I made a resolution.
I talk about books fairly often - not surprisingly, seeing as this is a fannish journal dedicated orignally to Harry Potter
- but I tend to always say the same things about the same few books (Harry Potter
, the Austen novels, the Lucy Maud Mongtgomery novels, the Discworld
novels). I mentioned Tom Sawyer in yesterday's post, and sistermagpie
said that she doesn't hear about him regularly, and that made me think: None of you probaly know that Tom Sawyer
and Huckleberry Finn
are two of my favourite books ever, frequently re-read and recommended widely to RL friends, because I never mention them here. And so I decided to talk about some of my favourite books and write up some reviews which might help some of you discover a new book you'll love. Let's see how well I'll stick to this plan.
I am a great re-reader. I re-read the books I love fairly regularly, which naturally diminishes the amount of new books I read, but I think that's okay. After all, I always discover something in new on every read. I read fluently in English, German and Polish, and I have been increasingly focusing on books written in one of these languages, because I don't trust translations all that much. (However, my favourite books include The Foucault Pendulum
(French) and A Heart so White
(Spanish), which I did not read in the original.) So, I'll try to introduce some of my favourite German and Polish books to you, because they are sadly underrepresented on this English-language journal that targets an English-speaking audience.
And here we come across the first difficulty: After all the heated discussions of Twilight
and its heroine, and whether or not Bella is a good example for young girls to follow, I was planning to review one of my favourite YA series for girls, namely the Jezycjada
series by Malgorzata Musierowicz, to add the Eastern perspective to the coming-of-age trope.
Sadly, I don't think it's easily available in any language other than Polish. I know that the books have been translated "into several languages, including Japanese", but I have just tried to google them, and it doesn't look good for English. But you never know. Some of you might come across an old copy somewhere (I know the first two books in the series have been translated into Swedish, though they're out of print now), and it would be a shame to pass it by.
Have an excerpt:( Ida of September )
This is an excerpt of the fourth book of the series (I don't have the first three here), all of which play in the city of Poznan, in a district called "Jezyce". The first book was written in the mid-70s, the last one to date was released in 2007. The stories are rather simple: they centre around a young girl and a period of pivotal changes in her life. Mostly, there's also a love story, but the romance is never the one and only plot point. As you can see from the excerpt above, it's about the girl and the problems she's got with herself, her coming to terms with what and who she is and her family. The romance - if there is one - fits in seamlessly into the story and drives it forward.
Family always plays a crucial role. My quibble with the books is actually that they paint family life rather too sweetish for my taste. The books are set in Poland, which means that everyone, of course, is Catholic and believes in family values. However, this is never presented in an obnoxious way. It's just who these people are, and you don't get the feeling that the author tries to preach and evangelise.
Apart from that, the depiction of family life strikes very true - they have rows and they make up, there are misunderstandings and there are family meals where everyone talks at once and no-one listens to the others, because this is what families do.
The girl who is in the centre of the given story has a true and vibrant personality. So far, the author has published 17 books, and each of the girls (plus the supporting cast) is a real person, who has dreams and insecurities and hopes and aspirations, who's really good at something
- which she usually discovers in the course of the book dedicated to her - but who also has plenty of weaknesses, and when she cries, her eyes are puffy and swollen and her nose is full of snot.
Despite being contemporary, the books have a rather quaint, old-fashioned charm to them. The girl usually comes from a family of academics/intellectuals, where everyone is well-read and able to quote classical literature. But even though this is hardly terribly realistic, it works perfectly well within the context of the universe the author has created. The protagonist and her family (and friends) seem like a bastion of good sense, intellect and values within the madness of the modern world. Which, by the way, is also very realistically illustrated. The author has the ability to sketch a picture of contemporary Poland, its social and political situation, within a few words. So if you don't know anything about Poland, these books give a good overview of the country's recent history.
series can most likely be compared with Anne of Green Gables
, in that there isn't much darkness going on in the books themselves. There is plenty of tragedy hinted at and going on behind the scenes, but the books are kept pretty clean. And speaking of clean: There isn't any sexual contents at all. The love stories are sweet and romantic, there are a few kisses, but nothing graphic, and especially in the early novels, the girl ends up marrying the boy she fell in love with at the age of 15. But as I said, the romantic aspect, though an important part of the books, is not what makes the books what they are.
Often, the individual book is an homage to a piece of classical literature, which serves as meta commentary and as a red thread that drives the plot. The excerpt above comes from a book which uses Jane Eyre
to characterise the protagonist, but it comes with a twist.
The protagonist, Ida, reads and cries over Jane Eyre
. When she takes up a summer job, she is confronted with the Mystery of a Locked Room, in which a boy her age has locked himself up and is unwilling to come out. Her imagination naturally runs wild, and she suspects a deep and romatic secret behind all this. And then she meets the boy:An extraordinarily handsome boy who looked just like Mr Rochester.
Just like Mr Rochester, he had dark, burning eyes.
And he even had a lean, swarthy face.
And a square jaw.
And chiselled lips and an aristocratic nose.
And above his eyebrows, a mop of short dark hair.
Ida's head spun with delight and embarrassment.
But of course, life being more prosaic than a classical romance novel, the boy turns out not to be Mr Rochester. Ida gets her happy ending, though, and now, thirty years later, she is a delightful, self-assured woman with a career and a family she loves, and it really feels like the reader has witnessed her coming-of-age and coming-to-terms and growing up, which is probably the greatest thing about this series. Which, I hope, is available somewhere in some languages other than Polish *keeps fingers crossed*