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Thursday, September 24, 2015

****The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov )

  • Open Letter Book
  • Originally published in 2011; first published in English in 2015
  • Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel 
  • Contemporary Literature 
  • Author was born in Bulgaria in 1968. He is a poet, playwright and writer.
In Physics of Sorrow, Gospodinov offers his reader an asymmetrical quasi-autobiography as he describes life in communist and post communist Bulgaria. He combines varying levels of humor, irony and sorrow as he describes his experiences and thoughts. Gospodinov uses a contemporary and complex literary language, identifying himself with the mythical Minotaur trapped in the labyrinth. Sometimes I was happily lost within Gospodinov's narrative and other times I felt frustrated by his seemingly random thoughts that I knew were anything but random - they were just part of the labyrinth. Whether I was spellbound or distracted,  I knew I was reading one man's brilliance, such was the quality, complexity and intricacy of the author's narrative.

After taking some time away from this novel, I returned to it for a partial rereading.   I could no longer find what had originally caused my frustration. I realized I needed time to process what I had already read in order to think more about what Gospodinov was saying and why.  Only then was I able to appreciate how his deconstructionist style complemented his purpose and found myself increasingly excited as my understanding of his writing deepened.

I find that whenever I am frustrated by an author's narrative, if I take the time to pull away and process what I have read and revisit the writing, as I did with Physics of Sorrow,  I am able to come out of the process with a clarified and heightened reading experience and a better understanding of the author's process and intention.

Notes on Themes & Motifs

  • Wrote this book, in part, in response to a published article which claimed that Bulgaria was the saddest place in the world.
  • We am. Emotionally connected to his grandfather and father. Shares stories as if he was both his Grandfather and himself, interconnected as one. 
  • Tells stories of his individual experiences growing up in Bulgaria and a collection of memories as lived by his nation.
  • Through these stories Gospodinov  attempts to give meaning to what feels like an otherwise meaningless world.
Primary themes: sorrow and empathy; repression and expression, formation of a collective memory; preserving human experiences. 

  • from Greek mythology 
  • creature with a body of a man and the head and tail of a bull
  • born out of revenge
  • food = humans
  • Theseus was given a golden thread by his lover Ariadne, Minos daughter, so he could find his way out of the labyrinth after slaying the minotaur. Subsequently, enroute home and after Ariadne was left on an island resulting in Theseus distraction, Theseus forgot to put up the white flag for his father, Aegeus, to indicate he was alive after his venture. In response, Aegeus killed himself by throwing himself into the sea, now named after him -  the Aegean Sea. 
  • author identifies with the mythical Minotaur, trapped in his labyrinth.
  • Author's daughter, Aya, is in effect his thread that keeps him from the overbearing sorrow that he began to experience in his adult years. She fills him with pure joy. She is light, the future and hope. 
  • in myth: the minotaur lived in a labyrinth
  • as symbol of the the center of oneself
    •  the depths of the unconscious 
    • a journey through the mind, with detours, loss of direction, redirection
      • undergoes a transformation, searching until one attains a state of grace or enlightenment
        • a victory, from darkness to light
        • author describes his novel as a literary labyrinth
    • Since I (author) am here in his memory (grandfather's)...I am already inside the labyrinth. (p.13)
  •  stories as labyrinth: author's pathological empathetic-somatic syndrome: the corridors toward others and their stories. The author lives out everyone else's story as his own (p. 119)
    • I cannot offer a linear story, because no labyrinth and no story is ever linear.
    • Author takes the reader through his labyrinth of a novel. You travel down one corridor (a story) which twists and turns leading to a different corridor (another thought or story).  He gets lost, bounds forwards and backwards, twists around, bends and heads in yet another direction. The novel continues this way throughout the course of this, ultimately, collective story. The author retells life as we truly live it - without structure and with other experiences occurring in between forming new and varied stories.
  • relates to self knowledge
  • in Islam, a secret chamber where one symbolically withdraws to unite himself with God; where divine knowledge is stored
Repression - Once freed of communism,  Bulgarians were free to tell their stories. Gospodinov wants to preserve these stories through his writing.

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny - How the Bulgarians came to their history, their evolution and development; how the history of their people continually recapitulates -repeats - itself.

