Friday, April 3, 2020

Book Review: A House for Happy Mothers by Amulya Malladi

To be honest, I have very conflicted opinions about this book. I am familiar with Amulya Malladi´s writing from a previous review that I published a couple of years ago, when I enjoyed both the topic and the writing. The Copenhagen Affair was the kind of smart, well written book that is pleasant to read for a couple of hours in a weekend afternoon. I´ve started A House for Happy Mothers with the same aim in mind, but it turned to be rather the opposite: I kept reading it, because I was interesting in the topic, but the more I was reading the more despicable I was finding the ways in which the topic was addressed as well as the characters.
The House of Happy Mothers is a place in India - one of the many - where local surrogacy mothers are serving overachieved professionals - of Indian origin, but not only. The women accepting to carry and give birth to other people children are very poor and sometimes they would accept to perform this task more than once.
Priya and Madhu are a successful couple from the USA that after several tragical attempts to conceive ended up using the service of a surrogate mother. Priya is half-Indian, Madhu has family living there, and she was the one who actually insisted to follow this path against adoption. "Priya really did believe that by using a surrogate, she was helping a woman who could end up on the street. Someone would have a better life while she got a baby``. As simple as that. And this is how the surrogacy is regarded for 80% of the book. Asha, the surrogate mother in exchange, that was encouraged to do this by her own husband, was hoping that the money will help to offer a better education to her gifted son. `The poverty of their past will stay behind them. Every day would no longer be a struggle. They would be able to buy rice and sugar, the vegetables they wanted and not just potatoes`.
This clear dichotomy based on the distinction rich versus poor is predominant and with the exception of the last pages of the book when most of the characters are becoming better, generous persons. No complexity added to the issue, no intellectual debate. There are allusions made to the emotional trauma the surrogate mothers are going through after the child they carried is taken away, but the voices women who did more than once are telling that most probably this will shall pass and there will be more than one surrogate child carried.
I´m obvious to the fact that indeed, surrogacy represent for women, not only from India, but from countries with a high level of poverty, an investment. As it is equally an investment for the parents who instead of finding a surrogate mother in their own countries - where the legislation allows - prefer to go overseas where the market is cheaper. But I find despicable that this dynamic is just presented as a fact, without a serious critical and in-depth emotional and intellectual approach.

Rating: 2.5
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Film Review: The Breadwinner

Inspired by a series of books by the Canadian writer and activist Deborah Ellis, the 2018 Oscar nominated The Breadwinner tells the story of a family living in the Taliban-besieged Kabul. 
Parvana is the heart of the story, that assumed the role of the breadwinner of her family, after her father, a disabled teacher, was took to prison. While she used to spend the day with her father, trying to sell things on the streets, the storytelling about history and geography were the antidote of the gloomy and violent reality outside. Once her father was took away, Parvana keeps living through this stories either when she is putting her younger brother to sleep or when she is waiting for an answer regarding the release of her father from prison. In a sea of hopefulness and violence - with women and girls one of the main targets -, her innocence, despite all odds, is enlightening the day. 
I´ve found the animation inspired, and it uses elements of traditional imagery for the area. The choice of music is also appropriate and adds dramatism to the scenes featured.
The books the film is based were written by Deborah Ellis following her interviews with Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Ellis herself was threatened by the Taliban for her activism and involvement on behalf of the women.
A co-production of Canada, Ireland and Luxemburg, the film is directed by Nora Tworney, Irish animator, producer and director. 
The movie lasts 1h33 and is available on Netflix (I watched it from Germany).

Rating: 5 stars

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Trevor Noah South African Beginnings

Trevor Noah, the popular host of the Daily Show was born ´a crime´. He is the child of a black mother and a white father, a relationship incriminated in South Africa during apartheid. 
His collection of short memoir-like stories published under Born a Crime is an account of his life before and after apartheid, the permanent confrontation with the violence - within the society and within the families - that was always ´lurking and waiting to erupt´. As a first person account, the stories have a note of authenticity and represent important testimonies about a racial divide that we read about but we might have difficulties in figuring out on a daily basis. 
Noah´s identity was caught between the various racial projections and representations that took place during the apartheid years. A multicultural and multilingual society was forcefully divided into ethnic and linguistic groups that were hating each other and preferred to live in clusters that refused to communicate to each other. Neither fully black or fully white, Trevor Noah was considered ´colored´ which involved regular bullying and a permanent outsider status. His greatest advantage was her mom who despite all odds and limitations educated him to not believe in limits: ´My mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do´. As for his outsider status, the one who was mentioned by TIME in 2018 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, he succeeded to migrate between worlds, get to know them and talk their language: ´I learned that even though I didn´t belong to one group, I could be a part of any group that was laughing´.
There are a lot of hilarious episodes, but also way too much violence and domestic abuse, with his mother one of the victims. As a personal story, Born a Crime offers a lot of anthropological and cultural inquiries into the various South African ethnic groups.
Personally, I find Trevor Noah more inspiring as a TV host and comedian, as the writing is not sparkling, but there were enough information that keep me interested until the end of the book. 

Rating: 3 stars

Introducing: Bookish Lifestyle and Movie/Theatre/Concerts Reviews

My lovely bookish blog, WildWritingLife is celebrating this autumn 10 years of adventures in the world of books. Each and every one of this year was rich in discovering new books and authors, expanding and improving my writing skills and challenging myself with new literay ideas. 
Not all years were equal though. Although I don´t remember a day when I was not reading a book, I was not always keen to share my ideas, and sometimes I had to take a break from blogging for a stronger focus on my everyday life chores and adventures. The past is history, but it is important to outline that every time I come back fortified, with a better bookish mindset, determined to continue my adventure in the world of books.
From a blog post to another, I tried to make the blog more open to the diversity of voices and genres, reviewing both fiction and non-fiction, interviewing authors and edition houses owners, trying to cover as much as possible as many global voices as possible, in an attempt to not miss any country in the world where books are written and published. From thrillers to graphic novels, I tried to represent as many genres as possible (although I need to focus a bit more on Science Fiction, not necessarily a favorite of mine, but I have to give it more than a try). I tried to cover as well books about writing and dedicated to helping authors to spread the news about their books through social media and blogging, among other topics. 
There is still a lot of diversity to be added to the blog, as I am planning to use in a more organised way my rich linguistic heritage for reading as much as possible books in the original languages I am familiar with - or I am interested to improve. 
Being more active in connecting with other bookish minds is also an aim, as it is to be a more frequent participant to book tours, as a very efficient way to help authors and their books to get known to a wider audience.
New sections were introduced in the last years, as my travel blogging consulting business expanded: Bookish travel, where I am featuring bookstores, memorial houses of authors and libraries encountered during my travels. Hopefully, once the Coronavirus crisis will be over, I can have more material for this section.
However, I still feel that there are some aspects of the bookish life that are still left behind in my blog, and I am ready to accept a new challenge. Or two.

