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lagraziana

Lagraziana's Kalliopeion

This is a blog about my reads as well as everything related to them.

My taste is for good quality literature - old and new. Some of it I review here or on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany.

 

 

The Secret Life of a Paris Concierge: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery L'élégance du hérisson - Muriel Barbery

This charming French novel first published in 2006 happens to be one of my favourites of all time. It's imbued with philosophy from beginning to end and everything revolves around the meaning of life from the point of view of a well-read French concierge who hides behind the façade of a typical speciman of her profession and a twelve-year-old bourgeois who feels disgusted by the empty life to which she seems doomed by birth. It's only thanks to the influence of a Japanese business man who moves into the house that the concierge gradually learns to live her true self and makes friends. A happy end announces itself page by page, but it isn't to be.

 

If you'd like to learn more about this novel, I invite you to read a long review here on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany.

Source: http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com

Ancient Rules of the Albanian Highlands: Broken April by Ismael Kadaré

Broken April - Ismail Kadaré Der zerrissene April - Ismail Kadaré

This book written by one of the most famous Albanian writers of our time takes the reader back into the Balkan past when blood feuds were still common in the remote highlands... less than a hundred years ago.

 

It’s 17 March when twenty-six-year-old Gjorg Berisha from the village Brezftoht lies in wait for Zef Kryeqyqe to take revenge for the death of his brother. He doesn’t see much point in shooting the man because it seals his own fate, but it’s his duty in the family vendetta that has lasted already for seventy years and cost the lives of twenty-two kin on either side. He knows that after the killing he has only thirty days of his life left before it's his turn to become the next victim of the archic rules of the Kanun... to be killed or to hide until the end of his days in one of the dark towers of refuge that disturb the soft-hearted young wife of a writer from Tirana on honeymoon.

 

For more about this interesting novel please visit my main book blog Edith's Miscellany to find a long review here.

Source: http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com

A Perseverant Advocate of Peace: Romain Rolland by Stefan Zweig

Romain Rolland - Stephan Zweig Romain Rolland (German Edition) - Stefan Zweig

The Great War of 1914-18 had been raging in Europe and other parts of the world for over a year, when in December 1915 the little known French writer Romain Rolland was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “as a tribute to the lofty idealism of his literary production and to the sympathy and love of truth with which he has described different types of human beings”. In reality, he may have been chosen because in his work he advocated peace and stood up against warmongers in his own as well as other countries. Just a few years later, in 1921, the by then already famous Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) portrayed the Nobel Prize laureate who was also his friend in the book Romain Rolland. The Man and His Work. But the biography isn’t a usual one because Stefan Zweig focuses on the artistic mission or rather vocation that his gifted friend felt in him from an early age and that he was determined to live although it meant sacrifice and even exile for a while.

 

Born into a bourgeois family in the small town of Clamecy, Nièvre, France, in 1866 Romain Rolland’s first acquaintance with the arts is with music that will always remain an integral part of his life. In school he also discovers his great love for literature and he makes friends with the writer-to-be Paul Claudel. Then he moves on to the École Normale to study History. There he makes friends with other important writers-to-be, namely André Suarès and Charles Peguy. After graduation fate has it that he is offered a two-year grant to further his studies in Rome and write his doctoral thesis. The experience is a revelation to him, not least because he meets a friend of Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner, Malwida von Meysenbug, who encourages him to go his way. Back in Paris Romain Rolland begins to teach Music History in different high schools and finally at Sorbonne University. At this time his writings are still closely linked to his work, but soon he makes first attempts at plays.

 

