Monday, 31 July 2017

Mercier, Pascal "Lea"


Mercier, Pascal "Lea" (German: Lea) - 2007

This is my third book by Pascal Mercier. He is just such an excellent writer, I need to read his fourth book (Der Klavierstimmer, not translated yet), as well, and then he urgently has to write more.

Pascal Mercier's writing style is almost like poetry, even though he stays very close with his topic. You can tell he is a philosopher in his "first life", he brings a lot of expertise into the story.

In this story, we hear from a father whose daugher learns to play the violin and who is a great talent. This talent destroys everyone's life around her, including her own. Her passion is described in a way that it is easy to follow but hard to understand. You want to get inside her brain, what is she thinking, what is everyone else thinking.

The author creates a great story with fantastic figures. The storyteller is a third person, a brilliant idea to get a little distance to the main characters.

A perfect story, a perfect read.

From the back cover:
"Pascal Mercier's Night Train to Lisbon mesmerized readers around the world, and went on to become an international bestseller, establishing Mercier as a breakthrough European literary talent. Now, in Lea, he returns with a tender, impassioned, and unforgettable story of a father's love and a daughter's ambition in the wake of devastating tragedy.

It all starts with the death of Martijn van Vliet's wife. His grief-stricken young daughter, Lea, cuts herself off from the world, lost in the darkness of grief. Then she hears the unfamiliar sound of a violin playing in the hall of a train station, and she is brought back to life. Transfixed by a busker playing Bach, Lea emerges from her mourning, vowing to learn the instrument. And her father, witnessing this delicate spark, promises to do everything and anything in his power to keep her happy.

Lea grows into an extraordinary musical talent--her all-consuming passion leads her to become one of the finest players in the country--but as her fame blossoms, her relationship with her father withers. Unable to keep her close, he inadvertently pushes Lea deeper and deeper into this newfound independence and, desperate to hold on to his daughter, Martin is driven to commit an act that threatens to destroy them both.

A revelatory portrait of genius and madness, Lea delves into the demands of artistic excellence as well as the damaging power of jealousy and sacrifice. Mercier has crafted a novel of intense clarity, illuminating the poignant ways we strive to understand ourselves and our families."

I also read:
Mercier, Pascal "Perlmann's Silence" (German: Perlmanns Schweigen) - 1995
Mercier, Pascal "Night Train to Lisbon" (German: Nachtzug nach Lissabon) - 2004

Monday, 24 July 2017

Ali, Monica "In the Kitchen"


Ali, Monica "In the Kitchen" - 2009 

I read another book by the author a couple of years ago, "Brick Lane", about Bengalis in London, this one tells us about people of different cultures who work in a hotel kitchen.

I was a little disappointed at the beginning since I had hoped for this to be another one with a Bengali background but then I thought, okay, it's fine, she'll be just as good a writer about another subject and this takes place in a multinational kitchen.

Unfortunately, it didn't get much better. I always thought something more interesting would happen but in the end, this is just a crime novel that takes place in the kitchen of a hotel. I preferred her other book.

From the back cover:
"Gabriel Lightfoot, executive chef at the once-splendid Imperial Hotel, aims to run a tight kitchen. Though under constant challenge from the competing demands of an exuberantly multinational staff, a gimlet-eyed hotel management, and business partners with whom he is secretly planning a move to a restaurant of his own, all Gabriel's hard work looks set to pay off. Until, that is, a worker turns up dead in the kitchen's basement.

Enter Lena, an eerily attractive young woman with mysterious ties to the dead man. Under her spell, Gabe makes a decision, with consequences that strip him naked and change the course of the life he knows - and the future he thought he wanted.

In The Kitchen is Monica Ali's stunning follow up to Brick Lane. It is both the portrait of a man pushed to the edge, and a wry and telling look into the melting pot which is our contemporary existence. It confirms Monica Ali not only as a great modern storyteller but also an acute observer of the dramas of modern life."

