Tuesday 31 January 2017

Plath, Sylvia "The Bell Jar"

Plath, Sylvia "The Bell Jar"- 1963

What an interesting read. I am not the biggest poetry reader, so I only ever heard of Sylvia Plath but never actually read anything by her. So, I was not unhappy when one of our book club members suggested this as our next read.

And what a book it is. I think everyone who thinks depression is not an illness and that people should just "snap out of it", "get busier so they don't think so much" etc., should read this. Although, I doubt that will ever happen.

Sylvia Plath manages to show us the inside of a young girl who goes from being an ordinary student who wants to become a writer to being possessed by the dark dog who doesn't want to leave her.

You can tell the author spoke from experience, She suffered from depression herself, committed suicide in the end, You can really understand, follow her way, her debilitating condition, her struggles, her tragedy. I am sorry she only wrote this one novel, she could have given the world so much more.

If you are interested in this topic, suffer from depression yourself or know someone who does, watch this video by the World Health Organization. "I had a black dog, his name was depression." And don't hesitate to look for professional help.

We discussed this in our book club in January 2017.

From the back cover:
"At last Sylvia Plath's only published novel is available in her own country, eight years after it was published in England under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. This extraordinary work chronicles the crackup of Ester Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, successful--but slowly going under, and maybe for the last time. Step by careful step, Sylvia Plath takes us with Ester through a painful month in New York as a contest-winning junior editor on a magazine, her increasingly strained relationships with her mother and the boy she dated in college, and eventually devastatingly, into the madness itself. The reader is drawn into her breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is rare in any novel. In this case, the work reveals so much about the sources of Sylvia Plath's own tragedy that is publication must be considered a landmark in contemporary literature."

In 1982, Sylvia Plath won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for "The Collected Poems".

Monday 30 January 2017

Konar, Affinity "Mischling"

Konar, Affinity "Mischling" - 2016

This story is told by the twins Pearl and Stasha, two Jewish girl who end up in Auschwitz and are brought into the "Zoo", the experiment chambers of Josef Mengele, also known as "The Angel of Death". The title refers to the fact that the twins had one Jewish and one Aryan parent and were therefore considered of mixed race, "Mischling" in German.

This novel certainly describes one of the darkest parts of a war that was so terrible already, there are no words to describe it.

This is not a pleasant book. There is nothing pleasant about a world where human beings are considered to be worthless because of their origin and where horrific things are done to children in the name of science. That doesn't mean that these kind of books shouldn't be written and shouldn't be read. No, everyone should have to read books like this. We all should be aware of what happened so that it never happens again. Nowhere. We are far away from that, there are atrocities happening all over the world and as long as politicians get votes for racist remarks, we are sliding closer and closer to this world again.

Getting back to the book itself, it is very well written. The twins both tell their stories and we get to know the whole story behind their fate. And the fate of many other people who survived the war or disappeared in it. A very deserving book. Yes, the subject is disturbing, but not knowing about it doesn't make it disappear as if it never happened.

From the back cover:
"It's the fall of 1944 when twelve-year-old twins Pearl and Stasha Zamorski are sent to Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, the sisters take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.
Catching the eye of Josef Mengele, Auschwitz's infamous 'Angel of Death'" and becoming part of an experimental population of twins known as Mengele's Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to other prisoners. They find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.

That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, Stasha and her companion Feliks - a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin - travel through Poland's devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, and the chaos around them, motivated equally by danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. Their hearts mapped with longing, the young survivors discover what has become of the world, and they try to imagine a future within it."

Monday 23 January 2017

Nguyen, Viet Thanh (Việt Thanh Nguyễn) "The Sympathizer"

Nguyen, Viet Thanh (Việt Thanh Nguyễn) "The Sympathizer" - 2015

Not my first book about the Vietnam War. Not my first Pulitzer Prize winning novel. But certainly also not my last in both cases. A great description by a promising writer, I am sure we will read more by this talented guy.

Going through the "confessions" of "The Sympathizer", one comes to realize how difficult it is to stay loyal to any side in a war. And that there are no different kind of wars. Wars are horrible. For everyone involved. Wars don't just kill people, wars kill cultures, wars kill the goodness in human beings. Việt Thanh Nguyễn manages to portray that in a way not many others have so far.

It should instill in us all a wish for a better world, a wish for the end of all wars - if we don't have that already. And it certainly should push us to looking at refugees in a different way. They are not people who only come because we live in richer countries, they come because their only choice is between going to another country and being treated as dirt and death, humiliation, terror to them and their families.

