Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Grotesque in Us

I was expecting Natsuo Kirino's novel to be a shocker, mainly because "Out" was one and this book too was announced as a thriller, but it was beyond my expectations. "Grotesque" (2007, for the English version) tells the story of people who are ugly on the inside, who have no second thoughts about hurting, physically or mentally the others around, if that brings them even a little pleasure. There is so much abuse among schoolgirls, so much horror and mystery among women who become prostitutes just for "the fun of it" and who wish to actually be killed while working on the streets.

Personally, I found it hard to empathize with any of the characters, whether male or female, mainly because I could not visualize so much violence and masochism. However, this did not stop me from appreciating the writer's creativity in developing a story that starts with two prostitutes found dead in Tokyo to deconstructing the mystery from the point of view of a girl who is not very impressed with what happened, even if one of the prostitutes was her sister and the other one a schoolmate. Thus, we get to read the killed women's letters and journals, to see how they lowered their expectations and why they became prostitutes when their lives could have been quite different. A "must" if you want to discover Japan's contemporary literature.

Read for The Japanese Reading Challenge but also for Women in Translation Challenge.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


A few months ago people around the internet started playing this literary tag, mainly they named their 10 most influential books. I remember I posted them somewhere, after hours and hours of debating. It's time they were posted here, too, not necessarily in a specific order! Not 10, but 13... since it was quite hard to decide.

1. The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger) - One never forgets their first (literary) love
2. The Alchemist (Coelho) - An optimistic book during a pessimistic time
3. Sputnik Sweetheart (Murakami) - Haruki Murakami at his best
4. Tropic of Cancer (Miller) - Nobody does it better when it comes to ...
5. Anais Nin's letters  - Well... :)
6. The Museum of Innocence (Pamuk) - (too much) love and obsession
7. Why be Happy ... (Winterson) - my favorite Jeanette encounter
8. One Day (Nicholls) - It made me laugh and cry, and do it all over again...
9. In the Company of the Courtesan (Dunant) - It made me fall in love with Venice
10. The Bad Girl (Llosa) - What a story!
11. Candide (Voltaire) - Nobody beats Voltaire's wit!
12. Written on the Body (Winterson) - My first encounter with Jeanette's books
13. Sex, Shopping and the Novel (de Botton) - I have read everything Botton has written, but this is my all time favorite of his

Consider them my all time recommendations for falling in love with literature and books! 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Japanese and French Women in Translation

August has been quite a lazy month for me, taking time to visit places and enjoy the company of the special people around me. However, I did manage to read a few books and among them is "The Pillow Book", for The Japanese Reading Challenge but also for Women in Translation Month. It is an interesting book, with wise opinions and joyful musings recorded by Sei Shonagon, a court lady during the early 11th century Japan. I am aware that the book is valuable as a historical document presenting life at the Japanese court, but it is all that that did not appeal to me. I was rather drawn to her criticism, preferences and passionate ideas on the people and objects around her.

Also, I have started reading "Grotesque", a crime novel written in 2007 by Natsuo Kirino, the Japanese writer of "Out", a thriller I simply loved and so far, this book has made me see the relationships within a family in a different light. I hope I will finish it in the next few days and still consider it a great book and its author a talented one.

On the other hand, Simone de Beauvoir's "The Woman Destroyed" will have to wait its turn sometime next month...

Happy reading and a memorable autumn! :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Women and the French Revolution

Women have struggled for centuries to gain the same rights as men and not be seen as slaves. The French Revolution was the certain means of accomplishing that. Almost. This category of citizens went back and forth in order to establish their rights.

On 5th October 1789 – women of Paris were angry about the high price of bread so 3,000 women marched to the Hotel de Ville to demand bread. This march of the Women was a visible representation of citizen unrest and became an event with major consequences for the monarchy. The king received a delegation of 15 women and 15 National Assembly deputies, which had not happened previously.

However, from existing patriotic clubs for women in 1792, the times changed so that married women were not allowed to purchase land. With this in mind and having to face every day, women became ‘revolutionary’ themselves as well. The most virulent of these women scared the male revolutionaries as it happened on the 18th November 1793 when a red bonnet group of women led by Claire Lacombe got into the General Council of Paris. As a consequence, the National Convention forbade all clubs and gatherings that involved women. Women no longer had the right to even take part in political reunions and they were excluded from the affairs of the city.

If in September 1792 women were given the right to divorce, Napoleon’s code of 1804 changed all that. Divorce was made harder to obtain, particularly for women. the remarkably egalitarian law of 1792 was repealed and provisions were introduced which restricted divorce by mutual consent and imposed a double standard test of adultery, to the advantage of women. Later on, the women failed in making men recognize their political rights. In Amar’s discourse of 30th October 1793, he clearly stated that “nous croyons donc qu’une femme ne doit pas sortir de sa famille pour s’immiscer dans les affaires du gouvernement.” (we thus think that a woman must not leave her family in order to get involved in the affairs of the government.) The civil code of 1804 stated in article 215 that a woman cannot utter a judgment without her husband’s authorization.

Nevertheless, there were a few successful female artists during the period of the revolution. Among them, Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun, one of the only four women artists to have been accepted in 1783 into the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, a major achievement for a woman in the 18th century. She painted portraits of Marie Antoinette and various aristocrats. Many years later in her memoir she regretted the disappearance of the sort of gallantry associated with the Ancien Regime, affirming that the women ruled then and the revolution has dethroned this. Another successful woman, Labille – Guiard was an artist that actively favored the revolution.

