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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 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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Today, I finished reading the second part of Tove Ditlevsen’s memoirs, ‘Youth‘. I read it in one breath.

In ‘Youth‘, Tove describes what happens after she goes to work, the different kinds of jobs she has, how her employers and colleagues are, the young men who are attracted towards her, how she can’t wait to turn eighteen and move out of her house and be independent – how she wants a room of her own as Virginia Woolf describes it, and which Tove describes eloquently thus –

“But I want so badly to have a place where I can practice writing real poems. I’d like to have a room with four walls and a closed door. A room with a bed, a table and a chair, with a typewriter, or a pad of paper and a pencil, nothing more. Well, yes – a door I could lock. All of this I can’t have until I’m eighteen and can move away from home.”

The book also describes how her parents resist Tove’s plans to become independent, how Tove becomes friends with literary-inclined older people with whom she has delightful bookish conversations, and her attempts at writing poems and getting them published. The book also touches upon the looming spectre of Nazism in Europe.

When Tove’s first poem gets published in a small literary magazine, she is thrilled. But her reaction to it was also complex and very interesting. It was one of my favourite passages from the book, and it goes like this –

“The next day two copies of Wild Wheat arrive in the mail and my poem is in both of them. I read it many times and get an apprehensive feeling in my stomach. It looks completely different in print than typewritten or in longhand. I can’t correct it anymore and it’s no longer mine alone. It’s in many hundreds or thousands of copies of the journal, and strange people will read it and may think that it’s good. It’s spread out over the whole country, and people I meet on the street may have read it. They may be walking about with a copy of the journal in their inside pocket or purse. If I ride in the streetcar, there may be a man sitting across from me reading it. It’s completely overwhelming and there’s not a person I can share this wonderful experience with.”

I loved ‘Youth‘. It is fascinating to watch how Tove navigates the complicated, messy adult world, and listening to her experiences through her own unique voice. I can’t wait to read the third part now, and find out what Tove’s upto next.

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

“Being young is itself temporary, fragile, and ephemeral. You have to get through it – it has no other meaning.”

“Death is not a gentle falling asleep as I once believed. It’s brutal, hideous, and foul smelling. I wrap my arms around myself and rejoice in my youth and my health. Otherwise my youth is nothing more than a deficiency and a hindrance that I can’t get rid of fast enough.”

“I also like to look at people who in one way or another give expression to their feelings. I like to look at mothers caressing their children, and I willingly go a little out of my way in order to follow a young couple who are walking hand in hand and are openly in love. It gives me a wistful feeling of happiness and an indefinable hope for the future.”

“‘If you don’t stop being so strange,’ my mother says, ‘you’ll never get married.’ ‘I don’t want to anyway,’ I say, even though I’m sitting there considering that desperate alternative. I think about my childhood ghost : the stable skilled worker. I don’t have anything against a skilled worker; it’s the word ‘stable’ that blocks out all bright future dreams. It’s as gray as a rainy sky when no bright ray of sun trickles through.”

Have you read Tove Ditlevsen’sYouth‘? What do you think about it?

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I was inspired to read Tove Ditlevsen’s memoirs by one of my friends, who is an artist and a writer, and who is the biggest admirer of Tove Ditlevsen that I know. My friend has been gushing about Tove Ditlevsen for a long time, much before last year, when everyone started reading Ditlevsen after the recent English translation of her memoirs were published.

I read the first part of Tove Ditlevsen’s memoirs, ‘Childhood‘, today. Ditlevsen was born in 1918, when the First World War had just ended, and so it was a very different world then. ‘Childhood‘ describes the first decade and a half of Ditlevsen’s life. It brings that era beautifully alive, and interestingly it doesn’t feel like Ditlevsen is talking about a period which is nearly a century back, but it feels fresh like today. One of my favourite parts of the book is the one which describes how Tove fell in love with books, especially poetry, and how she started writing poetry of her own. I loved that part. Another thing that I loved about the book was when Tove describes how she hides her real thoughts and feelings from people around her, and pretends to be dumb and stupid, because she feels like an outsider as her thoughts are very different and unconventional compared to those around her. Those of us who are or have been outsiders will be able to understand exactly how Tove must have felt and will be able to identify with her. There are interesting characters who come through the book, including Tove and her brother and her parents and her teachers, her neighbours and her friends. Tove’s mother looks like a fascinating, complex person. Some of my favourite characters in the book were the minor ones who make a brief appearance, like the librarian who helps Tove borrow books for grown-ups, and Tove’s neighbour Ketty, who is her mother’s best friend, and who has an unconventional job, and who is kind and affectionate towards Tove. Tove’s friend Ruth is also a very fascinating character and made me think of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking. Tove’s grandmother is also a very interesting character. The book ends with Tove graduating out of middle school and getting ready to go to work and looking at the grownups’ strange world with apprehension.

I loved ‘Childhood‘. It is slim at around a hundred pages, but there is so much packed in those pages, including a commentary on the social and political situation of the times seen through a young girl’s eyes. Tove’s narrative voice is beautiful and authentic and unique. The writing is beautiful and there were many beautiful sentences and passages in the book. I’m sharing one of my favourites below.

