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Archive for January, 2010

As part of my reading goal this year, I decided to read a few big classic novels ๐Ÿ™‚ One of them is ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy. Inspired by two of my friends, who have probably read it more than once, I have made multiple attempts in past years to read this classic, but for one reason or another I haven’t been able to continue with my reading effort. ‘War and Peace’ is a mammoth classic (my edition is 1358 pages long with small font – if the font size had been bigger, the size of the book would have increased by atleast 50% to around 2000 pages!). One needs to put in the time and effort to read it and do justice to this epic book and be rewarded by the experience. I decided that I will put in the required time and effort this year. And what is more, instead of procrastinating, I decided that it will be first book that I will read this year ๐Ÿ™‚ I started reading it a couple of days back, and have finished around 125 pages till now. The classic translation of ‘War and Peace’ is the one by Constance Garnett, but the one I am reading is a new translation by Anthony Briggs.

If you haven’t read the book before, here is a two-line summary : The book is set during the the war between France and Russia at the time of Napoleon. ‘War and Peace’ describes the fortunes, lives and loves of some of the story’s fictional characters and families during this time.

I am giving below some of my favourite lines from the book, from the chapters of the book that I have read till now.

His French was the elegant tongue of our grandparents, who used it for thought as well as speech, and it carried the soft tones of condescension that come naturally to an eminent personage grown old in high society and at court.

As tends to happen with the best-looking women, a defect – in this case a short lip and a half-open mouth – came out as a distinctive and beautiful feature.

Just as a skilful head waiter can pass off as a supreme delicacy a cut of beef that would be inedible if you’d seen it in the filthy kitchen, Anna Pavlovna served up to her guests that evening first the viscount and then the abbe as if they were supreme delicacies.

If everybody fought for nothing but his own convictions, there wouldn’t be any wars.

Even in the very warmest, friendliest and simplest of relationships you need either flattery or praise in the way that you need grease to keep wheels turning.

…she was at that charming age when the girl is no longer a child, and the child is not yet a young girl.

There was a smoothness in the way she moved, a gentle suppleness in her little limbs and a kind of wary aloofness that suggested a pretty half-grown kitten that would one day turn into a lovely cat.

Sonya half-rose, and the kitten in her revived, its eyes gleaming; it seemed ready to flick its tail, pounce about on its soft paws and start playing with a ball, as good kittens do.

At this point, Princess Marya sighed and looked around at the tall mirror to her right. The glass reflected a feeble, unattractive body and a skinny face. The ever-gloomy eyes looked at themselves more hopelessly than ever. ‘She’s flattering me,’ thought the princess as she turned back to read on. But Julie was not flattering her friend; her eyes were large, deep and radiant (sometimes a warm light seemed to pour out of them), really so winsome that very often, in spite of the plainness of the face as a whole, her eyes held a greater appeal than mere beauty. But the princess had never seen the beautiful expression in her own eyes, an expression they assumed only when she wasn’t thinking about herself. Like everyone else, her face took on a strained, artificial and disagreeable expression the moment she looked at herself in the mirror.

We love people not so much for the good they have done to us as for the good we have done to them.

The regiment stirred itself like a bird settling its feathers…

Hope you enjoyed reading the above lines. I will post more of my favourite quotes, after I read more of the book.

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It is time to write about my reading resolutions for the year. This year, I thought that instead of setting a target for the number of books – which tempt me to read shorter books and avoid classics and other thicker books like books on science – I will set a target for the kinds of books I will read and specific books that I would like to read. I gave some thought to this, and the initial list that I came up with was quite ambitious. But after a lot ofย  thinking I pared the list down, and this is how it looks like.

  1. Read the following books
    1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
    2. Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes
    3. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
    4. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
    5. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
    6. Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
    7. A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel
    8. Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Hadi Ruswa
    9. Sevasadan by Premchand
    10. Adventures of a Bystander by Peter Drucker
  2. Read one book of poems
  3. Read one book of essays
  4. Read one book on sport
  5. Read one book on science
  6. Read one book of humour
  7. Read one biography / autobiography
  8. Read one book by or about Shakespeare
  9. Read one book in Tamil (potential choices could be ‘Mannan Magal’ and ‘Kanni Maadam’ by Sandilyan, ‘Alai Osai’ and ‘Kanaiyaazhiyin Kanavu’ by Kalki, One of Kalki’s anthologies, ‘SMS Emden 22-09-1914’ by Diwakar, Vaasanthi’s short story collection, ‘Nandipurathu Nayagi’ by Vikraman, ‘Moga Mul’ by K.Janakiraman, ‘Manipallavam’ by N.Parthasarathy, ‘Yayati’ by V.S.Kandekar (Tamil translation), ‘Sanga Noor Kaatchigal’ by K.V.Jagannathan, ‘Aranmanai Ragasiyam’ by P.Vijay, ‘Villodu Vaa Nilave’ by Vairamuthu, ‘Kayalvizhi’ by Akilan, Pudumaipithan short story collection, Sundara Ramasamy short story collection)
  10. Read one book in Russian (potential choices could be one of Anton Chekhov’s plays or one of his short story collections, one of Ivan Turgenev’s novellas, Mikhail Lermontov’s ‘A Hero of Our Time’ or one of Alexandra Marinina’s mysteries)

