Este tópico está presentemente marcado como "adormecido"—a última mensagem tem mais de 90 dias. Pode acordar o tópico publicando uma resposta.
Each year for some reason my thread starts with Pantone's Colour of the Year. Perhaps I am looking for a theme. However, what is one to make of this?
Pantone tells us "Living Coral embraces us with warmth and nourishment to provide comfort and buoyancy in our continually shifting environment"
However, I'm not sure this is an environment in which I want to get too comfortable.
The Guardian naturally had its own take and image of it here: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/shortcuts/2018/dec/06/living-coral-pantone-c...
Bring back the days of Radiant Orchid and Emerald.
image from Sail Magazine
What did I read in 2018?
Well I wound up with an even 50 books, only 17 of which were in translation, down from my usual 50% or so.
Part way through the year I went through the usual sort of fallow period and started reading books suggested in other sources, rather than just taking another book down from the shelves. This worked quite well, and I will incorporate it again this year.
Favourites for the year would be
Katalin Street by Magda Szabó
La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas
Mazurka for Two Dead Men by Camilo José Cela
Doruntine by Ismail Kadare
Kim by Rudyard Kipling ( a reread of a reread of a reread...)
Winter Sea by Alan Ross
Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf
>4 dchaikin: And to you. I actually live on a tidal flat inlet, although nothing like that washes up on it.
Happy new year and new thread!
>11 AlisonY: Coral with dark grey would work well, and helps those who went for the grey look make the update, if that's what they do. Another link with coral this year though is this exhibition, Appearance Can Be Deceiving, of Frida Kahlo's clothing and jewellery which will be going to the Brooklyn museum after a stint at the V&A in 2018: https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/frida-kahlo-making-her-self-up
Here is a taste:
Guatemalan cotton coat image from the V&A website
The Love Embrace of the Universe 1949. image from My Modern Met
1. Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin
first published 2016
finished reading January 5, 2019
Well my usual strategy didn't work this year. Normally I start the year's reading with a mystery/procedural, or a short novel to get that all important first book read early. I turned to this Rebus book which was lying around. I have read many of his adventures over the years, but have missed the last few, from his retirement on.
The retired Rebus seems like a different animal altogether: a bear without claws. It took me to about 120 pages before it seemed to get interesting. Big Ger Cafferty is still around, as are Siobhan and the gang, but something was missing.
Good health practises and a decent woman have crept in, limiting Rebus's more cynical side, the side that appealed. The most interesting part was Rebus and Cafferty growing older in tandem, each in a way needing the other to reflect their images of themselves back to them.
As an adult can you grow out of a character? This felt like rereading a well loved book from childhood and realizing it just doesn't still hold up. Not on quite the same level of devastation as my latest reread of Lorna Doone, but a disappointment all the same.
On to the next book.
Love the Kahlo painting! Funny about the gray because we painted our whole how gray last year...maybe we need some coral highlights...and maybe they should be temporary ones.
>13 SassyLassy: I have just started the newest Rebus...poor Siobhan, the guy haunts her. Wish Rankin would continue with Michael Fox, too. I would also like to see Rankin"s Siobhan and McDermid's Karen Pririe together in a novel....
>16 dchaikin: Why do people paint their whole houses gray?
>15 Caroline_McElwee: But is it coral (or pink)?
>16 dchaikin: I'm with avaland on this one. Maybe it's because I live on the North Atlantic and see enough grey in my environment that I don't need to bring it inside! I wonder if people on the North Sea use it.
>17 janeajones: >16 dchaikin: It was one I hadn't seen used much, but it immediately appealed.
>18 avaland: I haven't read any of the novels with Michael Fox as the protagonist, but he did seem more interesting in this novel. I know deep down I will read another Rebus sometime, but just don't think it will be too soon.
>19 japaul22: So much choice -
Beach house absolutely, but it would have to be a beach house somewhere where the light intensity could work with it. I think there is a reason we associate certain colours with particular climates, not saying they have to be written in stone, but for those who luxuriate in their surroundings, a clash between inside and outside can be disturbing. This also really really applies to gardens, but that might be way off topic.
2. Another Time, Another Place by Jessie Kesson
first published 1983
finished reading January 6, 2019
Another Time, Another Place is definitely an apt title for this novel. Set on a farm in northeast Scotland during WWII, it is definitely a world onto itself. "The woman", never given a name, or even capitalized, is an outsider, a dreamer, set down in a cottage in this place by dint of being married to a dairyman, a protected occupation during the war.
Working piece work at various seasonal jobs around the farm, she was caught between her neighbours Meg and Kristy. Debating the nature of triangles, she felt there should never be threes, but then realized a third is always necessary as a foil or a go-between for the other two. The woman is judged and made fun of by the pair for her solitary nature and dreaminess, yet they have to grudgingly accept her as she has "the knack" for doing the chores that need doing. This is a culture which respects good work.
Enter another threesome - a trio of Italian POWs, conscripted to farm labour. They were housed in the bothy next to the woman and her husband, so she was given the chore of delivering their milk. Speaking neither English nor Scots, the Italians were isolated by language and prejudice, make worse by the fact that one of the villagers' own was missing in Italy after the battle of Monte Cassino.
