Wednesday 31 July 2013

Oates, Joyce Carol "A Widow's Story. A Memoir"

Oates, Joyce Carol "A Widow's Story. A Memoir" - 2011

Even though Joyce Carol Oates has been very high on my list of favourite writers ever since I read her for the first time ("We Were The Mulvaneys"), she is moving up higher and higher with every book I read. This one was the best one ever.

This book has touched me more than any book has for a long time. It spoke to me.

I learned a lot about JCO, a lot that I have in common with her. For example, she loves gardens but not gardening. But that is not the main fact.

What does a woman do when her husband dies unexpectedly, when she says to him "Good-bye, see you tomorrow", only there is no tomorrow. At least not for him and it feels the same for her. Is a tomorrow without the loved on with whom you've shared most of your life worth living? Even if, in this case, you are a very independent person, have your own life and job and everything? They were married for 47 years. That is a long time, not easy to get over the loss of someone so close.

Joyce Carol Oates tries to move on but finds it very hard. She gives us the opportunity to follow her on her voyage back into life, one day at the time.

Joyce Carol Oates ponders over so many questions related to this topic, death, widowhood, old age. She goes deep down.

Why is there life? (JCO: "I am utterly mystified why there is life and not rather the cessation of life.")
What does life mean? ("I am not suggesting that life is not rich, wonderful, beautiful, various and ever-surprising, and precious - only that, for me, there is no access to this life any longer. I am not suggesting that the world isn't beautiful - some of the world, that is. Only that, for me, this world has become remote & inaccessible.")
How do you change your perspective to life, to suicide ("Do not think - if you are healthy-minded, and the thought of suicide is abhorrent to you ... - that suicide is, for others, a 'negative' thought - not at all. Suicide is in fact a consoling thought. Suicide is the secret door by which you can exit the world at any time - it's wholly up to you.")
She talks about depression and its effects on life ("Perhaps it's a withdrawal symptom - being unable to get out of bed in the morning. [The very concept of 'morning' is open to revision when one is depressed - 'morning' becomes an elastic term, like 'middle-age'.] Feeling arms, legs, head heavy as concrete. An effort to breathe - and what a futile effort! Never mind rolling a boulder up a hill like Camus's Sisyphus, what of the futility of breathing."),
how it changes your perspective ("I am not strong enough to continue a life to no purpose except getting through the day followed by getting through the night. I am not strong enough to believe that so minimal a life is worth the effort to protract it.")
as well as about illness ("Then, when you are finally sick, and must retreat to bed, really sick, with flu, let's say, you are so terribly week, so unambiguously sick, it is all you can do to hold up your head, or even to rest your head against a pillow. Reading, so long imagined as a much-deserved reward, is suddenly out of the question, like jumping out of bed and dancing - running - to the far end of the house.") in a way hardly anybody has talked before.

She gives us the deep thoughts by a widow or probably anybody who has lost the touch with life for any reason whatsoever ("To be human is to live with meaning. To live without meaning is to live sub-humanly. Like one who has suffered damage to a part of the brain in which language, emotions, and memory reside.")

She also talks about the onset of shingles and how she feels that all of sudden, people seem to acknowledge that she is sick. As a chronic migraine sufferer I can so relate to this. ("My pain-free life of only a few days ago seems idyllic to me now but it's a measure of my delusion that I am almost cheerful about this, for shingles is something real - 'visible' - and not of the ontological status of the ugly lizard-thing urging me to swallow all the pills in the medicine cabinet, curl up and die.") as well as this quote ("Physical pain, emotional and psychological pain - is there any purpose to it?")

You might think I have quoted half the book and that it is not worth reading it anymore. Believe me, it is. If these thoughts do not get you to read this memoir, I don't know what will.

She is so honest, leaves no stone unturned, no thought unmentioned. We can actually feel her grief, her sorrow, her pain.

A friend recommended I read "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion who suffered a similar loss, as well. Maybe I will.

At the end of this book, there is just one open question. Why did Joyce Carol Oates not receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, yet?

From the back cover:

"On a February morning in 2008, Joyce Carol Oates drove her ailing husband, Raymond Smith, to the Princeton Medical Center where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. In less than a week, Ray was dead and Joyce was faced - totally unprepared - with the reality of widowhood.

