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Monday, 26 September 2016

Mantel, Hilary "Bring up the Bodies"


Mantel, Hilary "Bring up the Bodies" - 2012

After reading "Wolf Hall", I knew I'd have to read any sequel to this. I am looking forward to the next one, "The Mirror and the Light" because the story of Thomas Cromwell and/or Henry VIII has not ended, yet.

In this novel, the author focuses on the king's wish to divorce Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell's role in this. Same as the first, Booker Prize-winning novel, we can see a lot what is going on behind the scenes, what the history books don't tell us. Hilary Mantel has a great talent to make the characters come alive again on the pages, to describe them so you really get to know them.

Apparently, Hilary Mantel has written twelve books so far, I am sure I will read more of them.

From the back cover:
"By 1535 Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son, is far from his humble origins. Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes have risen with those of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife. But Anne has failed to bear a son to secure the Tudor line. At Wolf Hall, Cromwell watches Henry fall in love with plain Jane Seymour. The minister sees what is at stake: not just the king’s pleasure, but the safety of the nation. As he eases a way through the sexual politics of the court, he must negotiate a ‘truth’ that will satisfy Henry and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge undamaged from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days.

In Bring up the Bodies, sequel to the Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel explores one of the most mystifying and frightening episodes in English history: the destruction of Anne Boleyn."

Friday, 23 September 2016

García Márquez, Gabriel "The General in His Labyrinth"


García Márquez, Gabriel "The General in His Labyrinth" (El general en su laberinto) - 1989

Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios, better known to the world as Simón Bolívar lived from 24 July 1783 to 17 December 1830. He is largely considered as THE politician who brought about South America's independence from Spain in the early 19th century. I must admit, I knew his name, I knew he had something to do with south America, the state Bolivia was named after him, as well as the Bolivian and Venezuelan currencies. But that was about all I knew about this man who has been so important to a whole continent.

This book was written by one of the greatest South American authors ever. Even though it concentrates on Bolívar's last journey, the novel is full of details about his whole life and about South America at the time. We can learn about the history of this great continent and how it became what it is now. How it became liberated from being Spanish colonies, the obstacles they had to deal with. Bolívar also had a dream. A dream of a united South America. That this wasn't fulfilled was not his mistake but he certainly died a disappointed man.

Anything written by  Gabriel García Márquez is worth reading, whether it is just fiction or, as in this case, historical fiction. Even if you are not interested in history at all, the writing is so beautiful. I wish I could read it in its original language.

From the back cover: "Gabriel Garcìa Màrquez's most political novel is the tragic story of General Simon Bolivar, the man who tried to unite a continent. 
Bolivar, known in six Latin American countries as the Liberator, is one of the most revered heroes of the western hemisphere; in Garcìa Màrquez's brilliant reimagining, he is magnificently flawed as well. The novel follows Bolivar as he takes his final journey in 1830 down the Magdalena River toward the sea, revisiting the scenes of his former glory and lamenting his lost dream of an alliance of American nations. Forced from power, dogged by assassins, and prematurely aged and wasted by a fatal illness, the General is still a remarkably vital and mercurial man. He seems to remain alive by the sheer force of will that led him to so many victories in the battlefields and love affairs of his past. As he wanders in the labyrinth of his failing powers and still-powerful memories, he defies his impending death until the last.
The General in His Labyrinth is an unforgettable portrait of a visionary from one of the greatest writers of our time."

Gabriel García Márquez received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 "for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts".

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

I have also read by this author:
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Love in the Time of Cholera   

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Rushdie, Salman "Midnight's Children"


Rushdie, Salman "Midnight's Children" - 1981

I love to read books that challenge my brain. However, I found this one extremely hard to follow. Apparently, this book has been nominated the "Booker of Bookers", it's supposed to be the best Booker prize winner of the first 25 years.

What I really liked about it was that the life of our protagonist mirrored that of the Indian nation since its independence. Even though I have read several books about India and its history, there was still a lot of information in there that I hadn't heard about. The book certainly is a very peculiar mixture of historical fiction and magic realism in a way I haven't seen this before.

It is certainly worth reading but you have to take your time to take it all in. Maybe then you will be able to fully understand this quote: "Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I've gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each 'I', everyone of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you'll have to swallow a world."

