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I discovered Marina Tsvetaeva when I was browsing through a Russian poetry collection recently. I have never heard of her before, and when I read a couple of her poems, they did something to my heart. It was difficult to tell what, but there was a certain quality in them which tugged at my heartstrings and made my heart ache. I decided to get a collection of her poems. I got an edition of her selected poems, translated by Elaine Feinstein.

Selected Poems By Marina Tsvetaeva

When I got this collection of Tsvetaeva’s poems, I thought I will dip my toe into it and read a poem a day and see how it goes. But after I read a few poems, I couldn’t stop reading the rest of the book. The book had fifty poems (some of them were full poems while others were excerpts from longer poems, while others were groups of poems classified under one topic. I have counted each of them as one poem – whether it is a single poem, an excerpt from a longer poem or a collection of poems. I know that is inconsistent, but that is how the book is structured) and before I knew I had finished reading the book. I can’t remember now, which was the first poem from the book that I read.

Marina Tsvetaeva started writing and publishing poems from 1910 and she continued doing that till her death in 1941. Like many of the Russian poets and writers of her era, she started with a happy childhood, suffered after the advent of the communist regime, tried to migrate to another country and live there, but couldn’t be happy there – she is quoted as saying “I went abroad in 1922, and my reader remained in Russia where my poems no longer penetrate…And thus, I am here without readers; in Russia, without books” – and finally returned back to her country. Her suffering became unbearable at some point that she committed suicide. Such a beautiful poet and such a tragic life.

This book has poems which reflect her whole literary life – it has poems written from 1915 till 1938. The early poems are mostly about love and beauty and loss and are shorter and we can see the young girl Tsvetaeva in it. The later poems are sometimes short and sometimes long and some of them are dark or serious and they seem to reflect the heart of the older Tsvetaeva who has seen and suffered so much in life. I liked the shorter poems more than the longer ones because they were concentrated lyrical expressions of beauty and love and longing and loss and passion and poignancy while the longer ones were more narrative in nature, though some of them had passages with that concentrated poetic quality that I love. (If I can add a comment here, when I said that I liked Tsvetaeva’s shorter poems more than her longer ones, I didn’t mean that I liked her earlier poems rather than her later ones. I liked her shorter poems across time, both early and late works.)

 

Here are some of my favourite poems (and favourite excerpts from longer poems) from the book.

 

What is this gypsy passion for separation

 

What is this gypsy passion for separation, this

    readiness to rush off – when we’ve just met?

My head rests in my hands as I

    realize, looking into the night

 

that no one turning over our letters has

    yet understood how completely and

how deeply faithless we are, which is

    to say : how true we are to ourselves.

 

 

 

As people listen intently

 

As people listen intently

    (a river’s mouth to its source)

that’s how they smell a flower

to the depths, till they lose all sense.

 

That’s how they feel their deepest

    craving in dark air,

as children lying in blue sheets

peer into memory.

 

And that’s how a young boy feels

when his blood begins to change.

    When people fall in love with love

they fling themselves in the abyss.

 

 

From ‘Insomnia’

 

Who sleeps at night? No one is sleeping.

    In the cradle a child is screaming.

An old man sits over his death, and anyone

    young enough talks to his love, breathes

into her lips, looks into her eyes.

 

Once asleep – who knows if we’ll wake again?

We have time, we have time, we have time to sleep!

 

From house to house the sharp-eyed

    watchman goes with his pink lantern

and over the pillow scatters the rattle

    of his loud clapper, rumbling.

 

Don’t sleep! Be firm! Listen, the alternative

is – everlasting sleep. Your – everlasting house!

 

 

I opened my veins

 

I opened my veins.      Unstoppably

life spurts out with no remedy.

Now I set our bowls and plates.

Every bowl will be shallow,

Every plate will be small.

                   And overflowing their rims,

Into the black earth, to nourish

The rushes unstoppably

without cure, gushes

poetry…

 

 

From ‘Bus’

 

A thief can rob – and not touch your face

You’ll be fleeced, but your soul will escape.

But a gourmand must finger and pinch, before

he puts you aside, to eat later.

 

 

From ‘It’s not like waiting for post’

 

It’s not like waiting for post.

This is how you wait for

the one letter you need

soft stuff bound with

tape and paste.

