The Only Story by Julian Barnes

In love, everything is both true and false; it’s the one subject on which it’s impossible to say anything absurd.”

I consider Julian Barnes a good author. With the passing of time he will become a classic. I truly loved The Sense of an Ending. Therefore I was very exited to have the chance to read his new book: The Only Story. Sadly it wasn’t a “happy” experience. I’d say it’s that type of book one can enjoy tremendously at an intellectual level: quality writing, great insight into love, relationships etc but that you just cannot connect with at an emotional level. This is definitely a good book yet I just couldn’t care any less about the characters, about their relationship and tumults, pretty much about anything happening in it. Such a shame.

I must admit I don’t have anything to say about the plot: the story of a relationship between a 19 years old man and a 48 years old married woman in the 60s England no less. You can imagine the ramifications of that by yourself, I am sure. “If you don’t have to say anything about it, why write a blog post?” you’d ask yourself. Well I am not entirely sure. I guess I am actually gutted to have not enjoyed this, that I want to redeem myself by acknowledging it in a way or another. Maybe you will like it, who knows 🙂

So this is not a review. This is just a little chat on some things I’ve encountered in the book that made be think and I wanted to mention them here too. They come pretty much in the order I’ve encountered them in the book.

[…]Those of the same age today will find it hard to imagine the laboriousness of communication back then. Most of my friends were farflung, and – by some unexpressed but clear parental mandate – use of the telephone was discouraged. A letter, and then a letter in reply. It was all slow-paced, and lonely.”

I’ve found this to be an important element and actually a bit contradictory considering what you hear nowadays. In the age of the internet and social media and the wide spread of the mobile phone and of people constantly complaining about a presumed non-communication it might be puzzling to read about people having a hard time communicating. In my view what this reflects is the lack of perspective and the constant fight humanity has with progress. We tend to concentrate on the negative sides of everything and fight and fight the progress with the same arguments: how much better it was back in the day. Well guess what: we are wrong! Can you imagine how horrendous it must have been to have to wait days if not weeks to find out if a loved one reached his/her destinations safely, for example? I am always so grateful for the invention of the mobile phone. I think I would be out of my mind with worry not to be able to learn as soon as possible about the safety of my loved ones. Not only that, but somehow social media helped me have a more significant communication with my family. Before that we would exchange a few pleasantries over the phone once a week or even less. Now we seem more able to talk about sensible subjects because it is way easier to write something instead of voicing it. Just like a letter, but with the bonus of it being in real time instead of waiting for days/weeks. And yes, there’s always a downside to everything but I don’t believe we should dismiss progress because of that. That remains me of a recent research I’ve read: how our presumed addiction with technology is nothing more that an addiction to socializing, which is hard wired in our biology. You can read some more about it here: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/02/we-re-addicted-to-socializing-not-our-smartphones

Pretty much in the same grand category even if a different register: Before you first have sex, you’ve heard all sorts of things about it; nowadays far more, and far earlier, and far more graphically, than when I was young. But it all amounts to the same input: a mixture of sentimentality, pornography and misrepresentation. When I look back at my youth, I see it as a time of cock-vigour so insistent that it forbade examination of what such vigour was for.”

Yet again a discrepancy between perception and cause. How many time did you hear about the maleficent porn which is making our boys do this and that…well once again we are pretty much wrong. Yes, young people have access to pornography maybe earlier but it is not the cause of their behaviour …better to rethink everything …

Barnes has an amazing knowledge and understanding of the human nature. He is so honest and you know me, I love me an author who is not afraid to lay it on his readers as it is. An author who loves human nature and talks about it without the idealised vision that many authors promote or without the pessimistic perspective the other half of the authors promote. Just a few examples below:

[…]at some point everyone wants to run away from their life. It’s about the only thing human beings have in common.”

