Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Payback: Margaret Atwood on Debt

The prolific Canadian writer Margaret Atwood reads excerpts from her new book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth on NPR's Book Tour. With this collection of essays, Atwood proves once again her versatility as an author: from a poet and a novelist to a nonfiction writer and a philosopher providing timely commentary on perilous economic situations. When you say "Hello" or "Good morning" to someone, when you open the door for someone, they owe you back something - at least a "Thank you", explains the basics of the debtor-creditor relationship Atwood. She muses on the different types of debts and the synonyms that debt has developed in modern Western culture. Forgiveness, according to the author, is often a type of debt. When Nelson Mandela was leaving the prison, for example, he wanted to forgive for all they have done to him right at this point so that he will not suffer later with the memories.

Debt is related to memory, says Atwood. Also, there is a story and a plot connected to every debt. Even in the animal world, the economic system works in a similar way: when a chimpanzee scratches another one, the receiver of the favor owes him a scratch back (they remember the debt), unless there is a hierarchical structure in which the scratched chimp is above the others and therefore exempt from paying back the favor. Very much like in politics - remarks Atwood. My favorite example that she gives concerns silver fish: when the male silver fish does a dance for the female silver fish, if she appreciates the dance, he then gives to her something called "sperm package"!

Thinking about creditor-debtor relationship, when someone reads your blog, don't they owe you something? Perhaps just a comment, or maybe a copy of a recently reviewed book! Come on, don't be stingy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Starving for Bread and Knowledge in Yezierska's Bread Givers

Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers depicts the life of a Jewish immigrant family from Poland. The plot proliferates with themes and symbols seminal to the American immigrants in the beginning of the 20th century. As the Smolinsky family struggles with hunger, questions of morality and gender discrimination come to the surface. Sara Smolinsky, the youngest daughter, epitomizes the social changes in the immigrant’s life: she emerges from a man-driven Old World to make herself “a person” and get education in the New World (159). The hungry for bread immigrant starves for knowledge as a pathway to individuality and independence.

Reb Smolinsky, the father, is a religious man who prays all day long and chooses not to work, but who believes that a woman is nothing without a man. His vision for getting bread at the table is solely rooted in the management of his four daughters: they give his wages to the family, they work for his well-being, and they are supposed to marry to rich gentlemen who will support the whole Smolinsky family. Thus, Reb Smolinsky marries three out of his four daughters to seemingly rich men; however, his poor matchmaking skills render his daughters unhappy and put them in marriages with men who either lied about their prosperity, spend all the money on themselves, or have numerous children from a previous marriage. The principles of the Smolinsky family call for happiness in prosperity and rich life and leave behind love and education.

The youngest daughter of Reb Smolinsky, Sara, disrupts the idea of her father by running away from the family. One day she gets tired of her father’s preaching, his gullibility as a businessman and his plans to marry her off to a rich man. Sara begins a life of her own, delving into a world of poverty but cherishing aspirations for education. Sara’s life in New York is marked by physical and epistemological hunger. She works at daytime in a laundry as an ironer and goes to school in the evenings. Her dream is to become a teacher. Despite the connection between the spirituality of father and daughter, Sara’s move clashes with Reb Smolinsky’s idea of a woman. He tries to marry her off to “a golden young man” who Sara initially likes because of his achieved independence but refuses to marry (207). The dispute between father and daughter ends their relationship for a while, illuminating the difference between the two worlds that Reb and Sara belong to: “I saw there was no use talking. He could never understand. He was the Old World. I was the New” (207).

Two worlds collide, and the new one attracts Sara more because of the possibilities it gives to a young woman: “It’s a new life now. In America, women don’t need men to boss them” (137). Sara’s hunger for knowledge overcomes her hunger for food. All her sisters were afraid to tear away from the old world because of the hunger that they and their family will face with their move. Sara does not fear hunger; she is on a quest to make herself a new person, one who deserves respect as much as men do . She enunciates a social change in the immigrant’s life: women can be equal to men in the new world.

In fact, all the men in the Smolinsky’s world are supposed to be “bread givers” but they fail as such. Reb Smolinsky does not even know how to handle his own money; he constantly loses whatever he has in a foolish way and lives on the wages of his daughters. Moe Mirsky, who marries the most beautiful of the Smolinsky daughters – Mashah – as a diamond dealer, is actually a simple clerk who cannot keep a job and starves his family while wearing expensive suits and eating at fancy restaurants. Abe Schmukler, the cloaks-and-suits dealer who marries Fania, appears to be a gambler who does not care about his wife’s emotions and while he provides for her good appearance, it is only because that makes him look good in the eyes of the others. Zalmon, the fish-peddler chosen by the father as Bessie’s husband, does not care about the happiness of his wife and is pleased as long as he has someone to take care of his house and six kids.

Sara Smolinsky sees that it is time to leave the world of men as bread givers; apparently, the question from the Torah “What is a woman without a man?” has a different answer in the new world (205). A woman could be a better bread giver than all the men in the Smolinsky family.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Crippled Imagination and Its Cost

Well, well, well. A talk about the educational system never seems objective enough to me unless it is confined by proper geographical, cultural, and chronological parameters. And here comes a second book on the education in American public schools by John Gatto. Weapons of Mass Instruction metaphorically prepares the reader with its title about the statement Mr. Gatto is to make once again: "mechanisms of familiar schooling which cripple imagination, discourage critical thinking, and create a false view of learning as a by-product of role-memorization drills." It all sounds scary; the picture promises a dumb and handicapped generation. Wait, that's exactly part of the name of John Gatto's first book - Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (1992). Then, the popularity of his Underground History of American Education which is available for free online, makes a similar point.

I wonder how many books by Gatto will it take for people to really see some of the basic problems that the system has. Though not a product of the American public school system, I have a significant experience with its products. In fact, I, you, and everybody out there in this country gets to experience on daily basis encounters of that kind (I'd like to think that Spielberg was not having those in mind when he was thinking of the "third kind" encounters). Don't we all deal in one way or another with public school graduates? Oh yes, you'd say, but after their public school some of them became University graduates and therefore they won't identify any more with their basic public schooling. True, but how many of you get your burger flipped or your oil changed by this University graduate? And why has it become normal in this country to have the foundation of one's education worse than the building it supports? Doesn't a good foundation make for a more solid structure? Wrapped in this line of thinking, I do forget however that the education we are talking about is actually called public. Public is part of a binary opposites whose other end must be non-public, or paid, or for those who can afford to pay for it, or maybe I should use the Chomskyan, for the "privileged." Now that the working concepts have changed - public versus paid education, or education for free vs. a better one that is paid - I think it makes sense why a book or two or even three are not exactly going to make that change. We live in a world where the more money you pay the better product you get. And yes, the product of the public schools is "what you paid for." Ironic, in a time of economic crisis. But eye-opening for many who did not quite think about it before. Now, we have to perhaps worry about the public schools more than ever because it is likely that we will get more and more products at a lower cost since we won't be able to afford the higher price. More products with "crippled imagination" to deal with on daily basis; knock on wood they won't live in your homes.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Reason Mario Puzo Wrote the Godfather ...

was... to make money! And he did. But what he really made is the best gangster plot of all times. Here is an excerpt from Mario Puzo's story about writing the book (read the rest on MailOnline: How They Shot the Godfather):

I was 45 years old and tired of being an artist. Besides, I owed $20,000 to relatives, finance companies, banks, and assorted bookmakers and shylocks. It was time to grow up and sell out, as Lenny Bruce once advised.

