Coming-of-age novels with a touch of darkness, or what I’ve read lately – part 1

I seem to have been reading quite a few coming-of-age novels lately. Coming of age with a twist or a touch of darkness. Maybe it had something to do with Halloween, as I tend to read more dark, Gothic stories around that time, or maybe I am rather attracted to darkness bwhahahaha.

Some months ago Amazon offered me a 2 months free trial for Kindle unlimited. I went for it and let me tell you I’ve found it disappointing. I assume I’ve had full access yet somehow I’ve only manage to download 1 book. Yup, you’ve read that correctly: from all the books available, only 1 book intrigued me and somehow I had reserves even about that one. Luckily I did strike gold and enjoyed the book more than I thought I will. I actually want to recommend it, that much I’ve like it! The book in question is a translation(yayyy): The Whaler by Ines Thorn, translated by Kate Northrop(4*).

<<“Poverty can make people self-centered” >>

The Whaler by Ines ThornThe story is set mainly on the island of Sylt at at time of hardship and barren land that cannot be cultivated. At a time when man was pray to nature, when knowing your environment and making the most of the few available resources was compulsory if you wanted to survive. In the small community living on the island where relationships were forged for material gains that ultimately will assure ones survival, young, innocent Maren hopes to marry for love. But hidden secrets and upset spirits push Maren into the adventure of her life: a whaling expedition. This adventure is going to be the turning point in her life; it’ll force her to mature, to see life in a very different way and yes, will help her find true love.

I particularly loved how well nature is presented in this book. Starting with the descriptions of land and continuing with the elements: the storms and winds and the destruction nature can release upon us. The author does a great job in creating a brooding, dark atmosphere to accompany the story, it was almost as nature itself was a character of the book. I also enjoyed the whaling details, it was actually my first fiction centered around this practice. And even if rather stereotypical, I even managed to enjoyed the love story and felt was fitting for the overall narrative. 

Thatched cottages on Sylt island

Thatched cottages on Sylt island

By chance I’ve stumbled upon a school resource about the whaling industry in US(If you are interested, it can be found here) I am not sure how similar to the German practice of the 18th century is, yet I really enjoyed watching this explanatory video: https://vimeo.com/34586186. 

And now that at I am at it, you definitely must read the story of “he’s-at-homes “ –> http://lithub.com/there-once-was-a-dildo-in-nantucket/

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (3.5 *)

Miss Peregrine s Home for Peculiar ChildrenA peculiar coming of age, just as all of Miss Peregrine’s children. If you are into strange things happening, monsters; time loops, magic powers, ymbrynes, old strange photos and a lot of adventures, then this is the book for you. This novel has been on my Kindle for ages. We were booked to see the movie as part of a festival, but sadly we had to cancel due to a last minute trip. I’ve felt rather sorry to have had to cancel and that’s how I finally decided to read the book; but still hoping to see the movie, as I am quite curious now :p

The first half intrigued me quite a bit: starting with the strange circumstances surrounding Grandpa Portman’s death and continuing with the foreboding trip to the remote island. But once I’ve started to realize what was all about, my interest started to dwindle. And that’s mainly because, I believe, I am not the intended audience for this book. The story is nicely built, I did enjoy the magic/unusual elements, the plot and especially the photos(it was one of the rare occasions when I really wanted to have a physical copy of the book to be able to properly enjoy the old photos. They were rather small on my Kindle, and I couldn’t enlarge them :(), but I feel is more of a young adult type of book and not really for me. While I am slightly curious about the further development of the story, I am unsure I will ever read any other books in this series.

The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin * (3.5 *)

The Wicked Cometh by Laura CarlinA dark, atmospheric novel. Victorian London with all the specific squalor, poverty, darkness. And in accordance with the background, a series of mysterious disappearances that our heroines set about solving. And in doing so, we have a coming of age and a blooming, even if slightly unusual, romance.

The book opens with Hester’s story. A young, somewhat educated orphan girl, forced to live in poverty, at the mercy of her family’s former gardener and his family. A coach accident gives her the chance to escape the poor conditions she was forced into; a chance she was arduously looking for to begin with. Calder’s mercy(or maybe I should say his wickedness) brings about the encounter between Hester and Rebekah, a crucial moment in the grand scheme of things. Can a young, uneducated, poor child’s mind be set in the rules of the society proving the Mendicity wrong? A societal experiment becomes an adventure, a truly detective like story peppered with danger, with disguises, with “helping” the enemy, and finishing with uncovering the culprits behind all the disappearances but also so many other layers just hinted at throughout the book.

A strong, intriguing beginning but a slow development where the book pretty much lost me, for then to pick up again towards the end. The story line is rather interesting and historically accurate or better said believable in the historical context. I particular liked Rebekah’s character. A strong, logical female character. Highly educated, friendly and just. Not shying away from danger and difficulties in order to help those she cares about. I’ve less enjoyed Hester, an insecure girl, prone to impulsive actions based on her insecurities. I could say this is in line with her age, and story wise it does make sense, but not enough to be likable, in my view! The happy end seems a bit forced, not really convincing, therefore another miss for me. And on top of that, I cannot really say I cared about the romance, even if I actually think it possible despite being rather unusual for the time. Overall a 3.5* from me, rather a promising debut and hopefully an interesting author who will deliver another nice story in the future.