Around 1900 Roman Rolland and a group of friends found the literary magazine Cahiers de la Quinzaine. Moreover, they set out to modernise French theatre. Romain Rolland writes the seminal essay Theatre of the People (1903) and the first of a whole cycle of ambitious, though at the time unsuccessful plays. Then he turns to a cycle of biographies of the great men of history. Beethoven the Creator (1903), Michelangelo (1907), Handel (1910), and Tolstoy (1911) are the first to appear almost unnoticed by the public. In the early 1900s the author also begins to work on his most famous novel series in ten volumes surrounding a German musician in France, namely Jean-Christophe. The English edition is usually published in three volumes, namely Volume I – Jean-Christophe: Dawn, Morning, Youth, Revolt (1904/05), Volume II –  Jean-Christophe in Paris: The Market Place, Antoinette, The House (1908), and Volume III – Journey’s End: Love and Friendship, The Burning Bush, The New Dawn (1910-12). Immediately afterwards he writes the comic novel Colas Breugnon, but in summer 1914 the war breaks out and it can only be published in 1919. The author is in Switzerland at the time and decides to stay there in exile because he doesn’t want to be forced into line with French politics. He is against war and wants to work for peace although thanks to censure writings like his anti-war manifesto Above the Battle (1915) and his pacifistic articles later assembled in The Forerunners (1919) aren’t reprinted in France or other war-faring countries. In 1915 the Swedish Academy of Sciences awards him the Nobel Prize in Literature. And he continues to write. By 1921, when Stefan Zweig brings out his biography of Romain Rolland, the tragicomic play Liluli, the novel Clerambault. The Story of an Independent Spirit During the War (1920), and the idyllic novella Pierre and Luce (1920) have been published. By 1929, when a new edition of the biography appears with an addition to the final chapter titled Envoy also the first volumes of the novel series The Soul Enchanted (1922-1933) and a biography of Mahatma Gandhi (1924) have appeared.  More biographical essays, plays and novels followed.

 

Nota bene:

Since Stefan Zweig committed suicide in 1942, all original German editions of his work are in the public domain. A digital edition of an English translation of Romain Rolland. The Man and his Work is available on Project Gutenberg … like many of the works of Romain Rolland.

 

 

Although renowned for his fictionalised biographies of great historical figures – like the one of Romain Rolland that I just presented – and for his autobiography The World of Yesterday, Stefan Zweig was also a highly celebrated writer of fiction, especially novellas. To get an idea, I invite you to read my short review of Letter from an Unknown Woman posted here on Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion earlier this year and my long  review of Twenty-four Hours in the Life of a Woman on my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany.

The Call of Freedom After Convent School: The Three Marias by Rachel de Queiroz

The Three Marias (Texas Pan American Series) - Rachel de Queiroz, Fred P. Ellison Die drei Marias - Rachel de Queiroz

This one is a coming-of-age classic from Brazil surrounding the narrator-protagonist Maria Augusta, called Gusta, and her friends Maria José and Maria Glória. First published in 1939 the first-person narrative was quite ahead of its time showing the girl who grows up in the care of a convent boarding school and after her return home to her family abandons step by step her timidity as well as the limitations that religion and society impose on women of her time. Unlike many of her peers she doesn’t marry young, but she convinces her father to allow her to return to Fortaleza where she went to school and still has friends to learn a profession. Before long she is a fully trained typist with a job… and free to discover the world and the ways of men.

 

To learn more about this intriguing Brazilian novel click here to read the long review on my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany!

Source: http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com

A Town LIke Alice by Nevil Shute

A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
Here's an Australian novel by the very popular English-born author Nevil Shute, a classic first published in 1950 and never out of print since.
 
A Town Like Alice is the story of a young Englishwoman who inherits the small estate of an old uncle whom she hardly knew, even though in trust until her thirty-fifth birthday. When she receives her first cheque, she travels to Malaysia to build a well for the women of a village who showed hospitality, mercy and courage during World War II and thus saved her life and that of several other English women and children. There she learns that the Australian stockman who risked his life to give them food survived the torturous punishment of the Japanese occupying power. She liked him then and decides to search him in Australia beginning in Alice Springs...
 
I wrote a long review of the novel on my main book blog which you can find following the link to Edith's Miscellany.
 
Source: http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com

A First Novel Published with Delay: Skylight by José Saramago

Skylight - Margaret Jull Costa Jose Saramago

I love the work of Nobel laureate José Saramago and have already read a few of his books, not this one, though - his very first novel published posthumously because the editor to whom the author sent it didn't even bother to answer until decades later when Saramago won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

 

Find out more in the great review that went online here on the Read the Nobels blog past week!

 

Source: http://readnobels.blogspot.com

Beware of Dreams Come True: Women as Lovers by Elfriede Jelinek

Women As Lovers - Martin Chalmers, Elfriede Jelinek Die Liebhaberinnen - Elfriede Jelinek

This novel by the so far only Austrian Nobelist in Literature - Elfriede Jelinek - is from the 1970s, thus an early work of the author who is better known today as a playwright and a rather  controversial one that is.

 

Women as Lovers is a rather disillusioned story about two young women or actually girls called Brigitte and Paula who have grown up in miserable circumstances in Vienna and in a small village somewhere in the countryside respectively. They both believe that Mr. Right will be their ticket to happiness and so they do everything in their power to catch him. But then they find that reality isn't at all the way they expected.

