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I always love looking back on my reading year because it is always pleasurable to think about books. So this is what happened to me with respect to reading in 2022.

I started the year reading ‘The Hellion’s Waltz’ by Olivia Waite, and ended the year reading ‘Out of Time : The Collected Stories of Samira Azzam‘. I read 80 books this year. (I wanted to read 60, so not bad 😊) I read 41 books by women writers and 37 books by male writers, and 2 short story collections which featured both. I read 60 fiction and 20 nonfiction. So clearly, I seem to favour fantasy over reality – not hard to believe considering the state our world is in. Out of the nonfiction books, 10 of the books I read were biographies / memoirs and 6 were books on science. I like all kinds of nonfiction, but these two seem to be the ones I favoured last year.

I read 29 books in English, 3 books in other languages (all in Tamil), and 48 books written in other languages and translated into English. I did two of the translations myself, with the help of Google Translate, with Google Translate doing 99% of the work, while I just dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s. Both these books were written by Jelena Lengold – ‘Odustajanje‘ (‘Giving Up‘) and ‘Lakonogi Dan‘ (‘Lightfooted Day‘) – and were originally published in Serbian. I loved them both. Hope they get translated into English.

I read 26 books by BIPOC writers, including the first novel I ever read by a native American writer, ‘Winter in the Blood’ by James Welch, which I loved. I read atleast 7 books which can be called as LGBT books, and 6 of them featured a lesbian love story. Looks like the lesbian love story might be my favourite kind of love story. I read one novel in verse, Jason Reynolds‘ ‘Long Way Down‘, which was brilliant.

I read 6 comics, 4 of them originally written in French, and 2 of them originally written in Japanese. I am a huge comics lover and buy a lot of comics every year. Most of them are waiting to be read. I clearly need to read more comics this year.

I read 8 short story collections, 3 in Tamil, 1 by an Arabic writer, 1 by Croatian writers, 1 by an Irish writer, and 2 by Caribbean writers. That is as diverse as it can get. I read one collection of plays, Yukio Mishima’sFive Modern Nō Plays‘. It was very different from Mishima-San’s regular stuff, but it was brilliant.

I didn’t read a single poetry collection, which was sad, but I read many poems shared by friends online, and poems written by friends who are poets, and loved them all. That seems to be the trend lately, read individual poems and contemplate on their beauty, rather than immerse oneself into a poetry collection.

Atleast 40 of the books I read, that is half of the books I read, were recommended by blogging friends, reading friends and writer friends. It looks like I’m clearly influenced by the recommendations of friends and the reading community. I also seem to have read books which seem to be virtually unknown today, like the German classic ‘The Nibelungenlied‘, the biography of the German poet Nelly Sachs, and the Hungarian novel ‘Captivity‘ by György Spiró.

The shortest Book I read was the Belgian comic (sometimes referred to as a BD or Bande Dessinée) called ‘Tuez en Paix’ (‘Kill in Peace’ / ‘You are at Peace’) by Tome and Bruno Gazzotti (46 pages). The longest Book I read was ‘Captivity‘ by György Spiró (863 pages), probably the first Hungarian novel I’ve ever read.

So, now the fun part of the post – favourite books. This is the hardest part for me to write, because across the years, I’ve become aware of the kinds of books I like, and I’ve leaned towards them more and more. So I love most of the books I read and so it is next to impossible for me to make a random list of 10 favourite books. But what is the fun in writing a long post without a list of books, right? 😊 So what I thought I’ll do is make a list of books which I loved which I want more people to read. So this is that list. All these books are beautiful. Hope you enjoy reading them.

1. ‘Odustajanje‘ (‘Giving Up‘) by Jelena Lengold – I read two Jelena Lengold books this year and I loved them both, but I loved this one a little bit more. The first part of the story is about the love between a sister and a brother and it is very beautiful. Jelena Lengold always writes brilliant first pages, and this book is no exception. This has still not been translated into English yet, but recently a translation has come out in Italian. Hope an English translation comes out soon.

2. Out of Time : The Collected Stories of Samira Azzam – This is the only collection of Palestinian writer Samira Azzam’s stories translated into English. It came out recently and it is beautiful and moving.

3. The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis – Édouard Louis’ memoir about growing up being poor and discovering that he is gay, and trying to hide it everyday from his family, friends and neighbours, who are all mostly poor, but also homophobic and racist. It is beautiful, powerful, moving and heartbreaking.

4. Gerta by Kateřina Tučková – A beautiful, powerful, moving story about a little known episode from the 20th century Czech history. Kateřina Tučková is a beautiful, contemporary voice in Czech literature.

5. Captivity by György Spiró – Discovered this through an article about chunksters. It is about a Jewish guy who lives in first century Rome. It is a sprawling, epic novel, and I learnt a lot about Jewish history and Roman history through this. This novel seems to be famous in Hungary, but I don’t know anyone who has read the English translation. It deserves to be more well-known.

6. Thanimai Thalir (‘The Solitary Sprout’) by R. Chudamani – One of my favourite discoveries this year. I knew that Chudamani was good, but I didn’t know that she was this brilliant. Chudamani was one of my mom’s favourite writers. There are three English translations of her stories. If you get a hand on one of them, do read.

7. Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse – YA literature is dominated by American writers. Joanne C. Hillhouse is from the Caribbean, from Antigua. This novel is a beautiful peek into Caribbean YA literature. It is about being young, being in love, and the beauty of music. It is beautiful. Hoping to read more of Hillhouse’s books this year. The one I am looking forward to reading is ‘Dancing Nude in the Moonlight‘. It looks very beautiful.

8. All Men Want to Know by Nina Bouraoui – It is a novel inspired by Nina Bouraoui’s own life. The narrator is half Algerian Arab, half French, and fully gay. How she straddles between these two worlds with her gay identity is what this powerful story is about.

9. The Street by Ann Petry – Ann Petry’s ‘The Street’ was a famous bestseller which was critically acclaimed when it was first published. Today it has attained the state of a true classic – often recommended, but almost never read. Please do read it. It is beautiful, powerful, moving and heartbreaking. I can’t wait to read more Ann Petry this year.

10. Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash – Ron Rash is a poet who also writes novels. This one is set in an Appalachian town and is like a murder mystery. But that is not what is great about the book. Ron Rash’s prose is pure poetry. I’m not using ‘poetry’ in a metaphorical sense here, to mean that the prose is beautiful, but I’m using it in the literal sense. You’ll know what it is, when you read it. I discovered this through Emma’s (from ‘Book Around the Corner’) recommendation.

11. Math without Numbers by Milo Beckman – There is a popular line which is used very often – “If you read only one book on this subject…” Well, it is my turn to repeat it. If you read only one book on math, read this book. It is a book written on math for the general reader, and it is the best I’ve ever read. It is brilliant. Milo Beckman says at the beginning that there are no numbers in the book, and the only numbers which are there are page numbers. He sticks to his promise.