I also think you have to be ready for this book. It is very intense and touches so many subjects, so many parts about yourself, you can't read it in between anything else. I usually read about four or five books at a time, I couldn't with this one and even after that, I wasn't able to read for a while.

A difficult book - but very gripping, it's totally worth picking up.

From the back cover: "Born at the stroke of midnight at the exact moment of India's independence, Saleem Sinai is a special child. However, this coincidence of birth has consequences he is not prepared for: telepathic powers connect him with 1,000 other 'midnight's children' all of whom are endowed with unusual gifts. Inextricably linked to his nation, Saleem's story is a whirlwind of disasters and triumphs that mirrors the course of modern India at its most impossible and glorious."

Friday, 9 September 2016

Book Quotes of the Week



"Americans like fat books and thin women." Russell Baker

"From my point of view, a book is a literary prescription put up for the benefit of someone who needs it." S.M. Crothers

"To teach is to learn twice." Joseph Joubert

"Seasoned life of man preserved and stored up in books." John Milton

"Books had instant replay long before televised sports." Bern Williams

Find more book quotes here.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Happy September!

I know I'm late this month but I have a good excuse. My youngest son is going to Australia for a year and I enjoy spending his last days in Europe with him. I wish you all a happy September picture with this beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch

"Blossoms in the autumn sun" - "Blüten in der Herbstsonne" 


 
Same as last year, I'd like to share the wonderful watercolour paintings from Hanka and Frank Koebsch with you every month. I have bought their calendar every year for five years now and have loved every single one of their pictures. I hope you enjoy them just as much as I do.  You can find a lot more wonderful pictures on their blog here.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Alexievich, Svetlana "Second Hand Time. The Last of the Sovjets"



Alexievich, Svetlana "Second Hand Time. The Last of the Sovjets" (Russian: Время секонд хэнд = Vremja sekond khend) - 2013

"Born in the USSR - that's a diagnosis." This is what one of the people interviewed by the author said and it would have been a great title for this book, as well.

I discovered Svetlana Alexievich three years ago when she received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) and then decided to read "Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster". After she received the Nobel Prize for Literature last year, I found many more of her books and "Second Hand Time" sounded like a great read. The author wrote down her interviews with former citizens of the Soviet Union, people who liked the new system, people who disliked it, people who loved it, people who hated it. She wrote down their life stories and you can understand every single one of them. This is what makes politics so hard, trying to please everyone is not possible, there is always someone who disagrees with a certain decision.

I love how understanding she is with everyone, how she manages to report their feelings, their stories as if we are there with the storytellers. I also could relate to many of the stories. Having grown up during a different time, we probably went through a lot that the former Soviets had to go through after their state broke apart. Not exactly the same but our lives were still closer to that than to our children's nowadays. Maybe that is one of the reasons why I always loved Russian literature.

And then there are the stories she tells that get you closer to her interviewees. I liked how they said "For us, the kitchen is not just where we cook, it's a dining room, a guest room, an office, a soapbox." and  "We like to have a chat in the kitchen, read a book. 'Reader' is our primary occupation." Or the way they joke about politics, the best jokes always are from oppressed people. "How do you tell a communist? It's someone who reads Marx. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands him." But one of my favourites is: "In five years, everything can change in Russia, but in two hundred - nothing."

With her work, the author has put together a vivid history of the USSR, of its failures and its positive sides. Yes, there were a lot of people who saw something positive in their oppression and partly, I even understand them. The above joke aside, communism is a good idea, if only it was invented for other species than men. Because men are greedy, they will never want to share and Karl Marx had a dream that this might be possible. He shared that dream with so many people, same as many people still believe in the American Dream and that they might be millionaires one day.

Svetlana Alexievich gets us to think like a Russian, to follow their tragic lives and imagine it might have been us. I read somewhere that her subject is the "history of the Russian-Soviet soul". Not a bad description. I have never read such a good and concise description of other people's lives. She asked her fellow citizens what they thought "freedom" meant and got different answers from those who remembered the USSR and those who didn't. They did grow up in different countries. I can relate to that in that way that our country was divided into East and West probably the same way the USSR/Russians are divided into Before and After. We speak the same language but have many different memories.

The author does what Tolstoy and Dostoevsky did one and a half centuries ago, she puts Russia on the literature map again.

This book makes quite an impression. The tragedies these people went through and are still going through should be known to the whole world. Reading this book is the first step.