Little by little, the woman came to know the Italians. Fantasizing about one, pursued by another, she learned enough Italian and they learned enough English to communicate. The village was not so kind however, going so far as to lump the woman and the Italians together as outsiders. They did not have "the knack".
This is a slow paced novel built around the year's agricultural cycle. The war ended and the Italians were to be sent home. However, in a twist of fate, the kind where everyone is too keen to judge, and swiftly at that, a misunderstanding had lasting consequences.
Kesson knew that Scottish judgemental streak all too well. The fatherless daughter of a young prostitute, she was taken into state care at age eight. Denied a full education because of her origins, she was placed in domestic service at sixteen, eventually marrying and turning to hired farm work. There is no bitterness here though, just a feeling of listening to a story about another time and another place.
About 550 Italian POWs, mostly from the North Africa campaign, were sent to Scotland during WWII. Some were sent to the Orkneys to work on the defences at Scapa Flow. Others, like the ones in the novel, worked in farming and forestry to replace the labour of the men at the front.
Here is a church built by the Italians in Orkney on Land Holm, a previously uninhabited island:
image from The Irish Times
the interior of the chapel, painted by prisoner Domenico Chiocchetti, based on an image from a prayer card:
image from Trip Advisor
I agree that coral is a lovely pedicure nail polish colour. This shade of coral was the hot colour of 1987 as well. I had many items in it then. This time around, I think maybe a scarf ....
as to north sea grey - grey I think is a bit of a thing in sweden and I googled 'sweden grey interior design' and got for one thing this - http://www.we-are-scout.com/2017/02/lotta-agaton-grey-interiors-new-white.html - the Baltic maybe, mostly but a little on the north sea i think. I can't face googling others scientifically.
(could it look good against snowlight?)
and how did grey get into the lower left pink nail spread?
That is quite a website. I can see losing an entire afternoon there.
As for grey against snowlight, it depends what mood you want I think. Late afternoon with dusk coming on and the fire lit is completely different from a gorgeous sunny day with the light streaming in amplified by the snow outside. Is there no real snow where you are (I don't mean that centimetre or so that brings southern England to a halt, but the real stuff)?
My thought was that the grey polish had pink and coral sparks in it, but now I can't check.
>30 Nickelini: Too funny, but I hope you do get around to it. As I finish off my 2018 thread ever so slowly, I will get to reviewing Kim eventually, but if you get your hands on Alberto Manguel's A Reading Diary you will see that he too is a major fan. I see you have The Library at Night which is a book I would like to have.
>31 labfs39: I know what you mean about the nonfiction versus fiction when it comes to WWII or most other wars for that matter, but there are some really superb novels to have come out of WWII, especially from Europe.
>34 lisapeet: I definitely need to get a copy of that! Thanks so much for putting it in.
3. Explosion in a Cathedral by Alejo Carpentier translated from La Siècle des Lumières, the original translation into French, by John Sturrock 1963
- originally published as El siglo de las luces in 1962
- finished reading January 21, 2019
The terrible years of the French Revolution and its aftermath were not just a European cataclysm. They were endured by people wherever French rule was supreme. One such area was the Caribbean, at that time a cauldron of competing forces: France, England, Holland, Portugal, Spain, all fought for supremacy in the region, and all had to fight the pirates. Each country controlled at least one island, some had carved out colonies on the northern mainland of South America. Not only were the colonies pawns in this competition for global power, they were also sources of valuable commercial goods for their European masters. Slaves from Africa were the labour force on these overseas estates. The Catholic Church was there too, trying to harvest souls.
What use would the Europeans in such a world have for the ideals of "liberté, egalité et fraternité" or for the thoughts expressed in the Declaration for the Rights of Man and of the Citizen? Carlos and Sophia, brother and sister, and their cousin Esteban had conventional colonial lives. They were wealthy orphans on the verge of adulthood, living together in an old Havana mansion, little thinking of the outside world. Into this comfortable haven came Victor Hugues, a mason, Jacobin and French agitator. Here was someone and something new and exciting for the trio, who readily slipped into believing in that better world, without quite knowing how it was to be achieved.
Victor and Esteban wound up in France, somewhat estranged as Victor climbed the ever shifting world of revolutionary administration. Eventually Esteban, a Spanish national, had to flee France winding up in Guadaloupe, an English colony at the time. Victor too soon found himself in Guadaloupe as Commissar, sent by the Directorate to retake it from England. On board his ship was a guillotine, the first in the New World. So began a reign of terror, giving Hugues the sobriquet of the Robespierre of Guadaloupe.
The character of Hugues is taken from history. Carpentier uses him to vividly reconstruct the Caribbean world of the time. When the revolution in France abolished slavery in its colonies, Victor carried out the order. When slavery was reestablished under Buonaparte, Victor, now in Cayenne as Governor of French Guiana, carried out that order too, rounding up freed slaves and reestablishing a market. The plight of the oppressed, slave or free, is a dominant theme in this book.