As it is, the above list looks pretty ambitious. If I can do it, it will be my best ever reading year ๐Ÿ™‚ Please pray for me ๐Ÿ™‚

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2009 has been an interesting year for me, with respect to reading. When I started the year, I wanted to read less books, but I wanted to read some of the big books and classics, which I had been wanting to read for sometime. Now at the end of the year, and the beginning of a new one, when I look back, I find that I have read some interesting books and have been able to read the number of books that I wanted. (I wanted to read 24 books, and I read 30). Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to read the classics that I wanted to. I hope to read them during the coming year.

Here is the list of books that I read in 2009, with the links to the reviews I had posted.

  1. Berlin : City of Stones (Book One) by Jason Lutes
  2. Berlin : City of Smoke (Book Two) by Jason Lutes
  3. What Good are the Arts? by John Carey
  4. The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey
  5. A Many Splendoured Thing by Han Suyin
  6. At Large and At Small : Confessions of a Literary Hedonist by Anne Fadiman
  7. Prince of Persia by Jordan Mechner and others
  8. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
  9. The Code of the Woosters by P.G.Wodehouse
  10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  11. Coraline by Neil Gaiman and Craig Russell
  12. Book Lover by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack
  13. This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M.Homes
  14. Short Stories by Leo Tolstoy
  15. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
  16. Playing Hardball : A Kent County Cricketer’s Journey into Big League Baseball by E.T.Smith
  17. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
  18. Six Graves to Munich by Mario Puzo
  19. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  20. Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
  21. God’s Debris by Scott Adams
  22. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin
  23. The Wit of Cricket – compiled by Barry Johnston
  24. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
  25. Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier
  26. Science and Religion : A Very Short Introduction by Thomas Dixon
  27. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  28. Walkabout by James Vance Marshall
  29. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  30. Fax from Sarajevo by Joe Kubert

I hope to read new and interesting books in 2010 too. Hope you can join me in this journey ๐Ÿ™‚

I will take your leave now by wishing you and your near and dear ones a very Happy and Wonderful New Year, filled with lots of joy and fun and wonderful surprises and books! Hope all your dreams and more come true this year!

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One of my dear friends, who inspires me with her reading (she was the first person – and for a long time the only person – I knew who had read Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’) gifted me the book ‘Fax from Sarajevo’ by Joe Kubert many months back. It was a collector’s edition and it was out of print. I have been reading the introduction, flipping the pages, reading a bit here and there, but not really reading the book to complete it. I keep my favourite books aside and read them slowly and try to spread the enjoyment for the longest time. I was doing that to this book ๐Ÿ™‚ Sometime this month I realized that I have to really read it and enjoy the book as a whole rather than reading a snippet here and there. So, I took the book and read it from the beginning to the end. Here is the review.

Summary of the story

I am giving below the summary of the book as given in the back cover.

In this full-color graphic story, comics legend Joe Kubert has produced, without question, the greatest and most personal work of a long and distinguished career. This is the story of Joe’s friend Ervin Rustemagic, as he and his family struggled to preserve their lives and dignity during the eighteen-month siege of Sarajevo in 1992-93. Ervin had nothing to rely on but the tenuous lifeline of a fax machine to communicate with his friends during the war. From hundreds of faxes detailing everything from the atrocities committed in the name of “ethnic cleansing” to the ever-present fears and frustrations of the Rustemagic family, Kubert has expertly pierced together a truly heart-wrenching story of a very real tragedy and, ultimately, of unflagging hope.

Here is another description of the book from the inside flap.

In 1945, we told the world, “Never again.” In 1992, we forgot our promise.

That was the year the war broke out in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The year that genocide revisited the planet. That was the year that Ervin Rustemagic and his family found themselves trapped in a city under siege.

