Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Time to do some holiday shopping for the readers on your list!

Buy physical copies of Karmafornia at http://FoolCourtPress.Net
on sale through December 31.

Or for that e-book reader on your list, the Smashwords edition
is now priced for the holidays: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/61157

Here's what Publishers Weekly said:
In 1978, two young lovers leave Boulder, Colo., and head to Berkeley, Calif., where they struggle with life's messy problems and intrusions in this capable, well-developed look back at an edgy, bygone time. Arriving at the University of California, Berkeley, Laura--with free-spirited boyfriend Walt in tow--begins graduate studies in biology. It isn't long before she meets fellow student Cob, an irresistible fruitarian from Nebraska with whom Laura eventually has a passionate affair replete with unbelievable orgasms. But the relationship with Cob--and the sex--lacks love, and Walt is summoned to the rescue. This love triangle plays out against the background of the political and social upheaval of the time, with Weil referencing everything from the controversial Proposition 13--which rolled back property taxes--to the mass suicide by cult members of Jim Jones's People's Temple in Jonestown, Guyana. Weil ably captures the period, while convincingly delineating her characters.

Monday, November 21, 2011

War and Peace

I'm at the 200 page mark, and had my first taste of battle.
For Tolstoy, leadership has to do with morale more than strategy -
The Russian general Bagration rides among his few thousand Russian soldiers as they prepare to face the main body of the French army. He agrees with what they say they're going to do (while his aide Andrei Bolkonsky, who has spent time and effort prior to this review taking the grand view of battle, envisioning troop movements, feints and counter-attacks, worries about his commander's casual and apparently thoughtless acquiescence to the fusiliers, the infantry and the cavalry). "Owing to the tact shown by ... [General] Bagration, Prince Andrei [Bolkonsky] noticed that, in spite of the chance character of events and their independence of the commander's will, his presence accomplished a very great deal. Commanders... became calm, soldiers and officers greeted him merrily and became more animated in his presence, and obviously showed off their courage before him."
At the far end of the deployment, two officers, one Russian and the other Austrian, engage in a personal squabble, ignoring the battle; their soldiers are disorganized and fearful, their training forgotten. "The troops... both infantry and hussars, sensed that their superiors themselves did not know what to do, and the indecisiveness of the superiors communicated itself to the troops."

Meanwhile, Nikolai Rostov is struck by an artillery shell, his horse killed out from under him. He wanders in a daze, unaware of his own wounds except that one arm is useless. In many ways he is still the child of his soft upbringing. "Something must be wrong, " he thought, "it's impossible that they should want to kill me... Me, whom everybody loves so?"
But the soldiers the general has encouraged in his uncommanding way, meet battle with cooperation and fortitude. The artillery gunners fight valiantly while their fellows die around them, creating diversions they have thought of themselves (setting the town behind the French lines on fire, which draws off French soldiers to battle the blazes) and displaying that unhesitating courage a general can only dream of.

This small detachment holds off the French, enabling the main body of the Russian army to escape being cut off from its allies and annihilated by Napoleon's troops.

Tolstoy uses such phrases as "Pleasant buzzing and whistling noises were heard rather often" (they're being fired upon); "his face expressed that concentrated and happy resolve"; "Prince Andrei felt that some invincible force was drawing him forward, and he experienced great happiness"; "there was established in [the artilleryman's] head a fantastic world of his own, which made up his pleasure at that moment. In his imagination, the enemy's cannon were not cannon but pipes, from which an invisible smoker released an occasional puff of smoke."

Tolstoy's soldiers love being in battle.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

War & Peace

Since it now feels like winter (temp never got out of the 30s today) I have undertaken War & Peace, in the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
My 4th year Russian class was supposed to read it, but the Soviet (showing my age here!) powers-that-be sent copies of Resurrection instead. So we read that, but it wasn't the same. Who knows if we would have made it through this tome? Guess I missed my chance - by now my Russian vocabulary is so buried I have to read it in English.

This pair of translators promise a more accurate rendition than their predecessors. Where Tolstoy liked to repeat words and phrases, translators took it upon themselves to "clean up" his sentences by minimizing the repetitions. But surely we can admire Tolstoy the writer enough to believe that his technique was deliberate. Pevear and Volokhonsky have decided he knew what he was up to, and respect him enough to leave his phrasing intact. Thus, I detect the flavor of the Russian through their English text.

I came late to Tolstoy - my first love among Russian writers is Dostoyevsky, followed by Solzhenitsyn (particularly The First Circle and Cancer Ward). But when I named a character Anna Karenina Brubaker, I had to find out who she was. Soon after, I read Hadji Murad, a beautiful novella about a warrior chieftain in the Caucasus - and if War & Peace is too daunting, I highly recommend you read this fine book.

Some years ago the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, screened the 7 hour Soviet War & Peace (released 1967-69) in its entirety, on successive evenings. When it was made, it was said to be the most expensive film in cinematic history, employing tens of thousands of extras in nineteenth century battle garb, arrayed for vast panoramic shots. Now a film studio would use CGI for those armies (which, yes, would make them look like video game images). It's a breath-taking epic, though the ending was politicized in heavy-handed Soviet fashion - "oh, the heroically suffering Russian people, oh the vain and stupid French invaders" - but even at 7 hours I knew I was getting just a taste of the book. When I heard about this translation, I decided "it's time."

Time is what it takes - so tag along as I post my progress.