[…] It’s a condition of our mortality. We have codes of manners to allay and minimise it, jokes and routines, and so many forms of diversion and distraction. But there is panic and pandemonium waiting to break out inside all of us. I’ve seen it roar out among the dying, as a last protest against the human condition and its chronic sadness. But it is there in the most balanced and rational of us. You just need the right circumstances, and it will surely appear. And then you are at its mercy. The panic takes some to God, others to despair, some to charitable works, others to drink, some to emotional oblivion, others to a life where they hope that nothing serious will ever trouble them again.

For instance, he had noticed during his life one difference between the sexes in the reporting of relationships. When a couple broke up, the woman was more likely to say, ‘It was all fine until x happened.’ […] Whereas the man was more likely to say, ‘I’m afraid it was all wrong from the start.’ […] And when he had first noticed this discrepancy, he had tried to work out which of them was more likely to be telling the truth; but now, at the other end of his life, he accepted that both were doing so. ‘In love, everything is both true and false; it’s the one subject on which it’s impossible to say anything absurd.’”

What did I dislike and distrust about adulthood? Well, to put it briefly: the sense of entitlement, the sense of superiority, the assumption of knowing better if not best, the vast banality of adult opinions, […] their docile obedience to social norms, their snarky disapproval or anything satirical or questioning, their assumption that their children’s success would be measured by how well they imitated their parents,[…]

Oh, and another thing. The way, doubtless through some atavistic terror of admitting to real feelings, they ionised the emotional life, turning the relationship between the sexes into a silly running joke.” (lovely exposé of the tensions between young adults and adults, hinting at the fact that young adults should be give a chance and not dismissed so easily as it usually happens.)

If the statistics of happiness depend on personal reporting, how can we be sure that anyone is as happy as they claim to be? What if they aren’t telling the truth? No, we have to assume that they are, or at least that the testing system allows for lying. So the real question lay beneath: assuming that those canvassed by anthropologists and sociologists are reliable witnesses, then surely ‘being happy’ is the same as ‘reporting yourself happy’? Whereupon any subsequent objective analysis – of brain activity, for instance – becomes irrelevant. To say sincerely that you are happy is to be happy. At which point, the question disappears.” – this right here is something I’ve been pondering on for a while. It started about 1 year ago with an article exposing the fact that teenagers in Britain feel unhappy. In the article there was a top of the European countries, and Romanian teens were faring quite well. And it did strike that Romanian teens have a relatively hard life, economically speaking yet they perceive themselves as happy. Why? I believe it all roots in purpose and the happiness we detract from working towards a goal and how hard it was to achieve it. Human being are coded to achieve and they need purposes to work towards. When it is easy to achieve things or you get a lot of external help, the amount of happiness obtain from finally arriving where you wanted to arrive decreases. In a country where help is readily available and where a social blanket is in place to sustain you indeterminately in case of a failure, having a purpose in life becomes secondary , you’ll be able to go through life anyway. Instead entitlement starts to grow and with it resentment at society, government who refuses to give more etc. Consequently happiness is hardly hit. And this is the downside of progress if you like.

Overall rating 2*. A book who’ll polarize readers because of its sensitive plot. Some will like it some will not, but it is definitely a good book, who will give you a few things to think about. Give it a try 😉

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A Grand Old Time by Judy Leigh

It dawned on me that I have a new favourite character. I don’t really remember when was the last time I thought about a character in terms of being my favourite. I cannot remember when was the last time I loved a character as much as I loved Evie. Therefore today I want to present you Evie Gallagher, heroine extraordinaire of the debut novel A Grand Old Time by Judy Leigh.

Evie Gallagher is in a home, left to die. Well not really, but let’s be honest: why would you put someone in a home? Only if you think they lived their life and it is now time for them to just wait to die. And if they have some life left in them, the home will just drain it out of them, I bet! Well, you see, our heroine is not one to just stay and wait. No sir. Our heroine just gets up and leave! Where to, you’ll ask. Well wherever her feet will take her: shopping, Liverpool, France… the world is her oyster.