12. The Dead by James Joyce – What is James Joyce doing on this list? Isn’t he famous enough? Well, James Joyce is famous for his books ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Finnegan’s Wake’. Readers try his book ‘Ulysses’ and half of them give up after a while. The other half who finish reading ‘Ulysses’, don’t even bother with ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, because it is too much even for them. So, James Joyce is not really famous, but he is more infamous for writing stuff like this, which normal people like me can’t understand. But…Yes, there is a but here 😊 So, you should just believe in John Snow, when he says that whatever comes before ‘but’ is horseshit 😄 But, if you want to read just one story by James Joyce and want to understand it and fall in love with it, it is this story. ‘The Dead’. It is a long short story which almost approaches the length of a novella. It is incredibly beautiful.

13. Set in Stone by Stela Brinzeanu – The story is set in Moldova in the middle ages, and it is about two women who fall in love. To add to the complexity, one of them is rich, the other is poor. This is not going to end well, right? Medieval world, two women falling in love – how can this ever work out? The general prediction would be that things will definitely end badly for the poor girl. What happens is, of course, very interesting! You have to read the novel to find out. One of my favourite discoveries of the year. Discovered it through Marina’s (from ‘Finding Time to Write’) recommendation.

14. Why We Kneel, How We Rise by Michael Holding – Mikey (Michael Holding) was one of the great cricket players who later became a popular commentator who was famous for calling a spade, a spade. He wrote just two books in his life – the first one, a memoir, and then this one. This is an unusual book by a sportsperson, because it talks about racism. I’ve never read a book like this by a sportsperson. Because Mikey was a cricketer, this book is popular among cricket fans, and it won many awards, including the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Prize. But it is virtually unknown outside the cricket community. Which is a shame, because this is an important book which needs to be read by everyone. If Mikey was an African-American and he had played basketball or American football and had written this book, he would have won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and would have been feted. But because he is Jamaican, he is just ignored. And that is the reason people like me need to push this book. We need to make this book more famous, we need to make Mikey more famous.

15. The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen – Tove Ditlevsen is an international literary star these days, after being ignored for decades. Everyone knows her name now and reads her books. She doesn’t need my help. But her trilogy was one of my favourites of the year, and I’ll feel bad if I don’t include it here. You’d have probably read it already, but if you haven’t, do read it. It is one of the great books of the 20th century.

How was your reading year in 2022? Which were your favourite books?

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Every year, a month before Christmas, the book buying fever catches me, and it rages for a while, while I empty my bank account. Then it leaves as suddenly as it had arrived. This year was no different. When the book buying storm died, these were some of the books which smiled at me 😊

1. Siberian Haiku by Jurga Vilė and Lina Itagaki – Discovered this book through a review. The story is set in Lithuania. I’ve never read a Lithuanian book before. It looks like a cross between a regular book and a graphic novel. So excited to get to it.

2. James Joyce’s Ulysses by Nicolas Mahler – Discovered this through Melissa (from ‘The Book Binder’s Daughter) and Joseph’s (from ‘roughghosts’) review. It is a new graphic novel adaptation of James Joyce’s classic. This adaptation was originally written in German. Looks very fascinating.

3. Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo – Discovered this book through one of my friend’s recommendations. I got it a while back, but decided to include it in this Christmas collection. The cover is beautiful and the book looks fascinating. Always love discovering new Caribbean literature.

4. Dark Avenues by Ivan Bunin – Discovered this through one of my friend’s recommendation. Ivan Bunin was the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize. But his books were always hard to find. So when I found that this collection of his short stories was still in print, I was excited to get it. Looking forward to reading it.

5. Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women by Jenny Hartley – Discovered this book through Claire Tomalin’s biography of Dickens. It was hard to find and it was expensive. It is published by Methuen. I didn’t know that Methuen was still around – I thought they must have been bought over and absorbed by one of the big publishing behemoths. Nice to see that they are alive and kicking. So excited to read this book.

6. D.H.Lawrence by Catherine Carswell – After reading D.H.Lawrence’s novellas recently, I thought I should read his biography. This one is written by one of his friends and she herself is a fascinating character. Can’t wait to read this one.

7. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – Watched the 1949 film adaptation of this book a few years back. Have wanted to read the book since then. Emma (from ‘Book Around the Corner’) gushed about the book recently, and so decided to get it. Read the first page and it is fascinating.

8. Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell – I’ve never seen one great novelist write the biography of another great novelist who is her contemporary. Never. So I was very excited when I discovered that Elizabeth Gaskell has written a biography of Charlotte Brontë! Why isn’t this more famous? Why didn’t I know about this before? Very excited to read this!

I got more books. They were all mostly classics. I also got many Kindle books – too many to include here. I’ll mention just one. At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid. It is the first book featured in #WeReadJamaicaKincaid which is a year long event celebrating Kincaid’s work, starting in January 2023. So excited to read this!

Have you read any of these books? What do you think about them? What books did you buy during this holiday season?

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Years back Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’ introduced many of us to the great Marlen Haushofer’s masterpiece ‘The Wall. I read it after discovering it, and at that time, I was only the second person that I knew who had read it. I was amazed that it was literally unknown, because as soon as I read it, it became my all-time favourite book. Since then I’ve recommended ‘The Wall’ to many friends, some of whom read it but responded to it in a lukewarm way, while most others just nodded politely and ignored my recommendation. Recently there was an essay published in ‘The Atlantic’ by Naomi Huffman about ‘The Wall’, and now James Wood has written an essay in The New Yorker about it. For some reason, it appears that writers and literary critics have suddenly discovered ‘The Wall’ and its fame seems to be growing by the day. It is not clear why, because even a couple of years back, Marlen Haushofer was totally ignored during her centenary. But I’m glad that her fame and the book’s fame is spreading and hopefully more people will read it.

I’m happy about this. But it is also a bittersweet moment for me. One of my favourite writers who was a secret among friends has now become famous. The fame is well-deserved, of course, and I’m so happy for Marlen Haushofer, but I also feel sad that the secret is out.

This is not the first time this has happened. Caroline, who has probably forgotten more about great literature than I’ll ever know, also recommended Patrick Modiano many years back. No one had heard of Patrick Modiano then, and there was no review of his books on the internet. But Caroline had read 15 books by him. Not one, not two, but 15! And we all know what happened. Modiano went on to win the Nobel Prize, and from an unknown writer he became a legend.

It didn’t end there, of course. Caroline also recommended Annie Ernaux many years back, and no one had heard of Annie Ernaux at that time. The English translation of her books were published by a small indie publisher and they were hard to find. Many years later, Annie Ernaux’ ‘The Years’ got shortlisted for the MAN International Prize, and suddenly everyone was reading and raving about Ernaux.

So, if you want to discover an unknown writer, who is going to get famous in ten years time and maybe win the Nobel Prize, you know whom to talk to – the one and only Caroline, reader extraordinaire, mom of two adorable black cats, Max and Isis (named after the Egyptian goddess), and whose book collection rivals Umberto Eco’s.

