Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell: Review

Homage to CataloniaHomage to Catalonia by George Orwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is something of a slog through Orwell’s descriptions of the brutal trench war he experienced, alternating with attempts to explain the complicated politics making up the Spanish Civil War. Even as he grimly sketches the fractured, kaleidoscopic factions arrayed on the anti-Fascist Republican side, you can sense his heart breaking as his idealistic determination is subsumed under the reality of the war and of the surreal urban scenes away from the front lines. The sorrowful denouement, with a poetically ironic ending to Orwell’s career as a militiaman, gives closure neither for him nor the conflict, which was ongoing when the book was published in 1938. He is left only with guilt for a job unfinished and undoable, grief over friends lost and left behind, and a mournful adoration of a place and people caught in a tightening net of tyranny from which there would be no escape. A devastating read, especially with hindsight of the great darkness that would befall Europe and the rest of the world in succeeding years.

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The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King: Review

The Beekeeper's Apprentice (Mary Russell, #1)The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this paean to and update of the world’s greatest fictional detective, Laurie R. King does an admirable job of walking that dangerous high wire over the “fan fiction” pit into which lesser writers would inevitably fall. And while there are certainly wobbles of character insufferableness (I suspect inevitable with a narrator who is meant to be the mental peer of Holmes) and wish fulfillment during the journey, both the book as a whole and the quite solid narrator are fine additions to the greater Holmes universe. I look forward to the next book featuring the indomitable Ms. Russell.

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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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