Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Random Things Tours: The Murmurs by Michael J. Malone


I am very careful with the Gothic novels I am reading, but a novel published by Orenda Books rarely (actually never!) disappoints. The Murmurs, by Michael J. Malone, a multi-awarded author I am getting to know for the first time, has not only the hollow of out-of-this-world supernatural mystery, but also integrates less known fragments of Scottish history, which make it even more interesting for me. 

The night before her first day at work at Heartfield House for the elderly, Anne Jackson had a terrifying premonition dream. Shortly after, one of the elderly patients dies. Strange visions mixing fragments of familiar reality with absurde apparitions - as it happens both in the case of nightmares and dreams - that may be in fact the manifestation of a family curse.

Premonitions are terrible poisonous gifts. You can predict something you cannot stop. It is a real Greek tragedy kind of emotional and existential entanglement threatening Anne and even if you don´t believe and supernatural the drama and emotional weight is real. Those tensions do make the story both emotional and unexpected.

The Murmurs do have a varried and diverse cast of characters, but personally I was even more fascinated by the historical - past-related events - inserted into the everyday life. The dual timeline offers a generous space for variety of events, both personal and at a larger society level and the ways in which Malone succeeded to balance all those details, while adding a very Gothic touch to the story was very unique and hardly allow me to focus on anything but the book. 

The Murmurs is a beautiful thriller, a poetic Gothic novel with an important historical layer. Noteworthy to mention also the fine and elegant bookcover.

Rating: 5 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered as part of the book tour but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Book Review: Scattered All Over the Earth by Yoko Tawada translated by Margaret Mitsutani

´No. I´m not a Buddhist. I´m a linguist.´

´Is that a religion?´

A dystopian novel set in a world where Japan disappeared as the effect of climate change, Scattered All Over the Earth by Yoko Tawada, translated from Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani is a quest for understanding authenticity in a dislocated realm.

´When the original no longer exists (...) there´s nothing you can do except look for the best copy´.

The characters of the book, that are each and one of them are contributing to the story, their voices being shared through short installments revealing parts of the narrative, do connect through dying languages. They move back and forth within the Nordic countries, Germany and France, one of them even invented a language ´Panska´ a common language for all the Scandinavian countries, aimed to help people on the move to communicate. Another character is assuming an Asian role - as a Sushi chef, among others - although an Eskimo, but impersonation would only destroy the dreams and expectations the society made about him.

The sci-fi part is relatively mild, therefore not a challenge for readers like me, not necessarily interested in imagining future worlds, but nevertheless it does creatively extract topics from a big array of areas, like robotics, AI, challenges of climate change and the impact of languages to personality and human development in general.

As usual, Japan-born, Berlin-based author Yoko Tawada challenges the reader to think about language and its role in the everydaylife as well as the distortions occuring through social and political interactions. Scattered All Over the Earth, shortlisted for 2022 National Book Award has the charm of fantastic fairy tales and the tone of emergency of policy reports. An uneven encounter that may also happen in the pages of a book. 

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Random Things Tours: Nigerian Mafia: Mumbai by Onyeka Nwelue

´Nobody goes out of Nigeria to return to Nigeria´.

From Nollywood to Bollywood, dreaming about Hollywood. Uche Mbadiegwu was just ready to start a new life. But ended up strained in Mumbai, victim of human trafficking, without a valid residence permit and at the mercy of dubious locals. 

What it really surprised me in the case of The Nigerian Mafia: Mumbai by Nigerian filmmaker, author and academic Onyeka Nwelue is the main character voice: naive and trusting people, nurturing that kind of hope that has to do with the lack of knowledge about how far humans can go. It is naive yet genuine and one can just envy such a worldview. But it is how sometimes victims do feel, particularly victims of human trafficking sharks. 

Reader, get ready to face a world of ambivalences, where humour and irony are hiding violence, aggressivity, sex and drugs. It can be cruel sometimes, candid, naive and even stupid. But for sure it makes you think over and over again about the condition of the victim in a world of dreams. Dreams of success suffocated by the weight of slums.

This book is the first in a 10-book series inspired by the author´s travels around the world and would be really curious to follow-up with the rest of the adventures.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered as part of the book tour but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Book Review: The Centre by Ayesha Monazir Siddiqi

After reading The Centre, the debut novel of Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi you may reconsider the obsession of learning fast, at any price - the expensier, the better the promise - a language. As a book featuring a young woman translator AND language learning, this book looked as my perfect read as both topics are very important for my professional and personal life. Therefore, I was very happy to be offered the chance to read the book, with the excitement of having to deal with something completely new and intellectually challenging.

And, indeed, The Centre is one of those books dealing with a lot what is discussed right now in the intellectual circles: stories and clashes of race, priviledge, language learning as a class-based priviledge. Anisa is a translator of Bollywood films based in London coming from a middle class family from Pakistan. Through an ex, Adam, a fluent speaker of many languages, she got to know The Centre, a mysterious place for learning languages in less than one month, through complete immersion in the language: no grammar and other annoying details - ask my students how we negotiate every day the vocabulary over the ´der, die das´ - just listening a personal story of the translator, told in her/his mother tongue. Afterwards, she was able to fluently translate from Russian, respectively German. 

Everything looks like an intellectual fairy tale, until one day, when she is getting to get some dirty secrets while visiting her supervisor, the daughter of one of the founders. Her curiosity to really understand what is happening to the translators is fully rewarded as she will be revealed by bits a terrible secret. A secret that goes way too far. Does it matter when the price is learning a precious rare language in just two weeks? An idea really hard to ´digest´ - literally - for me.