I wrote a long review of Marlen Haushofer’s book years back when I first read it. But no one will want to read that. Other friends wrote beautiful posts about the book. You can find Marina’s (from ‘Finding Time to Write’) post here, and Claire’s (from ‘Word by Word’) post here. Hope you’ll also read James Wood’s essay and Naomi Huffman’s essay and hope these posts and essays will inspire you to pick the book and read it, and experience its beauty. Happy reading!

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I’ve never read a Charles Bukowski book before. I got this book, ‘Post Office‘, as a present from one of my friends, and so I thought I’ll get started with this.

Henry Chinaski goes to work in the post office. First he joins as a mailman who delivers mail. But at some point he feels that he has had enough and quits and decides that he wants to bet on horses and enjoy the money he makes. At some point his girlfriend breaks up with him because he is just lounging around at home (though he is making money in horse betting). Then he gets a new girlfriend who is rich. She wants to prove to her family that a person can get by without being rich and so she makes Henry get back to work. After trying his luck at different places, Henry ends up at the post office again, this time as a clerk. What happens after that forms the rest of the story.

I loved ‘Post Office‘. The first thing I loved about it was Bukowski’s prose. It was sharp and shining, had a lazy elegance, and cut like a knife. But it was also filled with humour. Bukowski’s prose has had many imitators since, but probably no equal. The second thing I loved about it was the story. I looked at it as a commentary on how a typical dead end job looks like, and how people who work there are just cogs in the wheel and can’t bring any positive changes. The main character Henry Chinaski gets into this job by chance and deals with it in his own way – he is rebellious, and he doesn’t care about authority, and he knows that whatever he does it doesn’t matter, but he defies the system and has a devil-may-care attitude. It is hilarious the way he takes on the system and his superiors and when he occasionally wins, it makes us smile. If you have seen the movie ‘Office Space‘, and you remember the main character, you can picture Henry Chinaski easily.

I could identify a lot with Henry Chinaski and what he said and did, because I was one of those guys – quiet and defiant. Most of my bosses felt that I was too intelligent for my own good, I was too individualistic and not a team player, looked like a quiet introvert who was pliable but in reality was a defiant rebel, and so was not reliable. At one point things became so bad that I was moved into a team where I didn’t have any clear responsibilities and was exiled to the cubicle next to the toilet. Everywhere I looked around, there were enemies who were blocking anything I did. At some point things got better, of course, because there was only one way to move from rock bottom and that was up. So Henry Chinaski’s adventures made me laugh, made me sad, made me think, made me look back.

There was one particular incident in the book which was violent which left a bad taste in the mouth. It was not required, it didn’t add anything to the story, and it wasn’t art which improved the story. Some readers might crucify the book for that one thing. I’m not going to do that, but I was disappointed with it.

I’ll share one of my favourite passages from the book here, which captures the book’s style and humour beautifully.

      “Mr. Chinaski. This is a terrible record. I want you to explain these charges and if possible justify your present employment with us.”
      “All right.”
      “You have ten days to reply.”
      I didn’t want the job that badly. But she irritated me.
      I phoned in sick that night after buying some ruled and numbered legal paper and a blue, very official-looking folder. I got a fifth of whiskey and a six pack, then sat down and typed it out. I had the dictionary at my elbow. Every now and then I would flip a page, find a large incomprehensible word and build a sentence or paragraph out of the idea. It ran 42 pages. I finished up with, “Copies of this statement have been retained for distribution to the press, television, and other mass communication media.”
      I was full of shit.
      She got up from her desk and got it personally. “Mr. Chinaski?”
      It was 9 a.m. One day after her request to answer charges. “Just a moment.”
      She took the 42 pages back to her desk. She read and read and read. There was somebody reading over her shoulder. Then there were 2, 3, 4, 5. All reading. 6, 7, 8, 9. All reading.
      What the hell? I thought.
      Then I heard a voice from the crowd, “Well, all geniuses are drunkards!” As if that explained away the matter. Too many movies again.

Have you read ‘Post Office‘? What do you think about it?

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Wanted to take a break from the serious reading I’ve been doing and read a popular novel. Picked this one up. It is Irving Wallace’s first novel. Used to read a lot of Irving Wallace when I was a student. At that time, I felt that his books were well researched and so I learnt a lot from them, and they also had a good plot written in simple journalistic prose. Must have gone through atleast half of his backlist. At some point I stopped reading his books and never went back. I think his two best books were ‘The Man‘ and ‘The Prize‘. ‘The Man’ is about how a black man accidentally becomes the American President and how his party tries to impeach him. It was a book ahead of its time and would make a great TV miniseries even today. It was made into a movie during its time, with James Earl Jones playing the role of the African-American President, but I don’t think that movie is available anywhere now. ‘The Prize’ is about how the Nobel Prize is given and the controversies involved. Wallace spins that off into a Cold War era mystery. ‘The Prize’ was later made into a movie starring Paul Newman.

Wallace also wrote a lot of nonfiction and I feel that his nonfiction has aged well. I’ve read just one of them – ‘The Sunday Gentleman‘. It is a collection of biographical essays about interesting people. I learnt about P. T. Barnum and Van Meegeren and the Everleigh Sisters through that book. Wallace later expanded that essay on Barnum into a whole book called ‘The Fabulous Showman‘. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was one of the sources used for the 2017 movie, ‘The Greatest Showman‘.

This book, ‘The Sins of Philip Fleming’, is about a scriptwriter in Hollywood, who meets an attractive woman, and attempts to have an affair with her during the course of a week. There was nothing much in the story. It was disappointing. Just lots of descriptions of women from the perspective of the male gaze, and lots of gratuitous sex for which Wallace was famous for. Things that we’ll treat with contempt these days, and haul the author over the coals for. I didn’t like the main character – I don’t know what he was trying. The women characters were well drawn – they were complex and fascinating and likeable. The first scene in which the two main characters flirt with each other quoting lines from literature was nicely done.

The literary references in the story were interesting – Stendhal, Byron, Caroline Lamb, Henrik Ibsen, Proust, Tolstoy, Dickens. Now I want to read more on Lady Caroline Lamb – she looks like a fascinating person. There is also a reference to Croesus, about whom I am reading right now in Herodotus’ ‘The Histories’. There is also a reference to Andorra, one of my favourite countries, which I enjoyed reading about. There was a mention of a French perfume called Arpege. I wanted to find out whether it was real or imaginary and if it was real, whether it was still available. So went to Amazon and checked. Was very surprised that it is still around, in beautiful bottles. Who knew! It was expensive – not rich-people-expensive, but middle-class-expensive. For a moment, I was tempted to buy and try. Unfortunately, I’m not a perfume person.

