Author Archives: Oxana Gutu

“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Hguyen

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Writing a review for this book was difficult. I found it so profound that could not believe it that it ended, when I read its last sentence. In spite of its 384 pages.

The main character – the Captain – is a very complex character. He was a child of a French priest and poor Vietnamese, born out of wedlock, to become an assistant to a Vietnamese general, a spy for Americans, a killer, a devoted friend, a follower, a master and slave of words, and finally – a survivor.

The plot develops on Vietnamese and USA soil in 70s. There are different interpretations of the historical events of those times. I did not perceive the book as an account of those precise events. I felt that the author wants us to reflect and to learn. He asks very tough questions, from the depth of the human vulnerability in birth, love, camradry and torture: “What is more precious than independence and freedom?”, “how a revolution fought for independence and freedom could make those things worth less than nothing” and many more.

The writing style impressed me – the power of words is striking, compeling, edifying. There is so much pain and hope combined that I could not read some pages, in particular those on what a human can do to another human. At the same time, I savoured the fine sarcasm of some lines: ” I had an abiding respect for the professionalism of career prostitutes, who wore their dishonesty more openly than lawyers, both of whom bill by the hour”. Or “Cognac made everything better, the equivalent of a mother’s kiss for a grown man”. Or “I liked my scotch undiluted, like I liked my truth.” And this last one, is to me the essence of this novel.

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Parenting: as small as that

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This week, Brené Brown shared with us “What Toni Morrison Taught Me About Parenting”. I warmly invite you to read it. There was a specific part, Brené quoted from a Toni Morrison’s interview, which drew my attention: “Let your face speak what’s in your heart. When they (kids) walk in the room my face says I’m glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see?”. These words resonated with me on many levels, as a kid, as well as a parent.

I was raised under the vigilant lenses of “not enough” of a soviet time. My school socks were not white enough, my hair was not well enough braided, my voice was not loud enough in pioneer marches … My parents got in the spirit of “not enough” and kept a faithful devotion to it at work and at home.

“Let your face speak what’s in your heart” reminded me of my grandmother. She was the only one who looked with wonder every time she saw me. Her face would light up, regardless. Mismatched socks or not. Braided hair or not. Scratched knees or not, dismissing with a smile my parents’ worry of “how would you look on the school play pic?!” Who cares 10-20-30 years later? Back then, pictures were black and white anyway.

When I became a mother, some family members would almost demand that the baby smiles at them. They probably thought babies come with a smile button on their back or that I have it on a remote control. My response was and is “she brings joy by her mere existence. She does not need to do anything special for anyone”.

I know that she knows that today, as well as she did when she was a baby. Because when I put shoes’ laces first, she does not hesitate to remind me of what’s important in parenting, with love.

 

Tips for city-breaks with kids

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The last city break we took inspired me to put together some tips for trips with kids. These might be valid sometimes for the “big babies” of the family (we all know who they are 🙂 ).

So, here are my tips:

– limit the number of visits per day and plan breaks every 2-3 hours, depending on the age of the child;

– look for sensorial-friendly activities. Luckily, museums these days integrate in their displays lots of interactive features for a more fulfilling experience.

– alternate landmarks with visits to zoos, amusement parks or public parks, where local kids play.

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Paris, Trocadero Gardens

– with some commitment, you can find nature spots even in busiest of cities. Your urban kid and your urban self will be thankful for a day spent among trees and other creatures.

– let the kid sleep longer in the morning. They will be rested and eager to explore through the day. That’s also the perfect time to plan for the day.

– consider whether you need to book a hotel room with breakfast or rent an apartment with a kitchenette. Choose what serves better your own morning rhythm.

– book hotels with pools for a “chillaxing” (my kid’s favourite word from “chill” and “relax”) experience in the evening, after long walks. It will also serve you well in rainy weather.

– allow some TV time, if you have no TV at home (which is our case) or stick to your usual TV time-allowed at home.

– complete each day by asking the kid what she enjoyed most during the day. She is your most valuable customer, so – ask for feedback.

– enjoy every moment and look at places through your kid’s eyes. You might be surprised by what you experience even in familiar places.