*Book from NetGalley for an honest review

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Daily Digs 1 – 30.10.2017

I was considering starting a sort of daily section where to post little things I stumble upon on my daily browsing. Knowing me, that won’t happen but at the same time I don’t want to give up on the idea all together. Therefore, for now, I’ll set up a new section called Daily Digs where I’ll post whenever I have time, or find something that I like and want to share with you, something that I want to comment about, or it reminded me or something else etc. but without making it into a full blog post.

To kick start this, here is the first Daily Dig 😀

 

Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife by Jan van Eyck

Source: National Gallery, London

Here you have Jan van Eyck’s painting: Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife. Do you think the man in the painting looks like Vladimir Putin? How uncanny, right?! But do you know about his first love?! Lena?!

 

She was tall. Taller than him. Thin. Wide hips. Long nose. None of his friends thought she was pretty. Marik once said that Lena was built like a kangaroo. And Kostik just hooted in agreement. But Vladimir thought Lena resembled a large bird.

Like a heron or a crane.

They had met in the summer of 1975. Vladimir was twenty-two and had just graduated from Leningrad State University. He came to the sixtieth birthday party of his old karate teacher, Arkadij Isakovich. Lena didn’t really belong at the party. She was just a distant relative of Arkadij Isakovich visiting from Moscow, sleeping on the couch in a dark corner of the kitchen. During the party the couch was heaped with all the food waiting for its turn on the table, so Lena had no choice but to join Arkadij Isakovich’s guests. She sat perched on the edge of the chair at the corner of the table, refusing offers of vodka, not smiling, staring into the mound of beet salad on her plate, as if she wanted to hide in there. Fat and drunk Aunt Galya kept screeching that Lena should swap places with one of the men, because it was a bad omen if a young girl sat at the corner. ‘Nobody will want to marry her!’

At some point Lena apparently had enough. She got up and said that she was going to the kitchen ‘to get more pickles’.

She rolled her r’s.

Vladmir saw her in the kitchen on his way to the bathroom. She was sitting on the windowsill with her back to him, blue cotton dress, chin-length light brown hair, long legs swinging to the floor, a jar of pickles in her hands. When he came out of the bathroom, she was still sitting there.

He walked up to her and asked: ‘What are you looking at?’

She blushed and said that she was nearsighted, but she thought there was a cat in the window of the adjacent building. He walked closer. The time must have been about 6 p.m., the sun was still up, but the enclosed space between the buildings was always dark. He had to press his face right to the glass in order to see anything outside. He wondered if he stank of alcohol.

See? Over there!’ she pointed, fixing a strand of light brown hair behind her ear. The skin of her neck looked very clean.

Yes, there was a cat, a large one, sitting in the sixth floor’s window and staring right at them, with mean indifference. Continue reading Lena and Putin’s story here → VLADIMIR IN LOVE

I love how Lara Vapnyar‘s story seems so real, I can almost imagine Putin’s first love being Lena. Also the small details capturing the essence of communism: he bought “smuggled” clothes or the metal ice-cream cups – I actually remember them sooooo well – they look very like the ones in the  photo, just a little bit darker.   

ice-cream cup

 

 

And to end this on a funny note, do you think Putin’s cats look like the one in the picture below? Hahahahaha

Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife -cats

Source: Cats Galore by Susan Herbert, personal copy

 

It’s all about cats!

I like cats as far as creatures go. I like almost any animal that does not have horns or scales on it for that matter, but I especially like cats. Any sort and denomination: spotted or solid, fat or thin, with and without fleas. I like them and admire them and almost anything they do is a pleasure to me.

The way they can walk around the rim of a bathtub, for instance, without falling in and the way they can get comfortable in any old place. There is nothing better than a cat looking out from behind a pot of geraniums

Mona Lisa - Leonardo Da Vinci

Mona Lisa – Leonardo da Vinci

 on a windowsill or walking slowly down a country road of a summer evening. There is something at once comforting and disquieting about a cat which makes him attractive.

They are wonderful when they stick their noses cautiously into a hole and then back out again, and when they flatten down their ears the tops of their heads look like giant bumblebees. Also they have marvelous feet. When a cat puts his paw on the head of a half eaten fish it is at once delicate and dainty and fierce and when he retracts his claws again he is most beautifully innocent like firearms in a shop window or a pin-cushion with no pins in it.

 

A cat has hundreds of games inside his head and anything that casts a shadow or leaps across his path becomes his toy. He does not have to spend any time deciding what he likes or what is good for him and so he is never awkward.

Of course  I know a lot of people do not share my sentiments. For one thing they do not think cats are affectionate enough because they don’t bounce up and down or try to lick your face for you. They remember you though in their own way and purr and rub against your leg which is about all I expect, except from 

A Midsummer Nights Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

people. Nor is a cat very useful when you come right down to it unless you count catching rats which they do on their own or making hot-water-bottle covers and violin strings which you do out of them when they’re done for, or providing sport for small boys. And as far as brains go I’d be the first to admit they haven’t got much, at least the human way. If a cat thinks at all it is mostly about problems like how to get off a roof or if a piece of paper is living, but even this has its advantages in the long run. No cat will ever trouble you by bringing your slippers when you’re ready to go out or insist on fetching the paper in the pouring rain.