So, the story was mostly unimpressive and disappointing, and hasn’t aged well. But the nonfiction parts of the book were interesting, if one decided to pursue them more and jump into the rabbit hole. I don’t know whether my favourite Irving Wallace books have aged well. Need to read ‘The Man’ and ‘The Prize’ again sometime, and see how they are.

Irving Wallace had an interesting background. He was Jewish. But he knew that in the America of his time, if people knew that he was Jewish, he wouldn’t get anywhere, as a writer. There was a quota for Jewish students in American universities at that time, not a minimum quota but a maximum quota. That is, a university won’t admit more than a particular number of Jewish students in a year. Some universities didn’t entertain Jewish applicants. All this during the time when Einstein was living in America and was celebrated there. So Wallace changed his Jewish second name to the more acceptable WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) name, Wallace. And he became a successful novelist, and at one point, he was probably the highest paid novelist in the world. His son David, discovered years later, that they were Jewish, they had East European roots, and their second name was Wallechinsky. So after he went through an identity crisis, David changed back his second name to Wallechinsky. I discovered all this through Anne Fadiman’s memoir about her father, ‘The Wine Lover’s Daughter‘. This is the kind of interesting stuff we learn from books.

In the picture :
Left – Irving Wallace with his daughter Amy;
Right – Irving’s son David Wallechinsky

For a book, in which the plot wasn’t great, it had some nice passages. Just proves that we can find beauty anywhere, if we decide to look closely. Here are some of my favourites.

“How falsely portrayed, in most novels and plays, and in almost all movies, were troubled marriages. In fiction, usually, a single reason was given for a marriage that did not work. As a writer he understood the necessity of this simplification. A single reason for discord could be dramatized better than many and could be better understood by audiences of varied sensitivity and comprehension. Yet, how untrue these pictures of the marital state. His own marriage worked, but not well. It had good days, lovely, wondrous days, and shattering black days. But when it was bad, it was bad not for a single reason but for a dozen reasons. They were so many, and often so indirectly related to immediate discord, that he often had difficulty in associating them with any quarrel.”

“In the studios there was a cliché, as phony as the producers who persistently repeated it, that if you could not tell the story you wanted to tell in one sentence, it was not worth making as a movie. “Give it to me in one sentence, kid,” they would say. “If you can’t, you haven’t got it yet.” This was the rankest nonsense. He liked to picture Charles Dickens sitting in a producer’s office trying to compress his latest novel into one sterile, meaningless, pretentious sentence. Yet, the cliché was appealing because it was challenging.”

“Surely somewhere, foreign ministers had conversed in stilted, guarded words of destruction or survival; surely somewhere, men had died by violence and lived by heroism; surely somewhere, floods had raged, and lovers scandalized, and sums of gold had been gained and lost—but to all of this, Philip had been blind and deaf. For a week, he had lived on a planet inhabited by two, and on this planet no other life existed. It was less strange than amazing, he decided, that this most momentous week in his memory would play no part in his public history. To him, the week had been the summary of his being, it had been everything, yet to others it would have no actuality. No one on all the earth knew or would know of the crucial days except he and Peggy—and not even she knew or understood its significance to him. He would grow into the years ahead, have more anniversaries, children, friends, acquaintances; he would become famous or respected or frustrated; he would add achievement to achievement and failure to failure, and earn money and spend it, and become grandparent and sage or old fool; he would love, and he would disappear, and no one would know of this one crucial week in his story. Was it possible that this happened to other men, too? If so, history was a fraud, and those who were diggers into the past were indulging in the idiot’s play of simpletons. Was it possible that the most decisive days in the lives of Jesus, Mohammed, Socrates, Kant, Darwin, Napoleon, Goethe, Freud, Marx, Tolstoy were not to be found in their writings or writings about them? Was it possible that even those whose lives had been so thoroughly illuminated by themselves and others—Samuel Johnson, Rousseau, Lincoln, Lord Byron—had carried their most vital secrets to their graves?”

Have you read Irving Wallace’s novels? Do you like them or hate them? Which one is your favourite?

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I watched highlights of some old, classic Roland Garros matches, in preparation for this year’s event, which starts this weekend.

The first match I watched was the McEnroe-Lendl final from 1984. I’ve read a lot about this match, but this was the first time I was watching. McEnroe played serve-and-volley tennis and outplayed Lendl in the first two sets! Imagine! Serve-and-volley tennis being played at Roland Garros! Won’t happen today 😊 Then Lendl came back and won the next three sets, inspite of being a break down repeatedly and won his first grand slam. Lendl was probably the Rafael Nadal of his time and McEnroe was probably the Roger Federer. But this is not a perfect comparison, because Lendl’s game was beautiful to watch, and his backhand was almost like Federer’s – such a pleasure to watch. McEnroe’s serve-and-volley game and his net play were brilliant. I’ve heard old-timers say that McEnroe was outrageously talented and he showed what he could do with a serve-and-volley game on a clay court. Though I have to also say that I’ve watched recordings of Martina Navratilova’s matches, and her serving-and-volleying and netplay were even more brilliant than McEnroe’s. I was expecting the match to be tame and unimpressive, because it happened a long time back, and old matches look that way today, because we are used to the speed and the athleticism of today’s players. I once watched the highlights of a Borg-Lendl French Open final and it looked pretty lame. After that I decided not to watch old matches but just read about them. But surprisingly this McEnroe-Lendl match looked quite good, even today.

The next match I watched was the Graf-Seles final from 1992. It was very competitive and it went quite close in the third set. I didn’t know that Seles had a double-handed forehand! I’ve never seen a player with a double-handed forehand! She was the first player from the former Yugoslavia to win so many grand slams, and I’m wondering how much of an inspiration she must have been to Novak Djokovic and other contemporary players from the region. Seles had Graf’s number at that time, and if that tragic event hadn’t happened, she would have beaten Margaret Court’s record. Seles won 8 grand slams while she was a teenager! It must be a record even now, I think.

Looking forward to watching the Serena-Henin 2003 match highlights today evening. I still don’t know how Henin beat Serena with her single-handed backhand! None of the women play with a single-handed backhand now. Except for two exceptions. There is a British doubles player, whose name I can’t remember, who plays with a single-handed backhand. Then there is one of my favourite players, Viktorija Golubic, who plays with a single-handed backhand. Everytime Golubic plays in a grand slam, I watch the whole match. It doesn’t matter whether she wins or loses. When she unfurls her single-handed backhand, it is so beautiful that my heart leaps with delight. It is more beautiful than Federer’s single-handed backhand, more beautiful than even Richard Gasquet’s single-handed backhand, and definitely much more beautiful than Tsitsipas’ or Wawrinka’s single-handed backhand. I hope Golubic plays for many more years and delights her fans.

Tennis is not just about winning and losing – it is about beauty, it is about aesthetic pleasure, it is kinetic art. That is why we watch Federer, that is why we watch Barbora Krejcikova, that is why we watch Richard Gasquet, that is why we watch Viktorija Golubic, that is why we watch Dustin Brown, that is why we watch Hsieh Su-wei, and that is why we rave about Agnieszka Radwanska, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg, Miloslav Mecir, Pat Rafter, eventhough they have long since retired.

