Red Plenty Review Part 2

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/08/the-glorious-terrible-strange-ussr-francis-spuffords-red-plenty

Recently I reviewed the novel Red Plenty by Francis Spufford (which can be read here: https://jhame085.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/red-plenty-by-francis-spufford/) I figured it would be fun to read another review of the book (in this case from the blog on Tor.com) to see what another reader enjoyed or didn’t enjoy about it.

If you read the review you’ll find that the blog’s author, Jo Walton, seems to enjoy the book. Like me he mentions how he enjoys the mixture of historical fiction with historical facts to weave a very interesting and telling series of tales. Mr. Meier seems to go a step further into his back research of Francis Spufford research for the book than I did. He mentions in his article that some of the things that the charterers say in the book are, in fact, taken from direct quotes from real people living in the Soviet Union. Walton makes special note of many scenes from the book quoting them word for word.

Walton is also amazed at the level of research Spufford acheived in his research of the book. He mentions the 53 pages of end notes that are included at the end of Red Plenty. Despite the fact that I knew that there were so many end notes in the story it is only after reading this article that I can genuinely appreciate the hard work put into this book. To be honest I feel that this ignorance is quite common among avid readers like myself. We are often so ignorant at the level of hard work our favorite authors put into writing their books.

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Just to let you know…

I just wanted to let everyone know that for the next few weeks I shall be using this blog for a number of purposes for several of my current classes at Point Park University. I will still post at least once a week as I always have. Due to my professors requirement, however, I may have to post some things that really don’t have to do much with books. While this may be a tad annoying this is an exciting opportunity to learn new things and ideas and I hope to add new material to the site which I hope you will all enjoy!

Red Plenty by Francis Spufford


Spoilers

Relations between the West and Russia has always been on the cold side. This is despite the fall of the Soviet Empire over 20 years ago. Because of this we in the West (and I’m sure those in Russia as well) have a very stereotypical view of our former opponents. This is due to propaganda released by both sides as well as the indoctrination schools used to convince their students that the opposite side was the personification of physical evil in this world. Because of this it was and continues to be very hard for us in the West to understand what life was like in the Soviet Union and what life is like in Russia today. Red Plenty by Francis Spufford gives a brilliant view of what life was like in the Soviet Union during the Khrushchev Era. He does this through a series short stories that show views of life from the point of views of various Soviet citizens, from upper politicians to regular factory workers. The stories range from funny to downright depressing. All the stories attempt to explain what exactly led to the Soviet System to collapse a few decades later in the late 80’s. The reasons presented not only include the oppression that the Soviets were never able to completely rid their system of, but also due to the lack of imagination of the Soviet Leadership. One story tells how Soviet Leader Alexei Kosygin makes a crucial decision that leads to the collapse of the Soviet Computer industry. This is due to the fact that he opts to buy Western computers rather than allow the Soviet industry to develop. This allows their own industry to fall behind.

A common theme in the book is disillusioned optimism. The Soviet Experiment was meant to be the final step towards a perfect utopia. This optimism is similar to the post-war optimism that the US experienced. The US optimism, however was tempered by the numerous problems that occurred during the 60’s and 70’s such as the counter culture and the Civil Rights Movement. These problems never occurred in the Soviet Union and optimism was propagated by the state. Reasons for the disillusionment are demonstrated as to be the lack of social mobility, the lack of consumer goods, as well as the harsh oppression committed by the government. One point in the story that is particularly harsh is the dramatization of the Novocherkassk Massacre of 1962, in which government and KGB forces massacred protesters asking for better working and living conditions.

This book is a must for anyone trying to better understand the Soviet State and the culture it propagated. It is also a good read for those who are trying to understand the Post-Soviet Russia. It is written clearly and is well researched. I also found it a highly entertaining read.

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

First Japanese Edition  Courtesy of Wikipedia

First Japanese Edition
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Spoilers

When I was first assigned A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami for a World Literature Class, I never knew how much I would enjoy this author’s work. I’ve read several of his works now and each time I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable they are. Murakami has a very bare bones style of writing which is not only very memorable, but also striking in its simplicity. The same can be said of some of his stories. Their plots can be very simple, almost to the point of being somewhat dull, but right when you think you have them figured out he manages to twist the story into something still simple but completely different than with what you started with. This is the case with South of the Border

At it’s base the story is a love story between two childhood friends. The main character, Hajime, is close friends with Shimamoto a girl in his class with a pronounced limp due to polio. Over time Hajime and Shimamoto grow apart and eventually lose contact with one another. The reader than follow Hajime as he lives his life. He goes through several average, rather boring jobs before starting a family, and with his father-in-law’s help, opens two very successful jazz clubs in the upscale Aoyama District of Tokyo.Hajime is relatively happy with his life, but knows that something is definitely missing. At this point Shimamoto returns to his life. She works her mysterious way back into his life. She refuses to talk about herself and only hints at perhaps being rich and/or having a rather shady past. Shimamoto takes a powerful hold on Hajime’s life as he develops a strong obsession with her that causes his home and work life to suffer. Shortly after consummating their relationship she disappears. It is at this point after deep reflection that Hajime realizes that while he is still missing something in his life that to find it is not worth losing what he already has- his family and work.

As I said before I love Murakami’s writing style. I feel that this book is a beautiful example of his style of writing. What I liked most about this story and the writing along with it is how Murakami makes you almost feel as if you are the main character. It is so easy to feel Hajime’s emotions and thoughts as your own. The mistakes he makes we have all made before, even if we won’t admit to them, and his successes can also be felt to be our own. The best aspect of this book was how some of the questions presented are never answered. You never find out Shimamoto’s past and you never find out why she disappears. Hajime, despite his disappointment in never figuring Shimamoto out, learns to accept that he never will. I feel that this was the most realistic element of the book. It is all too common that the questions that we ask in our lives do go unanswered and as we grow into maturity we learn to accept this fact.