What starts like a little rebellious act turns into a full blown adventure with her son and her daughter-in-law in hot pursuit while trying to deal with their own set of problems.

Oh, I forgot to mention Evie is 75. Do you think 75 is too old to start driving again?

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“ ‘Will you look at this lovely old campervan’ she said. It was aqua blue and had a front like a rounded face. She paddled her fingers along the chrome of the little grille. ‘Ah, this is ancient and cheeky…It’s grand. I like it.’”

 

Is 75 too old to travel alone?

The doctor continued.

You are not young. You should not travel alone. […]

I’m not demented,’ she replied. Then she found another word. ‘I’m not decrepit.’

But, really…’

There are no buts about it. Evie was insistent. ‘I have a campervan. I’m having a little holiday. By myself.’”

Is 75 too old to do all sort of things that you didn’t do before? Learn something new? Poza1Make some new friends? Maybe even find a companion, love? Well Evie certainly proves to herself, every step of the way, that it is never too late. That life is worth living at any age. She will motivate you, no matter your age that it is time to take life by the horns and run with it! Why give up when you can fight?

This book is a great mix of adventures, self-exploration, humour, friendship, happiness and sadness. It will make you laugh while shedding a tear. Simply put: heart-warming!

A full 5* from me. I was not fond of the subplot (Evie’s son and his wife) and it felt as the resolution between them was a bit forced, maybe?! But it didn’t shadowed the book in any way. I’d even say that Judy Leigh proved to have a good knowledge and understanding of human relationships and especially of the dynamics going on between mother and son, mother-in-law – daughter-in-law; co-workers etc. All that is brilliantly reflected in the book and all the situations are believable, therefore very real. I must repeat that noting, NOTHING beats Evie. I love her, I really do. I so wish I’d be like her in my old age.

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She did not need luck now: she had found her own way to be blessed. The present truly was a present, a gift. It was all about finding happiness within herself. Not, not happiness. She would call it ‘Bonheur’ from now on.”

PS: for this post I’ve decided to follow Evie’s example and do something outside my comfort zone. I made the drawing. Drawing is something I never do, just in case you’re wandering what’s with the wanky pictures :p (car – how I imagined Evie’s campervan; the sketch of a vineyard; the silhouette of a man playing the guitar – quite an important element, connected with the above “Bonheur” but that’s something I’ll let you discover for yourself)

PPS: I’d love to see this novel made into a movie with Judi Dench or Maggie Smith as Evie!

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

This is the most raw, powerful, heart-wrenching novel about war that I’ve ever read. It should be the bible of the anti – war movement. If you ever want to convince someone war is bad, just give them this book to read. I am sure no one will ever think the same about war after reading it!

The novel has been so hard to stomach, so vehement, so shocking(maybe?) that I almost don’t know where to start. But I guess the scatological moment described at page 5(in my edition) is as good as any. I actually never considered, thought of or ever hear/read anything on this matter before, but I should have, as is such an important part of us, of our nature: how were soldiers dealing with the movement of the bowl??

I can still remember how embarrassed we were at the beginning, when we were recruits in the barracks and had to use the communal latrines. There are no doors, so that twenty men had to sit side by side as if they were on a train. That way they could all be seen at a glance – soldiers, of course, have to be under supervision at all times.”

If that’s not enough, the opening scene comes close too: the joy of having plenty of food to share. That’s awesome you’d think. Well yes, but you see, that happened just because of a surprise attack that almost halved the battalion and the returning soldiers had the “privilege” of sharing the food intended for 150 soldiers instead of 80.

So now you know what I mean? You just open the book and are faced with the tragedy that is life at the front. You start to see how inhuman is to be a soldier. Especially at the time of the WW1. Young, innocent boys forced into battle for distorted values like: nationalism, patriotism, heroism, duty to ones country.