So I told my editors, OK, I’ll write a book about the Mafia, just give me some money to get started. They said no money until we see 100 pages. I wrote a ten-page outline. They showed me the door again.


I finally had to finish The Godfather in July 1968 because I needed the final $1,200 advance payment to take my wife and kids to Europe. My wife had not seen her family for 20 years, and I had promised her that this was the year, so I handed in the rough manuscript. Before leaving for Europe, I told my publisher not to show the book to anybody; it had to be polished.


I got my mother on the phone. She speaks broken English but understands the language perfectly. I explained it to her.

She asked, ‘$40,000?’

I said no, it was $410,000. I told her three times before she finally answered, ‘Don’t tell nobody.’

Traffic was jammed, and it took me over two hours to get home. When I walked in the door, my wife was dozing and I went over, kissed her on the cheek, and said, ‘Honey, we don’t have to worry about money any more. I just sold my book for $410,000.’ She smiled at me and kept dozing.

I started getting annoyed. Nobody seemed to think this was a big deal. My whole life was going to change; I didn’t have to worry about money. It was almost like not having to worry about dying.

Then my sister said, ‘You got $40,000 for the book. Mama called.’

I was exasperated with my mother. After all those explanations she had gotten it wrong.

Her 80 years were no excuse.

‘No, it was $410,000.’ Now I got the reaction I wanted…

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Russian Debutante's Journey

Vladimir Girshkin, the main character in The Russian Debutante's Handbook, is a Russian American Jew who travels across continents to gain confidence, find love and happiness. Vladimir does not set off on a mission with such goals from the beginning of the novel. Unlike the regular coming-of-age narrative, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook lets the reader relish in a dynamic plot with plenty of twists and turns that at prima vista have little to do with the standard novel of a maturing character. The numerous humorous situations populate the plot of the novel with strange but real opportunities for the character to reflect and grow.

Reflection in the book, however, comes secondary to action. The young protagonist rushes into every serendipitous situation that life offers to try to change his status, mainly to impress of his possessive and manipulative mother. He wants to get a profession that will make him look good in the eyes of his parents; what he discovers later is that this should in fact be a profession that will make him feel independent and more confident. Thus, Vladimir befriends Fan Man, who promises him a prosperous job in exchange for a favor which risks his current occupation; he ventures into a well-paid machination with a man who tries to sexually harass him; in the end, Vladimir decides to get into a murky enterprise in Eastern Europe with suspicious Russians in hopes to become richer and therefore a better candidate for the heart of his girlfriend. In the beginning of the novel, Vladimir is ready to try everything only to get the confidence of which his parents robbed him over the years. And truly, how can a man at the age of 25 feel at ease with his identity when his mother is still trying to teach him how to walk properly?

The European syndrome of the dominant mother and the weaker son lines up with all kinds of Eastern European features of the protagonist in the book. Vladimir experiences the anxieties of the Russian, those of the Jew and also the problems of the Eastern European immigrant. He suffers torn between many cultures, trying to reconcile all his ethnic and geographical identities. When he finally gets to Europe in search of a new career and new identity, he pauses one day and asks himself the question “Who is Vladimir Girshkin? Who indeed?” (248). Afterwards, he puts on the mask of a a poet who ironically writes a poem about his mother and reads it in front of a raving pseudo-artistic public in Prava, Shteyngart’s name for a fictional city awfully similar to Prague.

Gary Shteyngart flips upside down the regular take on an immigrant identity; instead of depicting the character as tragically trapped between different worlds, he uses every opportunity to concoct ridiculous situations based on the immigrant’s position between many cultures. The humorous tone of the novel does not denigrate the image of the immigrant; on the contrary, it builds him up as a hero in this action-driven plot. Vladimir has the potential of becoming an excellent partner in the mafia enterprise in Prava because of his understanding of Russian culture: he can speak to his counterparts in Russian and relate to their existence. At the same time, he has the chance of even becoming a leading figure among them because he is the only one who understands American culture and therefore can mingle with the ex-pats in Prava making them invest in a fraudulent enterprise. Vladimir is in the zenith of his life while he works for the underground Russian organization in Eastern Europe. Shteyngart even names the part depicting his time in Prava “The King of Prava” and one of its chapters “The Happiest Man Alive” – both descriptions of Vladimir’s success in the game that takes place on the verge of two cultures – the Eastern European and the American.

The Russian debutante in the novel is looking for confidence, but also happiness and love. His first relationship is with an ordinary American girl that he meets in one corner at a party. His second girlfriend is a New Yorker whose parents are college professors and quite liberal; she shows him a world of possibilities and introduces him to a more international New York crowd. Vladimir’s third girlfriend, who becomes his wife in the end of the book, is an American girl who is interested in Eastern Europe and even learns to speak the language of the Stolovan Republic. In fact, Vladimir meets her in Prava; she is the bridge that connects his Eastern European identity with his American one. Morgan, his future wife, tell him:

… here is the thing about you, Vladimir… I like you because you’re nothing like my boyfriend back home and you’re nothing like Tomas either … You’re worthwhile and interesting, but at the same time you’re … You’re partly an American, too. Yeah, that’s it! You are needy in a kind of foreign way, but you’ve also got these… American qualities.” (388)

Vladimir’s complex identity finally works for him, or at least he is learning how to use it in his benefit. He gains confidence, falls in love, feels happy. Vladimir is seemingly happy in the last part of the novel when he finds himself living in Cleveland, working in the company of his wife, awaiting his first child. He is also slightly sad, or rather nostalgic for the days in Eastern Europe where he could actively use his potential of an immigrant able to live on the verge of two cultures, navigate two worlds from his position on the border.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NYT: 10 Best Books of 2008

In this listing of New York Times, Jhumpa Lahiri rubs shoulders with Tomi Morrison and Roberto Bolaño. Isn't it amazing! I am also happy to see Netherland among the five selections in fiction. Now, I absolutely have to read it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fiction Should be Taken as Seriously as Fact-Based Research

Dr. Dennis Rodgers, Manchester University's Brooks World Poverty Institute:

"Despite the regular flow of academic studies, expert reports, and policy position papers, it is arguably novelists who do as good a job – if not a better one – of representing and communicating the realities of international development. While fiction may not always show a set of presentable research findings, it does not compromise on complexity, politics or readability in the way that academic literature sometimes does. And fiction often reaches a much larger and diverse audience than academic work and may therefore be more influential in shaping public knowledge and understanding of development issues."