In fact you might say one of the best features of a cat is that it is in every way an animal. A baboon for example can never be really lovable because of the way he uses his fingers (but not his napkin) and even a dog is maddening when he understands a little yet misses the point. With a cat there can be no deception. A cat is just a cat from start to end and does not even trouble himself to find out which of you is master.Extract from the essay Cats by Pati Hill via The Paris Review  

 

Apparently today is National Cat Day and what better way to celebrate your love of cats than with

Cats Galore

 the perfect cats book, eh?! I manage to find the most amazing book featuring cats. This is the type of book that’s going to make you smile or even laugh out loud no matter what. Do you live in England and you had no summer?! Hoped for an Indian autumn but you’ve got storm Ophelia, chased by storm Brian?! You had to walk in the poring rain and then woke up to your gym erroneously charging you and you’d rather kill someone?! Well you definitely need this book, as there’s no better recipe to happiness Cats Galore 1

than Susan Herbert’s Cats Galore: A Compendium of Cultured Cats published by Thames & Hudson. I’ve found this  book while browsing in the John Rylands Library shop. They have so many lovely books there that I need to win the lottery. Many of them are from Thames & Hudson who seem to publish only awesome 

The Birth of Venus - Sandro Botticelli

The Birth of Venus – Sandro Botticelli

books. They definitely take great care to publish quality books, they care about the content as much as they care about form. 

But let’s get back to our book: we have over 300 pages of thick, glossy paper of delightful cats in arts, theater and movies. All your favourite paintings are recreated with, you guessed it, cats :p. Be honest, you always wanted to see your cat as Mona Lisa, isn’t it??!! Or playing Hamlet or Madame Butterfly or even Cleopatra? Well your wait is over, as everything 

The Swing - Jean-Honore Fragonard

The Swing – Jean-Honore Fragonard

you wanted a cat to be, is going to be in the pages of this book for your enjoyment. I pored over the pages of this book every day since the day I bought it; and I’m still pretty much in love with it. Not only that, but 1 day before I’ve found it, I went to a medieval market and bough 3 framed postcards of cats as various characters. Imagine my surprise to see that they’re actually from this book. It was meant to be, I am telling you, it was meant to be 😀

 

 

 

Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

4* (book from NetGalley for an honest review)

Life is a game that is only played once, and I lost. There is no second chance…

I was reading on a blog I follow that 1.2 million English books have been translated into other languages since 1979, 6 times more than any other language (via bookwitty.com) – that might look as a really positive thing, but to me is actually very, very sad because it goes to show how English literature has a sort of monopoly and how so few foreign authors get translated into other languages, but especially into English. Trying to find more info on this aspect, I’ve stumbled upon an older article saying that only 1.5% of all the books published in the UK are translations (source). How sad is that? I feel I’ve been so lucky to learn fluent Italian, it’s incredible how many new authors I’ve got to read, authors or books that won’t get a chance on the English market any time soon. And then you hear stuff like one of the guys from my reading club told me just last Thursday. He said he read Mahfouz’s Palace of Desire and he was impressed but, I cite: “Mahfouz studied English literature, just like all those Russian authors, they studied English literature and then go on to write good books”. And I was hysteric on the inside. How, how in the world can you say such a thing?? How can you actually believe such a thing?? How can you put down an entire branch of literature as being nothing if it wasn’t for the English literature??? And especially how to say such a thing about the Russian literature, a masterpiece who is standing strong on its legs and is so magnificent in itself and nothing like what English literature has to offer?! Such contempt makes me cry. I am heartbroken and I feel sorry for such people who in they little world miss out on such a gorgeous world like the one of foreign authors.

Madonna in a Fur CoatAnd that’s how I ended up requesting Sabahattin Ali’s Madonna in a Fur Coat. My having fall pray to the word “translation” and the kindness of the people from Penguin who accepted my request made for my first ever read of a Turkish author. I do have some Orpham Pamuk on my to read list, but he is way too famous to compel me to read him, while this book seems more obscure – another word who worked its magic on me :p

The plot is quite simple and revolves around Raif Efendy. The narrator introduces us to the mysterious Raif Efendy, a translator of German in a small business. We slowing start on a journey of discovering who exactly is Raif Efendy. He seems an old person with a innocent side to him, a weak person yet somehow resolute in ploughing ahead no matter what. A person who lets others walk all over him while he would have the advantage of his knowledge and his financial gains to use against those set to dehumanize him. Yet he chooses not to. Only on his death bed does he resign and allows for his broken life story to be revealed.

I’d say this is pretty much build on the romantic recipe: a sad character, a bit of unrequited love, a tragic love story, there’s no life left after a tragic love. And while this is pretty much a recipe for failure in my books, surprisingly this novel was not. That’s because Ali is a clever guy, and by the time I’ve found out what was all about, he tricked me into feeling quite deeply about Raif. He really compelled me into caring very much about his character, about his life and the why behind his behaviour. I wanted to fight Raif’s battles for him, I wanted to shelter him and slap his family, if possible. I wanted Raif to be happy, to stand up for himself once and for all! Finding out about his lost love should have made me judges him very harsh, almost hate Raif, but by the end of the book I still wanted him to have had some happiness.(PS: I might have even shed a tear or two for him :p) : “For even the most wretched and simple-minded man could be a surprise, even a fool could have a soul whose torments were a constant source of amazement. Why are we so slow to see this, and why do we assume that it is the easiest thing in the world to know and judge another?

