Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Did I seriously just read a modern novel and enjoy it?

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Translated by Lucia Graves

A better question might be Did I seriously just post two blogs in a row? Okay, maybe that's not a better question. Back to the book.

The setting is Barcelona in post-civil war Spain. I'm already in way above my head. Coming into this book I knew next to nothing about the Spanish Civil War and despite Mrs. Lungwitz's best efforts in 3rd grade, next to nothing about Barcelona or even Spain. It's still an enjoyable book to read.

Daniel is a young boy who lives with his father, a used bookseller. At the beginning of the story Daniel discovers a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax and immediately falls in love with it. He wants to read more of Carax's novels so he begins searching. Despite his access to a knowledgeable network of booksellers, Daniel fails to find any more novels; in fact, many people haven't even heard of Carax. Thus begins the mystery.

Daniel sets out to find more details on Carax's life, his works, and what ultimately happened to him. This includes questions like: Why did Carax leave Barcelona without a trace in the '20s? What happened to Carax after he returned in the '40s? Who is burning all available copies of Carax's novels? Why is Nuria Monfort lying about how much she knows? Why is the police inspector obsessed with Daniel's findings? Who is posing as a mysterious character from Carax's novel?

This mystery is what drives the novel and I must say, drives it very well. In the midst of his searching Daniel continues to live his life but soon notices eerie parallels between his life and Julian Carax's. Parallels with ultimately disastrous ends. Dun dun dun!

Okay, seriously, this is a good book. Very well written/translated. As with any mystery though, you can't give away too many details. If you've read anything about this book you might notice that I didn't mention anything about The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Every review I've read makes a big deal out of this first chapter. It is a cool concept but honestly as far as plot development, very minor. In fact, it almost seems like the author took a completely different route than the Cemetery chapter foreshadowed, so in my mind it is not really worth mentioning.

How many postal puns can I fit into this review?

The Postman by David Brin

The answer to the title question is: a lot. For the sake of retaining readers I will refrain from making too many.

So The Postman is about this guy named Gordon who is struggling to survive in post-apocalyptic America. Apparently this is something that is quite difficult to do. We first find Gordon struggling in the mountains of Oregon fighting off a group of bandits. Well, maybe fighting off isn't a good term, perhaps running away from? Yes that works much better. As you can see Gordon is not your typical heroic character. He is an ordinary guy just trying to survive and hoping to find somewhere in the United States where some form of order remains intact instead of the isolated settlements struggling to survive and the roving bands of pillagers that are so common back east.

In his flight from the bandits Gordon discovers an abandoned postal jeep. One thing leads to another and Gordon finds himself posing as a Postal Inspector for the Restored United States Government; all of which he totally made up himself in order to not be killed by some paranoid villagers. Soon Gordon is traveling from town to town bringing letters and setting up post offices all the time struggling with the knowledge of the facade and his longing to find somebody who is restoring order.

Do you see where this is going? Yeah, so did I about 4 chapters in. Gordon on the other hand doesn't figure out that he is that order-restoring somebody until the end of the book. Actually, not even then. He's kind of an idiot, really.

Basically, in my opinion, The Postman fails to deliver (okay, sorry, but honestly Brin used a postal pun in a horribly inappropriate situation so really, this isn't as bad). It seemed like the whole driving force of the book would be Gordon's realization that even though he was lying to all these citizens about a restored government, he was helping to create one himself through the hope that he was providing. Unfortunately, that doesn't sink in. Instead there's some action sequences, fighting, romance, strangely misplaced chauvinism, and more self-doubting than you can handle with a 10-gallon bucket. Through it all Gordon spreads hope and reopens communication lines creating a small pocket of civilization in Oregon without ever realizing the impact he is having.

Only one line on the second to last page even hints at this getting through to Gordon. I'd quote it but I already returned the book to the library. It was something about people believing in their myths so much that they eventually make them true. It was the best line in the book, which, from a stylistic viewpoint, wouldn't have taken much.

I've started reading another Brin novel since I finished this one otherwise I would dismiss him as a scientist posing rather poorly as a writer. Now that I have some more perspective though I think The Postman just wasn't his best stuff, despite the various awards it won. Honestly, I don't understand that aspect.