Tag Archives: learning

“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.

«The island of missing trees » by Elif Shafak

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A painfully beautiful and beautifully painful story of love and division, commitment and betrayal, brotherhood and hate crimes, fear and renewal, hope and abyss, science and superstitions, and all – in couple of decades on one island. As Shafak herself puts it, this work of fictions is “a mixture of wonder, dreams, love, sorrow and imagination.”

Each character is a delight to get to know. The fig tree and the gentle way it narrates about what humans do not see and how it communicates with all living things around it. The Greek families and the Turkish families, and the impossible love between Kostas and Defne in 1974, separated overnight by war and reunited decades later, to become parents to Ada on British soil in London. I loved Ada’s superstitious aunt – Meryem and all her womanly advice to her niece. Yusuf and Yiorgos and their love. The Happy Fig tavern and its changing role for the characters. …

After having read the novel, I will never look the same way at trees and all those who re-planted their “roots” in foreign soil. I also wonder how much does humanity need to go through to finally learn. There is nothing to win in a war or from a division. There is no need to attack.

My favorite quotes:

“A map is a two-dimensional representation with arbitrary symbols and incised lines that decide who is to be our enemy and who is to be our friend, who deserves our love and who deserves our hatred and who, our sheer indifference. Cartography is another name for stories told by winners. For stories told by those who have lost, there isn’t one.”

“The bear knows seven songs and they are all about honey.”

“You must understand, whenever something terrible happens to a country – or an island – a chasm opens between those who go away and those who stay. I’m not saying it’s easy for the people who left, I’m sure they have their own hardships, but they have no idea what it was like for the ones who stayed.”

“I have never understood why humans regard butterflies as fragile. Optimists they may be, but fragile, never!”

“Knowledge is nobody’s property. You receive it, you give it back.”

“There was something childlike in the way grown-ups had a need for stories. They held a naive belief that by telling an inspiring anecdote – the right fable at the right time – they could lift their children’s moods, motivate them to great achievements and simply change reality.”

I coud not make up my mind which cover I like better, so I kept both.

“The Architect’s Apprentice” by Elif Shafak

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Yet another delight from Elif Shafak. I loved it. Shafak guides the reader through intricacies of humanity with wit and love, compassion and wisdom. Her Istanbul became mine.

“The Architect’s Apprentice” is to me a love story, a story of brotherhood, a story of creation, a story of jealousy, a story of grandiose failures and humble beginnings. In other words, it is fully human. I found her characters authentic to the core.

I rejoiced yet another time in the tides of Safak’s wisdom. Here are a few of favourite quotes:

‘When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.’

“Little did he know, back then, that the worth of one’s faith depended not on how solid and strong it was, but on how many times one would lose it and still be able to get it back.”

“Centre of the universe was neither in the East nor in the West. It was where one surrendered to love.”

‘Truth is a butterfly: it lands on this flower and that. You run after it with a net. If you capture it, you are happy. But it won’t live long. Truth is a delicate thing.’

In her Autor’s Note, Shafak expresses “hope that this story, too, will flow like water in the hearts of its readers.” I definitely did in my heart.

“Mary Magdalene Revealed” by Meggan Watterson

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If you ever wondered what happened to the legacy of Mary Magdalene, and who she might have been (as opposed to the story told be the church), you might be curious enough to read “Mary Magdalene Revealed”:

“The earliest evidence of the lost gospel of Mary Magdalene was discovered in January 1896, at an antiquities market in Cairo, by a German scholar named Carl Reinhardt. It was written in Coptic on ancient papyrus. … It was placed in the Egyptian museum in Berlin with the official title and catalogue number of Codex Berolinensis 8502, which is a mouthful. So, scholars refer to it as the Berlin Codex.” There are different answers to as to why the Gospel of Mary, and those of Philip and Thomas for that matter, were not selected by the church at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. to be hammered out in the creed of the Christian faith. To me this does not matter. They made their choice. I make mine.

Watterson is a trained theologian who introduces herself as a “person who engages in the study of all that has been left out of our ideas of god”. I became a bit sus when I got to the lines were she positioned herself as a feminist. Having lived in comunism, I am wary of any -isms. Yet she explains the kind she is and I find it resonating with my belief as “True freedom means having the power to define what being free means in our lives.” This enabled my brain to read the book with a grain of salt, as the author reveals to us her personal life, all for a reason. So be patient when you get to these passages.

Watterson introduces us to what she believes to be the most “eloquent way to describe love” from the opening lines of the Gospel of Mary: “Every nature, every modeled form, every creature, exists in and with eachother.” And invites us to see “the Christianity we haven’t tried yet”. Not a Christian herself she is able to question the conventional wisdom, so I found myself furthering into the inquiry of what I have forgotten.

What some of us missed in the Chrstianity that was designed by the church is encapsulated in a quote from Leloup The Sacred Embrace of Jesus and Mary: « The restitution of the true character of Miriam of Migdala as a companion of Yeshua of Nazareth can help men and women today realize their potential of anthropos, their full humanity, which is both flesh and spirit, both human and divine. »

The book was revelatory to me in many ways. If, for example, you wondered if there is a meditation concept or tradition in Christianity, you’ll gladly discover Hesychast from 4th century Cappadocians and the masterpiece of Saint John of Sinai The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Or if you are wondering about included and excluded scriptures, you’ll find the reference to Dr. Hal Taussig A New, New. Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century revelatory.

“Three Daughters of Eve” by Elif Shafak

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I found this novel enchanting and best absorbed together with a mug of coffee with a pinch of nutmeg. Three female characters. A quest for God. A professor as a guide. Traditions and chains. Beliefs and confusion. Freedom and peace. Love and betrayal. Religion and faith. West and East. Luxury and poverty. … Only Elif Shafak can entangle them all for each of us to find what we are looking for.

My favorite quotes:

“There’s no wisdom without love. No love without freedom. And no freedom unless we dare to walk away from what we have become.”

“The degree of one’s emotions varies inversely with one’s knowledge of the facts.”, quoting Russell.

« Certainty was to curiosity what the sun was to the wings of Icarus. Where one shone forcefully, the other couldn’t survive. With certainty came arrogance; with arrogance, blindness; with blindness, darkness; and with darkness, more certainty. »

« Believers favour answers over questions, clarity over uncertainty. Atheists, more or less the same. Funny, when it comes to God, Whom we know next to nothing about, very few of us actually say, ‘I don’t know.’ »