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Archive for the ‘Women In Translation’ Category

After reading one Kateřina Tučková, I decided to read another 😊 It was ‘The Last Goddess‘.

Dora is researching on her family’s past. At the same time she is also researching on female healers from her hometown, who were traditionally persecuted as witches in previous centuries, but who were called ‘goddesses’ in her hometown. These two areas of research intertwine, of course – what is the fun otherwise – because we discover that Dora’s aunt who brought her up, her mother who died when she was young, her grandmother and her female ancestors all formed a long line of ‘goddesses’, who were healers, who were persecuted. As Dora delves more into her family history, she discovers many secrets, some surprising and some unpleasant, and from the pages of her family’s history there arises a mysterious character who seems to have played a major part in persecuting her family members. The identity of this person and the secrets that are revealed and the way Dora’s family story intertwines with her country’s history forms the rest of the book.

The Last Goddess‘ is a very different book compared to ‘Gerta‘ because it delves into female healers, witchcraft, witch trials. But it has one common thing with ‘Gerta’. It brings to light a little known facet of Czech history. I was surprised that much of the book was based on facts, and the author has done her research well. That makes the book even more fascinating. The women characters in the book are all fascinating, even one of the characters who practises dark magic. The ending of the story was surprising and heartbreaking – I didn’t see that coming.

I enjoyed reading ‘The Last Goddess‘. Kateřina Tučková has written one more novel in Czech. I hope it gets translated into English soon. I can’t wait to read it.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“…the people of Kopanice held on to the notion that they were exceptional because they lived in an exceptional setting. Dora would have liked to begin here in the writing of her dissertation. But of course, it was nonsense to open an academic work with an essay on a mountainous landscape whose slopes were covered with forests of Carpathian beech and oak, their trunks too broad to put one’s arms around, where the hillsides were dotted with narrow tilled fields and squat little cottages and meadows that, in summer, were aglitter with rare orchids and anemones. An academic work cannot begin with a description of a fresh summer day in the mountains that gives way in a moment to winds and storms that swathe the ridges in dark, impenetrable clouds, nor with one of a hard winter when the hills are whipped with snowy gusts more reminiscent of Siberia than southern Moravia. The pages of such a work cannot describe the huge round moon and the shreds of night sky between the tips of the serried hills, nor can it observe that on a cloudless night, the hillside paths are seen almost as clearly as in daytime; that when at such a moment you stand on the crest of a hill at the threshold of your cottage, you might believe yourself in heaven, the whole world open beneath your feet; and that the lights of cottages scattered across the hillside opposite wink at you, as do those of Hrozenkov from a hollow between hills, like a babe in its cradle. Everyone knows of everyone else, regardless of the distance between them. They are alone, yet together. That would have been a proper beginning for her dissertation, showing how magical Kopanice in the White Carpathians was and that only in such a place could something as special as the goddesses originate and develop. In an academic work bound by strict rules in which aesthetics counted for naught, there was no place for it, however.”

Have you read ‘The Last Goddess‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘Gerta‘ by Kateřina Tučková recently and I just finished reading it.

It is the eve of the Second World War. Germany invades Czechoslovakia. Germans take over the Czechoslovakian government and welcome the invaders. Gerta lives with her family in the city of Brno. Gerta’s situation is complicated. Her dad is German and her mom is Czech. She speaks both languages fluently and is at home with both cultures. Her dad tries to push German language and culture at home, but Gerta leans more towards her mom and towards her Czech side. Things go bad for the Czech people during the Nazi occupation, before they get better, when the Russian army walks into Czechoslovakia and liberates it from Germany. But better is just an illusion. For Gerta and her family, they are regarded as German by the native Czechs. As soon as the war gets over, Gerta and others like her – German women who live in Brno, or women with both German and Czech parents – are expelled from the city and are taken on a death march. What happens to Gerta and others like her forms the rest of the story.

The book throws light on a little known episode in Czech history of the 20th century and focuses on innocent people who suffered for years because of the vagaries of history. The story is mostly sad and haunting and heartbreaking. But there are also many beautiful moments in it. The kindness of strangers because of which the world survives and thrives, is present throughout the story. We see most of the story unfold through Gerta’s eyes, but in the second part of the book, Gerta’s daughter occasionally makes an appearance and tells the story from her perspective. Kateřina Tučková’s prose is spare and moves the story gently like a river. When I reached the end of the book, I cried.

I loved ‘Gerta‘, though it was mostly heartbreaking to read. I hope to read more Kateřina Tučková books. I’ve heard that ‘Gerta’ has been adapted into a play in Czech, and it has received many accolades and has been admired by fans. I hope I can watch it one day.

