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Here At the End of the World We Learn to Dance (thoughts)

October 20, 2009

kiwibuttonsmallFirst off, I’m doing an experiment today. You know all those articles saying being online so much has shortened our attention spans? Well, I think Twitter has shortened mine. Usually, if I’m at home I have Twitter open, even when I’m reading, and I’ll stop reading in order to tweet something. I also have my e-mail open compulsively and have to read every new e-mail that I get right away. Of course, I can leave the computer when I cook, or do chores, or am out of the house, so it seems odd to me that I can’t leave it alone when I’m reading! Anyway, the upshot is that I’m not going to get on Twitter at all today (my first impulse was to tweet that! lol), and I’m only allowed to check my e-mail every four hours. I want to see how it affects my reading. :) And, I think I need to be on the computer less and less in order to prepare for Dewey’s Read-a-Thon on Saturday, during which I’ll be attached to it quite a bit! (And which I’m so excited about!)

Now on to the book! For Maree’s spur-of-the-moment New Zealand Challenge this month, I wanted to read a book by a white New Zealander, since I had already read a (wonderful) book by a Maori author this year (Whale Rider-go read it if you haven’t already!). I’d heard of Lloyd Jones thanks to Mister Pip, which has been quite popular among bloggers, but that one didn’t appeal to me (I could take for ages about my dislike of Great Expectations). Then I discovered he’d written another book: Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance, which centered around tango and tragic love, and that was partly set in Argentina. Perfect!

hereattheendoftheworldwelearntodance When I started reading it, I discovered there were nested stories, one of which was set during World War I and the following years, the other of which was set three generations later. I love nested stories! :) Jones handled them really well too: he wasn’t constantly flipping back and forth to artificially tease the reader-there was enough of each story at a time to really grab on to, and while they touched on one another (the WWI bit is being told by a main characters’ granddaughter to her employee), they didn’t mirror each other. Neither plot was anything new, though; both deal with first loves, with impossible loves really, with growing up, and with figuring out what your values are.

There are several interesting characters. Lionel is a university student from the country, new to a big city and working as a dishwasher for extra money, who begins taking tango lessons and growing up. Rosa is a restaurant owner, originally from Argentina, whose family moved to Sydney when she was a girl, and now seems a bit adrift in New Zealand. Mr. Schmidt is an English piano tuner who arrives in a small town in New Zealand after they’ve lost most of their sons to the war, and is forced to go into hiding because of his name. Louise is a young girl wondering if there’s anything more to life who helps Schmidt. Then there are the little characters: the Quakers who refuse to go to war since they believe in pacifism, Lionel’s family who are worried he’s growing too far away from his roots, and a few more I can’t mention without giving away some later plot points. ;) These characters all have an archetypal feel to them, but Jones also makes them individual.

The heart of the story is the a love of dance, specifically the tango. The characters who learn it seem transformed by it, and Jones describes the dance in loving, vivid terms that put me right there next to them! It’s like another character, really.

So, even though the plot and characters aren’t wildly inventive, and the prose isn’t fancy, Jones is a born storyteller, and I truly cared about the various lives he intertwines and enjoyed my time spent with this novel. I’d recommend it to most people-it’s a slim story that speaks to the universal dilemmas that face us all. I definitely want to read more by Jones-I’m eyeing his travelogue about Albania, Biografi, next. Thanks to Maree for reminding us that October is New Zealand books month and urging me to pick up a Kiwi author!

Have you read any books by New Zealanders? Did you enjoy them? This book also whetted by appetite for fiction set in Argentina, so if you have any suggestions, please throw them my way!

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2009 6:29 am

    I really liked Mr. Pip and have been curious about this one. Sounds like a TBR addition to me. :-)

    Lezlie

  2. October 20, 2009 6:32 am

    I totally do that too with twitter: as I’m writing a post, as Im’ reading reader! I have twitterfox so it’s always open int he bottom orner of my firefox window. I’m learning I MUST logout of twitter if I want to get things done. And turn off the computer when I am done for the night so I can read without running back to check something or write something….what is wrong with us?! You’re right, we’ve lost our attention spans!