Can’t wait for the French Open to start now 😊 Are you looking forward to the French Open?

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Sometime back, one of the Russian teachers I follow online, shared a Russian song. It had beautiful lyrics, which were very Russian, and it sounded like a Pasternak poem. So I searched for the full lyrics and the song online. I discovered that it was sung by Nikolai Baskov and Taisiya Povaliy. The song was called ‘Ты далеко‘ (‘Ti Daliko’ = ‘You are far away’). I listened to the whole song and I loved it and couldn’t stop listening to it. I hadn’t listened to many Russian songs before. I can remember only three – two beautiful songs from the classic Russian movie ‘Irony of Fate‘ and the legendary song by Vitas called ‘Opera 2‘ in which he raises his voice to such a high pitch like an opera singer that we almost feel that glass is going to shatter. So after I listened to ‘Ты далеко’, I thought I’ll search for more songs by Nikolai Baskov and Taisiya Povaliy. What started as a simple search soon ended up as an unexpected immersion into a whole new exciting world of music. It was like someone opened a door inside a cupboard and on the other side was the whole universe of musical Narnia with its endless beauty. Everyday new Russian singers cropped up during my search who were more and more amazing.

I thought about whether I should write about this. I don’t  know anyone else who listened to Russian music. I don’t know whether anyone would be interested in this. I also felt that I had discovered something new and I wanted to keep it a secret. I wanted Russian music to be my thing. Why put something out in public when I can just enjoy it in private. Stephen Fry writes poems but doesn’t share them in public. He writes poems because he loves writing them. He doesn’t want strangers to see his poems and try to interpret their meaning. Sometimes when we put something which is dear to us out in public, it loses its beauty, its delicate fabric is disturbed. After all, Kahlil Gibran once said — “Travel and tell no one, live a true love story and tell no one, live happily and tell no one…” We should be able to do this, even in this era of social media. I thought about this long and hard. In the end, I decided to write about it. Because someone introduced me to Russian music. I didn’t discover it myself. So I felt that I should pass on the beauty of Russian music to others so that they can discover its pleasures. The clinching thing was this. One of my favourite singers, Vera Brezhneva, has 12.4 million followers on Instagram. She is not exactly unknown. She is a celebrity. So, here is my love letter to Russian music. Hope you like it. Hope you also treat it gently and kindly. I have given the links to every song I have mentioned so you can easily listen to them.

When people think about Russian music, atleast when non-Russians think about it, they typically think of classical music composers like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, and classic singers who sing in the traditional style. I love the classics, but I discovered that today’s popular Russian music is not at all like that. It is cool, hip, young, fresh, stylish. It bursts with energy and it is a big ocean. I hope I can communicate some of that energy and style to you, through this post.

From top left : Irina Krug, Vera Brezhneva, Taisiya Povaliy, Dana Lahova, Albina Tokova, Alla Pugacheva, Nikolai Baskov, Vitas, Andrey Myagkov and Barbara Brylska in ‘Irony of Fate’

Irina Krug

I’ll start with one of my favourite singers, Irina Krug. I discovered Irina Krug pretty late on my journey into Russian music. The first song of hers that I listened to was a duet she sang with Edgar called ‘А Ты Меня Люби‘ (‘Aa Ti Menya Lubi’ = ‘And You Love Me’). It shows an old couple discovering a photograph of their younger days, making them remember how they first fell in love. When we look at the video, we realize that after all these years, after seeing off so many challenges together, the old couple are still in love, and their love is as fresh as when they first met. It is a beautiful song, and it pulls our heartstrings. The second Irina Krug song I loved was ‘Моя Королева‘ (‘Maya Koroleva’ = ‘My Queen’). It is a beautiful, moving song about love, loss and forgiveness. It moves me everytime I listen to it. ‘Моя Хорошая‘ (‘Maya Haroshaya’ = ‘My Dear / Darling’) is another beautiful song which is Irina Krug’s love letter to her mom. It is moving and poignant and it made me cry. One of my most favourite Irina Krug songs is ‘Бокал Бакарди‘ (‘Bakal Bakaardi’ = ‘A Glass of Bacardi’). It is my go-to song and I listen to it frequently and it always makes me happy listening  to it. It is odd, because the song is about love and longing, and it talks about a glass of Bacardi, but the song sounds happy when we listen to it. The live version of this song features a beautiful guitar solo by the guitarist, and everytime I listen to the song, I look forward to that guitar solo. ‘Ищи Не Ищи‘ (‘Ishi Ni Ishi’ = ‘Seek do not Seek’) is a song about a woman who is treated badly by her partner and what she does about it. The ending of the song is interesting in the video and we cheer for her. ‘Промежутки Любви‘ (‘Promezhudki Lubvi’ = ‘Intervals of Love’) is a beautiful love song. It is the kind of song that you listen to in the night, after dimming the lights, and sipping a glass of wine. ‘Две Странички‘ (‘Dvey Stranichki’ = ‘Two Pages’) is about a woman who writes her final two pages to her lover, and tells him that their time together  is over. One of the beautiful things about Irina Krug is that she sings at an even pace and pronounces every word, every syllable, every alphabet. Because of this, even if we don’t  understand  Russian, we can still enjoy the music of every word. Also, Russian, unlike English, has hard consonants. That is, there is no attempt at softening the hard consonants. So ‘r’ is pronounced properly as ‘r’. This creates music in the language, because we see the hard consonants alternating with soft consonants and vowels in a song, and it is beautiful to listen to. You can experience that beauty when Irina Krug is singing. Irina Krug’s favourite word seems to be ‘Слово’ (‘Slava’ = ‘Word’). It is there in nearly every song of hers. Her second favourite word seems to be ‘Письмо’ (‘Pisma’ = ‘Letter’). Many of her songs talk about writing a letter and it made me nostalgic about my letter writing days.

Irina Krug has been singing for a while, and so she has a huge list of hits. The above are some of my favourites. You can find more of her songs and collections on YouTube.