The core story, his love for Maria, who he meets for the first time in a painting: Madonna in a fur coat, forMadonna in a Fur Coat2 then to actually materialize in flesh and blood and their whirlwind romance reminded me of Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Not only reminded me, but I felt it was a retelling, better said a platonic re-imagining of the story. First of all take the title: Madonna in a Fur Coat vs Venus in Furs. No doubt they are both in furs but is Venus Madonna? Well I believe so. Venus is the mother of the Romans through her son; she is the goddess of love, beauty but also sex and fertility. Madonna is a more chaste version of Venus. She is the mother of the people through her son, she is the imagine of love, acceptance, fertility even if Christianity stripped her of her carnal looks. And while in Venus in Furs we have a more carnal approach, and the sensuality you can have from subjugation, in Madonna in a Fur Coat we have a more platonic approach, the devotion submission can bring, even without the promise of carnal satisfaction. Then Wanda is Maria or Maria is Wanda. Somehow they are both giving in to their male counterpart. Yet they are both rather cruel: Wanda both emotional and physical, Maria mostly emotionally. They are both resenting the male in their life for pushing them, while actually enjoying what they are doing. And we also have pretty much the same ending: the female character leaving the leading male character, with the only difference that Maria redeems herself, she has a motive that is not as selfish as Wanda’s; pretty much in the line with the more chaste, platonic, ‘Christian’ approach of Sabahattin Ali compared with Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

The pain of losing something precious – be it happiness or material wealth – can be forgotten over time. But our missed opportunities never leave us, and every time they come back to haunt us, we ache. Or perhaps what haunts us is that nagging thought that things might have turned out differently. Because without that thought, we would put it down to fate and accept it.

PS: As per my project to mention every time I encounter Romania in a book: on his way back from Berlin he passes through Romania, boarding a ship in Constanta for Turkey.

PPS: Just one more quote that I really love: People can only get to know each other up to a point and then they make up the rest, until one day, seeing their mistake, they turn their backs on sadness and run away. Would this ever happen, if they stopped believing their dreams and made do with what was possible? If everyone accepted what was natural, then no one would suffer disappointment, no one would curse fate. We have every right to see our situation as pitiful, but we must confine our pity to ourselves. To pity another is to assume superiority and that is why we must never think we are superior to others, or that others are more unfortunate.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

You know that moment when you’re running out of time therefore must start your reading club book. Book that’s a 600 pages brick of a book, a book that you pretty much know nothing about and have no desire whatever to actually read. But you do have a little book, with a really attractive summary: something about a bookstore, a suicide and some sort of puzzle/mystery. And you decided to throw caution to the wind and do the opposite of what you’re suppose to do?! Do you know that moment?! You do?! Well that’s me right there upon starting Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. I’ve only read a little bit, maybe around 10%, as it was really late and I’ve told my significant other: “I’m reading a sort of thriller and I am not scared, yet!”. And I really wasn’t, yet days after finishing it, I was walking to the gym, in a brilliant morning sun, when I saw a guy mowing a patch of grass. It was quite a large mower, more like a mini car driven by a rather large and scary looking guy and the only image going round and round in my head was of this guy “running” after me trying to kill me by running me over with the mower. Luckily he was going in the opposite direction. But after a minute or so, guess what? Yes, he was coming after me. He was coming after me!!! It took everything in me not to run screaming like a crazy person!

But hey, let’s start at the beginning, shell we?!

Take an up and coming neighborhood; one huge bookstore: floor after floor after floor of books, with Jeremy Fisher reads paperarmchairs and nooks for reading, with every significant and insignificant theme covered, with lovely people to attend to you, help you find whatever you might need; and then add the frogs: “Lydia saw them folded into the corners for hours at a time, looking monastic and vulnerable, she thought of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Beatrix Potter’s dapper frog who was often portrayed reading a newspaper with his lanky legs in the air. They were like plump and beautiful frogs scattered across the branches of the store, nibbling a diet of poems and crackers”, and of course let’s not forget our main heroine: Lydia.

When Lydia’s favourite frog kills himself in the bookstore with a picture of her aged 10 alongside her 2 best friends: Raj and Carol in his pocket, we glimpse a sea of secrets waiting to reveal themselves to us.

Joey’s legacy, a complex little mystery in the form of a puzzle: little windows cut into books pages with a sort of decoding system, and a she who broke his heart and destroyed his life, is entrusted to Lydia. His life story is a story of abandonment and intense suffering. While slowly learning Joey’s secrets, Lydia’s own story start to unravel. An idyllic childhood shuttered by a gruesome murder. A criminal still on the run, lurking in the shadows.

A well written, good paced novel. A great story that keeps you turning page after page. Even if gruesome details are few and far between, the author artfully constructed a rather chilling atmosphere. There’s a foreboding tension following you as you progress with the story. Maybe is the unknown murdered, maybe the excruciating slow rate at which we find solid facts, maybe it’s because Lydia seems to be hiding etc, certain is that you just cannot stop wondering if the murderer will strike again, is he after Sylvia?! Each time you think you got this, something happens to make you doubt yourself. I have to be a bit vague as I really don’t want to spoil anything, but at one point she meets with the detective who investigated the initial murder and he tells her his suspicions on the criminal’s identity. Well the scene is so skilfully written, that I almost didn’t want to “turn the page” to read about her death. There are various layers to be discovered and I must advise you that it touches tough subjects like abandon, emotional abuse, neglect and it can be emotionally hard to read some pages, but it all adds up to make this book more that it looks at first sight! I kind of felt in love with that bookstore. It reminded me of Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, another book involving an awesome bookstore and a mystery, book that I really loved and truly recommend.

