Saturday, July 23, 2016

Amelie Nothomb - Part II of Paris in July

'Il y a un instant, entre la quinzième et la seizième gorgée de champagne, où tout homme est un aristocrate'

On my way to rediscover Paris in July I started reading Margaux Fragoso's "Tigre! Tigre!" but the memoir of a young girl falling in love with a fifty year old man was too serious and "fatigante", so I replaced it with Amelie Nothomb's "Le Fait du Prince", published in 2008. 

I have read books penned by Nothomb in the past, and every time I did that, I (re)discovered a very talented writer, one whose imagination goes beyond the ordinary, and "Le Fait du Prince", translated into Romanian as "The Right to Live and Die" makes no exception. 

The short novel starts with the idea of someone dying in your home and with the best steps to follow if you find yourself in this dreadful situation. Then, the main character, a bored man who can't even remember what his job is, "allows" a stranger to die in his home... only to decide to steal his life and become that rich man himself. Even though it may seem strange at first, Nothomb knows how to turn an unbelievable story into something you would like to experience... or at least write about. I really enjoyed the way she can take unpleasant characters and make them quite plausible in their actions. 
A story worth reading, whether it is for Tamara's "Paris in July" reading challenge or simply because you want to discover a very imaginative French writer... 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cold Fish

I decided to watch another Sion Sono movie and this time, I got more than I would have wished for. I was aware that the Japanese director was in for shocking the hell out of us, but he went much further and exploited the true story of two serial killers in order to transform it into something horrifying and totally outrageous. 

The title of "Cold Fish", directed in 2010, has a double meaning: the main characters are owners of exotic fish shops, but the idiom "cold fish" also refers to someone who shows no emotion and looks uninterested, until... 

The first 45 minutes seem "reasonable" to watch and you may think the story could go anywhere just to end up into something ordinary, but do not be fooled, at the Venice International Film Festival in 2010 the movie received the best screenplay award, so if you are not sickened by the literal blood and guts spread everywhere, you may ask yourself why a perfect stranger would want to help you when you face a problem... Add to this an unsatisfied wife, a house in the woods and a calm husband who can take so much... "Life is pain", utters the main character as his final line and if you are brave enough, you will be able to discover his madness at the end of this vicious and dark horror movie. 
You can find the trailer here. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Extension du domaine de l'amour... ou Paris in July part I

Mid July, I managed to read two of the three books I planned for Paris in July challenge and I was quite pleased with them, even though the two books are quite different. Here is why:

"Extension du domaine de la lutte" was written in 1994 by the French Michel Houellebecq and it was as its protagonist a depressed 30 year old man working as a programmer and whose name is not mentioned.

"Sleeping with Paris" was written in 2013 by Juliette Sobanet, who spent her youth years in the United States and Paris. Her protagonist is Charlotte Summers, a young French teacher in the States who discovers, just days before moving to Paris with her fiance, that he is a cheating bastard.

"Extension" is much for serious than Sobanet's book and I found the male character quite obnoxious from time to time, while having problems understanding his attitudes and complaints. I did not see him evolving, and this is a major trait I look for in the characters from the books I read. In fact, there is a lack of purpose and desire in him that I did not find suitable for a book during the summer days. However, it is quite interesting to see the controversial Houellebecq at work.

On the other hand, "Sleeping in Paris", or "Love in Paris" (the Romanian translation) is a light, funny book, full of kisses, sexy French guys and love... something we all connect the City of Light with, especially during a hot (please get the 'double-entendre' of the word) July. I loved its pace and the fact that each chapter brings something exciting along, whether that is a French neighbour offering you chocolates and nights full of passion, or the ex-husband who appears out of the blue to convince you he has made a huge mistake. The book is the first in a series of romantic reads set in Paris and they seem perfect for my next Paris in July challenges.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Paris in July ... Once More!

July is almost here and my reading list of French literature is ready to be tackled. I love reading in French, especially French authors because, as with Japanese literature, the French writing style is quite different and unique in capturing the French way of living and understanding life.

For this July I decided to read Michel Houellebecq's "Extension du domaine de la lutte" because I enjoyed "Platforme" years ago when I first took part in the challenge managed by Tamara here, and Houellebecq is quite a controversial figure on the French literary scene. Also, I hope to find time to watch the adaptation for the screen of the same book.