In this beautiful and heart-breaking account, Joyce takes us through what it is to become a widow: the derangement of denial, the anguish of loss, the disorientation of the survivor and the solace of friendship. Acutely perceptive and intensely moving, '
A Widow's Story' is at once a truly personal account and an extraordinary and universal story of life and death, love and grief."

Find links to all my other Joyce Carol Oates reviews here.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Prelutsky, Jack - Poems for Children

Prelutsky, Jack - Poems for Children

"Something Big Has Been Here" - 1990
"A Pizza the Size of the Sun" - 1996
"It's Raining Pigs and Noodles" - 2000

(just a selection of his books)

Jack Prelutsky writes poems that make up a picture, he writes poems that are jokes, he writes poems that are very observant and he writes poems that are just nonsense. But what all of his poems have in common, they are really really funny and kids love them. A great way for them to learn how to deal and play with language.

They deal with everyday situations, families, friends, and schools and animals, but also with mysterious scenes, dinosaurs, invisible people and wizards, anything children see in real life and in their imagination.

Lovely books, nicely illustrated by James Stevenson who gives many of the poems that extra touch. My boys really loved these poems.

Here is just a little taster to see how funny they are:

"I am digging a hole in the ceiling
In order to gaze at the sky,
I began at the end of September,
I intend to be done by July...."

"An unobservant porcupine
Backed up into his brother.
Since then they've been inseparable -
They're stuck on one another."

"Butterflies, you puzzle me,
For as you flit and flutter,
I study you, but never see
The slightest bit of butter."

 James Prelutsky has written a lot more poetry books and worked with a series of highly acclaimed artists, I am sure they are all just as great as the three I have mentioned.

From the back cover:

"Jack Prelutsky is widely acknowledged as the poet laureate of the younger generation. (And many people would happily see him crowned with no age qualification.) The New Kid on the Block and Something Big Has Been Here are household words wherever there are kids."

Monday 29 July 2013

Grossman, David "To the End of the Land"

Grossman, David "To the End of the Land" (Hebrew: אשה בורחת מבשורה/Isha Nimletet Mi'Bshora) - 2008

A book that sounds both realistic and philosophical. With the background of the situation in Israel, the author tries to find out what the reason behind all this is. He mainly describes the life of Ora but also that of her two best friends, Avram and Ilan and about her sons, Adam and Ofer. We read about the life in modern day Israel and what it means if everybody joins the army for several years and you are in a constant warzone.

The author describes every situation, every person from at least two sides, compares situations constantly. He tries to draw the image of life as well as getting to the bottom of it.

Ora wants to go to the end of the land but I have the feeling she wants to go to the end of the world and even further, forget about all the troubles.

Very thought-provoking. The author is a wonderfully talented writer, I am sure I will read more of his books.

I only read after I had finished the book that the author wrote this book while his oldest son was in the military. He talked about it a lot with his second son Uri who enlisted while his father was still writing the book. Uri was killed in the war and David Grossman finished the book. He said "What changed, above all, was the echo of the reality in which the final draft was written."

From the back cover:

"Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is about to celebrate her son Ofer's release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. Instead of waiting at home for the 'notifiers' who could arrive at any moment to tell her of her son's fate, she sets off for a hike in Galilee, leaving no forwarding address. If a mother is not there to receive the news, a son cannot die, can he? 

Recently estranged from her husband, Ora drags along an unlikely companion: their former best friend and her former lover Avram, the man who in fact turns out to be her son's biological father. As they sleep out in the hills, ford rivers and cross valleys, Ora recounts, step by step and word by word, the story of her son's birth, life and possible death, in one mother's magical, passionate and heartbreaking attempt to keep her son safe from harm.

Grossman's rich imagining of a family in love and crisis makes for one of the great antiwar novels of our time.

David Grossman received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 2010.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Buck, Pearl S. "The Mother"

Buck, Pearl S. "The Mother" - 1933

I have been reading Pearl S. Buck novels ever since I was a teenager, so about 40 years now. But there are still so many of her books I haven't read.

I came across this little gem in a used bookshop.

As it happens so often in her books, the author does not reveal the names of the children as this seems to have been quite normal in China. But in this case, there isn't even another name involved. The only one we come across, "the mother" is sometimes called Mrs. Lee.