  • p. 3.    There is only childhood and death and nothing in between. ..- Gaustine
  • P. 3.     The world is no longer magical.  You have been abandoned. ...- Borger
  • p. 3.     Only the fleeting and ephemeral areworth  recording. ...Gaustine
  • p. 49   "I dreamed that I was awake." 
  • p. 51   "Words are our first teachers in death."
  • p. 51   "Death is a good gardener..." 
  • p. 53   "There's no God in Bulgaria, Grandma..."
  • p. 56   "I am books." Perhaps my favorite quote. 
  • p. 61  "It is clear that time always devours his children."
  • p. 85   This narrative brought back many memories having practiced duck and cover in the classroom during my elementary years.. Having grown up during the Cold War, I reminisced with a mixture of humor and sadness. Humor because it was ridiculous to think anyone could survive the atomic bomb hiding under ones desk, and sadness because it was ridiculous to think anyone could survive the atomic bomb hiding under ones desk. The Cold War lasted way too long; a whole generation was raised in perpetual fear all across the world.
    • "While I was putting on my gas-mask during our military training drills in school - which took me a whole seventeen seconds - the major kept shouting: 'That's it! You're dead...' And he shoved the stopwatch in my face.  It is not easy living thirty years after your death. "
  • p. 102.  "In December, 1981, we heard about AIDS for the first time. Which,  in 1981, officially put an end to the 60's revolution.  All sexual revolutions were called off for health reasons. "
  • p. 166.  " What a huge part of evolution remains locked up in the fish's silence,  what knowledge have fish accumulated over all those millennia before us! The deep,  cold storehouses of that silence.  Untouched by language. Because language channels and drains deposits of knowledge like a drill. "
        "And so,  the only storytelling creature,  man,my shuts up and steps back,
         yielding the floor to the organic and inorganic ones that have stored up
         silences until now. "
  •  p.184 "....he was an abandoned soul...never go into an abandoned house or visit an abandoned person, there are only owls and snakes there..."
  • p. 251 The grammar of aging: 
    • "There is some sort of grammar of aging.
      • Childhood and youth are full of verbs. You can't sit still...
      • Later the verbs are gradually replaced by the nouns of middle age. Kids, cars, work, family...
      • Growing old is an adjective. We enter into the adjectives of old age - slow, boundless, hazy, cold, or transparent like glass.
  • p. 257 "In the end, old age has made everyone equal."

Monday, August 31, 2015

Books Read 2015

12-31-15:  This list includes books I have and have not reviewed

***Beasts, by Carol Joyce Oates, 2002, USA

****Proud Beggars, by Albert Cossery, 1955, translated from the French by Thomas W. Cushing with revisions and introduction by Alyson Waters, Egyptian author, written in French

*****The Private Lives Of Trees, by Alejandro Zambra, 2010, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell,, Chilean author.

***The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, 2013,  Pulitzer Prize winner, audiobook read by David Pittu, USA

*****The Obscene Bird of Night, by Jose Donoso, translated from the Spanish by Hardie St. Martin and Leonard Mades, Chilean author.

*****For a Night of Love, by Emile Zola, 2003, translated from the French by Andrew Brown

 *Against the Country, by Ben MetCalf, 2015, Early Reviewer's Book, USA

*Ripper, by Isabelle Allende, 2014, translated from the Spanish by Ollie  Brock and Frank Wynne, Audiobook read by Edoardo Brock

****The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber; originally published in England in 2002; the author was born in Holland, raised in Australia, and lives in the Scottish Highlands (at the time of this books publication).

****hausfrau, by jill alexander essbaum, Early Reviewer/s Book, USA

* * *Songs for the Missing, by Stewart O'Nan, 2008, audiobook read by Emily Janice Card,  USA

*****Evelina, by Frances Burney, first published in 1778, Epistolary Novel, England

****A Journal of the Plague Year,  by Daniel Defoe, first published in England in 1722, England

***Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy, 2013 digital audiobook, read by Rosalyn Landor,  Irish novelist.

*****Agostino, by Alberto  Moravia, 2014, translated from the Italian by Michael Moore,  first published in 1945. Originally written in 1942, it was rejected for publication by Fascist censors.   Italian author.

****1/2   There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby, Scary Fairy Tales, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, translated from the Russian by Keith Gessen and Anna Summers, 2009, Russian author.

***Sycamore Row,  by John Grisham,  2013, digital audiobook,  read by Michael Beck,  USA.
***1/2    Why I Killed My Best Friend, by Amanda Michalopoulou, 2014, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich, Greek. 

***The Painted Girls,  by Cathy Marie Buchanan, 2013, digital audiobook,  read by:  Cassandra Campbell (Narrator), Julia Whelan (Narrator), Danny Campbell (Narrator),  Canada

****The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder, 2003, first published in 1927, 1928 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, USA

*Two or Three Years Later, by Ror Wolf, 2013, translated from the German by Jennifer Marquart,  Open Letter Literary Translations from the University of Rochester, German

*Life After Life,  by Kate  Atkinson, 2015, digital audiobook, read by Fenella Woolgar, England

* * * * Edge of Eternity, by Ken Follett,  2014, digital audiobook,  USA

*****Runaway Horses,  the Sea of Fertility No.  2, by Yukio Mishima, translated from the Japanese by Michael Gallagher,  first published in Tokyo 1970, Japan

***The Orphan Master's Son, by Adam Johnson, Pulitzer Prize winner,  2012, digital audiobook, Narrators: Tim Kang, Josiah D. Lee, James Kyson Lee

*****The Garlic Ballads, by Mo Yan, 1988, translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt, 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, Chinese

***The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout,  2013, digital audiobook, USA

*****The Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkai, 1989, translated from the German by George Szirtes

***The Innocent Man,  by John Grisham,  2006, digital audiobook,  USA

****City of Thieves, by David Benioff, a pen name  (author's birth name is Ronald Friedman), 2008, unabridged digital audiobook, narrated  by Ron Perlman, USA