I will also read something "easy" because we need to escape the heavy, more serious literature and drown into something romantic, and what is more romantic than falling in love in Paris? So, "Love in Paris" will just come in handy. I have not read anything by the French writer Juliette Sobanet but I hope I will not be disappointed.

Trying to keep up with the novelties, I came across the title "Tigre, Tigre!" by the French writer Margaux Fragoso. Although I know nothing about her, I will give this book a go because the subject of the book is quite controversial and I am curious to see if the book is as good as it was praised by journalists from The Guardian here. 

And since the French mood is nothing without some French music, I will immerse my ears into some French sounds sung by Navii. Here is a taste of his style and his adorable Paris.


Monday, June 20, 2016

My 20 Books of Summer

For four years now I have challenged myself to read 30 books in 90 days (from the 15th of June to the 15th of September). This summer I also plan on doing other creative things, so I have in mind to read at least 20. Here's a glimpse of what I am about to read.

This challenge is hosted by Cathy, here. 


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Guest Cat

I have started Bellezza's Japanese Literature Reading Challenge with a truly beautiful book, "The Guest Cat", (2001) and translated into English in 2014 (and in Romanian in 2016). In fact, it is so melancholically beautiful that I named my cat, which I just adopted a day ago, Chibi. Chibi is the guest cat, a cat that comes and goes as she pleases in the house of a thirty year old couple.
The novel is quite short, about 140 pages and there isn't much action taking place, but if you take into account the fact that the writer, Takashi Hiraide, is a poet and this is his first work in prose, and he is also a Japanese writer, meaning that we all know how subtle they can be in their writing style, this little book comes out as a gem.
Chibi manages to make the couple, who have neither children nor pets like her so much that when she "leaves" them, they have a problem getting used to the feeling.

Eating and sleeping as much as she liked, circulating freely between locales, it seemed as if the boundary between the two households had itself come into question. Even the words we used to talk about Chibi had become a mass of confusion: was her coming to our house a return – a homecoming – or was it the other way around? Was home really over there? The whole situation seemed to be in flux. Once, when we had been out for the day, we returned to find Chibi there in the dim light of the entrance to welcome us, seated properly, feet together on the raised wooden floor as if she were a young girl who had been left to care for the house while we were away.
 “See, I told you. She’s our girl.”
 …or so my wife said, though she knew she wasn’t really ours. Which is why it seemed all the more as if she were a gift from afar – an honored guest bestowing her presence upon us.

The way the writer perfectly captures the soothing calmness of the cat is in tone with the type of poetry in prose that he writes. Click here if you want to read the complete interview with Takashi Hiraide in which he also talks about "The Guest Cat":

"The Guest Cat is written in keeping with the Japanese tradition of the I-Novel. This is a kind of novel that is very near to the essay, but also a form that is interested in the difference between the two. The novel is a form of fiction, the essay a form of non-fiction, but I am very much interested in their subtle differences—in the space that exists between them but also in places where they overlap."

This is a novel that will leave a trace on you as long as you are sensitive enough to see how much a feline's soul can alter yours for good. And if you wonder who the cat in the middle of the collage is... it is my Chibi! :) 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

To Be or Not To Be

I have read almost everything Shakespeare wrote hundreds of years ago, but my favorite play still remains "Hamlet". It is so complex and the main character is incredibly intriguing that it makes you raise so many questions about human nature, revenge, love and the intricacies of the human mind.
I got acquainted with "Hamlet" in high school because we had to study a few extracts and I found the prince of Denmark quite mysterious.
Years after that moment, in 2000, I discovered that my favorite actor, Ethan Hawke, starred as Hamlet in the modern-day New York City adaptation of Shakespeare famous play. I saw it first in 2004 or 2005, I guess and I was absolutely amazed at how well he succeeded in embodying the main character and how actual the story can be, even if written at an uncertain year between 1599 and 1602. Watching the adaptation for the screen makes you realize once more what a powerful universality Shakespeare can have.
Another plus that this movie offers is the fact that it was directed by Michael Almereyda, the famous, talented director who also directed "Cymbeline" in 2014, based on Shakespeare's play and which also stars Ethan Hawke as Iachimo.
"Hamlet" (2000) got mixed reviews from different important magazines, but you cannot judge it until you see it, and you also need to appreciate how faithful it is to the original play, not by simply sticking to Shakespeare's lines, but by playing with ideas and feelings in crucial moments. prior to delivering the well known monologue "To Be or Not To Be", Ethan's Hamlet watches a movie of a famous Buddhist teacher in which he explains the principle "To be is to be with others, to be is to inter-be."
Almereyda has definitely created a new standard for Shakespearian adaptation, one in which we should understand more the emotional pull of the characters while still "TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE." 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