However, the names don't matter. We get to know a poor peasant woman and her family, her thoughts and her feelings, her hardships, how she leads her life, how she is forced to look after her family, how all her life is just work and responsibility.

I have seldom read a book that goes so deep into the heart of the protagonist. We get to know the traditions in a little village in China, the way girls are married off into another family.

If you want to learn about pre-revolutionary rural China, this is the right book. If you want to read more books by Pearl S. Buck, check all my posts about her here. I suggest you start with "The Good Earth".

From the back cover:

"Within this novel Ms. Buck paints the portrait of a poor woman living in a remote village whose joys are few and hardships are many. As the ancient traditions, which she bases her philosophies upon, begin to collide with the new ideals of the communist era, this peasant woman must find a balance between them and deal with the consequences."

Pearl S. Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".

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 26 July 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

Word cloud made with WordItOut

"Books don't just go with you, they take you where you've never been." N.N.

"Some books are so familiar that reading them is like being home again." Louisa May Alcott

"People who know and love the same Books as you have the road map to your Soul." Cassandra Clare

"We read in bed because reading is halfway between life and dreaming, our own consciousness in someone else's mind". Anna Quindlen

"There is no such thing as a child who hates to read, there are only children who have not found the right book." Frank Serafini

"Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own." William Hazlitt

Find more book quotes here.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Hosseini, Khaled "And the Mountains Echoed"

Hosseini, Khaled "And the Mountains Echoed" - 2013

So far, I have read three books by Khaled Hosseini, the three books he has written so far. I liked "The Kite Runner", I loved "A Thousand Splendid Suns" and I thought that this one was one of the best books I have read in a long time (and I read a lot). One proof how much I was looking forward to this is that I even read it before it was out in paperback. I prefer those editions, they are easier to hold and to carry around.

Khaled Hosseini is a wonderful author. Such beautiful penmanship, such a gift for telling a story of his war-torn home country. He is an author where you don't think another great book like this will come along anytime soon. His book leaves you with a feeling that it can't be over yet, why are there only 400 pages?

"So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one..." This is how the story begins. Abdullah's and Pari's father Saboor loves telling stories and the children love listening to him. What they don't know, his stories are often parables that shine into their own lives, good or bad. The novel tells us about town and village life in Afghanistan but also about the lives of Afghan expatriates in France and the United States of America as well as that of foreigners living in Afghanistan. He mentions them all. We meet rich people and poor people, good and bad ones. We learn about siblings, sibling rivalry and sibling love. About friendship, marriage, sickness and health, this is a novel about everything. The story spans over several generations and more than half a century, starting in the 40s in Afghanistan and ending at the beginning of this century in California. I don't want to give away too much and I would have to do that if I delved deeper into the story. I just want to add that this books raises so many questions about the why and how we live, what kind of decisions people make and what the implications are on the lives of so many. I would say it is quite philosophical in that respect but also tells a gripping story you don't want to put away until you're finished.

What I specifically loved about this book, it starts immediately, no long introduction to get used to the characters, no description of any kind what was before (that comes later), I love how he starts with a splash. You don't have to read about fifty pages to know whether you will like this book. You will like it from the beginning.

If you only read one new book this year, "And the Mountains Echoed" should be it!

The only disappointment, now that I read his newest book so fast, it will take even longer to wait for the next one.

From the back cover:

"So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one...

Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and stepmother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal winters. To Abdullah, Pari, as beautiful and sweet-natured as the fairy for which she was named, is everything. More like a parent than a brother, Abdullah will do anything for her, even trading his only pair of shoes for a feather for her treasured collection. Each night they sleep together in their cot, their skulls touching, their limbs tangled.

One day the siblings journey across the desert to Kabul with their father. Pari and Abdullah have no sense of the fate that awaits them there, for the event which unfolds will tear their lives apart; sometimes a finger must be cut to save the hand.

Crossing generations and continents, moving from Kabul, to Paris, to San Francisco, to the Greek island of Tinos, with profound wisdom, depth, insight and compassion, Khaled Hosseini writes about the bonds that define us and shape our lives, the ways that we help our loved ones in need, how the choices we make resonate through history, and how we are often surprised by the people closest to us."

Friday 19 July 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

Word cloud made with WordItOut

"A little library, growing larger every year, is an honourable part of a man's history. It is a man's duty to have books. A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life." Henry Ward Beecher

"I wander through fiction to look for the truth" The Goo-Goo Dolls in "Before it's too late"

"Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood." Jane Yolen

"Books cause dangerous thoughts." N.N.

