Category Archives: Books

“Ali and Nino” by Kurban Said

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I rarely read Introductions, for they tend to give you certain perspectives right from the beginning. Yet, the Introduction to Ali and Nino is worth reading, while remembering that: “Ali and Nino would be well worth reading even if it were not the brilliantly achieved novel that it is. It takes us, as Western readers, into a world in which it is very good for us to be.” To me the novel gives voices to all engulfed in the turmoil of the first world war: Ali, a mohammedan in heart and deeds, Nino, a Georgian aristocrat staying true to herself even in a harem in Persia, an imam who can distinguish between love and senseless sacrifice, true friends who’ll put their friend’s best interest above their own… The novel takes the reader to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Dagestan, and Persia, and we learn about the morals reigning in all these places during those times, while Nino and Ali’s love between a christian and a mohammedan unfolds in spite of everything and everyone.

My favourite passages:

“The Orient’s dry intoxication comes from the desert, where hot wind and hot sand make men drunk, where the world is simple and without problems. The woods are full of questions. Only the desert does not ask, does not give, and does not promise anything. But the fire of the soul comes from the wood. The desert man—I can see him—has but one face, and knows but one truth, and that truth fulfills him. The woodman has many faces. The fanatic comes from the desert, the creator from the woods. Maybe that is the main difference between East and West.’”

“The wise man must not let himself be disturbed by either praise or blame.”

“The magic of this town lies in the mystical bond between its races and peoples”. – about Baku.

‘This wine is pure, for God is in it.” – Georgians about their wine.

Probably one of the most just description of Georgians: “Georgians seem to me like noble deer, strayed amongst the jungle mixtures of the Asiatics. No other Eastern race has this charm, these graceful movements, this fantastic lust for life and healthy enjoyment of leisure.”

“Maybe you should talk to someone” by Lori Gottlieb

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This is the kind of books I could read every day. It made me laugh and it brought tears to my eyes. I found it a touching, honest and humble ode to us, humans. The writing style is like a feather on a cheek, soft yet direct.

Lori Gottlieb arrived at therapy from the worlds of journalism and medicine. The stories of her clients, told with compassion, intertwine with solid references in the science of psychology. Lori’s personal story, with all its ups and downs, brings something many feel as missing in her profession – humanity.

I made a long list of take-away and come-back-to notes. Here are my favorite:

“In idiot compassion, you avoid rocking the boat to spare people’s feelings, even though the boat needs rocking and your compassion ends up being more harmful than your honesty. People do this with teenagers, spouses, addicts, even themselves. Its opposite is wise compassion, which means caring about the person but also giving him or her a loving truth bomb when needed.”

“People often mistake numbness for nothingness, but numbness isn’t the absence of feelings; it’s a response to being overwhelmed by too many feelings.”

“I once heard creativity described as being the ability to grasp the essence of one thing and the essence of some very different thing and smash them together to create some entirely new thing.”

“Not knowing is a good place to start,”…

“Most of us end up being the “good-enough” parents that Donald Winnicott, the influential English pediatrician and child psychiatrist, believed was sufficient to raise a well-adjusted child.”

“PEACE. IT DOES NOT MEAN TO BE IN A PLACE WHERE THERE IS NO NOISE, TROUBLE, OR HARD WORK. IT MEANS TO BE IN THE MIDST OF THOSE THINGS AND STILL BE CALM IN YOUR HEART.”

“…freedom involves responsibility, and there’s a part of most of us that finds responsibility frightening.”

“Talking can keep people in their heads and safely away from their emotions. Being silent is like emptying the trash.”

Flannery O’Connor quote: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

“The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm had made this point more than fifty years earlier: “Modern man thinks he loses something—time—when he does not do things quickly; yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains except kill it.”

“… ultracrepidarianism, which means “the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge or competence.”

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” – Viktor Frankl.

Frankl’s book: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

“Take the case of a mother who came from a household with little money and who now admonishes her child every time she gets a new pair of shoes or a new toy by saying, “Don’t you realize how lucky you are?” A gift wrapped in a criticism.”

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not. —Ralph Waldo Emerson”

“The inability to say no is largely about approval-seeking—people imagine that if they say no, they won’t be loved by others. The inability to say yes, however—to intimacy, a job opportunity, an alcohol program—is more about lack of trust in oneself.”

“Just because she sends you guilt doesn’t mean you have to accept delivery.”

“I think of something else Wendell once said: “The nature of life is change and the nature of people is to resist change.””

“It’s one thing to talk about leaving behind a restrictive mindset. It’s another to stop being so restrictive.”

There will be an answer, let it be

“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

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It is no news that history is selective and the greatest human stories are left unwritten. This is one of the reasons I am drawn to authors who bring to light, even through fiction, the stories of those we will not find in historical accounts.

Kristin Hannah tells us why she wrote “The Nightingale”: “In war, women’s stories are all too often forgotten or overlooked. Women tend to come home from the battlefield and say nothing and go on with their lives. The Nightingale is a novel about those women and the daring, dangerous choices they made to save their children and their way of life.”

“The Nightingale” – or rosignol in French – takes the reader to the German-occupied France in the second world war. Nightingale is a code name for a Resistance member who rescued downed airmen in France and took them on foot through Pyrenees mountains to the British consulate in Spain. The main characters’ stage is shared by two sisters – Vianne and Isabelle – who were estranged after their mother’s death and reconnected through unbelievable struggles of war. The characters seem to be opposites at the beginning. As the story unfolds, we see them more alike than apart, each brave in her own way.