And if I hadn't known it already, the Russians are a people of readers. The amount of authors and books mentioned is enormous. Here are just some of them:

Authors:
Belov, Vasily Ivanovich (Васи́лий Ива́нович Бело́в)
Berdyaev, Nikolai Alexandrovich (Никола́й Алекса́ндрович Бердя́ев
Chernyshevsky, Nikolay Gavrilovich (Никола́й Гаври́лович Черныше́вский)
Dobrolyubov, Nikolay Alexandrovich (Никола́й Алекса́ндрович Добролю́бов)
Dovlatov-Mechik, Sergei Donatovich (Серге́й Дона́тович Довла́тов)
Fyodorov, Nikolai Fyodorovich (икола́й Фёдорович Фёдоров)
Galaktionovich, Vladimir (Влади́мир Галактио́нович Короле́нк)
Grinevsky, Aleksandr Stepanovich (better known by his pen name, Aleksandr Grin, Александр Грин)
Grossman, Vasily Semyonovich (Васи́лий Семёнович Гро́ссман)
Herzen, Aleksandr Ivanovich (Алекса́ндр Ива́нович Ге́рцен)
Iskander, Fazil Abdulovich (Фази́ль Абду́лович Исканде́р)
Kollontai, Alexandra Mikhailovna (Алекса́ндра Миха́йловна Коллонта́й - née Korolenko, Domontovich, Домонто́вич)
Lermontov, Mikhail Yuryevich (Михаи́л Ю́рьевич Ле́рмонтов)
Nekrassow, Nikolai Alexejewitsch (Николай Алексеевич Некрасов)
Ogarev, Nikolay Platonovich (Никола́й Плато́нович Огарёв)
Okudzhava, Bulat Shalvovich ( Була́т Ша́лвович Окуджа́ва)
Platonov, Andrei (Андре́й Плато́нов)
Pushkin, Alexander Sergeyevich (Алекса́ндр Серге́евич Пу́шкин)
Rasputin, Grigori Jefimowitsch (Григорий Ефимович Распутин)
Saltykov-Shchedrin, Mikhail Yevgrafovich (Михаи́л Евгра́фович Салтыко́в-Щедри́н)
Shalamov, Varlam Tikhonovich (Варла́м Ти́хонович Шала́мов)
Uspensky, Gleb Ivanovich (Глеб Ива́нович Успе́нский)

