5 stars: Try the recommendations in the book, they are spot on
My wife and I now have over 15 Eyewitness Travel Guides…obviously we like them. There are several reasons, and the Paris guide points these out quite well:
- the restaurant recommendations are spot on, at least for our taste. I have been to Paris more than 20 times, 5 or so for pleasure, the rest of business. I stay in different areas. I always pick a restaurant close to my hotel from this guide, and it never fails to meet my expectations (which were well set from the book)
- the maps and summaries of the attractions help you make the most efficient usage of your time. True, when on business, I do take a couple of hours to tour, but I cannot linger at the Louvre as I do when I am there for vacation. These guides help me map out what I want to see, where it might be in the museum, and even suggest when to go
- I try to go see Jazz and Classical performances while in Paris. I would not have had a great Jazz evening at the Bilboquet if not for finding it in this guide.
- What can I say, I am a convicted map-a-holic (which really irritates my wife, until we turn the corner and there we are!). I don’t carry extra maps, I just carry the guide book, and use it’s street maps and Metro maps to get around.
The final piece I like on these books are their simplicity. I had the rare pleasure to take my mother to Paris. Mom is not one for maps, but I let her peruse the Eyewitness Book, and she found some things that she wanted to see and where she wanted to eat (she loves mussels, and found several recommended restaurants in the guide book) and found places she didn’t want me to take her (the Catacombs, but my son and I took her anyway).
Though many people do not enjoy these guides because they have too many pictures, I find that the pictures help me navigate the city, the attractions and the restaurants. Sometimes when in Paris I just wander and stop somewhere for a glass of wine…then I look in the guide to see where I’ve wandered to and if there is anything close, like a jazz club that I should go sample.
4 stars: Good characters and humor, plot that bogs down in the end
The characterization of Vladimir Girshkin is excellent, from how he looks and dresses (which morphs through the book), to how he thinks about himself, his family, his ethniticity, to how he perceives the other Russians and Americans around him. Many humoristic moments as Vladimir, in an effort to get himself out of a dead-end life, gets in with deeper and crazier schemes to extract money and respect from different criminal elements, all the while building (or rebuilding?) the ego inside the man. The characterization, as a trip of self-discovery, is very well written.
But I did find myself forcing to finish. I did end up caring about the characters, esp. Vladimir and Morgan in the end, so I pushed on wanting to see what happened to them. But the plot bogged down, taking turns that made the humourously ludicrous ones in the beginning of the story seem normal. You have to suspend your reality checks for a novel like this, but it just got harder to do toward the end. The clever literary references and play on words at the later half of the novel didn’t make me chuckle or think as much as the ones in the beginning.
I will read Mr. Shtenyngart’s next novel with anticipation. Writing any novel is hard work, and I’m glad Gary pressed on with number 2.
From one author to another: a terrific story
I was reading this novel just as I was putting the finishing touches on my own first book; Senor Zafon’s characterizations and scene descriptions encouraged and discouraged me at the same moment: encouraged because I was reminded that authors can put pictures into people’s minds, pictures so vivid that the author’s world becomes real; discouraged because he showed me what a long way to go I have as an author (and I wasn’t even reading it in the native Spanish! The translation was by Lucia Graves).
Daniel Sempre, son of a bookstore owner, finds a mysterious book, The Shadow of The Wind, in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He tries to find other books by its author, Julian Carax, but is told that they are hide to find, due to a mysterious collector who buys them all and burns them. Sempre and his friends dive deep into the mystery that is Carax and the collector, trying to determine what is real and what is fantasy.
The places, like the library and the mansion, are so well described in the text that they become visible to the reader. The main characters respect for his father, for the books, and his longing for the women in his life, was incredibly well described and laid out.
And the plot yanks you in. I was reading this on a beautiful beach in Greece, and it continually brought me away from that reality into it’s own world. I had to pass it to my wife and my son to read, and they also devoured it on the same vacation. It is that kind of read, the kind that you cannot put down no matter where you are.
I eagerly search the Internet for news of Senor Zafon’s next work.