Have you read ‘Gerta’? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘All About Sarah’ by Pauline Delabroy-Allard recently and was finally able to read it today.

The narrator of the story is a single mom who has a young daughter. She and her husband divorced sometime back. One day she goes to a party and bumps into a woman called Sarah. Sarah is loud, talkative, unconventional, doesn’t care what people think. Our narrator is drawn towards Sarah and is deeply attracted towards her. And Sarah responds to that. And as they say, it is the end of life as they know it. I won’t tell you anything else about the story here. I’ll let you read the book and discover its pleasures.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part describes the love story between the narrator and Sarah. It has short chapters and it is mostly a happy story. The second part is a bit sad, is a bit dark. It has chapters which are a little longer. I liked both the parts, but I loved the first part more. The attraction, the seduction, the love, the fights, the making up were so beautifully described there. Though I loved the first part more, one of my favourite scenes came in the second part in which a minor character appeared and said some beautiful things. My favourite passage from that scene goes like this –

“Isabella insists on taking me to see the castle. When we stop briefly at a café, we talk about love and the agonies you have to experience in order to appreciate the joys. She doesn’t ask any questions when I start to cry silently. She just says – gently, in her irresistible accent – you have to get through the nights and be fulfilled during the day.”

Pauline Delabroy-Allard’s prose is a pleasure to read and there are many beautiful passages in the book. I’ve shared some of my favourites below. As Sarah is a violinist who performs in classical music concerts, the whole book has a musical backdrop and Beethoven and Schubert and Vivaldi and others make guest appearances in the book which adds to the charm of the book.

I loved ‘All About Sarah‘. It is one of my favourite lesbian love stories. Pauline Delabroy-Allard is a beautiful, new find for me and I’m looking forward to reading more books by her.

I’m sharing below a couple of my favourite passages. The second one has three parts from three different places in the book, which I’ve stitched together, because I felt that they read beautifully together.

“Passion. From the Latin patior, to experience, endure, suffer. Feminine noun. With the notion of protracted or successive suffering: the action of suffering. With the notion of excess, exaggeration, intensity: love as an irresistible and violent inclination towards a single object, sometimes descending into obsession, entailing a loss of moral compass and of critical faculties, and liable to compromise mental stability. In Scholasticism, what is experienced by an individual, the thing with which he or she is associated or to which he or she is subjugated.”

“It’s January but yet again the miracle happens. Yet again winter admits defeat, drags its heels a little longer and tries one final flourish, but it’s too late, it’s over, the spring has won…It’s a spring like any other, a spring to depress the best of us…It’s a spring like any other, with impromptu showers, the smell of wet tarmac, a sort of lightness in the air, a breath of happiness that sings softly about the fragility of it all.”

Have you read ‘All About Sarah‘? What do you think about it?

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I recently read and loved a friend’s reviews of a couple of collections of R.Chudamani’s short stories. I realized that I had one collection of her stories at home and so decided to read that. R.Chudamani was one of my mom’s favourite writers. Everytime I went to the library, my mom used to ask me to get a book by her. But, inspite of this, I’ve never read a story by her. So I was very excited to read these stories by her.

This collection that I read had 63 short stories. Most of them were around 10 pages long. The stories were written in a period spanning 50 years, starting from the early 1950s to the early 2000s.

Many of the stories in the book depict the delicate, infinite states of the human heart, including love in its different forms. There are also many stories about women who fight in gentle ways against the restraints imposed by society and the patriarchy, and who sometimes win their freedom and independence. One of my favourite stories on this theme was about a woman who suffers her whole life. When she dies, a secret about her is revealed. We discover that there came a point in time when she was presented with two alternatives. She could have surrendered her freedom and lived a comfortable life, or she could have been free and would have suffered. She chose to be free and was defiant till the end, in her gentle soft way. There is also one interesting story in which the husband supports his wife when she pursues her interests and her dreams while their daughter is upset that her mom is independent and doing her own thing. In one of my favourite stories about love and attraction, a single mom encourages a young man who is courting her daughter, but the young man starts turning up when the daughter is not around and the mom discovers to her surprise that the young man is courting her. In another of my favourite stories a man is grieving the loss of his wife, and he is just ignored at the funeral, and the person who understands him and comforts him is his lover. In a couple of stories a young man’s heart opens up to love and desire for the first time, and the way Chudamani narrates the story is incredibly beautiful. There are also stories about the relationship between parents and children, about people who try bridging socio-economic barriers through love and friendship which sometimes doesn’t work. There is even a story in which God is the narrator. That story was fascinating.