Friday, 21 July 2017

Book Quotes of the Week



"I consider as lovers of books not those who keep their books hidden in their store-chests and never handle them, but those who, by nightly as well as daily use thumb them, batter them, wear them out, who fill out all the margins with annotations of many kinds, and who prefer the marks of a fault they have erased to a neat copy full of faults." Desiderius Erasmus

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen." Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

"As you grow ready for it, somewhere or other, you will find what is needful for you in a book." George Macdonald

"Reading is the difficulty to populate a country of strange fantasies with your own thoughts." Kurt Tucholsky

"I am too fond of reading books to care to write them." Oscar Wilde

Find more book quotes here.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Toptaş, Hasan Ali "The Shadowless"



Toptaş, Hasan Ali "The Shadowless" (Turkish: Gölgesizler) - 1995 

This author was recommended to me by a Turkish friend of mine with whom I love discussing our latest "finds". He certainly is an interesting author. On the back of my book he is described as an oriental Kafka enriched with Islamic mystic. I don't remember liking Kafka much when I had to read him in school but I do agree with the description and like the author anyway.

I would describe this novel as a mixture between fantasy and the historical description of life in Turkey. It certainly is difficult to describe the topic of the book. Or the story. There is a village in Anatolia and people disappear from there. Others go looking for them. But reality doesn't go much further, there seem to exist several times, even several worlds next to each other who interfere which each other in a very surreal world. You almost feel like in a painting by René Magritte or one of his fellow surrealists.

A partly amusing partly fantastic story. A different kind of Turkish author but you can still see his oriental influence. I certainly recommend it.

From the back cover:
"In an Anatolian village forgotten by both God and the government, the muhtar has been elected leader for the sixteenth successive year. When he drunkenly staggers to bed that night, the village is prospering. But when he awakes to discover that Nuri, the barber, has disappeared in the dead of night, the community begins to fracture. In a nameless town far, far away, Nuri walks into a barbershop, not knowing how he has arrived. Blurring the lines of reality to terrific effect, this novel is both a compelling mystery and an enduring evocation of displacement."

I read the German translation of this novel "Die Schattenlosen".

Monday, 17 July 2017

Taylor, James Andrew "Books That Changed the World"



Taylor, James Andrew "Books That Changed the World" - 2008

What an interesting list of books! A list of important books that made a major impact on our present view of the world. I haven't read all of them but I am sure most people have heard the titles and the authors at some point in their life.

Whether Andrew Taylor mentions the Bible or the Qur'an, Marx's Communist Manifesto or Mao's Little Red Book, you can be sure that millions of people have read and followed those writings.
Then there are the scientific books like Darwin's "On the Origin of Species", the writings by Galileo, Newton, Einstein and many others without them we would not have the understanding of our world what it is today.

But also novels feature in the list, i.a. one of my most favourite authors, Jane Austen, who could omit her?

In any case, a most interesting list of books that are worth looking at. The author himself mentions that whenever you make a list of any books, there will be people who disagree. I can only second that but it is interesting anyway.

From the back cover:
"Books That Changed the World tells the fascinating stories behind 50 books that, in ways great and small, have changed the course of human history. Andrew Taylor sets each text in its historical context and explores its wider influence and legacy. Whether he's discussing the incandescent effect of The Qu'ran, the enduring influence of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, of the way in which Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe galavanized the anti-slavery movement, Taylor has written a stirring and informative testament to human ingenuity and endeavour. Ranging from The Iliad to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the Kama Sutra to Lady Chatterley's Lover, this is the ultimate, thought-provoking read for book-lovers everywhere."

