Friday, 30 November 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Nada by Carmen Laforet

When a young person sets out to conquer the adult world, it’s usually with great expectations and high-flying dreams because everything seems possible to someone no longer subject to childhood limitations. Alas, the yearned for unlimited freedom inevitably proves an illusion given that “no man is an island”. Unless we withdraw to the back of beyond where no human creature ever shows up, we aren’t spared dealing with our fellow beings in daily life and to make compromises in order to live in peace. In Nada by Carmen Laforet, which I picked as bookish déjà vu, eighteen-year-old Andrea comes to Barcelona to enjoy the liberties of student life, but only roaming the big city and in the company of her well-to-do friends she escapes the stifling atmosphere of her late mother’s once important bourgeois family with whom she lives sharing the all-pervading penury and hunger after the Spanish Civil War.
Read my review »

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

GOODREADS Bookcrossers *New* Decade Challenge 2018

The Summary

click on the image to go to the
challenge post on GOODREADS

1 January – 31 December 2018
(Nearly) A Century in Ten Books

When 2018 still was fairly new, I signed up for the *New* Decade Challenge that a member of the GOODREADS Bookcrossers Group initiated. Meanwhile, the year has grown visibly old and I’m through with a book for each of the past ten decades – five written by women, five by men, five originally written in English, five in other languages. As usual, my list of completed reads is consciously diverse regarding genres and styles. It includes a holocaust memoir – The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman – and a semi(auto)biographical portrait of French-Polynesian life since the arrival of European discoverers – Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz – as well as epistolary fiction from the pens of two en-NOBEL-ed writers, namely the French classic Vipers’ Tangle by François Mauriac and modern Chinese Frog by Mo Yan. The novels The World My Wilderness by Rose Macauley, The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch, The Door by Szabó Magda, and Open City by Teju Cole in very different ways and to varying degrees satisfied my need (not just longing) for intellectual challenge, but with Jalna by Mazo de la Roche and The Road to Gandolfo by Robert Ludlum there are two considerably lighter reads on my list, too.

And here’s my chronological list of books reviewed for this challenge:

1920-29: Mazo de la Roche: Jalna (1927)
1930-39: François Mauriac: Vipers' Tangle (1932), original French title: Le Nœud de vipères
1940-49: Władysław Szpilman: The Pianist (1946), original Polish title: Śmierć miasta 
1950-59: Rose Macaulay: The World My Wilderness (1950)
1960-69: Iris Murdoch: The Unicorn (1963
1970-79: Robert Ludlum: The Road to Gandolfo (1975)
1980-80: Szabó Magda: The Door (1986), original Hungarian title: Az ajtó
1990-99: Chantal T. Spitz: Island of Shattered Dreams (1991), original French title: L’île des rêves écrasés
2000-09: Mo Yan: Frog (2009), original Chinese title:
2010-18: Teju Cole: Open City (2011)

Monday, 26 November 2018

Poetry Revisited: First Winter Song by Alfred Perceval Graves

First Winter Song

(from The Irish Poems of Alfred Perceval Graves
Volume I: Songs of the Gael. A Gaelic story-telling: 1908)

Take my tidings!
Stags contend;
Snows descend—
Summer’s end!

A chill wind raging;
The sun low keeping,
Swift to set
O’er seas high sweeping.

Dull red the fern;
Shapes are shadows:
Wild geese mourn
O’er misty meadows.

Keen cold limes each weaker wing.
Icy times—
Such I sing!
Take my tidings!

Alfred Perceval Graves (1846-1931)
Anglo-Irish poet, songwriter, folklorist and school inspector

Friday, 23 November 2018

Book Review: Open City by Teju Cole certain people, especially for those who stand out of the masses for one reason or another, be it in reality or just in their subjective experience, it seems to be harder than for others to find their proper place in the world. Even those who appear to have succeeded in life and to have a rich social life may feel isolated from the rest of the world without showing it on the outside. The protagonist of Open City by Teju Cole is one of these outsiders because having a white German mother and a black Nigerian father he feels that he doesn’t fit in anywhere. Moreover, Julius is a psychiatry fellow at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City and a highly educated man with highbrow interests. When his girlfriend leaves him, he takes to walking through the streets whenever he can to clear his mind and to contemplate.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Back Reviews Reel: November 2015

Three years ago I reviewed four very different books. November being a month of commemoration, I started with the classical novella The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh that is love story as well as satire on the funeral business in California of the late 1940s. Moving from the radiant American west coast to a poor Afro-American community in Ohio some years earlier, The Bluest Eye by en-Nobel-ed Toni Morrison drew me into the dire life of a teenager from a dysfunctional family who despises herself for being ugly. The scene of The Guest Cat by Hiraide Takashi is an old Tōkyō neighbourhood about forty years later where a childless married couple grows attached to a furry visitor belonging to their neighbours. And finally, I followed the true story of the rise of a French silk merchant’s daughter to the Queen of Sweden fictionalised in Désirée by Austro-Danish author Annemarie Selinko.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Poetry Revisited: Autumn in England by Emily Mary Barton

Autumn in England

(from Straws on the Stream: 1907)