Professor Michael Woolcock, director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute:

"Fiction is important because it is often concerned with the basic subject matter of development. This includes things like the promises and perils of encounters between different peoples; the tragic mix of courage, desperation, humour, and deprivation characterising the lives of the down-trodden."

Read the whole article at The Telegraph.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Is Paradise Lost Lost in Translation?

Miltonists out there, the news is that Dennis Danielson's translation of Paradise Lost into modern English just came out. It is actually a parralel text - Milton's verse on one side of the page and against it Danielson's prose. Critics say that Danielson "frees the reader" from "this streneous and often frustrating labor" of reading the original. Stanley Fish supposes that "once liberated, [the reader] will be able to go with the flow and enjoy the pleasures of a powerful narrative" (New York Times). Here is an example that Fish provides:

"When Adam decides to join Eve in sin and eat the apple, the poem says that he was “fondly overcome by female charm.” The word that asks you to pause is “fondly,” which means both foolishly and affectionately. The two meanings have different relationships to the action they characterize. If you do something foolishly, you have no excuse, and it’s a bit of a mystery as to why you did; if you do it prompted by affection and love, the wrongness of it may still be asserted, but something like an explanation or an excuse has at least been suggested."

In the end of his article, Fish concludes that this is a wonderful edition for teaching Milton.

Well, here are some concerns that I harbor:

1. How are you, as an intelligent reader, feel free to go with a flow and even enjoy a text whose overall effect is essentially embedded in its language, when someone actually TRANSLATES it for you from Milton's English to Modern English? And aren't other forms of rendition of the text, like plays and films, supposed to do this for the lazy reader, only that they use an entirely different form which justifies the "translation", and don't simply derrogate the poem by depriving it of its essence - the Milton's English?

2. Isn't part of the pleasure actually reading the poem in Milton's English and treating your senses to the different connotations (even the latinate syntax, as Dr. Fish suggests)? Isnt' this the way in which the modern English speaker learns about the development of not only language, but concepts, and thinking? And yes, this translation would make for a great textbook for teaching Milton's language, but would it not deprive the student of the overal feel of the text and his personal struggle in the labyrinthine "latinate syntax"? Then the real question comes: this translation will make a great texbook but for teaching what? Are there that many people, as the article suggests, who are actually trying to actively learn how to speak Milton's English? Because this is what this "translation" does: it probably teaches quite successfully the connotations of the Milton's English words in Modern English words. How about the real experience of reading the original? Finally, wouldn't the original give the reader a chance to go back in time and have the experience the Milton's English erudite (or just a listener to a public reading)?

3. In the end, there is one comment after the article with which I have to agree: This book is not a translation; it is an interpretation of Paradise Lost.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Book is Like a Hammer!

"That is to say, it is perfect: a tool ideally suited to its task. Hammers can be tweaked and varied but will never go obsolete."

Read James Gleick's interesting article on Google vs. Authors Guild and the imperishablility of the book:

How to Publish Without Perishing

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

La Camorra

A week after Roberto Saviano was named "a dead man walking," I got his book in original: Gomorra: Viaggio Nell'impero Economico E Nel Sogno Di Dominio Della Camorra.

I can't wait to set aside some time to read it and then watch the movie.

Here is a short video on the Camorra. I can hear in the speech of the priest Saviano's thoughts before he wrote the book.

Siamo impotenti, paralizzati dalla paura, dal egoismo. Non siamo capaci di liberarci... Siamo camorristi anche noi senza sapere di esserlo. Noi dobbiamo opporci con tutte le nostre forse... Smetterla di avere paura. Noi siamo piu' forti!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

How Life Begins

How Life Begins: The Science of Life in the Tomb is perhaps one of the first detailed books on the subject targeting the general public. I am sure that since it was written in 1996, there have been lots of new discoveries that illuminate the development of the fetus even further, for example the book In the Womb presenting unique pictures from the National Geographic film (2005). How Life Begins still provides an approachable text with a story. Christopher Vaughan is a skilled narrator who gives an account of the etymology behind certain terms. In addition, I am enjoying the parts in which he discusses Soviet versus Western progress in the field. Some passages reveal the American mysterious view of the East during the Cold War. Maybe because of that lack of knowledge, there is a certain dose of respect towards the developments behind the iron curtain. For example, Vaughan points out that "during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Dr. Craig Sharp, consultant psychologist to the British Olympic team, was told by Eastern European sports doctors that they liked their athletes to have one child, and preferably two, because it made them better competitors" (54-55). Kudos for these Eastern Europeans for their functional schemes to improve the athletic performance. ;)

In the end, I hope to finally "have killed the rabbit" - in the old fashioned terminology which Vaughan explains in an amusing way in his book. And just to add to the disturbing yet quite popular discussion among comp professionals on gender authorship, the text reads as though written by a woman. Christopher uses equally sensual language as would Christina.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Forms of Displacement in Lost in Translation

In Eva Hoffman’s biographical book Lost in Translation, the main character struggles with different forms of displacement in her relocation from Poland to North America. In 1959, when Eva’s parents decide to immigrate, they take their daughter on a journey of self-(re)discovery. To find herself in the new world, Eva experiences the pangs of displacement as geographical, ethnic, but mostly linguistic.

Lost in Translation is divided in three parts, each one named after a period from Eva’s immigrant story. As much as they are chronological in their sequence, the chapters’ titles unambiguously reveal the development of Eva’s transformation: from being perfectly happy in her native Poland – Paradise ­- through becoming sick with the pain of the immigrant’s experience – Exile – to her successful curing in The New World.

First, Eva suffers with geographical displacement, and she calls it “the most palpable meaning of displacement” (132). She has “been dislocated from [her]… own center of the world, and that world has been shifted away from [her]… center” (132). She has been recognizing herself with this “small square on the map” so far; now, she is in a culture where her fellow students don’t even know the location of Poland: “Is Poland part of Russia?” they inquire (132). Eva is lost in transition from one place to another. She is not in the country with which she identifies and she does not feel at home in the new place.