Carpentier uses Hugues's relationship with Esteban and Sofia to give a gripping account of Hugues himself, a character type encountered all too often in history. His writing is at times reminiscent of Zola, with the detailed descriptions that manage to move the plot forward rather than impede it. Writing of an autumn hurricane:
A vast noise enveloped and encircled the house, and the different tunes made by the roof, the window blinds and the skylights combined in a watery concert: solid water and broken water, water spattering, tumbling from a height, spouting from a gargoyle, being sucked into the mouth of a gutter. A respite ensued, but more oppressive, more heavily charged with silence than the early part of the night. And then came the second downpour --...
Carpentier the philosopher can't resist a big "what if?" in Explosion in a Cathedral. In a seeming digression with overtones of magical realism, Carpentier speculates on the timing of a journey of centuries, from the source of the Mother River to the Empire of the North, the Land-in-Waiting:
And then one night, as will always be remembered, a blazing shape crossed the sky with a mighty hiss, indicating the direction which men had established long before as leading to the Empire of the North. Then, divided into hundreds of fighting squadrons, the horde set out, and penetrated into foreign lands. All the males of other races were ruthlessly exterminated, and the women kept for the propagation of the conquering race. Thus there came to be two languages: that of the women, the language of the kitchen and childbirth, and that of the men, the language of warriors, to know which was held to be a supreme privilege.
And then, just when the migrants reached the place where "The fresh water pushes so that the other shall not enter, the salt water so that the other shall not escape", they encountered that other huge migratory invasion: that of the European. "Two irreconcilable historical periods confronted one another in this struggle where no truce was possible. Totemic Man was opposed to Theological Man."
Carpentier was the second ever winner of the Miguel de Cervantes prize, given for the author's overall body of work in the Spanish language. However, writing was not his only artistic medium. He was a renowned musicologist. Although his best known novel in that field would be The Lost Steps, music and poetry make frequent appearances in this book, and can be found in the rhythms of his prose.
The Swiss born Carpentier grew up in Havana, developing a real interest in all aspects of Afro-Cuban culture. He was a supporter of revolutionary ideals, which sent him into self imposed exile to France in the '30s and Venezuela after WWII. However, with the rise of Castro, he was able to return to Cuba where he was rewarded with a diplomatic posting to Paris. He died in Paris in 1980 and is buried in Havana.
for a scholarly take on Explosion in a Cathedral see here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt207g6bv.8?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_cont...
However, I agree with the Guardian: "Only in times of panic do we crave the eternal splendour that living coral distils."
>16 dchaikin: A friend painted her entire house grey, and even had grey carpets. It looked fabulous!
I read Texaco in that quarter too and thought is was excellent, but I think the most lasting impression is The Bridge of Beyond.
>39 dchaikin: >40 baswood: I think you both would enjoy it.
>41 VivienneR: Panic?! I think a lot of coral in itself might just instil some panic! I do like hits of it though.
>42 OscarWilde87: I am always late too, so no worries and welcome.
4. Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Centre of the World by Roger Crowley
first published 2008
finished reading January 28, 2019
This is one of those books that once again made me seriously question how a particular school curriculum is chosen. Years of my schooling were spent on the history of Britain - read England. Scotland got mentions for Mary Stuart, the succession problem on the death of Elizabeth I, the Acts of Union and a few inventors from the Industrial Revolution. Ireland had a potato famine and King Billy (strong Orange overtones here). Wales was nonexistent.
As for the rest of the world, there were nods to ancient civilizations, there were great explorers, although only years later did I discover that John Cabot was really the Genoese Giovanni Caboto, also known as the Venetian Zuan Chabotto. There was a full year spent on the Renaissance and Reformation, always referred to as a pairing.
Then there was the triumvirate of "Greats": Peter, Catherine, and Frederick, and the revolutions in the Thirteen Colonies and France. Fast forward to the twentieth century and Sarajevo. Whole areas of the world, indeed whole continents, seemed nonexistent. Luckily, even in grade school I liked history and found my own books outside the classroom.
Rant over, what does all this have to do with the book in question? It shows the importance of perspective. In Empires of the Sea, Crowley's centre of the world is the Mediterranean Sea in the sixteenth century. This necessarily involves looking at those who lived on its circumference, and how they saw their world.
Basically, Crowley starts by putting the geographical focus on an east west axis, with a great power lodged at each end. The Hapsburgs led by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, sat at one end, with the massive Ottoman Empire led by Suleiman the Magnificent at the other. The straits between Tunis and Sicily formed a sort of natural dividing line between the spheres of influence. Not completely, however, for Crowley pays attention to the Barbary Coast, that shoreline of North Africa with the all important city of Tunis claimed by both powers.
The Mediterranean Sea was a dangerous place. Depending on weather, it could take two to six months to sail from Marseilles to Crete. There weren't just storms to worry about; pirates and slavers were everywhere. All in all, an odd place to choose as battle central, or as Crowley puts it, "...the epicentre of a world war". As he says
The struggle sucked in all the nations and special interest groups that bordered Mediterranean waters: Turks, Greeks, North Africans, Spaniards, Italians and Frenchmen: the peoples of the Adriatic Sea and Dalmatian coast; merchants, imperialists, pirates and holy warriors. All fought in shifting alliances to protect religion, trade, or empire. None could fly a neutral flag for long, although the Venetians tried hard.
