The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Road to Jerusalem, by Jan Guillou

I had such a great time reading this book! It’s one of those novels that reminds you why it’s fun to be a bookworm.

And I have to start off by giving credit to the translator, Steven T. Murray. Guillou is Swedish, and so Murray gets credit for making the book read so smoothly in English, even if he did confuse (or leave confused) Odessa with Edessa. A translator can make or break a book, and Murray certainly did a great job with this one.

Oddly, none of The Road to Jerusalem takes place in Jerusalem. That’s because The Road to Jerusalem is the first book of a trilogy. And it is the Road TO Jerusalem. As in “en route.” This book takes place in Sweden, or pre-Sweden. Also, I have always maintained that books in a series should be able to stand alone and be read individually or even out of order. So few series live up to that standard, including this one, but this time I didn’t care.

So, what was so wonderful about this book that made me overlook the nitpicks? Lots! Never before have I been so drawn in to a character’s story as I was to that of Arn Magnusson — whose tale begins in the womb. Indeed, at first the story looks like it’s going to be the sage of Arn’s parents. But no. After his parents and older brother are introduced and turned into fully fleshed-out characters, Arn is born, becomes a charming child, falls off a building and almost dies, and gets sent off to a monastery because his parents vowed they’d give him to God if he survived. This sets the “God spared you for a purpose, Arn” theme that then permeates the rest of the book.

So how interesting can a boy in a monastery be, you may be asking? This is where much of the action takes place, and where Guillou builds the foundation for about 1/3 of this book and the two to follow. With sure, confident pacing, the author takes Arn on an exploration of his interests, guided, but not explicitly directed, by the French monks of the Cistercian order. Most prominent among these are Father Henri, prior of the monastery and Arn’s chief guardian and confessor; and Brother Guilbert de Beaune, smithy, weapons master and, in terms of his real role in the story, Man with a Mysterious Secret about His Past. Together with the rest of the brothers, they prepare Arn for a number of contingencies, while not steering him toward any specific future. Eventually, Arn leaves the monastery and returns to his family, where it becomes apparent that the French know a thing or three more than the proto-Swedes of Arn’s clan. Arn has a few adventures, falls in love, and … the book ends with the set-up for the sequel.

Character development is a strong point in this novel. For example, Arn is conflicted, humble, and naive, yet he knows that he has special gifts and talents, which the French monks honed to a fine point. Even the villains’ thought processes make sense, for the most part, as they are usually more ignorant than vile. 

Guillou doesn’t try anything avant-garde or trendy – all he does is tell a good story well. What more do readers want? I highly recommend this book.

There are animals throughout the book, with some named horses – and the mysterious Brother Guilbert is a kind of horse whisperer. Arn bonds with a couple of Brother G’s “special” horses, stallions named Shimal and Khamsiin. And the horses serve Arn well. While I don’t think they quite come up to the level of being characters, that may change in subsequent books. In any case, there’s not much here for animal lovers to worry or get excited about.

It’s a good book – I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

September 8, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, historical fiction, horses, translation, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

A Hodge-Podge

So Domino’s Pizza is advertising that their old pizza was awful. I’m not going to argue with that. I’d give it a D+. And now, supposedly, Domino’s has a new and improved pizza.

Let me say here that I am not a fan of New York pizza. To me, it is a fat delivery system with no flavor other than salt and a texture like cardboard drenched in grease. I much prefer Chicago-style pizza, which is a fat delivery system with many diverse flavors and wonderful textures. Mmmm, Chicago-style pizza!

I mention this because on Sunday, Dave and I returned from New York with a variety pack of beers from Brooklyn Brewery, all of which I will write about below. And the US-Canada hockey game was on that night, and we’re hockey fans. So, to go with our beers, we ordered a pizza from Domino’s.

Good work, Domino’s! You certainly did improve your product. I now give it a B-, which is high praise coming from me. The crust has a hint of garlic flavor and no longer tastes like cardboard. The sauce — who even noticed the sauce before? Now it’s just a tad spicy, which I like. Spicy is good. The sausage still needs some work, but maybe that’s next.

Okay, on to New York. We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Brewery.  The latter was not as interesting as a winery, but the beer is good and now I’ve finally been in Brooklyn. For dinner, we revisited a favorite restaurant, Fig and Olive, and discovered a new one, Cookshop. Both were excellent.

What else did we do in New York? We got hypnotized by the Olympics on TV. Who knew the men’s cross-country race could be so exciting? It was, though, with the Swedes introducing a new strategy that really pissed off the other racers and resulted in gold and bronze medals for the Swedes. Good going, Swedish cross-country guys!

The US-Canada men’s hockey game on Sunday was dramatic. I don’t think I breathed during the entire third period. I’m an American, which should surprise no one reading this blog, but I like good hockey most of all. I’m also pissed off that neither the Canadian nor the American team have any of my Washington Capitals on them, while Russia has three. If I end up cheering for Russia, this is why.

Anyway, the Canadians were all assuming this was a two-team tournament between them and Russia. That’s why they lost, and if they don’t pull it together immediately, they’re over. I have little hope for them, because they certainly seemed to lack cohesiveness and it’s kind of late even if they develop it. It is entirely possible that they are now shocked into whatever mental state athletes need to be in to win. But the other teams — the ones like defending Olympic gold medalists Team Sweden — have had more time together in that very frame of mind. Via the Internet I have a good friend from Canada, and I know this means a lot to them, but I am calling Sweden to repeat as the gold medalists, the winner of the Russia/Canada match to take silver, and US for the bronze. Blame Steve Yzerman for listening to Don Cherry * or someone very much like him . I’d like to see the gold medal game between Russia and the US, but we’ll see. There’s lots of hockey to be played this week, and I don’t want to jinx it.

*Cherry is a clown who used to know a lot about hockey but doesn’t anymore. He’s biased against all players born outside of Canada, which is a distinctly 1950s mentality. Take the most bigoted bloviating anti-immigrant politician you can think of, put him in a bright red jacket, and limit him to talking about hockey: that’s Don Cherry. He probably really does think there are only two teams playing in the Olympics. It’s sad when a one-time expert becomes a joke, and that’s what happened to him.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | food, random thoughts, sports, travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment