The Known World, Edward P. Jones, 2003.

Written by Edward P. Jones, The Known World is an interesting novel in many ways (probably the reason why it received the Pulitzer Price in 2003). The plot revolves around Henry Townsend’s family in antebellum Virginia. His father, Augustus, was a slave who bought his freedom. Later, he managed to buy his wife and his son. Henry, convinced that he can be just as good as the whites around him, becomes a slave owner and tries to build up a flourishing plantation. Unfortunately Henry dies very young and the plantation is left in the inexperienced hands of his wife.

This novel is particularly interesting in its construction. We follow the lives of several characters who are quickly introduced. The flash backs and the jumps into the future makes the narration unusually cut off but not hard to follow. The reader gets acquainted with the main characters rapidly and doesn’t lose the plot.

The main subject is the slavery and more particularly, black slave owners… ” It took Moses more than two weeks to come to understand that someone wasn’t fiddling with him and that indeed a black man, two shares darker than himself, owned him and any shadow he made. Sleeping in a cabin beside Henry in the first weeks after the sale, Moses had thought that is was already a strange world that made him a slave to a white man, but God had indeed set it twirling and twisting every which way when he put black people to owning their own kind. Was God even up there attending to business anymore? ” The novel doesn’t give the answer to the question I was asking myself through the whole book “How on Earth an ex slave can own slaves ? How can he put his own through the horror of slavery when he just left it ?” It makes the reader think about the way human beings look at their fellow men.

I’d give it an 8/10.


The Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1981 (mid reading review)

‘ I am an anachronism’ says Ignatius Reilly, the main character of this surprising, hilarious novel. This feeling of not belonging to the society, of being misunderstood is probably part of the reason why John Kennedy Toole ended his life at the age of 31. One can wonder how a book that was refused everywhere at the end of the 60’s became such an icon of the Southern American literature only 10 years later. John Kennedy Toole killed himself in 1969 after seeing his two manuscripts, A Confederacy of Dunces and The Neon Bible, refused by all the publishing houses. Ten years later, Toole’s mother took the manuscript of A Confederacy of Dunces to the novelist Walker Percy who succeeded in having it published in 1981. It won the Pulitzer Prize the very same year.

This book is hilarious, one of the funniest I’ve read. Toole gives us a gallery of characters so colourful, so improbable, so pathetic in a funny kind of way.

Let’s start with the main character, Ignatius Reilly. He is the definition of an anti – hero. He is glutton, lazy, obnoxious, arrogant, convinced of his own superiority, absolutely abject with his mother. He has nothing to like but…the reader can’t hate him either. His faults make him pathetic. He doesn’t fit anywhere and even  if you want to kick him out of his bed, somehow you feel sorry for him. ‘Oh, what a low joke was Fortuna playing on him now ? Arrest, accident, job. Where would this dreadful cycle ever end’ says Ignatius when his mother finally decides to throw him into the world.

Mrs Reilly is a weak mother, who satisfies all of her despotic son’s whims out of maternal love. She seems to wake up when she faces some time in jail because of one of his son’s tantrum and pushes him into the world.

Another unusual character is Mr Mancuso, the policeman who will impact Mrs Reilly and Ignatius’s life so much. He has to wear different kind of costums as a punishment for irritating his sergeant. He even ends up getting arrested because of those disguises. He is touching in his constant failure at being a good police officer.

So far, on my pleasure scale, I’m rating this one 9/10….

2nd part of the review in the next episode.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, 1987

I discovered this fresh, delightful novel thanks to my dearest darling. He MADE me watch the movie and we noticed that it was the adaptation of a novel.

The incredible friendship between Evelyn, a 48 years old woman who’s profoundly depressed and the chatty Mrs Threadgood takes us back and forth from the 30’s in a small railroad station village and the 80’s in a big city. The main character is definitely Idgie Threadgood who influences the life of so many people includes Evelyn’s. Mrs Threadgood is telling us about the racism, domestic violence, the forbidden love story between two women, disabilities with such a naive and innocent tone that the reflection its causes doesn’t bring you down. On the contrary, it leaves you full of hope. Sometimes though, Mrs Threadgood can sound a little bit patronizing towards the “colored people” as she calls them, but the reader has to remember that she is a product of the 30’s in a Southern State where the Ku Klux Klan has been all mighty for decades… A little condescension is probably the most progressist attitude a white could have toward a black at that time.