Eva is ethnically displaced in America. As a child of proud Jewish and Polish parents, she looks at her new American friends from the recollected identification with her Polishness. About her best fiend at the university, Eva thinks, “[e]ven a relatively intelligible person, like Lizzy, poses problems of translation. She – and many others around me – would be as unlikely in Poland as gryphons or unicorns” (175). Lost in Translation proliferates meanings and redefinitions of ethnic belonging. During her childhood in Cracow, Eva learns to exist as a Jew in Poland in all its ambiguity. When her friend’s father finds out that Yola and Eva have been playing dangerous fantasy games, he blames her for it: “You are the leader of it. You little Jew” (34). From a young age, Eva Hoffman experiences the difficulties of belonging to an ethnic group in her home country. Relocation aggravates the problem even further. Ethnic displacement makes it even more difficult for the young Polish Jew to reconcile with her identity. Eva starts her quest of finding herself in a new language in a new world governed by new rules.

“It’s important to me to speak well as to play a piece of music without mistakes” (122): she reveals her method to overcome the sense of displacement. Eva Hoffman’s eloquent expression comes to a testimony for her successful linguistic survival in the new world. A Life in a New Language, as the subtitle of the book reads, becomes the goal of the immigrant. In Exile, Eva suffers the loss of Polish as the main language of communication. “I don’t see what I’ve seen, I don’t comprehend what’s in front of me. I am not filled with language any more, and I have only a memory of fullness to anguish me with the knowledge that, in this dark and empty state, I don’t really exist” (108). Existence for Eva is tantamount to control over language. The Descartian “I think, therefore I am” becomes “I speak, therefore I am.” Language defines the immigrant’s existence, and lack of language articulates another form of displacement – the most important one in Eva’s story. In her article on language memoirs, Alice Yeager Kaplan notes that “[t]here is no language change without emotional consequences. Principally: loss. That language equals home, that language is home, as surely as a roof over one’s head is a home…” (63). Eva can overcome the nostalgia by learning to speak the language of the new world. She realizes that finding herself means finding herself comfortable in speaking the language of her new home: “It’s not that we all want to speak the King’s English, but whether we speak Appalachian or Harlem English, or Cockney, or Jamaican Creole, we want to be at home in our tongue” (124). The prescription for treating linguistic displacement demands mastering a new language. “We want to be able to give voice accurately and fully to ourselves and our sense of the world” (124), concludes Eva. In the end, Eva naturally finds herself at home in America through language and literature: “In this country of learning, I’m welcomed on equal terms, and its’ through the democratizing power of literature that I begin to feel at home in America…” (184).

Eva Hoffman’s discovers a formula that guarantees recovery from her state of geographic, ethnic, and linguistic displacement. The cure is clear: mastery of the foreign language. Her book serves as the very medicine: by the end of the text, the main character is healed. She has learned to live in a new language: “When I fall in love, I am seduced by language. When I get married, I am seduced by language” (219); “When I talk to myself now, I talk in English” (272). She has achieved a new identity overcoming her sense of displacement: “I am here now,” states Eva in the last sentence of her book (280).

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Guide to Cross-Cultural Communication

"Guide to Cross-Cultural Communication (Guide to Series in Business Communication)" (Sana Reynolds, Deborah Valentine)

Who would have expected that much from such a little book? It is informative and well-structured; it gives quite practical advice and at the same time backs its arguments with sufficient theoretical research. Sana Reynolds and Deborah Valentine have done their homework; not only that but the book reads like experts compiling a cheat sheet for their fellow students. What a relief to finally see a short book with a pompous title that does a good job of defending its name and providing a handy little guide to a huge field. Good job!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Broken English, Orange Elephants, and Masks in Díaz’s Drown

"Drown" (Junot Díaz)

The inexorable drowning of the immigrant narrator in Junot Díaz’s text begins from the very first page. Life is maintained due to artificial breathing devices, language being the major tool. Díaz’s collection of short stories patches together moments from the life of Dominican American immigrants into a bigger narrative depicting fragile existence in a foreign culture. The narrators of the short stories are diagnosed with constant sense of displacement in a permanent condition of fatherlessness; they suffer an invisible life under their masks being drowned by the products of a new prolific and loud culture.

Díaz states in the epigraph: “The fact that I / am writing to you / in English already falsifies what I / wanted to tell you” (1). This statement pleads for understanding of the narrators’ condition: they are individuals unhealthy in their state of adaptation to the new culture. The narrators of the short stories honestly declare their linguistic displacement. They feel estranged in the new culture; they lack words to express themselves in the new language. The language theory, which preserves the illusion of a presence in speech and absence in writing, is distorted; in fact, telling and writing are unified by the common displaced tongue of both narrator and writer. David Coward notes in his article “Closet and Mask,” “writing is in fact the very model of speech, and presence remains elusive to both” (194). The narrators in Díaz’s text often lack words and so does the writer. Both narrators and author use a myriad of Spanish words to save the text but also their existence in the new culture. English language becomes the epitome of displacement from the fatherland and Spanish – the narrators’ attempt for healing, the breathing device that the drowning characters would use. The gap between fatherland and new land is reinforced by the constantly missing father figure in the stories.

When Ramon, Yunior’s father, meets his second wife, he immediately recognizes two things: her successful integration in the new culture and her poor taste. She has lived in America for several years; she has adapted her lifestyle to the American one; she is even a citizen. Moreover, Nilda speaks good English – she has achieved the control over language that Ramon is craving. However, “Nilda’s taste … [strikes] Ramon as low-class” (184). He notices the “bright orange plaster elephant” on her glass table and the fake plants in every room of her apartment. Nilda has learned to speak English and therefore her disease of displacement has been cured; however, it seems to Ramon that the new culture has engulfed Nilda, and she has drown in it, attaining her poor taste as a result. The orange plastic elephant represents cured displacement but it is inevitably paired with the symbolic drowning of the immigrant.

For Ramon and any of the narrators in the collection of stories, existing in the New World implies facelessness. Immigrants are invisible to the native-born and they are treated as people without respectable face, identity. When Ramon suffers with an injured back, his employer will fire him since he does not care about the poor immigrant: he lacks distinguishable face and it does not matter which one of the myriad of immigrants will be working in his company. Cowart, however, points out that “at the same time, immigrants … as depicted by Díaz … are at pains to mask themselves, to avoid being seen in their vulnerability, their pain” (199). The boy with “no face” from the story of the same title symbolizes the faceless state of the immigrant. “He has his power of INVISIBILITY and no one can touch him” (155). At the same time, Rafa and Yunior are curious to see what’s behind the mask of Ysrael, the boy with no face from the first story. Finally, they take off his mask only to discover his vulnerability and pain.

