Round 2 of my vacation reading

After reading The Heart of the Matter, I really needed something a bit lighter. Unfortunately, with my poor planning, I had no light choices. Rather I moved on to The Fixer by Bernard Malamud, set in 1911 during the period of virulent anti-Semitism in Tsarist Russia. It tells the story of Yakov Bok, Jewish handyman, who moves to Kiev after his wife leaves him. Not following the Jewish traditions, he ends up working for a member of the anti-Semitic Black Hundreds Society (his reasoning makes sense in the book) and living in a area forbidden to the Jews. When a boy is found with his blood drained, Yakov is blamed and immediately arrested. That is the the first few chapters of the book of course. Most of the novel takes place in prison, as Yakov fights against the conspiracy against him.

Yakov has no choices. Acccused of “ritual murder” by people who have no understanding of the Jewish faith and in fact do nothing but distort the truth (some understand and choose to lie anyway), he must stand strongly as forces move against him. Malamud won both a Pulitzer and the National Book Award for this work and it’s easy to see why. The power of this tale really affects you. Bok refuses to confess to a crime he didn’t commit and not because he wants to remain on the high moral ground. He does not come across as too moralistic. Instead, Malamud makes him realistic. How can he not bow under the cruel pressure the government puts him under? It’s a message we should really listen to today.

Continuing with the social satire and prophecy, I read Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood next. Wow. It’s equal parts funny, scary and heartbreaking. The narrator Snowman recollects a time similar to ours (though slightly in the future), a time when a boy named Jimmy loved a girl named Oryx and a genius named Crake. As the story unrolls, you learn what happeded to the world in which Snowman lives. The best part (or the worst) is that it’s not too far-fetched.

Atwood has an amazing ability to make her science fiction completely believable. I could not put this book down. I started in one day in the evening and all through the next, while snorkeling and seeing things I have never seen before, I was thinking about this book. And one of the best things about this book is that Atwood keeps you guessing until the end. This is a 2 thumbs up book in my opinion (in fact, all of the books I read were 2 thumbs up).

The final book I read, and perhaps my favorite, is Collected Stories by Richard Yates. How I got this far without reading this brilliant man is beyond me. Seriously, I want to run out and get copies to give to everyone I know. Revolutionary Road, supposedly is best book, has moved up on my TBR list. I was actually remind of Z.Z. Packer while reading his stories (yes, I realize that she would have been influnenced by him rather than the other way around, but I read her first).

They both have this wonderful, simple realism in their writing. Most of the stories take place in an America that is trying to recover from WWII. The soldiers are back and attempting to find their way back to normalcy. The veneer of a happy life is in place, but it’s slipping. The characters find their lives unfulfilling and full of disorder. He can get into the mind of any character. I do not think I can adequately explain what is so great about Yates’ writing. Just run out and buy anything he’s written. I swear you won’t regret it.

To end this long post, I read some great books while in Belize. I wish I had more time to read during ‘real life’. Maybe it’s time I devote more time to just sitting down with a good book.