Archive for Olen Steinhauer

a journal of the plague year² [new semester looming]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2021 by xi'an

Returned from Corsica with two relaxed weeks where hardly anyone was anywhere in Paris, including the University. Which made plenty of room for preparing the incoming lectures of my undergraduate course (in Paris), cleaning our garden (and saving tons kilos of tomatoes from mildew into tomato sauce),

and cutting some of the fast-invading pumpkin vines,and finishing reviews of grants, papers and PhD theses.

Still some time for reading, including the very final volume of the Yalta Boulevard series, Victory Square, which sticks rather closely to the fall of the Ceausescu regime (a proximity acknowledged by the author), but also contains shocking (to me) revelations and some somewhat unrealistic foreign excursions. Nonetheless enjoyable enough to see the quintet as a formidable collection. Also read a short book on the non-elucidated murder of a Moroccan worker in Corsica, Les Invisibles, which I had bought while there. The style is a bit heavy and journalistic, and it certainly does not avoid clichés, but the report on the exploitation of North Africa seasonal workers by vegetable producers there is gripping (if reproducing identical patterns seen from Andalusia to Puglia…)

Watched two Kenshin movies [out of five] as well as some bits of the hilarious and rather silly very light Mystic Pop-up Bar series [with a lot of fast-forwards during my watch]. At the start, Kenshin is a prolific manga series set at the emergence of the Meiji era, series that ran from 1994 to  1999. And following a swordsman, Hitokiri Battōsai, who reminded me  (to some extent) of the 16th century samurai Miyamoto Musashi.

a journal of the plague year² [across the sea]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2021 by xi'an

Read the beginning of a Japanese locked-room mystery, Murder in the Crooked House, by Soji Shimada, but either due to the poor translation or to the story itself, I quickly gave up and left the book in my Bastia rental. Also left Quand sort la recluse by Fred Vargas (which I bought in emergency for being stuck on a Corsica beach with my kids!), as the irrational basis of the plot never completely vanished and the number of coincidences was just too high… And went through the fourth volume of the Yalta Boulevard Quintet by Olen Steinhauer, which follows the same team of homicide detectives in an imaginary Eastern Bloc country between Hungary and Romania. The most disappointing of all books since, while women receive a better share of the plot than usual, the rather shallow hunt for the mastermind behind a plane bombing and the even more ambiguous role played by the political officer of the brigade are doing nothing to help with the paranormal aspects of the story… (The presentation of the Turk people is furthermore caricaturesque and somewhat racist in the same way Midnight Express is racist.) Found a short book by Amélie Nothomb in an exchange bookshelf in Bastia, L’Hygiène de l’Assassin, which I read in a few hours before I shelved it back. Highly original with connections with French authors like Céline and Pérec.

Did not cook much on the island, except for home-made houmous and grilled sardines, but tasted local cheese like Niolo and Rustinu, local fresh water oysters (from Étang de Diane) which were already renowned in Roman time and a usual treat for Napoléon (while exiled on nearby Elba Island), and tested a local restaurant that could have made it to a Michelin star!, L’Étoile, in Ville di Pietrabugno. The dishes were highly original like a leek millefeuille or a mock tomato made of brocciu…

Watched for the first time Good Morning Vietnam!, on French TV (as my rental internet was down for the whole week!), which I found completely appalling! From the lack of realism in the action parts to the portrayal of the Vietnamese people to the lack of criticism of the Vietnam War. (It stands miles below The Quiet American.)

a journal of the [second] plague year

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2021 by xi'an

Read the picaresque El Buscòn (in French, translated by Nicolas Restif de La Bretonne), dating from 1602-1604, but the classic French translation from a century later is quite enjoyable and the story often hilarious. (I read this book after reading in 2019 the BD (comics) by Alain Ayroles and Juanjo Guarnido called les Indes Fourbes, that was inspired from El Buscòn and pretended to produce its sequel, located in South America). Also read the second volume of Olen Steinhauer, The Confession, just as impressive a dig into the minutiae of a Balkanic socialist dictature as the first one. And into the complex mind of another militia inspector in the homicide squad. (Just wondering if there were truly paper cups in the post-war Eastern block!)

Made my first fresh pastas with the traditional pasta machine my daughter got me as a Xmas present! I need improvements but, despite the mess this creates (flour everywhere!), it is a real treat to eat fresh pastas. The next goal is to check if soba noodles can be made with the machine….

Watched some parts of a rather terrible Korean series, Demon Catchers (or The Uncanny Counter). With absolutely no redeeming feature, although a very popular show… And the beginning episodes of another SF Korean series, Alice,  playing with time travel themes until it hit the usual paradoxes. (At least the physics fomulae on the white boards sounded correct, even though the grossly romanticised home office of a physics professor made no sense.)

Gave up on Augusto Cruz’ London after Midnight. Which revolves around the search for a surviving copy of the 1927 horror movie London after midnight, made by Tod Browning, and seemingly cursed. The plot is terrible and the style awful, an unpalatable endless infodump… Read P. Djeli Clark’s delightful short story A Dead Djinn in Cairo, which is a prequel to Haunting of tramcar 105 about a supernatural Cairo in the early 1900’s.