author's work is a cut above I.J. Parker's (there seems at least a modicum of recognition of Shogunate Japan being a different place and time, with a different culture and sensibility), there seem still a woodenness of character and an overabundance of exposition and explicit internal dialogue than I would say characterizes good fiction. If I'm conscious that I'm sitting outside the character, watching him or her declaim their impressions and reactions, rather than be immersed in the character feeling and seeing those reactions from the inside, something is wrong, to my way of thinking. The plot was fairly predictable, the characters believable but not overly engaging. I'm not going to pursue these authors.

Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst (25). This is the fourth of Furst's novels that I've read (unless I'm losing count), and it's as enjoyable as ever other has been. It describes the events before and after the entry of Greece into World War Two, as seen through the eyes of a Greek police officer in the city of Salonika. What I find compelling about Furst's writing includes his characters, his settings, his narrative and structural style, and the overall air he imbues his stories with. His characters are usually sketched out in what looks on the surface like a rough, superficial way; but the author conveys a great deal about his people by their reactions to events, their interactions with each other, and the way they live in the world. Instead of telling you about them, he shows you them. Though they are sometimes introspective, their internal thoughts sound convincingly like the thoughts any one of us might have, rather than being self-consciously dramatic monologues, rehearsed and broadcast clumsy soliloquies. His settings are perfect; I'm not a student of the physical and social culture of mid-20th century Europe, but these convey a sense of place and time that gives every appearance of being both genuine and not overdone. Sights, smells, sounds flow into you from the page; you absorb the sentiments and attitudes of the people and cultures the characters wander through.

And all of Furst's novels that I've read so far have something of the air of "a day in the life"; they do not usually begin with a dramatic event or end with the finality of a completed epic. They introduce you to a protagonist well along in their life, established with a past, traveling toward a future. And while the events of the story that the book involves are generally wrapped up within its pages, there is no feeling that those characters are done. They have the rest of their lives (long or short) to go on with; you have walked together this far, and now it is time to part. But not an ending.

And I wish I could describe better what it is that I find so perfect about his stories, but the best I can do is this: they are fiction, but they feel true. They're stories, but you feel almost as if these characters were doing, have done, will do all these things whether you pick up the book and open it or not. They're your glimpse into someone else's life. I wish I could write so well.

In Progress

Dark Star by Alan Furst
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by Julian Thompson
Berlin Diary by William Shirer
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter
Master and God by Lindsey Davis
1914: The Days of Hope by Lyn MacDonald

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