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Alienation – a book chain

January 12, 2009

Hans Persson is doing something interesting over at his book blog Du är vad du läser: a weekly book chain, where you start with a theme, write a paragraph about a book you associate to that theme, then another para about a book you associate with the first one, and so on. The paragraphs are not exactly book reviews, because that would make each link too long, He’s been doing it for a few weeks now, one every week. Take a look if you read Swedish.

At any rate, this week’s starting point is “Alienation” (Utanförskap). The first book I associate with that theme is Jo Walton’s Farthing. The setting is England in 1949, in an alternate history where Britain negotiated a peace settlement with Hitler in 1941. The protagonist is married to a Jewish man, and one of the main themes of the book is the systematic alienation of Jews in Britain – another theme is the failure of the ordinary people to see what is going on. It is utterly plausible and quite, quite chilling. One of the most worthwile reading experiences I had in 2008. (There are two other books in the series. I haven’t read them yet, but I most definitely will do so.)

Another fiction book which deals with World War 2 is Briar Rose by Jane Yolen. This is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, in the form of a young American woman’s journey to Poland to find out more about her late grandmother’s background. She makes some very terrible discoveries indeed, and just as in Farthing, the reader is confronted with the inaction, or inability to comprehend what was going on, by the ordinary people. In this case, the ordinary farmers who lived near the Chelmno extermination camp.

Jane Yolen is an excellent short story writer as well (in fact, I tend to prefer her short fiction – I’ve read over 80 of her short stories and like all of them, but a couple of the novels I’ve read by her haven’t really done it for me), and she is one of the contributors to the short story collection Starlight 1. It is a collection of science fiction/fantasy short stories, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden. It won the World Fantasy Award in 1997. Two of my favourite genres, in a format (short stories) which I really like, only the best authors… what’s not to like? It’s years since I read it, and now I want to re-read it. And the other two collections as well. They are a good introduction to the science fiction field, especially for people who believe that SF has to be about spaceships and aliens.

Starlight 1 naturally leads me to Stardust, by Neil Gaiman. Not a heavyweight in any way, this book, but utterly sympathetic and readable. It is a fairy story for adults, and considerably less grim than many of Gaiman’s works. There is a rather beautifully illustrated edition with illustrations by Charles Vess – and the of course there is the movie, which was made rather later, and which I liked despite not usually being a fan of movies made from books.

I’d better end the chain here, even though I see several directions it could go in (The Jungle Book, Pride and Prejudice and Fray could equally obviously be the next link.) Nice idea, Hans. I hope you’ll keep doing this.

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