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Old 12-20-2016, 07:08 PM   #16
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I finished this about two weeks ago, and I can't get it out of my mind.

This is an incredible character study and a story that kept my attention all the way through it.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who wants to read serious literary fiction.
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Old 12-20-2016, 07:30 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Bookworm_Girl View Post
No worries, Bookpossum! I am so far behind on posting. I still want to add more comments to the Bel Canto discussion, and I have yet to start this month's novella. I haven't even put up the Christmas tree yet! If only someone could gift me more time under the tree!
Thank you! I feel better and I've got my tree up at that.

Just remember the wisdom of How the Grinch Stole Christmas; it'll be Christmas, no matter what. Relax, take a breath, pour yourself a glass of Christmas cheer.
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Old 12-23-2016, 01:38 PM   #18
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Thank you! I feel better and I've got my tree up at that.

Just remember the wisdom of How the Grinch Stole Christmas; it'll be Christmas, no matter what. Relax, take a breath, pour yourself a glass of Christmas cheer.
Thank you for the dose of perspective! All the decorations are up, presents are purchased and I enjoyed a glass of cognac by the beautiful tree last night while listening to Christmas music. Looking forward to catching up on my reading and posting next week.
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Old 12-23-2016, 05:53 PM   #19
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I solved the problem of getting the tree up by giving it and its decorations to our local Op Shop for passing on to a family in need of one. People fleeing domestic violence probably don't have time to take that sort of thing, so I hope someone is able to enjoy it.
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Old 12-23-2016, 06:13 PM   #20
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I just finished reading The Door last night. While I was reading it, I kept being appalled by Emerence's behaviour: her abuse of the narrator ("You're so stupid"), and especially her violence with Viola the dog, at one stage beating him with a shovel so that one of his ribs was broken. If anyone laid so much as a finger on our dog they would be out the door very quickly indeed.

But of course, with the occasional references to some of the violence of the 20th century which Hungarians endured, I realised that her world was so different from mine that the two could not be compared. It led me to do a bit of reading online about Hungary's various regimes, which was very sobering. It is good to have a reminder every now and then of how incredibly fortunate I am to have been born in such a peaceful and democratic country.

So I found the book very good indeed: painful in so many ways, and heartbreaking in how badly life can go wrong for someone old who insists on her privacy no matter what the cost.

One of those books I shall keep on thinking about long after finishing reading it, and that to me is always the sign of a fine and powerful book.
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Old 12-23-2016, 08:36 PM   #21
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That's very kind of you, Bookpossum! I am sure there are families out there that would appreciate it. It represents the true spirit of the season.

Yes, I keep thinking about this book which is why it is so hard to post about it. Hungary was a very different world. The book is not just about individuals, but I think making a statement about the country too. Another thing that I keep pondering on is the way it was written from one point of view such that you never see exactly from Emerence's perspective. At times the narrator seemed very self-absorbed and immature, but then I think my own thoughts would be rather embarrassing too if everything I thought about were recorded unfiltered.
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Old 01-15-2017, 02:04 PM   #22
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As already said by several people in this thread, it is a complex book and I'm still trying to work out some things.

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...This may be personal, but I found it had an undertone that represented to me that the book came from a socialist society. While the book was written in the comparatively free, compared to much of the rest of the communist block, Hungarian society between 1956 and the freeing up of their society in 1989 there were things about it that gave me that impression. The despairing flat dreamlike narration, the secretiveness among the characters, the compartmentalising of the characters by their duties and status (especially the many references to Emerence and her sweeping, mentions of real work being manual work, the powerful role of the Lieutenant Colonel, etc.). Whether this was part of the propaganda of the book, or came about simply because it is typical of such a restricted society I do not know.
...
I just finished the book. I also got something of that feel from it. Thank you for expressing it so well.

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My sympathy was clearly with the person of Emerenc. Somehow she was the personification of the "fool/jester" who could do or say everything and criticise everyone without fearing any consequences. And she was the personification of the goodness, she intuitively knew what was good or right.

I had some (and only minor) problems with the person of the authoress. From time to time we have here at MobileRead discussions about first-person-stories and for me this book is another prove how difficult first-person-stories are to tell. It is really very difficult to criticise oneself convincingly! At least for my taste, the authoress acted too much like a drama queen in the time of the crisis. On the other hand, from a constructional point of view I think it was a very good idea to tell the story from one side with the other and main person as some kind of adversary.
...
Good points, Billi.