Inside a little word.

That’s all. Happiness.

 

 

From ‘You loved me’

 

You loved me. And your lies had their own probity.

    There was a truth in every falsehood.

Your love went far beyond any possible

    boundary      as no one else’s could.

 

 

From ‘The Poet’

 

          for the path of comets

is the path of poets; they burn without warming,

pick without cultivating. They are : an explosion, a breaking in –

and the mane of their path makes the      curve of a

graph        cannot be foretold by the calendar.

 

 

From ‘Yesterday he still looked in my eyes’

 

He taught me to live in fire, he threw me there,

    and then abandoned me on steppes of ice.

My love, I know what you have done to me.

                                  My love, what was it I did to you?

 

 

From ‘I’m glad your sickness’

 

Thank you for loving me like this,

For you feel love, although you do not know it.

Thank you for the nights I’ve spent in quiet.

Thank you for the walks under the moon

you’ve spared me and those sunset meetings unshared.

Thank you. The sun will never bless our heads.

Take my sad thanks for this : you do not cause

my sickness. And I don’t cause yours.

 

 

From ‘Poem of the End’

 

–  What are we doing? – We are separating.

–  That’s a word that means nothing to me.

 

It’s the most inhumanly senseless

of words : sep      arating. (Am I one of a hundred?)

It is simply a word of four syllables and

behind their sound lies : emptiness.

 

Wait! Is it even correct in Serbian or

Croatian? Is it a Czech whim, this word.

Sep      aration? To sep       arate!

It is insane      unnatural

 

a sound to burst the eardrums, and spread out

far beyond the limits of longing itself.

Separation – the word is not in the Russian

language. Or the language of women. Or men.

 

Nor in the language of God. What are we – sheep?

To stare about us as we eat.

Separation – in what language is it,

When the meaning itself doesn’t exist?

 

or even the sound? Well – an empty one, like

the noise of a saw in your sleep perhaps.

 

 

The book has a beautiful introduction at the beginning by the translator Elaine Feinstein which introduces us to Marina Tsvetaeva’s life and work. It is a beautiful, gripping read. The book also has a note in the end by Angela Livingstone, who helped Feinstein considerably in the translation, in which she talks about the challenges of translating from Russian into English –  a very enriching essay which I loved. One particular line at the beginning of Livingstone’s essay stood out for me – “so many of the linguistic devices which she powerfully exploits (…changes of word-order, the throwing into relief of inflectional endings) are simply not available in English.” This is something that I have been thinking about for sometime – on how difficult it is to translate a sentence, especially a line of a poem or a poetic prose sentence, from a language which has cases and declensions into a language like English which doesn’t have them and how much of the beauty of language is lost in that translation – and I was so happy when Livingstone wrote about that.

 

I thought I will take some time now and write about some of the fascinating challenges that a translator might face while translating poetry into English. This thought was triggered when I encountered two translated versions of one of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poems – one by Elaine Feinstein in this collection and another by David McDuff which was featured in the book ‘Russian Poets’. Actually, the two versions looked like two different poems, because they had different titles – Elaine Feinstein called her version ‘Homesickness’ while David McDuff called his ‘Longing for the Motherland’. But one particular word caught my eye accidentally – ‘captive lion’ in Feinstein’s version and ‘caged-in lion’ in McDuff’s – and when I spotted that, I realized that they could be the same poem. And so I took both the books and opened them side-by-side and read the two versions together. And I realized that they were the same poem but the translations were as different as chalk and cheese. Or like the two twins in the Alexander Dumas story ‘The Corsican Brothers’ who turn out differently. To explain it in a better way, I will quote a particular passage from each of these versions.

 

From Elaine Feinstein’s version ‘Homesickness’

 

And I won’t be seduced by the thought of

my native language, its milky call.

How can it matter      in what tongue I

am misunderstood by whoever I meet

 

From David McDuff’s version ‘Longing for the Motherland’

 

And I’ll not let the milky call

Of my own native language cheat me –

Which I’m not understood in’s all

The same to me, and those who meet me.

 

I will be frank, in advance. I love Elaine Feinstein’s version. David McDuff’s version – not so much. There is beauty and elegance in the first two lines of Feinstein’s version – ‘I won’t be seduced by the thought of my native language, its milky call’. McDuff’s version – ‘I’ll not let the milky call of my own native language cheat me’ – doesn’t quite measure up in terms of lyrical quality.

