Author Archives: Oxana Gutu

“A gift in December” by Jenny Gladwell

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Cheesy romance are not my thing. Unless they are cheesy-Roquefort-ian.

This novel was perfect for December evenings: a wartime love story of two spies, a journalist investigation, a group of bloggers, journalists and a TV star on a Christmas tree cutting trip to Norway, sharp English humour, a bit of deception and advantage taking, all with a masterly stroke of the pen.

“A year in Provence” by Peter Mayle

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12 months of life in Provence told by an Englishman who relocated there with his wife and two dogs. They moved to slow down. Slowly they learned that “slow-down” has a meaning of its own in Provence. “Normalement” is a measure of time, making each deadline nothing but a dream. The Mayles learned it through endless repairs of the house and the maintaining of the farm.

The pace of the book is superb, as Mayle takes the reader through local traditions of hunting, goat races, wine and oil making, to neighbours interactions and most gourmet pauses outside the regular touristic circuits.

I live in France and after reading the book I realised how diverse the country is. Rural and urban mind-sets live on different timescales and values chains. Yet, with a great deal of sense of humour mixed with a bottle of good wine, one can make it alright, as Meyers show us. I now officially make the chapter on December my Christmas day reading. It is beyond funny and entertaining. “Appy Christmas” and “Bonne Annee!”

“Just Mercy. A story of justice and redemption” by Bryan Stevenson

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The book had a humbling effect on me. Bryan STEVENSON, founder of Equal Justice Initiative, is a trully remarkable personality. He achieved remarkable things in overturning century old court practices where black and poor, white and poor stood no chance.

The book was fascinating to read as it was written from the juncture where the author exquisitely brought the criminal justice public policies, law, justice and the lives of ordinary Americans. As Bryan puts it: “I worked in a broken system of justice. My clients were broken by mental illness, poverty, and racism. They were torn apart by disease, drugs and alcohol, pride, fear, and anger.”

The narrative is so human that it makes you shed tears of joy for the won legal battles and tears of sadness for lives lost on the death rows. “Why do we want to kill all the broken people? What is wrong with us, that we think a thing like that can be right?” Broken Americans suffering from serious mental illness, abused and neglected children, traumatised mothers, disabled, drugs dependent …

“My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” Then read this “a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent” And think about it. It triggers a revolt, when in development management contexts, that system is proclaimed as the best to follow. A bit of sobriety is a must. Despite America’s preeminent status among developed nations, it has always struggled with high rates of infant mortality. And it then creates a hysteria around “bad mothers” all to eager to incarcerate them.

My favourite part:

‘I began thinking about what would happen if we all just acknowledged our brokenness, if we owned up to our weaknesses, our deficits, our biases, our fears. Maybe if we did, we wouldn’t want to kill the broken among us who have killed others. Maybe we would look harder for solutions to caring for the disabled, the abused, the neglected, and the traumatized.”

Maybe.

The queen of French cuisine, Anne-Sophie Pic, by BBC reel

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From “I was not the chosen one because I was a girl” to the queen of French cuisine and one of only a few women to ever receive three stars since the Michelin Guide began giving them out to restaurants in 1926 – Anne-Sophie Pic. BBC made a wonderful video where she does not stay shy from narrating her path and shedding light on the unseen aspects of the life of a restaurant.

Behind the perfection we see on the outside there is relentless work and dedication to find the balance between “being bold and maintaining harmony”. Truly inspirational for cuisine and any line of work where divine creativity and excellent service are a royal couple.

https://www.bbc.com/reel/video/p07vlycy/inside-the-realm-of-the-queen-of-spades-

“The orphan master’s son” by Adam Johnson

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I knew very little about North Korea before I read this novel.

I paused for a long moment, when I finished the book.

Adam Johnson researched for a long period the country and the period. He was allowed to visit it once, under close scrutiny. Hence the realism of characters and depiction of events. In a recent history of the country when human life was worth nothing, Johnson puts is upfront.

The protagonist is such a complex character. At a first impression, it is incredible that a human being can go through so many things and with such an intensity. Hunger, bitter cold, deprivations, pain training,  “re-birth” as a national hero and then – a regime’s general, love, torture and  annihilation. His character is a tribute to all Koreans who suffered, struggled, loved and made sacrifices in times of extreme tyranny and harsh repression.

The genre is so nuanced and complex that I would not give it a name: is it a thriller, a love story, a political dystopia? Perhaps “trauma narrative”, as Johnson himself puts it is the closest to the dominant genre. And stay assured, it is no trauma-drama. It is poignant and respective of all the suffering of all concerned.

The novel is a compassion booster and a reminder that one never knows what a person has been through. Be kind.

Thank you Bucharest, Riga and Vilnius

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Thank you Bucharest, Riga and Vilnius

for showing me how different yet similar we are in living our values. We tend to use our differences to put a distance between ourselves. Sometimes, still, we learn to accept our differences as ways to complement and build each other.

In cultures where the value of big words overshadows their meaning, small gestures come to rescue to mean the world.

In places where the mind must absolutely know the exact number or budget, the storyteller will give meaning to both big and small numbers.

In cultures, which knew command and control, a creative mind will find a new way to give birth to chocolate molecules.

Preferences to do things behind the scene will meet the preacher of transparency with “just try it in the open, even if you fail, and you’ll see that it does not hurt”.

A disastrous service will end-up on a positive note, as it was met with kindness and acceptance of the fact that a waiter is also a human and who knows what she has to deal with outside her work.

Our knowledge of cultures will try to attribute the above behaviours to humans from certain countries and/or nationalities. Please do not do that. Attitudes and behaviours have no passports and do not stay confined within borders.

Next time you are in an environment your brain stereotypes about (which is normal, as the brain thinks in categories), just ask it to take a break and inhale the diversity in all its splendor. And if you absolutely must, call me naive. I do not mind.

“I am naive” Molecules Chocolate made in Lithuania, by Domantas Uzpali.

Bucharest, Catedrala Neamului/Nation’s Cathedral, seen from Marriott Hotel.

Riga, flags and church.

“I am naive” Molecules Chocolate made in Lithuania, by Domantas Uzpali.

Social capital: the gains, the losses, the flow

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Pamela B. Paresky PhD writes in her article “Meet the teen who discovered the secret of social capital” in Psychology Today: “As a rule, we don’t teach children to tend, defend, and befriend those without social status — to spend social capital on targets of derision and exclusion.» https://www.psychologytoday.com. This deserves reflection and action, for the good of all concerned.

I saw this happening in my high school, then latter in life at my child’s kindergarten. Many do see, not many act. The choice between social capital, which can be replenished, and the dignity and life of the other should be straightforward. Moreover, kindness and warmheartedness are not energies spent. They are energy fuels.

Kids at any age only mirror the parents and adults in their lives. Let us fuel kindness and courage to not be afraid to spend well our social capital. And then it will not be even necessary to ask children to do so. It will become a natural flow of social captal to serve humanity.