I loved the whole collection. I knew that it would be good, but I didn’t know that it would be this good. Chudamani’s short stories didn’t read like short stories which came in popular magazines, which mostly had surprises with happy endings, but were complex, subtle and sophisticated. The editors say in their introduction that Chudamani’s art as a short story writer reached its heights in the 1970s, and when I read the book, I realized that it was true, because many of my favourite stories were those which came out in that decade. But I liked her stories from the other decades too. There is a beautiful interview by Chudamani at the end of the book in which she shares her thoughts on short stories. In reply to one of the questions, Chudamani says that writers shouldn’t use short stories as a training ground for writing their first novel, but should respect and love short stories as an independent art form. This is exactly what Alice Munro said years later when she won the Nobel Prize.

Ambai’s tribute to Chudamani

Chudamani was a prolific writer during her time. She has written around 574 short stories, but this collection which has around one-tenth of that, is the largest collection there is. Her stories have been translated into English during the past few years. There are atleast three translated editions in English, and they seem to be subsets of this Tamil collection.

Chudamani lived a simple life. She didn’t go to school and get a formal education, because of a health condition. She was homeschooled in her younger years. This makes her achievements as a short story writer even more astounding. She never married and stayed single all her life. Before she passed, she made a will and gave everything she had to charity, to help poor kids. It is unthinkable in these materialistic days. She was an amazing writer and a beautiful soul.

Have you read Chudamani’s short stories? What do you think about them?

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I decided to read the second and third parts of Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy, ‘The Proof‘ and ‘The Third Lie‘, and write about them together. Just finished reading the third and final part. I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. The English translations of these two books are published by Grove Press, an indie publisher based out of New York.

The second part ‘The Proof‘, continues the story from the first part. But Ágota Kristóf dispenses with Rule #2 : ‘No Names’, and gives names to all the characters. The places are still not named though. We see the events unfold from the point of view of one of the twins. New characters make an appearance in the story, as we follow the events of what happens in this small town after Hungary’s occupation by the Soviet Union after the Second World War. The story takes us to the 1956 rebellion in Hungary against Soviet occupation and goes beyond that too. Many of the new characters are interesting, and many of them show kindness, the pure kind of kindness towards unrelated people that human beings are capable of, during times of great difficulty. The weird stuff continues but it does not reach the heights of the first part, though some of them fill in the gaps which are there in the first part. The story ends in an unexpected surprise.

In the third part, ‘The Third Lie‘, Ágota Kristóf decides that she has had enough, and turns everything upside down. This part is filled with stunning revelations which makes us see the whole story in a new light, makes us question everything, makes us contemplate the nature of truth, and ask ourselves whether such a thing called truth exists. It is like reading a murder mystery which is narrated by the detective and looking at all the suspects and following false leads and reaching dead ends and discovering in the last page that the narrator is the murderer. Or it is like reading a book in which the main character has many amazing adventures and undergoes a lot of hardship and overcomes them in the end, and suddenly we discover that the whole story was a dream. This is the kind of stuff which happens in the third part. I’m still not sure about one or two details and I need to go back and review all the three parts together and see whether my understanding is correct.

I enjoyed reading Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy. My favourite was the first part, because of the narrative voice, the sometimes dark humour. I think the second part was a great sequel. The third part was a literary experiment, in my opinion. I don’t know whether Ágota Kristóf planned all the three novels together before she started writing them, or whether she wrote the first one initially and when it became successful beyond all expectations, she decided to write the sequels and wing it on the way and improvised the story. I somehow feel that she did the second thing, because there is a huge difference between the first novel and the next two. We can even read the first novel as a standalone book. But interestingly, the three books also read well together, and look like three parts of one book, though there is a big dividing line between the first part and the next two.

I’m sharing a couple of my favourite excerpts from the book.

Excerpt 1

Young Man : “I know what you’re talking about. I saw things like that with my own eyes, right here in this town.”

Old Man : “You must have been very young.”

Young Man : “I was no more than a child. But I forgot nothing.”

Old Man : “You will forget. Life is like that. Everything goes in time. Memories blur, pain diminishes. I remember my wife as one remembers a bird or a flower. She was the miracle of life in a world where everything seemed light, easy, and beautiful. At first I came here for her, now I come for Judith, the survivor. This night seem ridiculous to you, Lucas, but I’m in love with Judith. With her strength, her goodness, her kindness toward these children who aren’t hers.”