*****The Temple of Dawn, the Sea of Fertility No. 3, by Yukio Mishima, translated from the Japanese by E. Dale Saunders and Cecilia Segawa Seigle, first published in Tokyo 1970, Japan

****The Valley of Amazement,  by Amy Tan, 2013, audiobook, narrated by Nancy Wu, Amy Tan and Joyce Bean,  American Literature

***Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan, 2007, unabridged digital
audiobook, narrated by Jonathan Davis, American Literature

****The Lottery and Other Stories, by Shirley Jackson,  2014, unabridged digital audiobook,  The Lottery was first published in 1948, narrated by: Cassandra CampbellGabrielle de Cuir,Kathe MazurStefan Rudnicki, Amercan Literature 

***A Spool of  Blue  Thread,  by Anne Tyler , 2015, unabridged digital audiobook,  narrated by Kimberly Farr,  American Literature 

****Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf, 2015, unabridged digital  audiobook,  narrated by Mark Bramhall,  American Literature

*****Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, A Moral and Amorous Tale, by Jorge Amado, translated from the Portuguese by Harriet de Onis, first published in 1969, Brazilan author.

***Under the Wide and Starry Sky,  by Nancy Horan, 2014, digital audiobook, narrated by Kirsten Potter , USA

**Gray Mountain,  by John Grisham, 2014, digital audiobook, narrated by Catherine Taber,  USA

*****The Palm-Wine Drinker anzd My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, by Amos Tutuola, 1953 and 1954, respectively, Nigerian

***Stationary Bike, by Stephen King,  2006, digital audiobook,  USA

**** The Physics of Sorrow, by Georgi Gospodinov, original published in 2011and translation published in 2015, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel, Bulgarian

**1/2The Last Nude, by Ellis Avery, 2012, Digital audiobook, narrated by Barbara Caruso and Therese Plummer, winner of 2013 Stonewall Book Award for Literature and Golden Crown Literary Award for Historical Fiction (2013),

****Misery, by Stephen King, 2009, digital audio book, narrated by Lindsey Crouse, USA

***A Pleasure and a Calling , by Phil Hogan, 2014, audiobook, narrated by Michael Paige, USA

***1/2Rochester Knockings, a Novel of the Fox Sisters,  by Hubert Haddad, 2015, translated from the French by Jennifer Grotz, French

*****The Blind Owl, by  Sadegh Hedayat, 2010, translated from the Iranian by D.P. Costello,  Iranian Literature 

***Benediction, by Kent Haruf, 2014, digital audiobook,  narrated by Mark Bramhall,  USA

***Charleston,  by John Jakes, 2011, audiobook narrated by George Guidall,  USA

****All My Sons, a play, by Arthur Miller, first published in 1947, digital audiobook, narrated by Julie Harris, James Farentino & Arye Gross , PulitzerPrize winning author. 

***The Perfectionist by Joyce Carol Oates , 2009 (first published in 1993, Princeton University), digital audiobook, L.A. Theatre Works , Audio Theatre Collection, USA

****All the Light We Cannot See,  by Anthony Doerr,  Audiobook,  narrated by Jack Appelman,  Pulitzer Prize winning author,  USA

****Appointment in Samarra,  by John O'Hara, first published in 1934, USA

***In Wilderness, a Novel, by Diane Thomas, 2015, LibraryThing.Com Early Reviewer's book, USA

12/2015-16 *Currently reading,  Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamse, audiobook, Canadian Literature

12/2015 16 *Currently reading And After Many Days, by Jowhar 
Ile, an Advanced Reader's Edition via,  to be published February, 2016, Nigerian author, fits publication in USA.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

*****Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, A Moral and Amorous Tale by Jorge Amado

  • Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, A Moral and Amorous Tale by Jorge Amado 
    • Brazilian Literature 
    • Originally published in Portuguese in 1966. First published in English in 1969. 
    • Jorge Amado: 1912-2001, Brazilian
    • Jorge draws on Afro-Brazilian Folklore and rituals. 
      • candomble: a syncretic religion practiced in Bahia; a combination of West African religions and Catholicism.  
        • syncretism: combining several distinct religions and practices in union. Syncretism is to religion what eclecticism is to art. 
Jorge Amado's earlier life as a communist militant who won the Stalin Peace Prize and edited a literary supplement for the Nazi political newspaper, Meio-Dia, threw me off balance. I learned of these associations after I had already read and enjoyed Dona Flor. For whatever reason(s), he did leave the communist party and all its political associations in 1954, when he was 42. Still, the Stalin and Nazi connections do not sit comfortably with me.  On the flip-side, in his earlier works, Amado wrote critically of landowners cruelty towards plantation workers, such as he had experienced as a boy on his cocoa farm. Given his beliefs, it would be hard to imagine Amado fully understood what drove the Nazi party. Regarding communism, he may have been caught up in the lofty ideals that were never practiced.  Whatever the details, I will discuss this book with unbiased eyes since I did like it and do not know the specifics of his connections. Whatever they are, innocent or not, they do not change the quality of Amado's writing.