An international businessman and art agent, Ervin had grown up in Sarajevo, and, for more than a decade, run his business there. When the shells and gunfire tore the city asunder, Ervin’s only means of communication with the outside world was his fax machine, through which he began to send rapid-fire messages. Messages that were faxed and re-faxed among Ervin’s many clients and friends.

For client and friend Joe Kubert, these faxes were a story unfolding, a story of horror, outrage, and inhumanity. Doing what he had done for years, Joe put the story on paper. The result is perhaps the highest achievement of one of comics’ greatest living masters : a story of hope and promise against the worst kind of odds. It’s the story of war, a very real war, told from the point of view of the innocent victims. It is the story of survival.

What I think

I found the book quite interesting, touching and sometimes very scary. I wasn’t following the international news much when the civil war in Bosnia was going on. I remember having an argument and quarrelling with one of my friends when the NATO forces bombed some parts of Yugoslavia and the bombs hit civilian targets – my friend supported the bombing and I didn’t. (To be fair, after reading this book, I realize now that she might have been right and I might have been wrong). I also remember former tennis player Goran Ivanisevic, making statements against Serbia, and supporting the Croatian cause, at tennis tournaments during those times. But, otherwise, I didn’t know a lot about the post-Yugoslavia scenario, when war erupted between Serbia and other former-Yugoslavian republics. This book gives a snapshot of that period, from the perspective of one family, who suffered during that time. The story is touching, moving and sometimes unbelievable. It is difficult to believe that things like this, which we see in movies, actually happened, not long time back. One of the characters in the story talks about concentration camps and about mercenary snipers targeting children because they were easy targets. The book also describes how tough, life was, during the siege of Sarajevo and how people lived through those terrible times with unflagging hope and how they also managed to bring happiness to each other during those trying times. Sometimes I had to pinch myselfย  to realize that the book was not a story but was a record of real events. In one of the faxes, the main character in the story, Ervin, says this :

To all of us here it looks ridiculous now when we look back and remember some terrorists’ actions in Italy, France or England…When terrorists have killed 5, 6 or dozen persons. How much fuss was made about such terrorists’ acts?!? And we have here hundreds of such terrorists’ acts every day and nobody cares! New York, London, Paris, Rome or Hamburg are being very much shocked when a bomb explodes in metro or railway station…And only in our district of Dobrinja (residential area of Sarajevo where we live) over 250,000 bombs and grenades have exploded so far…

One can’t help but feel for Ervin. Unfortunately, international law is not strong enough to prevent atrocities within a country by the countries own rulers. Also, in a situation like this, when a country declares independence, and the parent country hasn’t accepted it, the situation is fluid and no one intervenes till the dust settles down. Unfortunately, this is no consolation for the people who live in the war-torn zone, and suffer a lot of turmoil because of things beyond their control.

One of the interesting things I liked in the story is the name of the main character and his family members – Ervin, Edina, Edvin and Maja. All beautiful names and the first three rhyme ๐Ÿ™‚ Another interesting thing which I found was that the book describes Sarajevo as a multi-religious and multi-ethnic city and that seems to be the case with the whole of Bosnia and the story suggests that ethnic cleansing was done by the Serbs. I don’t know what is the objective version of history with respect to the events in Bosnia – I will have to do a little bit of research into it – but if the facts suggested by the book are true, then it follows that NATO forces were actually fighting on behalf of the Muslims of the erstwhile Yugoslavia, when it decided to send its bombers. It is an interesting fact to ponder in these post-9/11 days. I am looking forward to doing more research on the breakup of Yugoslavia and what actually happened in Bosnia.

I have a couple of other observations on the book. One of it is that sometimes the story moves in fits and starts and the scenes don’t transition in a smooth manner. But, when one realizes that it is actually a narration of real events, then one realizes that the the fits-and-starts character of real events is captured on the page. Another observation that I have on the book is on how much can be lost, when a real person is depicted by words or even by pictures. For example, Ervin’s wife Edina is shown as a normal homemaker, who takes care of her children and cries a lot and is depressed during the events of the story, but in the back pages, there is a photograph of Edina, in which she doesn’t look that way at all. She has the face of someone who is ready to withstand any pain and fight against all odds. She also has beautiful Slavic eyes, which I am fascinated with, which doesn’t come through in the main story. It just shows that it is extremely difficult to depict all facets of reality in a story – even if the story is in pictures.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed reading ‘Fax from Sarajevo’ very much, though the story is at times sad, depressing and scary. I have to thank my friend for introducing me to this classic. If you like reading personal accounts of historical events, you will like reading this book. If you need some motivation, I will add some spice here : this book won both the Eisner and Harvey awards and so it has got a lot of critical acclaim too ๐Ÿ™‚

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