Last month, I started a series of monthly reading roundups. This month, to my astonishment, I am continuing it for the second straight month. So here’s a quick summary of the books I read in September.
Life Begins on Friday by Ioana Pârvulescu
I was travelling in Romania for most of September, so I decided to read this novel by a contemporary Romanian writer that I bought at a bookshop in Iasi (which I wrote a bit about—the town, not the bookshop—back in August). Life Begins on Friday was a fresh, slightly bizarre but enjoyable tale of fin de siècle Bucharest, loosely structured around the discovery of two bodies in the snow but stubbornly eschewing any of the conventions of detective novels.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Wow, what a wonderful premise! Four children visit a fortune teller in 1960s New York City and are told the precise dates on which they will die. How does it affect them? Do they live their lives differently because of their knowledge, and is that a good or bad thing? Are those dates really set in stone, or is it the fact that they believe the prophecies that make them act in ways that render the prophecies self-fulfilling? Fascinating questions, but I was disappointed with how the book deals with them, and the structure of four separate stories for each child didn’t work well for me, especially as they seemed to be arranged in decreasing order of interest.
The Hotel Years by Joseph Roth
I picked this one up at a charity shop back in the UK a while back, attracted mostly by the title, which matches my life at the moment. It turns out to be a fairly miscellaneous collection of Roth’s writing on a variety of subjects—mostly feuilletons from German and French newspapers in the 1920s and 30s. Typically, he observes a scene for a page or two and links his very specific observations to some more general themes. Although the book wasn’t quite what I was expecting and the selections seemed quite random, I loved the style of Roth’s writing and the beauty of his prose, and I’d like to read more of his books now.
East of the West by Miroslav Penkov
As we head into Bulgaria now, this promise of “A Country in Stories” was too good to pass up. I’m not sure if this collection of short stories really does capture the essence of Bulgaria, but it does cover a range of different aspects of its history, from the Balkan Wars through the world wars and the Communist era to the present day. The author lives in the USA now and did his MFA there, and the final story gives an interesting look at the immigrant experience with its disappointments and yearning for home.
Again, I kept bad records, so I think I may have missed one or two. But of these books, my favourite was The Hotel Years. I admired the ease with which Roth could draw me into his scenes and make such short, disparate pieces so engaging.
What was your favourite read last month? Let me know in the comments. And check out more people’s September reads over at A Cocoon of Books.