[…] it wasn’t easy to stay out of it because at that time even our parents used the word ‘coward’ at the drop of a hat. People simply didn’t have the slightest idea of what was coming.”

With our young, wide-open eyes we saw that the classical notion of patriotism we had heard from our teachers meant, in practical terms at that moment, surrendering our individual personalities more completely than we would ever have believed possible even in the most obsequious errand boy.“

They went believing that they are doing what is right, full of optimism and desire to protect the country, the nation and the people. But all that is quenched in the bud:

We had ten weeks of basic training, and that changed us more radically than ten years at school. We learnt that a polished tunic button is more important than a set of philosophy books. We came to realize – first with astonishment, then bitterness, and finally with indifference – that intellect apparently wasn’t the most important thing, it was the kit-brush; not ideas, but the system; not freedom, but drill. We had joined up with enthusiasm and with good will; but they did everything to knock that out of us. After three weeks it no longer struck us as odd that an ex-postman with a couple of strips should have more power over us than our parents ever had, or our teachers, or the whole course of civilization from Plato to Goethe.”

And then the horrific conditions: not enough food, the lice, the rats, the front. Looking death in the eyes at every turn, loosing your comrades…

Kantorek would say that we had been standing on the very threshold of life itself. It’s pretty well true, too. We hadn’t had a chance to put down any roots. The war swept us away. For the others, for the older men, the war is an interruption, and they can think beyond the end of it. But we were caught up by the war, and we can’t see how things will turn out. All we know for the moment is that in some strange and melancholy way we have become hardened, although we don’t often feel sad about it any more.”

And then you start to realize the absurdity of this constant fighting. Why for? Why would you go against people who in the end are just human beings like you?!

It is only now that I can see that you are a human being like me. I just thought about your hand-grenades, your bayonet and your weapons – now I can see your wife, and your face, and what we have in common. Forgive me, camarade! We always realize too late. Why don’t they keep on reminding us that you are all miserable wretches just like us, that your mothers worry themselves just as much as ours and that we’re all just as scared of death, and that we die the same way and feel the same pain. Forgive me, camarade, how could you be my enemy? If we threw these uniforms and weapons away you could be just as much my brother as Kat and Albert.”

But there’s nothing more absurd that the fact that even if you’ll ever survive this ordeal, you would never actually escape it.

‘The was has ruined us for everything.’

He is right. We’re no longer young men. We’ve lost any desire to conquer the world. We are refugees. We are fleeing from ourselves. From our lives. We were eighteen years old, and we had just begun to love the world and to love being in it; but we had to shoot at it. The first shell to land went straight for our hearts. We’ve been cut off from the real action, from getting on, from progress. We don’t believe in those things any more; we believe in the war.”

[…] everything that is sinking into us like a stone now, while we are in the war, will rise up again when the war is over, and that’s when the real life-and-death struggle will start.

The days, the weeks, the years spent out here will come back to us again, and our dead comrades in arms will rise again and march with us, our heads will be clear and we will have an aim in life, and with our dead comrades beside us and the years we spent in the line behind us and we shall march forward – but against whom, against whom?”

This is certainly not a book one enjoys. Yet it is a brilliant book. A must read, in my opinion. Not only because describes war so vividly without hiding anything, putting all the horrible details out there for the reader to get a full, honest image of war; but because humanizes the enemy. The western narrative about war is ever so present, is in your face all the time and you empathize with all those soldiers who suffered and died at the hand of the Germans. Yes, the German soldiers were as much victims as all the western soldiers. Young, innocent lives tragically ended on the rug of the desire for power of a few. So unjust and immoral and beyond absurd. They deserve us acknowledging they were victims too. Was is horrible no matter on which side you are!