Monday, October 20, 2008


"Ceremony: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)" (Leslie Marmon Silko)

Leslie Silko's Ceremony is a trip through the mythological world of Tayo, the main character. The story's interesting format contributes to the depiction of the historically circular existence of the American Indians. Ceremony stitches together the pieces of Tayo's past and present to make for a linear story of his life before, during, and past the war. The line is interrupted by the violence that he experiences in Japan and in his dreams about it at home. Tayo needs to cure himself of the memories - a goal which he gradually finds impossible even at his own home. He witnesses that there is an equal though different destruction forces in America and among his friends compared to that in the war. Tayo's task becomes to rebuild his life by trying to change the ceremony and make his linear story part of the traditional circle.

Navajo myths and spirits weave the text of Tayo's recovery as the Spiderwoman weaves her web. Silko integrates folklore and legends in the text of the book to forge the solution for Tayo: he needs to incorporate his story into the old story of his people. There is just one way to get cured, and this is through merging past and present, weaving the cobweb of the text as the history of this new Navajo man in his renewed Navajo home. Healing happens through acceptance of a new rite, a new ceremony.

"Old Grandma shook her head slowly,… ‘ It seems like I already heard these stories before… only thing is, the names sound different’” (260).

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Gesture Life

A Gesture Life enfolds you into the layered depths of the immigrant world of its Korean-born Japanese American protagonist. Chang-Rae Lee offers the reader a story that unfolds in front of you silently like an ancient rolled manuscript. He takes you smoothly through the pages of the character's life by using conversations as the tool to reveal events. The beads of facts are arranged gracefully on the string of intimate dialogues.

Otherwise, the book takes you into the life of the silent Dr. Hata without much ceremonialism. It lets you eavesdrop on the conversations and learn about the past of Dr. Hata as much as the others will tell you. Because Dr. Hata is a silent Japanese. The stylistics of the text will also present the reader with a picture of Japanese treasures: blossoms, flowers, tea, long afternoon conversations, beautiful gardens.

I can't wait to finish reading it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Glass Castle: Post-"Summer Reading" Toughts

Ok. Let me be straight. It is not that I did not like the book and its story. On the contrary, the journalistic style of Walls is very grabbing and the story is well-told. I guess it was the reaction of the audience that tuned me off. For God's sake, is it possible to have The Glass Castle in the top ten New York Times book list for 45 weeks! What is annoying in this particular case is the mass reader underdeveloped taste when it comes up to literary works. Why does the author have to swear by the truthfulness of the story to amaze the American audience? And what is it about this American memoir craze?

Also, after my Summer Reading Session with the new freshmen on campus, I do see how there are morals to be collected from the book and safely put into the new-college-student basket. Yes, it is a great book for Convocation purposes. Yes, it does offer indispensable life lessons. Yes, freshmen should sleep with a copy of The Glass Castle under their pillows.

In the end, after I listened to Jannette Walls address the audience at the Convocation, I have to say that now I even like the book quite a bit. Jannette delivered an interesting and lively speech peppered with some humorous stories alongside the inevitable moralizing points. In the beginning, she was less confident; she did even seem humbled to be the main Convocation speaker. Towards the end, her pathos was higher, and her well-practiced speech truly hit some nails on the head. "She knows what she is doing," was the reaction of some random spectators. I guess so. Walls also said that when she revealed the story of her past, a lot of people came up to her wanting to disclose secrets from their past and assure her that they had similar experience. Well, maybe it is the secrets-of-the-past craze what the audience is truly about, and not so much the simple memoir genre. Let me think about some of my secrets. Perhaps I have a story to tell; or even two.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is the convocation book of our university this year. I even enrolled as a volunteer for one of the discussion sessions with freshmen. Well, this was before I read the memoir.

The Glass Castle is a memoir, or so claims its author. As recent studies in this highly popular in the US genre have revealed, there is a lot more than just a simple reflection of memories and real-case situations in most of the memoir texts. So is perhaps the case with The Glass Castle. The suspicion sneaks from the very first pages of the book where the author starts her story by recalling intricate details about events that happened to her when she was three. Let alone the colorful colloquial language which her father uses and she is able to reproduce so well. Stylistically speaking, the embellishment with details of any memory is necessary for the purpose of the effective story-telling. This brings me to the contradiction with this simple rule of thumb. Wall's technique of the first-person telling is apparently interesting and seemingly innovative to many of the thousand American owners of copies of The Glass Castle; however, the choice of the first-person narrator has its limitations which need to be observed for the preservation of a truthful voice. The voice of the first person in the book lacks the distinction between the three-year old and the ten-year old girl; it could be equally trustful if Wall's has decided to give the three-year old girl less narrative skills.

If one can let the flaws of the narrative voice slide by, he will find interesting the changing attitude of the little girl to her parents. In the beginning, Walls trusts everything her parents do and tries to justify it based on the maxima that whatever your parents do is right. Later on in the novel, she tries to control her father's behavior and using his love for her, ask him to stop drinking. In the end, Walls is able to utilize judgmental criteria from the world outside her family to form her standpoint and detach herself from the values of her parents. The first meeting of the reader with her portrays Walls as a grown-up woman living in a fancy Manhattan apartment who sees her mother digging in the dumpster. Walls's lifestyle has changed together with her values while her parents have preserved their principles and still live by them. And there are principles that guide her parents' lifestyle. For I talked to a lot of people who could not even read the book because of the terrible treatment of the parents. I argue that in fact, Jeannette Walls's parents did love their kids and were even educating them so that they could be self-sufficient and able to cope on their own. Love and education certainly have different definitions in this argument. I am still impressed by the fact that both parents were readers and they would spend a good amount of time reading and in the mother's case, painting pictures.

In the end, I do want to lead the discussion designed for freshmen at the beginning of the school year but I am afraid of several misconceptions that I might be ask to take as granted. First, there is no need to completely discard the attempts for education of Jeannette's parents especially since one of the results is The Glass Castle. I wonder how many if any of these freshmen will ever write a book in their lifetime. Second, there have been a lot of comments (go to Amazon and see how many of the 1,091 reviewers contend that!) about the incredible survival skills and the achievements of Walls despite her origin. At this spot people either sign and admit they cannot even read the book or they simply say (unbelievable!) that they assumed that most kids were raised like they were and they couldn't possibly imagine there were children with such difficult childhood. Well, we are talking here mostly about American white middle class audience. Needless to say, those who have had Jeannette Walls's experience rarely get the chance to write a review on Amazon nor on any other website simply because they perhaps have never used a computer or they are way too busy in their Wall Street jobs. Walls has achieved a lot but it is neither despite the educational attempts of her parents, nor she is the only one to have done so. So, people, do not any more try to come up to me and tell me about how you could not read the book since you just cannot stand Walls's parents. How did yours educate you and if they were better, when is your book coming out?