I was indeed overwhelmed by the diversity of topics, although I enjoyed the intellectual exchanges and conversations, and they maybe flow as in real life: sporadic, spontaneous, unrelated. It is like a flow of though that is coming and going getting lost in the everyday events. Therefore, I felt like this diversity promises too much but you don´t know what to expect in the end. (Talking about the end, it was my favorite part of the book, one of the best I enjoyed in a long while).

Through the characters, the women characters are relatable - my favorite is Anisa´s best exotic friend Naima - and their everyday humour and irony saves the awkwardness of some situations. 

When I go through small details, I may have some reserves about The Centre, but when I look from a different angle, more inclusive and self-ironic, it is a very intellectually challenging read.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Friday, September 8, 2023

Random Things Tours: Defeating SAD


Growing up in a warm sunny climate, with long hot summers and mild spring-like winters, it took me a long time to adapt to the German long dark and cold winters. My first few years, I just used to escape the winter as fast as possible, heading for weeks in a row in those parts of the world blessed with more sun and no freezing winters. I was not practically depressed, my my productivity used to be low during the winter and my social life was limited. I was feeling that life was escaping me completely and surprised myself more than once thinking that I was living mostly to see the green signs of the spring again. Which was depressing anyway.

But things went and are going better, as my body and mind adjusted to the external conditions. It took me a long time and wished I could have shortened this time. Actually, my condition had a name - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and there are studies and books treating it. The creator of this term is Normal E. Rosenthal M.D. who identified the symptoms in the 1980s and was the first to recommend light therapy. His book Defeating SAD - A Guide to Health and Happiness Through All Seasons is a step-by-step guide about how to cope with those challenges and overcome the changes. 

SAD can affect everyone, children, women, men - slightly less, teenagers and retired persons. The conclusions are based on years-long researches using a large variety of subjects. Thus, he is able to recommend different measures and light-therapy timings based on the specific requirements of each patient. In such situations, only experience makes a difference and helps finding the right solution. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another way to deal with SAD which may give more spiritual content to the emotional pressure. For instance, trying to have a normal social life, doing various physical activities or meditation are possible recommendations following CBT therapies.

The book is recommended to both practitioners and patients, as it offers to both insights and important experiences based on 40-year of practice and direct research. An useful guide just in time before the cold season settles again.

Rating: 5 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered as part of the book tour but the opinions are, as usual, my own 

The Castle of Writers


So many decades afterwards, there is still so much to be said about the post-war Germany and especially those who were part of the so-called ´new beginnings´. Nürnberg trials, aimed at bringing to justice the war criminals of Nazi Germany, were an important stage into trying to breaking out with the past, at least by forcing the society to face the horrors they tolerated and often encouraged.

Das Schloss der Schrifsteller by German researcher and writer Uwe Neumahr is an important contribution to the story of those trials, as it features - for the first time as far as I know - the people who reported about the proceedings. Those journalists were important personalities of the written world, writers, journalists and former Resistance fighters - sometimes all at once. The end of the horrors of Nazi Germany were documented and reported to the world from the place that once was used to show the power of a monstrosity in the making. Symbolically, Nürnberg was aimed to display the failure of a criminal plan.

Headquarterted in the Faber-Castell castle, belonging to the family owning the famous pencils company created in the 18th century, the media representatives gathered people that were themselves part of history: the Balkans chronicler Rebecca West, Martha Gellhorn, John Dos Passos, Elsa Triolet, Erika and Golo Mann - Thomas Mann´s children, so different in their mindsets though -, Willy Brandt - the soon to be cancellor, registered as a ´war correspondent´ for the Norwegian media, Markus Wolf - soon to be the chief of the DDR intelligence, and who later will successfully spy on Brandt

In addition to adding various stories and literary references, the research often takes a psychological turn - for instance, assuming that Rebecca West reports who had an affair, among others, with one of the American judges, out of sexual frustration were ´sexualized´ - that seems limitative. I would have been also curious about writing more about the translators - it´s only one mention which noteworthy includes references about the hardship of being a simultaneous translator from and into German - but definitely it is not enough.

As a first attempt to feature the times and society of the post-war Germany, Das Schloss der Schrifsteller is definitely a first important step, which shows how much is still to be done academically in this respect.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Random Things Tours: 42 Wildly Improbably Ideas of Douglas Adams edited by Kevin Jan Davies


For the lovers of The Hitchhiker´s Guide to the Galaxy, 42 Wildly Improbably Ideas of Douglas Adams reveals to the public for the first time since the passing of the author completely novel ideas, memories and notebooks. Edited by Kevin Jan Davies, a long-time collaborator, the book opens with a foreword of Stephen Fry with whom he shared the passion for latest technology and high-smart tech. At the death of Adams, in 2001, we were far from the current social media and high-tech outburst and he would have been delighted to be part of this new world in the making, mentions Fry.

The book outlines important moments in the life of Douglas Adams: notes, diary entries, poems, photographs etc. The archives, many of them handwritten, are based on the documents inclulded in the almost 60 boxed recovered upon the author´s death. Published in this edited version for the first time, they provide valuable details about Adams´ life and career but also about the environment where this important thinker grew up and created. 
Published with annotations and explanations for the reader, the book can be also used as an example of memoir and memorialistic documents in general. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Disclaimer: Book offered as part of the book tour but the opinions are, as usual, my own