Salvador, Bahia - Brazil, 1940's

The entire story is told with a mix of folklore, realism, comedy and magical realism - an eclectic blending. 

Dona Flor's internal conflict: passion vs. stability, a dissolute life vs an honorable one. This could also be seen as a conflict between the social classes - the poor vs. the rich. Vadinho represents the dissolute life filled with passion and penury, Dr. Teodoro symbolizes a life of honor, stability and financial security, but void of passion. 

Characters - Amado has a gift for developing characters . They are full-bodied and three-dimensional, complete with individual affectations and unique personalities. There are so many characters,  I have limited my list to the central three. The novel revolves around their lives, despite how far and wide Amado's characters are cast. 
  • Dona Flor: protagonist 
  • Vadinho- central character and Dona Flor's first husband who dies young from his dissolute habits and returns as a ghost on Dona Flor's and Dr. Teodoro's first wedding anniversary. During their marriage, Dona Flor experienced a life of angst because it was extremely unstable.  Vadinho  did not work, only gambled; Dona Flor worked to keep them financially afloat; and Vadinho was infidel, he was a womanizer who loved whores and loose women and stayed out late or did not come home at all. This life kept Dona Flor in a constant state of anxiety with intermittent  moments of happiness played out in the couples bedroom. Despite all of this, Dona Flor was and is passionately in love with Vadinho.
  • Dr. Teodoro - a local pharmacist and Dona Flor's second husband, he provides Dona Flor with a worry-free stable life of love, financial security and total fidelity, yet it is void of passion. Everything they do is pre-planned and measured, including sex (observed on Wednesday's &  2x's on Saturday's). Dona Flor becomes friends and/or associates of her husband's numerous elite and educated friends, providing her with a new world of classical music (via her husbands band), boring lectures on medicine and scheduled nights at the movies. Life is good, in a quietly boring way.
  • Other characters: I am adding a few addition character descriptions to illustrate the breadth and range of Amado's skill at characterization.
    • Dona Rozilda - Dona Flor's meddling mother, a virago and wannabe social climber via her children.
      • A termagant with a tongue like a knife. 
      • When she was not tormenting someone, she felt empty and frustrated. 
    • Eduardo - nicknamed the Prince of the Widows or Our Lord of Calvary; a swindler and thief who tricks widows into either leading him to their money and jewels (to steal) or by giving them to him outright. This he does in cahoots with his current lover, Lu.  Meaning, she knows what he does for a living, and only cares to the extent that it makes her envious of the women he woos, so to speak, in order to rob her blind.
      • To his jealous Lu, Can't you understand that it is a business, a financial enterprise, nothing more. I couldn't care less about the widow's tail, my little jackass, it is her money and whatever jewelry she may have.
      • Sugar, today I storm the fortress, enter the living-room, and before you can say scat I'll be in bed with the widow.
Quotes and Notes
  • Amado is a master at depicting passion with poetic lucidity, a theme which permeates this novel. Here, it is portrayed via Dona Flor :
    • “Prone on the iron bed, Dona Flor shuddered. That night the gall turned to honey, once more pain became supreme pleasure; never had she been a mare so in heat covered by her potent stallion, such an eager bitch, a slave submitting to her own debauchery, a woman pursuing all the paths of desire, fields of flowers and sweetness, forests of damp shadows and forbidden ways, to their final conclusion. A night to enter the narrowest, most tightly closed doors, a night to surrender the last bastion of her modesty, Glory hallelujah! When gall is turned into honey and suffering is strange, exquisite, divine pleasure, a night to give and to receive.”
  • Gossip - the demeaning quality of gossip for both the giver and receiver suffuses Amado's novel, blending minimized humanity with comedy.
    • "Who is going to take the trouble to bear good tidings For that there is no hurry or impatience. Nobody goes running into the street for that. Only when there is bad news. To carry that there is no shortage of messengers; there are those who are willing to make the greatest sacrifices, give up their work, interrupt their rest, sacrificing themselves completely. To bring bad news - what a delightful treat!"
    • "And is there anything in the world as splendid and exciting, any display comparable to the suffering of others?" 
  • Amado's ability to capture a scene is only second to actually being there, such is the quality of his visual and emotional language. Whether describing a home's interior, a town's main thorough-fair, or the beauty of the moonlight on the water, he is a master.
    • The full moon creased the dark, thick water of the sea, as black as oil, the water of the gulf in quiet gentleness...An inland sea, gently calm, listless, still, with a gently breeze blowing between the jackfruit and breadfruit trees. A sea of repose and peace. 
    • Not the ocean-sea, beyond the bar, fierce and dangerous, with waves and underwater currents, deceptive tides, the open sea where the winds blow free, wild tempests-detouring on the way to the little houses of assignation in Itapoa, where love bursts out in hallelujah. A sea of boundless violence; not this sweet scent of jasmine, but of high tide, the bold smell of sargassum, of algae and oysters, of salt. 
    •  On Dona Flor's birthday, Vadinho allows Flor to visit the Palace, one of his higher-end playgrounds where he gambles and whores, a place he deems unfit for his wife. Her perception of this forbidden territory captures her experience wonderfully:
      • Dona Flor moved silently, contrite, like one who has penetrated a secret temple, forbidden to the uninitiated. At last she had managed to reach and enter the mysterious territory where Vadinho was millionaire and beggar, king and slave. She knew she had barely touched upon this nocturnal realm, the mere fringe of this sea of darkness...Along these paths Vadinho moved completely at ease; Dona Flor, before the roulette wheel, gingerly touched the hem of this world. 
  •  Dona Flor's internal conflict between passion and stability, penury and financial stability are central to the novel's theme. Can you have both, or must you sacrifice one for the other?
    • Happiness leaves no history. A happy life is not the subject for a novel.
    • Dona Flor, in a letter to her sister Rosalia on the eve of the first anniversary of her marriage to the druggist said she had nothing of importance to tell her; such was the balanced and boring life she was living with the pharmacist. Letters to her sister when married to Vadinho were filled with stories of angst, whoring and penury - stories for a novel.
    • When something of substance happens it is nearly always unpleasant. 
    • Happiness is pretty boring, hard to take-in a word, a pain in the neck. 
    • When Vadinho returns in ghost form, Dona Flor's life is turned upside down. She was obsessed with the idea of being a virtuous wife, but could not avoid her love and passionate feelings for Vadinho. Flor considers with angst: Who ever heard of a wife with two husbands? Why is everybody two different people? Why is it necessary to be torn between two loves? Why does the heart hold at the same time two emotions contradictory and opposed?
    • Vadinho response to Dona Flor's struggle: I am the husband of poor Dona Flor, the one who comes to stir up your longing and provoke your desire, hidden in the depths of your being, your modesty.  He (Dr. Teodoro) is the husband of Madame Dona Flor, who protects your virtue, your honor, your respect among people. He is your outward face, I your inner, the lover whom you don't know how and can't bear to evade. We are your two husbands, your two faces, your yes and no. To be happy you need both of us....Now you are Dona Flor, complete, as you should be.
    • Amado expands on a parallel concept, one that is being played out alongside Dona Flor's story - gambling. Gamblers always wish for a windfall, until their wish is granted, as it is when the ghost of Vadinho appears in support of his friends. 
      • That was winning, not gambling. The emotion of gambling is the not knowing, the risk, the fury at losing, the joy of guessing the right number, winning and losing... What he did not want was that miraculous good luck, profit without amusement, struggle, pleasure. Human nature is like that.
        • It is similar to Dona Flor's experience. Her two husbands signified two extremes- struggle vs. bland contentment. With Dr. Teodoro, she did not have to win her husband's attentions, struggle for money, overcome jealousies such as she experienced with Vadinho's infidelities and time spent gambling. Yet Vadinho had love with passion. He made Dona Flor feel to the depth of her being. With Dr. Teodoro, everything was measured and planned, even sex. Dona Flor needed stability and a sense of propriety, but only to an extent.
        • Amado provides Dona Flor with an unusual solution. Why choose between two husbands when she can have both. This way she can live with both honor and passion. Through the vehicle of magical realism she can live with Dr. Teodoro and the apparition of Vadinho; each one providing her with the necessary ingredients for a fully balanced life. 
        • Is Amado stating reality with stability is void of magic? Do we all possess these dual parts within our conscious or semi-conscious selves - a combination and desire for the naughty and the nice? I think so. Yet these terms are relative and specific to each one of us. My naughty may be another persons nice and vice versa. But that starts a whole other discussion.
Amado has created an alluring story - a must read!