Introduction.
"The Iliad, Homer; The Histories, Herodotus; The Analects, Confucius; The Republic, Plato; The Bible; Odes, Horace; Geographia, Ptolemy; Kama Sutra, Mallanaga Vatsyayana; The Qur'an; Canon of Medicine, Avicenna; The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer; The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli; Atlas, Gerard Mercator; Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes; First Folio, William Shakespeare; The Motion of the Heart and Blood, William Harvey; Two Chief World Systems, Galileo Galilei; Principia mathematica, Isaac Newton; Dictionary, Samuel Johnson; The Sorrows of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith; Common Sense, Thomas Paine; Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen; A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens; The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx; Moby-Dick, Herman Melville; Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe; Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert; On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin; On Liberty, John Stuart Mill; War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy; The Telephone Directory; The Thousand and One Nights, Sir Richard Burton; A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle; The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud; The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; Poems, Wilfred Owen; Relativity: The Special and the General Theory, Albert Einstein; Ulysses, James Joyce; Lady Chatterley's Lover, D.H. Lawrence; The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes; If This is a Man, Primo Levi; Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell; The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir; The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger; Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe; Silent Spring, Rachel Carson; Quotations from Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong; Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling."

So far, I have only read 11 of these. I wouldn't agree that they have all changed my world but a lot of them certainly had an impact.

The Bible" - 2nd century BC "2nd century AD
Cervantes, Miguel de "Don Quixote" - 1605-15
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von "The Sorrows of Young Werther" - 1774
Austen, Jane "Pride and Prejudice" - 1813
Dickens, Charles "A Christmas Carol" - 1843
Beecher Stowe, Harriet "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" - 1852
Tolstoy, Leo "War and Peace" - 1869
Joyce, James "Ulysses" - 1922
Orwell, George "Nineteen Eighty-four" - 1949
Salinger, J.D. "The Catcher In The Rye" - 1951
Rowling, J.K. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone" - 1997

Friday, 14 July 2017

Book Quotes of the Week



"Books are absent teachers." Mortimer J. Adler

"What I say is, a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore it knows it's not fooling a soul." Neil Gaiman 


"If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." Stephen King 

"Be awesome! Be a book nut!" Dr. Seuss

"I think books are like people, in the sense that they'll turn up in your life when you most need them." Emma Thompson

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Emcke, Carolin "Echoes of Violence"

 

Emcke, Carolin "Echoes of Violence: Letters from a War Reporter" (German: Von den Kriegen. Briefe an Freunde) - 2004

I learned about Carolin Emcke when she was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and I wanted to read one of her books every since. Now I found one and am happy to say, it was worth the wait.

The author is a journalist, covering mainly war areas and she has written e-mails to her friend every time she returned from one of her journeys. Here, she published them. She visited Afghanistan, Columbia, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Romania and the USA (before and after September 11th), and reports about her meetings with affected people. A brilliant account of what war can do to a people. If we didn't know it before, we should certainly learn it from this book. War is stupid! War is terrible! War should not be allowed! For any reason. Put the leaders in one room and let them fight about their problems themselves.

I have to include one quote from the book:
"History is the object of a construction whose place is formed not in homogenous and empty time, but in that which is fulfilled by the here-and-now." Walter Benjamin

From the back cover: "Echoes of Violence is an award-winning collection of personal letters to friends from a foreign correspondent who is trying to understand what she witnessed during the iconic human disasters of our time--in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and New York City on September 11th, among many other places. Originally addressing only a small group of friends, Carolin Emcke started the first letter after returning from Kosovo, where she saw the aftermath of ethnic cleansing in 1999. She began writing to overcome her speechlessness about the horrors of war and her own sense of failure as a reporter. Eventually, writing a letter became a ritual Emcke performed following her return from each nightmare she experienced. First published in 2004 to great acclaim, Echoes of Violence in 2005 was named German political book of the year and was a finalist for the international Lettre-Ulysses award for the art of reportage.

Combining narrative with philosophic reflection, Emcke describes wars and human rights abuses around the world--the suffering of civilians caught between warring factions in Colombia, the heartbreaking plight of homeless orphans in Romania, and the near-slavery of garment workers in Nicaragua. Freed in the letters from journalistic conventions that would obscure her presence as a witness, Emcke probes the abyss of violence and explores the scars it leaves on landscapes external and internal."

Carolin Emcke received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 2016.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Dickens, Charles "Bleak House"


Dickens, Charles "Bleak House" - 1852/53

My seventh Dickens after "A Christmas Carol", "Great Expectations", "A Tale of Two Cities", "The Pickwick Papers", "Little Dorrit" and "Hard Times" but certainly not my last one. I hope I will get through all of his works one day.