My reading Plans for June

The month of May was full of activities and it did not give me the chance to read as much as I would have wanted, but I am looking forward to the month of June in which I am planning to finish two big tomes, Cartarescu's "Solenoid" (for my Romanian Writers Challenge) and Pamuk's "A Strangeness in my Mind" (I am two thirds into the book) and I would also want to start two new books, one for the Japanese Challenge "The Guest Cat" by Takashi Hiraide, and "The Vegetarian" by Han Kang because from what I have read on Bellezza's blog, it seems quite intriguing. Still, I may allow myself to be surprised by other books and get distracted from this plan :)

Happy reading to all of you! 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Book of Kisses

If you read in Romanian, then you may be familiar with this wonderful mysterious poet I fell in love with years ago, Iv cel Naiv (Iv the Naive One). Not only do I own all his books, some of them autographed, but I have big plans concerning his work this summer...
Anyway, a day ago his latest book appeared, "Cartea Saruturilor" (The Book of Kisses) and I had to have it, read it and write about it in positive terms, because you cannot do things otherwise when it comes to Iv.You can find all the 42 poems here, together with Vali Petridean's drawings.

My favorite one? The Eyes Wide Closed Kiss :)

cei doi protagonisti isi imagineaza
ca-n jurul lor zeci de flamingo danseaza
in timp ce peste ei ninge cu flori de caisi
si ca totul va continua cand vor avea ochii deschisi 

(the two protagonists imagine
that around them dozens of flamingos are dancing
while apricot flowers are snowing upon them
and that everything will continue when their eyes are open) 

Here's an interview with the anonymous Iv :)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Guilty of Romance

Once or twice a year I indulge myself in watching a Japanese movie that has been regarded by critics as a controversial artistic creation. I do not do this more often because, just as with Japanese literature, Japanese movies are something from a different planet, the type of movie that ends up haunting you and you find yourself every other day asking about the different meanings behind certain dramatic or kinky scenes.

My first viewing this year was "Guilty of Romance" (2011) directed by Sion Sono. It is a mixture of sex and death and pseudo-relationships between mother and daughter or husband and wife. The dark human psyche of a bored wife leads her from non-existent physical love to sexual deprivation and something even more repulsive than that. Izumi yearns for passion and attention and she gets it at first from a hot blooded prostitute by night and a professor by day, then from men who pay for her sexual services, and finally from her husband, to close the circle. The mixture of madness, danger and sexual gratification is almost palpable and the ending leaves you nauseated.

"Guilty of Romance" is the final part of the "Hate" trilogy, with "Love Exposure" (2008) and "Cold Fish" (2010) being the other two and I am sure I will gather the strength to watch them sometime later this year. The films are not connected with each other but the themes are similar: sex, religion and family. A self confessed "hater", Sono declared in an interview that the hate inside him was so strong that "Guilty of Romance" was his "concession speech towards love, because I was exhausted from hating." 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

To Read or Not to Read

2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It is also the 452nd anniversary of his birthday, as Shakespeare is believed to have died on his birthday.

I hope you are sharing this beautiful day with a great book and why not, maybe this book is related to William Shakespeare! I myself am indulging in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" :) 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I Am a Happy Reader

“You are always in the right place at exactly the right time, and you always have been.” 

I have been in (an artistic) love with Ethan Hawke since I was in high school back in the late '90s and I saw him starring in "Great Expectations", an adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel. I followed his artistic career with the steady care of someone who wants to discover if Ethan Hawke was more than a pretty face. And he definitely is more than that. He is an extraordinary actor, getting better and better with each part and each year passing by, but he is also a fantastic writer. He is the proof that you can be a Hollywood star and still go beyond the shallowness of it all by writing.
He can act in thrillers, romantic or horror movies and impress me deeply. He is my favorite Hamlet (2000) and Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) is among my all time favorite movies.