Friday, July 10, 2015

****City of Thieves by David Benioff

2008, Digital Audiobook
Author David Benioff, born David Friedman, an American Novelist
Narrated by  Ron Perlman

The siege of Leningrad during WWII told through the eyes of a young man who comes of age during this time. Sad, as always, the story unfolds using a thought provoking perspective that will make your heart ache for the protagonist and everyone he encounters.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

*****The Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkai

This author is truly amazing - an awesome piece of literature!

  • No paragraphs
  • *Dense writing where one thought flows naturally to the next negating the need for many sentences.
    • Sentences can be as long as a page or more.
    • The writing was so dense, I could not stop in the middle of a chapter; the chapter often being one long paragraph.
  • Dissonance in music and political life. If in the political, will naturally effect the personal
    • Mr. Eszter's dissonant piano tuning typifies this theme.
  • Destruction necessitates creativity, creativity necessitates destruction
  • social chaos - anarchy 
  • abject indifference
  • dark humor mixed with the absurd
  • bourgeois as evil
  • atheism 
  • lust for power 
  • schemers vs. dreamers (Mrs. Eszter vs. Mr Eszter and Valuska)
  • loyalty, as seen through Mr. Eszter and Valuska, or
    • lack of commitment enabling one to slide in any direction as long as it is personally advantageous, no matter if contradictory or not
  • God failed at creation and his plans for man and earth and is an indifferent power.
    • occurrences in the town that portend something dark and evil, causing anxiety among towns people
      • an unusually long and protracted freeze w/o snow
      • unexpected circus - one with a singular exhibit - that of a the huge stuffed dead whale
      • a huge tree that has suddenly been uprooted w/o previous signs of decay
        • the noise it made when rising and falling from the ground was inordinately loud, shocking everyone
    Quotes & Notes
    • not a moral tale but a statement
    • author uses the surreal to portray reality.
    • p. 3-4    essence of book: "everything was subject to the prevailing conditions: all normal expectations went by the board and one's daily habits were disrupted by a sense of ever-spreading all-consuming chaos which rendered the future unpredictable, the past unrecallable and ordinary life so haphazard that people simply assumed that whatever could be imagined might come to pass, that if there were only one door in a building it would no longer open, that wheat would grow head downwards into the earth not out of it, and that, since one could only note the symptoms of disintegration, the reasons for it remaining unfathomable and inconceivable, there was nothing anyone could do except to get a tenacious grip on anything that was still tangible..."..."for it was as if some vital yet undetectable modification had taken place in the eternally stable composition of the air, in the very remoteness of that hitherto faultless mechanism or unnamed principle - which, it is often remarked, makes the world go round and of which the most imposing evidence is the sheer phenomenon of the world's existence - which had suddenly lost some of its power, and it was because of this that the troubling knowledge of the probability of danger was in fact less unbearable than the common sense of foreboding that soon anything at all might happen..."
    • p. 6    humor: "...that noise 'so calculated to offend all one's finer feelings', but in her opinion, 'perfectly common  among common people' of munching and crunching..." (Mrs. Plauf on eating loudly, relegated only to commoners)
    • p. 36    humor:  Mrs. Eszter of Mrs. Plauf and her flat: "...the cosy comfiness, the stolid air of inactivity, the treacly prettiness of this 'filthy little viper's nest'..." .
    • p. 78-79    of Valuska:  "...he confronted the slow tide of human affairs with a sad incomprehension, dispassionately and without any sense of personal involvement, for the greater part of his consciousness, the part entirely given over to wonder, had left no room for more mundane matters, and had ever since then trapped him in a bubble of time, in one eternal, impenetrable and transparent moment. He walked, he trudged, he flitted blindly and tirelessly with the incurable beauty of  his personal cosmos in his soul..."
    •  pp 95-96    Valuska: ..."Everyone was talking about 'the unstoppable stampede into chaos', the 'unpredictability of daily life' and 'the approaching catastrophe' without a clear notion of the full weight of these frightening words, since this epidemic of fear was not born of some genuine, daily increasing certainty of disaster but of an infection of the imagination whose susceptibility to its own terrors might eventually lead to an actual catastrophe..."
    • of Mr Eszter: 
      • p. 96... " the darkness occasioned by the 'apparently inoperable cataracts' of his soul."
      • p. 99-100..."nothing would disturb his in his real mission, which he referred to as his 'strategic withdrawal in the face of the pathetic stupidity of so-called human progress'.
