26 September, 2006

A little light holiday reading

Read two fantastic books on holiday - Irène Nemirovsky's Suite Française which was a stunning although clearly unfinished novel about the German occupation. In two parts - the first part a series of vignettes describing the hysterical exodus from Paris as the Germans advanced towards it, and the second in the more conventional form of a novel describing the relationship between a German soldier and a sad, unloved Frenchwoman trapped in a loveless marriage. The prose was beautifully clear and simple - amazing, given that French was not the author's first language (she was a white Russian refugee to Paris during the twenties). (48)

The other was rather more hard going, Elias Khoury's La porte du soleil, a massive novel about the Palestinian exodus of 1948. The structure is fantastically circular: the narrator is trying to talk his hero and father figure out of a coma. The father figure is a fighter in the Palestinian resistance; the narrator a doctor in a makeshift refugee camp hospital, and he interweaves the stories of their two lives with those of the camp midwife and matriarch who has also just died. It's a story with no beginning and no end, spiralling round and round, showing the shared experience of the Palestinians even in the diaspora. Beautifully written, it's recently been published in English as The gate of the sun. One of the best books I've read this year. (49)

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