My overall rating is 3.5*. This is mostly due to the fact that everything is revealed/solved at the 80% mark and the rest 20% of the book is just a long epilogue, if you like. That in itself is not a problem, but in my case I hate when it happens, I just cannot stop thinking there’s no point in reading until the end. Don’t get me wrong, I do like an epilogue and having a sort of finality, but I like it to be well proportioned to the length of the book. Also another point that can be an issues for some readers is the huge entanglement of the story. I wasn’t perfectly aware of it, or better said, I didn’t lingered on it when I was reading the book, but then I was retelling the story to my half and we were both commenting on how very entangled the story is and therefore not believable. But as I’ve said, it didn’t affect my enjoyment at all. Not even after being very aware of it. It almost had no impact whatever from my point of view. Plus life always beats any movie or book, so I wouldn’t say this plot couldn’t actually happen in real life.

PS: I’ve tried to make a list of the books  Joey used for his puzzle (hopefully I haven’t missed any). Here it is:

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore
The Devil’s Tour by Mary Karr
A Universal History of the Destruction of Books by Fernando Baez
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Open Secrets by Alice Munro
Resuscitation of a Hanged Man Denis Johnson
Geek love by Katherine Dunn

*book from NetGalley for an honest review

 

Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea by Teffi

Imagine that one fine day you are forced to leave your town. A few of you get together and pretend to be a sort of travelling company, going from town to town in the hope of escaping the enemy. And you put up with all the limitations because it’s going to be just for “a while”. For then to find yourself on your way to France and never be able to return to your country, your town, your former life…

What’s the offence you’ll ask. Well you happen to be able to create magic with your pen, and we all know how terrifying that is to a person who wants to crush all free thoughts and especially any opposition. And even if you appear to be on the “enemy”’s side, your fate is not secure. That’s too far fetched, you’d say. And I’d say, well then, give this article a read: Issac Babel (this is a succinct presentation of a rather ‘common’ practice and I’ve picked Isaac Babel because his name appears in Memories too.)

Teffi takes us on a journey from Moscow to the Black See; her journey of running from the Bolsheviks. And while we are “touring” with her and her travelling company we see the horror of the Bolshevik revolution <<“A train that came under fire has just pulled in. With dead and wounded on board.” Dead. Wounded. How accustomed we had grown to these words. No one felt any particular alarm or distress. No one said, “How awful!” or “What a tragedy”>>, the terror << “She does as she pleases. She conducts the searches, she sentences, and she shoots.”>> <<The Bolsheviks had tortured and killed his brother, and he has only just managed to escape them himself”>>, the suffering and the limitations <<The owner of the hardware store on the corner is selling a length of curtain. She’s only just taken it down. Fresh as can be – nails and all. It’ll make a wonderful evening dress. You simply can’t do without it. And you’ll never get a chance like this again”>> . She also takes us round the soviet literary scene, the Russian theatre, journalism, popular ballads, you name it!

But the most important is that she subtly presents us with what life under communism really means.

* Limited products, ratios, huge queues, deprivation.

<<She came back full of excitement and said, “Guess what I’ve brought?”[…]and placed a bar of chocolate on the table[…]

Where’s it from?” we began to interrogate her.

You won’t believe it – you’ll think I’m joking. I simply bought it at a little stall. And nobody asked anything at all. I didn’t need any papers, and I didn’t have to line up. I just saw it in the window, went in and bought it.”>>

I also remember the bread ratio, queuing for over 4 hours for eggs and they finished when I was 3 persons away, having bananas and oranges only at Christmas. In fact I have a pretty similar memory, but not about chocolate but about bananas, green/yellowish bananas. It was right after the revolution and a shop in town had green bananas. We queued for hours and bought as many as we could afford. We put them all to ripe on top of our bookshelves covering an entire wall of your living-room(maybe around 3 m long and about 60cm in width). To this day, almost ripe bananas are my favourite thing in the world, that flavour is what happiness tastes like and I think it will be with me till the end. I believe this might be the case for others as well. Not only from Romania, but from other ex soviet countries. And I am saying that with a bit of confidence, because I encounter something similar in another book about communist, a book that I absolutely adored: The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine: Communism, my dear,” I said when I managed to get hold of a bunch of bananas for hers and let them ripen on the windowsill, given her just one each day so they’d last for a while”

** Bribes, governmental mafia.

<<And everything went like clockwork. That is, they would be closed down, pay a bribe, reopen, be closed down again, pay another bribe, etc.

Do your police take bribes?” I asked Grishin-Almazov.

How can you ask such a thing! The money goes exclusively to charitable works. I emphasize the word goes” he replied buoyantly.>>

***people reporting other people, the impossibility to trust anyone, fearing for one life…

<< “You’ve got a guitar in your luggage, haven’t you?”

Yes. Why?”

Sleepy as I was, I felt frightened. What if she went and reported me to the captain for carrying musical instruments “while the people are starving.”