Vera Brezhneva

The second singer I want to write about is another of my favourites, Vera Brezhneva. I discovered Vera Brezhneva’s music very recently. Vera Brezhneva is Ukrainian, but sings a lot in Russian. The first song of hers that I listened to was a live concert recording of ‘Тихо‘ (‘Theeha’ = ‘Quiet’). In the video, we see a woman who looks like the last woman on earth, and her heart expresses a deep longing, and she seems to ruminate on what was and what might have been. The song plucked my heartstrings from the first note, and gave me a deep ache, the kind of heartache you want to wallow in, the kind of heartache you don’t want to go away. I wondered why I hadn’t heard of this amazing singer before. It was like she had sprung out of nowhere with a magical song. Of course, this is all my imagination, because Vera Brezhneva is a proper A-list celebrity. It is just that I know nothing, like Jon Snow. The second Vera Brezhneva song I listened to was ‘Хорошие Новости‘ (‘Haroshie Novosti’ = ‘Good News’). It is about a woman who tells her lover that she doesn’t need his gifts and his promises, but she just needs him to be with her. This song encapsulates everything that Vera Brezhneva is about. Vera Brezhneva is different, in one significant way, from other Russian / Ukrainian singers I’ve listened to. Most Russian / Ukrainian singers I have listened to, just sing a song. They don’t dance or sway to the music. When there is a gap between two passages of singing, when the musicians take over, they just stand on the stage and wait. Occasionally, they walk around the stage and engage with the audience, waving their hand, thanking them, asking them to join in by clapping. If there is dancing on stage, it is done by dancers who are there for that reason. Vera Brezhneva is an exception to this. She sizzles with energy, she expresses herself on stage, and she dances and sways to the music. She eggs the musicians on, she eggs the audience on. The cool style and the casual effortless elegance that Vera Brezhneva brings on stage is unmatched and her energy and enthusiasm is infectious. When you listen to Vera Brezhneva exhorting the audience while singing ‘Хорошие Новости’, you are possessed by an energy you didn’t realize you had, and you want to get up and dance to the music. The song grabs you in the first few seconds and doesn’t let go till the end. There is a studio recording of that song, in which Vera Brezhneva sings the song, while sitting on a chair, and even then she is not able to sit still, as she is bursting with energy, and she can’t stop swaying to the music. It is a joy watching her perform. ‘Хорошие Новости’ is my go-to song when I am feeling down, because just ten seconds into it, the song lifts my spirits up. It is amazing how a happy singer and a song bursting with energy, can lift our spirits up. ‘Ты Мой Человек‘ (‘Ti Moi Chelavyek’ = ‘You are My Person’) is another of my favourites. There is a studio live performance of the song, and though the space is constrained with cables running around, Vera Brezhneva is bursting with energy, and she finds a way of expressing herself on the stage. Vera Brezhneva is one of my favourite discoveries.

Taisiya Povaliy

The next singer I want to write about is Taisiya Povaliy. She is Ukrainian but sings a lot in Russian. Taisiya Povaliy and Nikolai Baskov is where my present music journey started and so I have a soft corner for them both. Taisiya Povaliy has sung a lot of duets, though she has sung many singles too. Around ten years back, she and Nikolai Baskov made a whole album of duets, which had that legendary song ‘Ты далеко‘ (‘Ti Daliko’ = ‘You are far away’). Another favourite duet of mine sung by these two is ‘Отпусти Меня‘ (‘Atpusti Menya’ = ‘Let Me Go’), which is a beautiful, soft, love song. Out of her singles one of my favourites is ‘Я Буду Твоя‘ (‘Ya Budhu Twaya’ = ‘I Will Be Yours’). The music for this was composed by the young Ukrainian composer Victoria Kokhana and it is beautiful. Another favourite single of mine is ‘Вкус Огня‘ (‘Vkus Agnya’ = ‘Taste of Fire’). When Taisiya Povaliy raises her voice while singing the lines ‘И солнца мало, и луны’ (‘And the sun is not enough and the moon’), I always get goosebumps. Taisiya Povaliy is one of the greats.

Dana Lahova

Recently I discovered one of the Russian singers from the younger generation, Dana Lahova. She doesn’t have a Wikipedia page and it is hard to find information on her. She seems to have Circassian roots, but I am not able to confirm that. Dana Lahova has a particular style, and because of that, all her songs sound very similar. They are calm, serene, soothing, the kind of song you will put on when you go on a long drive in the night. My favourite song of hers is ‘Вспоминаю Я Тебя‘ (‘Vspominayu Ya Tebya’ = ‘I Remember You’). I also loved her most famous song, ‘Знаю, Знаю, Знаю‘ (‘Znayu, Znayu, Znayu’ = ‘I Know, I Know, I Know’).

Albina Tokova

Albina Tokova is another new young singer that I discovered. My favourite song of hers is ‘За Горизонтом‘ (‘Za Garizontom’ = ‘Over the Horizon’). Albina Tokova has an amazing voice range, and the pyrotechnics she does with her voice are a pleasure to listen to. The song evokes the big things, the horizon, probably the Russian Steppe.

Alla Pugacheva

While exploring contemporary Russian music, I stumbled upon the great Alla Pugacheva. She was one of the greats and she sang mostly in the ’70s and the ’80s. Every Alla Pugacheva concert those days was an event. Her partnership with composer Raimonds Pauls was legendary. One of my favourite songs performed by these two is ‘Маэтро’ (‘Maestro’). The piano solo during different parts of the song by Raimonds Pauls is exquisite. It gives me goosebumps everytime I listen to it. Another song performed by these two that I loved is ‘Миллион Алых Роз‘ (‘Million Alih Roz’ = ‘Million Red / Scarlet Roses’).

Irony of Fate

I need to talk about how it all started. The first ever Russian song I heard was from the movie ‘Irony of Fate’. The lyrics of the songs in the movie were all poems by great poets like Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva and so they are very beautiful. One of my favourite songs from the movie is ‘Если У Вас Нету Тёти‘ (‘Esli Oo Vaz Nyetu Chochi’ = ‘If You Don’t Have an Aunt’). It is a deeply philosophical song and is also funny at the same time. I used to listen to it all the time. Another favourite from the movie is ‘Я Спросил У Ясеня‘ (‘Ya Spracil U Ya Sinya’ = ‘I Asked the Ash Tree’). It is a very moving song and very Russian. I used to sing it all the time.

Vitas and Opera 2

One last song I want to write about is ‘Opera 2’ by Vitas. You can find the original video here, and the live version here. The original video actually shows glasses shattering 😊 The live version is amazing, because I don’t know how he was able to raise his voice like that, concert after concert. Nikolai Baskov who is a trained opera singer and proper tenor, I don’t think even he can sing like this. There is something primal about Vitas’ scream, and it touches some deep, unknown part of our heart and gives us goosebumps. These days Vitas doesn’t sing songs like this. He sings romantic songs. It made me smile when I discovered that 😊

Songs of the heart

In my native language Tamil, in ancient classical literature, there are two poetry collections. One of them is about the inner life, the feelings of the heart. The second one is about the outer life, about the real world out there. All the Russian songs I discovered seem to be about the inner life, about the matters of the heart. I wonder whether all contemporary Russian songs are like this, or I have just ventured into the musical territory which has songs like this. This is something interesting to think about.