“The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannan

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Alaska. The Great Alone: Alaska – the great alone. Alaska: the great – alone. Alaska – the Great, alone… each reader will find his/her own understanding in this rich novel. I loved the plot, the characters and the style. I was looking forward to pickup my Kindle in the evening to keep reading it.

The story of a young woman married to an ex-Vietnam soldier who brought the hell in his mind to their marriage. Their daughter – thirteen-year-old Leni – is caught in the middle of her parents toxic relationship. In the hope of a fresh start, they move to Alaska. It is never easy to read about domestic violence. In this novel it is amplified by the harsh climate of Alaska, which is unforgiving: “A woman has to be tough as steel up here. You can’t count on anyone to save you and your children. You have to be willing to save yourselves.” Yet Hannah shows it to us from a survivors’ and not from a victim’s perspective. They find true friendship, love and finally – peace.

“The Gift” by Edith Eger

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I saw the book on a friend’s instagram account. It clicked immediately with my needs at that moment in time. I read it in one go. It’s truly a gift. I probably used the highlights more often than in any of the books I read so far. It’s humane, genuine, and humble.

A few of my favorite quotes:

“If you’re perfectionistic, you’re going to procrastinate, because perfect means never.”

“Power has nothing to do with brawn or domination. It means you have the strength to respond instead of react, to take charge of your life, to have total ownership of your choices.”

“If you take back your power and still want to be right, then choose to be kind, because kindness is always right.”

“We aren’t born with fear. Somewhere along the way, we learn it.”

“The most toxic, obnoxious people in our lives can be your best teachers. The next time you’re in the presence of someone who irks or offends you, soften your eyes and tell yourself, “Human, no more, no less. Human, like me. Then ask, “What are you here to teach me? “

“The Flea Palace” by Elif Shafak

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It is probably my least favorite novel by Shafak so far. It could be the timing and my mind’s needs at this point. It does not diminish one single point its value.

“The Flea Palace” is about emotional lives spent behind the doors of our dwellings, where we think we have privacy. A tragicomic look at a community of people denying themselves any sense of belonging to a community, even if it lives under one roof, the roof of the Bonbon Palace built by a former Russian general for his wife.

My favorite passages:

« Truth is a horizontal line. Be it a hotel corridor, hospital ward, rehabilitation centre or train compartment; all are horizontal. In such places, all your neighbours are lined up next to you on a horizontal plane, for a fleeting moment. You cannot grow roots at these places. Horizontality is the haven of evanescence. I too have been living on a horizontal line for sixty-six days – in the seventh of the ten cells lined up next to each other here. »

« Lies are a vertical line. An apartment building, for instance, erected with flats on top of one another with two layers of cemeteries underneath and seven planes of skies above. Here you can spread roots and grow branches as you please. Verticality Lies are a vertical line. An apartment building, for instance, erected with flats on top of one another with two layers of cemeteries underneath and seven planes of skies above. Here you can spread roots and grow branches as you please. «

“Honour” by Elif Shafak

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Honour. Think about this word. “An action of honoring or paying respect to; act or gesture displaying reverence or esteem; state or condition inspiring respect; nobleness of character or manners; high station or rank; a mark of respect or esteem; a source of glory, a cause of good reputation.” Sounds heavy, obliging, demanding, and in total opposition to “humble”.

What do you honor by killing? Can you get rid of guilt of killing for honour? … this novel raises so many questions from a variety of perspectives. What is “honour” to a sister, a daughter, a loving son, an unforgiving son, a wife, a community of the same faith, a society of many faiths… I loved the story line, and the dual timelines, and every single character. Shafak is a unique writer to me, as she breaths the life into her characters as if she lived each of their stories separately and then jointly. And she does so with grace and humility.

“The Secrets we left behind” by Soraya M. Lane

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I am very much enjoying books telling stories from the perspective of vulnerable. « The secrets we left behind » tells the story of British nurses left behind during the army’s evacuation from France at the beggining of the WWII. Cate, a brave nurse and Jack, her rescued patient, meet two French sisters who shelter them under the nose of Germans. The story takes time to unfold, so you might need to be patient at the beginning. The author tried to show us that even during unbelivable hurdles humans can fall in love. I found though this part a bit overboard, perhaps because all female characters fell in love one after another.

The background scenery serves well its purpose, so that the mind can picture and place the characters in Normandie at the time of the action.

« The Bastard of Istanbul » by Elif Shafak

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An Armenian family, a Turkish family, United States, Turkey, past and present and the unspoken atrocities of what was done… « The Bastard of Istanbul » is not a light, entertaining reading. I have enormous admiration for the unbiased way Shafak tells us the story with love and respect to all concerned.

“I must betray you” by Ruta Sepetys

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I lived across the border and we knew nothing about what was happening 150 km away. Maybe the adults knew some things, but it was never discussed in our presence. Romania was not spoken about. We only learned about Romanians in early nighties. When the Soviet Union fell, my mother travelled to Romania to sell basic food items, as many people from Moldova did. She was so upset by the poverty she saw there that she gave the sugar, pasta and rice for free to a Romanian, a mother like herself.

I love Sepetys’ writing because she gives a voice to those we will not read about in history books. She makes us aware about the way the history would be told by young and elderly, by mothers and sisters, by brothers and simple solders. I am always in awe about the extent of the research she does for her books and the time she takes to read, talk to people, ask questions and go into the depth of archives, in Romania in this case. All this to tell the story of a 17 year old Romanian in late 1989, the year of a Revolution which brought answers but also many questions. Historical fiction like this reminds us that “… history is nuanced, complicated, and doesn’t easily fit into defined categories” in the author’s own words.