for 2007 was The Landscape of Love
, by Sally Beauman. It was absorbing, if somewhat odd.
I stayed up until 2:30 this morning finishing book #28
, The Namesake
, by Jhumpa Lahiri. I loved her book of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies
, but the novel is even better. It is my favorite kind of book - about immigrants, people relating across cultures, identity. It is filled with perfectly chosen details that make every character, every setting, and even every meal come to life. Here's a little taste: "Though no longer pregnant, she continues, at times, to mix Rice Krispies and peanuts and onions in a bowl. For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy - a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect."
I'm 85 pages into War and Peace
. There are lots of characters, and since many of their names are similar, especially to a non-Russian speaker like myself, it's not such a quick read. I'm enjoying it, though.
Here's a scene from a party: "The count peeped from behind the crystal of the decanters and fruit-dishes at his wife and her high cap with blue ribbons, and zealously poured out wine for his neighbors, not overlooking himself. The countess, too, while mindful of her duties as hostess, cast significant glances from behind the pineapples at her husband, whose face and bald head struck her as looking particularly red against his grey hair. At the ladies' end there was a rhythmic murmur of talk, but at the other end of the table the men's voices grew louder and louder, especially the voice of the colonel of hussars, who, getting more and more flushed, ate and drank so much that the count held him up as a pattern to the rest. Berg with a tender smile was telling Vera that love was an emotion not of earth but of heaven. Boris was telling his new friend Pierre the names of the guests, while he exchanged glances with Natasha sitting opposite him. Pierre said little, looked about at the new faces, and ate a great deal."
I kind of wish I had Boris to help me with the names of all these guests, and I know it's uncultured, but the names Boris and Natasha have different associations for me.
Later in the same party: "The German tutor was trying to learn by heart a list of all the kinds of dishes, desserts, and wines, in order to write a detailed description of them to the folks at home in Germany, and was greatly mortified that the butler with the bottle in the napkin had passed him over. The German knitted his brows, and tried to look as though he would not have cared to take that wine, but he was mortified because no one would understand that he had not wanted the wine to quench his thirst, or through greed, but from a conscientious desire for knowledge."
It's all in the details, isn't it? I'm always going to remember Ashima, mixing up her imitation Indian snack in her new home in the United States, musing about the similarities of pregnancy and being a foreigner, and I think I'll always remember that German tutor, too, trying to commit the menu to memory so that he could write home about it.