Charles V of Spain and Suleiman, followed later in the century by Philip and Selim, had other fronts to concern them as well. The Spanish were fighting in Northern Europe; the Ottomans were working their way north through the Balkans. Each also had further imperial ambitions: Spain in the Americas, and the Ottomans in present day Syria and east. While Crowley's major focus is on the Mediterranean, he weaves in these other threads as required to understand each power's ups and downs.
The book was at its best when it came to naval battles. Crowley spends time detailing the ships themselves, with good diagrams and maps. Manoeuvring a single ship by sail or oar was a feat in itself. The Battle of Lepanto saw two huge armadas facing each other in formation. In a front only four miles wide were massed six hundred ships, containing more than 140, 000 men. Noise, smoke, and hand to hand combat marked the day, described in compelling detail.
This battle that meant so much at the time is little known today apart from some Shakespearean references. Crowley looks at why that might be. All in all, an excellent general history that leaves the reader looking at European history in a different light.
The Battle of Lepanto
For more on the influences on Shakespeare:
School history is a strange thing, even without the distorted perspective. Thanks to my high-quality British education, I could have told you without the least difficulty that Lepanto was where Cervantes was wounded(*) and that it comes into Othello, but until I started reading more history in the last decade or so, I’d have had great difficulty telling you why it was important, or even where “Lepanto” is, despite the fact that I actually went there on a sailing holiday about 25 years ago...
(*) I think some of us were left with the impression that “Lepanto” must be Spanish for “in the arm”
>46 thorold: Funny you mention Cervantes, as oddly last evening I finished The Seventh Function of Language, and there toward the end was a mock Battle of Lepanto in the lagoon, complete with a costumed Cervantes. It truly is a pairing.
I was intrigued the idea that the Hapsburg forces were led by Don Juan of Austria, not the fictional one obviously, but in such a surreal milieu, it almost seemed possible.
>47 baswood: How about The Generall Historie of the Turkes, 1603 by Richard Knolles, sort of a crossover?
>48 dchaikin: Trying to think of this book in audio. It would really depend on the narrator, who would have to be able to convey both adventure and history. Hmm.
pink flecks in grey, I need to see. But am sticking to just pink at the mo.
(and look forward to hearing about the 7th Function of Language) (oh and btw I enjoyed what I saw of the recent adaptation of Les Miserables on tv here, but too much has been getting in the way of such things)
>52 tonikat: The Seventh Function of Language coming up after this next.
This was a book I read for Reading Globally's 1st quarter, The Mediterranean World: https://www.librarything.com/topic/301914
5. Omer Pasha Latas: Marshal to the Sultan by Ivo Andrić translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth (2018)
first published as Omerpaša Latas in 1968
finished reading February 2, 2019
The inhabitants of Sarajevo had good reason for alarm that day in 1850. The Sultan in far off Istanbul was sending his latest seraskier to impose order by whatever means required in this distant part of his Ottoman Empire. This time around, the seraskier arrived with a large well equipped army. Its leader had quelled rebellions in Albania, Syria and Kurdistan already. His mission here was
to discipline and bring to heel not the rebellious populace nor an external enemy but those who had ruled Bosnia for centuries and who had until the previous day been called the sultan's sons: the beys, the leaders and members of the most prominent families. ... He was not coming as an authority to rule and manage, but to wage war and punish.
Who was this potentate? His Turkish name was Omer Pasha Latas, and he was a convert to the Muslim faith. The people of Bosnia and Herzegovinia, however, knew that this man who held the highest military office in the sultan's forces was not only a former Christian, but also an Austrian, Micó Latas; a man who had fled that country for Bosnia twenty-five years earlier, then made his way to Turkey. There, through diligence and hard work, he had achieved his current status. These were characteristics to be admired. Yet such a transformation also requires a mastery of deceit to hide away and bury one part of life. In other words, this was a man to be feared.
This idea of a person from two worlds, one who never really fits into either, is a theme to which Andrić returns again and again throughout the book. Unfinished at the time of his death, it is not really a novel, but rather a series of sketches of those around Omer Pasha. Each is not only complete in itself, but also serves to give the reader another piece of the puzzle that is Omer. Each of these characters shares in one way or another that lack of belonging. There is a pervading sense of loneliness in this book, an inability to make human connections, even though some of these very same people are indispensable to the Bosnian foray. The vignette technique highlights this.
Eventually this army too will leave, "... a blessing in this country where pleasure is scarce." Over a hundred years later, Andrić knew this all too well about his country, a place with its own conflicting worlds. Switching from third person narrator to first person as the army finally leaves, he says
What counts is that they are leaving, vanishing, disappearing, at least from our country, and we are staying on our own land, to endure, to live out our lives, to eat their bread as well as our own, and to warm ourselves in this sun, which was once also theirs. That is the only victory of which we are capable. And it is our right that we be victorious.