 

Before I blame McDuff and haul him over the coals, I thought I should ponder a bit. Why did this difference come about? I am pretty sure that Feinstein and McDuff know their Russian well. How is it that one translated version is poetic and elegant while another looks contrived and artificial? There probably could be two reasons. One could be that Feinstein was doing a poetic translation – trying to capture the soul of the poem, but in her own poetic way and not translate the words literally – while McDuff was doing a literal word-by-word translation. The second reason could be that while Feinstein was trying to capture the soul of the poem in her translated version, McDuff tried translating it in the literal sense, explaining the meaning of the poem explicitly, thus losing some of its implied poetic beauty. In this poem, I think a combination of both these is probably true.

 

This is my own take on it. I haven’t compared these two versions with the Russian original (Translating is a tricky business during the best of times. So I did what a meek person would do – I have shied away from it. But the Russian original is very musical and rhyming. Try reading it below.). If you have read the Russian original, do tell me whether my inference is correct. The above passage in Russian reads like this :

 

Не обольщусь и языком

Родным, его призывом млечным.

Мне безразлично — на каком

Непонимаемой быть встречным!

 

When I look at a passage from another poem called ‘The Poet’ and see the translated versions of the same by Feinstein and McDuff, I find that the second reason could apply in this case. Here are the two translated versions.

 

From Elaine Feinstein’s translation of ‘The Poet’

 

Here they are, ghostly and invisible, the

sign is on them, like the speck of the leper.

People like Job in this world who

might even have envied him. If.

 

From David McDuff’s translation of ‘The Poet’

 

The world has fictions beyond vision.

(Their sign : the sores of leprosy!)

The world has Jobs who would have envied

Job each hour of his agony.

 

When I read the last two lines of these two passages, I find that McDuff’s version tries to explain the meaning more explicitly by differentiating between the people who are like the biblical Job and the actual biblical Job. Feinstein’s version doesn’t try to do that.

 

What does a translator do when she / he is faced with a challenge like this? Does the translator go with a literal rendition of the poem or does the translator attempt a poetic translation of the poem which tries to capture the soul of the poem but shies away from a word-by-word translation? Should a translation read well or should it be faithful to the original? Also should a translation carry the hidden implied secrets of the original poem and leave them to be discovered by the reader or should it open the lid and reveal the secrets of the poem to the reader? What do you think about this?

 

Marina Tsvetaeva’s poetry collection is definitely going to be one of my favourite poetry reads this year. If you would like to explore Russian poetry, this is a good place to start. I highly recommend it. Elaine Feinstein’s translation is sensitive and masterful (of course, you already knew I was going to say that, didn’t you 🙂 ) and though I haven’t read the original poems yet, I think I can say that Feinstein has managed to capture Tsvetaeva’s lyrical voice in her translation very well.

 

Have you read Marina Tsvetaeva’s poems? What do you think about them? What are your thoughts on the challenges in translating poetry?

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I got ‘So You Want to be a Wizard’ by Diane Duane years back, in the middle of the Harry Potter fever. It has been lying unread since then. After I finished reading the wonderful, but chunky and tiny-fonted ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’, I thought I will read a book which is a light-read and which has a big font. The ‘light-read’ part of it was not that important. But the ‘big font’ part of it was crucial. Diane Duane’s book had a nice big font and so I started reading it. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.

So You Want To Be A Wizard By Diane Duane

Nita is in high school. She is nerdy and bookish. She is frequently bullied by her classmates and sometimes she is physically beaten up. One day while trying to escape from her classmates’ blows, she ends up in the library. And while browsing through the children’s section, she discovers a book called ‘So You Want to be a Wizard’. And before she knows it, she has immersed herself deep into the book. Nita has read about wizards in stories, but she didn’t know that they existed in real life. This book seemed to describe how to become a wizard and how to have a career as a wizard. She borrows the book, goes home and she continues reading it. From the next day she discovers that the world is different and it is the end of life as she knew it. She is able to hear the trees talking. And one of the trees tells her about another wizard nearby. Nita searches for this other wizard and finds a boy nearby who is practising spells. His name is Kit. They become friends. While they are practising spells, something strange happens, and they end up with a spot of light which floats in front of them. It speaks to them in the language which all of nature understands – the trees, all living things, and even things like stones and statues and doors and buildings. It tells them that it is a white hole. They call it Fred. Nita, Kit and Fred go to school the next day. They use magic to thwart bullies. Fred helps them. They meet senior wizards, go into a portal which takes them into an alternate universe which is dark and has bad creatures around, they discover that there are two books in the world – the book of light and the book of darkness – and there is a dark creature which is trying to convert all the light into darkness. They get into one scrape and adventure after another and in the end they save the world. Well, I don’t want to describe the whole complex story and spoil the fun for you. For the details, you should read the book.