Listening guide

Now, if you are a native Russian speaker or you are fluent in Russian, you might have already listened to most of these songs. Listening to them is child’s play for you, because the language is not a barrier. If you are like me, and you have learnt Russian for a while, but are not fluent in it, and you are able to catch parts of a song and guess or imagine the meaning of the rest of the song, listening to this collection will be fun for you. But if you don’t know a word of Russian (except for ‘До свидания’ (‘Do Svidaniya’ = ‘Goodbye’) – everyone knows that), then you may not understand the lyrics. But you will definitely be able to sense the mood of the song, you’ll be able to tell whether it is a happy or a sad song, and which parts of it move you. It is like listening to a Spanish song or a French song or Italian opera, which some of us do, without knowing the language. If you are still not convinced, I’ll ask you a question. Have you listened to Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’? Do you like it? It is one of my favourite songs. Probably top two out of all of Michael Jackson’s. I have been listening to it since I was a kid. I don’t know a single word of the lyrics. Even if you try, you can’t figure it out from Jackson’s singing. One of my friends once told me that the main line of the song was “Annie, are you okay?” I laughed when I heard that, because there doesn’t seem to be “Annie, are you okay” in the song. Unless we read the lyrics, we can’t figure it out. So, if we can listen to ‘Smooth Criminal’ and enjoy it, without understanding a word of it, I think we should be able to listen to these Russian songs. I hope you enjoy listening to them.

So, that’s it. What I have written about is just a drop in the ocean. Russian popular music is a huge ocean which never stops giving. You might discover ten new singers who are amazing whom I’ve never heard of. I keep discovering new singers everyday. It is amazing that all these singers are popular in Russia and its neighbouring countries, but most of them are virtually unknown outside the region. It seems to be the region’s best kept secret. They deserve to be more well-known because they make beautiful music. I hope you listen to some of these songs and enjoy them, and I hope it inspires you to explore more Russian music and enjoy its pleasures. Happy listening!

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I discovered Arno Schmidt’sBottom’s Dream‘ a few years back when the English translation came out. Someone in Twitter, probably the publishers, wrote about it. It looked like a chunkster and it was translated by one of my favourite translators John E. Woods – I loved his translations of Patrick Süskind’sPerfume‘ and ‘The Pigeon‘ – and so I decided to get it.

When the postal courier arrived, I was surprised, because he carried the package on his shoulder! It was huge! When I took it from him, I nearly dropped it! It was that heavy! I discovered later that it weighed around six kilos (if you are into pounds, it is a little more than thirteen pounds). It was bigger than any other book I had in my collection – ‘War and Peace‘ and ‘Les Miserables‘ paled in comparison. It was so huge and massive that its immensity was intimidating. It was also the heaviest. It was next to impossible to hold it in your hand and read. It has to be kept on a table or a special book holder if one wanted to read it. It was also the most expensive single-volume novel that I had got till that time – it cost me the equivalent of fifty dollars. (It trades on Amazon at 855 dollars now, so not a bad investment 😁)

More facts emerged later. I discovered that only 2000 copies of the book were published, 1000 for the American market and 1000 for the rest of the world. I was able to get hold of one of the rest-of-the-world copies. There is no Kindle edition – the estate of Arno Schmidt refused to approve that. It was published by Dalkey Archive, who have been publishing beautiful works by lesser known authors for the past forty years. The publishers and the writer’s estate seem to have adopted a publishing philosophy from an earlier century – publish limited copies of the book, and that’s it. The book is out-of-print now and I hope existing copies cost a fortune when I get old – I hope to get rich with this.

The book is produced in a classic German (or rather European) style. That is there is no introduction, no analysis of the book or its place in literary history. The book proper starts on the first page. There are no distractions. No potted biography of the author, no description of the translator, nothing. It is you and the book, 1500 pages of it, and nothing in between. The translator seems to have taken pity on the readers and so has sneaked in a one-and-half page afterword in the end, which doesn’t say much. There is a short description on the back of the slipcase through which we discover that the book is about Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare, the art of translating. Otherwise we can’t fathom anything about the book.

I know only three other people who have got the book – Melissa from ‘The Book Binder’s Daughter’, Tony from ‘Messenger’s Booker (and more)’ and one more friend from Twitter. Only Tony has read a significant part of the book, I think. You can find his first post on the book here. Tony’s posts are encyclopaedic and an education to read. I don’t think there is anyone who has read the book fully. I see many readers have reviewed the book on Amazon. But I doubt whether any of these readers have read the book fully. Anyone can write a review of any book. I am very good at it – I can write a review of any book I haven’t read. If I can do it, anyone can do it. I will believe it only when I see it.

I thought for this year’s edition of ‘German Literature Month‘, I’ll read a few pages of ‘Bottom’s Dream‘. I thought that would be a great way of celebrating this 10th edition of GLM. I read the first three pages. I couldn’t understand anything. Only a vague inkling of what it was about. But it was nice to read the first three pages. I am sharing them here. Go ahead, do read them. And tell me whether you can understand what they say.

This is my last post for the 10th year celebrations of ‘German Literature Month‘ hosted by Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’ and Lizzy from ‘Lizzy’s Literary Life’. I couldn’t read much this year, but I had fun participating and sharing thoughts on my favourite German writers and poems and attempting to read Arno Schmidt’s magnum opus. Thanks so much to Caroline and Lizzy for hosting GLM. It is my favourite reading event of the year and I can’t wait for next year’s GLM already.

Have you tried reading Arno Schmidt’s book? What do you think about it? Did you participate in German Literature Month this year? Which were your favourite reads?

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After reading Colette’sChéri‘, I decided to read her first book in the Claudine series, ‘Claudine at School‘. I read this for ‘Women in Translation Month‘.

Claudine is a fifteen year old girl. She lives in a village and is in high school. She is the narrator of the story. In the story Claudine tells us about her adventures in school, her friends, her teacher, her love for nature, events that happen in her school and how it impacts her and her friends, her love for her dad, her love for books – these and other things are narrated in the book.

When I first heard of Claudine’s story, I thought it would be the story of a girl at school and the adventures and fun she has. I thought it would be Colette’s French version of a Judy Blume book. Part of the book is that, but there is more to the book than that. Claudine falls in love with her teacher, but her headmistress is also in love with her teacher, and there is a three-way lesbian love story there. It is amazing because Colette wrote this book in 1900, and I don’t know anyone else who wrote a lesbian love story in 1900. Even if there was, things would have been described in vague language, so that it could be open to different interpretations. Colette will have none of that nonsense and she describes things as they are. Colette was brave and she was a pioneer. After reading more of her work, I am able to understand why she has been revered by readers and writers of her time and since.