Monday, August 18, 2008

La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind

I was rereading this book last week, and it truly made me laugh (again). There are a lot of people out there who got annoyed by Severgnini's sarcasm, or at least that's how they would describe the results of his sense of humor. As a matter of fact, I am impressed by his ability to describe in a funny, still quite truthful manner characteristics of his own culture. His main achievement actually resides in that fact that he makes people from other cultures laugh which reveals his skill as a writer but mostly his high cultural sensitivity (unlike what his non-fans would say). And it is an incredible skill to be able to understand the thinking of "the other" to the extend that you can use their sense of humor and describe (even classify the phenomena of ) your native culture. Bravo, Severgnini! Thank you for this rare example of crossing borders and looking back through a foreign prism. It is done gracefully, with taste and sensitivity too.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Kafka's Penchant for Porn - Hm

German scholars are outraged by James Hawes's book on the porn proclivities of Franz Kafka, Excavating Kafka. Some even accuse the autobiographer of antisemitism.

Here is an excerpt from The Guardian:

Shrivastava said Hawes was more interested in "speculating about whether or not Kafka masturbated" than exploring theories that the Jewish writer, who died before the Holocaust, had foreseen it.

A wonderful essay from The Telegraph.

A different view in Times Online.

Are critics too conservative, or is this Oxford scholar speculating? Hm.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Ein Licht über dem Kopf

Светлинка над главата is translated from German. With this second translation of Dinev's text into Bulgarian, the reader gets to enjoy the beautifully written stories about Eastern European immigrants to the West. Dinev provides the Western reader with a realistic glimpse into the world of the immigrant and his psychology. The stories contain as much the truthful color of the post-communist time in Eastern Europe as they are charged with the poetry of the mundane life of their characters - peasants, gypsies, fortune-tellers, university students. Dinev shows an incredible potential to inject the harsh realistic view with the spirit of his characters. His fiction creates unique scenes that stick with you long after you have put the book down; his style revels the world classic authors. In German literature, the critics already talk about "Dinev style." After reading Ilija Trojanow and Dinev, whose fiction is translated from German, I wonder if the lengthy compound sentences with multiple clauses are something common in contemporary German texts. Sentences that leave the reader breathless and move the story forth in a cinematographically compelling fashion.

Миришеше на ракия, пот и кебапчета, трите миризми на задружността Оркестырыт свиреше фалшиво, но музиката идваше право от сырцата, а те бяха искрени (77).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Summer Carry-On Book List

NPR Nancy Pearl has put together a nice summer carry-on book list to distract you from the guy in the seat in front of you reclining way-back-into-your-lap.

I libri piu venduti

The Italian organization Arianna publishes weekly statistics based on the sales in the Italian bookstores.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Life of Gauguin

Gauguin: a Biographyis a fascinating book written by the French writer Henri Perruchot in 1961. I bought an old copy of its Bulgarian translation while at the seaside and was enjoying it on the beach. The translator is the famous Bulgarian scholar and intellectual Nicola Georgiev. Learning the details about Gauguin's struggles as an artist before the acknowledgment of the French public is extremely inspiring. The text of the biography is woven by precise chronological events from the painter's life but also many excerpts from his personal letters. Perruchot not only describes well the influences that Gauguin's artistic views went through, but also reveals in a beautiful way the painter's struggles to come up with his own style. The reader of this life account learns about when and where Gauguin made each one of his paintings; at the same time, he is able to understand the slight but quite elaborate differentiations between Gauguin's art and that of his contemporaries. Last but not least, the books provides a clear perspective on the artistic movements in France and abroad.

Now, I feel like I need to have a Gauguin reproduction in my house. Even a small one. I am thinking about The Yellow Christ and the self-portrait with him, or the self-portrait that Gauguin painted together with his friend Bernard to send from Pont-Aven to their other friend Van Gogh who was living at the time in Arles, in the former province of Provence.

A curious note: Emil, Gauguin's first son, and I are born on the same date. Different years though ...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Deadline in Athens

Deadline in Athens is the most recent book by the famous Greek mystery author Petros Markaris. This is part of my "summer transcultural mystery reading." As pointed out in the interview by the Italian translator of the book, the text is fairly filigreed and difficult to render in a different language. The English translator, David Connolly, does a great job of matching the expression of Markaris with its proper English equivalent (or so it sounds). Inspector Haritos is a realistic character with his down-to-earth desires, his mundane family life and problems. The mysteries in the novel proliferate at an incredible speed as life in modern Athens implores.
More... later.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Netherland: A Post-9/11-Novel

The Slate's Book Club is discussing Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. The main question is what is a post-9/11-novel? Isn't every novel that is published today a post-9/11-novel? How do we define a novel of that type? Life leading to 9/11 or life after 9/11?

"Interfused with the psychological reality of this marriage and its deterioration."
"This is a novel that goes way beyond 9/11."
"You know how the book ends by the way it begins."
"... sort of Prustian reverie..."
"It begins in the present and moves back. It has this kind of beautiful (associate of) movement of circling; it reminded me of skaters doing loops... over and over, of circling around, going back..."

The Guardian's review

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Silenzi Vietati

Silenzi Vietati e' il nuovo libro di Francesco Ceccamea.

I listened to an interview with the young author in Fahrrenheit - il libro del giorno on Radio 3. It was interesting to hear how a writer who is comparatively young and new decided that fictional characters don't work for his writing and sticks with the real stories of his life. Apparently Silenzi Vietati tells a story of a complicated relationship in a family, or more so - gets its fleshy stories from the family of Francesco Ceccamea. He started writing this book after he wrote an email to the famous critic Massimo Onofri and received as a response from him an encouragement to use this email as the first chapter of his future book. It is intriguing enough that Onofri published recently a book with the name Sensi vietati. When Ceccamea's mother was listening to the news on the radio, she decided that Onofri, her son's university professor, stole the title from him. She had obviously misheard the first word of the title.