Young Man : “I don’t think it’s ridiculous.”

Old Man : “At my age?”

Young Man : “Age is irrelevant. The essential things matter. You love her and she loves you as well.”

Old Man : “She’s waiting for her husband to return.”

Young Man : “Many women are waiting for or mourning their husbands who are disappeared or dead. But you just said, “Pain diminishes memories blur.”

Old Man : “Diminish, blur, I said, not disappear.”

Excerpt 2

What we print in the newspaper completely contradicts reality. A hundred times a day we print the phrase “We are free,” but everywhere in the streets we see the soldiers of a foreign army, everyone knows that there are many political prisoners, trips abroad are forbidden, and even within the country we can’t go wherever we want. I know because I once tried to rejoin Sarah in the small town of K. I made it to the neighboring village, where I was arrested and sent back to the capital after a night of interrogation.

A hundred times a day we print “We live amidst abundance and happiness,” and at first I think this is true for other people, that Mother and I are miserable and unhappy only because of the “thing,” but Gaspar tells me we’re hardly an exception, that he himself as well as his wife and three children are living more miserably than ever before.

And when I go home from work early in the morning, when I cross paths with people who themselves are on their way to work, I see happiness nowhere, and even less abundance. When I ask why we print so many lies, Gaspar answers, “Whatever you do, don’t ask questions. Do your job and don’t think about anything else.”

Have you read Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy? What do you think about it?

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I was inspired by a friend to get Ágota Kristóf’sThe Notebook‘ and read it. For a long time, I thought that Ágota Kristóf was the European / Hungarian version of Agatha Christie 😊 Ágota Kristóf is a totally different author, of course, and very different from Agatha Christie. I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. The English translation of ‘The Notebook’ that I read is published by Grove Press, an indie publisher based out of New York.

The story told in ‘The Notebook’ happens during the time of the Second World War. A mother takes her two young twin sons and leaves them at their grandmother’s place. The grandmother is a tough customer but the twins manage to handle the situation. The story is narrated by the twins together as they describe their life at their grandmother’s place, the people they meet, the new things they learn, the friends they make, how the war years pass, and the challenges they and their grandmother face together. In such a short book, Ágota Kristóf manages to squeeze in Hungarian small-town life during the war, Kristallnacht, the Holocaust, the relationship between the German soldiers and the Hungarian citizens, how the life of a gay person was at that time, the meaninglessness of war, the Russian liberation of Hungary and its not-so-nice aftermath. It is fascinating.

All this assumes a powerful significance, because Ágota Kristóf does a fascinating thing – she follows Rule #2 religiously and meticulously till the end. Rule #2 is ‘No Names’. There are no names in the book! None of the characters have names, none of the places or countries have names, none of the events have names! Nothing! Nada! It is amazing! I don’t know how Ágota Kristóf manages to pull this off, but she does! I still can’t stop marvelling at her ingenuity! It just shows how little a talented writer needs to tell a powerful story.

The other interesting thing about the book is the twin narrators’ voice. I have never read a book before in which two narrators speak in one unified voice. It is fascinating. The voice of the two twins is beautiful and charming. It had a simplicity, innocence and directness to it, that it made me smile throughout the book. The narrative voice was one of my favourite things about the book. The way the twins navigate every tricky situation in simple, direct ways is wonderful to read.

I’ve shared a couple of chapters from the book below, to give you a feel for the beautiful narrative voice. Hope you like them.

I loved the depiction of the relationship between the grandmother and the twins – how it starts and how it grows, and how the grandmother and the twins love each other, and how the grandmother’s love is old-fashioned, tough and gruff. It was my most favourite part of the book.

My review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention this. There are some weird things which happen in the middle of the book. But like a nice, well-behaved kid, I’m going to sweep that below the carpet and not talk about it  But if you are planning to read the book, I thought I should warn you – there is some weird stuff out there.

The story ends in a kind of cliff-hanger. I can’t wait to read the second part, ‘The Proof‘, and find out what happened next. The second part was originally published two years after the first part. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for the original readers to wait for so long, to find out what happened next.

