Thursday, December 28, 2006

Two to Go

The snow has begun. This may be my final communication. Actually, it doesn't seem that bad yet, but I imagine that's what people were saying at the start of last week's Death Storm '06.

Two things read so far on the trip:

#47 -- "The Dictionary of the Khazars" by Milorad Pavic

Oh boy, is this an odd one. Notable (to me) for being one of the few examples of Serbo-Croatian literature on my bookshelf, I was motivated to finally read it after going through the Sandman series. This seemed like it might draw on similar material, being heavily influenced by dreams.

It's really indescribable. It purports to be three encyclopedias -- Christian, Muslim, and Jewish -- giving histories of the long-gone Khazar people and their mass religious conversion. There's all sorts of puzzles in here, and oblique references, most of which would take multiple readings.

A lot of it is nonsense (as dreams often are), and it can be frustrating to read -- Pavic is creating a mythology, but "real-life" (for lack of a better term) mythologies have power because they're based on some sort of reality. These aren't. It's an enormously creative novel, and I do wish I had the time to give it the repeated readings it probably needs.

#48 -- "Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution" by Victor Sebesteyn

A Christmas gift and a much-appreciated one. I've long known only the basics and the romance around the 1956 uprising -- this is a very comprehensive retelling of the tale, and it's great. The revolt and its bloody suppression come across as accidents, with indecision on the part of those in power (in Hungary, the USSR, the U.S., and the U.N.) determining the course of events and preventing a rational solution.

Sebesteyn is both sympathetic and unsparingly honest -- Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy, the hero of legend from the revolt, comes across as being helplessly swept along until the end, and while many of the revolutionaries are honest and upstanding, others are out for personal gain. It's a very readable book, and I hope to see something similar about the Prague Spring at some point.

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