Bookish Lifestyle

Living a life surrounded by books means that there are a lot of rituals and specific needs that you have to fulfill. You need bookshelves and enough space for your precious books. You need your cosy corner where to retire for a page-turning adventure. You need apps and devices to accompany your bookish commuting, when your book is too heavy or when you are looking for better ways to the newest books released on the market.
You may also want some identity markers that will share your bookish identity with the rest of the world: T-shirts, a coffee mug, some cosy socks, a tote with a quote from your favorite author. 
This is your choice of a bookish lifestyle and from this month on, I am starting to dedicate more time researching companies and ideas that suite this trend. I am happy to connect with creators and entrepreneurs, designers and creative minds with achievements and inspiration in this field. At this preliminary stage, any ideas are more than welcomed and I am very excited to embark on this new adventure.

Movie/Theatre/Concerts Reviews

I love both theatre and movies, but unfortunatelly in the last years my encounters in this field were rather sporadic. Lack of time, lack of interest, other professional assignments, my own procrastinations, there are few of the reasons why I am still very bad at catching up with movies and even less familiar with the latest theatre trends.
This year, this is about to change. 
I am introducing a new section on the blog dedicated to reviews of interesting and hopefully inspiring theatre productions. My aim is to cover classical movies, inspired by books but not only, not necessarily successful Netflix/HBO series, but also good entertainment productions, covering as many national cinemas as possible. For theatre, until the normal social life is back on the track, I will look for online resources.
As for now, everything is only a project, I may include in this section various cultural documentaries and contemporary cultural debates.
Last but not least, let´s talk music. As for now, writing about music - opera, concerts - is one of the hardest challenge for me. I rarely did and I am feeling an outsider when it comes to music writing. I feel the need to restart my own musical training - time to get back to my piano lessons that I abandoned for very personal reasons two decades ago - but also want to reconnect with my music soul. How exactly I will share this new passion on the blog, I don´t know, but I will start very small and see where everything leads me.
In other words, April starts with a lot of good news and can´t wait to start sharing with my readers this new intellectual adventure. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Book Review: A Pure Heart by Rajia Hassib

From the turmoil of the Arab Spring of 2011, to sister rivalry, the heartbreaks of immigration and meditation about history and present, A Pure Heart by Rajia Hassib is a story whose echoes are hard to forget.
Back to Cairo from New York where she moved shortly after getting married with Mark, a successful American journalist that converted to Islam, Rosie is collecting artifacts that may help her understand her recently deceased sister, Gameela. An archeologist by profession working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rosie can easily understand and put into perspective the big historical stories of the Egyptian civilization, but she does not have the right mental measurement evaluation for the history unfolding, including the episode that took the life of her sister. Back home, she brought a box full of disparate objects and artifacts, among which she will discover in shock it was a marriage certificate of her sister, an alliance she kept secret from everyone, including her parents she lived with.
Who was really her sister? Does this archeological method really works for real humans? Does it compensate the lack of direct communication that affected the relationship between the sisters for such a long time?
Besides the story of Rosie and Mark feeling in love, which I´ve personally found not so convincing, the stories within the story of the Pure Heart are making strong statements about identity, alienation and belonging. What does it mean, after all, to belong? Should it be a place, a way of being, a person only? Does your place of birth follow you, like a portable box, wherever you go? What is left from those memories - the people, the smells, the things that you miss, the things that you wish you do back then? 
Especially when we are talking about the Middle East, the distinction between East and West, modelled by centuries of ´orientalist´ approach is shaping conflictual identities. Rosie, for instance, educated in Western-oriented institutions, prefer a cautious approach to the inquisitive foreigner curiosity, most likely shaped by narrow-mindness and lack of deep knowledge into the culture and civilization. And she will be faced with the same misperception, once becoming an `American´: `Apparently, as an American, I am not allowed to have opinions about Egypt anymore´. 
Rosie´s PhD thesis turned around the concept of death as expatriation, based on the tale of Sinuhe. Sinuhe, an official to the royal household, fled Egypt as his life was threatened, and became a Bedoiun. He returned only late in life asking to be burried there, in a symbolic comeback. (The Finnish author Mike Walteri has a book about this fascinating tale, The Egyptian).
Religion and particularly religious practice, was one of the elements that deepened the divide between the two sisters, as Gameela suddenly decided to wear hijab, confronting her middle-class family. But Gameela, as Rosie too, was a woman who assumed her decisions and wanted to do what she wanted. None of the typical descriptions of Middle Eastern women submissive and unable to decide without the men´s approval correspond to the women characters in this book. Rosie. that refused at first to fathom her marriage with Mark because he was not a Muslim, has her own approach to religion, which involved more than the cultural belonging: `Her religiousness, though, was a part of her whole, not the center of her being, and she was happy with that`.
All the threads of the story are smoothly coming together into an unique story. A story about people lead on the waves of events stronger than life.

Rating: 4 stars

Monday, March 30, 2020

A Little History of Poetry

´What is poetry? Poetry related to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special, so that it will be remembered and valued´.
As I am fighting hard to update my poetry TBR, reading about poetry can also be a helpful incentive. This is why I considered seriously going through the suggestions in A Little History of Poetry by John Carey, pen and paper on the side. 
The book reads easily, the references are not complex from the academic point of view, the perspective is chronological-historical and there are also enough quotes to inspire your next read. If you really want to have a systematic overview of the poetic works of humanity. Especially if you are a beginner literature student or looking for some basic writing, this book can be really helpful to update the information.
On the other side, with some noticeable exceptions, the references are predominantly from the English-speaking realm. It starts with the Epic of Gilgamesh - because it is history after all - it mentions Hafez, Villon (but not the rich poetry of the French Middle Ages), Dante and Petrarch, Heine, Rilke and Goethe, Pushkin and Lermontov. In the final chapter, Poets in Politics, there is place for Spanish-speaking poets like Paz and Lorca and even Yehuda Amichai is mentioned. However, those poets do not necessarily appear as part of the wider history of poetry - in terms of influences, impact on the history of poetry etc. - and are rather present to add diversity to the bigger picture.
Therefore, use this Little History of Poetry without too many expectations, just as a reference that can encourage your poetry reading plans. As for me, I will keep reading more poetry, no matter the original language was written in.

Rating: 2.5 stars

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

Locked-Room Mystery for Lockdown Times: Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada

Murder in the Crooked House (Pushkin Vertigo) (English Edition) von [Shimada, Soji]Reading a ´locked-room mystery´ during the lockdown sounds like a decision in full sync with the strange times we are living right now. This specific type of mystery, that Agatha Christie or Conan Doyle and other authors in the 1920s-1930s were very familiar with, are the kind of riddle impossible to solve at the first sight: the murder(s) takes place in a closed space and it seems impossible for the perpetrator to commit the crime. 
The crime novel I am about to review is unique for more than one point of view. Murder in the Crooked House is a classical - so-called honkaku - Japanese mystery written by one of Japan´s most popular crime writer in the Asian realm, Soji Shimada. I may reckon that although for years I am regularly updating my knowledge of Japanese literature, I rarely had the chance to read thrillers and mysteries, as this genre is rarely - for ´publishing market reasons´ - accessible in translation. This is the second book by Shimada published in English, the current translation being done by Louise Heal Kawai (that also translated Ms. Sandwich that I previously reviewed). Shimada´s debut novel The Tokyo Zodiac Murders published in 1981 was followed by over 100 words and he is a very popular author Asia. I am very glad that Pushkin Vertigo took this risk and introduced Shimada and his works to the English-speaking public.
Murder in the Crooked House has an endearing structure where the classical format of the whodunnit is filled with typical elements pertaining to the Japanese culture and traditions. While reading, we have to keep in mind that the action is placed at the beginning of the 1980s, in a society that even nowadays has a different approach on social and private interactions. The reader from the 21st century may be outraged by the way in which women are portrayed and their disadvantages - at the limit mysoginistic - positions. But at a great extent, it has to do in general with the women status at the time, that is still a matter of evolution within the Japanese society.
At this context, another aspect to be taken into account is the constant interaction, struggle and friction between the private (ura) and public (omote) constraints the individual has to cope with in Japan. Hence, the duality and mask-like attitude of most of the characters in the book.
Once those little context details were clarified, let´s go further into the book.
The bizarre industrialist Kozaburo Hamamoto built himself a bizarre crooked house in the northern island of Hokkaido. He invited to join him here during the winter holidays a couple of people to celebrate with, more or less regulars, that are challenged to solve a riddle. Then, there is a murder. And another one. No one entered the house. No one left the house. Still, two people who were invited here are dead, the last one while a police team is dispatched within the house. None of the current residents seem to have any reason to kill. Who did it and especially, why? 
Besides the residents - alternating, not always nicely and elegantly, between their public/private masks - the house hosts also a strange creature, a Golem, that Hamamoto brought from his trips to Europe. Being relatively familiar with the topic, I haven´t fully agree with the implant into the Asian story, but the cultural and religious details set apart, I may reckon that this element adds some exotism to the story and even might you thing - me including - that he is the culprit. How the crime(s) will be finally solved is in a very unexpected way and worth all the waiting and guessing. Kind of genius as the key to the riddle reunites all the disparate elements spread into the story. Therefore, take all your time to read the book with the highest concentration, paying attention to all the small details, particularly regarding the structure of the house whose plans are drawn in the book as well.
As readers, we feel trapped in the author´s - criminal´s mind. No wonder that the book is structured not in the classical chapters, but in acts, similarly with a play, a decision that outlines in a unique way the idea of a setting-up, manipulating and confusing our minds. This time, for a literary cause so it is worth playing the game for a short while.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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

Sunday, March 29, 2020

How I am Preparing My Blog Posts

Locked in a small room with plenty of time on my sleeves to do nothing else but read and once in a time read, I was thinking that maybe, besides the regular book reviews and features, it is about time to write a little bit also about my writing process, particularly about how I am preparing my blog posts.
An academic by background, I´ve spent most of my life in the company of books. Any kind of books and writing word in general. I devoured incessantly both fiction and non-fiction, in several languages.  Books and reading habits were my companions and it´s no chance that this will ever change. With the exception of vampire-related topics - de gustibus, after all - I am reading almost everything and I am happy to relate to everything regarding books. This includes not only proper book reviews, but also featuring interesting edition houses, editorial ideas, interviews with authors, bookstore reviews and bookish guides, visits at authors´ memorial houses, any other relevant details about the publishing industry and the book production in general.

General Preparation

As in any aspect related to writing and published work in general, preparation of an article is essential. Either you are about to write a review or a general feature article, you have to be sure that first and foremost you know what are you talking about. You have to know the terms you are using and the context.
This may involve that once you have an idea of a blog article, it will take a little bit of time until your article is ready. Although blogging is a very personal and private business in itself - and not all of us make money out of it - principles of accountability and honesty - like in the case of any published work/word in general are prevalent, and respecting them is a matter of respecting your readers, no matter there are less than five or so. Those people who are about to read your posts deserve to be offered something fresh, interesting and reliable.

Preparation Step-by-Step

Once you are aware about the mindset, I will proceed to the next and most important step of the process. The preparation of your article. For now, I will use a very simple example: a book review.
Before you are writing about a book, you need to read it. Everyone his or her own pace and although one might be tempted somehow to read fast and produce as many articles as possible - at least at the beginning when you want to reach in a short amount of time a certain notoriety, I would rather prefer the slow/medium-paced mindset. Especially when you are at the beginning of your bookish blogging life, you better start by offering high-end information and articles, instead of hasty bits that might look not only in search engines, but also among your potential readers. A tree doesn´t grow overnight and it always take time - between 6 months and one year at least - until you can count on a steady audience. Therefore, enjoy the book you are about to read, page by page. After all, everyhing nhas to do with your love for books, not with a factory-style production of afrticles, isn´t it?
Every time I am reading a book I intend to review, I am having on my side a notebook and a pen. This is how I am used to read and although I can easily use a computer or other kind of electronic devices for the same purpose, I still prefer the old style of hand writing. In my case, it helps to keep my attention awake and better organise my thoughts later - obviously, if your handwriting is organised well enough...
On those notes I add a variety of details: observations about the characters, observations about the writing, quotes to use later in the review, inadvertencies, personal thoughts about various chapters. Practically, everything that has to do with the book itself. Those notes represent the main ´flesh´ of the article I will publish later and I completely depend on the information for writing my review.

More Documentation

Besides, there is more documentation involved before I am about to write my article. 
My bookish blog is covering a wide range of authors, with the aim of no leaving behind any single country. I am a traveler as well, considering literature as part of a conundrum which reveals the uniqueness of cultures and civilizations. Therefore, especially when I am about to cover relatively ´unknown´ authors and cultures, I take more time to read information regarding specific contexts, customs, histories. 
For the books in translation, I am always interested to find out more about the translator.
I am also interested to find out more information about the author and his or her special history, but also about the context of the book as well - controversies, reception, awards. Once in a while, I might be interested in reading interviews with the author, reviews published in big publications, opinions already expressed by other bloggers.
All those additional information help to create a better perspective on the book and add more depth to the review as such. 

 Ready? Go!

As you can see, writing a book review is not easy business and it involves a significant amount of time. From the moment you start reading until the review is published on the blog it can take from a couple of days and a week. 
In my case, the pace may differ. Giving the fact that right now, there is no family and professional pressure hanging over my head, I have plenty of time to read, take my notes, add the documentation and proceed further with the review. In a normal context (but what is normality nowadays, anyway), I need around 2-3 days until the review is ready. In some cases - especially very complex books - I have to take a break from the topic or the author in order to clarify my thoughts and the timing might take place within a week or even more.
But after all, what matters, is to offer to your reader a piece of your bookish heart. Do it in your own pace, enjoying during the process, while learning something new. 

