Category Archives: Books

“Baltazar and Blimunda” by Jose Saramago

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My “To read all authors on the Nobel Prize for Literature list” brought me to 18th century Portugal. Jose Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for literarure in 1998. 

“Every man follows his own path in search of grace, whatever that grace might be” is the central idea of his “Baltazar and Blimunda” book. The book narrates in details the times of King Dom Joaa and of Padre Bartolomeu Lourenco de Gusmao, a historic figure and a pioneer of aviation. It is the story of “one handed solder who ironically became a manufacturer of wings”. Phrases like this had me spellbound from the first page. 

I was mesmerised by the central feminine character – not the queen, but an extraordinary ordinary women – Blimunda. Her mother was burn for witchcraft and she had a special gift of seeing what others do not see and the ability to collect the wills of dying. When the “wings” – the flying machine they built together with Padre Bartolomeu – took him away from her into the unknown she keeps looking for him, to find him in Lisbon, after nine years of continuous search throughout the entire country, in a procession leading to a fire burned by the inquisition. 

The book demands patience. It took me months of reiterated reading and putting it down. The “search of grace”, as we know it, is a painful process. Or at least humans are skilful at making it painful. Due to this and very long phrases, it is a challenging reading. It was the first time i read a book written in this style, and it was worth it every single page. 

“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

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One of the few books i wanted to keep reading. Every page of the book has a gem on it. It is superbly crafted. Its’ words are enchanting and poignant in a sweet and precious way.

It’s a story of a girl whose adolescence coincides with the times of Nazi Germany. She lost her brother, her mother, her home and gained a new foster home with a father who taught her to read and instilled a love of books to last a lifetime. The books saved her from daily ordeal. The books saved her from death.

The story is narrated by Death. It made me shiver at the beginning to read his words. By the end of the book I got to like this very wise character: “I am all bluster- I am not violent. I am not malicious. I am a result”.

The book is transformational as it makes you see the Other Germany, which had people who would risk their lives by feeding and sheltering the persecuted Jewish.


This anniversary edition comes with insights of the author on the process of writing. Very valuable for writers beginners. There is also a movie by the same name, directed by Brian Percival. Enjoy!

“Fifty weeks of green Romance and Recipes” by Linda Watson

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The book is a light reading. I finished it on and between two flights. 51hikbthydl__sx322_bo1204203200_

It has a little bit of:

romance, with hints to the other “Fifty shades” book,

a recipes book for easing the way into home cooking,

campaigner guide for the “buy local” and community supported agriculture, known as CSA.

The parody to of the “Fifty shades of grey” starts with the main female character – Sophia – falling down tangled up in a leash at a farmers market. It was the start of the romantic story between Sophia, a woman who just lost her job in political campaigning, and a farmer named Roger. As the romance unfolds, the author skilfully takes the reader to the world of agriculture, related politics and real life of people and their communities.

“Cooking is life. Like eating and love” pretty much summarise the book.  On a personal note, I was doing CSA for three years and it was an excellent investment in both our health and the prosperity of the local farmers we supported.

“The high mountains of Portugal” by Yann Martel

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25489094This magic realism novel has three parts – Homeless, Homeward, Home, which, at first, seemed unrelated. Each chapter has a main character: Tomas, Eusebio, Peter. Again, they seem at first unrelated. Page after page, feelings of surprise, sadness, compassion, wonder, despair and of a relentless quest accompanied my reading. “What is this character looking for?” kept popping up on my mind. And on their journey, each of them chose to object.

The first character – Tomas   – objected to the loss of dear ones by back walking in “Homeless”. Another character – a priest – objected to slaves’ life injustices  by having a monkey on a crucifix he donated to a church. In “Homeward” the objection is less explicit until the coroner sews a body shut with the deceased’s wife inside. In “Home”, a senator objects to his wife death by finding companionship in an ape he buys from a research center. They both object to the civilisation by taking refuge in his parents village in the high mountains of Portugal. They all object to the grief which took them away from home, as each understand it.

The multidimensional concept of home appears to me like a bridge between the seemingly unrelated parts. It made my understanding of the trilogy whole and complete. It still left many questions unanswered. But who said magic realism is about answering it all?