Franscesco Ceccamea's Blog

Se qualcuno mi potrebbe spedire una copia di questo libro, pagerei volentieri il prezzo doppiato e anche potrei spedire libri dagli Stati Uniti.
Contatto: kotzeva CHIOCCIOLA

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rushdie wins Best of Booker Prize

Midnight's Children won the Best of Booker Prize. My favorite Coetzee's book Disgrace was nominated as well. BBC: Peter Carey, Pat Barker, JM Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer and JG Farrell were also shortlisted for the prize.
BBC News

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Šest miliard Amerik

Šest miliard Amerik is Iva Pekárková's guide to life in the US. Being a fan of Pekárková, I expected a lot more from this account of her ten-year stay in the United States. When I ordered the book through the Interlibrary loan I had no idea that the only copy available was in the catalog of the National Library of the Czech Republic.

Šest miliard Amerik arrived to America about three weeks after I placed the order. According to my librarian friend Allan, it is amazing that the Czechs trust the Americans and send their books overseas since there is no way for recourse if anything happens with the book.

My disappointment with the book has little to do with Pekárková's skill to enchant the reader with stories from a far-away land. On the contrary, the text reveals her skill to write for a specific audience and about a specific place - a talent that shines through in all of her previous works. Šest miliard Amerik is tailored for the Czech reader who is interested in learning about different aspects of life in America. It is written with Pekárková's recognition of the Czech-ness: things are explained in Czech language and through Czech concepts. Pekárková's style is sincere, revealing, at points journalistic, and also educational. There are numerous footnotes on the different terms that are part of the popular culture; some have made it into colloquial Czech language. The curious reader will learn about the drinking laws, driving habits, eating in the new world through the author's critical eye.

Šest miliard Amerik is a guide for the curious Czech; it could be a coffee-table book; it may well be seen as a tool to learn about the popular American culture; and in the end, it is an insightful critique of the birthplace of contemporary popular culture by a society that lives by its standards and presumably wants to learn about its history. After all, it was just yesterday that the Czechs and the Americans finally came to an agreement to have the U.S. missile shield built in the Czech Republic.

This is how Šest miliard Amerik begins:

Strávila jsem jedenáct let v Americe a vdala se za Američana. Měla bych o Americe hodně vědět. Přesto mě otázka „Poslyš, JAKÁ je vlastně ta Amerika?“ znovu a znovu uvádí do rozpaků. Tahle otázka mě totiž uzemňuje svou bezbřehostí…
V dnešní době na zeměkouli existuje nějakých šest miliard Amerik. Každý má svou vlastní Ameriku, ať se mu to líbí, nebo ne. Tahle kniha je pokusem definovat jednu jedinou z nich — tu mou.

Nakladatelstvi Petrov

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hundezeiten: Heimkehr in ein fremdes Land

Yesterday I found this book already translated into Bulgarian. It took only nine (!) years for a Bulgarian publisher to become interested in this account by Ilija Trojanow of the years after 1989. There is too much unpleasant information, I suppose. Or as one of his interviewees says, "[t]his nation does not want to remember. The best thing that can happen to you in politics is to lack biography; biographies tend to only kindle the bad consciousness of the others."

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Winter Queen

I just read The Winter Queen translated into English by Andrew Bromfield (original title Азазелы). I have to say that if I there is at all a good rendition of the picturesque Akunin language this translation would be classified as great. Andrew Bromfield does a fantastic job in preserving the lengthy phrase in Russian and giving it a wonderful life in equivalent vocabulary from the same time period in English. Last time I read the book in Russian, I was marveling in the author's skill to mimic the classic Russian language. In fact, I bought it on purpose to work on my Russian language skills. I have never even thought that the beauty of Akunin's tongue, much like the Russian classics, could retain its eloquence and vivacity in a different language. Not only does Bromfield find an appropriate historic tone for his translation of the mimetic end-of-19c. Russian language, but he also manages to preserve the sophisticated humor. Bravo, Mr. Bromfield! I cannot wait to read the next one of your artistic works; I will also make sure that I have a copy of either the original, or at least one in Bulgarian. Comparison proves always the best tool for learning. The mastery of the phrase is an innate skill, but the renditions of vocabulary units can be mastered with comparative work only.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What's Your Reading Personality?

Take the QuizLinkI turned out to be An Eclectic Reader!

La Cina in Vespa

Giorgio Bettinelli discussed in an interview for Radio Feltrinelli his new book La Cina in Vespa (Travelling around China on a Vespa). "Avere una moto dall'Italia in Cina non e facile. E arrivata gia targatta." - this is how the problems start. With one kilometer on the meter, this is already a used vehicle for the Chinese, and therefore the administrative procedures for registering the Vespa - a lot more complicated.

Giorgio Bettinelli Fans Club

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The History of Love

This was a fantastic read. I am truly happy that I suggested it in the Readers Anonymous Club, and the members voted for it. Nicole Krauss is obviously very well-read which is always delightful with new authors. Normally, you don't expect young writers to invest so much intellectual knowledge in their first fiction novel; however, Krauss does a great job in combining an innovative plot with a good deal of themes explored by classic authors. Besides the central themes of love and loss, life and death, the form of the text offers an interesting angle on reading and writing. The multiplicity of texts within the text are interwoven in a masterful way, which also allows for the innovative plot. On several occasions, Krauss plays with the reader's expectation as established by an initial contract between author and reader. For example, there is a part in Alma's diary when she imagines how she meets Isaac after the reader has ascertained his death through the suffering of his father and by going to his funeral. The imagined meeting in the diary of Alma sounds like a real scene from her life and thus peppers the sense of the reader with suspicion: is Isaac somehow alive. Just a few lines later, the following entry of Alma's journal reveals the joke that Krauss played on her reader.

There is a lot to be said about the Jewish theme of the book. However, I don't consider it as an advantage or as a particularly interesting element in the novel. Perhaps, there are a few characteristics of Bird that stem from the Jewish theme: he believes that he is a vovnik, or even the Messiah. Well, Krauss does a great job in picking memorable characteristics for her characters even without incorporating the Jewish theme. I suppose that there is a certain attachment of American authors to see Polish characters only in relation to Jewishness. I feel like Krauss would have done better, had she distinguished herself from the majority in this regard.

Some critics blame Krauss for using too many elements "similar" or even "identical" to ones in her husband's books which happen to be more popular. There is one blue glass vase which Leo Gursky finds in the house of his son. Apparently, this is a vase that the writing couple owns and is a family relic. I am not sure why the critics would even try to hunt for similarities of the sort, though I am convinced that good fiction owes its virtues to the small and remarkable elements. Still, how they made it to the text is less if an interest to me as a reader.

