Monday, 3 December 2018

Kermani, Navid "Between Quran and Kafka

Kermani, Navid "Between Quran and Kafka: West-Eastern Affinities" (German: Zwischen Koran und Kafka. West-östliche Erkundungen) - 2014

Navid Kermani is a German author with Iranian parents. He is an Orientalist and received the renowned Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 2015 and this is my second book I read by him. The first one, "Dein Name" [Your name] has not been translated into English (yet!) but this one has.

A rather interesting approach to both Islam and German writers, both classic and modern from someone who has a great knowledge about both. Even if you don't know anything about either, Navid Kermani gets you closer to them. This certainly is a book that gets you thinking.

He also includes some great speeches he was invited to give at certain official German and Austrian events, like the celebration of 65 years of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (German constitution). All of them highly interesting.

From the back cover:

"What connects Shiite passion plays with Brecht s drama? Which of Goethe's poems were inspired by the Quran? How can Ibn Arabi s theology of sighs explain the plays of Heinrich von Kleist? And why did the Persian author Sadeq Hedayat identify with the Prague Jew Franz Kafka?

One who knows himself and others will here too understand: Orient and Occident are no longer separable: in this new book, the critically acclaimed author and scholar Navid Kermani takes Goethe at his word. He reads the Quran as a poetic text, opens Eastern literature to Western readers, unveils the mystical dimension in the works of Goethe and Kleist, and deciphers the political implications of theatre, from Shakespeare to Lessing to Brecht. Drawing striking comparisons between diverse literary traditions and cultures, Kermani argues for a literary cosmopolitanism that is opposed to all those who would play religions and cultures against one another, isolating them from one another by force. Between Quran and Kafka concludes with Kermani s speech on receiving Germany s highest literary prize, an impassioned plea for greater fraternity in the face of the tyranny and terrorism of Islamic State.

Kermani s personal assimilation of the classics gives his work that topical urgency that distinguishes universal literature when it speaks to our most intimate feelings. For, of course, love too lies between Quran and Kafka."

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Happy December!

Happy December to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch

"Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann"
"Tomorrow comes Father Christmas"

Most people really love December. If you're religious, it's the time of Advent, but for almost everyone, it's the time of looking forward to Christmas and then finally, Christmas itself.

As in this picture by Frank Koebsch, the title of a German Christmas song (with the same tune as "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star") where children are looking forward to all the nice things that are going to happen tomorrow - on Christmas Eve, because that's when we celebrate Christmas in Germany. 

And that makes me think of another German song that relates to this month, and it's about a calendar. "Kalender, Kalender, Du bist ja schon so dünn, jetzt ist es bis Weihnachten nicht mehr lange hin" (Calendar, Calendar, you are so thin already, now it's not much longer until Christmas). It stems from a time when we all had daily calendars in the house and would tear off one page every day so it would show exactly what day we are on. 

Of course, this was a long time before anyone even dreamed about mobile phones and the internet. Anyway, it makes you think and reminisce about the past year and what it meant to you and gather your thoughts about the coming year and what you hope for it. 

The birthstone for this month is the turquoise which also represents my favourite colour because it combines green and blue which I both love and prefer over any other colours. It's a porous mineral that that has been used to produce gemstones and small sculptures for over 6000 years, mainly in Persia and Native America but was also known in Ancient Egypt and the Aztecs.

The word comes from the French "turquois "for Turkish because that's where it entered Europe like so many other things like the tulip.

It was often thought to change its colour depending on the health of the wearer and also considered a protector against dark forces. It was regarded as a holy or good luck stone. 

Enjoy this month with this beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch.

You can find many more wonderful pictures on their website here.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Smiley, Jane "Golden Age"

Smiley, Jane "Golden Age" (Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga #3) - 2015

I have read several books by Jane Smiley, really liked "A Thousand Acres" and "The All-true Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton" and thought that also her "13 Ways of Looking at a Novel" was brilliant.

However, this trilogy has not met my expectations. The first book, Some Luck, was alright, Jane Smiley does have a good style that makes you overlook some minor glitches. The second one, Early Warning, really was not captivating but I wanted to give her one last chance and hoped, the story would pick up and get more interesting again. It didn't.

As I already mentioned in the second book, I would have liked a short introduction, a short retelling of the first book, at least a re-introduction of the characters. But that's not the only complaint I would have had. There were quite a few new ones, I found it hard to connect them to the stories I already knew, they were too far removed from them. I usually love these kinds of stories, family sagas over a long time but you have to be able to know the families. I didn't have the feeling I did in this case.

I think all in all, Jane Smiley should have stopped after the first book, just call it a book about the first half of the century. Might have been a great story.

From the back cover:

"The third novel in the dazzling Last Hundred Years Trilogy from the winner of the Pulitzer Prize Jane Smiley.

1987. A visit from a long-lost relative brings the Langdons together again on the family farm; a place almost unrecognizable from the remote Iowan farmland Walter and Rosanna once owned. Whilst a few have stayed, most have spread wide across the US, but all are facing social, economic and political challenges unlike anything their ancestors encountered.

Richie Langdon, finally out from under his twin brother's shadow, finds himself running for congress almost unintentionally, and completely underprepared for the world-changing decisions he will have to make. Charlie, the charmer, recently found, struggles to find his way. Jesse's son, Guthrie, set to take over the family farm, is deployed to Iraq, leaving it in the hands of his younger sister, Felicity, who must defend the land from more than just the extremes of climate change.