A thousand pages of a well-written novel, Apparently, this is supposedly an early work of detective fiction and is one of his later titles. But apart from that, it certainly is a Dickens novel. The characters' names might not be as weird as in some of his books. Maybe he had no more ideas or he grew tired of finding those kind of names, I don't know. I missed it, of course.

This book is a page turner. Having worked in the legal system myself (even though in a different country), I could relate a lot to all the difficulties in the law suit. It's the same everywhere. That bit might be a little tedious for some readers but I promise, it's worth it.

What I love about Dickens, even though he grew up under  poor circumstances, he can describe any character, rich or poor, clever or not so clever, he manages to put them all into his novels and makes them appear alive. He was a master of the pen.

From the back cover:
"As the interminable case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce grinds its way through the Court of Chancery, it draws together a disparate group of people: Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, whose inheritance is gradually being devoured by legal costs; Esther Summerston, a ward of court, whose parentage is a source of deepening mystery; the menacing lawyer Tulkinghorn; the determined sleuth Inspector Bucket; and even Jo, a destitute crossing-sweeper. A savage, but often comic indictment of a society that is rotten to the core, Bleak House is one of Dickens' most ambitious novels, with a range that extends from the drawing-rooms of the aristocracy to the London slums."

Monday, 10 July 2017

Hemingway, Ernest "For Whom the Bell Tolls"


Hemingway, Ernest "For Whom the Bell Tolls" - 1940

After reading this book, I don't understand why I didn't read it earlier. This is one of the "must read" classics, a book that tells us so much about a terrible time, not just a particular terrible time about the guerillas in the Spanish Civil War, but about war in general. War isn't jsut a number of how many people died or how many fights were won or lost. War is horrible. War is brutal. War is everything nobody wants. And yet, we still have wars.

You can tell that a lot of experience flowed into this piece. Ernest Hemingway faught himself in the Spanish Civil War. He must have lived through lot of the actions described here.

This novel is a brilliant account of the partisans, their fight, their effort, their dreams. A strong story about a fight that we all know was lost and cost many Spaniards dearly in the following years.

I never watched the movie with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, two actors I really loved. I probably should. They received nine Oscar nominations for it.

From the back cover:
"High in the pine forests of the Spanish Sierra, a band of anti-fascist guerrilla prepares to blow up a strategically vital bridge. Robert Jordan, a young American volunteer, has been sent to handle the dynamiting. There, in the mountains, he finds the dangers and the intense comradeship of war. And there he discovers Maria, a young woman who has escaped from Franco's rebels."

Ernest Hemingway received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 "for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in 'The Old Man and the Sea' and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style" and the Pulitzer Prize for "The Old Man and the Sea" in 1953.

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Book Quotes of the Week



"Never write anything that does not give you great pleasure. Emotion is easily transferred from the writer to the reader." Joseph Joubert

"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." Rainer Maria Rilke

"Boredom is why God invented books." Julie Schumacher

"Talking over the things which you have read with your companions fixes them on the mind." Isaac Watts

"To you it might be a cheap notebook, but to me, it’s my best friend, which listens to me and reminds me when I need it the most." N.N.

[If anyone can tell me the originator of this quote, I'd be very thankful and would happily include the name.]

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Mahfouz, Naguib "Sugar Street"



Mahfouz, Naguib "Sugar Street" (Arabic: السكرية/Al-Sukkariyya) - 1957 (Cairo Trilogy 3) 

Seldom was I so sad than when finishing this novel. Not because of its contents although they were not all happy events but because this is the end of the story about the family Abd al-Jawad. I would have loved to carry on following their lives and that of their descendants even into the present day.

After reading "Palace Walk" and "Palace of Desire", the first two novels in this trilogy about the author's home town Cairo, I couldn't wait to read the next one.

