Friday, September 15, 2006


Beginning with this post I will write about other books I read from 1948. Besides the usual American and British writers, I also read novels by a French , a Japanese and a South African writer.

Snow Country, Yasunari Kabawata, Random House Inc, 1948, 175 pp
This Japanese author won the Nobel Prize in 1968 and Snow Country is considered to be his masterpiece. It is the story of a rich man from Tokyo who goes to the snow country for skiing and relaxation and has a love affair with a girl who is not quite yet a geisha.

He is a dilettante and a man out of touch with himself and others. It is not a particularly satisfying story but was probably quite literary for a Japanese reader. I read it in English translation, and even in English there is a haiku-like beauty to the prose. I think the beauty of the construction means more to a Japanese than the story itself. I felt I was overcoming a cultural barrier in reading this book.

Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote, Random House Inc, 1948, 231 pp
I read this because recording artist Nanci Griffith named a CD after the book, and has said that it was a favorite book of hers in her youth. Capote wrote the book when he was 23 and it is amazingly mature, yet obviously the work of a very young man.

The hero, Joel Knox, is thirteen and has recently lost his mother. The father he barely knew has called for him to come visit. It takes place in the South and the characters are like people out of Carson McCullers. Joel is looking for someone to love him.

What he finds is the cousin of his father's second wife, an asthmatic, alcoholic insane man. The father turns out to be a vegetable, stroke victim or something, and it was the cousin who sent for Joel, though you never really discover why. All the characters are incredibly weird and messed up in some way.

The book did not grab me. It is a bit too pretensious and possibly Capote was trying to write like William Faulkner. I haven't seen the movie about Capote yet, but maybe there is something in there about his writing of this first novel.

The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene, The Viking Press, 1948, 306 pp
A love story, a religious problem, and a tale of the human condition. Scobie is a General of the military police in a British-governed town on the west coast of Africa. World War II is going on, but the real scene is a British Colonial one, with wives who can't stand the climate and who suffer from the lack of culture and who miss the English life to which they are accustomed. Scobie's wife is one of these women. She is unhappy and very high maintenance. Scobie is trying to balance his military responsiblilties with making her happy.

He breaks his own moral code in an attempt to handle his wife and spirals down from there. The story then becomes a treatise on the Catholic doctrine versus real life. I found it fairly melodramatic. To me, the problem is not one of faith, but one of Scobie basing his life on the idea that he can create another person's happiness. Even so, it was a pretty good story.

The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh, Little Brown and Company Inc, 1948, 146 pp
What an unusual little book. The setting is Hollywood in the early part of the 20th century. There is a group of Englishmen (Hollywood lured English writers in an effort to bring more class to the movies in those days) who have a club and try to keep up appearances for the sake of good old England. Most of them are old has-beens, but there is a young poet who has failed at the studios and has taken a job in a pet mortuary, next door to the human mortuary which we know as Forest Lawn.

There is a love story but the book is a big spoof on Los Angeles, the movie business, the mortuaries and other things, from an English point of view. It is fun to read, the story-telling is top notch and the spoofs are hilarious.

The Plague, Albert Camus, Alfred A Knopf Inc, 1948, 308 pp
This was a surprisingly good book. I thought it would be dry and philosophical, but it was beautifully written and emotionally engaging. The theme was how people deal with pestilence. I understood the message to be that people are flawed but are basically good and try in their different ways to rise above evil and pain and suffering. He also is saying that hope is the key.

This is the first book by Camus that I have ever read, after hearing about him all of my life. He won the Nobel Prize in 1957 and I would say he deserved it.

No comments:

Post a Comment