Have you read Ágota Kristóf’sThe Notebook‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Ida Jessen’sA Change of Time‘ sometime back and decided to read it yesterday. I read it for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. The English translation of this book is published by Archipelago Books, one of my favourite indie publishers. I’ll tell you why, soon 😊

Ida Jessen’s book is in the format of a diary. The person who writes this diary is a woman who has just lost her husband. As we read her diary entries, we discover how our narrator navigates life, grief and loneliness after this heartbreaking personal loss. In a soft, gentle voice, the narrator shares her thoughts on life, love – both requited and unrequited, loss, grief, loneliness, friendship, the passing of seasons, the beauty of nature, the beautiful relationship between teachers and students, the charming behaviour of people in a small village – how everyone knows everyone, how everyone is curious about other people’s lives and there is no privacy, how people are kind and help each other during difficult times, the way only small-town and village people do. Ida Jessen’s prose is beautiful, gentle and meditative, and is a pleasure to read. There is even a delicate love story woven into the book, which we might miss, if we blink. I nearly did.

I loved ‘A Change of Time‘. Ida Jessen’s book shows why Danish literature is awesome and continues to rock. It is one of my favourite reads of the year. I want to explore more of Ida Jessen’s work.

Now, a little bit about Archipelago books, as promised. Archipelago books have a very unique design – they are in the shape of a square, rather than a rectangle, which is how a typical book is. I hope you can see this square shape in the picture. I’ve seen table-top books which are shaped like squares, but have never seen regular books, which are filled with text, in this design. This square design is one of the reasons I love Archipelago books  This design poses interesting creative challenges to booklovers and book collectors in how to shelve their books, because bookshelves are not designed for square books. I love the way Archipelago books have defied convention and designed their books in this unconventional square shape.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from Ida Jessen’s book.

“I was not a frequent churchgoer in those years. I will not say I am a stranger to the church, for I am familiar with it and with what goes on there, as one might be familiar with an aging aunt whom one has not visited in a very long time, and when eventually one does, one recognizes straight away the smells of her kitchen and the way in which the old armchair so snugly accommodates the frame as soon as one obliges the invitation to take a seat: everything is exactly as it was when one was a child.”

“I feel like a person standing in a landscape so empty and open that it matters not a bit in which direction I choose to There would be no difference : north, south, east, or west, would be the same wherever I went.”

“Bitterness is a very soft and comfortable armchair from which it is difficult indeed to extract oneself once one has decided to settle in it.”

“With age comes a certain naivety. Perhaps we no longer can bear the things we know and must smooth them away, leveling ourselves in the process. The differences we even out are evened out by human hand. The very old say so very little, not because they are unable, but because they cannot be bothered.”

“Widows are a community. I have been aware of it ever since I was a child. It can be seen in the way they seek each other’s company, in the pews for instance, where often they will sit in pairs. They do not speak much, for they have no need, and after the service they go their separate ways. In my childhood home, the widows sat together at meals and at work in the workroom. It is a matter of having lived with one person for most of one’s adult life, and to have lost that person. To have been set free. Freedom is not always a good thing. There is a freedom in which one is unseen. Such is the life of the widow. When the days of mourning are gone, and grief has become tire some to one’s surroundings, one ceases to be an interesting person and must accept the fact. Widows possess an expe rience that is not understood by others. They must live with becoming grey in the eyes of the world, and have lost their right of protest, for they are outside the common community. As outcasts they stick together. But this not the only reason. There is a warmth there, and understanding. They are acquainted with things. We have our dead. Our hope is that we too will be someone’s.”

Have you read ‘A Change of Time‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Selja Ahava’sThings that Fall from the Sky‘ through a friend. This is my first ever Finnish book, I think. So, Yay! 😊 I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from ‘Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings’ and Lizzy from ‘Lizzy’s Literary Life’. The English translation of this book is published by Oneworld, which is an indie publisher based out of London.

Saara is a young girl who lives with her dad and her aunt. We discover that her mom died sometime back. The book starts with Saara narrating the story. She describes her life at present and then goes back in time and describes life when her mom was around. As the story goes back and forth we try to piece together what happened. At some point in the story, a new narrator comes in and continues the story and we see things from a different perspective. There are four parts in the story, and in the final part, it comes full circle, as Saara comes back and tells us what happened in the end.

Things that Fall from the Sky‘ is a beautiful story about family, love, loss, grief and its aftermath, and finding love again. It is also accidental happenings in life, both good and bad, and whether they have any meaning. I loved the whole book, but I loved most, the first part, which stretches to nearly half of the book. The child Saara’s voice is so beautifully rendered by Selja Ahava in that first part. It is unique, beautiful, authentic, charming. Saara tells us the story in the way only a child can – directly, with childlike innocence. She grieves in the way only a child does, and it breaks our hearts. Saara’s mom has a starring role in this part, and she was one of my favourite characters in the book. Talking about characters, I loved all the characters in the book, Saara and her mom and dad, and her Auntie Annu, and Krista who comes later in the story. I even loved Saara’s favourite sheep Bruno. Saara’s first description of Bruno always makes me smile 😊

“Bruno is tame because when he was little, I fed him with a baby bottle. Now he thinks I’m his mum, and when I walk past, he always comes up to the fence and bleats.”

