Our choice for June was Flesh Coloured Dominoes by the Latvian writer, Zigmunds Skujins. This surreal novel is split into two parts, one story set in the 18th century, and the other in the 20th (during World War II). One story is about a family in a Latvian town enduring the multiple occupations (Russian and German) of World War II. However, these individuals cannot be separated from earlier times. Surrounding the child protagonist is lush detail of the times, the characters and their interactions. In the fanciful world, lives overlap and intermingle, reflecting the author’s palpable enthusiasm as he enlivens the characters.
The protagonist was raised by his wise, imaginative grandfather who disdains conformity. But his ideas became dangerous when the Nazis and then the Soviets arrive in Latvia, when taking on a conforming identity was a matter of life and death. Skujins presents identity as both a genetic and philosophical link, and he explores the meaning of a collective identity. When the child asks, “Is nationality determined by what’s in your blood?” his grandfather explains this in terms of powers, totality and connections. The melancholy meditation on the nature of personal and national identity is thought-provoking, and the shaping of the boy becomes a narrative in itself.
This novel is very informative about Latvian history. In her afterword, Kaija Straumanis, the translator, explained how she had blended original Latvian text outlining history or explaining phrases into the novel.
Our reading group had an appreciation for this novel, recognizing it as clever, superbly written and an enjoyable read. It is a little surreal, sometimes farcical, rather humorous, often irreverent, and riddled with clever word-play.
It was acknowledged, however, that it is not a particularly easy read initially and does take some adjustment before the reader can be immersed in this pleasurable romp. Another criticism was that the final chapters were mostly extraneous, with the author unnecessarily emphasizing the didactic content.
Overall, a delightful addition to our year of reading.
Read a complete review here.
Ratings: Alexa DNF, Claudia 4, Denise 4, Di 3.5 , Gail 3, Janet DNF , Judith 3.5 , Margie 3.5 , Nic 3.5, Penny DNF and Viv 3.5.
Next month we get together on the 10/07/17 at 6:30pm at Preece House, 50 Nerang St Bischof Pioneer Park, Nerang (next to 54 Nerang St. shops) to discuss Amongst Women by John McGahern. This continues our year of European novels in translation. Hope to see you there and Happy Reading!
We are a group that gets together once a month to discuss good books. Each of us gets to choose a book on a rotational basis, preferably one outside our personal comfort zone – we try to keep the trash to ourselves. After the discussion, we comment on other books we read that month. Most of the time we remain friends after the meeting.
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