 

Sometimes we fall in love at first sight, whether it is a person or a book or a piece of music or a painting or a house or a dog or a cat or literally anything. Sometimes this doesn’t happen. We get to know people or things and we are polite and try to put on a façade, but then suddenly one day, the flash-bulb moment arrives and something opens in our heart and we are in love. At other times, love slowly seeps into our heart through time and we don’t even know it, and then one day we discover that we are in love with this person or with this book or with this dog. For me, ‘So You Want to be a Wizard’ was not love at first sight. It was a combination of the other two things. The love seeped through my heart without me realizing it, and the flash-bulb moment also arrived during the middle of my reading. I put on a polite face and read the book – after all I was reading it more for the light story line and the big font – but at around page 60, something happened. It is the time when Nita and Kit practise a spell for the first time. Duane’s prose suddenly touched a chord in my heart and then it refused to let go. And then that happened again and again and my heart started responding to the music and then it became the music. And I loved every page of the book from there till the end. It was like falling in love for the first time. There were so many charming moments in the book which I loved – the first time Nita and Kit practise a spell, the first time Nita talks to Liused, the rowan tree in her yard (a tree on the branches of which she has been playing since she was a kid), the scene in which Fred, the white hole, makes his appearance and all the scenes in which he comes, the Lotus Esprit car and the way its hostility towards Kit and Nita turns into love, Duane’s description of the train’s joy – they were all so beautiful. One of the things I loved about the book was that there were just two main human characters – Nita and Kit (there was a third one, the villain and the dark power, who looked human. There were two other magicians, who make a brief appearance and then there were Nita’s bullies, her family – but they all come only in a scene or two). All other characters were not human but they were no less fascinating. My favourites were Fred, the white hole, Liused the rowan tree and the Lotus Esprit car. The action scenes in the story were nicely done but not necessarily brilliant. But there was a beauty and warmth in the story, which was difficult to define and articulate, and which I loved. I also loved the way the story paid homage to many of the giants – Madeleine L’Engle who wrote magical fantasy stories with a scientific backdrop, Tolkien,  because the villain and his backstory in Duane’s book clearly resembled the story of the Dark Lord of Tolkien’s story and also there is a dragon sitting in its lair guarding its gold, which looked like the scene straight out of ‘The Hobbit’. When I finished the book, I was sad that it had ended. After all, how many times do we get to read a story, in which one of our favourite, characters is a charming white hole which is hundreds of thousands of times massive as our sun?

 

When I started reading Duane’s book, I thought it would be a regular magical fantasy story, but after a while, I realized that it was no ordinary magical fantasy book. It was unique, because there was a lot of science in the book – black holes and white holes and gravity and alternate universes, warping of space and time, an investigation of the Moebius strip and how it applies to space. It is very different from Madeleine L’Engle’s series and it is also very different from other wizard stories like the Harry Potter series. I wish I had read it when I was in school. I would have loved it even more.

 

I think though this is a comment which is coming thirty years too late, I have to say this – this is a charming debut by Duane. I hope to read other books in this series.

 

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

 

Reading one book is like eating one potato chip.”

 

Very faintly Nita could hear what Kit heard and felt more strongly; the train’s aliveness, its wild rushing joy at doing what it was made to do – its dangerous pleasure in its speed, the wind it fought with, the rails it rode.

 

Kit :“If they know about us, do you think they’ll send help?”

Nita : “I don’t know. I get the feeling that maybe we are the help.”

 

She reached out a hand to Fred. He bobbed close and settled at the tip of one finger for a moment, perching there delicately as a firefly, energy touching matter for a moment as if to reconfirm the old truth that they were just different forms of the same thing.