    •  p. 102    "...the fatal early frost that had descended on a dry autumn with its terrifying loss of precipitation could mean only one thing, sure as the toxin, the undeniable fact that nature herself had laid down her tools and finished her regular task, that the once-brotherly bond between heaven and earth was well and truly broken, and that the last act had assuredly begun wherein we were orbiting along among the scattered detritus of our laws and 'would soon be left staring, as fate had decreed, idiotically, uncomprehendingly, watching and shivering as the light steadily withdrew from us'."
    • Mr. Eszter: 
      • p. 104 "the harmless truth...we are simply the miserable subjects of some insignificant failure, alone in this simply marvelous creation; that the whole of human history is no more than the histrionics of a stupid, bloody, miserable outcast in an obscure corner of a vast stage, a kind of tortured confession of error, a slow acknowledgement of the painful fact that this creation was not necessarily a brilliant success."
      • p. 108 "...he never passed up the chance to draw a sharp distinction between 'the enchantment of illusion and the misery of its fruitless pursuit' -  such a dizzying journey, all he could count on would be 'the unique quality of his own immobility'."
      • p. 109-110  "..he wanted to "wipe from his memory... 'the whole breeding ground of dark stupidity' was to be annihilated in one fell swoop and for ever. Of course, the person he most devoutly wished to remain ignorant of was Mrs. Eszter, his wife, that dangerous prehistoric beast from whom he, 'by the grace of God', had separated years ago, who reminded him of nothing so much as one of those merciless medieval mercenaries, with whom he had tied that infernal comedy of a marriage thanks to an unforgivable moment of youthful carelessness, and who, in her uniquely spectacle of disillusionment' the society of the town, in his view, somehow succeeded in representing."
      • p. 117    "The world consisted merely of  'an indifferent power which offered disappointment at every turn' ... struggle, that was all there was to the world if we but realized it...Faith, is not a matter of believing something, but believing that somehow things could be different; in the same way, music was not the articulation of some better part of ourselves, or a reference to some notion of a better world, but a disguising of the world, but no, not merely a disguising but a complete, twisted denial of such facts......a cure that did not work, a barbiturate that functioned as an opiate."
      •  p. 121   humor: "an evening over supper together" = Mrs. Eszter's warning to Mr. Eszter that, if you do not do as I say, I will move back in (we will be eating supper together again).
      • p. 127  "...the exclusively human capacity for mind numbing levels of neglect and indifference was, beyond a doubt, truly limitless. The amount of it!"
      • p. 128  The author's concept of things is completely different than Orhan Pamuk's in, "The Museum of Innocence":  "Apple cores, bits of old boots, watch-straps, overcoat, buttons, rusted keys, everything, that man may leave his mark by, ..a museum of pointless existence...houses, trees, lampposts...could this be a form of the last apocalypse, but mankind swallowed without fuss or ceremony by its own rubbish. Not an altogether surprising end."
      • p. 181   "The nail in the plank is stationary while the position of the hammer is variable."
      • p. 191-2  Mr. Eszter, waiting and hoping Valuska returns home safely during a night of violence, has an epiphany: "  "...he suddenly realized that he had been escaping all his life, that life had been a constant escape, escape from meaninglessness into music, from music to guilt, from guilt and self-punishment into pure ratiocination, and finally escape from that too, that it was retreat after retreat, as if his guardian angel had, in his own peculiar fashion, been steering him to the antithesis of retreat, to an almost simple-minded acceptance of things as they were, at which point he understood that there was nothing to be understood, that if there was reason in the world it far transcended his own, and that therefore it was enough to notice and observe that which he actually possessed...he seemed to hear anew -sounds-; could taste the air outside and smell the dust within;...and he knew that all these, the tastes, scents, colors, sounds - the beneficial sweetness- they had not passed away, because they existed and would continue to exist."
    • The last paragraph of this book (pp. 310-314) is actually a description of our bodies deteriorating after death. It is, at once horrific and beautiful; that is our body as nature decomposing back into earth.
      • "Everything was there, it is simply that there was no clerk capable of making an inventory of all the constituents; but the realm that existed once -once and once only-had disappeared for ever, ground into infinitesimal pieces by the endless momentum of chaos within which crystals of order survived, the chaos that consisted of an indifferent and unstoppable traffic between things. It ground the empire into carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen....and unstitched them till they were dispersed and had ceased to exist, because they had been consumed by the force of some incomprehensibly distant edict..."
        • So what is the author saying here? That there is order within chaos and that there is some order, or possibly even meaning, to our lives; that life is controlled by something we cannot comprehend...God? I do not feel he would go so far as to say that, God.
          • Unlike Yukio Mishima's, "Temple of Dawn", there is no reincarnation.