    This sounds like a fun book! I loved New Zealand when I went there last year…..LOVED it.

  3. October 20, 2009 6:47 am

    lol, I totally have to bargain with myself on the weekends to limit my email-checking (only once every three chapters!). Sometimes it works, but other times it just makes me antsy.

    I haven’t read any books written by a New Zealander (I think), not even Whale Rider even though I loved the movie. And I don’t know any books set in Argentina, either! I’m not international enough, I guess. :(

  4. October 20, 2009 7:20 am

    I love nested stories too. I was just reading about another story revolving around using the tango to solve/alleviate life’s problems. Apparently tango is a great metaphor.

  5. October 20, 2009 7:38 am

    I have this same book sitting on my shelf. I was thinking about adding it to my read-a-thon pile. I may just do so.

    You know I’m feeling the same way you are about the being online and Twitter? I thought I was the only one who tweeted while reading. I’m trying to read a lot of books this week just in case I don’t have much time during the read-a-thon. Good luck staying offline.

  6. Bea permalink
    October 20, 2009 8:20 am

    I believe the second half of Hopscotch is set in Buenos Aires, but I’ve never read that far. I love Cortázar, I really do, but Hopscotch is just too weird. There’s also The Tunnel, by Ernesto Sabato, which is a dark novel about a painter obsessed with a woman. Sounds awful, but it’s actually quite interesting. I read it when I was very young and it made an impression on me. Is also set in Bs. Aires.

    I’m sure I MUST have read something else, but for my life I cannot remember. Maybe some of Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories?

  7. October 20, 2009 8:27 am

    Eva, I also am anti-Great Expectations… though that might have to do with the fact that I’ve never been able to finish it! :P So, Mister Pip hasn’t appealed much to me either, but this one I could see reading – when done well, I really enjoy nested stories too. I’ve been wanting to read more New Zealand fiction (perhaps due to my love of Flight of the Conchords), but haven’t read any yet. I do have a copy of The Bone People by Keri Hulme, however, which is how I’ll probably start!

  8. October 20, 2009 10:02 am

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!! I’m reading happily along through your review, enjoying myself, of course, because I always enjoy your reviews. But also feeling quite contented because I’m thinking, “You know, I just don’t think this is a book for me,” and heaven knows I don’t need any new additions to the wish list. Ha–but can you leave well enough alone? NO. You go and mention his book, Biografi, which I then have to go look into. And now I’m utterly craving that one. So still I can’t escape from here without my wish list growing…
    Dammit, Eva. Just dammit. ;)

  9. October 20, 2009 10:08 am

    Keri Hulmes’ The Bone People is a brilliant book; I highly recommend it for your New Zealand pile. It is a beautiful, poetic examination of the conflict (internal and external) between Maori and European culture embodied in one extraordinary young woman. If I could find my copy, I’d read it again!

  10. October 20, 2009 11:49 am

    Missing Twitter so much at work has made me realize just how addicted to it I am. I’m exactly the same as you when I’m at home, and it has to stop! Not that Twitter isn’t fun, but I want to do other things too.

    Eep, soon it’ll be the end of the month! I need to read my book for the Kiwi Challenge asap.

  11. October 20, 2009 3:24 pm

    Good luck staying offline today! That is one of the many reasons I don’t even want to start with twitter… I’m bad enough as it is with email, facebook, blogs, and other random internet browsing. I am having a lot of trouble keeping things under control during the day when I work (I spend all day working at a computer with internet access) and I’ve noticed that whenever I get home from being out in the evening or on the weekend I have an urge to turn on my computer and check email/facebook first thing! It is really hard to resist the internet when it is so readily accessible.