The Battle of Lepanto at Museum Brandhorst
photo credit Annette Kisling
>55 labfs39: Thanks - It was actually the first book by Andric I had read, so for now, unfortunately I can't compare. I seem to be developing a taste for Eastern European fiction though and will certainly read more of his work. It seems odd to start with his final work.
7. The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet translated from the French by Sam Taylor (2017)
first published as La septième fonction du langage in 2015
finished reading February 21, 2019
On February 25, 1980, Roland Barthes was struck by a van while crossing Rue des Ecoles in Paris. He had just come from lunch with François Mitterand, then the socialist candidate for President in the elections to be held the following year. Barthes did not die right away. He was admitted to hospital and died one month later. All these things are true.
Binet, however, uses these same facts for a wonderfully satirical look at the worlds of competing academic specialties, French intellectuals, French politics, the Bulgarian underworld, Italian politics, and of course semiotics. He uses Superintendent Jacques Bayard of the police intelligence service to explore this world, explaining that such a person would not normally investigate a mere traffic accident, but in this particular case he has been called in "... to find out if there is any way of damaging the Socialist candidate's credibility by investigating and, if necessary, smearing him."
Bayard's first interview was with a truculent Michel Foucault. Although an expert and intelligent investigator, Bayard realized immediately that despite his wealth of investigative skills, he would need a completely different set, and even an interpreter for this unknown world and its language right there in his very own city. Enter Simon Herzog, a young graduate student/ lecturer, conscripted to fill this role, acting as a perfect foil to Bayard.
It turned out that pages had been stolen from Barthes as he lay on the pavement. Not routine papers, but papers whose contents could give the possessor unimaginable powers of communication. In short, Barthes had described a seventh function of language in addition to Jakobson's basic six. Naturally in certain circles this was highly marketable knowledge and academics and demagogues everywhere were after it.
The odd couple delved into the world of European intellectuals with all its petty infighting, sordid affairs, limitless egos, and actual theory. If you dabble or more in semiotics, linguistics, or literary theory, this is good entertainment. Even if you don't, it is still entertaining, feeling as it does like a cross between Inspector Clouseau and Léon the Professional. Name dropping is rampant, with characters such as Derrida, Eco, Kristeva, Chomsky, Bernard Henri Levy and others popping up all over the place, against a background of Jimmy Connors, Bobby Sands and the Bologna train station bombing, all making an indescribable chaotic mishmash which is silly and fun - something we all need from time to time. Did I mention the secret debating society?
8. The Bright Side of Life by Emile Zola translated from the French by Andrew Rothwell (2018)
first published in serial form in Le Gil Blas 1883 - 1884, then in book form in 1884 as La Joie de vivre
finished reading March 16, 2019
Translated into English in 2019 for only the second time since the heavily edited and expurgated 1901 version, The Bright Side of Life is a lesser known book in Zola's Rougon Macquart saga. This is regrettable, for in it Zola has created in Pauline Quenu a character as compelling as Claude Lantier or Jean Macquart.
First encountered as a young child in The Belly of Paris, she in now an orphaned ten year old. Her father had appointed his cousin Chanteau as her guardian. The Chanteau family lived on the coast of Normandy. They were happy to receive the young girl. Especially so was Mme Chanteau, enticed by the idea of Pauline's 150,000 franc inheritance. Pauline too was happy in her new life, so far from the world of Paris. She loved the seashore, the animals, and her newly met cousin Lazare. Although almost nine years older, Lazare was happy to spend time with Pauline, and the two developed a strong bond.
All went well until the onset of puberty. With no foreknowledge of the event, and no ensuing guidance from Mme Chanteau, Pauline was convinced she was dying. Here the story takes an unexpected turn for a nineteenth century girl. Lazare had by this time given up his earlier idea of becoming a great composer, and had turned instead to the study of medicine. Although he was in Paris studying, some of his books were still in the house. Pauline turned to them.
As soon as her aunt's back was turned, she would take them out, then calmly put them back at the slightest sound, acting not like a girl with a guilty curiosity, but a studious one whose family were standing in the way of her vocation... And so this child of fourteen learnt... hers was a serious purpose, going from the organs that give life to those that regulate it, sustained and preserved from carnal ideas by the love of all that was healthy. The gradual discovery of this human machine filled her with admiration. She read all about it with a passion... she revived her earlier dream of learning everything in order to cure everything.
Zola had reversed the expected roles of his time. Pauline becomes a strong, steady presence, growing into a capable and loved manager of the household, with a solid grounding in reality. Lazare, by contrast, moved from one interest to another, unable to summon the discipline to persevere, squandering his life and the lives of those closest to him. Zola's ideas on empiricism versus romanticism are captured in this little family.
In his introduction, Andrew Rothwell says that after completing Nana (1880), Zola wanted to write about something more domestic, saying in his preliminary notes "This is the novel I want to write. Good, honest people placed in a drama that will develop the ideas of goodness and pain." However, a mental health crisis saw him turn instead to writing Pot Luck (1882) and The Ladies' Paradise (1883). He was then able to turn once again to The Bright Side of Life.