 

Nita : “You ever swallow anything accidentally before, Fred?”

Fred : “Not for a long time. Not since I was a black hole, certainly. Black holes swallow everything, but a white hole’s business is emission. Within limits…anyway, all that emission makes me nervous. Too much of that kind of thing and I could blow my quanta.”

Nita : “Really? Have you emitted that much stuff that you’re in danger of blowing up?”

Fred : “Oh, not really – I’d have to lose a lot more mass first. After all, before I was a black hole, I was a respectable-sized blue-white star, and even these days I massed a few hundred thousand times what your cute little yellow-dwarf Sun does. I wouldn’t worry about it – I’m nowhere near the critical threshold yet.”

 

Have you read Diane Duane’s ‘So You Want to be a Wizard’? What do you think about it?

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It is already the end of the first week of February and it is probably quite late to think about making a reading plan for the year. I used to make reading plans once upon a time, but I am not a person who follows plans well because I like reading spontaneously and so in recent years I haven’t really made reading plans at the beginning of the year. This year I am excited about a few things and so I thought I will make a plan. I was very busy in January reading the wonderful and chunky ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’ and so I got time only now to put my thoughts down.

 

Last year, I did ‘My Year of Reading French Literature’. I focused on French literature for the first part of the year and discovered many wonderful new writers and books. But I couldn’t read as much as I had planned. So I am planning to continue it this year. So there will be a second edition of ‘My Year of Reading French Literature’. Instead of putting myself under pressure, by taking out some chunksters, I thought I will take some slim books and read them first. I have wanted to read Madame de Lafayette’s The Princesse de Clèves’ ever since Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat recommended it. But for some reason or the other, I have never got around to it. This year, I want to read it. (I have the Oxford edition of the book and that is exactly what the translated title is – ‘The Princesse de Clèves’. It makes me smile, because if the translators wanted to preserve the original French, it should have been ‘La Princesse de Clèves’. If they had wanted a translated version, it should have been ‘The Princess of Clèves’. Why the translator decided to use part of this and part of that – I will never know. Did the translator think that there was no difference between ‘la’ and ‘the’ but felt that ‘de’ was more sophisticated than ‘of’? What do you think about this?)

The Princesse De Cleves By Madame De Lafayette

I also want to read a book by Colette. I have had her Chéri’ for a long time now. It is just around a hundred pages. I think it is time to read it now.

Cheri By Colette

French writer Romain Gary’s centenary falls this year on May 8th. Emma from Book Around the Corner is celebrating his centenary through Romain Gary Literature Month in May. I have wanted to read Gary’s ‘Promise at Dawn’ since last year when I discovered it and so I hope to read it during Romain Gary Month.

Promise At Dawn Romain Gary

My book club decided to celebrate Jules Verne month’ in February (this month). We didn’t decide on a book but decided to read any of Verne’s books that we liked. I haven’t decided which book to read, but I hope that it will be ’20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ because I haven’t read that in a long time.

20000 Leagues Under The SeaByJulesVerne

Last year, I discovered Raymond Queneau and went and got three books by Raymond Queneau. I discovered ‘The Flight of Icarus’ through Stu’s (from Winston Dad’s Blog) review of it. (It is probably the first instance in which a character jumps out of the pages of a book into the real world). Later, Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’ recommended Queneau’s ‘Zazie in the Metro’. And later I discovered ‘Exercises in Style’ in which Queneau tells one story in ninety-nine different ways. I am hoping to read atleast one of these three books this year.

The Flight Of Icarus By Raymond QueneauZazie In The Metro By Raymond QueneauExercises In Style By Raymond Queneau

One more French book I want to read this year is ‘Against Nature’ by J.K.Huysmans. I discovered it last year by accident. It is about a man who cuts off all the people in his life and spends time alone in his castle admiring his jewels and his art. I don’t know why, but for some reason this story has caught my fascination. Can a person cut off everyone and live with art? Is that possible? Aren’t people social animals? Don’t even introverts and the painfully shy need the occasional touch of a fellow human being? How will this character’s action affect him psychologically? I am hoping to find about all this in the book.

