Microviews Vol. 34: The Tender Technique

on Sunday, June 30, 2013
The Devil's Workshop by Jachym Topol
A very strange book by the Czech Republic's contemporary master, The Devil's Workshop is both horror and farce, thoroughly enjoyable yet totally despicable. The narrator is mistakenly identified by a weird Belarussian cabal, as the man who 'saved' Terezin and made it a popular destination for Holocaust tourists. Hoping to build a monument of their own, they kidnap him and set him on the task of popularising The Devil's Workshop, the 'ultimate' house of horrors. A short, absurdist fairytale, Topol's book hilariously lampoons its subject while giving pause for serious thought about the boundaries of respectable commemoration.
4 Out Of 5 Mass Graves

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
From all the hooplah surrounding this book, I was expecting another Yellow Birds. The war-torn setting of Chechnya, seldom the setting for literary fiction. The poetic language. The heart-wrenching story of a little girl rescued by her neighbour and brought to live in a hospital under the care of a feisty female doctor. The moral dilemmas of complicity and survival. Alas, I got The Kite Runner. If Oprah still had her show, I'd expect to see this named book of the month and Anthony Marra jumping up and down on her couch. A lovely book, to be sure, but that's all.
3 Out Of 5 Splendid Suns

Learning To Pray In The Age of Technique by Goncalo M. Tavares
I finally bit the bullet and read the last Tavares available in English translation. A companion piece to Jerusalem and my personal favourite, Joseph Walser's Machine (Walser even makes an appearance here), Learning To Pray... is another fine but disturbing work from my discovery of 2013. Lenz Buchmann is the greatest surgeon in an unnamed, but oddly familiar city. He is also pure evil, the kind who refuses last wishes and revels in the suffering of his patients. Following the death of his brother, Buchmann give away medicine to pursue a career in politics. A Machiavellian scoundrel, he quickly rises through the ranks but, just as he is about to assume the second highest-job in the country, he is struck down by cancer. At last, Buchmann has lost control. It is a chilling portrait, though to Tavares's great credit I felt a certain sympathy for this throughly dislikable man. Now can Dalkey please publish Klaus Klump?.
4 Out Of 5 Roman Daggers

Equilateral by Ken Kalfus
Oh those wacky fellas of the 1800's! Convinced of life on Mars and the need to make contact, a group of astronomers, engineers and like-minded dreamers set about constructing a giant equilateral triangle, 300 miles long on each side, in the Egyptian desert to fill with petrol and set alight at the precise moment Mars comes closest to Earth on June 17, 1894. Employing thousands of locals, it is an engineering marvel of the grandest kind. It is also a madcap folly, colonisation and Empire expansion gone nuts. With Equilateral, Kalfus has pulled off a delightful intellectual romp of a novel, showing our silly species at its best and worst. I'm just dying to know if it was at all based in historical fact.
4 Out Of 5 Old Plastic Protractors

Bough Down by Karen Green
Not once is his name mentioned and yet his spirit dwells on every page, in every word. Green confronts her pain in stunning wordscapes of free form verse, building bite-sized temples to grief, longing, anger, frustration. Only the odd line deals with the realities - cutting him down from the roof, being questioned by police, propping herself up with drugs, coming to terms with his absence - each one coming like a suckerpunch to the solar plexus. "It's hard to remember tender things tenderly, " she says, but that is precisely what she does. An amazing little book, though perhaps to be expected from the wife of David Foster Wallace.
4.5 Out Of 5 Finite Jests


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