The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka: Review

The MetamorphosisThe Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perfection. Utter perfection.

The forward by director David Cronenberg, drawing parallels between “The Metamorphosis” and his movie “The Fly” — not to mention movingly relating the story to waking up to find oneself transformed into an old man.

The afterword by translator Susan Bernofsky in which she makes connections to Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” and also tells the difficulties of capturing in English the idiomatic nuances of the original German.

That inspired cover.

The list of authors on the back cover who have been influenced by the novella — Orwell, Camus, Borges, Bradbury — all heroes of mine.

Oh, and yes: the awesome translation.

I am flabbergasted anew by one of my favorite writers, and by a work that was hugely influential for early writing of my own. Thank you to Susan Bernofsky for her fine work.

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The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais: Review

The Hundred-Foot JourneyThe Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Normally, a novelization of a movie is written after or perhaps during the production. The Hundred-Foot Journey was written as a sort of pre-novelization, as a story that the author Morais hoped his friend (producer Ismail Merchant) would be able to do one day. Unfortunately, Merchant passed away before this book was complete, but a movie version is now in theaters.

[SOME SPOILERS BELOW]

The Hundred-Foot Journey is, and excuse the pun here, a very pedestrian book. The narrator is a cypher, and the rest of the characters are barely sketched. Any drama or uncertainty disappears halfway through the book — the result of the narrator’s career is inevitable. In fact, the only real doubt is how many of his mentors and friends will die in horrible fashion before his gets his predestined recognition by Michelin.

The book feels very much like either a movie treatment that has been expanded upon, or one of those poor novelizations written to capitalize on a popular new film: rushed, not well edited, and lacking in human depth. Whatever successes the chef has are weakened by there being no doubt about their happening — his ascendence is ham-fistedly predicted, and it all comes to pass with barely a hiccup.

I would also have liked to see more of the chef’s Indian roots come through, both culinarily and as a character — I don’t know how much of that is due to the poor characterization or to the white American author’s virtually nonexistent knowledge of India outside of books and one 10-day trip to Mumbai. This is true of the rest of the characters as well, whether Indian, French, or other. I hesitate to call them stereotypes, because they barely exist on the page even to that extent. Also, I’m pretty sure using someone with Tourette’s as comic relief has rarely been particularly funny, never mind sensitive.

All that said, the book is rescued in part by the food and cooking. In fact, I would have liked much more of it — the parts where the narrator is learning or cooking or teaching are (like the rest of the book) hurried through. I am also still looking forward to the movie, starring the incomparable Helen Mirren, if for no other reason than I’m hoping this story and characters can be rescued by someone else. The ingredients were there for a lovely narrative, but sadly not every recipe will work out.

I must give The Hundred-Foot Journey three stars — the best possible rating in the rarefied world of haute cuisine, but alas only a middling grade here on Goodreads.

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Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid: Review

Annie JohnAnnie John by Jamaica Kincaid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jamaica Kincaid distills a lot of childhood into this slim volume, embodied in the unforgettable character of Annie John who, despite her typically child-like self-centeredness and powerful drive for independence, longs for the love of those around her. With the story taking place in that magical shared space of dream, memory, nostalgia, symbolism, and fable, Annie John’s ongoing battle for autonomy takes on a mythic quality. One wants desperately to find out what happens next to her, what she makes of her adult life, but the heartbreaking end is satisfying closure for the story of her childhood.

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