Selja Ahava’s prose is spare and beautiful and we can feel the shift in voice as the narrator changes, which is beautifully done. There is even a difference between the voice of the young Saara at the beginning of the book and voice of the little bit older Saara at the end. That subtle change in voice is so beautifully rendered. It is pitch perfect.

I loved ‘Things that Fall from the Sky‘. It is beautiful, charming, moving, heartbreaking, life-affirming. I’m so happy I read my first Finnish book. I can’t wait to read more books by Selja Ahava.

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

“I’ve considered time a great deal. I have grey cells in my brain. I use them to think about how time marches forward and heals. Grown-ups say time heals and that means that when time passes, what’s happened changes into a memory and you remember it less and less clearly. When you can hardly remember it at all, you’ve been healed…Dad says time heals is a load of shit. According to Dad, the only people who say that don’t understand anything about anything. They’ve never been through anything. And my grey brain cells think Dad may be right because, at least so far, nothing’s healed, even though the summer holidays have already started. And so I sit on the back seat and say ‘nothing’ and think about the healing power of time. To be on the safe side, I decide to remember Mum every day, before time has the chance to do too much healing.”

“In spring, the manor house groaned and creaked. The warmth brought the timbers to life and got the house’s blood circulating. It sounded as if someone were walking about all the time. This didn’t scare Auntie Annu. ‘Extra Great Manor is just stretching its limbs,’ she’d say. The groaning and creaking went on till warmth spread throughout the structure. Then the house settled down and the sound of steps upstairs went away…When a house is young, you have to look after it as if it were a child. It needs adjusting, patching up, care and maintenance. But when a house is, say, two hundred years old, it can look after itself. Everything that’s inclined to rot has already rotted. Everything that’s inclined to sink and split has already sunk and split. You just have to live in it nicely, which means living as people have lived there before.”

“Spring sets off tapping and popping on the roof; sometimes the noises go on for several nights before anything happens. The roof prepares for an attack, like an army: it moves and drips quietly. Then, finally, comes the night when the mass of ice that has formed on the roof works itself loose: it begins to move, a single sheet hundreds of kilos in weight, to slide, rumbling, down the tin roof. The chunks of ice fall past the windows on to the ground. The din is so great that, for a moment, I think the world is coming to an end. The loosening of the ice is followed by silence. The house is full of silence; the walls rise from wintry heaviness; the shed door opens again.”

“The ancient Greeks used to lower the gods on to the stage when the plot of a play got into a knot and the characters weren’t able to work it out themselves. Gods in white clothing in their little box, descending creakily to the middle of the stage with the help of a rope. There they could declare judgement. It wasn’t thought to be quite as skilful an ending as one where the characters solved their problems themselves, but it was better than nothing.”

“If the end of the world doesn’t work out, there’s always an alternative: Paradise. Auntie Annu said she heard Paradise will only come if all the people in the world are without sin for one moment. One moment would be enough, but it would have to be the same moment for everyone. A world without sin for one small, shared moment, and Paradise will pop out. A trumpet will sound, angels will swoosh and the world will end. I’m not sure about Paradise. I don’t trust angels… Sometimes, in the manor house, I used to lie in my metal bed and imagine ways of getting Paradise started. If everyone could be made to sleep at the same time, it might work, because you can’t sin when you’re asleep, even if you’re having a nightmare…Maybe not everyone wants Paradise. Maybe most people don’t want any kind of ending because they’re afraid of death. And that’s why Paradise doesn’t come, and things just happen. And perhaps, after all, that’s why the world goes on: because things happen. Overlapping, at the wrong time, at different times, in the wrong places. If everything were in order, as the angels command, if the angels said ‘don’t look’, and everyone obeyed, we would end up in Paradise with one blast of the trumpet. But the world goes on and life happens, because there’s always a person who peeks all the same. Someone forgets to watch the news, someone starts a quarrel when they shouldn’t, someone else just doesn’t feel like being good, and someone happens to be standing at the edge of the garden when a lump of ice falls. And that’s why we’ll never reach Paradise.”

Have you read ‘Things that Fall from the Sky‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Emmelie Prophète’sBlue‘ recently and read it today. This is my first book by a Haitian author 😊 So happy!