Are you a beginner bookish blogger and looking for some advice at the beginning of the journey? Feel free to get in touch for a short introduction into the topic! Looking forward to get in touch soon!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Living with Chronic Disease: Sick. A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour

`I am a sick girl. I know sickness. I live with it. In some ways, I keep myself sick`.
I am writing this blog post from a hospital room, where I am about to spend another couple of weeks. My own medical story is irrelevant as for now, but my current situation explains maybe my interest and different understanding of the story Porochista Khakpour is telling in her powerful memoir Sick.
It is a personal story about years of abuse against her body, trauma, PTSD, suicidal tendencies, unhealthy life choices that develops in a country - US - whose medical system is a utter failure - compared to the one I am familiar with in Europe, particularly in Germany where I am living right now. A country can make you sick, the lack of a country can make you sick, poverty and lack of proper medical resources can kill you in the end. A mixture of all the aforemetioned toxic elements, plus drug abuse, plus years-long misdiagnoses lead to Khakpour´s critical situation: reaching a late stage of Lyme disease. This malady is transmited by a bacteria spread by ticks. There is no clear indication when exactly she was infected with, but she lived with the symptoms for over a decade.
The effects of this bacteria-induced chronic illness are overwhelming for the overall body balance. `The first sign of a Lyme relapse is always psychiatric for me. First the thick burnt fog of melancholy that crept slowly - mornings when I couldn´t quite get out of bed, sticky inability to express my thoughts, hot pangs of fear and cold dread at unpredictable times, a foundation of anxiety, and panic - that fluorescent spiked thing, all energy gone bad, attacking like clockwork around noon daily - all unified toward that endless evil in white, insomnia`.
Did I write ´body´ in the previous paragraph? This is the word that Porochista Khakpour refused for a long time to fully acknowledge. Normality used to be for her for a long time being disconnected from the body. She just moved to NYC - one of her many relocations on the East Coast, from the LA temporary home of her Iranian parents where they settled after the Islamic revolution waiting for that moment when they can come return - and ´time was always runing out´. ´No one I knew went to doctors. No one I knew was healthy. No one expected it. If you were alive, then you weren´t dead. That was it. It was just not in our culture to care´. 
She lives her intense live of writer in the making, freelancing, applying for academic jobs, getting scholarships, dating, getting on and off various drugs, dating while regularly dealing with bouts of chronic illness. She suffers abuse, is facing racial discrimination, is trying to cope with childhood trauma and the dislocation from Iran, has fears and the body and soul are thrown into chaos again. It´s a permanent coming and going, a strong tension shredding the very fragile balance. Still not enough to easily assume the official status of a ´sick person´: ´I did not want that life, I did not want to be that person, and maybe a part of me knew I had no choice´.
The permanence of the chronic illness that is not named until the very end of the memoir - because diagnosed so - makes the reading repetitive and many episodes look similar. But this is what happened until the medical diagnosis was clarified. Meanwhile, she keps misunderstanding and desconsidering her body: ´It has taken many years to see my own shell, this very body, as a home of sorts. I can report that even now I struggle with this concept (...)´. And this is a feeling I am very much familiar with. 
Sick. A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour is a testimony of life burning hot and the pressure our body put on us to take choices after living in denial that only we can make the choices. It´s a bitter herb to figure out that spirit is not enough, but after all, it may be a reason this shell of a body is carrying on us. 

Rating: 5 stars

Comics for Strange Times: I Saw You (on CraigList, obviously)

A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon the `Missed Connection` section of New York City CraigList and I kept returning regularly for a couple of months. What an unique source of inspiration about our world of relationships, hopes and expectations - as well as creepiness - it is! The dream of seeing someone who is the one and only person only for a couple of seconds! The hope that he or she will see the announcement, but also the fear that one might be in fact stalked by a crazy one obsessivelly believing that they are meant for each other.
At certain extents, it reminded me of two of my high-school girlfriends who spotted some random dude on their way home and obsessed about him for weeks and weeks in a row. God forbid to see him again...Funnily, they never made anything else than eye contact.
CraigList announcements were therefore offering unique insights into the dating, communications and relationship psyche in the new millenium. Do you feel the desperate call of a line like this: ´I kept looking for you but I couldn´t find you anywhere´?
When I´ve seen there is a full comics inspired and dedicated by those some notes, it couldn´t wait to have it. I Saw You is a collection of graphic notes edited by cartoonist Julia Wertz who is also a contributor about people searching for people. In a less tragical note, similarly with the notes dropped in the newspapers after the end of WWII when people were looking for survivor relatives, friends or spouses.
As a collective work, not all the notes are equal from the point of view of the topics and style. Some notes are funny, some are hilarious, some are creepy, and some are borderline stalking behavior. Some drawings are really good, some not so impressive. But this diversity is the diversity of the ads as well and the diversity of the people that hope that CraigList might help them get in touch with a person they assume might be special for them.
I personally find very interesting the topic of the collection, a mundane yet inspiring topic to explore for the genre of comics. Now, I´m curious if there are other literary and non-literary works dedicated to such issues. What about real time stories, about people that actually met and fell in love like is no tomorrow by answering an anonymous call on CraigList? Or maybe a thriller about an unhappy situation...Should I check CraigList again? What does the ´social distancing´ issue to the already tangled web of curious and strange 21st style relationships?

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Blog Tour: The Codes of Love by Hannah Persaud

There are rules of love, languages of love and codes of love. Everything turns around the magical word ´love´ but it might have different meanings and stir different associations for each and every single human involved in the process of love as such. We associate to love either social conventions - marriage, partnership - or strong feelings and commitments - honesty, openness. We want love to last, at least as long as a fairy tale, and when we, or one of us is out of love, we are heartbroken, a phenomenon which can be describe accurately in anatomical/medical terms.
Hannah Persaud debut novel The Codes of Love opens with a quote from Kahlil Gibran, On Marriage: `Love one another, but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your soul`. What is the bond about, actually? Being committed legally - through marriage - with shared bank account, the same family name, a mortgage? Depending on one another physically? Requesting absolute fidelity? Living for and through one another? How can you trace the map of your heart adding other people to the chart, but without keeping them against their own will.
Ada - Ryan - Emily are part of a triangle in the making. Dominated by an aggressive father, Ryan married the adventurous Emily as his first love. In their early 40s, he´s a successful architect, she´s teaching literature, they have two teenage soons and the secret of an open marriage. Emily´s idea, never fully accepted by Ryan. Emily and Ryan do have different needs that time did not change: she´s more sexual, he is more on the  intellectual committed side. The fact that their marriage relies on an apparently stable set of rules, translating easily into codes made of fine everyday agreements does not protect any of them from the final countdown of the failure. In fact, it is the failure of a convention that gives further life to (probably) just another code (of love).
This is what we are witnessing in The Codes of Love: the end of a marriage that might make many envious, where physical trepassings are accepted in the name of an out-of-time commitment and mutual respect. For Ryan, who´s suddenly having a committed adventure with the independent and never committed Ada, Emily´s code of love was frustrating as he will openly tell her in one of their fights: ´Did you ever feel guilty for the pain you caused me as I watched you gallivating around?´ On the other hand, Emily suspects Ryan is having more than an adventure and is becoming unsecure and jealous - wasn´t it one of her rules to not sleep more than once with someone? Between Ryan and Emily the code of love is becoming a game of lies and a nasty display of power. Apparently, there are some limits to the open canvas of their marriage. The relationship erodes ´layer by layer, like rust´.
On her side, Ada is playing her own independent game: manipulating more or less consciously both of them, never losing herself. She´s excited about the unexpected and the adventure, but once she and Ryan are buying a cottage in Wales, there is no more excitement and the adventure has no present.
What the intricacies of the relationships setting and unsettling in The Codes of Love reveals for me is the confusing multiplicity of commitments that never set for one, in fact: the commitment for an emancipated life - as Emily looks back to her relationship choices she said ´I´m just pushing for the same freedom that men have claimed for years´ - the commitment of independence, the commitment of adventure, the commitment of monogamy, the commitment of intellect overriding the instinctual desires. Each and every one of this commitments are breaking apart in million little pieces, and out of the shards new love paths are created, not necessarily code-bounded. 
The writing flows in an uncomplicated way, like the lines of a building on the architect´s chart. Besides the three main characters, the other protagonists of the story are rather episodic and without a defined personality (for instance, I would have been curious to delve a little bit more into Emily´s sister story). The natural environment recreated - the Wales setting - suits perfectly the inner wildnerness of the characters. 
The cover deserves a special mention, for the excellent visual rendition of the story.