I'm not surprised the book received the Pulitzer Prize. Totally deserved

Some of my favourite quotes:
"No matter how badly you might feel, take comfort in knowing there's someone who feels much worse."

"All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory."
(From Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, Vieth Thanh Nguyen)

From the back cover:
"It is April 1975 and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and with the help of his trusted captain drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start anew life in Los Angeles unaware that one among their number the captain is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother a man who went to university in America but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel an astute exploration of extreme politics and a moving love story The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature film and the wars we fight today. About the Author Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. His stories have appeared in Best New American Voices TriQuarterly Narrative and the Chicago Tribune and he is the author of the academic book Race and Resistance. He teaches English and American Studies at the University of Southern California and lives in Los Angeles."

Việt Thanh Nguyễn received the Pulitzer Prize for "The Sympathizer" in 2016.

Friday 20 January 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

"While thought exists, words are alive and literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living." Cyril Connolly

"As novels became more prominent during the 1700s, society and the media grew increasingly concerned that young people spent too much time reading books. They even went so far as to call it 'reading rage,' 'reading fever,' 'reading mania,' and 'reading lust.'" History Today 

"Librarians are subversive. You think they're just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They're like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn't mess with them." Michael Moore

"I did realize, as do you, how blessed I was to know bookjoy, the private pleasure of savoring text." Pat Mora

"Bookish Problem: You actually have to step back, take a moment, and admire your bookshelves every time you add a new book." 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.

Tuesday 17 January 2017

Oates, Joyce Carol "Carthage"

Oates, Joyce Carol "Carthage" - 2014

I've had this book on my TBR list for quite a while and then we decided to read it for our book club. I am glad we finally did.

As most of my fellow readers know in the meantime, Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favourite contemporary authors. Same as always, I loved every bit of this book. Every chapter concentrated on a different character and you were able to get to know them all pretty well. So, we could fear with the Mayfield family what had happened to their youngest daughter but we could also see how the disappearance influenced the lives of all the other family members. Almost a moment from "It's a Wonderful Life" where we can see how one life has an effect on so many others.

As usual, I loved the rich expression of JCO, her way of unfolding a story, of leaving hints here and there without revealing anything. She is a psychological writer as well as a crime writer, a drama reporter as well as a narrator of characters. It's always incredible how well she manages to describe a person, to so much detail that you must be convinced that person really exists. You almost are tempted to google the person in order to find out what happened to them afterwards. You feel their minds, their love, their hopes, their dreams, their guilt, their grief, everything they feel, you feel. You feel with the "slightly" autistic girl, you even understand her worries, you feel with the young soldier who came back from Iran, you feel with his fiancé who tries to live with these changes, you feel with the parents ... You get an insight into how the life of a young man can change once he joins the military and is sent into war. And you learn how one single moment can change the lives of many people forever.

As always, when I read a novel by this brilliant author, I have to send out a message to Sweden: Joyce Carol Oates should get the next Nobel Prize for Literature. It's about time!!!

We discussed this in our book club in November 2016.

From the back cover:

"Cressida Mayfield has gone missing. The ‘smart’ Mayfield girl is lost somewhere in the forests of the Adirondack Mountains. The desperate search yields only one clue: she was last seen in the company of Corporal Brett Kincaid. Kincaid is a severely disabled veteran of the Iraq War -  and was once the fiancé of Cressida’s beautiful sister.

As the grisly evidence mounts against the tormented war hero, Cressida’s family must face the possibility of having lost their daughter forever. For the deeply traumatized Kincaid, the facts of that terrible night are tangled with memories of the most appalling wartime savagery. He craves redemption - and he is not the only one.

Dark and riveting, Carthage explores the human capacity for violence, love and forgiveness, while questioning whether it’s ever truly possible to come home again."

In one of the houses, Cressida comes across many authors and books:

Aristotle's "Politics"
Cather, Willa
Chomsky, Noam "Problems of Knowledge and Freedom"
Descartes, René "Meditations"
Dostoevsky, Fyodor "The Insulted and Injured"
Fanon, Frantz "The Wretched of the Earth
Faulkner, William
Humes, David' "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding"
Hobbes, Thomas"Leviathan"
Passos, John dos
Rawls, John "A Theory of Justice"
Singer, Peter "Animal Liberation"
Sinclair, Upton "The Jungle"
Quite a library!

Monday 2 January 2017

Happy January

Happy January to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this beautiful watercolour painting
by Hanka Koebsch 

"Ice Age"
"Ice Time"

(depending on how you translate)


As I've done for the last couple of years, 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 six 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 many more wonderful pictures on their blog here.