Book Seven: The Lotus Eaters

The Lotus Eaters, Tatjana Soli

This is the kind of novel that sweeps you away and folds you into its little world. Or rather, big world, being that it takes place in Vietnam during the war. I mean, a huge, scary, horrifying world. It's really lovely at times and really awful at times. And I wonder if it would have appealed to me more if I was the kind of person who had a better sense of adventure. Because the main character is a war photographer who stays in Vietnam for 10 years, and who doesn't really want to leave, no matter the amount of death and sadness she has to experience. And even though Ms. Soli did a great job of getting us into her head and her situation, I just keep thinking "Get the eff out of there, stupid!!! Why in the world do you want to stay in this horrible, death-ridden place?!" And really, this is kind of the point of the book. The title refers to Homer's Odyssey, when they visited the land of the Lotus-eaters, and "those who ate the honeyed fruit of the plant lost any wish to come back and bring us news. All they now wanted was to stay where they were with the Lotus-eaters, to browse on the lotus, and to forget all thoughts of return." Which is obviously implying an addiction to a place, so intoxicating that one forgets everything else in the world. Which I saw, and yet I just personally could still not wrap my head around. I am a slave to comfort, and I suppose there are types out there who are slaves to adventure.

The last little bit of the book, though, was so magical and so mesmerizing, that I just couldn't put it down to go to sleep. It was so awful and surreal and strange (and did i mention, awful?), and I think Ms. Soli really captured the true horror of war and how one can become almost numb to it. It was, at least, a great finish to a pretty good book.

Book Six: The City & The City

The City & The City, China Miéville

This is, what, maybe my third or fourth science fiction/fantasy novel? All of them have been pure gold, and yet I still persist in saying that I'm not at all interested in the genre. What is wrong with me?

Okay, so you can read this novel as a crazy fantasy or as utter realism. Premise: there is a murder in the city of Beszel and detective Borlu has to travel to neighboring city Ul Qoma to help solve the crime. Sure, it's a detective novel at heart, but I think the real mystery is figuring out what the deal is with these two cities. They are next to each other, and yet they overlap in places. Residents must "unsee" the foreigners who appear to walk the same streets or risk Breach (both an entity and a crime). The strangeness is immediately felt through Miéville's awkward language. Every sentence is technically grammatically correct and yet constructed in such a way as to make you need to go back frequently to re-read them just to make sure you understood. Or maybe that's me. But I do stand by the fact that this book very successfully grounds itself in realism enough to convince you of its weirdness.

I look forward to reading more Miéville in the future!

Book Five: 44 Scotland Street

44 Scotland Street, Alexander McCall Smith

There's nothing like a good Alexander McCall Smith novel to get the bad taste of a crappy book out of your mouth. I wasn't sure I would like this series, but now that I've finished the first book I honestly have no idea why I was so worried. Obviously, it has everything good I love in it. Edinburgh, art, little moments in the lives of regular people, humor, kindness, silliness, general philosophizing, and a dog with character. I know it's not groundbreaking or amazing or transcendent, and yet it's the best thing for a grey February when you need to be reminded of the general goodness of humanity.