Against Nature By JK Huysmans

Though I am hoping to read a lot of French books this year, I want this year to be ‘My Year of Reading Russian Literature’. I have wanted to dedicate a year to Russian books and I think this is that year. It is tempting to make a list of all the Russian books that I want to read and though I did that for fun, that list is too long to share here. What I decided to do was to dip my toe into the water and experience Russian literature slowly and gently. I have read my share of Russian books, but I thought it is time to explore this beautiful body of literature in a more focused manner. I want to get started with Orlando Figes’ ‘Natasha’s Dance’ which is a cultural history of Russia covering the 19th and 20th centuries. I know that Orlando Figes is not Russian, but I thought this book will lay the groundwork for me to explore more. (Isn’t the cover of this book stunningly beautiful?)

Natashas Dance By Orlando Figes

I also want to read one Russian chunkster. When I think about it, the book which first leaps to my mind is Leo Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’. I have tried reading ‘War and Peace’ a few times – the last time was around four years back, when I was able to finish the first volume – but I got distracted and gave up each time. I hope that I will be able to read it fully this time. This is the edition I have. The cover is beautiful, isn’t it?

War And Peace By Leo Tolstoy

Two other Russian chunksters which are distracting me right now though. The first one is ‘Ordeal’ by Alexei Tolstoy. ‘Ordeal’ is about the Russian revolution (in case you are curious, Alexei Tolstoy is distantly related to his more famous countryman Leo. He also wrote a novel based on the life of Peter the Great. He was also famous for his science fiction stories and children stories.) The second book which is distracting me is ‘And Quiet Flows the Don’ by Mikhail Sholokhov. It is a novel about the Don Cossacks and is also set during the Russian revolution. Both these novels are out-of-print. That is surprising because during their heyday both these novels were famous and were translated into multiple languages. It is also surprising that though Mikhail Sholokhov is a Nobel prize winner, that didn’t prevent his novel from going out-of-print. What more does a novelist need to do to keep his works in print?

 

With respect to size, ‘Ordeal’ is shorter than ‘War and Peace’ (not by much – ‘Ordeal’ is around 1300 pages, while ‘War and Peace’ is around 1400 pages) while ‘And Quiet Flows the Don’ is longer than ‘War and Peace’ (at around 1600 pages). Right now, I am leaning towards ‘Ordeal’ as I got it during my schooldays and it has been lying in my bookshelf for years and I think its time has come.

 

I also want to read some of the regulars – the writers whom we affectionately call the ‘Dead Russians’ (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Gogol, Chekhov, Pushkin, Lermontov) and some of the twentieth century writers who defied the government of their times (Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov, Pasternak, Grossman), if time permits.

 

Another thing I also want to do is read books by some of the Soviet era Russian writers who are not well known today (because they probably didn’t protest hard enough against the communist regime of their times or sometimes even supported the regime) but who wrote beautiful books. Some of the names I can think of are Vasily Shukshin, Sergei Dovlatov and Pavel Bazhov. And, of course, Maxim Gorky, who was a towering literary figure during his heyday but who is mostly ignored today. I found some wonderful suggestions in Ekaterina’s (from ‘In My Book’) wonderful post on Russian war literature. I am also planning to take some reading suggestions from Lizok’s Bookshelf, which is a rich source of Russian literature recommendations. If you have favourite books or reading suggestions by not-so-well-known Russian writers, please do let me know.

 

One book which contains short stories by many of the famous 19th and 20th century Russian writers is ‘Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida’edited by Robert Chandler. It was recommended to me by Andrew (you can find his brilliant review series on this book here) and I was delighted when I discovered that it had stories by Shukshin and Dovlatov too. I can’t wait to read that.

Russian Short Stories From Pushkin To Buida Edited By Robert Chandler

I also want to explore contemporary Russian literature. I think a good place to start would be ‘Rasskazy : New Fiction from a New Russia edited by Jeff Parker and Mikhail Iossel. I read a few stories from this book sometime back and I liked them.

Rasskazy New Fiction From A New Russia

I also have a collection of Russian poetry edited by Peter Washington. It is a beautiful pocket edition and it has selected poems by most of the famous poets. I hope to read atleast some of the poems this year.