[…]

Please be so kind as to hand over your guitar.” the pike-maiden pronounced icily. “It’s required in the hospital bay, where we have a sickly element.”

No”[…]

So that’s your attitude toward your civic duty, is it?[…]”Well, you haven’t heard the last of this!”>>

****Having to hide, to take other identities, fear, executions, running…

My father’s gone into hiding. He told me I must never forget, not even for one minute, that I am a stoker. Only then will I be able to survive and carry out the task[…]”

[…]

How many more journeys would he make, with his bronze cross on its grimy string? One? Two? And then he would rest his weary shoulders against the stone wall of bleak cellar and close his eyes…>>

Romania is mentioned towards the end of the book: “we’re heading for Romania, where the captain will fatback and onionhand us over to the Bolsheviks.” And also a popular dish eaten especially at Christmas and during winter gets a mention: “fatback and onion” -the footnote says: the layer of fat under the skin of a pig’s back – is considered a delicacy in many parts of eastern Europe (see photo).

And because we are talking here about memories, and I’ve mentioned Romania, and a friend asked me the other day if I’ve watched My little pony when I was a child, I will share with you a last memory about the cartoons we used to watch under communism. I used to live on the left riverbank of the Danube, literally a stone’s throw away from Bulgaria, so we were able to see Bulgarian cartoons in the evenings, when every TV programme ended on the Romanian television channel(yes, just 1 TV chancel for around 3-4 hours a day!! Plus black and white TVs) . Well, one night, when the Revolution was in full swing in Bucharest, my aunt visited us, probably for the adults to discuss the current events. They left sometime in early evening, maybe around 8pm but they return soon after saying that the army and part of the Security where exchanging bullets in the town centre so they couldn’t go back home safely. At first we closed everything and stayed in the dark, but everything was quiet(we used to live on the outskirts of town, anyway) so I was allowed to watch the evening cartoon but with no sound on, just in case the violence was moving towards us, to be able to hear it in time. Luckily nothing happened, and only some scratches on the side of some flats buildings in town were left from that night, and that was pretty much the most dangerous thing happening in our little corner. But those cartoons will always be with me and remind me of that day!

But that’s it folks, I kind of hijacked this review with my memories, back to Teffi’s Memories.

Well she was quite famous and popular, therefore she had a less hard time managing to escape. In a good time, I’d say; as other just as famous as her were not that fortunate. In a way it is the same old USSR memories that others have shared, yet not less important or heartbreaking. She does make them ‘hers’ with all the details about the literary scene, yet it was the part that actually bored me. I cannot say I was that interested in that scene, or that I know much about, or that I was interested in learning more, but for those interested in this particular topic, the book is a fountain of knowledge. As a literary style, it’s rather easy to read and quite funny sometimes, yet, as with almost any book talking about communism, I cannot closed my eyes to all that unnecessary suffering, the injustice of the dystopia that is the socialist doctrine.

PS: you can watch 2 of the Bulgarian cartoons I was mentioning following this links:

  1. Good night, kids
  2. Good night, kids2

An evening with David Sedaris

Discussion while he signed my book:

David Sedaris Mcr<<David: Catalina…Is that you?

I: Yes, it is!

D: Are you here by yourself?

I: (I barely heard what he asked, so I felt the need to repeat it to myself, and my brain translated it with ‘are you here alone?’ And even if it’s used to suggest companionship, the word alone immediately makes one think about solitude. That in turn reminded me of a Hermann Hesse quote from Steppenwolf: “As a body everyone is single, as a soul never”. And that’s exactly how I feel, never alone when I am just with myself. But I’ve kept my musings to myself)

I: Yes, I am.

D: Where are you from, Catalina?

I: I am originally from Romania.

D: “Doamna(Miss), Domnisoara(Mrs), Sa ma cac in gura ma-tii,” he said mischievously.

And I was like: WHATTTT??! He told me how he visited Romania twice; just Bucharest, but he had a great time. He apparently studied some Romanian for a month before going and I must admit his pronunciation was decent. “I’ve asked everyone to tell me the most horrible things they ever heard, and that’s how I know about ‘sa ma cac in gura ma-tii’ “(this is a very horrible swear in Romanian, something along the line: to shit in your mother’s mouth). >>

He read from his diary and he is amazing at reading and acting his stories, you could listen to him speaking for hours( I know I could :D). Many tragic, most very, very hilarious. But in retrospect I believe he likes to make fun of life’s tragedies. He said something like: “if I cannot laugh/write about something it means I am not far away from it to write about it yet” and isn’t that so true, aren’t many of your funny memories just old tragedies?

With the risk of not citing his exact lines(my memory is to be blamed here and the fact we couldn’t tape him or even photo him..), here are 2 little jokes from the night.

– I went to a college for a public lecture. Afterwords we went for dinner with a group of professors. One was a history professor and told us how in the XVIII century, the Catholic church canonised a dog. Another person at the table said: “I wonder if that was Saint Bernard”

– My assistant had a dog and at a reading a foreign lady approached us and cuddled the dog and then asked: ‘What race is it?’ => this is something that I see myself saying. The word race is used in my language with the meaning breed(for dogs/cats) and when one is not very attentive, it’s so easy for the brain to actually swap the words, ups :p

The diary didn’t attract me and the price was definitely unfriendly :P. My intention was to buy Naked, David Sedaris Ian Falconerbecause it‘s been on my reading list forever, and owning a sign copy would have been motivational, I hoped. But it wasn’t available, so I had a bit of a conundrum on my hands until I spotted Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary. I was immediately reminded of the story about the fox pet he had running in the New Yorker some weeks ago. Story that I absolutely loved(in case you haven’t read it yet, it can be found here).

