Saturday, February 5, 2011

book post!

One of the features I'm planning for the blog is a series of book posts where I'll share books that I've read recently and loved. It should be a frequent feature because I pretty much devour books! Here are the two books I've read most recently:

This book weaves together a sense of the surreal and fantastic with the harsh reality of post-Soviet Russia. The characters live in a crumbling apartment building, where their individual hopes, disappointments, and struggles play out. Central to the book is the death of Mircha, one of the tenants, who returns as a ghost.

All of the characters are wonderfully complex and well-written, but the
central character (and my favorite) is Tanya, who carries a notebook with her at all times, and who works for the very strange All-Russia All-Cosmopolitan Museum (a museum of knockoff imitations of artworks and artifacts, often cobbled together from materials like chewing gum and cardboard), but who dreams of something better.

Ochsner's writing, alternately lyrical, funny, and devastating, perfectly creates a strange and
magical story inhabited by characters who are quirky but never caricature-like. The book has elements of magical realism but still feels real due to the emotional weight of the characters' longing, sadness, and hope.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

A housekeeper trying to support her 10-year-old son is assigned to work for the Professor, a mathematical genius whose memory, due to an accident, only lasts for eighty minutes. He remembers the numbers and equations that make up his life's work, but forgets who the housekeeper is each time she arrives at his cottage. In spite of this, the housekeeper and the Professor come to be friends, and the Professor also becomes closely attached to the housekeeper's son.

The story that follows is beautiful in its simply rendered moments of daily life -- the Professor working at a proof for a contest but not caring about the prize money, the housekeeper making his meals and sneaking healthy carrots into the food even though he doesn't like them, the son talking about his favorite baseball team or doing his homework.

The bond between the three characters emerges naturally and touchingly, and this short book feels beautifully quiet and intimate. Also, it says a lot that a book with math as one of its central themes kept me interested, when I usually avoid any math more complicated than addition and subtraction! But the equations and mathematical theorems in this book are used to marvel at the universe's mystery and the beauty of its workings -- as the Professor says, figuring out a mathematical principle is like reading a page from "God's notebook."


  1. I've been looking for a book to read for the past week or so seeing as i've just finished the one i was reading. I normally just let myself come across the next book without much thought & although i wouldnt normally go for a book like 'The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight'...i think i might've just found my next read. So i guess a thank you is in order!

  2. Oh I'm so glad that you're going to read it! I thought it was a really unusual and wonderful book. I usually have the same method of finding books, just coming across them -- that's how I found these two, just browsing the library! But I always like to get recommendations too. I hope you enjoy the book!