At the end of the book, Krauss uses an innovative way to reveal the decisive meeting between Leo Gursky and Alma. The technique, in which each character's first-person thoughts are related on a separate page, creates an intriguing mode for the reader. Still, I was expecting it to break and provide one more of Krauss's narrative jokes. It did not. In fact, by the end of the conversation, I was tired of its persistence. After such a radical narrative technique, I was not ready at all for the last page of the book with its formality that killed some of the book's poetry.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

You sound completely American to me...

... said one of the listeners to an excerpt of The Garden of the Last Days read by its author, Andre Dubus III. So far I agree: the cocky tone, the conviction that he possesses the ultimate writer's knowledge, as well as the way he talks about his book evoke an urge to viciously categorize Dubus. An American or rather a Westerner is what the woman meant. Her question continued, "and I wonder how you manage to get not only into the mind but into the heart of the main character of The House of Sand and Fog.... He seemed more Iranian than anyone I have ever met." That was actually supposed to be a compliment. It turns out that he fell in love with an Iranian girl when he was in college.

The best part from the interview was when Dubus (oh, Dubus III, excuse me) admits that whenever he tries to write something that provides answers, he kills it. Also, he also says, "Hemingway has a great line, I try to live by creatively: the job of the writer is not to judge but to seek to understand."

Chinese line: "If the mad dog comes at you, whistle for him."

NPR Book Tour

Herald Tribune Review

Friday, June 27, 2008

Renata Bulva: O chlupaté Bertě

Renata Bulva is an interesting emerging Czech author. I listened to an interview with her and three of her short stories from the collection O chlupaté Bertě (2007).

Cento Anni della Nascita di Cesare Pavese

This is one of the last podcasts of Radio 3 dedicated to the hundred years since the birth of Cesare Pavese. In the most recent puntata professor Franco Ferrarotti, a friend of Cesare Pavese, reminded the audience that Pavese's moto was "Ripeness is all" (La maturita' e tutto).

History of Love

It seems that the July book for Readers Anonymous is very likely to be History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I just got it yesterday and am already enjoying it quite a bit.
Here is a review with interesting interview bits:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Man without a Country

This is a collection of interesting analytical essays by Kurt Vonnegut. One could classify them as a set of political commentary of a tired person whose inexhaustible sense of humor was put to the test in the recent years. In the end, Vonnegut still insists on the happiness of the moment in which we live. Enjoy life, no matter how difficult the current politics make it. No matter how hard it is, try to find humor in everything.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Saša Stanišić

"I come from a country that does not exist any more," says Alexander, the Bosnian protagonist of Saša Stanišić's debut novel How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone. More on Boldtype's site.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sense and Sensiblility

Jane Austen again. Well, I am almost through this last one.

Friday, June 13, 2008

2008 Best Collection of Short Stories

The guest in the most recent episode of The New Letters on the Air was Jaimee Wriston Colbert. She read a couple of stories from her new book Dream Lives of Butterflies: Stories. Her collection of short stories won the 2008 Golden Award for Short Fiction (proper title?).

Life's a Beach

Life's a Beach is an easy and quite mindless read. It tells the story of two sisters, one of them, married and with three kids on the verge of her fifty-year birthday and the other one having trouble finding a relationship that lasts. The latter lives in an apartment above the garage in her parents house, a FROG - Finished Room Over the Garage. There are a lot of frogs and toads in this book. Even the jokes are froggy. It seems that Claire Cook had the idea of having the frog as an uniting symbol for her narrative. In the end of the book, Ginger, the protagonist, gets a one-foot tall Jazzy J Frog singing "What a Wonderful World" from her father as well as a miniature frog palace from her boyfriend, Noah. Ginger and Noah get together in the end to give Cook's novel the image of a happy-ending beach read.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Jane Austen's Lover

Hmmm - look at this.

Covent Garden

Clive Boursnell published a new book with his pictures from the market in Covent Garden taken in the last 35 years. The market will close June 21, 2008.
The Guardian's few photos.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Christina Stead

This is a translation into Italian of Christina Stead's 1973 book The Little Hotel: A Novel, Il Piccolo Hotel. Una delle ultime "sophisticated comedies."
Un libro gradevole intelligente per una buona lettura.

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen

I am being tortured......

I am done with it though. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy finally got married. I saw the BBC series and the 2005 movie as well.

I also read a very interesting article "Translated Passion in Pride and Prejudice" by Roberta Grandi from the Catholic University in Milan. There are several excellent points that Grandi makes which I'd like to remember. She is interested in the stylistic techniques and tropes in the novel and in the 2005 movie. Grandi looks at synecdoches and metonymies that are translated from the text to the film. She focuses on the eyes, the hands, and the technique of focalization as a metonymical device.

Petros Markaris: I Labirinti di Atene

I listened to an interview with the Italian translator, Andrea di Gregorio, of Petros Markaris.
Il grecoe e' "una lingua assolutamente volubile e in movimento. Se volessimo fare paragone tra il greco dell' oggi e l'italiano, dovremmo paragonarlo al italiano di Dante. Quando Dante la stessa parola la stcrve in quattro modi diversi e da quattro rimi diversi, la stessa cosa sucesse in greco di oggi. Per cui e' una lingua molto creativa che e' molto difficile da rendere in italiano. Qualcosa perdi. Perche' l'italiamo e' piu' strutturato, l'italiano e' piu' rigido nelle sue strutture."

Buona giallistica.
Paragone con Camillieri

I Labirinti di Atene
Athens, Capital of the Balkans

Giuseppe Pedriali

Giuseppe Pedriali has just written a book on the Italian athlete who took part in the London Marathon in the Olympic Games of 1908.

Diane Williams: new book

Diane William's new collection of stories is called It Was Like My Trying to Have a Tender-Hearted Nature: A Novella and Stories. I was intrigued by her interview on the New Letters On the Air.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Jane Austen

This was a slow read. Austen's ability to delve into detail is admirable. The texture of the novel is built by a network of complicated social activities. Ann Elliot is a sad and reason-driven creature who is representative of the early 18 c. good-mannered females.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mi sono perso a Genova

Un video dedicato ad un libro e ad una mostra di Maurizio Maggiani. Le fotografie sono di Maurizio Maggiani, Jacopo Benassi, Moreno Carbone.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Bastard of Istanbul

Elif Shafak

This is probably the best read in my list of fiction in the last several years. The stories of the characters are complex and windy, but Shafak intertwines them skillfully to weave the fabric of a sophisticated plot. The main themes of the book oscillate between national and transnational identity, past and present, memory and remembering. Fascinating work!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Atlas of Emotion

Greenaway’s palazzo’s installation, entitled Watching Water, was an homage to the Venetian lagoon; it treated his beloved topos of water allusively and metonymically, creating it mostly with light (Bruno 317).