Well I couldn’t have picked a better book. This little collection of stories, with animals as main characters is gorgeous. Imagine a cross between Aesop’s fables and Grimms’ fairy tales, add some beautiful illustrations by Ian Falconer and you have Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. I must advice you it’s dark, but funny, but rather dark yet so very funny. Remember what I was telling you about the tragicomedy of life? This stories are full of that, full to the brim. So full that apparently Goodreads is full of low ratings. Apparently people are gross out by life. I am like: seriously?? It never stops puzzling me why people would just want to read about rainbows and unicorns. Wouldn’t you want to read and be prepared about life? Especially that, as we say in Romania: life beats any movie! Grow some skin people :p.

I on the other hand, the more I think about it the more I am impressed by David Sedaris’ brilliancy. He portraits so eloquently so many type of characters from the self-righteous to the kiss-ass to the pity-seeking and more. He puts in the limelight humans’ hypocrisy, humans’ stupidity, humans’ ignorance and so on. And he does that in just a few lines with a touch of humour that you cannot stop yourself from falling in love with them stories!

David Sedaris Ian Falconer1I almost liked each and every little story but I am going to leave you with 2 extracts that made me laugh out loud!

* From “The Squirrel and The Chipmunk”

<<The chipmunk lay awake that night, imagining the unpleasantness that was bound to the place the following morning. What if jazz was squirrel slang for something terrible, like anal intercourse? “Oh, I like it too,” she’d said – and so eagerly! Then again, it could just be mildly terrible, something along the lines of Communism or fortune-telling, subjects that were talked about but hardly ever practiced. Just as she thought she had calmed herself down, a new possibility would enter her mind, each one more horrible that the last. Jazz was the maggot-infested flesh of a dead body, the crust on an infected eye, another word for ritual suicide. And she had claimed to like it!>>

** From “The Parenting Storks”

<<The precocious stork was only two weeks old when he asked where babies come from.[…]

So is that who brings the babies, God?”

Lord no,” the stork said. “Babies are brought by mice.”[…]

Oh, sweetie,” she said, “our babies are huge, so how on earth -”

These are special mice,”[…]

Why not tell your son that’s what babies come from -sex. It’s crazy, I know, but maybe it will tide him over until he’s old enough to grasp that whole magic-mouse concept.”>>

Reading club – June edition – Frankenstein

In my previous post(see here), I was telling you how they wanted us to read David Copperfield but we protested. Well, we’ve been asked to pick a few other books we’d like to read instead of D.C. I’ve been F1silly enough to say I’d brave Frankenstein, if needed. Just my luck, Frankenstein was the only available option from our list, so I had to actually read it :o. Saying I dreaded starting it is an understatement. I’ve left it for the last 6-7 days when I started reading in a rush, worrying I won’t be able to finish it before our meeting.

Frankenstein is one of those book that you hear so much about, that you believe you actually know the book. I didn’t thought I would actually every read it, I was SO convinced I know everything about it, that F2I just don’t need to read it too! How silly of me, of course. The first thoughts I had upon starting reading it was: Whats this?! What does this have to do with Frankenstein (when reading the letters, if you’re familiar with the book) for then to settle on “surprising”. Surprising is the perfect word to describe my experience of reading it. Maybe because of the movie version, I actually expected it to be about the process of creating the creature, and not the whole life story of Frankenstein – which is not the creature, as apparently many believe. The creature itself does not have a name!

Let me first say that, to the happiness of most reader, the book is so much more than the movies. In the introduction to the copy we’ve read, it was mentioned that most movies skip altogether the creature’s point of view, as they do all the moral dilemma debated in the book. Someone actually asked how much different a movie directed by a women would have been. He thought a female director would have made F3the creature a woman. While that cannot be ruled out in today’s radical feminism, I actually believe a women would have tried to be more truer to the book and we’d have seen more of the moral dilemma of creation and procreation. And this brings to mind Edward Scissorhands. That movie really presents parts of Frankenstein. Frankenstein‘s creature is so eager to learn humans’ ways and be one of them, but he is so horrible that even the kindest of humans have problem accepting him. He doesn’t want to hurt humans but he has the power to do it, and ultimately he needs to hide to get rid of humans – isn’t that pretty much Edward Scissorhands’s story?! I personally thought the destiny of the creature was quite sad. Frankenstein was responsible for its creation. He shouldn’t have rejected him like that, it was immoral and maybe he deserved what he got. Don’t know, it‘s rather complex, as was the creature’s request. The creature had a good argument, and most of the book I just puzzled what would have been better for Frankenstein to do. I did ask in my group what they thought and they sided with Frankenstein, but I still don’t know. I might just be ever the optimist, but maybe, just maybe, a companion would have solved everything so much more peacefully. What‘s your take?

Overall this is a good classic, not overrated in the least. So enjoyable and such a powerful subject. In fact we did talk about the why Mary takes on such an unusual theme for a women writing at that time. We discussed how Shelley must have been a believer in women’s right and how he pushed her to write. We wondered if the science inclination is not her dad’s influence and what would have happened if her mother survived. I highlighter quite a few quotes, but I want to say a few words about 2 of them.