"Books give us the panoramic spectrum of possibilities for encountering life in a new way." J. Michael Martin 

"The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library." Albert Einstein, who was one of the wisest guys who ever lived. Obviously.

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Rosendorfer, Herbert "Letters Back to Ancient China"

Rosendorfer, Herbert "Letters Back to Ancient China" (German: Briefe in die chinesische Vergangenheit) - 1983

I have always wondered what my grandmother who died in 1981 would say if she came back to earth. Would she wonder why people speak into little black boxes in the middle of the street? And what do all those weird shops sell where you can't really see anything but black or other colourful boxes, either? Why are there no vinyl records? And many other questions.

Well, in this book, we get a glimpse of what would be happening. In this case, it is not a woman from our time thirty years later, it's a man from China who made his way through a time machine, he travelled a thousand years and is more than surprised about everything he sees. He knows no cars, no telephone, no buildings that go over one storey high.

But he doesn't ask himself the question what all the new machines are good for or why they have been invented. He asks the questions what they did to our lifestyle, how people have lost touch with nature and with fundamental necessities. He cannot believe how fast everything goes, how nobody takes time any more for the pleasures in life.

Even though this book is a great philosophical work, it is also quite humorous. Just the transcription of names from German into Chinese is hilarious.

We wouldn't know so much about his experiences and his thoughts if he hadn't written regular letters to a friend left behind in Ancient China who receives his reports about the modern world. He seems to pick up German pretty quickly (a little too quickly but that doesn't matter, it just makes the book so much more enjoyable) and while he picks up the language, he learns more about the country and the people.

Throughout the whole book, his efforts to understand the modern world and to describe them to his friend, generate a lot of laughs. An amusing book with an astonishing amount of depth.

I read this book in the original. Not a lot of German novels get translated into English, I am not surprised this one belongs to that group.

From the back cover:

"'Letters Back to Ancient China' combines comedy, fantasy and satire in a moving personal odyssey. Mrs Kei-kung is a thoroughly modern women and she introduces Kao-tai, a 10th century Chinese mandarin marooned in modern day Munich by his time machine, to the joys of modern sex and champagne. However everything else he encounters is not to his taste.

In his letters back to his friend in the 10th century Middle Kingdom, he expresses his horror at the noise, stench and filth of 20th century civilization. For him the invention and conveniences of modern technology are trifles compared with the pollution and lack of order in a society where women (who have mountainous breasts) presume to talk and think like men. Yet he eventually does find some comfort in the mote shang-dong, (champagne) of which he drinks great quantities and in the arms of Mrs Kei-kung.

Letters Back to Ancient China' is one of the most successful German novels of the last decade with well over a million copies sold."

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Urquhart, Jane "The Underpainter"

Urquhart, Jane "The Underpainter" - 1997

We had read "The Stone Carvers" in our book club and I quite liked it. I was looking forward to another interesting historical novel by this author. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed.

The story is very slow to start. For quite a while, I did not get the feeling that anything on the pages was relating to the rest of the book. Only slowly do we meet the protagonist and get the idea what he is rambling on about.

I have read better accounts about people who survived a war, and I have read a lot of them. This one, well, first of all, the book is told from the perspective of someone who hasn't participated in it. Neither have I, so I should relate to him, right?

But I don't. Even when the story unfolds, the painter Austin Fraser, who is telling the story, doesn't come across as being a very sympathetic guy, I have even grown to dislike him. He is an egoistic misogynist, a rich spoilt brat who never grew up and didn't have to worry about a thing in the world.

Unfortunately, this novel has been one of the most unsatisfying ones that I have read for a while. It leaves an empty void that could not be filled. Even the attempt of wrapping it up together at the end, didn't make this a good book. Maybe this was not only the second but also the last book I read by Jane Urquhart.

There was one quote in the book that I did like because it is a great thought to ponder. On page 186:
"I have no quarrel with the Germans [sic ]... we were all in it together, that we were just vandals, really, bent on destroying western culture. Finally it seemed to me that Europe was one vast museum whose treasures were being smashed by hired thugs. We weren't making history, we were destroying it .... eliminating it. ..."