Erich Maria Remarque is a superb writer but so sorrowful. My first taste of his writing was Three Comrades, novel that I also recommend. I’ve read it right between our move from Italy to UK via Romania. Reading in Italian made me realize how bad Romanian translations are. But I’ve been lucky to find this old copy, from the communist era on my parents’ shelves and it turned out to be a absolutely gorgeous translation that I fell in love with. And then the story… Remarque’s poignant sorrow wrecked me. Such a tragic love story at a time when every man was trying to rebuilt his life after being at the front. A powerful connection between friends who stop at nothing to ensure that at least one of them has a shot at happiness. Even thinking about this novel makes me tear up!

Twisted fairy tales and a memoir – or what I’ve read lately part 2

In case you’re wondering if there’s any connection between the two, well not really, it just happened to be what I’ve read in the last week. But at the same time I believe I’ve picked the fairy tales right after the memoir because I believe our childhood is our very own fairy tale and this memoir wasn’t y dark nor twisted, it definitely was on the crazy side so it only made sense to follow it with some dark fairy tales 🙂

The Other Side of Town by William R. Pope (4*)

The Other Side of Town by William R. PopeWhen it comes to memoirs, I really like reading those written by ‘non-famous’ people. (Sorry Pope, if you are famous I had no idea, and I still don’t :p). I find they are rich in adventures and maybe lessons we can all learn something from; full of common sense that just makes me feel good about life in general. This one was offered to me by the author and I’ve accepted it mainly because of what I’ve just wrote above. But it turned out I truly enjoyed reading it and it reminded me of my own childhood. Not for the reason you think, though. Yes I am also born in the ’80s but there’s a stark contrast between my own childhood in communist Romania and an American childhood. It reminded me of my childhood because it was like reading about all the silly sitcoms I was watching after the fall of the communism and that’s pretty much the chunk of my childhood that I remember best. Sitcoms like: Save by the bell; 3rd rock from the Sun; That ’70s show. And if you are like me, coming from a country so different than the US and you’d ever wondered if American kids really acted like that, if they truly had that type of adventures and misfortunes, well this memoir will help you accept that American kids WERE that silly or even worse :p. But at the same time, this book could easily appeal and be enjoyable for your regular American as he/she might find themselves in its pages: “For instance, if Chuck, Kevin, Ralph or Mark required an extra person for a game of Manhunt, I would be there. Or if they needed a lookout so they could launch fireworks at oncoming traffic on interstate 78, they could count on me. If Jeff Lambini needed someone to help polish off the last of his father’s beer behind Benham’s Garage & Service Station, he needn’t look any further”

I really liked the self deprecating tone in which Pope tells his stories. I’ve loved his crazy friends and work related tales. I also loved the honesty and the sarcasm, as that’s the best way to actually look at your past adventures: Even though my sister was older, she was weaker and more fragile than I was. Actually, scratch that. I was just as fragile, I just did a better job of hiding it, that’s all. Because that’s what men do: they hide their feelings. Or haven’t I made that abundantly clear so far? And I was a man. Well, more like a boy chomping at the bit of manhood.”

I think everyone would be surprised that some of the toughest kids and high school football players have body image problems or feel physically or sexually inadequate – I left out intellectually inadequate because that might include too many football players.”

There a few annoying things I’d like to mention. Firstly: a good editing is badly needed, lots and lots of typos and other errors that need to be corrected. At times the writing was over simplistic like: “Sometimes I’d see Jim harassing other student, but he was generally pretty cool with me so I wasn’t harassed.”. And last but not least some chapters left me wanting more: there was a nice build up for then to come abruptly to an end, letting me wanting/needing more development. But this are definitely minor – bar the editing, that is imperiously necessary!! and didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the book. I’d say my rating is a 3.5* but I’ve decided to round it at to 4*, for all the memories it brought back and because it’s a début and I feel it deserves the push 🙂

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell (4*)

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen CampbellWhen I requested this on NetGalley I had no idea Jen lives and breathes fairy tale. But that shined through in each and every page of this collection. In fact, she makes videos on fairy-tales that can be watched here: click . Fairy tales and fairy tales characters populate the pages of this collection and is amazing how knowledgeable she is and how she can put “fairies” in untaught of places and situations, she can twist them around to amaze us, she can make them modern and can find connections between all sorts of mystical creatures and day to day elements/events. I found all that fascinating.

