Tag Archives: book review

“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 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 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.

“The One I Was” by Eliza Graham

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untitled“I am ready to be happy now”, the end line of the book, got me intrigued as it kind of resonates with my current mind set. It had also good recommendations on goodreads.com.
I read it almost in one go, which is my indicator of the quality of the writing. Page after page, my mind was traveling back and forth in time, from late 30s in England and in Germany to modern times. I admired the ease and elegance with which the author balanced through extremes of the history of anti-semitism in the nazi Germany, on one hand, and the benevolent goodwill of a British family who provided a home to six Jew boys who had the chance to get out of Germany in a Kindertransport/special train, on the other hand, all interlinking very personal stories of its many lively characters.
The book is a splendid tribute to empathy. Towards others and towards the self. In search of forgiveness, Rosamond Hunter chose a career of an end-of-life nurse. It brought her to her childhood home – Fairfleet – when she accepted to take care of Benny Gault, known to her as Benjamin who first came to Fairfleet, England, in 1939, having fled Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport train. She spends with him his last days and they revisit together their life stories. They discover the love they shared for Harriet – Rosamond’s glamorous grandmother who was war time pilot – and Benny’s benefactor. Benny confined to Rosamond his life-time secret of having took the place of a Jewish boy, his beloved friend, whom he helped pass the medical exam and who died on the day the Kindertransport train was leaving Germany. Will let you discover why he did that as it is also a lesson of empathy and forgiveness in a son-father relationship.
Graham’s characters are quite complex. Rosamond is a loving daughter who also adored her grandmother, a proud sister, a professional truly dedicated to the last breath of her patients, a lover who would not settle for second best when it comes to men in her life, a women who experienced pregnancy loss only to understand that having life to continue through her is what is she wants most. Will let you discover the rest.
The book is from a mental shelf where I store books which make me subtly smile when I think about its characters.

“Something I’ve been meaning to tell you” by Alice Munro

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untitledMy choice of the next writer having won a Nobel Prize for Literature was guided by a desire for a feminine touch with a modern writing allure. I gladly learned that in 2013 the Nobel Prize was awarded to Alice Munro, a Canadian writer. She was awarded the prize cited as a “master of the contemporary short story”. She is the first Canadian and the 13th woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The title of the book caught my attention by the mistery the word “something” implied. This book is a collection of 13 short stories first published in 1974. I am not a fan of short stories as they almost always leave a “so what’s next” question unanswered. Alice Munro stories, by contrast, give a clear sense of the story’s end, some even too abrupt to my taste.
Some stories are personalized and presented as the author’s own experience, some have feminine characters, ten year old girls, teenagers, married women, seniors.
Of the 13 stories, I liked most the “Forgiveness in families”. It passes on the message of practicing tolerance and compassion with members of the family, who willingly or unwillingly push our buttons. It is the story of a relationship between a brother and a sister, whose life’s views and lifestyles clash. Their mother’s sudden illness brings them together in the most unorthodox way. The story left a sunny print on my beliefs about siblings’ relationships.
On many occasions, I caught myself thinking that the writing did not do justice to some of the feminine characters by letting them live in a state of confusion, endless search of self, or an exacerbating dependence on a male love. For instance the character in “The Spanish Lady” whose husband of twenty years got a mistress, her best friend. The character’s daughters are gown up and experience their lives while she feels empty and betrayed to a level of finding an imaginary admirer meant probably to reassure her feminine self worth. While far from contesting the presentation of the author’s reality, I would have liked the fiction to be a bit more up-lifting and serene. In the last story “The Otawa Story” the author herself seems to acknowledge this and do justice to her characters.

“The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance and Happiness”, by James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher

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The book is centered around stories told in turn by authors. These are personal lived through stories and examples. I read it twice before writing this review. I am certain I’ll reread it soon. The is structured in the following Chapters: The No That Chooses Life The No That Brings True Love, Creativity, and Abundance The No to Phony Storytelling The No to the Angers of the Past The No to Scarcity The No to Noise The No to “Me” The book commences with a Bill of Rights: the Right to Defend Your Life, the Right to Healthy Relationships and Real Love, the Right to Use Your talents and Allow Abundance into Your Life, the Right to Assert What You Want, the Right to Choose What Stories You Believe In, the Right to Take Your Time, the Right to Be Honest, Above All, with Yourself, the Right to an Abundant and Fulfilled Life, the Right to be Here Now, the Right to Silence, the Right to Surrender.

The authors have the perfect explanation on “Why this book is for You”. The book goes into the seven levels of No, “from the very gross energies involved in protecting our bodies, our lives, and our basic boundaries to the more subtle energies that, when channeled well through the Power of No, bring about real love and compassion, to the highest levels of discrimination and wisdom, that sprout from being exactly who we are”.The-Power-of-No

Powerful things I collected as precious wisdom: “Being grateful is the bridge between the world of nightmares and the world where we are free to say no”. “Sometimes it’s important to do less in order to attract abundance”, as authors are adepts of minimalism. Complaining is a No: stop complaining to see opportunities. When to say no to rules: the power of no is the power of discernment. Authors give a road map, including the reason for cultivating compassion for your own sake. Exercise daily your idea muscle. Otherwise it atrophies just like any other muscle. Squandering physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health brings loss on all accounts. “Being clear about which relationships and which people we let into our lives is the key to access our creative forces”.

The book suggests quite a few practices/exercises. My favourites include (a) sending letters or emails of gratitude to anyone who have done you a favour as an abundance practice, (b) how to say No to stress, (c) keys to stop negative chatter, (d) the daily practice to get off the floor, (e) who is your inner circle?, (f) where did my creativity go?, (g) how to get unstuck, (h) what thoughts are useful or unuseful or how to separate yourself from your brain, (i) burn the excuses (I cannot change, I have too many responsibilities, what would they say….), (j) the no-complaints diet, (k) taming the over-thinking mind and many others.

I tend to disagree on one point with the authors, i.e. the employment. I can stay centred being employed and/or be intrapreneurial even in a corporate culture.

I loved the concept of “Homo luminous” this book introduced. It felt indeed enlightening.

“Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak

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My wonders in the Nobel Prize for Literature world brought me to east, Russia. The last Russian author I read was in high school.61drUbHB53L._AA160_

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1958 was awarded to Boris Pasternak “for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition” reads the Nobel Prize Committee website.Boris Pasternak first accepted the award, but was later caused by the authorities of his country to decline the prize. First published in 1957 in Italy, this book appeared on Russian libraries shelfs only in 1987, being banned for twenty years by Russian authorities.

“Doctor Zhivago” is a plain emotionally demanding reading. Anxieties and worries for now and future, regrets of lost identity or fortune dominate the story. Moments of light and love are rare in that period of Russian turmoil at the beginning of 20th century. Even apparently characters appear corrupted by this dominant pain. It’s an insight into Russian spirit of a great nation, which akin to an eternally rebelling teenager makes the wrong choices times and times again.

You’ll require patience to read it. And a great deal of zen. I have none at this time. Will put it back on shelf for now and give it later another try.