  12. October 20, 2009 4:06 pm

    I’m such a twitter-fiend right now, you have no idea. I haven’t read Here at the End of the World … but I have read Mister Pip, and I loved it, even though I hate Great Expectations as well. So don’t let that put you off. :D

    Yay! Oooh … I need to buy jaffas …

  13. October 20, 2009 6:05 pm

    I’ve only read one NZ book, that I know of. It wasn’t Whale Rider (which was an awesome movie), but another book by the same author. It was just meh.

  14. October 20, 2009 11:34 pm

    I know, I know, I know about Twitter! Good for you, though! :)

  15. October 21, 2009 12:17 am

    I’ve read a couple of books by C.K. Stead. I really like his writing.
    My Name Was Judas
    Mansfield

  16. October 21, 2009 9:12 am

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a book by a New Zealand author but the reviews of the books people doing this challenge have written make me definitely want to pick one up.

  17. October 21, 2009 11:45 am

    Okay, I actually use Twitter when I am doing chores. lol I will pause in doing the dishes or whatever to see what is going on! I can usually read uninterrupted. The only time that changes is if I am having a conversation with someone and I really want to read… Then, I multi-task. :) My email is about the same… Sometimes I check it regularly, but other times it is all day before I open it! I go through stages with Twitter. Sometimes I am on a lot, but then others I hardly am at all. It depends on who is online to talk to, likely. :)

  18. October 21, 2009 12:17 pm

    I sometimes have to just turn off my computer screen in order to get anything done. I have my couch/tv/computer/work space all the same room, so it’s easy for the computer to distract me when I’m doing other things. Annoying :)

  19. October 22, 2009 9:15 am

    Sorry no suggestions, but I am definitely going to read this book. I love dancing tango (the ballroom kind, don’t know Argentine tango though I’d love to learn) and ballroom dancing in general. If only I were a celebrity I’d be on Dancing with the Stars in a heartbeat.

  20. October 22, 2009 9:56 am

    Lezlie, I hope you enjoy it!

    Rebecca, lol-I find the cut-off from twitter very soothing. :) I’m not sure if I’ll go back to it or not.

    Anastasia, I failed at the every 4 hour thing-I changed it to every 2 hours! :) Don’t worry about not being international enough!

    Nicole, I agree tango is a great metaphor, and it’s sexy! So it makes readers want to pick up books! lol

    Vasilly, it’d make a good read-a-thon choice. :)

    Bea, I’m not a fan of super weird books, lol, but maybe I’ll give The Tunnel a go. It kind of sounds like The Collection, which I loved!

    Steph, I had to read it TWICE, because I moved btwn 9th & 10th grade, and the high schools’ curricula were different. :/ And in 9th grade, everyone said I was like Estella. :/ Definitely my least fave book of required school reading. I’ve heard The Bone People is really depressing but also really good.

    Debi, LOL. You make me laugh!!!

    DS, I’m gearing myself up for that one. ;)

    Nymeth, after 2 days w/o it, I’m not craving it that much anymore.

    Sarah, I don’t do the facebook thing anymore, but I totally get the internet thing! :)

    Maree, lol-I love our twitter conversations though!

    Softdrink, I’m sorry it was meh. :( Whale Rider was awesome!

    Amy, lol!

    Bybee, thanks!

    Lisa, then I guess New Zealand book month is working!

    Kailana, doing dishes?! Aren’t your hands wet? lol

    Kim, I have to close my laptop, otherwise I can’t resist it. ;)

    Stefanie, I’m so jealous you do ballroom dancing! I want to do that one day!

    • October 22, 2009 11:34 am

      Oh I do hope you can find some level of balance so we can see you there sometimes! I’d miss seeing your comments like “I wish I could crawl inside The Children’s Book.” and “Which book should I read next?”

Trackbacks

  1. Travel by Books: 2009 Wrap-Up « A Striped Armchair
  2. Peel My Love Like an Onion by Ana Castillo (thoughts) | A Striped Armchair

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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