Russian Poets Peter Washington

I have wanted to participate in the ‘Literature And War Readalong’ hosted by Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’, for a while now. But I haven’t been able to, till now. But this year when I saw that one of the books which is part of the readalong is Edmund Blunden’s ‘Undertones of War’, I was delighted and decided that this is the year I am going to participate in the event. I have always wanted to read an Edmund Blunden book since I read an excerpt from his book ‘Cricket Country’ when I was in school. I wanted to read that book, but, unfortunately, it is long out-of-print. The next best thing was his First World War Memoir, ‘Undertones of War’. I got a beautiful, pricey edition of it sometime back and I am glad that I will be reading it this year.

Undertones Of War Edmund Blunden

There are some standalone books that I definitely want to read this year.

 

I have been reading reviews of Markus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’ since it came out, but when I read Delia’s (from Postcards from Asia) beautiful review of it, I decided that I can’t postpone it anymore and I have to read it this year. I read a few pages and it looks wonderful. I can’t wait to continue reading from where I left off.

The Book Thief By Markus Zusak

Ever since Bina (from ‘If You Can Read This’) told me that ‘Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter’ by Astrid Lindgren was one of her favourite books, I have wanted to read it. It has been on my bookshelf for a while now, and I think it is time for me to read it and immerse myself into Ronja’s world and read about her adventures. (I don’t know why they changed the title from ‘Ronja’ to ‘Ronia’ in the British translation. I like ‘Ronja’ better.)

Ronia Robbers Daughter Astrid Lindgren

I have wanted to read an Alice Munro short story collection for long. I think I will start with ‘Dear Life’. The description on the back cover says that it is a collection of stories about ‘the moment a person is forever altered by a chance encounter, an action not taken, or a simple twist of fate.’ Isn’t that a bewitching description? How can one resist it?

Dear Life Alice Munro

I have read only one Haruki Murakami book till now. And that is not a novel. It is ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’. I am not a runner. I am a couch potato. Why I read that book, I have no idea. But I loved that book. And after reading, I gifted it to a friend who is a runner. Now I want to read one of his novels. One of my favourite friends, who is a Murakami connoisseur, told me that ‘Kafka on the Shore’ is her favourite Murakami. I want to start with that.

Kafka On The Shore Haruki Murakami

I had a bad film year, last year. I normally watch between 50 and 100 films a year (yes, I am a heavy movie watcher). But last year I watched 4. That is bad. Very bad. (I had a good reason though. I read more than normal and I watched lots of good TV series. But still…) This year, I want to watch more movies. First, I want to read this book called ‘A Short History of Film’ by Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and then use that as a guide to explore films across the twentieth century. I think that is going to be fun.

A Short History Of Film

One more book that I hope to read this year is ‘The Hakawati’ by Rabih Alameddine. I discovered it through Eva’s (from ‘A Striped Armchair’) review of it, and I have wanted to read it since then.

The Hakawati Rabih Alameddine

I also have a wish list for the year.

 

If I have time left after reading all the above books, which is a big ‘if’, I want to dedicate one or two weeks to reading Westerns –  some novels and many comics. I am a big fan of Westerns, especially Spaghetti Western comics like the stories of Tex Willer, Lucky Luke, Blueberry and Comanche, and so I want to read some of them this year. I have a few mammoth Tex Willer comic albums waiting for me.

Tex Willer

Tex Willer

Lucky Luke

Lucky Luke

Blueberry

Blueberry

Comanche

Comanche

I also want to read more Tamil novels this year. Because it looks like I am reading less and less of Tamil literature every year and I am worried that if this trend continues I might forget my mother tongue 🙂 Tamil literature is so rich and beautiful that I am really excited and looking forward to it. Some of the authors I hope to read are Sujatha, Janakiraman, La.Sa.Ra., Ramakrishnan, Vaasanthi, Choodamani and Salma. I will write a separate post on this, because it will give me more room to write about some wonderful Tamil writers and books.

 

I also want to read alteast one book on science (maybe John Gribbin’s ‘Science : A History’or ‘Deep Simplicity’) and one book on cricket (maybe ‘My Favourite Cricketer’edited by John Stern, which has one of my alltime favourite cricket essays by Frank Keating on his favourite cricketer Tom Graveney. If you are interested, you can find that essay here.).

Science A History John Gribbin

My Favourite Cricketer John Stern

I can’t resist posting a picture of my favourite cricketer, Sir Viv Richards here 🙂

Sir Viv Richards

So, that is my fanciful reading plan for the year. I hope I can stick to it.