Seen in Paris

“The tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris

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THE-TATTOOIST-OF-AUSCHWITZI visited Auschwitz in 2000. I could not go beyond the first barracks … The atmosphere was painfully overwhelming, even after half a century.

I read “The tattooist of Auschwitz” basically in one go. It is the power of love described throughout the novel that makes it the focus of the attention. The ordeal of the daily life in most horrific times is somehow in the background. That’s the author’s merit.

The novel is based on a true story of Lale Sokolov and Gita who survived Auschwitz and reunited to live a long life together, in spite of all circumstances. It is a work of fiction based on the first-hand testimony of Lale, born Ludwig Eisenberg.

Questions like why did some survive and others not are answered by the qualities Lale had and used while in Auschwitz. His first promise to himself when he entered Auschwitz was “I will live to leave this place”. And he did so 3 years later, having overcome hunger, beatings, ice-cold winters, torture. He also saved lives of as many as he could, with a bit of bread here, a smuggled piece of chocolate there, a piece of information here, a word of wisdom there.

When you feel down, read the book. It works as an instantaneous reminder of the blessings we have.

 

Merci Paris for

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Merci Paris for

my kid’s first encounter with you and your generosity with architecture and entertainment for her age (and mine).

her amazement when the Eiffel Tower suddenly appeared in front of us at Trocadero (if you want such an effect on your kid, do not tell her/him what’s next 😉 )

the lovely Acquarium and for her first fish feeding&touching experience.

the Batobus and its unique hop-on hop-off feature, which takes you to 8 points of attractions.

the small zoo at the Jardin des Plantes of the Museum of Nature, which has quite a variety of animals, including the cuttest red panda, snow leopard cubs and baby orangutans.

the superbly done zoo in Vencenne forest, home to 2000 animals. It is our absolutly nr 1 and we have seen quite a few so far in Europe.

the Museum of the Humans – Musee de l’Homme – and its interactive displays to learn or revisit some of the stages of human development. Displays also raise awareness of the human impact on nature. It was fun to listen to different spoken languages and learn for example that Mand was spoken by 8 people (!) in 2015.

the magic of the four-hand baking for tea time with chef Antonio Cortez at the school of Alain Ducasse.

the best breakfasts at Carette and Stohrer, the 300 years old bakery in Paris.

and a silent promise to come back and explore more of you.

“Lonesome dove” by Larry McMurtry

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It started on such an idle note that I almost abandoned it. Glad I haven’t, encouraged by reviews saying “if you read only one Western novel in your life, read this one” (USA Today). It had also the promise of a Pulitzer award winning novel.

“Lonesome dove” has the classic of the genre, good guys – the rangers Call and Augustus – and the bad guys. Characters are also nuanced, in fairness to human nature. The bravest ranger could be a coward father to a son, to whom he gave his horse and gun but not his name. The evil characters are of all colors. So are the noble ones.

This Western depicts through two female characters the choices women had during the times of land claiming by Europeans. They had to choose between whorehouses or settling to a married life on farms lost in solitude, childbearing, death and harshness. Some kept their sanity, others – not. It explains many societal attitudes centuries latter.

The story mingled with epic description of nature and evolving landscapes under the influence of humans, like the disappearing buffaloes. The author also pais his respects to the natives threatened by the dramatic change to their livelihoods.

Some dialogues are full of humour, while some – abound with sorrow and regret. All in one, almost 1000 pages of human nature during an important part of the US history.

“Little leaders. Visionary women around the world” by Vashti Harrison

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I do not know if I bought the book for my kid or for myself. Never mind, we both loved it.

The stories of little leaders are well documented. The bios of are filled with factual information in an easily accessible language. A glossary helps understanding some concepts, which could be new for young readers.

We learned a lot about women and girls who had the courage to go beyond and above what was considered “normal” for the times and societies they lived in. Like the story of Fatima Al-Fihri who funded and created in year 859 in Morocco the first degree granting institution in the world, as a precursor for universities. Or Peggy Guggenheim, the art collector who saved modern art pieces, which would have been otherwise destroyed by the nazi regime. Or the work of Sister Corita Kent who used serigraphs to spread bold messages of love and peace.