Many of the stories are rather short and I would hate to spoil things for you, therefore I decided to only mention a few things on the stories I loved the most, hoping that that will give you a bit of insight and convince you this collection is worth reading.

Animals opens the collections. It’s the darkest and the most twisted of them all and if safe to say it’s my favourite. In my view it is about an abusive man trying to tie his woman to him, trying to keep her in love with him by manipulating her heart. And if that sounds relatively strange, that’s because it is. In the world of this story you can change the heart of a person, or yours and still be alive while “inheriting” some of the characteristics of the animal you’ve got your heart from.

That’s why I bought her heart online. […]’Our Heart are played classical music from the moment they begin to grow. Bred to love. Built to last.’

[…]

I lift it out and the heart spreads itself across my palm like an octopus.

[…]

There isn’t anything quite like holding love in your bare hands.”

And in the most awesome tangle of stories about his life, about his neighbors with a glass heart, his love story and countless fairy-tales like The Six Swans we find out how he is trying to keep hold of a love long gone: Love needs to be trained in warmth and rhythm and reliability”. Somehow this is a post-modern/dystopian solution to love who went from ‘happy ever after’ to broken relationship and constant search for a happy ever-after to manipulating love to truly last forever: “The prince married the princess, and they loved each other. Until the love ran out. Then they fought, and they cried and they filled themselves with hatred. Thank goodness we no longer love in a world like that.”

Jacob, the second in the collections and my second favourite even if it actually comes rather close to sharing the first place with Animals. While anchored in reality: a boy writing a letter to a weather lady to muse on his life; it’s a exquisite example of the fine judgement of children. I truly love children’s capacity to think outside the box and their cute way of always unmasking adults’ hypocrisy.

Aunt Lobby’s Coffin Hotel: while enjoyable it wasn’t on my most liked list. But I want to mention it because features a Romanian mythical creature: moroaica. A moroaica is pretty much a female vampire, the ghost of a dead person which leaves the grave to draw energy from the living – Dracula rings a bell?! :p)

Margaret and Mary and the End of the World – the unfortunate story of Margaret, a Poetry Christina Rossettiyoung school girl becoming pregnant and having to give up her child for adoption. While I didn’t enjoy this the most at an emotional level, I’ve enjoyed this tremendously at an intellectual level. I simply LOVED, LOVED the play between Hansel and Gretel, the biblical story of Mary and the birth of Jesus, Christina Rossetti(poet) true story and Margaret’s story. It is really amazing how Jen Campbell manages to connect all sorts of details that you wouldn’t think of: like Gabriel’s feet on fire in the painting with the orange trainers of the person sitting next to her in the gallery and her mother remarks about her cremation. Margaret’s mother plays both the stepmother and the witch from Hansel and Gretel in different parts of the story and probably I loved best the play between God as Jesus’s father and the priest in Margaret’s story. Total coincidence but 2 days before reading this I bought a small illustrated poetry book by Christina Rossetti. Never before have I heard about Christina Rossetti but when I’ve read Margaret and Mary and the End of the World I already had an idea. It was still really nice to learn further about her and her posing for her brother paintings.

Remember me when I am gone away,

Gone far away into the silent land:

When you can no more hold me by the hand,

Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.

Remember me when no more day by day

You tell me of our future that you plann’d:

Only remember me; you understand

(fragment from Remember by Christina Rossetti)

My year in reviews

My year in reviews 2017

2017

As 2017 is coming to an end I am looking back at what I have achieved and even if there’s space for improvement, I am happy with my progress. Here for a better year. Hope you’ll have a great year, full of achievements and adventures, laughs and love!

Happy New Year everyone!!

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

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.