Some critics have found Pauline too bland and saintly. Rothwell feels this may be due to the 1901 Vizetelly translation*, which deleted so much of the content that served to demonstrate the strength of Pauline's character. In contrast, Rothwell says that in France the novel is regarded as "one of the finest love stories of the nineteenth century".
The Bright Side of Life is an oddity in the Rougon Macquart cycle. Like The Dream, the plot bears little relation to other characters in the saga. Pauline comes from the illegitimate side of the family, but apart from sporadic fits of jealousy, little of the Macquart tainted character emerges. Yet Pauline is Nana's first cousin. Both girls were born in 1852 and knew each other as small children. Zola decided Pauline would be "... the radical opposite of Nana, ... where Nana was unleashed on the world with no moral compass, no social or religious inhibitions, ... she will... have values, but above all, she will produce virtue, as Nana produced vice."
Perhaps Zola was feeling more hopeful about life. Yet despite all intentions to create a positive force in Pauline, there is still an overwhelming pessimism here. Still writing in top form, Zola has written a childbirth scene here just as rivetiing as his death scene in
*Caution when choosing an edition to read. Vizetelly is still the only other readily available translation in English, even including a 2016 Kindle edition.
This first, Oleanders, is from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The accompanying text says For Van Gogh, oleanders were joyous, life-affirming flowers that bloomed "inexhaustibly" and were always "putting out strong new shoots." In this painting of August 1888 the flowers fill a majolica jug that the artist used for other still lifes made in Arles. They are symbolically juxtaposed with Émile Zola's La joie de vivre, a novel that Van Gogh had placed in contrast to an open Bible in a Nuenen still life of 1885.
The next, Still Life with Bible, is from the Rijksmuseum:
The text says in part "This hefty Bible had belonged to Van Gogh's father, a Protestant minister. Van Gogh painted it just after his father's death. He placed his own copy of Émile Zola's La joie de vivre next to it. That book was a kind of 'bible' for modern life. The books symbolize the different worldviews of Van Gogh and his father."
I’m looking forward to re-reading that one, it’s one of the ones I read in French 25 years ago when I was still struggling with the language. And all the more since seeing your review and since I’ve been in Normandy this summer. But I’ve only just finished Nana, so two others to read first.
I think re-reads are important with books. It will be interesting to hear how your thoughts have changed on it.
I have now read 18 of the 20 books in the cycle. Some were re-reads, and I can see myself going back to others. As yet, there is no recent translation of book 20, so I may have to try it in French. I have been trying to revive my once passable French these past six months with weekly one on one sessions, but it is a hard slog for oral French. I find myself doing okay, then getting carried away with an idea and then getting completely bogged down in simultaneously trying to come up in my head with the correct subjunctive, conditional, or whatever else is lying in wait to trip me up that day, so that I sound like a blithering idiot. Reading and writing come much more easily - the last book in French is possible.
Right now I am diverted once again by Scott.
Envy you being in Normandy.
>67 baswood: Thanks - is there room in your world for Zola? Are you still studying French, or have you reached that longed for state where you feel comfortable?
>70 baswood: Good idea - a novella would be a good place to start.
>71 labfs39: This one does stand alone easily, perhaps because the other characters in the cycle don't really enter into it. I was tickled to discover that Van Gogh tie-in.
>72 dchaikin: Those two treatments are so different from each other. The second one does have a huge impact, leaving the viewer to choose their own biblical excerpt, but even though the father was a Protestant minister, this juxtaposition definitely says Old Testament to me.
9. Liana by Martha Gellhorn
first published 1944, written 1942
finished reading March 20, 2019
Liana must have been a difficult book to read when it was first published in 1944. It's still a difficult book for some of the same reasons, but for other reasons as well, arising out of changed perceptions of colonialism, race, and the language used around them.
Gellhorn created a classic triangle, exploring the thoughts and motives of each of its characters: Marc Royer, Liana, and Pierre Vauclain. Her setting is a French island colony in the Caribbean in 1940, just after the fall of France.
Marc was the wealthiest man on the island, one for whom many rules were bent and conventions ignored. However, when he married his mulatto* mistress, he crossed a line. Liana had lived in his house as his mistress since she was sixteen, something which had attracted envy from the men of the island, but little else of a scandalous nature. Marrying her four years later, however, was a slap in the face to the white population:
...the women were as furious as if each one of them had been mortally insulted, and the men were as furious as if their wives had been humiliated in public. The envy of the island turned to hate. Marc Royer's marriage did not make Liana respectable, it simply mocked the respectability of the white women.
Liana innocently saw the marriage as an opportunity to finally move into white society, to entertain in her home and be entertained by others. She had worked hard for this: learned the flat speech patterns of the Europeans, learned to dress like them and walk in high heels, learned to answer to Julie, the name Marc had given her. She had no idea that nothing she did would ever allow her into that world. Her house became a prison to her.
After two years of this, she finally protested. Marc came up with the idea of arranging a tutor for her several days a week. He settled on Pierre, fresh from France, sent to teach the local children. What followed was perhaps inevitable, but Gellhorn tells it from the perspective of all three people, letting the reader into their thoughts as each worked toward a personal resolution. Nothing is easy. Unhappy endings are difficult, but there is a sense here that it could be no other way. There is a satisfaction in that.
