Monday, December 17, 2012

Winter Reading

I believe that book lovers have a secret code. When it starts to snow in December the bookstores are filled with greedy buyers. Some books are bought for others, but most money is spent on books that we take home to devour by ourselves. And believe me, there is nothing better to do on a dark winter afternoon that to read a book in a comfort of a warm and cozy study. Or in bed.

One of the books I would love to read right away is an ingenious and clever book written in 1934 by Dorothy L. Sayers - The Nine Tailors. Set in the remote village of Fenchurch St. Paul, this mystery involves an unknown body, which has been disfigured and mysteriously buried in the same grave as a local woman, shortly after the New Year. Many years before, a magnificent necklace of emeralds was stolen here, though it was never found. Two men and a local woman were implicated in the theft, and both men served time in prison. Now the unknown body, the fate of the two men involved in the theft of the emeralds, the whereabouts of the necklace, and the involvement of seemingly upright citizens of Fenchurch St. Paul are all under investigation.

Here is another book that was published some years ago: The Archivist by Martha Cooley. This literary debut tells a story of a young woman who is after a sealed cache of T. S. Eliot's letters. The critics wrote that this an emotionally charged novel - a story of marriage and madness, of faith and desire, of jazz-age New York and Europe in the shadow of the Holocaust. Published in 1999, The Archivist was a word-of-mouth bestseller and one of the most jubilantly acclaimed first novels of recent years. To me the plot seems quite intriguing and I am willing to explore the universe  guarded by the proud archivist Mathias Lane.

Just like any reader I often dare to tread a new territory. By chance I stumbled upon a writer who was a complete terra incognita to me: an American writer Johnathan Carroll who currently lives and writes in Vienna whom critics compared to South American magical realists. I decided to pick his latest publication - a compendium of thirty eight extraordinary stories that appeared last November under the title The Woman Who Married a Cloud. A little magic and fantasy on a cold winter afternoon is probably what anybody needs right now.

Vienna! One of my favorite cities in Europe. As every year millions of people all over the world will watch the New Year's Concert performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. The program takes the listeners on a journey to Austria of the Strauss Dynasty and the lightness of the operetta. Among many things, Vienna is a birthplace of exquisite pastries, Art Nouveau and of course, the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud. What would be more tempting than a mystery novel about the Herr Doctor's most famous patient's demise set in 1910? Published in 2000, The Fig Eater by Jody Shields has an intriguing plot: When a young woman's body is discovered in the summer of 1910 Vienna, the Inspector's wife is certain the figs found in her stomach during the autopsy are the clue to the identity of the murderer - for there are no fresh figs in Vienna at this time of year. What separates The Fig Eater from ordinary mystery fiction is the look it offers at detective work in the early 20th century.

Imagine Vienna forty, fifty years later. It is the time of Cold War and the neutral Austria is caught between two worlds. Vienna is a place where spies and diplomats peddle their "goods." And while the people in the West enjoy their freedom, those in Eastern Europe are forced to live under the heavy boot of Soviet Russia.

No one in the East expected that this was to be their existence after the brutal Nazi occupation, but the powers to be drafted their future at Yalta months before the war ended. What followed was a brutal subjugation of millions of people that lasted more than four decades. A fascinating new book sheds light on the events that took place after the fall of the Third Reich. Published in July 2012, Savage Continent by Keith Lowe is a must for anyone who is trying to understand how historical consequences of that period shaped the Europe of today.

As the year is nearing its end we not only have big hopes for the future, but we also try to make sense of what happened in the last twelve months. What would be better than reflect on the purpose of life on earth under the guidance of a prominent thinker? In his new book An Unknown World philosopher Jacob Needleman frames our role on this planet in a completely new and refreshing way. He moves beyond the usual environmental concerns to reveal how the care and maintenance of a world is something vital and basic to our existence as authentic human beings. The book is timely as winter is a good time for reflection.

Wishing everyone fascinating literary adventures this winter - with much Love, Light and Laughter - Dominique