 

For the full review please click here to go to my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany.

 

Women As Lovers - Elfriede Jelinek,Martin Chalmers 

Source: http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com

An Arabic Family Saga: The Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz

Here's a recent review from Read the Nobels about a novel titled The Harafish. It's an interesting book from the pen of Naguib Mahfouz, the so far only Egyptian recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. It's also Guiltless Reader's first contribution to the annual event Read the Nobels 2016, which is still open for sign-up, by the way.

 

»»» read also my review of Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz.

Source: http://readnobels.blogspot.com

The Attraction of Nomad Life: Desert by J.-M. G. Le Clézio

Desert (Collection Folio, 1670) (French Edition) - Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio Desert - J. M. G. Le Clezio

For Europeans the desert is an intriguing place – very much like the High Seas, the Polar Regions and Outer Space. The Nobel laureate in literature of 2008, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, dedicated one of his novels to the magic of the desert.

 

The impressive scenes of Desert are Morocco or Western Sahara and Marseille, France, alternately in 1909/10 and in modern times. The two plot lines are interlaced and linked in various ways. One such connection is the desert itself and the deep love for it which share the Tuareg teenager Nour and the poor orphan girl Lalla Hawa although about sixty years separate their stories. Another common point is the Blue Man, a wonder-working man of the Tuareg people and maternal ancestor of Lalla Hawa.

 

The stories of Nour and Lalla breathe the spirit of the Desert. They move about in a world of beauty and frugality, of secret and magic, of life and death which J.-M. G. Le Clézio describes in countless poetic pictures. The protagonists are fully aware of their surroundings and see things that nobody else, above all no European, might notice or even appreciate.

 

For the full review please click here to go to my blog Edith’s Miscellany.

Source: http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com

Good News for Bookworms: 6 Scientific Reasons Reading Is Good For You

 

Here's an article by Margret Aldrich on PresentNation that provides proof for what I've known all along: reading IS good for the brain!

 

I also recommend my own post Literary Fiction - A Way to Read the World

on my book blog Edith's Miscellany that went online just two days earlier.

Source: http://presentnation.com/health_news/12000167

The Fight for Decent Working Conditions: The Metal of the Dead by Concha Espina

The Metal of the Dead - Concha Espina, Anna-Marie Aldaz El Metal de Los Muertos - Concha Espina

This one is a Spanish classical novel written by a woman who is almost forgotten today although she was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times and she was very close to actually being awarded it at least twice.

 

The Metal of the Dead is often referred to as a socialist novel, a genre that was a bit in fashion in the early twentieth century. So shortly after the Russian Revolution socialist ideology had not yet a bad reputation, but people still set their hopes in it everywhere in the world including the mining area of Rio Tinto in Andalusia that is the main scene of this novel that is considered her best. The plot deals with a general strike that was called there around 1917... and the joys and sorrows of the miners and their families.

 

For the full review please click here to go to my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany.

 

The Metal of the Dead - Concha Espina,Anna-Marie Aldaz 

Source: http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com

The Person Beyond the Mother: A Woman’s Story by Annie Ernaux

A Woman's Story - Annie Ernaux, Tanya Leslie Une Femme (Poche) - Annie Ernaux Gesichter einer Frau - Annie Ernaux

There will be very few who deny that the mother has a very special place in the heart of a person and that when she dies, it uses to be a particularly painful loss in most cases even if she has been suffering for a long time. It means the irrevocable end of an era – of “childhood” in a wide sense – since even the last remaining bond is cut and we can no longer submit like a child to her loving care if we feel like it. After the death of her mother, the renowned French author of autobiographical prose Annie Ernaux (born 1940) set out to trace the course of life of the woman who brought her into life and raised her. The result is A Woman’s Story first published in 1989, a touching literary portrait of a strong and powerful woman who was more than just the author’s mother.

 

The slim book begins in the morning of 7 April 1986, when Annie Ernaux receives a phone call from the nursing home of the hospital in Pontoise where her mother has died after breakfast. Although her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in the early 1980s and her condition has been constantly deteriorating since moving her to the nursing home became inevitable, death arrives unexpected. Now the author’s last living connection with her childhood is gone which makes her feel as if her roots had been cut off. Only after a first period of shock and mourning, she finds the strength to sit down and pay her literary tribute to her mother as she did for her late father before (»»» read my review of award-winning A Man’s Place by Annie Ernaux on my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany).