*In an afterword written in 1986, Gellhorn defends her use of language against those who would have her use "creole", which to her "...is an elastic word and means anything except black".
25. Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Munoz Molina translated from the Spanish by Camilo Ramirez (2017)
first published as Como la sombra que se va 2014
finished reading July 16, 2019
The unnamed narrator, a sort of shadow himself, first went to Lisbon in 1987, at the age of thirty. He was leading a fragmented double or even triple life: the life of a young husband and father in Spain, the life of a man bent on escaping these roles, and the life of the novel he had travelled to Lisbon to write.
A man evading his present, like the man in the novel he was writing years later, in Lisbon once more.
Perhaps it is the same capacity for evasion that characterizes children's games, a withdrawal from the world but not from perception, reality temporarily suspended while the mind explores other possibilities, sometimes more promising, sometimes threatening
The narrator overlaps lives, time, and stories. Sometimes he tells of his 1987 trip, sometimes his current 2013 trip, sometimes the trip to Lisbon of another man in 1968. This man too is nameless, at least at first, then his pseudonym Ramon George Sneyd is revealed. The reader now realizes this is none other than James Earl Ray, the fugitive assassin of Martin Luther King.
As Munoz Molina interweaves his stories, the reader is drawn into Ray's life by facts and details, for Ray was a man who survived by noticing the details of everything and everyone around him. His life emerges from these revelations as the narrator becomes more and more obsessed with trying to grasp something tangible from this shadow life into which he has fallen. "I have learned so much about him that sometimes I feel I am recalling his own memories."
In fact, Munoz Molina writes so convincingly it seems as if James Earl Ray himself wrote down his thoughts. The reader is immersed in them: his frustrations with a foreign language, his plans for the future, his fears. Eventually there is a resignation and possible acquiescence to his inevitable capture. James Earl Ray had been on the run for "... thirteen months and three weeks, five countries, fifteen cities, two continents."
As the psalm says "My days are like a fading shadow: and I am withered like grass." (102:11)
Underlying it all is a rhythm, sometimes a dissonance, the sense of the great jazz musicians whom the narrator reveres. Then there are the unspoken cadences of that great orator offstage, Martin Luther King himself, a man who would have recognized the truth of that psalm all too well.
46. Threads of Life: A History of the World through the Eye of a Needle by Clare Hunter
first published 2019
finished reading November 9, 2019
This book was so much more than its title suggests. Hunter examines the ways in which sewing over the centuries has been an expression of individuality, a means of saying who we are. More than that, it documents resistance from the women prisoners held by the Japanese in Changi, to the scarves of the mothers of Plaza de Mayo, each scarf with an embroidered name. Even the embroidery of Mary Stuart was a form of resistance, worked in the long years of her captivity in a foreign country, and employing all the symbols of her status as Queen of Scotland.
Why then do we dismiss this work? Hunter suggests it is because it is done by women, decreasing the value of the work itself. She traces the evolution of embroidery as a skilled art practised by both men and women, and the subsequent division of its making between men and women. Charles Rennie Mackintosh gets high praise for his work, but as Hunter says, his style would have been far less singular without the fine draperies and banners worked by his wife Margaret MacDonald, a woman who receives all too little recognition.
Hunter also charges Isaac Singer, designer of the sewing machine, with removing sewing from a community effort, and thus social activity, to a solitary pursuit. How? Well Singer deliberately designed his machine with gold filigree ornamentation, making it into a cherished piece of furniture. Each purchaser then worked on her own in her middle class home, leaving her community behind.
There was so much more in this book: suffragette banners, the names quilt, Dutch resistance skirts. Did you know there was a registry of foundling clothes, and another at the Old Bailey of stolen quilts. How about Judy Chicago's dinner party? Much has been written about it, but how much have you read about the table linens, each setting carefully designed and worked to reflect the life of the woman it honours?
I could go on and on, but if you're someone like me, who loves to work various needle arts in a group, getting all kinds of inspiration from others, this is a compelling read. My only criticism is the lack of photos, but these would have increased costs considerably. There is, however, a list of websites where the cited works can be viewed.
Throughout the book, Hunter speaks of her own career as a community organizer and textile curator in Scotland, and of the work she has done to keep these traditions going. David Robinson, who reviewed Threads of Life for Books from Scotland, admits to having his viewpoint of such work changed from a condescending dismissal of sometimes uneven community work, to a recognition of the narrative in each individual piece, and the story of community it tells. Perhaps if others could consider such work as social history too, it would go a long way to garnering more of the respect so much of this work deserves.
The Names quilt comes to Washington
Mothers protesting the disappeared in the Plaza da Mayo
Identifying fabric left with infant at the Foundling Hospital, London
National Trust for Scotland
Copies of Margaret MacDonald's silk embroideries in Hill House - house designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh
What I’m describing is definitely for the people with an expendable amount of time and money who do it as a hobby, not necessity.