A woman is sitting in an airport. She is travelling from one country to another. It might as well be from one world to another. She thinks about her mother and her mother’s two sisters, and how their lives panned out very differently. The rest of the book moves between the past and the present and across geographies as we get to know the stories of the narrator’s mother and her sisters.

The above story is just a simple outline. The actual book is more complex, more fascinating than that. Emmelie Prophète’s writing is very poetic. I am not saying this in a general way, but in a literal way. The book could be read just for that alone. I can’t resist thinking how it would be, if the book, instead of being organized in paragraphs of prose, had been structured in poetry stanzas like a novel-in-verse. I feel that this would have made the book even more beautiful, because we tend to read prose in a faster flow, but we tend to linger on poetry lines to take in their beauty, and this book deserves this lingering, and this pausing and this experiencing of its beauty. The second thing I want to say about this book is that, probably because of this reason, this book cannot be read like a straightforward prose work. If we expect an initial setting up scene, an introduction to the characters, the story moving with the progression of events, some dialogue, and a climax with a revelation, it is not going to be there. Atleast, in the form we expect. A better way to read the book is to go in with no expectations and start reading from the first page, from the first word, and just go with the flow and continue reading, and let the book come to us. In test cricket, there is an advice given to batsmen, who go out to bat on the first day of a test match, when the ball is new and it is swinging. Veteran opening batsmen say that the best way to play under these conditions is to let the ball come to you, and not to go after the ball. We can translate that advice to this book, and go with the flow, and don’t think too much, and just read, and let the book come to us. When we do that, at some point, the book opens its heart and speaks to us and reveals its secrets to us, and it is beautiful.

I loved the original French title of the book even more – ‘Le Testament des Solitudes‘. So beautiful!

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

“We remained tethered to our sorrows, like horses of despair. We ran, heads bent low, wounded and silent. We shared nothing. Words lived only in our heads, or on scraps of paper. We surprised ourselves sometimes by suffering. Expressions were complaints, and we looked outside ourselves for ways to exist, to live. I hid myself away in books, lost my head over heroes of fortune late into the night, and woke in the morning with other solitudes. Terrifying and unspeakable.”

“I watch the rain fall, a thousand fairylike drops on the tarmac. Life is beautiful when you’re watching it from a distance, watching it through the window of an airport somewhere else. I imagine that it’s even better when your head isn’t filled with several deaths and more farewells than you know what to do with. The rain is lovely here, soft and steady. Like it was once, on the corrugated metal roof of the house on hot July evenings. Those rains, which were also sometimes storms of fury that came straight from the graves of the dead in the cemeteries, carried away children and objects and even our memories.”

“That was what always happened in this family after someone died. You had to die to earn the right to be loved.”

“My mother’s heart makes the same sound as her sewing machine, which I have known my whole life. It’s older than my brothers and me. Its brand is a woman’s first name: Linda. It has always looked like a museum piece. All of my little-girl dresses came from beneath her magical needles that broke sometimes. I’ve seen many women from this family sitting behind that machine, which makes an ancient mechanical noise like Maman’s heart, like the heart of all women who have been poorly loved…I’ve seen sewing machines that looked like the ones belonging to other women in the quarter, but none ever looked like Linda or had a woman’s name like hers. She wasn’t the most beautiful, but she was unique. She had been built to withstand time, like her owner, to watch others pass through and go away, even the youngest ones. She outlived Maman’s two sisters.”

“I used to be afraid of the dark. I was afraid that the flame of the lamp would flicker so hard it would fall. The crickets accompanied the night with their long traumatizing songs. But since then, the night has won me over to its cause of solitude, unobtrusive and infinite. I am overly reliant on its calm, making up for the years of unwarranted fear, of eyes shut tight. My only beautiful times have been in complete darkness and heavy rain. Every word of love, of fate, has taken the path of the night. Daytime is the cruel bearer of “I”: it is all that light on the beaten earth of my childhood quarter, and on the marshes of Gros-Marin, and the Church of Saint Paul, and the runway of this airport—reality and its incomprehensible detours, its aches, its way of not making concessions.”

“My stories have always come to me when they’re already in progress, almost over, even my love stories. I have hidden myself too often beneath words and their images; I’ve only ever just brushed the surface of anything, I am nothing but a memory trying to exist, and no one would notice, possibly, if I disappeared. I tell myself that no one sees me in this airport; my fate is to be a fleeting memory. I would like to learn the business of everyday life, real life, quivering and ever changing.”

“Each morning is the start of a new war against nature, against misery, against oneself or one’s neighbor. Survival has many meanings and almost no purpose.”

Have you read ‘Blue‘? What do you think about it?

