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. 

Adventures in reading club 2.0

After many months of waiting, the reading club at my local library started again. Even if I thought I was on the mailing list, they failed to inform me of it restarting. I find out about it on a visit to the library, sometime in January. I collected the book for February: Confessions of an English Opium Eater, I re-added myself to the mailing list, collected a bookmark 

reading club

with the upcoming dates and went on my marry way. When adding the dates in my diary, I noticed a discrepancy between the club being on the 2nd Thursday of every month and the February and March dates being on a Wednesday, but I genuinely thought it was intended that way, so I haven’t double checked with the library. Big mistake!! 1 day before the meeting I decide to check it’s going to be on, only because it wouldn’t have been the first time I experienced a cancellation out of the blue. Guess what: they apparently noticed the mistake and reprinted the bookmarks but nobody bothered to actually send an email or contact me in any way! Fuming!!! Another 2 months of waiting because of human error, grrr!

So I sweat my way through Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, but at least that’s a classic and it was on my reading list anyway. Then The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century – something that I just couldn’t read, the author came across so patronizing and the constant quoting of Engels, as in the father of communism, simply did my head in! And when it was finally possible for me to attend the met-up, they ascribed Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. WHAT THE … I just couldn’t believe that, after all that happened, I had to make myself read something that I would have never picked for myself, something that I knew it would be a lost of time…

On the day, I must admit, I was a bit wary. I was thinking how my English will fail me, what would other think of the dislik I have for the book etc etc. But to my surprise, it was a sort of race who will “insult” the book more hihihi. We are a small group, 4 people including me. All of them way older than me, almost double my age, but I seriously like them and enjoy our chats. We obviously disagree, or better said have different ways of seeing life, but I so like to hear them talk and especially learning from them 🙂 They are films mad, and it’s so impressive how they seem to have seen the same movies ( I actually suspect they’ve known each other for years) and it’s really funny how scenes from the books we’re reading reminds them of certain movies. We’ve been together through 2 books and I feel they started to accept me as part of the group. They ask me all sort of thinks, feels like an experiment. I am their little guinea pig, but I seriously don’t mind as I really like them 🙂

So far we’ve read Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

Salmon fishing YemenSalmon Fishing in the Yemen – not much to say. My first impression was correct. I did want to watch the movie at a point in the past, but I got a bit bored after a few minutes and decided it will have to be at another time, time that didn’t come yet 😀 But as I’ve said, I would not have read the book if it wasn’t for the reading club. Definitely a book that works better as a movie, it almost felt like a script and not a novel. Bad delivered, a mass of memos, emails, diary entries. Jumped from presenting the project to an interrogation, throwing me in the dark. People answering the investigator with pages and page of “literary” description doesn’t make any sense to me and the story is soooooooooo boring….

The only highlight I made is a little dialogue between the main 2 character after walking in the high heat of the desert and someone gives them some water:

Harriet and I looked at each other as the girl walked back to her house. ‘That was so…biblical,’ said Harriet.
Can you imagine that ever happening at home?’ I asked. She shook her head. ‘That was charity. Giving water to strangers in the desert, where water is so scarce. That was true charity, the charity of poor people giving to the rich.’
In Britain a stranger offering a drink to a thirsty man in a lonely place would be regarded with suspicion. If someone had approached us like that at home, we would probably have assumed they were a little touched or we were going to be asked for money. We might have protected ourselves by being stiff and unfriendly, evasive or even rude.” I thought it was an interesting observations and quite true at the same time. My group said it’s just a cultural thing. You don’t just go to strangers like that on the street, even if it’s meant to be helpful, as it’s not polite 😀

Of Mice and Men – was a bit of a miss as well. In my case I am not at all impressed by Steinbeck, at least not so far! I find him quite predictable(I’ve read The Pearl previously) and fails to grip me in any way. He fails to make me care about his characters, about the story, about anything. He is a classic, he deals with important subject, tough subjects but that’s where everything stops for me. I always feel like a side spectator, observing everything but without feeling anything!

They wanted to make us read David Copperfield next, but we protested. Seriously, I’ve read it already and while I actually loved it, and think it’s a brill book, I wasn’t feeling like reading that tome of a book again. So it’s going to be Frankenstein next 😛 Fingers crossed 😀

Flesh and Bone and Water by Luiza Sauma

4*

I made the same mistake that people have been making since the beginning of time, thinking that you can change yourself just by going somewhere else. Meu Deus, I sound like a self-help book.”

Middle-aged André is running. After long, long years he is still running. Running from his story, from his feelings but especially from himself. He wanted to change everything about himself by just reneging his roots, without trying to come to terms with everything that happened. Freshly damped by his wife, submerged by work, just existing, it’s finally time to deal with past demons. Vague letters received from Luana, the love of his life and half sister, spiral him downward into the past. Fresh weaves of suffering start poring into the pages of the novel. Between letters, present time events and lots of flashbacks we find out everything there is to know about André. A story of inconsolable suffering; of dark family secrets; of loss with no redemption.