A good point against any war because this quote does not just relay to WWI but to any of those useless battles where young people get killed for the power and money of others.

From the back cover:

"'The Underpainter' is a novel of interwoven lives in which the world of art collides with the realm of human emotion. It is the story of Austin Fraser, an American painter now in his later years, who is haunted by memories of those whose lives most deeply touched his own, including a young Canadian soldier and china painter and the beautiful model who becomes Austin’s mistress. Spanning decades, the setting moves from upstate New York to the northern shores of two Great Lakes; from France in World War One to New York City in the ’20s and ’30s. Brilliantly depicting landscape and the geography of the imagination, 'The Underpainter' is Jane Urquhart’s most accomplished novel to date."

Saturday 13 July 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

Word cloud made with WordItOut
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." Frederick Douglass

"Books and all forms of writing are terror to those who wish to suppress the truth." Wole Soyinka

"We lose ourselves in books, we find ourselves there, too." N.N.

"Here's to books, the cheapest vacation you can buy." Charlaine Harris

"To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life." W. Somerset Maugham

"An apple a day is good for your body. A chapter a day is good for your mind." N.N.

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 11 July 2013

Davis, Lee "P.B. Bear"

Davis, Lee "P.B. Bear" - 1990s

P.B. Bear is a wonderful series about Pyjama Bear and his friends. They go through all kinds of childhood events, from a birthday party to the first day at school. There are board books and first readers but my boys first met him through his read along books, stories filled with pictures that the children can "read" while the parent reads the rest of the story.

Apart from P.B. Bear who always wears his blue and white striped pyjamas, we also meet a lot of his friends, Roscoe and Russell, the rabbits, Milly, the monkey, Dermot and Dixie, the dogs, Dililah and Bob, the ducks and Salty, the seagull.

We had a lot of fun with this little bear in our family. He even exists as a cuddly toy, complete with pyjama. Unfortunately, they seem to be out of print but if you can find them used, they are really worth it. There were several titles available.

P.B. Bear: Catch That Hat!
P.B. Bear: Fly-Away Kite
P.B. Bear: Let's Play Doctor
P.B. Bear: The Pyjama Party
P.B. Bear: The Snowy Ride
P.B. Bear's Birthday Party
P.B. Bear's Christmas
P.B. Bear's Jungle Adventure
P.B. Bear's School Day
P.B. Bear's Treasure Hunt
P.B. Bear's World of Words
The Bear Who Wanted to Read
What Does P.B. Bear Choose?
What is P.B. Bear Doing?
Where is P.B. Bear Going?

Board Books
Good Morning P.B. Bear
P.B. Bear: Marching Band
P.B. Bear: Lift the Flap Magic Surprise Book
P.B. Bear: A Day Out
P.B. Bear's Colours
P.B. Bear's Numbers
P.B. Bear's Sand Castle Surprise
P.B. Bear's Shapes
P.B. Bear: The Snowy Ride
P.B. Bear's Touch and Feel: Meet
P.B. Bear's Words
Time for Bed P.B. Bear
What Does P.B. Bear Choose?
Where is P.B. Bear?

Read Alone
P.B. Bear's Scarecrow
P.B. Bear's Spooky Game

From the back cover:

"Come and join the party Young children will love learning as they meet Pajama Bedtime Bear and all of his cuddly toy friends at his very special party."

In 1998, there even was a television series with 30 episodes and there is a cute CD-ROM game based on the book series.

While searching for some titles, I also found this online learning site based on P.B. Bear.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Chevalier, Tracy "Falling Angels"

Chevalier, Tracy "Falling Angels" - 2001

This is not the first Tracy Chevalier book and nor will it be the last. The author just manages to tell the most fascinating tales. I love her style. And her subjects. All of them.

Two ordinary families who have not a lot in common, other than a family plot on an Edwardian London cemetery. Or have they? The two little girls like each other instantly and become best friends, and everything else starts from there. Tracy Chevalier has the most invigorate talent of gripping your interest, if not from the first page, then certainly from the second. You want to know everything about the Waterhouses and the Colemans, you fear with them, you rejoice with them.

The book has a lot of subjects, friendship between the two girls, rivalry between and among the families, love and death, betrayal, engagement, politics. With every chapter, Tracy Chevalier gives another character the chance to tell us her or his point of view, that makes it so much more exciting. I like this way of storytelling.