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I read the third and final part of Tove Ditlevsen’s memoir, ‘Dependency‘, today. There are going to be spoilers in the review, and so please be forewarned.

Dependency‘ starts with a surprise – Tove is married! It came as such a surprise to me, as I didn’t see that coming! Starting from there, Tove goes on to describe her married life, her writing experiences, how she falls in love again with another person and breaks up with her husband, how her quest for romantic happiness and marital bliss continues for the rest of her life with unpredictable results, the new friends she makes and how they shape her life – we learn about these and other things in the first part of the book.

There are some interesting things that the book describes which were probably unusual for that time. For example, at one point, Tove becomes a successful writer and her name comes in the papers and she makes lots of money, but her husband is still a student at university. This leads to some complicated situations at home. When Tove describes the troubles in her marriage to her friend, and says that she fears that her husband might leave her, her friend says this – “He is really proud of you; it’s obvious when he talks about you. You just have to understand that it’s so easy for him to feel inferior. You’re famous, you earn money, you love your work. Ebbe’s just a poor student who’s being more or less supported by his wife. He’s studying for a degree he doesn’t fit, and he has to get drunk to cope with life.” There is also a part in which Tove describes how she is romantically attracted to one of her girlfriends. I don’t know whether that led to something more, as Tove is quiet about that.

Tove also describes the time she has an unplanned pregnancy and has to get an illegal abortion, and how when it happens again, it leads to some unintended consequences, which in turn leads to a dark period in her life. In the second part of the book, Tove describes how she got addicted to painkillers, and how this addiction took over her life, and affected her relationships with her family and friends and everyone around her, and how she came out of that harrowing period in her life.

Dependency‘ is very different from the first two parts of the trilogy. Tove’s searing honesty as she describes her life and her struggles with addiction makes for a fascinating and difficult read. The second part of the book, which describes her descent into addiction, is especially hard to read. Tove’s bravery and courage as she lays bare her life is amazing and inspiring. This trilogy was first published in the period 1967-71, and I’m sure it must have created waves when it first came out, shocking and surprising readers with its frankness and honesty. I don’t think there was any memoir of that time which came close to this. I don’t think even Tove’s great French contemporary, Marguerite Duras, wrote a frank memoir like this. The closest I can think of is Erica Jong’sFear of Flying‘, but even that is classified as fiction. As a memoir, Tove’s trilogy is unparalleled and unique, and it was far ahead of its time. The first two volumes of this memoir were translated and published in English in 1985. The publishers and the translator refused to touch the third volume and for many years it was not available in English. It was finally translated 34 years later. After reading it now, I realize why. The third volume is very different from the first two, because it is more frank, more honest, and probably controversial for its time, and it shows the grownup Tove as a complex, beautiful, imperfect, flawed human being. How she mustered up the bravery and courage to put this on paper, I’ll never know. It gives me goosebumps, just thinking about it.

I loved ‘Dependency‘, though it was a challenging read. I loved the whole trilogy. It is a beautiful, insightful and frank depiction of the times as seen through the eyes of one person, the fascinating Tove Ditlevsen.

I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite passages from the book.

“And I realize more and more that the only thing I’m good for, the only thing that truly captivates me, is forming sentences and word combinations, or writing simple, four-line poetry. And in order to do this I have to be able to observe people in a certain way, almost as if I needed to store them in a file somewhere for later use. And to be able to do this I have to be able to read in a certain way too, so I can absorb through all my pores everything I need, if not for now, then for later use. That’s why I can’t interact with too many people; and I can’t go out too much and drink alcohol, because then I can’t work the next day. And since I’m always forming sentences in my head, I’m often distant and distracted when Ebbe starts talking to me, and that makes him feel dejected.”

“I’ve never been out in the country before, and I’m amazed at the silence, which is like nothing I have ever experienced. I feel something resembling happiness, and I wonder if this is what is meant by enjoying life. In the evening I go for a walk alone while Ester watches Helle. The aromas from the fields and pine forest are stronger than on the day we arrived. The lighted windows in the farmhouse shine like yellow squares in the darkness, and I wonder what the people there do to pass the time. The man probably sits listening to the radio; and the wife probably darns socks which she pulls up out of a woven basket. Soon they’ll yawn and stretch and look out at the weather and say a few words about the work awaiting them in the morning. Then they’ll tiptoe to bed so as not to wake the children. The yellow squares will go dark. Eyes will shut all over the world. The cities go to sleep, and the houses, and the fields.”

Have you read ‘Dependency‘? What do you think about it?

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