Claudine is a charming narrator and from the first lines – “My name is Claudine, I live in Montigny; I was born there in 1884; I shall probably not die there” – she grabs our attention and never lets go. Claudine’s voice is somewhere between that of a child and a grown-up and she describes the hypocrisies of the grown-up world as she sees it. There are no bad characters in the book, atleast I didn’t feel there were any. There were just imperfect human beings with flaws, and Claudine describes them perceptively through her fifteen year old voice. There are people she likes and people she doesn’t like, and she herself is not nice sometimes, but she doesn’t shy away from describing things as she sees them. One of the things I loved about the book is the way it beautifully describes the real world of children and teenagers – how they are nasty and fight one day and exhibit kindness towards each other the next, sometimes even in the next moment. Claudine keeps treating with contempt, one of the girls in the class who likes her, but fights for her when she is in trouble, and helps her when she needs that. Reading that took me back to my schooldays. My favourite part of the book is the one in which Claudine tells us what happens when she and her classmates go to write their final exams. Claudine takes on one of the tough professors during the oral exam and she has her own opinion on history based on her wide reading and he disagrees with her strongly, though he respects her for holding on to her opinion and standing up to him. At one point when Claudine’s headmistress tries to intervene and cool things down he says – “Let her alone, Mademoiselle, there’s no harm done. I hold to my own opinions, but I’m all in favour of others holding to theirs. This young person has false ideas and bad reading-habits, but she is not lacking in personality – one sees so many dull ones.” I smiled when I read that 🙂

The book has an introduction in which Colette describes how she wrote the book – her husband asked her to write the book and then published it in his name. It was one more case where the husband took credit for the wife’s work, and it makes us angry when we read it, and we are glad to read how Colette came out of that situation and how the books were later published in her own name.

I loved ‘Claudine at School‘. It was almost as if Colette’s was speaking in Claudine’s voice. I don’t know how much of the book is autobiographical, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is. Claudine is one of the great charming heroines and one of my favourites. She made me remember Ronja and Pippi, Astrid Lindgren’s great heroines. I can’t wait to read the second part of the series now, ‘Claudine in Paris‘.

Have you read ‘Claudine at School‘ or other books in the Claudine series? What do you think about this book?

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Julius Winsome‘ by Gerard Donovan was highly recommended to me by a couple of friends from my book club. I hadn’t heard of Gerard Donovan before and was excited to explore a new writer.

The story told in ‘Julius Winsome‘ is narrated by the title character. He lives in a cabin, in the middle of the woods in Maine. The nearest neighbours are a few miles away. The nearest town is also a few miles away. Julius lives with his dog Hobbes. Julius hasn’t gone to college, but is very well read, because his father inspired a love for literature in him. His father also left him with 3282 books. All the walls in Julius’ home are lined with bookshelves filled with books. 3282 books. One evening, at the end of October, Julius is sitting in front of the wood stove, in which the logs are crackling producing a beautiful sound and generating a pleasant warmth. He is reading a collection of short stories by Chekhov, while sipping a hot cup of tea. (I read those lines in the book atleast ten times. Such a perfect first scene. Sitting in front of the fire, in the fall, reading a book, sipping a cup of tea, with a dog at his feet – what can be better? Wait, where is the dog?) Julius suddenly discovers that his dog Hobbes is missing. He calls for Hobbes, but doesn’t hear any answer. He tries after a while, but still no answer. Sometime before he had heard a gunshot, but this is the time of the year, when there are hunters in the forest and so one hears gunshots. And so Julius had ignored it. But now he is worried. After a while, he becomes restless and goes out in the cold and searches for his dog. He finds Hobbes, some distance away, on the ground, shot by a gun, but still alive. Julius takes his truck, and rushes to the veterinarian. The doctor tries his best but it is too late. Hobbes has lost a lot of blood. He looks at Julius for the last time and then stops breathing. Julius brings him back home and buries him nearby. Julius feels very sad. As he describes it himself :

“By the time I was back in the cabin and stirring the fire, I missed him for the first time, missed him with a hammerstrike against the heart, the awful moment when you know what gone really means. It means no one sees how you live, what you do.
And along with the sadness, something else crept in the door, a trace of something else, I mean. It must have come from the woodpile or ran in from the woods, because I’d not felt anything like it before.”

That thing which creeps into his house along with the sadness, it darkens his heart, makes him thirst for revenge. What happens after that, what Julius does about it, is he able to find who killed Hobbes, is he able to take his revenge – these form the rest of the story.

Julius Winsome‘ is a beautiful study of loneliness, of solitude. It belongs in the category of the great introvert novels – like Patrick Süskind’sThe Pigeon‘ and ‘Perfume‘ and J.K.Huysmans‘ ‘Downstream‘ and ‘Against Nature‘, Robert Seethaler’sA Whole Life‘, Denis Thériault’sThe Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman‘ and Alexis M. Smith’sGlaciers‘. It describes what happens when an introvert sits in his cabin, sipping tea, reading his favourite book, and minding his own business, and the outside world suddenly enters his life, explodes into his life, changing it upside down. What happens is surprising and even amazing, and sometimes we may not even approve of what is happening, but if one is an introvert (not the introvert who claims to be one, but spends most evenings and weekends with friends and other people and has a busy social life, but the one who is the real deal, the introvert who spends a Saturday evening reading a book rather than catching up with friends, who watches movies alone because she / he hates other people when they talk during a movie, who hates talking on the phone but prefers texting, that kind of introvert), one can understand why things are happening the way they do. Gerard Donovan clearly loves Shakespeare and he passes on that love to the narrator whose account is filled with Shakespearean words and we find interesting scenes in which two people are pointing a gun at each other and the narrator quotes Shakespeare and the person on the opposite side says ‘What???‘ 🙂 I loved those scenes. It made me remember a Tamil movie called ‘Anniyan‘ in which the main character quotes Sanskrit shlokas to the bad guys and their faces widen with a bewildered look. After the initial cozy start and the subsequent tragedy, the story acquires the pace of a thriller and we want to turn the page to find out what happens next. It was interesting to see the story transforming in shape and become something new and different but which has deep roots in its past. Gerard Donovan’s prose is spare and beautiful and the narrative is interspersed with beautiful sentences and passages. The story has an interesting ending, something that I didn’t expect.

I loved ‘Julius Winsome‘. It is a beautiful story of solitude, love, friendship, loss, revenge, war, violence, redemption. It is also a beautiful story about the friendship between humans and dogs and a beautiful story about the love for literature and Shakespeare. I can’t wait to read more books by Gerard Donovan.

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

“My father was so sparing in his words you had to add water to them before they swelled into a sentence you could understand.”

“If a man whispers something to you in German, and you don’t speak the language, you won’t understand a word of it : he could be talking philosophy or cursing your parents. If he shouts the same thing or different German words at you, you still won’t understand a thing. When a dog lifts his head and howls while keeping his eyes on you, slightly from the side, it means he’s playful but knows that you’re putting one over him. If he puts his head back and barks at you full on, down from the stomach, he wants to play. If he growls from the stomach when you grab him and looks sideways at you, it’s pure affection, but if he growls straight ahead and shallow from the teeth, it’s a one-second warning. If you don’t understand his language, it’s all noise. Those men abroad in the woods did not, I think, understand my Shakespeare, though every word of it was English and I spoke carefully. I may as well have been barking at them. Time makes dogs of us.”

Have you read ‘Julius Winsome‘? What do you think about it?

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