Lust in Translation: Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee

I read a small blurb about this book when it was first published in hardcover and for whatever reason, I actually marked down the date that it would come out in paperback so I could be sure to get it and read it. Whatever the driving force for acquiring the book, I've been reading it off and on (mostly off) since April... To the point where the book has a rather noticeable pen shaped bulge dividing the book almost in half where my pen rested for most of the three months that it sat on my bookshelf under a couple of other books.

That being said, it's a rather quick read (when you are actually reading it) and Druckerman's fairly genial tone that speeds you through. She keeps a brisk pace and doesn't involve herself in the topic beyond certain amusing interactions with the interviewees (like when she's slightly miffed that one Lothario has ruled her out as one of his potential wives based on age and weight)... And what's she's come up with is an interesting, slightly detached look at infidelity in various countries and cultures.

Now, you have to keep in mind that given the subject matter, the people she's speaking to are people whose lives have probably been affected by infidelity... People who are engaged in affairs, have been engaged in affairs, dealt with a significant other's affair, have multiple wives, keep mistresses, are mistresses, enjoy occasional flings, encourage occasional flings, are gigolos, visit prostitutes, are prostitutes (either full or part time), run support groups for infidelity, are private detectives specializing in proving infidelity, are people employed to put an end to a spouse's infidelity, or study any or all of these items above. Given this litany of interviews, you start feeling like everyone is cheating on everyone -- or at least most of the world is. The people who were the worst at dealing with it were, unsurprisingly, the Americans. In one horror couple, the husband made the wife recount every meeting, every message exchanged, every look... And will demand this recount on a frequent basis... And years later, still hadn't gotten over it while his wife lived in constant terror and regret. These folks seemed like great candidates for divorce IMHO. Some marriages aren't worth saving and I think God would agree on that one.

It's a relatively fascinating topic, particularly because this dealt with it in a rather sterile, conceptual form. There were few accounts like the American psychos. Most people didn't have multiple wives or sleep with new people every night. Lots of these people had an affair every now and again (or had one or two in their lives), and no one (again, except Americans) talked about how they were worried for their immortal souls as a result. No one seemed to think twice about an omnipotent God being aware of their every move... Most people were just hoping their families didn't know and that their spouse was kept in the dark, thus shielded from harm. Whether or not they were shielded from harm is debatable, but really, most people in this book weren't necessarily bad people... Though I suppose that's debatable too, isn't it?

In any case, I'm glad that I read the book and I think Druckerman did a fine job with it. With limited (reliable) data on infidelity, she provided thought-provoking portraits of individuals in different cultures that might be somewhat stereotyping, but she was careful to try and keep discussion balanced. But yeah... You do kind of wonder, after reading a book like this, if human beings were ever meant to be faithful and if we're doing ourselves any favors by strictly adhering to such a plan.


Lost City Radio

Hurray for wonderful book club members that create interesting lists and select good books.

I enjoyed Lost City Radio. I didn't really adore it, but I read it quickly and found very little fault with it. It struck me as a novel that junior high or high school teachers might encourage their students to read as a means of introducing them to certain historical events, and it would be an excellent way to do this. And I don't mean that as a slight that some people intend when they assign books to a certain age group or something. I'm not saying that only eighth-graders should read this, but it made me somewhat feel like I was back in school and about to study a South American civil war.

On top of that, I often find a certain similarity in the tone of stories that focus on missing loved ones, particularly when we're talking about situations like this where a Latin/South American country suffers civil war and many disappear. It's horrific and sad and so very upsetting to live with the knowledge that there will never be closure to the feeling of loss... It's one of those things that I cannot possibly comprehend and I hope I never will.

So, the story. This novel focuses on three characters in an unnamed country, weaving back and forth through time as we eventually learn about what (predictably) links them together. While our focus remains on these and a handful of others, the two main locations are the jungle and the city. The circumstances of the civil war and the country are vague, which means we bring in our own vague knowledge of many Latin/South American countries that have experienced civil wars, dictators, rebel armies, and mass disappearances that foster a culture of fear. And because of that, we automatically have ourselves a scenario and we're free to focus on what this means to our characters and what it does to change their lives.

First and foremost, we have Norma. Norma hosts "Lost City Radio," a Sunday radio program where callers phone with names and descriptions of missing loved ones. While her face might not be known to the country, it's practically impossible for her to speak outside of the radio without being identified. The people love her. She is repeatedly stopped and handed lists of names to be read on her show. Lost City Radio is often the site for staged reunions and everyone in the country seems to tune in, desperate to locate their own missing family, friends, and loved ones.

Norma's own husband is one of the missing, though she cannot speak his name on the air without fear of some action being taken. Possibly a member of the rebel group, the IL, Rey was a man who was taken into custody and imprisoned on the very night that he met Norma. He was released and met her once more a year later, so Norma returns to this fact constantly as an excuse for why she cannot quite let go. His ability to disappear and reappear in her life became so ingrained with their relationship that even now, ten years later, she cannot help but hope. She does not know how involved he was with a rebel movement and deluded herself into believing that her husband was a man who kept no secrets.

The third character that we have is young Victor, an eleven-year-old boy who is sent by his village to see Norma and bring her the list of their village's missing. His mother has just died, he never knew his father, and his teacher (who accompanied him to the city) appears to have abandoned him at the radio station, so Norma takes charge of him and it is at that point where we begin our story.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, though most everything came as a given in the plot. A weaving storyline will do that, as you assume certain things to fill in the gaps and then, when you double-back, your assumptions are confirmed. Thus, you're thankful that Alacron is a good storyteller and you're compelled to finish the novel based on that alone, because you know what's going to happen. I found this to be one of those books where you don't shed tears, and yet you still feel sadness pervading every page. It's a constant emotion in the book, despite small bursts of anxiety, fear and even some joy, as we're looking back on events that cannot be changed, and it's only once we reach the end that we look forward to what can be done.


Scales of Justice

There were two pieces in this little book -- one that was autobiographical and a second that was a short story featuring the author's best-known creation, Horace Rumpole. Now, I knew nothing of that until after finishing the book -- apparently, "Rumpole of the Bailey" was a television show created by Sir John Mortimer, and it spun off into things like short stories (aka what's featured here). I actually preferred the bit of autobiography that discussed Sir John Mortimer's past and how he got into law. A quick read, to be sure, but that's the nature of these little Pocket Penguins. Not quite enough to make me seek out anything else, though, with any real speed.

Oh a trivial note, I love these little Pocket Penguin books. They're so wonderfully convenient to slip into one's purse when it's weighted down with so many other things these day. I kept thinking that 4 out of 5 chiropractors would probably recommend them to keep the weight out of one's bag.


On Chesil Beach

This is only my second Ian McEwan book and I'm in awe. How can something so small be so poignant and powerful? Just over 200 pages with a generous typeset in a small little volume... and I know that I've read a story that I'll remember for ages.

I started this yesterday, having waited for a day when I could really sit down and just devour the book in one gulp. Well, that plan was thwarted when my four hour window for reading became one, but with that single hour, some subway time, and my lunch hour today, I've already finished.

The actual focus of the novel is on the wedding night of a young couple in England, 1962... but we jump back and forth between that night and all that has led up to that night in the lives of Florence and Edward.

It's beautiful. It's heartbreaking. It's now going to be the new book I tell everyone to read.