F4First of them is what I though of as such a poetic description of the decay the human body suffers after death: I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain.”.

The second one is an ode to balance in all things life. Reading this quote to my group, prompted one of them to say that slavery is such an important aspect in human evolution. That most tinkers and important politic figures wouldn’t have had achieved so much if it wasn’t for slavery, for people doing for them all the small things, leaving them with enough time to just think! (And please don’t equate slavery with black slaves of America!)

A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind. If this rule were always observed; if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved, Caesar would have spared his country, America would have been discovered more gradually, and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed.”

Little literary gems from Glasgow

I’ve been away on a short and very last minute trip to Glasgow. The town has way too many museums, therefore I’ve only manage to see a few. But that’s not to say I didn’t find a few little gems 🙂

Mitchell Library

Mitchell Library appeared on some list as a ‘must see hidden gem’. I agree it is gorgeous on the outside, but I didn’t manage to see anything inside. A hall that was looking very grand was under restoration and beside that the staff wasn’t helpful at all, so I’ve just stumbled upon a few display cabinets showcasing the 1938 Empire Exhibition anddddddddd non other than then original Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns.

 

 

 

The other very lovely gem came from The Gallery of Modern Art in the shape of handprints of  famous authors. The prints are made by Hans-Peter Feldmann using Charlotte Wolff’s prints from 1930s. In pictures, from left to right: Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Aldous Huxley. Simply delightful, enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

The world flips and changes constantly, the best we can do is remain ourselves.

Reading this was like a fucking roller-coaster ride. It started with a bit of intrigue, I was liking bits of the characters but then it started to annoy me (in fact it annoyed the hell out of me how she put Cam in 3rd person while Tara and Stella were in 1st person, why??). Then hate started to rear its ugly head. Is this a feminist book? What does feminism even mean in the modern world? Why would you put some despicable characters in a feminist book? Then I was like: “oh yes, I see what she wanted to do, she wanted to put some real women out there, that’s good. the cows2We need some of that in literature”. And then tremendous hate (I still hate you Down, why did you do that to Cam? WHY????? The only fucking character I kind of liked, the only character I kind of seen myself in and you use your pen so cruelly. I hate you, did you hear that??). It goes on to a tearful state and then even disappointment. What the actual fuck? Dear Dawn, I have enough adventure as it is, in my life; I don’t really need more of that in the books I read too. I need at least a bit of peace, ok?!

Rating undefined. How the heck do I rate this emotional tumult? I wanted to give it 2 stars, cause you know, I really thought the characters were so despicable, so horrible human beings. Then I kind of understood some of her intentions and for all the turmoil she made me live, I thought she was brilliant as a writer. But then again I was down to maybe 2 stars for not The cows3skipping the boy meets girl line of story with a happy ending, blah. I believe she wanted to create a storm, and she achieved that. A bit sensationalist, a bit of a soap opera(me not happy!!), yet I cannot dismiss all the brilliant points so well put forward, ideas that I myself believe! So yea, I cannot make up my mind (so stereotypical female, right?!); won’t you read it and help me make up my mind? :p

In term of plot, the story follows 3 female characters over a short period of time, yet a very tempestuous period.

Stella – PA. Grief stricken. Refuses to deal with anything that happened to her. Runs from her life and herself. Completely bonkers.

Tara – Documentary maker, single mom. A relatively strong female with a fair share of mistakes under her belt. Her biggest mistake to date plummets her into a general hysteria, humiliation, turns her life upside down with bleak prospects of recovering from it.

Cam – the successful blogger. Confident, child free, with a glorious fuck buddy. While she will recognize her fear of socializing and she might even consider she feels alone, she will not acknowledge her attachment fear, which ultimately will be her undoing.

There is no judgement to be made on Stella as I thought she was really mentally deranged and that pretty much explains much of her behaviour. Tara on the other hand was kind of detestable, in my view. Starting with the moral mistake committed upon her daughter’s conception; using her to get out of situations when she just couldn’t stand up for herself and culminating with the incident that put her in the limelight. She did save herself and managed to turn everything around while learning a hard lesson and for that I believe she deserved redemption.

And then is Cam! While her life style is almost at the opposite poll from mine, I really warmed up to her. I loved her feminism, if I can use this controversial word. I loved how confident she was. So unafraid to admit her views, to talk about her choice of life style. All her work to 

the cows4

empower woman. And I mean real empowerment. “[…]Stop using victim language like, ‘because I am a woman’ and ‘being a woman is hard because’ at the start of every sentence about your success or lack of.”; “Women can’t keep complaining about how society treats them if they just take being told they’re wrong all the time and don’t react” “so let’s live by the words we preach rather than just say them on social media, let’s be active in making a change.” So many lovely speeches from her and I truly wanted to see how she would deal with everything…I really don’t understand the why behind her fate …

I also liked all the modern issues explored in the novel. Like the impact of the internet, how it can make you or brake you. Online abuse versus “real”bullying: “ […] suddenly realize how insignificant online bullying is in comparison to when it is happening to your actual face.” Admirable how certain double standards got exposed: for example how easy it is for a woman to get out of paying for her mistakes in comparison with men, who are not that lucky to get away only with a public shaming.