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

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

YA Book Review: Love, Hate&Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

I haven´t read such an insightful YA multicultural novel in a long time. Samira Ahmed´s Love, Hate&Other Filters encompasses with an original voice a clear message about what does it mean to grow up different in nowadays America.
Daughter of immigrants from a Muslim Indian family, Maya Aziz is struggling to write her own story: as a teen, woman, Muslim American, as an individual. She is a couple of months shy of her 18th birthday and the pressures of all kinds are entering her life: her parents - that come with nothing and succeeded to set up a relatively successfully dental practice in Batavia, Illinois - can´t wait to dance to her wedding and already started to tour suitable candidates; it´s time to apply to universities and her passion for film seems to be stronger than the expectations of her parents; she is in love for ever with Phil, that she knows since she was 5, but he is not suitable as a husband material and in addition he is also taken. Maya moves smoothly from a world to another, having non-Muslim friends and coping pretty well with the American melting pot. However, she is born different and this difference is reminded a couple of times every day, from her skin colour to the smell on her clothes because of the ingredients traditionally used to cook in the household. Her parents moved oceans to achieve their current American life, but their adherence to all the cultural norms and standards and self-obliteration is not achievable. Take, for instance, the fact that non-wed young Muslim couples do not kiss before marriage: `The no kiss is anticlimatic, but some taboos cross oceans, packed tightly into the corners of the immigrant baggage, tucked away with packets of masala and memories of home`.
Maya´s biggest struggle is to find the royal path towards a life she wants and fulfills her as a human being, while still being a good daughter. Maybe in a similar with her rebel aunt, in her 40s, not married, a graphic designer enjoying her creativity and freedom. Without acknowledging her parents, Maya applies and is accepted at the NYU for Film studies as her filming ´is the way I see things. Really see them. I can capture what is important to me at a particular moment. That way, I keep it forever´. Which means that she had to leave her parents home and start the life of adventures, in Thoreau´s words she quoted ´suck the marrow out of life´. But announcing such a radical decision involves complex sensitivities and difficult episodes with her parents. ´There are things I love about it. My friends. This place. But I want to be in New York already. You know, a place where I can life and do what I want and not be the Indian girl or the Muslim girl. A place where I can just be´.
Maya´s family Muslim identity appears as a given, connecting the members through the threats of tradition and shared identity: they do not eat pork or drink, but also don´t necessarily go to the mosque all the time and pray strictly five times the day.
At first, everything looks like a cinematically organised sequence of life snaps from the life of a teenage gang in Batavia, Illinois dating, dealing with their family constraints and their burgeoning identity of new adults in the making. But there is another terrible story that rolls in the background, the story of an unhappy young boy that lured by the white supremacist ideas will commit a terrorist attack. First, it was labelled as a Muslim terrorist attack, as among the name of a victims, a certain Aziz - the same family name like Maya´s - was found. Followingly, Maya´s innocence is facing the assault by an aggressive colleague. This is the rotten worm of the beautiful American dream since September 11, revealed as Maya was praying that the perpetrator is not Muslim: ´I´m scared of being the object of fear and loathing and suspicion again. Always´. The Muslim ban and the additional screenings in airports of non-white people, said Maya, ´left American Muslims to fight for their Americanness and their beliefs´. But there is still hope for her; when overwhelmed by the situation, her parents were considering maybe returning back to India, it is the same Maya who is trying to convince them that America is their place: ´Yes, terrible racist stuff happened, but we´re part of this place, and it´s a part of us. And we can help make it better by being here and living our lives and being happy. We can be...We are American and Indian and Muslim´.
The story in itself is full of hope, with delicate twists and change of situation, slow paced yet keeping the reader alert for the new installment. The audience is mostly YA, but it also shows to a larger audience a specific way of understanding and stating identity in America nowadays. In an interview, the author herself who is living in Batavia, Illinois, experienced racism as a little girl therefore the accents of authenticity in the voices of the characters. The characters are authentic not only when they utter realities related to their ethnic and/or religious identity but also as voices of teenage children and adults in the making.
The construction of the story and the ways in which the relationships between the characters develop is another plus of the book; it offers a multiplicity of perspectives and projects the unique voices and personalities of the characters.
Love, Hate&Other Filters by Samira Ahmed is one of those books whose reading is important in those dramatic times for the ethnic relationships in America we are in. As told and seen through the voices and eyes of teenagers, it makes the entire message more relevant because it gives the measure of the struggle for being free enough for writing your own story. That story that´s only yours to live and tell it further.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Spy Adventurous Graphic Novel: Lena´s Odyssey

From the villas of the former communist leadership in Eastern Berlin to Aleppo, Lena is on a bizarre mission that in the end we find out it has to do with the peace process in the Middle East. The suspense of the graphic novel has to do less with the aims, but with the ways in which the mysterious story unfolds: we have to follow Lena and her strange way to contact people in as diverse places as Romania, Hungary, Turkey, Ukraine or Syria, who are given unusual presents - marzipan chocolate, shaving kit, expensive perfume. Sounds very intriguing, isn´t it? You should wait until the very end of the story to figure out how those extraordinary gifts will be in fact used.
The suspense is all around and will continue until the very end of the story. Because Lena has in fact a different name and her personal history hence her presence into this story is more complicated than one of a adventurous globetrotter. Her Odyssey, revealed step-by-step is what keeps you reading this exceptional graphic novel in one sitting. It has the right combination between inspired graphics - by André Juillard - and the literary setting - by Pierre Christin - which for me makes the reading of such a genre as valuable as any other kind of literary product.
The book was originally published in French, but I´ve read the English translation.

Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Blog Tour: The Waxwork Corpse by Simon Michael

Set in England of the 1950s-1960s, The Waxwork Corpse by Simon Michael is a slow paced classical legal thriller yet with many unexpected twists. 