The topic that fascinated me most, and probably most other women, was the history of the suffragettes and how much they had to endure to give us all a right that seemed natural for men. Without them, who knows what our world would look like today? But we also see the opinion of those who opposed the idea, even women who thought it might be better to leave voting to the men.

 It is great that the author gives us a glimpse into a society long forgotten, the reign of King Edward VII who had to take over a country created by his mother, Queen Victoria, who led his people into a new century, a transition into a new era, he had to cope with all sorts of new technology and hence new ideas in the minds of people.

Tracy Chevalier's strongest point, she tells us the story of everyday people in a changing world, in a difficult time. It is so much easier to understand any kind of history that way, what were the effects of big politics on the people. I love her books for that.

Tracy Chevalier has also a wonderful page about this book.

From the back cover:

"A poignant tale of two families brought reluctantly together.

A powerful novel on the changing of a nation, the fight for women's suffrage and the questioning of steadfast beliefs.

January 1901, the day after Queen Victoria’s death: Two families visit neighbouring graves in a fashionable London cemetery. The Waterhouses revere the late Queen and cling to Victorian traditions; the Colemans look forward to a more modern society. To their mutual distaste, the families are inextricably linked when their daughters become friends behind the tombstones. 

As the girls grow up and the new century finds its feet, as cars replace horses and electricity outshines gas lighting, the nation emerges from the shadows of oppressive Victorian values to a golden Edwardian summer.

Find here the other books I read by this author.

Monday 8 July 2013

Saramago, José "Cain"

Saramago, José "Cain" (Portuguese: Caim) - 2009

I love reading the novels of our Nobel Prize winners so couldn't resist starting this one, "Cain" by José Saramago. I read that this is the last book of this atheist about the bible. Hmm, sounded interesting.

And it was. The story starts with Adam and Eve and how they are thrown out of paradise ... well, we all know that story. Or do we? José Saramago finds a unique and satirical way of telling this story that is as old as mankind. We then see the first murder, Cain killing his brother Abel and then we see how Cain goes on living and meets all the biblical celebrities like Abraham, Moses, Noah, Lilith, Job, and cruises all the important locations, for example, he is in Lot, Babel, Jericho, Sodom and Gomorrah, at the most important times, in short, he is omnipresent.

What struck me most, the characters were very realistic, very real. The background was explained well and a lot of stories made sense. We learn here what happened to Adam and Eve after they left paradise and where they went.

Whether you believe in the bible or not, this is a highly interesting book, a very good starting point for deep discussions. It also helps understand a lot of the stories, even though it is just one point of view. But, it is the part usually not taught in religious education classes. I don't want to say anything is true in this book, it is not, it is an interpretation by an atheist. It still contributes to a better understanding. It is even funny at times.

The author has been criticized a lot for this novel and "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ", especially by the Catholic church. I think I need to quote another Nobel Prize winner here, Sir Winston Churchill who said "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."

I am very glad to have read this.

José Saramago "who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

From the back cover:

"After killing his brother Abel, Cain must wander forever. He witnesses Noah's ark, the destruction of the Tower of Babel, Moses and the golden calf. He is there in time to save Abraham from sacrificing Isaac when God's angel arrives late after a wing malfunction.

Written in the last years of Saramago's life, Cain wittily tackles many of the moral and logical non sequiturs created by a wilful, authoritarian God, forming part of Saramago's long argument with God and recalling his provocative novel 'The Gospel According to Jesus Christ'.

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 July 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

Word cloud made with WordItOut

"A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking." Jerry Seinfeld

"I read for pleasure and that is the moment I learn the most." Margaret Atwood 

“A story is like a moving train: no matter where you hop onboard, you are bound to reach your destination sooner or later.” Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed 

"Children are made readers in the laps of their parents." Emilie Buchwald

"I am part of everything that I have read." Theodore Roosevelt

"The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries." René Descartes

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Abdolah, Kader "My Father’s Notebook"

Abdolah, Kader (Hossein Sadjadi Ghaemmaghami Farahani) "My Father’s Notebook" (Dutch: Spijkerschrift) - 2000

In 2010, we read "The House of the Mosque" in our book club. It was by the same author and I wanted to read this book ever since. Well, I finally did and I am not disappointed. Same as in his other book, the author manages to transport us to the country of his birth, not just in place but also in time. He tells us about the changes during the decades that he lived there.

