Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The style of The Confidence-Man

Reading The Confidence-Man, I sometimes come across a rather tiresome sentence, though not as odd as many sentences written by Henry James. 
For example, from chapter VII: 
“Upon his hitherto moderate enough companion, this suggestion had an effect illustrative in a sort of that notion of Socrates, that the soul is a harmony; for as the sound of a flute, in any particular key, will, it is said, audibly affect the corresponding chord of any harp in good tune, within hearing, just so now did some string in him respond, and with animation.Which animation, by the way, might seem more or less out of character in the man in gray, considering his unsprightly manner when first introduced, had he not already, in certain after colloquies, given proof, in some degree, of the fact, that, with certain natures, a soberly continent air at times, so far from arguing emptiness of stuff, is good proof it is there, and plenty of it, because unwasted, and may be used the more effectively, too, when opportunity offers.” 
Or from chapter XII: 
“What made it yet more lamentable was, that the unfortunate man, thinking that, before the court, his wisest plan, as well as the most Christian besides, being, as he deemed, not at variance with the truth of the matter, would be to put forth the plea of the mental derangement of Goneril, which done, he could, with less of mortification to himself, and odium to her, reveal in self-defense those eccentricities which had led to his retirement from the joys of wedlock, had much ado in the end to prevent this charge of derangement from fatally recoiling upon himself—especially, when, among other things, he alleged her mysterious teachings.” 
At this point I don’t have much to say. The only thing is that the novel’s very different from Moby Dick. The exuberance, the joy and enthusiasm of Melville’s magnum opus are not to be found here. Nor is humour as we see in Moby Dick, though perhaps The Confidence-Man does have humour, a different kind. 
I’m noting, not really complaining. 
What do you think? 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Melville's The Confidence-Man: who is the con man in chapter 3?

I've returned to Melville- I'm reading The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade. What can be a better read now, whilst one follows the elections in the US? 
People who know the book all know that it's about a con man or more in different disguises. What bothers me is, who is the con man in chapter 3? Everywhere I look, people say it's the crippled black man, because he wins people's pity and thus gets money, but is he? What I see in the chapter is that out of nowhere "a limping, gimlet-eyed, sour-faced person", a custom-house officer, appears and loudly says the black man's deformity is a sham, "got up for financial purposes". How does he know? What are those allegations based on? Does he have evidence or anything to back up those claims?After saying it's a sham, the custom-house officer just says "He can walk fast enough when he tries, a good deal faster than I; but he can lie yet faster. He's some white operator, betwisted and painted up for a decoy. He and his friends are all humbugs." but doesn't bother to prove any of his words. He is like a Donald Trump, loudly and confidently throwing out claims and accusations based on nothing, showing no regard for facts. Then he leaves, but before that, has successfully sowed a seed of doubt in everyone's minds. 
Doesn't that make him, rather than the black cripple, a con artist? 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Updates: life, The Sympathiser, the restaurant

Here I am again.
Last week, some time after my trip to Greece, I finished reading The Sympathiser, and should have written a review or something by now. Sadly, the problem with taking so long to read a book that isn't so thick is that once you're finally done with it, you no longer feel the urge to write anything, and just want to move on with your life. What can I say? On the 1 hand, the sense of responsibility keeps nagging me- as a Vietnamese who feels strongly about literature and about the war and who has an advantage over many Vietnamese people in that she can read the Pulitzer-winning book in the original instead of waiting for a translation that perhaps would never come, I should write a few words. On the other hand, I've been changing from a watcher to a doer, having fun, enjoying life, trying out fascinating stuff and experimenting, and then analysing myself as I've just discovered another side of myself. At the moment it appears a bit pointless to get worked up about a book when I just prefer to embrace my joie de vivre philosophy instead (which, I know, is merely a fancy way of saying I'm just frivolous and lazy).
Perhaps some day I'll write. The verdict: I'm not impressed.
To get back to the restaurant, I keep in touch with a few former co-workers to know that the ex-boss aka the bitch still talks of me constantly, and would never forget me because she has owned a restaurant for 28 years and nobody has ever dared to write a word, so on and so forth. She should have known better than to mess with me, I thought, if she couldn't handle something so light, let's go hardcore. But now, except for a few headaches, I'm generally in such a good mood that I don't bother- after all, who cares really, I didn't hear it, she didn't say to my face.
I'm feeling great.
Here's some Louis Armstrong:

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Some note on my waitressing experience

As you may remember, in May I stopped working at the restaurant and had a rant about it on my blog
Soon afterwards I started writing for Trẻ magazine, and in July, used my own experience to write about the working conditions in 1 Vietnamese restaurant in Oslo, which was published on 27/7. The article was shared around and apparently became a thing in the Vietnamese community in Oslo, at least among the restaurant people, and reached the owner of the restaurant, my former boss. She called me last Saturday, 30/7. The conversation lasted about half an hour- long story short, she spoke of the reactions in the community and their fear of its effect on the restaurant business, explained several points in the article, tried to justify herself, spoke of things I'd said at the beginning, asked why I included so many details, said she didn't remember such trifles, noted that other restaurants of Vietnamese people paid their employees the same salaries and of course wouldn't be the same as Norwegian restaurants, on the 1 hand, wanted to put me down and made it personal, on the other hand, asked me to understand and sympathise, and tried to sweet-talk me into taking down the article. 
(That was a surprise. I rather expected some furious insults). 
I did say it's not personal- if I had really wanted a revenge, I would have filmed or recorded her and taken it to the Norwegian media or even the tax agency, or at least named the restaurant and included photos of it in my article. 
On the same day, 2 girls from the restaurant contacted me. For 1 thing, many of my former co-workers have read the article, and like it- it's all correct, they said. They even asked why I didn't publish in a Norwegian newspaper*. 
More importantly, the boss called the restaurant to ask how people felt about working for her, and over the past few days, has been nicer and more gentle than usual. She even asked 1 of the 2 girls about her pay, and decided to raise it herself. 
I'm too cynical and pessimistic to believe that 1 article of mine can change a person- she's 60 years old, but it feels good anyway. At least I made her think a bit. 

*: To be truthful, I wanted to bring down the whole restaurant. Then I contacted Arbeidstilsynet and realised that Norwegian's law is actually fucked up, and didn't bother... That article I wrote mostly for the fun of it. 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Some top 10 lists about books

- 10 favourite novels (updated):
Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy
War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

- 10 most important novels- 10 novels that have most influenced me or been most significant to me in some ways:
Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy
War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Emma by Jane Austen
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

- 10 novels I hate the most:
The Book of Daniel by E. L. Doctorow
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Corregidora by Gayl Jones
The Tattooed Girls by Joyce Carol Oates
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
(A possible candidate for 1 of the 2 empty spots might be The Sympathiser, but I have to finish the book). 

- 10 novels I feel worst for not having read:  
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky 
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe 
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes* 
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 
Bleak House by Charles Dickens**
The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass** 
Hunger by Knut Hamsun** 
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf** 
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo** 
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

- 10 novels I very much want to read but won't read any time soon: 
Ulysses by James Joyce
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust 
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov**  
Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
The Red and the Black by Stendhal 
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco 
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray 
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov 
The Golden Bowl by Henry James

- 10 novels I don't think I'll ever read: 
Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien 
Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre 
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce 
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys** 
Min Kamp by Karl Ove Knausgård
Nỗi buồn chiến tranh by Bảo Ninh
Anything by V. S. Naipaul
or Graham Greene
or E. L. Doctorow 
or Ayn Rand

*: I believe the book I read as a kid was an abridged version. Not sure. 
**: I tried and gave up on these books.