Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Loving SabotageLoving Sabotage by Amélie Nothomb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amelie Nothomb's "Loving Sabotage" is an absolutely charming little book. It is an evocation of the author's childhood in Beijing (then called Peking) in the early Seventies and, at the same time, it is a damning critique of China of these times and a sharp study of human nature.

Ms. Nothomb's parents, both diplomats, are stationed in Peking along with diplomats from many countries, living in a restricted area (the 'ghetto'). All children roam the streets together and play an elaborate war game: the Allies versus the East Block embodied by the East Germans. The author writes in the first person - she is a seven year-old pathfinfder for the Allies. The war is quite cruel, yet wonderfully infantile (the yogurt enrichment episode and the unspeakable "monstrous act" made me laugh out hysterically). In addition to playing war games, the author also falls in love with a beautiful girl, and learns to play love games.

Ms. Nothomb presents a superb portrayal of childhood. Many people go through a stage of constructing alternative realities in their pre-teens. I know I did. The characterization of adults as "children fallen from grace" is stunning. There is plenty of tenderness and love in the book, and the narrator's comments written from the point of view of an adult complement the overall maturity and wisdom of the novel.

A fantastic read, sweet and light, yet deep. The translation by Andrew Wilson is great - it is hard to imagine the book could be any better in its original French.

The Afterword the author added in 2000 (the book was originally published in 1993) is unneeded. I think it slightly reduces the magnificent charm of the novel. Thus, instead of five solid stars, it is only

Four and three quarter stars.

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