This novel is even more personal, it is almost an autobiography. Ishmael, the protagonist in this story, has a deaf-mute father who works as a carpet restaurateur, same as Kader Abdolah, whose pseudonym is the pen name of Hossein Sadjadi Ghaemmaghami Farahani. The name is an homage to two friends who were executed in Iran, one during the regime of the shah, the other one under the ayatollahs.

Ishmael ends up in the Netherlands as a writer, his wife follows him later ... well, I think I leave it at that, there are more similarities between the author and his protagonist.

Coming back to the book, it does go a bit back and forth, from Ismail's father Aga Akbar's youth to today, then back to Aga Akbar's youth, then Ishmael's youth, his studies ... But it is in no way confusing. A good report about the history of the situation in Iran.

I also quite liked the subject of the original Dutch title: "Spijkerschrift" meaning cuneiform script, the very first known system of writing. His father writes this way, since he can't hear and talk, he develops his own spelling. Quite interesting if you are into this kind of topic.

This novel is political as well as historical. A fascinating read.

From the back cover:

"On a holy mountain in the depths of Persia there is a cave with a mysterious cuneiform carving deep inside it. Aga Akbar, a deaf-mute boy from the mountain, develops his own private script from these symbols and writes passionately of his life, his family and his efforts to make sense of the changes the twentieth century brings to his country. Exiled in Holland a generation later, Akbar's son Ishmael struggles to decipher the notebook, reflecting how his own political activities have forced him to flee his country and abandon his family. As he gets closer to the heart of his father's story, he unravels the intricate tale of how the silent world of a village carpet-mender was forced to give way to one where the increasingly hostile environment of modern Iran has brought the family both love and sacrifice."

I read this book in the original Dutch.

Monday 1 July 2013

Geti, Monica "The Year of Sunshine"

Geti, Monica "The Year of Sunshine" - 2004

A good friend recommended this book to me. Not because she thought it was beautifully written but because she thought I might relate to the author who followed her husband to fulfill his dream of living on a sailboat. Well, she did it partially, they still spend half a year where she would like to live and the other half where he would like to. A wonderful compromise. If you are able to do it. A lot of women do not have the choice of where and how they live. They follow their husband to one or several locations wherever his job takes him. Their choice is to live with their husband, even if they dislike the place or circumstances, or leave him.

Granted, I would not have liked to spend my whole summer on a sailboat but luckily, neither does my husband. So, there is no danger there in that direction. I also don't think my husband would ever not consider my wishes for such a decision. Marco, the husband, seemed pretty selfish to me. But ... what is it we do or don't do for love?

Anyway, I could understand Monica Geti so well. Having to live on a sailboat and having to help with the steering and all the other jobs on the boat can be quite daunting. I wouldn't have liked that one bit. However, I did like the places she went to. I loved the way she described Port Grimaud, the place she fell in love with as soon as she saw it. I googled it and found some beautiful views. I can understand how much she loved it.

During this summer on the boat that the author describes, the couple also find their love for each other again. It had been lost for a while during their busy lifestyle and I liked that part a lot, too.

I love the way she describes the relationship between the sailors, how they help each other at any time, no questions asked. I always wonder about this, the "little people" seem to get on so well with each other in an international environment, no matter what their background is. Why do we still have wars?

From the back cover:

"He wanted to retire and live on a sailboat. She did not. They fought. He won. It was as simple as that. Or was it?

Marco had his fill of business. He yearned to find his lost spirit, to return to the Mediterranean ...
Monica had a different agenda; she had sold her business, she wanted to establish a new consulting career, and to nurture the relationship with her daughters, whose growing-up years she had largely missed. She did not want to go sailing around the Mediterranean! It was a conflict of life-changing proportions, a bitter battle, until, against her better judgement, Monica agreed to accompany Marco on his mission. A long and meaningful relationship was almost torn apart because of opposite needs, a major hurdle in their long life together to be overcome if they were not to end up in separate worlds.

The Year of Sunshine' is a romantic tale of two people discovering a renewed passion for life and for each other during a sun-drenched summer of terror and sweat, laughter and triumph in the beautiful ports of the Italian and French Rivieras. What started out as a tour of duty for Monica would become a voyage of love and understanding, and a summer that both Marco and Monica would never forget."