 

What are you planning to read this year? Do you like making reading plans or are you a spontaneous reader?

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So now we have reached the end of the third week of the readalong. I had a bad reading week during the second week, but I am happy to say that I managed to catch up during the third week (I don’t think I have read so much in a week before) and though I am a couple of days late, I am happy to be posting my review today.

Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell By Susanna Clarke

Because I couldn’t read much of the second volume last week, I thought I will write about both the second and third volumes today.

 

In the second volume, Jonathan Strange and Arabella are married and move to London. Strange starts learning and practising magic on his own. One of his friends suggests that he become a student of Norrell. After thinking about it a bit, Strange goes to meet Norrell and after the initial hiccups Norrell is glad to accept him as his student. They have some wonderful times together discussing magic, trying new spells and helping the government. At some point Strange goes to Spain and stays with the English army and helps the army during the war using magic. His reputation grows. Meanwhile Stephen Black and Lady Pole get abducted each night and dance at a night-long magical party and they come back during the day to their regular homes. They are not able to complain about it to anyone because when they try, what they want to say doesn’t come out but they start describing some unrelated event or story because of a magical spell cast by the fairy which is abducting them. If I can make a long story short, at some point Strange comes back from the war, he and Norrell have a fallout and they part ways. The abducting fairy now starts eyeing someone else to kidnap to his party. And towards the end of the second volume one of my favourite characters dies. It was so unexpected and heartbreaking. (Susanna Clarke, how can you do this??)

 

In the third volume, Strange and Norrell start having a cold war of sorts and Norrell sabotages every attempt that Strange makes to take magic to the public and he also maligns Strange’s name at every turn. Strange writes and publishes a book on English magic and Norrell makes it disappear. At some point because of some things which happen (and about which I can’t write about, because I will be revealing spoilers), Strange and the fairy which abducts people, get into a war. Initially Strange is at the receiving end, but then he learns now spells and techniques and gives it back. And then the place Strange lives in gets enveloped by eternal night.

 

What happens to Norrell and Strange? Are they able to resolve their differences? What happens to Stephen Black and Lady Pole? Are they able to come out of the clutches of the fairy? Why did that favourite character have to die at the end of the second volume? And does Strange’s plan to take magic to the general public succeed? What about the Raven King? Does he make an appearance? Is the eternal night problem resolved? The answers to all these questions form the rest of the book.

 

I enjoyed reading ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’. Though the thickness of the book (big) and the size of the font (small) are intimidating, it is an even-paced read and the story moves quickly. There are beautiful sentences and humour sprinkled throughout the book. I loved the historical references and the way Susanna Clarke weaves fact with fiction. I was particularly interested in the Duke of Wellington who commands the English army in the peninsular war. When I discovered that his second name was Wellesley, my curiosity was piqued, because there was a British governor general in India during colonial times called Wellesley and I wondered whether it was the same person or whether they had a connection. (My dad is a big fan of the governor general because of the way he developed public infrastructure in India. I discovered that the Duke of Wellington was Arthur Wellesley and he was the younger brother of the Governor General Richard Wellesley. Quite interesting!) I also loved the scenes where some of the other real life characters made an appearance in the book. There is a scene which describes the meetings between Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley and Doctor Polidori, during which Polidori is supposed to have written the first ever vampire story and Mary Shelley wrote ‘Frankenstein’ and read it out. Many nice things happen at the end, but the ending is also open-ended and all the loose ends are not tied up. There is a promise of happiness but that lies outside the time-period of the story, there are some surprises which make the reader happy and there are some problems which are still unresolved. It makes one wonder whether a sequel was planned and one can’t resist pondering what happened to that. I would be particularly interested in whether the Raven King makes a longer appearance (someone who is probably the Raven King makes a brief appearance in the third volume) and whether Strange is able to solve the eternal night problem.

 

Many thanks to Delia from Postcards from Asia for co-hosting this readalong with me and for inspiring me to read this book. Many thanks to all the participants for joining in the fun.

 

Here are the links to the thoughts on the third volume by the other participants of the readalong :

 

Delia (Postcards from Asia)

TJ (My Book Strings)

Fleur (Fleur in Her World)

Yasmine (Yasmine Rose’s Book Blog)

 

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