Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Déjà-Vu: Author's Portrait of Jens Peter Jacobsen

On the occasion of his death today 131 years ago:

As regards literature, Northern Europe has been fertile ground ever since the old Norse sagas were written down, notably the Icelandic Edda. The fact that fifteen authors from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature between 1901 and 2013 tells of a vivid narrative tradition. In fact, the names of Scandinavians can be found on bestseller lists regularly, but of course there are important classical writers from the region, too. Every bibliophile will at least have heard of Knut Hamsun, Henrik Ibsen, Selma Lagerlöf, August Strindberg, and Sigrid Undset – to name just a few –, but how about Jens Peter Jacobsen, a late contemporary and fellow-countryman of Hans Christian Andersen?

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Monday, 28 March 2016

Poetry Revisited: The Face of All the World by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Face of All the World

(from Sonnets from the Portuguese: 1850)

The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
Was caught up into love, and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole
God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink,
And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear.
The names of country, heaven, are changed away
For where thou art or shalt be, there or here;
And this … this lute and song … loved yesterday,
(The singing angels know) are only dear
Because thy name moves right in what they say.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
English poet

Friday, 25 March 2016

Book Review: Abel Sanchez and Other Stories by Miguel de Unamuno
2016 review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

It is often said that life is suffering and this is certainly true because our bodies are vulnerable, not to say mortal, and our minds use to be overflowing with desires, many of them such that can never be fulfilled. Pain is the inevitable consequence, but the big question is how we cope with it. At the heart of all three works assembled in Abel Sanchez and Other Stories by Miguel de Unamuno are suffering souls, be it that of a man unable to stop envying his best friend Abel who is almost like a twin brother to him, be it a physician who sees that his innovative talent as a writer isn’t recognised and slowly ruins his practice, be it the charitable village priest who knows how important religion is for his people and never gets tired of preaching the Catholic creed although he himself has long ceased to believe.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Voltaire on Fanaticism

Yesterday, on 22 March 2016, jihadist suicide bombers took action in Belgium killing dozens of people at Brussels Airport in Zaventem and in the underground near important EU buildings where one of my friends was working in her office at the time. As we know by now, fanatics like them use to invoke the Qur’an to justify the indiscriminate slaughtering of passersby, but I’m sure that theirs is a rather distorted interpretation of the words of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and that the vast majority of Muslims worldwide will disagree with it because the true message of Islam – as of most religions – is PEACE.

We call jihadists fanatics. But what does this mean? What is fanaticism after all?

Monday, 21 March 2016

Poetry Revisited: The Rain and the Wind by William Ernest Henley

The Rain and the Wind

(from Hawthorn and Lavender, with Other Verses: 1901)

The rain and the wind, the wind and the rain --
They are with us like a disease:
They worry the heart, they work the brain,
As they shoulder and clutch at the shrieking pane,
And savage the helpless trees.

What does it profit a man to know
These tattered and tumbling skies
A million stately stars will show,
And the ruining grace of the after-glow
And the rush of the wild sunrise?

Ever the rain -- the rain and the wind!
Come, hunch with me over the fire,
Dream of the dreams that leered and grinned,
Ere the blood of the Year got chilled and thinned,
And the death came on desire!

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)
English poet, critic and editor

Friday, 18 March 2016

Book Review: Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame
2016 review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

Rubbish dumps as (forbidden) playing grounds for children and mental institutions as homes for people considered for one reason or another to be unfit for taking equal part in society are a sad reality that most of us prefer not to think about. Thus it’s understandable that they aren’t among the favourite places of writers to use as setting for the main plot or a central scene of a book, but if sought for they can yet be found in literature. An example for a novel featuring both as important elements of the story is Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame, a satire on a New Zealand childhood in the boom years after World War II drawn from the author’s own experience. Confronted from an early age with all kinds of problems implied in working-class poverty, with illness and death, each of the Withers children takes another way out of misery.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Back Reviews Reel: March 2013

March 2013 has been a very productive blogging month. Among other posts I published altogether five reviews, three of contemporary novels and two of well-remembered classics. Two of the books are from the pen of women writers, namely an early novel by the French writer Simone de Beauvoir and an Italian bestseller by Susanna Tamaro. The others were written by men and comprise a much acclaimed collection of short stories by James Joyce and two fictionalised double biographies by Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, and by German-Austrian author Daniel Kehlmann respectively.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Poetry Revisited: Books by Constance Naden


(from Songs and Sonnets of Springtime: 1881)

Oh, fatal fruits, nurtured with tears and blood!
To taste your richness, we have given youth,
Unshadowed mirth, and calm credulity;
Your heavy perfume spoils the wild‐flower scent
Wafted around us by the winds of heaven.
Ye steal the young delight, that was so sweet,
The simple, thoughtless joy in all things fair,
Giving instead a weary questioning,
A striving for what cannot be attained,
A cloudy vision of the inner life.
We might have lingered in our paradise,
Hearing no music sadder than the notes
Of dreamy birds; while Hope and Memory,
Still young and fair and gaily innocent,
Still undefiled by any touch of doubt,
Together trod the dewy meads of life.