Beautifully penned. Very evocative, really cinematic, I’d say. Brazil was dancing before my eyes. With everything so stereotypical Brazilian: parties until all hours, people on beaches, the constant violence, the unbearable heath condemning people to just exist. Yet everything is so gloomy. A gloom that’s so deep that you cannot escape it no matter how far you run. It felt like the underbelly of Brazil got exposed.

I felt heartbroken but especially furious and frustrated on André’s behalf. What might be a strange notion in the Western part of the world, is a normal or at least often seen occurrence in other parts of the globe. Parents consider they own their kids’ life and they need to forge said kids’ future. This belief that parents know better, that they have all the right in the world to intervene, to push or even force their kids into a certain path in life is an oppressive and hurtful practice. We get a good experience of just that with André’s story and you just cannot stop yourself from thinking(or at least I couldn’t :D) : “with what fucking right did he did that”, “with what fucking right did he messed his son’s life forever?”. And everything is so much more frustrating when many questions are left unanswered and you imagine André puzzling over them for the rest of his life. What’s even more heart-wrenching is the bitter-sweet after-taste of history repeating itself. While I am sure the last thing André would have wanted was to emulate his father, he definitely ended up repeating some of his father’s mistakes. Or for a better explanation he kind of took similar decision who made his life a sort of duplicate of his father’s. And I hated that, I hated that with a passion because it forced me to feel a bit of compassion when I only wanted to hate and judge!

* Copy kindly give by the publisher. Thank you Penguin books and NetGalley
** Honest review

Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey

“‘That’s how you are. You want to make everything right. You want to to believe in happy endings.’
‘There’s no such thing,’ I said softly.’There’s just life.'”

Reading this was like watching an episode of Law and Order and I used to love that series. There was a time when I wouldn’t have missed an episode! I liked the main female protagonist: a strong, determine woman. Having in mind my TV analogy I’d say she is a book version of Gillian Anderson in The Fall. The female protagonist in Law and Order is strong, but she is still overshadowed by the male counterpart of the duo( I am having in mind the 2001 series, with Kathryn Erbe). But Stella Gibson is absolutely gorgeous from so many points of view. Just like Stella, Maeve is strong and very smart, she is not afraid to go after what she wants. She is not afraid to show some vulnerability both at a personal level and professional one, even is that is a bit out of place in her line of work. I appreciated her relationship with Georgia and how she joggled her shortcomings and feelings with wanting to do the right thing!
Really enjoyable case, if I can use that word seen all the gruesome parts of the story. A lot of twists to keep you hooked and that ending, I must say I didn’t really see that coming. As stereotype goes, even if I knew the book was set in UK, I haven’t took into consideration that Police is not carrying guns. I have imprinted in my brain the US Police force so much so, that I was really taken by surprise when Maeve mentions she doesn’t have a gun to either stop the criminal or protect herself(this little detail also helped me to understand an earlier scene that at first I though was a bit exaggerated, but it actually made total sens knowing they don’t have guns). It actually made me realized how courageous this people are, how they are really risking their life with almost no way to protect themselves. Admirably!
I also want to add that even if this is part of a series it can be easily read as a standalone. In fact is the first book in the series that I read. I was a bit curious about ‘the death of a colleague’ that’s mentioned, but it does not affect the story in any way, being actually a pretty insignificant detail from the story point of view. If I would have a lot of time on my hands I’d like to read some other books from this series, it would be interesting to see if there’s any progress, growth of characters as the series progressed.

*Book from NetGalley in exchange of an honest review. Thank you Harper Fiction.

Sylvia: A Novel by Leonard Michaels

You’re feeding on each other”

This memoir/journal or novel, no matter what it is, is so full of abuse that I could barely stomach it. I can easily read disturbing accounts of rape, tragedy, crime, yet the amount of abuse I’ve been subjected to in this book made me so sick to my stomach that I can hardly put it into words. It was quite interesting to try to explain to myself why I felt so disturbed. Maybe it’s because of the high possibility of this happening in real life, maybe because some of the abuse I’ve witnessed between my own parents; maybe because I know first hand how big of a bitch depression + low self-esteem is! I wasn’t really there in terms of being abusive towards my significant other, yet I had those tendencies. I remember a particular moment, around 7 years ago when he sent me an article, something like “10 signs you are in an abusive relationship” and I could easily see myself in many of this signs, as being the abuser, and that was such a wake up call. I was also reminded of another fresher memory, of about 3 years, when sharing a flat with another couple in London. He had so much resentment bottled up against his wife that he was exploding in violent bursts, with her having to flee the flat for the night. It was as acute and as hurtful for me then, as it was now reading about Sylvia and her husband.

