Earlier in the week I attended an event that wasn’t really meant for me: it was about how to get published as an early career academic or Ph.D. student in the field of comparative literature. My days in academia are long since over, but just occasionally I dream of writing the definitive work combining anthropology and literature from across the world. But the reason I attended this event was that I was curious to see if it was just as difficult to get published in this field as it is in the world of fiction. And one difference was immediately obvious: you get in touch directly with a publisher and write a book proposal with perhaps 1-2 sample chapters, rather than have to write the whole book and then find an agent. Getting published in academic journals, however, is much more difficult than publishing opinion pieces in various online or press publications, since you need to get peer reviewed.
I did not deliberately set out to buy books this week, but somehow a few of them did stalk me and end up on my doorstep…
I have fond memories of reading Murakami Haruki’s Norwegian Wood together with our professor at university back in the days when I studied Japanese. Since then, however, I’ve not always been equally impressed with his work. I loved Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I have a soft spot for The Wild Sheep Chase (because I am secretly obsessed by the island of Hokkaido). I was fascinated by Underground and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, mainly because they follow my own interests. But I have felt no urge to read Colorless Tsukuru or Men Without Women or IQ84. So I guess you could say I am a fan of earlier Murakami (and of the ‘other’ Murakami – Ryuu). Still, I could not resist the beautiful, colourful edition of his latest Killing Commendatore, both because of its allusion to Mozart’s Don Giovanni and because the blurb sounds interesting.
A thirty-something portrait painter in Tokyo is abandoned by his wife and finds himself holed up in the mountain home of a famous artist, Tomohiko Amada. When he discovers a strange painting in the attic, he unintentionally opens a circle of mysterious circumstances. To close it, he must complete a journey that involves a mysterious ringing bell, a two-foot-high physical manifestation of an Idea, a dapper businessman who lives across the valley, a precocious thirteen-year-old girl, a Nazi assassination attempt during World War II in Vienna, a pit in the woods behind the artist’s home, and an underworld haunted by Double Metaphors.
So I spent most of my Saturday wading through the lengthy book. Verdict? Overall, quite enjoyable, but far too long and self-indulgent in terms of descriptions and repetitions. I enjoyed the exploration of the artistic impulse in general and portrait painting in particular. It has been described as The Great Gatsby meets The Picture of Dorian Grey, but reminded me more of the folktales and ghost stories of Ueda Makinari, who is referenced in the book itself.
Following my evening at Canada House, I found a second-hand copy of A Door in the River by Inger Ash Wolfe (Michael Redhill’s pen name for crime fiction). I bought the coming-of-age novel about a wannabe writer That Summer Feeling by Mark Hodkinson after reading the author’s article about how the publishing industry needs a wake-up call and setting up an independent publishing house Pomona. So blogs and articles, reviews and Twitter recommendations definitely work in getting me interested in a book.
I was sent Margaret Millar’s Vanish in an Instant by Pushkin Vertigo to review on Crime Fiction Lover. I already have a good stack of Margaret Millar’s – she is one of the original and best when it comes to psychological thrillers and domestic noirs. Last but not least, I borrowed Fatou Diome’s novel about the female immigrant experience in France Celles qui attendent (Those Who Are Waiting) from the library.
The highlight of the week, however, was the very rainy film-binging day at the London Film Festival on Sunday. I watched a Romanian and a Russian film.
The Romanian film directed by Radu Jude was ‘I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians’. An unwieldy title but very appropriate, as it was a quote given by the Romanian military leaders just before carrying out a massacre in Odessa in 1941. This is an uncomfortable part of Romanian history which has been swept under the carpet: in the early
part of the Second World War, the Romanians were allies of the Germans on the Eastern front and there was plenty of anti-Semitic and Fascist rhetoric in the late 1930s in Romania. Rather cleverly, the film tells the story of the events obliquely, via a historical reenactment in the present-day, in which the young female director of the show Mariana tries to be as historically accurate as possible, and encounters severe objections at a personal and political level. Despite a slow start and scenes of gratuitous nudity, it was a great way to show how unwilling nations are at dealing with collective guilt and how easy it is to whip up nationalistic discourse, as well as a look at how difficult it can be for a young woman to be taken seriously in a macho society like Romania.
The second film, Russia’s Summer, was more nostalgic and fun: a look back at the rise of underground rock culture in early 1980s Russia before Glasnost. I’d never heard of Viktor Tsoi before, but my Russian friend who accompanied me to these films said that everyone remembered where they were the day they heard about his untimely death in a car crash in 1990. He was the Kurt Cobain or Jim Morrison of the Russians, and his lyrics grew increasingly political. The film was shot mainly in black and white, which gave it beauty and a fairy-tale quality in what was a rather shabby, poverty-stricken reality, and there were great Western pop references. Especially memorable: a punk protest scene on a train to the music of Talking Head’s Psychokiller but of course ‘none of this happened’.