“The Gospel by Coco Chanel” by Karen Karbo

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“The Gospel by Coco Chanel” by Karen Karbo

I live in France and wanted to learn more about the country. What better way than learning about its people. Luxury makes top ten French exports. And when you say luxury in France, and pretty much globaly, the name of Coco Chanel will pop up. She is also a woman of exceptional success, an additional reason to learn a bit about the whys and hows. Pity the ghosted memoirs commissioned by Mademoiselle Chanel were never completed or published. So will have to rely on others telling her story. 
This book is presented as a biography but also as a self-help book, an aspect I overlooked at the beginning. But if you want it, the life lessons might be a bonus. Especially, as the author tries to make it fun and easy to digest. The book is a pick into Coco’s rich life, written around 12 life lessons or rather some of her phrases and quotes. 

It was a good reading as it rose many other questions i want to further explore for professional purposes. I will next go for some of books recommended here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/8838863/Coco-Chanel-Five-books-about-the-fashion-designer-review.html. 

“The desert” by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio

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My next stop on the “Read all Nobel price in Literature” journey took me to North Africa, as seen by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. Le Clezio received the Nobel prize for literature in 2008.He wrote “Désert”/”The desert” in 1980.DesertClezio
The desert appeared to me as a metaphor for human misery and emptiness, but also for wholeness and its intrinsic happiness. The human misery and happiness are told through stories of descendants of a man believed to be holy by his North African nomadic people. The story’s two main characters are a boy, Nour, and a girl, Lalla. It is such a beautiful story that I read it every time I wanted to escape the daily routine.
Lala takes you places. I loved to read it on my flights back home and to be mentally in the places Lala took me and see what she saw from the harshness of the desert to the brutality of the streets of Marseille inhabited by the once nomadic by lifestyle or spirit people, and further to the glamorous life of the most photographed face. At times, Lalla’s silent pain and suffering are hard to read about. It is also symbolic for a group of people affected by colonisation and its consequences.
Desert signAs if harshness breeds love, Lala, also called Hawa, who cannot write, adopted a small heart as her signature. This sign you’ll find on the books’ page adds to the symbolic heights this books takes you to. Lala, also called Hawa, is a gift of love. If you try to find out who she is her answers will teach you a thing or two on humbleness.
Le Clezio amazed me with the pallet of styles he interchanges smoothly, softly, delightfully. I loved the book as it created a refuge for me from daily noise. I was almost upset, when the story took the turn of war and fights. The fight between the ever symbolic good and evil, “civilised” and those whom they call “fanatic”, a general and a desert warrior. The author gives his perspective on the beginning of 20th century events in North Africa. Le Cezio is tough on those who call themselves Christians. Is money their true religion, he asks. As if hunger, wariness, sickness and despair were not enough, natives had to be massacred and had to see their leader die, alone, abandoned, denied and forgotten.
This book left a bitter-sweet taste and a desire to read more by Le Clezio, the French writer with Mauritian origins.

“Last man off” by Matt Lewis

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This is less of a light vacation reading. The title sounded appealing though. The author is a surviver of a fishing boat which saw its end in tough Arctic waters. It is a true story with facts narrated by the author.image The book is written ten years after the event and is a diary of tragic events. The author’s bitterness against an ill-prepared boat and team to face an unforgiving Ocean’s fury is transpiring even after a decade after the sinking, which makes it somehow hard to read. The best part, to me, was the eulogy to the rescuers, up to naming his daughter after the ship thar rescued him – Camila.
Matt, a frustrated maritime graduate, jumps into an opportunity to work as an observer of international fishing standards on a boat sailing south from Cape Town. His initial enthusiasm to practice what he studied faced the test of fishing industry reality. I could sense his precaution dictated by a certain courtesy to the corporation behind the unfortunate boat. This and other aspects make the book a quasi documentary or a quasi novel. I could not decide which prevailed.
The book might be a delight to sea and ships lovers. It appears to be well researched on how shall a fishing boat should be equipped, at parts too technical perhaps for non- specialists. But maybe it was just the perception of my on-vacation-mood brain.