Same as in the two previous books, we don't just meet the family but also learn about the Egyptian history. This book takes us through the years 1935 to 1944. We can tell the difference in society between the beginning of the saga in 1917 and the (almost) end of WWII. There is quite a difference between how women are treated, what they are allowed to do, even though there are still some people who live in the previous century. Same as today, I guess.

I would love to read more about Egypt later on. There is another Egyptian author that I really like, Ahdaf Soueif, I have read her novel "The Map of Love" and a collection of short stories "Aisha", and I am sure I will find other good Egyptian authors that will continue this story. If anyone has a suggestion, I am always happy to receive recommendations.

From the back cover:
"Sugar Street is the final novel in Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz’s magnificent Cairo Trilogy, an epic family saga of colonial Egypt that is considered his masterwork.

The novels of the Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Sugar Street brings Mahfouz’s vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the aging patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist, and one the lover of a powerful politician. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humor, and remarkable insight, Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy is the achievement of a master storyteller."

Naguib Mahfouz "who, through works rich in nuance - now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous - has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Ruiz, Don Miguel Ángel "The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom"


Ruiz, Don Miguel Ángel "The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom" - 1997

I bought this book years ago. I don't remember what drew me to it but the fact that I didn't start reading it earlier probably says it all.

I'm not the kind of person who will feel better if you tell me that I will feel better if only I start to love myself. On the contrary, if you tell me a problem will be solved if only I looked at it differently, I will feel even worse because you tell me that I am the problem.

In general, I agree, if you are nice to people, they will be nice to you. Most of the time. But that is not a wisdom I need to read, I've learned that all by myself. And with some people, it just doesn't help. And if someone wants to be mean to me, there is no way this book is going to change that.

Anyway, I did not enjoy reading this book. It had less than 200 pages, so I carried on, hoping the big enlightenment would come at the end. Well, it didn't.

From the back cover:
"In The Four Agreements, bestselling author don Miguel Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, The Four Agreements offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love."

Monday, 3 July 2017

Bonnett, Alastair "Off the Map"



Bonnett, Alastair "Off the Map" - 2014

Cartophilia is the love of maps. I certainly have that. It combines well with topophilia, the love of place. I think I suffer from both of them and this is a great book for those of us who are addicted to cards.

Alastair Bonnett, a professor of Social Geography from Newcastle, lists a lot of interesting, weird, forgotten, lost, invisible places in this book and describes them very accurately. There are places we don't want to visit (like Pripyat near Chernobyl), places we can't visit (like Mount Athos, well, at least not the female part of this world), places that don't exist anymore (or have been renamed), places that would be fun just to visit because of their weird identity (Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands is an interesting example and definitely on our list) and lots of curious, weird, quirky places that it's just fun to read about.

So, if like me, you love geography and/or maps, this is the book for you. Get your atlas out and read it.

From the back cover:
"In a world of Google Earth, it is easy to believe that every discovery has been made and every adventure had, Off the Map is a stunning testament to how mysterious our planet still is. It takes us into unchartered territory, to places found on few maps and sometimes on none.

From forgotten enclaves to floating islands, from hidden villages to New York gutter spaces, Off the Map charts the hidden corners of our planet. And while these are not necessarily places you would choose to visit on holiday - Hobyo, the pirate capital of Somalia, or Zheleznogorsk, a secret military town in Russia - they each carry a story about the strangeness of place and our need for a geography that understands our hunger for the fantastic and the unexpected. But it also shows us that topophilia, the love of place, is a fundamental part of what it is to be human. Whether you are an urban explorer or an armchair traveller, Off the Map will inspire and enchant. You'll never look at a map in quite the same way again."

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Happy July!


Happy July to all my friends and readers 

New Calendar picture with this beautiful watercolour painting
 by Hanka Koebsch "Pool Party"

 "Poolparty"



July used to be Quintilis (or September), the seventh month of the year, but the Romans added two months and named this one after Julius Cæsar. It's supposedly the warmest month of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), so I hope it will be over soon.

Enjoy this month with the beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch.

You can find a lot more wonderful pictures on their website here.