Personally, I prefer novels set in our very recent times, except for some historical novels, but the ways in which the spirit of the old times is inserted into the story in this book are so smooth that one doesn´t need extra documentation or a long time journey. The historical part, which goes as far as the 1940s, during the bombing of London by the Germans is used as a useful background but there are no historical specificities besides the specific context as such.
The story in itself is catching and once I started to read the book I`ve refused to let it down. There were many reasons for that: the writing, the characters, the story in itself that although it has a certain degree of predictability it has unexpected emotional twists revealing hidden human truth, the construction of the story in itself, with its more than one layer of development. Do not expect The Waxwork Corpse to be a reading packed with action and activities and corpses every 2 pages. There is only one corpse whose life and encounters are reconstructed based on the testimonies of people close to her, but the person who did the murder is apparently known from the very beginning.  
Charles Holborne, formerly Horowitz, a former boxer with a shady past, an unusual yet respected barrister, is prosecuting another barrister whose wife, disappeared for over 10 years, was finally discovered in the Lake District. That wife was a nasty unbearable aggressive character herself it seems, and probably the barrister acted in self defense, but why it took so long to recognize the murder and why he hid evidences for so long? The final answer will be known only in the end, and it is a surprising one, although following the logic of the story, without a spectacular turn of situation. The barrister will be declared ´not guilty´ although his career will be over anyway.
In parallel with the legal thriller, there is a personal story involving Holborne´s relationship with his Jewish heritage and his family in general which is going on, which in relationship with the thriller development itself gives an unique perspective on the bonding between fathers and sons as well.
The story is based on a real case and the author himself, Simon Michael, was a barrister for 37 years with experience in defending a very diverse category of culprits.
The Waxwork Corpse is the 5th from the Charles Holborne published by Sapere Books. For me, it was the first encounter with this unusual barrister and the fact that I haven´t read previous books from the series did not influence the understanding of the current book. However, I realized that I love the writing so much that I may be interested in exploring more of Holborne´s adventures.

Disclaimer: The book was generously offered to be by Sapere Books in exchange for an honest review, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Short Stories by Catalin Dorian Florescu

I remember exactly the moment when I`ve heard about Catalin Dorian Florescu for the first time. I used to work as a journalist at the time and one of my colleagues, a passionate German-language reader and learner, which I was not at all, mentioned it passionatelly, outlining his story. Originary from Romania, Florescu used to have a career as a bus driver in Switzerland while writing in his free time. Despite his success, he kept his job, probably as a good source of human information for his stories.
And his fame only get bigger, with more and more books being written and more accolades and prizes being received. Still, it took me over ten years to finally find the proper mood for his works. It might be also because I am always a bit careful, reluctant and distant when it comes to books inspired by and written by authors from the old country. I am not impressed by nostalgic images, mythified memories about the communist times and that attitude that ´in fact, there were also some good things about those communist times though´ (which makes sense from the human point of view and I admit it with my logical/rational part of the brain but don´t want to delve into the dramatic discussion about it).
A couple of weeks ago, I stucked from my local library a couple of books of Florescu, and started to know him through his collection of short stories. The language was fine for me, but he belongs to the Swiss cousins and whose variant of German is often ridiculized. I am not a native therefore I cannot judge the beauty and accuracy of the language, and among my native German friends no one is bibliophile enough to spend reading a Swiss author of Romanian origin in order to evaluate the accuracy. But I have a big doubt that for the natives, those writing in a German taught as a second language are never good enough. Once I had the impression that even bilinguals are not good enough, as a German friend of mine confessed that the way in which Herta Müller, the recipient of Nobel Prize in Literature on behalf of...Germany, writes is not always ´how things are really said in the old German`.
Going further into the content, I entered a world of people at the edge, my favorite kind of people. Immigrants, or locals estranged from life, strange situations and unusual changes, as in the case of the account of the beautiful German island of Sylt suddenly ´invaded´ by Syrian refugees and the reaction of the people used to live in the most expensive part of Germany. The settings as diverse: a border area in Romania, Switzerland, Germany, and the pace of the story shares a lot with the banality of the everyday life. Not the set of events matters, but the ways in which people react to life, their personalities. The stories are told with a quiet, monotone voice, in a way that makes you forget about relative time and geographic limitations, the story flows in its natural realism, then it stops and another one follows. It´s by far one of my favorite way to tell short stories. 
I really loved to observe the characters in their failed humanity, and their strength as literary appearances made me very curious to explore a novel by Catalin Dorian Florescu. Which will happen in a couple of days.

Rating: 4 stars

Monday, March 9, 2020

Book Review: Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

The first book written in Arabic winning the International Booker Prize, Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi is a multi-layered story of three generations living in Oman. The book was translated into English by Marilyn Booth, Arabic expert at the University of Oxford.
On a micro-society level, the book - built on testimonies of different characters - covers a multitude of aspects: recent history of Oman, the family and social changes underwent in a relatively short amount of time, the slavery heritage, marriage rituals, growing self awareness of women.
'Literature have to be honest', the author said in a recent interview with Hindustan Times, and the characters from Celestial Bodies are unexpectedly open when sharing the intimacy of their stories. The main women protagonists - Mayya, Asma and Khawla - represent three different personalities within the patriarchal system and their interpretations of love and marriage commitment. Their projections of womanhood may differ as their social roles and status are different, but they display a diverse view of gender roles. The identity of women remain strongly connected to the masculine authority, itself on the move. The toxic aggressive masculinity some of the men in the story grew up with it's turning against them and affects on long term their own relationships with both their spouses and children. 
The world of women is defined and delineated by men and their absence or disappearance may represent a new beginning, like in the case of Najiya, the bedouin woman: 'Her father's death came as a relief. Now she could truly consolidate her authority over her life, her property and her freedom'. And then there are the many stories of the slaves only recently liberated whose voices are screaming high in the sky: 'We are free. They stole us, and then they sold us! he would scream in the middle of the night, at dawn, in the zar exorcisms: Free! They did us wrong, they destroyed us. Free!'.
I've personally got so much attracted by this book for the unique appeal: it reveals about a country I am not very familiar with by curious to learn out more. Therefore, I might have paid less critical attention to the literary aspects. However, after reading over half of the book could not ignore some important aspects: the timelines of some of the personal stories are confusing and the ullulating of the proverb-maker does not always bring new knowledge to the story; the individual stories themselves are not always matching together puzzle-wise, and not all the voices of the characters are equally heard.
The world described in Celestial Bodies is closed to most of us, but through books and literary encounters we are shared, although imperfectly, fragments of this world. I wish there will be more books by Omani writers, including by Jokha Alharthi, soon.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Hot in This?

Before I become familiar with the struggles of practicant Muslim women in Western societies to maintain their individual religious choices - I am  talking about the assumed free choices - I knew so well what my religious Jewish friends went through. How can you wear long sleeve during this hot weather? Why are you not shaking hands with a man, it's such an outdated/read primitive/ habit...Whoa' are you wearing a wig? Over your may be hot for you...And so on and on and on...
What about everyone minding his/her own business and stop asking the triad of offensive and at the limit stupid questions to someone that looks different: Where are you from? You speak English/German/etc. so well...where did you learn it.
Huda Fahmy is one of the few voices that are raising in a humorous yet clear way the everyday stupidity an American-born practicant Muslim woman is going through every day. Her comics are filling the void of the relative lack of representation in the everyday intellectual life and entertainment industry in America and abroad.
'Society made me feel like the odd one out...' her character in the comics say. And it's such a matter of lack of information: she went to law school, married a man she loves, can run a marathon and watch a movie by her own in the movie theater. Despite those signs of normality, she spends a lot of time convincing people she is not a threat and she is more cute than hot.
How people see and interact with her is the result of misunderstanding, lack or manipulation and information but because voices like hers are missing. I love the humour and simplicity of her memoirs and I can only hope that she will create more books on this topic and more voices like hers will be heard.