    Monday, May 25, 2015

    *****The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan

    • Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt. 
    • Setting 1985, China
    • Other Mo Yan books I have read:  Big Breasts and Wide Hips, which is my favorite book of the author's,  to date. 
    • In China, Mo Yan is a controversial writer. Other Chinese writer's believe he snuggles too closely with their government, so to speak. I disagree. I believe he schmoozes with the government so he can get away with writing what he does about Chinese life. It is not favorable, but it is real. It is clear he has a love for his homeland. Just because the country has severe problems does not take away from the inherent beauty of its land and people.
    • Mo Yan's writing is visually descriptive and beautiful. It possesses a quality and depth that is astounding. His contemporary writing illustrates the causal violence that predominates the third world areas of the country. While the violence is difficult to read and comprehend, it does not take away from the beauty of Mo Yan's narrative.

    *****Runaway Horses, by Yukio Mishima

    • Runaway Horses is Book 2 of  Yukio Mishima's tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility
    • See notes and full description of Book 1, Spring Snow, under 2014 of this blog.
    • Setting-Osaka, Japan, 1932
    • Yukio Mishima is Kimitake Hiraoka's  pen name
    • Mishima was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times
    • Yukio Mishima spent five years writing his tetralogy,  The Sea of Fertility, a saga of 20th century Japan.  On the day of its completion, January 25, 1970, the author mailed his manuscript to the publisher, headed to Tokyo headquarters of Japan's Eastern Army where he made a speech urging the troops to impose martial law in the Emperor's name, then performed a ritual seppuku (suicide). Mishima was 45 years old.
    • Mishima's was raised in a samurai family where mind and body control was taught and respected. In traditional medieval Japan samurai conduct was considered an expression of loyalty to the Emperor. Mishima maintained this lifestyle for the entirety of his own short life. He held on to traditional medieval Japanese ideals long after the Emperor was gone and Japan was modernized. He abhorred the materialism that infiltrated Japan after WWII. These concepts are depicted in both Runaway Horses and Spring Snow. Due to the way the author died, I have little doubt these themes will continue throughout his tetralogy. 
    • Mishima was a Kendo master; he ascended to the fifth rank. Isao, Kiyoaki's reincarnate, was also a Kendo master. This relationship is important as it relates to the ideals expressed in the first two books. In Spring Snow, emotional Kiyoaki embarrasses his samurai father with his delicate sensibilities. In Runaway Horses, Kendo influences Isao's samurai mindset which proves critical to his future decisions.