Dirty, twisted, crazy, nasty, gag me, fuckin sick love.
Filthy, sexy, freaky, get me chemically sick love.
Ride me, bite me, cut me and infect me with your sick love.
Touch me, touch me, t-t-touch me, turn it into sick love.

We’re gonna do this tonight.
Live fast and fuck harder,
Die here in my arms.
Oh sick love. [SICK LOVE – Vince Kidd ]


I am sure Michaels wouldn’t be impressed with me associating his work with a silly pop song, but seriously he can take it; it’s the least he can do for torturing me with his story, isn’t it?! But anyway, no matter what he would think or not, this story boils down to those particular lyrics.

A chance encounter + a jump start and you pretty much have the recipe of a failed relationship. “[…] slowly turning back […] into the squalid apartment, like a couple doomed to a sacrificial assignation. It started without beginning. Add some inner sense of sacrifice(he’s a Jew for goodness sake!!) “With his little story, my father condemned me to marriage.”; sprinkle some pepper and salt: “Every couple, every marriage, was sick. […] I was miserably normal; I was normally miserably.” and don’t forget the cherry on top: It would have easy to leave Sylvia. Had it been difficult, I might have done it.” A raw account of depression, no self-esteem, mental health. Sylvia is a very fragile creature, yet I struggled to actually feel sorry for her. She was out of reach, projecting all her problems on others, therefore no one could have possible helped her out of her doom. Michaels has his own set of problems, and the sacrificial character of most Jews is in itself sickening, and Michaels’s permeates every page of this book. He is so convince of that, that he confuses abuse with love and he doesn’t seem to learn anything from his ordeal. “She’s always been right about everything. I’d always been wrong. I loved her. I couldn’t live without her. She’s proved it. I was convinced.”

It reads like a memoir(diary entries + reflections), a pretty fast read, but so full of anguish. I cannot give this book more than 2* and that’s not because of any style shortcomings. If anything, I’d say the author transmitted the terror, the heartbreak, the mental fatigue so well. It was really raw and I’ve felt is to my bones. But that’s exactly why I cannot overcome everything I felt while reading this and judge it objectively. Do I recommend this? YES. It is an accurate account of what can happen, of what often happens in some relationship and most people aren’t even aware are victims of abuse but very late. Read this, be wary!

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

3.5*

Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage”

Predictable enough, what gets the story rolling is an out of wedlock pregnancy, marriage to a minister and a passage to Japan, in search of a better life. A family saga, spanning over three generations. A crude story of emigration, fighting, struggle, survival and resilience.

Pachinko: “ sordid business”, “not respectable”, connected to Yakuza etc, yet so popular. Pachinko is what inexorably connects this generations; is what allows them to make an honest living and especially what makes them successful and rich. I believe this duality between how loved Pachinko was yet so condemned in the Japanese society, illustrates perfectly well the situation of Korean immigrants in Japan of the 20th century.

p1In a way or another I’ve already read this story. It’s almost the story of every emigrant out there, especially in times when emigrations was very though; yet not very much different in today’s world. I cannot really say I didn’t care about the characters, but I’ve been touched more by secondary characters like Hana(Solomon’s first love and the daughter of his step mother) and Yumi ( Mozasu’s wife and mother to Solomon) – her death really left me teary-eyed. I really appreciated how Lee takes on notions like identity, nationality, appurtenance. It is quite heartbreaking to be born in a country, to be raised exclusively in that country yet to not be either a full citizen of that country but neither a citizen of your parents’ country. A real alien, I guess – There was more to being something than just blood”.

Quite the coincidence while reading this book, I ended up chatting with an acquaintance aboutp2 education and how baffled people are with our accents. It turns out she is a Canadian of Korean descent. She told me how her father was pushing her and her sister to work double what the school was giving them as homework. And that was pretty much his modus operandi about everything. It so reminded me of Sunja and especially of Noa. “Noa had been a sensitive child who had believed that if he followed all the rules and was the best, then somehow, the hostile world would change its mind. His death may have been her fault for having allowed him to believe such cruel ideals.”

p3Yet again I feel I need to assert that my rating is not directly connected with the quality of the book. It’s definitely a good book, that I recommend: a touching story, full of details about the lives of Koreans in Japan, a lot of other historic details, plus all the important aspects that you expect to find in story about emigration. My rating is purely subjective, it reflects the fact I failed to really connect with the characters, to root for them, so to speak. Plus I didn’t felt this book added to my knowledge or experience as an emigrant, it just confirmed what I already knew/felt and not more.