This book really is a big breath of fresh air that you will literally devour in no time time (most of the latest editions contain the recipes served at the Whistle Stop Cafe, I can’t wait to try the pecan pie one)

Oswald’s Tale, Norman Mailer, Epilogue

Oswald’s Tale doesn’t solve the mystery surrounding John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s death. After reading it you won’t know for sure if Oswald was a lone killer, if he belonged to a political group or if he was a CIA or FBI agent. You won’t know if Marina was a Soviet spy and planned JFK’s death using Oswald as a hitman. You won’t know how many shooters there were. You still won’t have any certainty…

This book never pretended to be the final investigation which would answer all the questions about JFK’s murder. It is however, a thorough, deep, intelligent immersion into a very young man’s psyche. It’s the tale of a tragedy, the tragedy of a young man’s dream of greatness. With his objective journalistic tone, Mailer tries to give us the most honest and faithful portrait of Oswald. He uses and compares all the archives and sources to do so. He multiplied interviews with all the protagonists in America and Russia, used the existing literature and the Warren Commission report.

In the end, one can only wonder what went through the mind of this 24 years old man when he realised he had made it to History.

“If it not had not been for Theodore Dreiser and his last great work, one would like to have used  An American Tragedy as the title for this journey through Oswald’s beleaguered life” Normail Mailer, Oswald’s Tale.

Oswald’s Tale, An American Mystery, Norman Mailer, 1995

Published in 1995, Oswald’s Tale is Norman Mailer’s twenty eighth book. Mailer already distinguished himself with The Executioner’s song (talking about it, give me a few weeks and we’ll talk about it too ! I feel the urge to re-read it) which won the Pulitzer prize in 1968.

As far as I’m concerned I’ve never been fascinated by the assassination of J.F.K. Of course, it is a major historic event and I’ve heard all sorts of theories about who committed it or commissioned it and to the extend of my knowledge Willy Wonka could have ordered it. Anyway, the desire to read Oswald’s Tale came from several things :

  1. I just finished 11/22/63 by Stephen King who mentions Mailer has one of his sources.

  2. The Executioner’s song is one of my favourite books

  3. And finally, FATE! My better half found the book in a second hand shop the very next day I talked to him about it. It was a sign so here we’re go….

Oswald’s Tale is more than ‘just another book’ about Kennedy’s assassination. Mailer draws up the portrait of this very young man, this boy, who desperately wanted to be someone. From his defection to Russia to his return to the USA and finally to that fatal day, Mailer examines every aspects of Oswald’s life.

The first volume, the Russian part, of the book is constituted by interviews of people who met Oswald, friends, co-workers, neighbours, family (after his marriage with Marina), by transcripts of KGB and interviews with those KGB agents who investigated on Oswald. Mailer also ponders about memories, how they are affected by time and environment or the conscious or unconscious wish to have a minute of glory.

The second volume deals with the return to the USA. Mailer uses mostly the interviews from the Warren commission and Marina’s biography by Priscilla McMillan. Mailer depicts Oswald’s childhood; his relationship with his mother and brothers, his life after he came back from Russia.

. Norman and I still have a few steps to take together so epilogue of this review in the next episod!

Forgotten History

Within the last few days, i came across those two articles… The first one is about a 20 years old Greek footballer doing the nazi salute to celebrate a goal and when asked about it he answered that he had no idea what it meant. The second article is what a book that i will probably read, if i can get my greedy hands on it, Doomed to Repeat, The Lessons of History We’ve Failed to Learn by Bill Fawcett.

Im honestly wondering how is it possible that a young man ignore the meaning of the nazi salute ? This particular young man learnt his lesson since he ruined his career and wont be able to play football professionally in Greece but how many more ignore such important of our history ?