Rating: 4 stars

Book Review: The Last Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

The impact of the post-Cold War and post-9/11 to the intelligence community and challenges are hard to fathom. Those changes still in the making require a completely different knowledge and type of personality to deal with.
Olen Steinhauer's books are often opening windows into both the old and the new worlds, with both sides of the coins revealed. The Last Tourist, forthcoming the 24th of March, is the fourth into the Milo Weaver series, following octopus-shaped connections of money and corporate interests from West Sahara to Davos.
There is a world in the making that the tourists - CIA-trained assasins - are molding, together with other groups of interests and overnight powerful individuals. The human relationships - family ones particularly - are desintegrating and sometimes replaced by cruel survival instinct. Ethnic identities, nation-states or languages are no longer sources of power but the corporations and results of mergers and acquisitions. 
The world the characters of Olen Steinhauer inhabit does not have any hint of nostalgia, it is described as simply and realistically as possible. 
Maybe the action as such in this book is not so breathtaking, at least not for my taste, but what was fascinating for me was the dynamics between characters. The majority were motivated to join secret societies and intelligence offices in order to search the hidden knowledge enabling to understand how the world really function. While searching, they've found though different meaning and fragments of truth that further shaped their course of action. Nowadays, there is no more a single truth and reality is multiple and often depends on the viewer's interests,
The Last Tourist is a really interesting thriller, for both the writing and the actuality of the topics featured. It might make things more blurred before they got clearer but it's worth the intellectual suspense.

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Story of an Unexpected Spy

It started in the most genuine, innocent way: a young student passionate about history and politics attended a job fair and left a CV to the CIA stand. Shortly after, she got a call at her sorority house and started the recruitment process that she concluded successfully. At 22, she enters the Agency as a woman, the youngest and often the only woman from teams she was part of.
Woman, Jewish, often bullied in school but other girls, Tracy is resilient: 'ignore them, shore up, focus on what you want to do, who you want to be and not what other people want from you'. Long before she joined the agency, she wished she is able to be part of a context that allows her to change something from this world: 'More than ever, I wanted to be part of the solution to these worldwide and domestic problems, but I couldn't bring myself to admit this aloud'. I dare to say many political science graduates nurture such wishes, but not all achieve them so straightforward. 
During that September 11, 2009 she was already part of the counterterrorism staff and had the feeling of a big professional failure for not being able to prevent the terrorist attacks: 'There had been chatter about Al Qaeda's plan to hijack planes, there had been chatter about plans to blow up buildings. But no one in the CIA had detailed information about when or where'.
For Tracy, the stakes are high and she travels often all over the world to cope with the new realities. The cause of her disappointments are not only related to the complexities of the new situations on the ground but also due to the new hawkish American policy directions. And there is something else that seems to interfer with her professional qualifications, especially when abroad: the fact that she is a woman. Intelligence doesn't need to have a gender but not everyone working in the field of intelligence is intelligent. 
The worse is yet to come: as she decided to change career and was accepted in the FBI, the sheer degree of sexism and bullying encountered during her training is hard to imagine. But apparently, the order of the day.
Tracy's voice is genuine, avoiding any pathetic temptations. It's rather describing than making personal statements or offering an adventurous account of her life. It is a story of a journey of self-discovery and ackowledging of the reality, including of the unfair limits women had to fight against everywhere, even by succumbing to the temptations of becoming themselves the defender of the mysoginistic injustices.
But Tracy wants to change the world therefore she will not accept this 'reality' aiming at offering to her daughter something different. Therefore, The Unexpected Spy is more than an adventurous account of a lady spy, it is a book about personal experiences and women voices that want to be heard.
The final version of the book was sanctioned by the departments in charge of the intelligence agencies and the sensitive fragments were obliterated. 

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Rating: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Embarking on the Mother Ship

The latest book of Francesca Segal is different than all the other ones she ever wrote. Mother Ship is a memoir documenting diary-style the time her identical twin daughters born ten weeks prematurely spent in the neonatal section. 
As usual, there is a before and after and and the future is filled  with uncertainties. It shows the fine lines separating life from death, the fragility of human beginnings, and the power - although random and temporarily - of human connections and sisterhood. 
Day by day, she is recording the slight changes into the life of the girls, born 10 weeks earlier than expected: she is destructuring gestures and feelings, learning to learn and decipher new languages and values. 'The consultant replies with averages, with statistics, with outcomes, with contingencies', she shares about her interactions with the many specialists and nurses surrounding the little daughters. This new world is unexpected and obviously she is not prepared for it. It is not the motherhood she was looking for: guarding the screens recording the vital signs of her daughters, feeding them with syringe, trying to see them through the many tubes obstructing their small faces.
The words are helping to reflect on this reality. She is no more a writer or an employed busy person, she is becoming a mother. What does it really mean is a matter of personal interpretation. Sisterhood of the mothers in the neonatal section helps, it offers a background but most importantly the much needed support.
'Today, I sit down silently in a room of strangers, expressing and expressing. I have no milk. But women talk there while there own bottles fill, and I listen at their feet like a disciple'.
Once the situation is getting stable, she is starting to reclaim her life back, her body, her relationship. Also her own interpretation of motherhood, beyond what are the society and cultural expectations. 
In addition, this memoir is also a kind account of the dedication of the medical personnel, their unconditional professionalism and love for the little humans.
The Mother Ship is different of other books about motherhood from the point of view of the topic approached but also the genuine, not emotional yet candid different introduction to motherhood. Although not a favorite topic, the good writing kept me interested until the happy ending.

Rating: 4 stars

Visiting the Existentialist's Café

Between 16 and 18 yo, I've breath, eat and read philosophy. Day and night, in all the languages I knew at the time. It was less an 'existential crisis', but rather the sudden discovery of how far the mind can go. It was not my intention of becoming a philosopher or a revolutionary thinker but most of my intellectual development in the years to come owe to those intensive years when the world of thinking opened up to my curious teenager mind. Later on, the contacts rarefied in terms of new information but my thinking is at a great extent anchored in concepts I've acknowledged then.
The existentialists were by far my favorite clique. I become familiar with them long before my feverish philosophical exploration due to family affiliations and the French culture I was naturally connected. Out of the many other schools of thought it made the most sense for me as it offered a way to integrate the abstract concepts into life by effectively living them at their fullest. At a great extent, it reached my expectations in terms of the duality life/thought.
But as in the case of the other abstractions I had to deal to during my adventurous life, soon I will cease thinking about existentialists too because life was expecting me and I refuse to decline its appeal for abstractions of any kind.
At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell brought me back to those carefree years of my life when my biggest worry was how to get another excuse for skipping the boring regular school for some extra reading hours. Its biggest merit is of pledging for the authenticity and actuality of existentialist philosophy nowadays: 'When reading Sartre on freedom, Beauvoir on the subtle mechanisms of oppression, Kierkegaard on anxiety, Camus on rebellion, Heidegger on technology or Merleau-Ponty on cognitive science, one sometimes feel one is reaching the latest news'. 
Through punctilious research on various interpretations of Existentialism in its different languages, Sarah Bakewell documented not only the concepts but especially the individuals that created them. Thus, she broke the convenient tabu for too long imposed in human sciences according to which the personal life of humanists and their work must be separated. Which is so wrong and a superficial solution for hiding under the carpet inconvenient truths about problematic personalities national cultural 'heroes'. Like, for instance, the notorious case of Heidegger whose work and philosophy cannot be separated from his brown past.
The lecture is entertaining, particularly if you are familiar with the works and ideas. Sometimes it's like reading gossips about famous people and not all chapters are equal, but it is good written and made me think to return to some serious philosophy reading. Not necessarily Heidegger, for the record.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, February 20, 2020