I've been thinking a bit about the gender politics of women's decorative arts, and wishing I knew a bit more, because I just got a copy of Mrs. Delany: A Life, about Mary Delany. Wiki identifies her as an 18th-century "English artist, letter-writer, and Bluestocking, equally famous for her "paper-mosaicks" and botanic drawing, needlework and her lively correspondence." But it was the paper-mosaicks—realistic collages of flowers, made of tiny pieces of tissue paper, which she began creating after she was widowed in her 70s—that brought her to prominence. She published ten volumes of her Flora collection, and apparently it was quite the thing in Georgian Britain.
I'm trying to figure out if there's enough contemporary resonance to feature her in a Bloom essay at some point, because of her late start as an artist. She might not be of general interest though... but if I could really compellingly tie her work in with modern craft/paper arts it could work. It would be a lot of work to make that case, I guess. But I'm interested in reading up on her anyway.
>85 baswood: There are still very active embroidery groups and guilds. The members work with everything from recycled materials right up to gold threads. They are welcoming and encouraging, and definitely social, at least in this part of the world, but also work away on their own between gatherings.
>86 thorold: I would certainly agree with you about what I would call task needlework, something that continues to this day, at least in rural areas where life isn't outsourced. Mending, like washing dishes, can be a never ending routine.
However, I think Hunter would definitely see the sewing machine as the liberating tool you suggest. Her beef was with the way middle class people took to their individual homes to use it, cutting themselves off from working with others. Interestingly, there are now areas in many cities and towns where there are multiple machines in a sort of sewing café arrangement. You can rent the machines by the hour, and there are people there to help, whether you are mending or sewing a wardrobe. These spaces are used by many in their 20s and 30s who don't have their own machines and enjoy the social aspect. It will be interesting to see what happens as/if they acquire larger living spaces where they could have their own machine.
>87 japaul22: I think you may be right. Some of it may be environmentally driven, but I think a lot of it is just that desire to have something you put time, thought and effort into, while actually enjoying the process.
While I can do many things with fibres, I have never learned to crochet! This is the type of machine I made all my clothes on until I was 21, when I was given a "real" machine. This is a child's crank machine, about six inches wide. It only goes forward in a single chain stitch. Reverse meant turning the work around. My machine has wandered off over the years, but I would love to have it back.
>88 lisapeet: I think your idea about tying Mrs Delany's art in with modern work is a good one and would certainly make a good essay. If it doesn't work for Bloom there are lots of journals where it might be of interest.
Hunter discusses Delany, and in her bibliography mentions Mrs Delany and Her Circle
I haven't seen Mrs Delany: A Life but I do have The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72, which you may also be interested in. There's hope yet!
There's much else of interest in Hunter's book that I didn't mention, but one area where it seems there is a fair amount of research right now is slave quilts, quilts made by slaves in the US for their own use, in addition to the quilts they worked on in the owner's house.
The way the group works is that the person who put forward the book (different person each month) starts with his or her review and then we work around the room from there. Surprisingly to me, this book was well received by everyone, which is rare. As the last person, I really felt I had to defend my contrary position!
21. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
first published 2016
finished reading June 10, 2019
This 2016 novel tells the unlikely tale of Russian count Alex Rostov, sentenced to internal exile within the confines of the luxurious Metropole Hotel in Moscow. Should he venture outside its doors, he will be shot. The year was 1922 and under the new Bolshevik government's statutes, Rostov was classified as a "Former Person". In real life, this was a designation that completely stripped members of the aristocracy and many members of the professional classes of any status or rights. Almost all those classed as such who did not escape from the country were shot or sent to labour camps, in what could be seen as a signal of the purges to come.
This is exactly what makes this story so unlikely. Although Rostov had to move from his luxurious apartment in the hotel to servants' quarters in the attic, he stayed alive. Over the years, while he worked in the hotel as a waiter, he managed to escape the capricious wrath of changes in administrators. He was not purged in the '30s, conscripted in WWII, or purged after that. He did not starve to death or die of typhus. Instead, he was able to bring up an orphaned girl in his room, with the help of a cadre of sympathetic hotel workers. In fact, he was even chosen by a man high in the KGB to teach him foreign ways. Incredibly, that man too survived, even saving Rostov one evening when he was forced to leave the hotel.
All this put the novel into the world of complete fantasy for me. Had it not been so well written, it would have been an ordeal to read it. I would have loved this book when I was 10 or 12. However, reading it now, I feel a sense of outrage that the horrors of twentieth century Russia could be sugar coated in such a way; when over the more than thirty years this novel spans, only one of Rostov's inner circle comes to harm.
The idea that Rostov's gentlemanly ways (and he truly was a gentleman in the best senses of the word) would win all to his side and allow him to float through the decades is ludicrous. I worry that some who read this book will take Rostov's experience as characteristic of the time. Perhaps this is a fable with a moral, but the Russian fates ignored all such maxims.
Built in 1905, the Metropol Hotel today, Grand Dining Room from Actualités Belles Demeures
My apologies for overlooking the book on sewing, something that is like a foreign language to me, but I was really intrigued by your review of the Molina novel. It occurs to me that I have no idea who JER was, or why he might have done what he did, or who encouraged and/or supported him.