Moving through the 1990s, to our own moment and beyond, this last instalment sees the final repercussions of time on the Langdon family. After a hundred years of personal change and US history, filled with words unsaid and moments lost, Golden Age brings to a magnificent conclusion the century-long portrait of one unforgettable family."

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Nadal, Rafel "The Last Son's Secret"

Nadal, Rafel "The Last Son's Secret" (Spanish: La maldición de los Palmisano) - 2015

I do like Spanish authors in general and am always happy when I find another one to add to the list. The author is introduced with "Rafel Nadel can write better than play tennis". Good one! I have no idea how well he plays tennis but I can assure you, he writes very well.

This story takes us to Italy. A visitor notices that a village lost 42 sons in the first world war and that half of them carry the name Palmisano. Then, in the second one, there is not a single one with that name but again a family that covers half the list: the family Convertini. We get to know both the families in this book, and the secret they carry.

A very interesting story, well written, amiable characters, and some hateful ones, of course. We get a glimpse into the life of Italians during the wars, the followers of the evil powers as well as those who choose to become partisans, we get to like the people, get to understand their motives. The link between fiction and non-fiction is very well done.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and I think, even if you don't like to read about the war, this story has a lot to give.

From the back cover:

"In the hot, dusty square of a small village in Puglia, there are two memorials: one to those killed in the First World War, and one to those lost in the Second World War. On the first, every single member of the Palmisano family is listed, and on the second all the names are members of the Covertini family. In total, 44 men, all dead.

In this sweeping and heartbreaking tale of the fate of a tiny hilltop village, Vitantonio and Giovanna are born moments apart just as the First World War ends, and just as their two fathers are killed on the front. But growing up among the olive groves of southern Italy, war seems far away - until clouds begin to gather on the horizon as the Second World War looms ...

A huge international bestseller, this sweeping and heartbreaking tale of the fate of a tiny hilltop village in Italy during the two World Wars will stay with you for ever."

Monday, 12 November 2018

Dodd, Lynley "Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy"

Dodd, Lynley "Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy" - 1983

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy. Already the title makes you want to dive into the book and the illustration is very inviting, as well. All the kids used to love him. The rhymes are just too cute. The animals are so funny, starting with their names, Schnitzel von Krumm or Muffin McClay, for example, not to forget Hercules Morse.

If you have a little one and haven't read this to them, yet, Apparently, there are twenty books about all his friends now. And the author is from New Zealand, something I didn't know when I shared this book with my children.

From the back cover:

"Hairy Maclary goes off for a walk in town, followed by a few friends. All is uneventful until they meet Scarface Claw, the toughest tom in town, and run for home. The story is told by a brilliant, cumulative rhyming text and terrific pictures."

Friday, 9 November 2018

Drinkwater, Carol "The Olive Harvest"

Drinkwater, Carol "The Olive Harvest" - 2006

Years ago, I read the first two books of the "Olive Series", "The Olive Farm" and "The Olive Season". Now I read the third one in the trilogy, "Olive Harvest". Another intriguing story about a couple who decides to buy an olive farm in the South of France and not just use it as a holiday home - that as well - but also grow olives and other vegetables there.

This is not just a place to go and relax, this is hard work. One really has to love this kind of work in order to do it. Carol Drinkwater does and so does her husband. Even though they have to go through many struggles, they carry on and survive yet another difficult season.

I am not a farmer, not even a great gardener but my father was, so I have quite a bit of passive knowledge. I did enjoy her description of the work and their life in Provence. I have been to their neighbouring province, Languedoc-Roussillon decades ago and I remember it to be absolutely beautiful. The author has revived those memories in a fantastic way, I really like her way of writing.

From the back cover:

"Carol and her husband Michel, home after long and separate absences, look forward to spending the summer together on their beloved olive farm Apassionata. But a shocking blow leaves Carol alone, and the future uncertain.

Feeling isolated and with no olives to harvest, Carol ventures beyond the farm to explore other aspects of Provencal life - from hunting to bee-keeping, the gypsies of the Camargue to the shepherds of the southern Alps, the ancient language to the ever-present demands of family and friends. And ultimately, Provence's generous diversity - and Carol's own persistence in sharing it with those she loves - pave a path to joy."

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Happy November!

Happy November to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch

"Schwäne im Flug"
"Swans in Flight"

November is often not considered to be a happy month. There are so many church feasts that let us think about our departed loves ones, All Saints, All Souls, the Day of Repentance and the Sunday of the Dead are all celebrated in November. In Germany, we also have the National Day of Mourning to commemorate all the soldiers and civilians who died in wars, conflicts and political unrest. And then there is Remembrance Day for the members of the Commonwealth nations. 

But despite all this, I love November. It is a month of reflection, the weather just gets you to do so. And before all that Christmas stress begins. The songs get more melancholic, minor scale, beautiful. 

The birthstone for this month is the topaz which is a silicate mineral containing aluminium and fluorine. It's golden brown to yellow but can appear in many different colours. It's a symbol of friendship, therefore quite fitting for the blog.

Enjoy this month with this beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch.

You can find many more wonderful pictures on their website here.