      Wednesday, April 29, 2015

      Thursday, April 23, 2015

      *Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

      British author.
      First published 2013

      She was born, she lived, she died and was born a new.  Repeat. And again. Once more. No, let's do it again. And again. Repeat. Really?

      Atkinson's concept is great, yet not fully developed. As a result her book is extremely tedious. Each death and rebirth move the story forward very little. Character development is all but absent. It felt like Atkinson did not know what direction to take so she included all of them with little thought regarding progression.  This could have been a phenomenal story, but it was not.


      Tuesday, April 14, 2015

      *****The Bridge of San Luis Rey

      Thornton Wilder (1897-1975), American playwright and novelist

      ·        First published in 1927
      ·        1928 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction

      ·        Setting:  Lima Peru, 1714

      ·        Themes: love and fate

      ·        The Bridge as symbol:
      ·        transition: from life into death
      ·        love: its endurance and the fact that it outlives death.
      This novella is more complex than it initially appears. It is not simply about a bridge collapsing and the tragic death of five individuals. It looks at the importance of love in our lives, how it outlives us, and how it effects those left behind. It is not that people are merely saddened by another’s loss, but that mortality provides us with new and expanded perspectives. In other words, we may begin to see things we failed to notice during a person’s lifetime. A relationship once wickedly spurned can awaken to deeply repressed or unacknowledged feelings. It is a continuum of emotions previously undiscovered. Wilder also looks at religious theory as it relates to fate and coincidence in our lives. Are our lives governed by God’s pre-ordained plan (fate), or by accident – random occurrences?  Wilder’s inspiration for this question is found in the Gospel According to Luke, when it states: “Or those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?” Such is the question man has struggled with since the beginning of time and Wilder considers in this profound novel dealing with humankind.

      Quotes from, The Bridge of San Luis

      p. 7   Franciscan Brother Juniper:
      ·        “Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan.”
      ·        “But this collapse of the bridge of San Luis Rey was a sheer Act of God. It afforded a perfect laboratory. Here at last one could surprise [sic] His intentions in a pure state.”

      p. 8 “But to our Franciscan there was no element of doubt in the experiment. He knew the answer. He merely wanted to prove it, historically, mathematically, to his converts, - poor obstinate converts, so slow to believe that their pains were inserted into their lives for their own good. People were always asking for good sound proofs; doubt springs eternal in the human breast…”

      p.16  Most readers miss the fact that, “the purport of literature, is the notation of the heart. Style is but the faintly contemptible vessel in which the bitter liquid is recommended to the world.”

      p. 17  “She saw that the people of this world moved about in an armor of egotism, drunk with self-gazing, athirst for compliments, hearing little of what was said to them, unmoved by the accidents that befell their closest friends, in dread of all appeals that might interrupt their long communion with their own desires.”

      p. 45   “Now he discovered that secret from which one never quite recovers, that even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other.”

      p. 81   “…he had to repeat over to himself his favorite notions: that the injustice and unhappiness in the world is a constant; that the theory of progress is a delusion; that the poor, never having known happiness, are insensible to misfortune. Like all the rich he could not bring himself to believe that the poor (look at their houses, look at their clothes) could really suffer. Like all the cultivated he believed that only the widely-read could be said to know that they were unhappy.”

      p. 99   Everyone knows that in the world we do nothing but feed our wills.”

      p. 107   “But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

      Thornton Wilder

      Quotes from Wilder clearly define his literary intent and his theory of human nature, which are one and the same thing. They are integral to and enhance the reading of “The Bridge”, which is why I have included them here.

      The quotes below are copied from sections of Wilder’s lectures, interviews, and letters as are printed in the 1996 First Perennial Classics edition of, The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

      p. 121   In a letter to a former student about The Bridge of San Luis, Wilder quotes his literary influence, Chekhov, “The business of literature is not to answer questions, but to state them fairly.’ I claim that human affection contains a strange unanalyzable consolation and that is all.”

      p. 124  Wilder developed his characters from his own literary influences, “My weakness is that I am too bookish, I know little of life. I made the characters of The Bridge out of the heroes of books”. For example, the Letters of Mme. De Sevigne influenced the character, Marquesa de Montemayor (Dona Maria).  p. 116  After attending a concert in Paris featuring Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Wilder said he, “came home and wrote the death of Manuel.”

      p. 125   Wilder states that human beings conceal their unhappiness. “In my own case, what I seek everywhere is the mask under which human beings conceal their unhappiness…In social life… in varying degrees. They are solitary, they are consumed with desires which they dare not satisfy; and they wouldn’t be happy if they did satisfy them, because they are too civilized. No, a modern man cannot be happy; he is a conflict, whether he likes it or not.”

      p. 125 Humour is a mask to hide unhappiness, and especially to hide the deep cynicism which life calls forth in all men. We’re trying to bluff God. It is called polish.”

      p.129   “Art is confession; art is the secret told. Art itself is a letter written to an ideal mind, to a dreamed-of audience.”

      p. 137   “A letter can function as a literary exercise, the profile of a personality, and news of the soul.”

      As a side note, and in context to his work, I think it is interesting that Thornton Wilder was friends with Sigmund Freud.