Saturday, January 15, 2022

Mid-January 2022: Still Reading...

I've already finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Notes on Grief, and am reading a few books in parallel.

Assia Djebar's Less femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement is gathering in interest the longer I read it, hopping back and forth between different epochs of Algerian history in living memory, different generations of women. It has a few echoes of the mythology of Montesquieu's Persian Letters but also a lot more. All written in slender but meaningful prose.

Reading Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is progressing a little more slowly. The Cameroonian immigrant to the United States who is one of the main characters has obtained a position driving around the family headed by a finance industry professional. He unknowingly witnesses early symptoms of the forthcoming collapse of the Lehman Brothers.

Cover of Empire of Pain, via Penguin Random House

In terms of audiobooks, I am also listening to The Empire of Pain, by Patrick Radden Keefe, last year's bestseller about a family that profited hugely off the medical industry and is arguably also at the core of the American opioid crisis. It takes a perhaps unexpected route to its subject. It traces the early-to-mid 20th century of the family in detail, depicting the mid-century experiences in a psychiatric institution that made a bright future in medication versus institutionalization seem even a moral choice, and also exploring the arts patronage and marriages particularly of Arthur Sackler. (So far.)

The most delightful book, however, has turned out to be the short stories by Nikolai Gogol. Picture a dreary Berlin in January, all grey and social-distancey; and compare flowering gardens with melons and poppies and sunflowers in Gogol's Ukraine, thatched roofs, and in general the beautiful, very 19th century descriptive passages of the novelist. Although of course "The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich" is not a rosy and peaceful story per se — one almost feels one is there, and the regret about the risks and necessary bureaucratic tangles of travel in real-life 2022 diminishes a little. 


Shopping at Dussmann Kulturkaufhaus in a fairly abandoned Berlin city centre today, opposite a long line of anti-Covid safety measure demonstrators with German flags (generally a warning sign of extremism outside of Euro Cup or World Cup soccer seasons) on their cars, I picked up a few books about the 20th century German political scene. Memoirs by Willy Brandt, former mayor of Berlin (this phase interests me most) and later Chancellor; a history of Berlin; and a history of the Social Democratic Party to which Brandt belonged. Besides I bought two presents that shall remain undescribed, and a Swedish language learning calendar.

It was an even nicer experience because I was browsing together with my mother, who picked up a German word-a-day calendar for the sake of her tandem partner.

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