“Like a dead branch falling from a tree, which them decomposes and nourishes the soil, your disappointments can transform into the elements of change and growth.” 

A few years ago I read his Ash Wednesday and the novel came as a shock of how well he can write about love, marriage and the intricacies they imply.
On the same note, last year in November he launched his "Rules for a Knight", a small book full of pieces of advice and wisdom about how to raise your children in an authentic way and what lessons you should teach them. I received the (signed) book in January and I really loved it. So simple, yet so true, just as any serious matter of life... and finally, death, and what happens in-between.
Here is Ethan talking about his book:

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Other Love Stories

The 41 year old Romanian writer Lucian Dan Teodorovici is the one whose book "The Other Love Stories" (2009) I managed to read in March and I can honestly say I was expecting more from these stories, but taking into account that this was the first book I had read penned by him, I guess so much expectation was a faux pas and it probably stemmed from the fact that after reading or rather being imbued by Cartarescu's writing, I want all other books to impress me as much...

Still, the book manages to leave me with some thoughts on how time flies, on how nothing is what it seems and, cliched as it may seem, still waters run deep. And if you expect a lot of romantic, syrupy-like love, you will be disappointed. Even though the writer himself states on his site that the stories have a common theme and that is of lost love, I did not actually felt them as such.
Out of the 11 short stories, the ones that I enjoyed the most were "Goose Chase" and "A Few Kilometers Back". Here are a few lines from "Goose Chase":

Grandfather swore in his turn when he saw that our geese with the Nike mark were nowhere to be found. And he began to go from house to house, looking for the geese. I followed him, more out of curiosity than anything else, although my grandfather let me tag along because he imagined that I, at the age of eight, had keener eyes and could spot things that he, at the age of sixty, was unable to. In the end, it turned out to be a good thing that he took me along. Because, while he was in a neighbour’s yard, I remained in the lane, bouncing up and down the rather deflated ball I’d brought from home so as not to grow bored during the search. And as my grandfather was talking to the neighbour in the yard, a gap-toothed, hare-lipped friend of mine came up. I told him our geese had been stolen and he said: 
“I fink I know who shtole them. They were on the corner of the shtreet,” he said pointing to the place. “And that gypshy who nicked our ball that time when we were playing football on the pitch by the railway shtation turned up,” he added. “Honest. He was holding a shwitch and I shaw him driving the geesh up there to the water tower. I don’t know if they were yoursh, but they had marks and I even thought, what the devil, gypshies don’t mark their geesh.”

L. D. Teodorovici has published books in Italian, Spanish, French and German and has written novels, short stories, scripts and plays.

What have you read for the Romanian Writers Challenge? :)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Perfectly Divine

It seems I have waited the perfect amount of time to write about the wonderful concert I attended at the beginning of March because Eduard Kunz would be once again present in my town to play his glorious piano scores. On the 2nd of April, he will play in a charitable concert whose aim is to raise money for autistic children.

Eduard Kunz is a Russian piano player aged 35 who has been named by the BBC among the 10 tomorrow's great piano players and who has had recitals all over the world. In 2007 he won The Grand prix at George Enescu International Competition of Classical Music. Since then, he has continued to win first prizes in competitions organized in the United States, Italy or Spain.

I first heard Kunz performing one year ago, in May 2015, when he toured with the famous violin player Alexandru Tomescu and his Stradivarius violin and it only took me a few seconds to be mesmerized by both of them. I am not very good with words when it comes to music and emotions, so I will let you enjoy a few minutes of his perfectly divine playing...

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Romanian Writers Challenge Has Begun!

I am proudly announcing the start of the first (ever) Romanian Writers Challenge!

As I stated at the beginning of January, I am planning on reading more Romanian literature, together with you.

The challenge started on the 1st of March and it will end on the 1st of December, when we celebrate our National Day. So far, there are 7 of you who have decided to join in, but do know that you can join at any time, just let me know in comment or add your blog to the wiki posted on the 2nd of January. You can also add the button on the right to your blog. :)

The challenge is quite simple: in these 9 months you have to read at least one book by a Romanian writer and if you decide to write a review about it, you will be entered a draw on the 1st of December to win a special prize. 