'10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World'

'Istanbul was, and would always remain, a city of impromptu spectacles and ready-made, eager spectators'.
10 minutes and 38 seconds after her body was dumped in a garbage bin in the outskirts of Istanbul, Tequila Leila reminds her life. Her heart stopped beating, but her brain is still working and is intensively involved in recollecting the most relevant episodes of her existence.
Tequila Leila is a sex worker, an outcast that left her native Van fleeding sexual abuse, lies and a dysfunctional polygamous family - a house 'full of lies and deceptions'. Her memories are made not only of people, but of vivid smells and tastes, the testimony of a life lived fully, although from the margins of the society.
The actions are taking place in the 1960s-1990s, and the political context - both local and international is following shortly the personal story. No detail is accidental - including the fact that the main hero was born in Van, an important benchmark on the map of the Armenian genocide that Turkey adamantly refuses to ackowledge - and the similarities with the changes the Turkish society underwent in the last years are obvious: religious intolerance, suspicion against intellectuals, aggressivity against minorities and foreigners, particularly refugees.
Even when she is talking about the sexual abuse she was the victim of as a small child, Tequila Leila doesn't let hate prevail. The beautiful storytelling of Elif Shafak is there to remind the power of human deeds and friendship. Leila's five long time loyal friends will try to get her out of the Cemetery of Companionless and eventually bury her near her revolutionary husband D/Ali. The comical turn of a tragic event as well as their dedication to Tequila Leila's memory are the best answer to the everyday violence that took over the streets of Istanbul. 
The story might start with THE END, but her life will be remembered through her friends and then, there is no end.
This is the power of storytelling, to bring beauty and eternal consistency to the fragility of life in this strange world.

Rating: 5 stars

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Book Review: All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg

How and why what we call 'love' lasts? How can we keep being in love with an abusive - not necessarily physical - human despite all? Did love make you strong? Does hate make you weak?
Victor Tuchman has a gangster-like reputation and lifestyle. He seems to be the kind of human doing what he wants with his and other people lives. His wife, Barbara, is mostly aware of it but couldn't care less. For her, life with him is safe, although with time she developed her own emotions-free way to deal with all this. Their children, Alex and Gary are estranged from their parents and as Tuchman is on his deathbed they are haunted by questions regarding their parents. At what extent do we carry the choices of our parents? What do we need to know about our parents?
All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg - previously present on my blog with All Grown Up -  is a book of many questions and questioning. It is about a clash between generations and completely different definitions of relationships and romantic love. There are no answers as those able to give it are eventually too busy living their lives.
For me, this was one of those books where although I appreciated the writing and the characters development, I could not relate at all with the characters. Sometimes it just happens to feel alienated as a reader.
(I've listened to the audio version of the book.)

Rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Rumi, unseen poems

'You're at peace when you don't need more or less, When you don't need to be a king or a saint, When you're free from the sorrows of the world, When you're free from the tiniest atom of himself'.

The 13rd century Sufi mystic Rumi is enjoying an outstanding popularity nowadays. During those times of 'me-time', and other selfish excuses we invent to avoid for fully assuming human relationships, some might find refuge in its poetry. Or looking for excuses. Which is wrong.
Rumi is writing about being one and free, but only for joining the togetherness thereafter. Isolation is not for him an act of singular and lonely destiny, but an intermediate stage during which the spirit is getting accustomed with both happiness and sorrow, ackowledge them just to feel further liberated from them.
Many of his poems are easily categorized in the 'Love' shelf, but for me it often refer to a much bigger and stable one, aiming at the spiritual meeting between creature and Creator. More than once, his love poems reminded me of the hidden beauty of Shir Ha'Shirim (The Song of Songs). 
Those are my fresh thoughts on Rumi after going more than once through the recently Unseen poems published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group last autumn. There is no surprise that many of Rumi published poems are in fact translations of translations which seems to happen often in the case of Persian poetry. I personally own an old edition of Shahnameh by Ferdowsi which I discovered recently was in fact translated from a French edition. The Rumi poems collected in this edition are not only first time published for the English-speaking public but translated from the original Persian by Brad Gooch and Maryam Mortaz.
We need more poetry, more insights and guidance through spiritual life, and less selfishness and mean excuses for a 'safe' life of emotional isolationism. Read correctly, with an open heart Rumi can offer a remedy.

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

Monday, February 3, 2020

Book Review: The Institute by Stephen King

The latest book by Stephen King, The Institute, is a classical thriller, with a touch of science fiction, with elegant terrifying references to everyday America and its nasty president
Gifted children from all over America are kidnapped and brought to the Institute, whose aim is to extract and manipulate those super powers - telekinesis and telepathy - and turned them into heartless monsters ready to kill.
The action of the book, like all Stephen King's books, takes place in America and a significant part of it is dedicated to description of the deep American countryside and its inhabitants, haunted by conspiracy theories and urban myths. 
Some of those myths had to do with the so-called curse of the intelligence, as it is considered that those with an over the norm IQ may hide demonic powers threatening the normality of the rest of the people. The Institute, to whom we are introduced after many hundreds of pages and as we will find out at the very end of the book was a relic of the Cold War, is aimed to supress and control those gifts. Different, special people, either intelligent or minorities are easily becoming a target.
The children are kidnapped from all over the country, their parents are murdered and brought to this bizarre establishment, organised as a semi-military basis and served by people with a military past themselves. Here, the children are submitted to various medical experiments, by people able to torture and kill those innocent souls because they made a clear distinction between real life and duty. The duty of serving a superior good, not explicitly stated but strongly believed. Very often, the ambiance of the book is suffocating and filled with strange energies. You don't know what it is about to happen, for how long and what torture method will follow. The reader is becoming part of the experiments too. Even as a spectator, it is mentally exhausting.
Everything changes once the impossible occurrs: Luke Ellis is the first kid to ever escape The Institute. Once this happens, the pace and the ambiance change and for a certain amount of pages, the focus is if he will really succeed to escape the network of stringers the Institute has all over the country.
I've read the book fast, but often had to take long breaks to relieve the pressure which doesn't necessarily had to do with the thriller/horror part of it. It is unbearable to witness, even as a reader, so much evildoing. Something we witness way too much nowadays around the world.
From the literary construction point of view, I felt more than once that the book is focused more on characters building, with the course of action being left behind. Despite those imbalances, The Institute is one of those books that you hardly forget. Like many of Stephen King's books.

Rating: 4 stars