“In the meantime, there exist certain facts. They are stiff and immovable, like the lampposts in the street, but at least they change in the evening when the lamplighter has touched them with his magic wand. Then they light up like big soft sunflowers in the narrow borderland between night and day, when all the people move so quietly and slowly, as if they were walking on the bottom of the green ocean. Facts never light up and they can’t soften hearts like Ditte menneskebarn, which is one of the first books that I read. ‘It’s a social novel,’ says my father pedantically, and that probably is a fact, but it doesn’t tell me anything, and I have no use for it. ‘Nonsense,’ says my mother, who doesn’t care for facts, either, but can more easily ignore them than I can. Whenever my father, on rare occasions, gets really mad at her, he says she’s full of lies, but I know that’s not so. I know every person has their own truth just as every child has their own childhood. My mother’s truth is completely different from my father’s truth, but it’s just as obvious as the fact that he has brown eyes while hers are blue. Fortunately, things are set up so that you can keep quiet about the truths in your heart; but the cruel, gray facts are written in the school records and in the history of the world and in the law and in the church books. No one can change them and no one dares to try, either – not even the Lord, whose image I can’t separate from Prime Minister Stauning’s, even though my father says that I shouldn’t believe in the Lord since the capitalists have always used Him against the poor.”

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

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I’ve wanted to read Yuko Tsushima’s slim gem ‘Territory of Light‘, for a while now. I finally got around to reading it today.

The narrator of the story is a single mom who has recently separated from her husband. She moves into a new apartment. The rest of the story depicts her life during the course of a year, during which she struggles with the challenges of being a single mom, tries to love her young daughter and care for her in the best way she can, while handling social pressure and her own need for companionship and friendship.

I loved ‘Territory of Light‘. It is beautiful, realistic, sometimes filled with travails for our narrator, sometimes filled with joy. The relationship between the narrator and the people in her life is very beautifully depicted. I loved the way her relationship with her daughter evolves over time, culminating in a beautiful scene at the end of the book. There is also a beautiful friendship between the narrator and a college student, a friendship which is hard to classify or describe but which is beautiful nevertheless, that is depicted so beautifully in the book. It was one of my favourite parts of the book.

The blurb says this about the book – “In this short, powerful novel lurk the joy and guilt of single parents everywhere.” It is a perfect description of the book. I couldn’t have put it any better.

I loved ‘Territory of Light‘. I’m glad I read it. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“To my daughter, flowers were a beautiful and strange life-form that, with each plucking, sprang up in greater abundance. She ran about like mad inside this life-form, and on walks with her I too found their profusion overwhelming. The cherries were blossoming, as were the azaleas; the spiraeas were snowy with flowers. My daughter would gather the cherry blossom petals that lay at her feet, and more would flutter down as she did so, alighting in her hair and on her body.”

Have you read ‘Territory of Light‘? What do you think about it?

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Women In Translation Month‘ is hosted by the wonderful Meytal Radzinski and it happens in August every year. I haven’t participated in WIT Month for a while. This year I told myself that I will participate and read books by wonderful women writers in translation, and find out what others are reading and discover new books through their posts.

One of the exciting things about participating in a reading event is making reading plans. I always loved that. So I looked at my book collection, looked at all the books that I wanted to read which fit this theme, and made a reading list. There are 10 books in the list. I don’t think I’ll be able to read them all this month. But I hope to read atleast some of them.

So, here is the list.

(1) Collected Poems 1944-49 by Nelly Sachs (German) – Nelly Sachs is one of the great German poets. She wrote beautiful, moving poetry. She left Germany when the Nazis came to power, and moved to Sweden, from where she continued to write. She won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966. But, unfortunately, she is virtually unknown today. I have dipped into this collection before and read some of her poems, and found them very beautiful. Now I am hoping to read this collection properly from the beginning to the end.

(2) Land of Smoke by Sara Gallardo (Spanish) – This is a collection of short stories by this new-to-me Argentinian author. It looks quite fascinating.

(3) The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena (German) – I have started this book multiple times and got distracted everytime and left it halfway through. Not because of the book, because the book is really good. I hope to do better this time.

(4) Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (Polish) – I have wanted to read this book ever since it came out. I love Fitzcarraldo Editions – their minimalistic style, with all books having blue covers, no introduction or notes or anything about the author inside, they just let the book do the talking.

(5) Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto (Japanese) – I have had this book for years. I have never read a Yoshimoto book before. Can’t wait to read my first one.

(6) I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee (Persian) – I discovered this book serendipitously while browsing in the bookshop. This new-to-me Iranian writer’s book seems to tell a moving story.

(7) Child of the River by Irma Joubert (Afrikaans) – I was excited to discover this book because it is written by a South African writer, but it is not written in English. South Africa is a culturally rich country with multiple languages, but unfortunately the literature written in English from that country overshadows everything else. I can’t wait to read my first South African non-English book.

(8) Nowhere Ending Sky by Marlen Haushofer (German) – Marlen Haushofer is one of my alltime favourite writers. Only three of her books have been translated into English. I have read two of them – ‘The Wall‘ and ‘The Loft‘. This is the third one. I have been saving it for a rainy day. But I think it is time now – to read my third and final Haushofer and then mourn that there are no more.

(9) Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto (Japanese) – This is the second Yoshimoto book on my list. One of my friends gifted it to me and I can’t wait to read it. I think I’ll probably read this one first, before the other one.

(10) Collected Short Stories by Ambai (Tamil) – Ambai is one of India’s greatest short story writers. She is the Indian Alice Munro. She has been writing short stories for literary magazines for nearly fifty years. All her short stories are written in Tamil. They have been translated into English and published in multiple volumes. This collection that I have has all her stories. I have dipped into this collection before. Hoping to read it properly from the beginning to the end now.

So, that’s it from my side. I’m late to the party but I can’t wait to start.

Are you participating in Women In Translation Month? What are you reading?

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