As far as my Romanian readings are concerned, I will be reading a book by a Romanian writer each month, trying to finish Mircea Cartarescu's "Solenoid" in March, then April and May will be dedicated to discovering new authors: Nora Iuga's "Sexagenara si tanarul" (The Sexagenarian and the Young Man) - written in 2000, and Lucian Dan Teodorovici's stories "Celelalte povesti de dragoste" (The other love stories) - written in 2009. I am really looking forward to these!

Happy reading, everyone!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bonjour Tristesse!

« Sur ce sentiment inconnu, dont l'ennui, la douceur m'obsèdent, j'hésite à apposer le nom, le beau nom grave de tristesse »

I remember having read "Bonjour Tristesse" (1954) back in high school like it was just a few months ago... I remember the amazement at how rebellious Cecile was, not wanting to study for her final exams, then falling in love but still being capable of creating a whole web of lies and tricks in order for things to get her way... This was truly a book that changed my life in the way of seeing things beyond what they may appear at a first glance, a book that made me discover the beauty and uniqueness of French literature, a discovery that no long after that turned into a passion that I still cherish quite fondly.

However, what I do not remember is whom I discovered first, Francoise Sagan or Paul Eluard, but I still know his perfect poem "A peine defiguree" (1932) by heart... the poem that probably inspired Sagan for the title of his controversial short novel and which can be found in the beginning.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Date with Destiny - Solenoid

I first discovered Mircea Cartarescu back in 2001 when my college roommate introduced me to his poems, which I later decided to translate into English for the Traductology course which I passed with flying colors, the professor being thoroughly impressed with my translations. Curious by nature I wanted to see what his prose was all about and I was struck by how creative he could be in his short novel "Travesti" (1994).

In 2005 He came to my hometown to launch his easy-to-digest book "Why we love women” (2004) and I even managed to ask him a question. That was the moment I became one of his fans. I continued reading his masterpieces, because for me, everything he has written is highly remarkable and his writing demands to be taken into account when committees decide to nominate writers for the Nobel Prize of Literature. I am an avid reader but out of the thousands writers I have read he is the most powerful and imaginative. With each page you read, you become more amazed at how incredible his mind and writing is. At the end of 2014 he visited us again, to pick up his award for the best Romanian writer of the year, nominated by a local literary committee but meeting everybody's approval. He even donated all the money he received for a good cause: promoting young writers.

(M. Cartarescu talking about "Solenoid")

Back to present times, two weeks ago Mircea Cartarescu came once more in a campaign to promote his latest masterpiece, “Solenoid”, published in November last year, the book he described as his most impressive in terms of creation, topic and why not, time to write. It took him almost 5 years to finish the 800 page novel and he stated that he actually hoped the readers would complete it in three - or four months, taking their time to digest and absorb, but in my case, this will not happen, because I have already read 200 pages and I am planning on finishing it by the end of March... just in time for my Romanian Writers Challenge!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Brunetti's Venice

"Venice is a complicated place, physically and spiritually, and it is extraordinarily difficult to establish Venetian facts. Nothing is ever quite certain." (Jan Morris, Venice) 

If you love Venice, then I am sure you are familiar with Donna Leon's series set in the magic city and whose main character is Commissario Brunetti. I have read a few of her books with the intention of definitely reading some more, but a few weeks ago I came across this book, "Brunetti's Venice" and I had to leaf though it, since you cannot actually read it. You have to be in Venice to track Brunetti's walks, his favorite places, the churches he passes by, his stops at different cafes and his home. The book presents such an accurate description of his wanderings that you cannot but wish to discover Venice, book in hand, the way that Toni Sepeda, the professor of literature who compiled these walking tours envisaged for you. Each chapter takes us on a different tour, and the sights are blended with passages from Donna Leon's books (pictured above), in order to support and clarify the character's endeavors. At the end of each walk you can also find info on additional sites and details as well as the time the walk may take.

"He wondered what divine intercession could save the city from the oil slick, this modern plague that covered the waters of the laguna and had already destroyed millions of the crabs that had crawled though the nightmares of his childhood. What Redeemer could come and save the city from the pall of greenish smoke that was slowly turning marble to meringue? A man of limited faith, he could imagine no salvation, either divine or human." (Death at la Fenice, chapter 14) 

So, next time you visit Venice, try to exchange your ordinary tour book with this fascinating account and you will be seeing Venice though the eyes of a famous character. And when you return home, why not try some of the recipes from "Brunetti's Cookbook" as well? :)