Books:
Belyaev, Alexander Romanovich (Беляев, Александр Романович) "Человек-амфибия=Chelovek-Amfibiya" (Amphibian Man/Der Amphibienmensch) - 1927
Brezhnev, Leonid Ilyich (Бре́жнев, Леони́д Ильи́) "Малая земля=Malaja semlja" (Little Land/Das kleine Land) - 1978
Brezhnev, Leonid Ilyich (Бре́жнев, Леони́д Ильи́) "Возрождение=Vozrozhdenie" (Rebirth/Wiedergeburt) - 1978
Brezhnev, Leonid Ilyich (Бре́жнев, Леони́д Ильи́) "Целина=Celina" (The Virgin Lands/Neuland) - 1979
Bulgakov, Mikhail (Булгаков, Михаил Афанасьевич) "Ма́стер и Маргари́та=Master i Margarita"  (The Master and Margarita/Der Meister und Margarita) - 1967
Bunin, Ivan Alekseyevich (Бунин, Иван Алексеевич) "Okajannyje dni=Окаянные дни" (Cursed Days/Verfluchte Tage) (Nobel) - 1926
Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich (Чехов, Антон Павлович) "Сапожник и нечистая сила= Sapozhnik i nechistaja sila" (The Cobbler and the Devil aka The Shoemaker and the Devil/Der Schuster und das Böse) - 1888
Chernyshevsky, Nikolay Gavrilovich (Чернышевский, Николай Гаврилович) "Что делать?=Chto delat?" (What is to be done?/Was tun?) - 1863
Dostojewskij, Fjodor Mikhailovich (Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский) "Братья Карамазовы/Brat'ya Karamazovy" (The Brothers Karamazov/ Die Brüder Karamasow) - 1879-80
Fadejew, Alexander Alexandrowitsch (Александр Александрович Фадеев) "Molodaia gvardia=Молодая гвардия" (The Young Guard/Die junge Garde) - 1946
Gogol, Nikolai Vasilievich  (Никола́й Васи́льевич Го́голь) "Шинель=Shinel" (The Overcoat/Der Mantel) - 1842
Marx, Karl "Das Kapital" (Capital: Critique of Political Economy) - 1867
Ostrovsky, Nikolai Alexeevich (Николай Алексеевич Островский) "Как закалялась сталь=Kak zakalyalas' sta" (How the Steel Was Temperered/Wie der Stahl gehärtet wurde) - 1832-34
Pasternak, Boris Leonidovich (Пастернак, Борис Леонидович) "Доктор Живаго=Doktor Živago" (Doctor Zhivago/ Doktor Schiwago) - 1958
Polevoy, Boris Nikolaewich (Борис Николаевич Полевой) "Повесть о настоящем человеке= Povest' o nastojashhem cheloveke" (The Story of a Real Man/Der wahre Mensch) - 1947
Rybakov, Anatoly Naumovich (Рыбаков, Анатолий Наумович) "Дети Арбата=Deti Arbata" (Children of the Arbat/Kinder des Arbat) - 1987
Sholokhov, Mikhail Aleksandrovich (Шолохов, Михаил Александрович) "Они сражались за Родину=Oni srazhalis' za Rodinu" (They Fought for Their Country/Sie kämpften für ihre Heimat) - 1959 Nobel Prize
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Aleksandr Isayevich (Солженицын, Александр Исаевич) "Архипелаг ГУЛАГ=Archipelag GULAG" (The Gulag Archipelago/Der Archipel Gulag) - 1973
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isayevich (Солженицын, Александр Исаевич) дин день Ивана Денисовича=Odin den' Ivana Denisovicha" (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich/Ein Tag im Leben des Iwan Denissowitsch) - 1962
Tolstoy, Lew Nikolajewitsch (Толстой, Лев Николаевич) "Война и мир=Woina I Mir" (War and Peace/Krieg und Frieden) - 1868/69
Turgenev, Ivan Sergeyevich (Тургенев, Иван Сергеевич) "Zapiski Okhotnika=Записки охотника" (A Sportsman's Sketches aka The Hunting Sketches/Aufzeichnungen eines Jägers) - 1852

From the back cover:
"From the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Svetlana Alexievich, comes the first English translation of her latest work, an oral history of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia.
Bringing together dozens of voices in her distinctive documentary style, Secondhand Time is a monument to the collapse of the USSR, charting the decline of Soviet culture and speculating on what will rise from the ashes of Communism.
As in all her books, Alexievich gives voice to women and men whose stories are lost in the official narratives of nation-states, creating a powerful alternative history from the personal and private stories of individuals.
Svetlana Alexievich was born in the Ukraine in 1948 and grew up in Belarus. As a newspaper journalist, she spent her early career in Minsk compiling first-hand accounts of World War II, the Soviet-Afghan War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Chernobyl meltdown. Her unflinching work—‘the whole of our history…is a huge common grave and a bloodbath’—earned her persecution from the Lukashenko regime and she was forced to emigrate. She lived in Paris, Gothenburg and Berlin before returning to Minsk in 2011. She has won a number of prizes, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Prix Médicis, and the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award. In 2015, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
"

The Russians/USSR/former USSR states had quite a few winners for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Svetlana Alexievich is the latest.

Nobel Prize Winners for Literature:
Ivan Bunin - 1933
Boris Pasternak - 1958
Michail Sholokhov - 1965
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - 1970
Joseph Brodsky - 1987
Alexievich, Svetlana - 2015 (Belarus but born in the USSR)

Svetlana Alexievich received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015 "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time" and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 2013.

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, 5 August 2016

Book Quotes of the Week


"A good book is always on tap; it may be decanted and drunk a hundred times, and it is still there for further imbibement." Holbrook Jackson

"A man ought to read just as inclination leads him, for what he reads as a task will do him little good." Samuel Johnson

"A man may be a heretic in the truth, and if he believe things only because his pastor says so, or the assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy." John Milton

"When I don’t write, I feel my world shrinking. I feel I am in a prison. I feel I lose my fire and my color. It should be a necessity, as the sea needs to heave, and I call it breathing. "Anaïs Nin

"The wise man reads both books and life itself." Lin Yutang

Find more book quotes here.