I had strong reactions to Emerance. (BTW, the name means roughly like worthy of merit , at least in Romance languages; Sazbo wasn’t being subtle there). She certainly has a much better sense for what people need in a material sense, and she knows how to take care of people. She shields people at considerable risk to herself. But there is the darker side of her; the will to dominate, the capacity to organize a suicide and to grab the suicide's property.

Recently, I read a transcript of an old interview of Thomas Keneally, author of Schlinder’s Ark. (https://web.archive.org/web/20110319...t/s1989104.htm)
He said that what interested him most about Schindler was his moral ambiguity - “the fact that you couldn't say where opportunism ended and altruism began”. That is what makes Emerance interesting for me - the shifting boundary between her charity and her self-interest. That is her complexity; her life has taught her to look out for herself, but her impulses lead her to look out for others.

One of the main purposes of the narrator; to expose information about Emerance that otherwise would not be available. Also, the narrator’s persona is a foil for Emerance. In most respects she is a polar opposite of Emerance - thus her failure to do the Right Thing for Emerance. Numerous references are made to the narrator's dutiful worship, but she rarely practices the New Commandment; whereas Emerance practices the charity without the religious observances.

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...So I found the book very good indeed: painful in so many ways, and heartbreaking in how badly life can go wrong for someone old who insists on her privacy no matter what the cost...
That was a great point, Bookpossum. Emerance’s core was her fierce independence; it would have been terrifying for her to be in a wholly dependent condition. After having by heroic effort raised herself to a position of great respect in the neighbourhood, she would have felt terribly degraded.

Some of the prose is very good - a tribute to both the author and the translator. Magyar is not an Indo-European language, so possibly it is more demanding to translate into English. There were some very fine lines like “And for years we lived, not just in peace and calm, but joyously, in Odessa.”

Of Emerance’s baker fiance (“They tore him apart, like a loaf of bread. When the mob sorts you out, it takes a while. It’s a slow death.”), is this a reference to the Eucharist or Pilate's condemnation of Jesus?

The writer is very deft in some places, as where she describes the priming for a suicide: including the drafting of the suicide note and will “I told her exactly what she should write for the police and she copied it down”, and Emerance’s subsequent action “I brought her iron back with me the same night, so we wouldn’t argue over it.” - a wonderful economy with words which tells you a great deal about Emerance, while leaving some mystery about how far her complicity in Pollet’s suicide went.

The exposure of the inner room at the end is extraordinary. I'm still thinking about what that represents. I don't think that it represents the total destruction of Emerance's plans - she got her family crypt. However, in some way the inner room is a crypt. Is it the whited sepulchre of Matthew - "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." and does this address the narrator's shortcomings?

The book has some minor demands on the reader; you are expected to know something about common cultural works (Rigoletto and Shakespeare), which you would not see in a modern novel in the west; that is probably due to the writer’s age and being cut off from modern western culture by the Iron Curtain.
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Old 01-15-2017, 06:31 PM   #23
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Great post bfisher! Interesting point about the inner room. I thought it could well symbolise the rottenness at the core of the Communist system, so that eventually it crumbled and turned to dust.
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Old 01-15-2017, 08:19 PM   #24
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...That is what makes Emerance interesting for me - the shifting boundary between her charity and her self-interest. That is her complexity; her life has taught her to look out for herself, but her impulses lead her to look out for others...
I had wondered if this was a characteristic of charitable people in the society she lived in. Such as being conditioned by the hardness of the past and being aware of the risks in the present if one crossed any politically conditioned boundary (such as appearing to usurp the power of political officers, so a threat, and giving charity in a political system where any need for charity is not supposed to exist)?
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Old 01-15-2017, 08:21 PM   #25
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Great post bfisher! Interesting point about the inner room. I thought it could well symbolise the rottenness at the core of the Communist system, so that eventually it crumbled and turned to dust.
I think you hit it there, Bookpossum; isn't that just exactly how the Iron Curtain regimes seemed to collapse suddenly from internal rot?

In a way, the sudden collapse of the inner room contents could represent the collapse and passing of any Ancien Regime; even that of Emerance as the ruler of the street.
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