I was actually able to finish some books over the past month, but I haven't had the chance to write about them (not that anyone would care, but still). I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short story collection No One Writes to the Colonel
, Andrew Sean Greer's acclaimed novel The Confessions of Max Tivoli
, and Michael Chabon's detective thriller The Yiddish Policemen's Union
.No One Writes to the Colonel
picks up from where One Hundred Years of Solitude
, in Marquez's Macondo and nearby towns. It's interesting to read Gabo in shorter form; the loneliness and the pathos of his characters remain, but the playfulness and the humor of his prose becomes rarer with the limited words. The result is sadder and darker, but also more poignant and heart-rending. The stories vary in length, and they all feel like drafts, or rather, drippings, little puddles of literary genius from a cup filled to the brim.
Andrew Sean Greer's book opens with the line, We are each the love of someone's life
, and it is, essentially, a love story. That's perhaps the most conventional part, as the title character has an affliction that wouldn't be out of place in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's universe: he is born looking like a septugenarian and he grows younger as he ages. Set in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century, the novel revolves around Max Tivoli trying to win the affections of the love of his life, and because of his unique condition, he gets to do it three times over the course of his lifetime.
Greer's prose is lyrical and poetic, and he writes beautifully about what would have otherwise been a low-brow science fiction concept. But the tone and the mood of the novel is dark and humorless, and the ending feels a bit like a cop-out, but what a well-crafted novel. While reading the book, I was reminded of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife
, another love story with a sci-fi concept. That novel isn't nearly as lyrical, but as love stories go, The Time Traveler's Wife
really delivers the goods.
Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union
also begins with a unique concept; it's set in an alternate universe where the state of Israel collapsed soon after its inception, and instead the Sitka district in Alaska became home to European Jews after the war (the Frozen Chosen). The hero is the typical star of pulp novels, a hard-boiled detective battling alcoholism, reeling from divorce, mourning the death of a sister, and living in a run-down hotel in the seedy part of town. The whodunit starts after the death of a mysterious guest in the hotel, and Detective Meyer Landsman's investigation uncovers a trail of conspiracy, corruption, and murder. Between the rich, sweeping plot and Chabon's gift for brilliant prose, the novel approaches the depths of Chabon's Pulitzer-prize winner The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
And to add to all that, the novel was also replete with Filipino characters and Filipino culture; Chabon figured (and rightly so) that even a fictional Jewish territory in Alaska would become home to Filipino immigrants. It starts quite early in the novel, with characters talking about buying lumpia
from a nearby diner called the Pearl of Manila. Later in the novel, Detective Landsman pays a visit to his informer Benito Taganes, the proprietor of the famous bicho-bicho
shop Mabuhay Donuts, which is open all night abuzz with deep fryers and a boom box that wails Diomedes Maturan kundimans
Chabon is known for his meticulous research for his work, but in the notes after the book, there were no sources cited that would give a clue where he got all those Filipino references in the novel, references that flowed so effortlessly and naturally. It's probable that Chabon has Filipino friends that would serve as his source for all of these, given that he lives in Berkeley. But his characterization of the Filipino shop owner reminds me a bit of the title character from Butch Dalisay's short story Oldtimer
, which was about a Filipino immigrant who ran a diner in New York. It's a long shot, but how cool would it be that Michael Chabon not only took inspiration from Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick, but from Butch Dalisay as well?
Next up on my reading list are Michael Cunningham's The Hours
(I never saw the movie), Anne Tyler's The Amateur Marriage
, and PL Wombwell's A Battler's Laissez-Faire
, which I don't know about but was a gift from my friend Kage
from last Christmas (so it should be good). My last trip to Booksale a few weeks ago also yielded Andrew Sean Greer's short story collection How It Was For Me
and Take the Cannoli
, a collection of essays from Sarah Vowell (I'm a fan of hers from her appearances on Conan).