 

Skilfully combining biographical and historical facts, anecdotes passed on in the family, own memories, conclusions and contemplations the author resurrects the picture of a woman born as forth child of six into a poor, but proud working-class family in the small town of Yvetot in Normandy in the early years of the twentieth century. She leaves school aged eleven and works in the factory always dreaming of a better life. Then she meets her future husband originating from a humble family like herself and working in the same factory. She gets married, has a first daughter and saves money to make her and her husband’s dream of a little café and grocery shop come true. This is in the 1930s and great grief is around the corner. Her little girl dies from diphtheria, Nazi-German troops occupy France, war rages in the country. Then a ray of light: another daughter – the author – is born to her in 1940. Things change for the better after the war, but she and her husband need to work hard to give their daughter a better start into life than they had. The girl studies at university, becomes a teacher, marries a bourgeois… and moves away. In 1967 her husband dies suddenly. Three years later she goes to live with her daughter’s family first in Annecy, then in Paris. But eventually, she feels the urge to return to Yvetot which she does in the mid-1970s.

 

The book isn’t a biography in the strict sense nor a memoir, but an homage to an exceptional woman and the different sides of her character that the daughter hardly noticed while she was alive. Moreover, it’s just the simple, even ordinary story of the ups and downs of a French mother’s life in the twentieth century that Annie Ernaux retells with great sensitivity and a certain nostalgia blending with the inevitable sorrow of a person who writes about a loved one who just died. This doesn’t mean that the tone of the book is whining or depressing – not at all! It goes without saying that it’s not a cheerful read either, but it’s quiet and contemplative as befits this kind of text. Highly recommended for reading!

 

English edition:

A Woman's Story - Annie Ernaux,Tanya Leslie 

 

Original French edition:

Une Femme (Poche) - Annie Ernaux 

 

German edition:

Gesichter einer Frau - Annie Ernaux 

Writers En-NOBEL-ed... and Quite Forgotten

As you may be aware – or not –, I’m a more or less regular contributor to Aloi’s blog Read the Nobels and in January I also joined her annual event Read the Nobels 2016 (which is still open for sign-up, by the way!). Both challenge readers and bloggers like me to explore the vast variety of works written by recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature and I ever again seize the opportunity to dig deep into the treasure trove of their books. It’s one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world, and yet, many writer names must be called insider tips rather than household names. Why? Is it a matter of changed tastes? Is it their sheer number? Is it their assumed literary profundity that discourages readers?

 

Click here to read the rest of the post on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany.

Source: http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com

Imaginative Spy Out of Necessity: Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene

Cuba in the 1950s was such a strategically important place that espionage bloomed there and in the satirical spy novel Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene the general desire for first-hand intelligence has strange offshoots.

 

One day Jim Wormold, the agent of Phastkleaners vacuum cleaners in Havana, is approached by an Englishman who recruits him as a spy for the British Secret Service M.I.6. He can use the money and thus begins to play his part in the Cold War game. In London nobody notices that his reports are all made up and because he is such a success he’s sent support. From there the fake reports develop dynamics of their own pushing Wormold into the dangerous (and in several cases fatal) net of real espionage and towards his attractive as well as understanding secretary Beatrice.

 

For the full review please click here to go directly to my post on Edith’s Miscellany.

 

Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene 

Source: http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com

Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Read Fiction

 

I always knew it!!! "Now", i.e. in 2013, science has proved that reading literary - not popular! - fiction is a social experience that helps to understand others and thus makes us better at interacting with people.

 

And the article confirms that my taste in books is just perfect for me.

Source: http://mic.com/arts

Eighty-Minute Memory: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa

Das Geheimnis der Eulerschen Formel - Yōko Ogawa, Sabine Mangold The Housekeeper + The Professor - Yōko Ogawa, Stephen Snyder

The story of The Housekeeper and the Professor is that of the two characters already mentioned in the title plus the housekeeper’s ten-year-old son and the poetry of mathematics.

 

It begins in March 1992 when the narrator takes up her job as the professor’s housekeeper in a shabby back yard garden pavilion. The professor used to be a renowned mathematician until a car accident in 1975 left him with an eighty-minute memory. The housekeeper is intrigued by the professor’s capacity to see figures of everyday life in a mathematical light. One day she mentions her ten-year-old son and he insists that the boy comes to the pavilion after school to be in his mother’s care. It is the beginning of a strange friendship held together by the beauty of mathematics and the love for baseball.

 

For the full review please click here to go to my blog Edith’s Miscellany.

 

The Housekeeper + The Professor - Yōko Ogawa,Stephen Snyder 

Source: http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com