Thus said I, in unreasoning complaint,
Bitterly railing on the friends I love
Because their voice and sweet companionship
Must bring the grief that ever comes with joy.
My heart was full: each common sight and sound
Seemed fraught with mournful meaning; and the earth
Was like a hopeless bride, bedecked in vain
With gems and flowers, for one who will not come.
What wonder I rebelled against the art
That taught me thus to think in metaphors,
And gave me reasons for my soul’s unrest?
For I remembered not that it had drawn
My higher nature forth, and given voice
To secret melody. I missed the truth
That knowledge is a greater thing than mirth.
And aspiration more than happiness.

Constance Naden (1858-1889)
English writer, poet and philosopher

Friday, 11 March 2016

Book Review: Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes
2016 review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

Seeing old recordings of the fiery speeches that Adolf Hitler stage-managed throughout his long political career, it’s hard to believe that people flocked to see him in person and were so impressed by his fascist rants that they followed him like dumb sheep into genocide and war. By today’s standards he behaved much like the laughingstock that Charlie Chaplin so brilliantly made of him (and others of his kind) in his legendary 1940 political comedy The Great Dictator, but people then were desperate and he offered, no promised a way out of misery and humiliation. And what if he (or someone like him) appeared in Germany these days? Could he rise to success and fame again? The satirical novel Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes pushes Adolf Hitler into the role of a star comedian on TV impersonating his own old self and making plans for his return into politics.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: A Woman’s Story by Annie Ernaux will be very few who deny that the mother has a very special place in the heart of a person and that when she dies, it uses to be a particularly painful loss in most cases even if she has been suffering for a long time. It means the irrevocable end of an era – of “childhood” in a wide sense – since even the last remaining bond is cut and we can no longer submit like a child to her loving care if we feel like it. After the death of her mother, the renowned French author of autobiographical prose Annie Ernaux (born 1940) set out to trace the course of life of the woman who brought her into life and raised her. The result is A Woman’s Story first published in 1989, a touching literary portrait of a strong and powerful woman who was more than just the author’s mother.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Poetry Revisited: The Ancient of Days by G. K. Chesterton

The Ancient of Days

(from The Wild Knight and Other Poems: 1900)

A child sits in a sunny place,
Too happy for a smile,
And plays through one long holiday
With balls to roll and pile;
A painted wind-mill by his side
Runs like a merry tune,
But the sails are the four great winds of heaven,
And the balls are the sun and moon.

A staring doll's-house shows to him
Green floors and starry rafter,
And many-coloured graven dolls
Live for his lonely laughter.
The dolls have crowns and aureoles,
Helmets and horns and wings.
For they are the saints and seraphim,
The prophets and the kings.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936)
English writer, lay theologian, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist,
orator, literary and art critic, biographer, and Christian apologist

Friday, 4 March 2016

Book Review: A Man's Place by Annie Ernaux
2016 review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

No matter when it comes, if out of the blue or dragging on painfully, the death of a dear parent almost always arrives too soon and is the source of great grief. Those who are left behind follow very different strategies to cope with the loss… and writing about the departed is one of them. Without doubt the greater part of such works of sorrow ends unread, maybe even forgotten somewhere on the bottom of a drawer, not so the award-winning French book titled A Man’s Place by Annie Ernaux, the author's literary homage to her late father written more than ten years after his death. In it she resurrects her relationship with the man who was her father and who never really managed to shake off his humble origins as the son of an illiterate farm labourer in Normandy although together with his wife he started a small café and grocery shop.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Literary Fiction - A Way to Read the World

Young Woman Reading
by Lovis Corinth 1888
oil on canvas, 67.3 × 54.5 cm
Private collection
via Wikimedia Commons
The other day a friend sent me the link to an interesting article on Arts.Mic about “recent” studies dealing with the effects of reading on the brain. It only combines and summarises Liz Bury’s post of 8 October 2013 on the book blog of the Guardian (»»» see Reading literary fiction improves empathy, study finds) and the results of another study presented by Carol Clark on the eScienceCommons blog of Emery University on 17 December 2013 (»»» see A novel look at how stories may change the brain). So all things considered, the Arts.Mic article doesn’t say an awful lot, and yet, I found confirmed what I always felt: reading helps me to better understand my surroundings on the emotional, psychological and sociological levels. The surprise is that quality actually seems to matter!