Tag-Archive for ◊ extensive reading ◊

Author:
• Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Sam Savage was born in Camden, South Carolina,USA in 1940. He graduated from Yale University in 1968 and received his Ph.d. in philosophy from the same university in 1973. He was also a teacher at Yale for a short time.

Prior to writing, Savage worked as a bicycle mechanic, carpenter, a shellfish fisherman and letter-press printer. In 2004 Sam Savage moved to Madison Wisconsin, USA, where he now lives with his wife.

Sam Savage has written five books to date but he is known for his best selling first novel Firmin, published in 2006 and translated into several languages.

The novel is narrated by a skinny, erudite, sensitive, extraordinary rat called Firmin. He is a very special rodent who can read by an unknown miracle. He is born with an unusually large head and ugly features and is the runt of a numerous litter of twelve siblings. Firmin’s birth takes place in what he calls, “a mausoleum of books, a museum of forgotten treasures, a cemetery of the unread and unreadable”, the basement of Pembroke bookshop in Scollay Square, an old, insalubrious part of Boston which is about to be pulled down as part of an urban reconstruction scheme.

Firmin was born in the sixties to an alcoholic, overweight mother of easy virtue named Flo, who cushions her litter’s nest by making confetti out of James Joyce’s big novel, Finnegans Wake, “The biggest book she could get her paws on”.

Soon after his birth, Firmin learns quickly that he has to fend for himself. He owes his survival to books, becoming figuratively very fond of literature for nourishing his highly curious intellect as well as literally nibbling books when desperately hungry and when he has nothing else to eat.
Firmin finds out that no matter how keen his intellect can be, his stomach also claims its due.

He also finds comfort in his loneliness and in his hunger in the Rialto Theater where he gorges himself watching the “lovelies” – the exquisite naked actresses shown in late night films – as well as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, while at the same time gorging on the food dropped by spectators.

Due to his extensive reading and film-watching, Firmin acquires knowledge and a philosophical, critical mind. He becomes remarkably cultivated and therefore feels more affinity with humans than with rats. In fact he considers himself a human at heart which creates a chasm between him and the other rodents.

After observing Norman, the bookshop owner, for several days, Firmin develops some fondness for him to the extent of wanting to befriend him. Sadly, things go wrong through a misjudgment on both sides when Norman tries to poison Firmin, regarded as a vermin squatting his bookshop. Henceforth Firmin will distance himself from Norman and mention him only by his family name, Shine, since he is no longer considered a friend.

Depressed, forlorn, frustrated and disappointed by being unable to fulfill his dream of communicating with people, despite his hopeless efforts and eagerness, Firmin finds his salvation with his new friend, Jerry, an alcoholic, marginal novelist who hosts him in his humble room above the bookshop before dying in an accident and leaving Firmin once more to fend for himself.

As Firmin is about to pass out under the rubble of his beloved bookshop, he thinks as he always did, how lucky he is to have been a very special rat, enjoying reading and dreaming about books to the point of ecstasy and to the point of substituting himself with the characters from his books or the film stars watched in the Rialto Theater. Even if he was estranged by his own family and disconnected from other rodents, he felt the urge to fulfill his exceptional destiny.

For Firmin, books were his only solace and a mine of enrichment during his short existence. He says: “Even though I consider myself lucky to have lived the life I did, I would not like to be that lucky twice”. Firmin feels inconsolable and caustic. He says: “ O bitter ending! They’ll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me […] Dry and cold was the world and beautiful the words”.

A very imaginative, endearing, touching and original bittersweet novel, funny in parts, about a rat who, during his short life, attains a great deal of culture and knowledge coupled with a vivid imagination. Regrettably all his acquired knowledge, culture and philosophical views are to no avail. A thought provoking subject.

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Author:
• Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Rose Tremain was born Rosemary Jane Thomson in London in 1943. She attended Frances Holland School from 1949 to 1954, then Crofton Grange School from 1954 to 1961. Afterwards she studied at The Sorbonne in Paris for one year, where she took a diploma in the “Cours de Civilisation française”.

She graduated from the University of East Anglia with a B.A. (honours) Degree in English in 1967 and taught Creative writing from 1988 to 1995 in the University of East Anglia.

Rose Tremain has won several awards for her books. She has written several novels, short-story collections and a number of radio and television plays. She was chosen as one of the twenty “Best Young British Novelists” in a promotion by the literary magazine Granta published in 1983. She was a judge for The Booker Prize for Fiction in 1988 and in 2000. She reviews and broadcasts on a regular basis for the press and radio.

The Road Home was short-listed for the 2007 Costa Novel Award and won the 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction.

Before writing The Road Home, Rose Tremain undertook extensive reading and researching about post 1989 Eastern European society. She also benefited from interviewing Polish field-workers in Suffolk.

Rose Tremain has been divorced twice and now lives with her companion, Richard Holmes, the biographer, between Norfolk and London. She has one daughter from her first marriage in 1972 who became an actress.

Rose Tremain was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2007.

The setting of The Road Home is contemporary London. The main character is a forty-two-year-old East European called Lev, from an unnamed ex Eastern bloc republic. He is an unemployed, lumberyard worker after his sawmill closed due to lack of wood and a bereaved widower since his young wife Marina died of leukaemia. In desperation he decides to travel for many hours by bus from his rural village, Auror, to reach London in order to find a job which will provide a humble living for his impoverished old mother and his five-year-old daughter who remains back home.

In The Road Home, the author tackles a present reality issue, a good insight into the problem of the Eastern European labourers who migrate to the Western world and the harsh repelling reality they face. They feel unwelcome by the English and have to withstand a great deal of hardship in order to survive and supply means of subsistence to their families.

The author succeeds in humanising, with compassionate understanding, the problem concerning the invasion of Eastern European workers, by portraying a friendly and sincere Lev, who like any human being has his good qualities, his weaknesses and his misdeeds. He is not just a part of an unjust and cold statistic of the unpopular foreign invader-workers we read about. He is described in a sympathetic, likeable way.

He is handsome, he is kind, sincere and feels for others. Lev is homesick; he is certain that he doesn’t belong to this Western society he lives in, but he has to endure his affliction courageously in order to reach the target he has set himself.

The story is engaging, poignant at times, but thanks to Christy, Lev’s drunken Irish, light-hearted landlord and Rudi, Lev’s best friend and compatriot, who stayed back home, the reader can enjoy some comic relief.

An easy to read, emotionally rich and entertaining novel while at the same time thought provoking. Despite the nostalgia and melancholy of some chapters, it’s an optimistic story full of hope.

Through Lev’s eyes, we see the materialistic world that he can’t fully understand and we see all the decadence of the West, depicted in English society : The portrayal of old people left unvisited by their children in old people’s homes, the well-to-do snobs who cheer with approval a play that makes a banality out of incestuous-paedophilia simulation, or the amount of waste in a capitalist country.

Not really an attractive sight. Rose Tremain says in one of her interviews : “It’s the culture we swim in… I do think for an outsider’s eye it does look extremely vulgar and shallow…More now than it ever has.”