1st November, 1837

Another bright summer for ever has fled.
And the song of the warblers is silent and dead;
The heavens are weeping, the breezes are sighing
O’er the cold earth where Beauty’s frail children are lying;
The leaves that fall round them are wither’d and sear,
And the white shroud of mourning shall cover their bier—
The breezes may sigh, for they’re passing away,
The heavens may weep, for they, too, must decay;
But why should I mourn for the joys that are gone,
While I feel that new blessings are hastening on?
Though the tokens of Beauty, lie dead on the ground,
The Spirit of loveliness hovers around;
Though the music of Nature no longer we hear,
New harmonies ever shall sound in my ear.
My sails are full set, and my barque is at sea,
Each wave that I pass has a glory for me;
To the breezes of Heaven my pennant I raise.
Faith is my pilot, my watchword is Praise;
Onward I drive through the glitt’ring spray
Of Eternity’s Ocean, away and away!
Nought can arrest my unfolding career,
On my heart is no cloud, in my bosom no fear;
By all Power created, all Goodness expressed,
By all Mercy redeemed, I am Heaven’s own guest,
And a spark from Divinity glows in my breast.
Go then, bright summer, depart lovely flowers,
Proceed sun of nature, roll on happy hours,
There is Beauty around me that will not decay,
And Life brings in Life as the hours roll away,
The Land of Infinitude opens before me.
The Eye of Omniscience only is o’er me:
Time is my courser, he bears me along,
O’er plains of existence, for ever and ever,
And blent with the whispers of Hope is the song
Of flowers that perish, and friends that must sever,
Forward I bound with unwearying pace,
My portion is Life, my inheritance Space;
The tomb that awaits me throws open its portal,
My Guide is Almighty, my spirit immortal;
The passage is dark, but I slack not my speed,
The gateway is low, yet I bow not my head;
The brow that was made to aspire to the skies,
Smiles calmly on death, and its power defies,
For a season, in sin and disgrace it bent low,
It has risen again, and shall never more bow,
Except to the Mercy that washed off its stain,
And the Might that restored it to Glory again.

Emily Mary Barton (1817-1909)
English-born Australian poet

Friday, 16 November 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Siddharta by Hermann Hesse

When we are children, we know little of life and around every corner we expect a big new adventure to be discovered and fathomed. Growing up uses to be somewhat sobering in this respect because the more we know the more predictable life seems to become with its tiring routines and annoying necessities. Moreover, we are constantly driven on by real or imagined needs – and many of them! – that we long to satisfy and that easily make us suffer when we fail to. Many of us are lucky enough to be able to climb ever higher in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs until we reach for the transcendental beyond the level of self-actualisation. The protagonist of my bookish déjà-vu, Siddharta by Hermann Hesse, has everything that he can only wish for, and yet, he too sets out on a quest for deeper meaning and his proper place in the universe.
Read my review»

Monday, 12 November 2018

Poetry Revisited: Gold Leaves by G. K. Chesterton

Gold Leaves

(from The Wild Knight and Other Poems: 1900)

Lo! I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold;
Grey hairs and golden leaves cry out
The year and I are old.

In youth I sought the prince of men,
Captain in cosmic wars,
Our Titan, even the weeds would show
Defiant, to the stars.

But now a great thing in the street
Seems any human nod,
Where shift in strange democracy
The million masks of God.

In youth I sought the golden flower
Hidden in wood or wold,
But I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold.

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
English writer,poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist,
orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic

Friday, 9 November 2018

Book Review: The Convent School by Barbara Frischmuth
To bring up children means to prepare them best possible for adulthood, but standards and methods of education have undergone constant change in the course of human history. While children today enjoy a lot of freedom because we believe that they should be allowed to explore their nature, notably their talents and tastes, with as little guidance as reasonable, they were often subject to brutal suppression, even violence until not so long ago. Set in the 1950s in the austere surroundings of a Roman-Catholic boarding school tucked away in the mountains of Austria, The Convent School by renowned Austrian writer Barbara Frischmuth shows teenage girls, notably the unnamed narrator, who gradually pass from childhood into a confusing adult world. Strict discipline and the teachers’ tries to instil a very conservative female role model in their charges can’t prevent the narrator from turning into a young woman with an independent mind.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Poetry Revisited: November by Elizabeth Stoddard


(from Poems: 1895)

Much have I spoken of the faded leaf;
Long have I listened to the wailing wind,
And watched it ploughing through the heavy clouds;
For autumn charms my melancholy mind.

When autumn comes, the poets sing a dirge:
The year must perish; all the flowers are dead;
The sheaves are gathered; and the mottled quail
Runs in the stubble, but the lark has fled!

Still, autumn ushers in the Christmas cheer,
The holly-berries and the ivy-tree:
They weave a chaplet for the Old Year’s heir;
These waiting mourners do not sing for me!

I find sweet peace in depths of autumn woods,
Where grow the ragged ferns and roughened moss;
The naked, silent trees have taught me this,—
The loss of beauty is not always loss!

Elizabeth Stoddard (1823-1902)
American poet

Friday, 2 November 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

In school children learn more than just book knowledge. Apart from the family it’s the most important environment for their socialisation, a place where they have to struggle more or less on their own with the puzzling dynamics of peer groups and with the complex maze of unwritten, often odd rules governing relations with others, be they friends or foes. Quite naturally, school mirrors society at large with all its positive and negative aspects which prevents it from being a paradise where everybody is always good and happy. In fact, children can be mean, even cruel toward each other as the protagonist of Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, which I decided to feature as a bookish déjà-vu this week, experienced herself in primary school after World War II. Neither the passage of forty years, nor success as a painter could make her forget having been bullied by her “best friends”.
Read my review»