Emancipating women legally an politically met with incomprehension.  “Since women have the same moral and intellectual capacities as men, anything but equality for women, argued Sophie Condorat, is by definition incompatible with the Rights of Man and discriminatory.”
To sum up, this obvious injustice of laws reduced women to the condition of slaves that will have to wait centuries to liberate themselves from the atrocities of man-imposed rules. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Rebel Heart

23 years of loving her each day even more :)

Happy Birthday, Madonna! 

Monday, August 10, 2015

One Very Special Rendez Vous

Elle: "Mon seul tabou, c'est l'homme marie."(My only taboo is the married man.)
Lui: "C'est fou ce que tu me plais, c'est dingue." (It's crazy how much I like you, it's mad.)

Even if "Paris in July" is over, I could not stay away from a supposedly great movie, with the talented Francois Cluzet, whose movies are a must and the beautiful Sophie Marceau. I was right. This is a piece of cinematic artistry one cannot soon forget. "Une rencontre" or "Quantum of Love" (2014)  tells the story of two people - a not so single woman and a very married man - who meet, fall in love but, for their "story not to end, in must never begin." Still, we can all create a reality that is quite what we wished for... or can we?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Cat

'I have a lovely cat', he said.
She almost believed him. Who would lie about their cat? 
They walked hand in hand, towards nowhere. She wondered why she trusted him so much. They had only met two hours before and he could be a serial killer, for all she knew. Still, he was smiling at her and she felt comfortable once again.

‘I want you to see my cat’, he said, grinning.

‘All right’, she heard herself answer.

It was the beginning of September and the trees were still dark green. There were children playing in front of their blocks of flats. School hadn't begun yet. Alice was a primary teacher, she loved children and they loved her back. Oliver was still a stranger to her, but one with a supposedly lovely cat.
‘We are almost there’, she heard him say.
There was nothing she feared in his voice. She usually didn't trust people that easily, but this time something was totally different. He was looking at her as if she was this special girl he didn't want to let go. She could not remember when someone had looked at her like this.
‘I live with my cat, but we have room for one more’, he added, laughing.
‘I don't mind sharing you’, she whispered, thinking she was becoming too flirtatious.
‘Here's your key, then.’
She took it, smiled at him and unlocked the door. The white cat greeted her with a long meow. It was love at first sight. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Belle de Jour in July

"Belle de Jour" (1967) was considered one of the most famous French movies, especially since it was directed by Louis Bunuel. With a Jesuit upbringing, the director left Spain in order to join the Surrealist movement in Paris. "Belle de Jour" is his first out of six movies he shot in France.
The universe he creates is quite strange, and the line between what is real, what is wished for and what is a mere dream is so often blurred that it becomes disturbing more often than not.

The 24 year old Catherine Deneuve plays the part of Belle de Jour, a prostitute who sells herself out of too much boredom, not because she needs the money and this is her only way of acquiring it. However, her kinkiness and depravity get the best of her and still, I felt I was left wondering what was real and what not, so this was indeed an avant-garde experiment. It is worth seeing, especially as it is seen as one of the world's cinematic masterpieces, not to mention that Bunuel himself defined his movie as "the search for truth, as well as the necessity of abandoning it as soon as you’ve found it.”

You can read a great review here

Monday, July 20, 2015

Le Voleur des Moments Banales

"Le voleur d'ombres" (The Shadow Thief) de Marc Levy, un des plus connus et admires ecrivains francais, est un des romans magiques qu'on ne peut pas mettre de cote avant de le finir. Pourquoi le faire, quand il s'agit des histoires d'amour?   Les ombres peuvent nous dire des secrets et partager les chagrins et les espoirs de ceux qu'on aime ou qu'on connait. Cet etrange pouvoir aide le petit a comprendre les adultes et meme a se reconcilier avec le passe. Ecrire des mots doux dans le ciel avec un cerf-volant est toujours possible :)

Voici quelques citations que je prefere:

Et si l'adulte que vous êtes devenu rencontrait l'enfant que vous étiez ?

A écouter mon coeur tambouriner dans ma poitrine, je me suis dit qu'on pouvait peut-être mourir d'un baiser.

Il ne faut jamais comparer les gens, chaque personne est différente. L'important est de trouver la différence qui vous convient le mieux.

C'est drolement dangereux de s'attacher à quelqu'un , c'est incroyable ce que ça peut faire mal . rien que la peur de perdre l'autre est douloureuse . sans nouvelles d'elle ; tout s'écroulait autour de moi . c'est moche de guetter un signe de quelqu'un pour se sentir heureux .

"Le Figaro" presente Marc Levy racontant la genese du "Voleur d'Ombres".

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Vive le Pain Perdu!

Every July it's time for some simple, yet tasty recipe to try. Here's my favorite from Rachel Khoo's book, "The Little Paris Kitchen".

Pain Perdu avec Compote de Cerises et Basilic (French Toast with Cherry and Basil Compote) 

"Pain Perdu" means "lost bread" and you can top it with compote or eat it just as it comes. You need 1 egg, a tablespoon of sugar, 250 ml of milk, 4 slices of bread and a tablespoon of butter. For the compote you need 450 frozen pitted cherries, 150 g of icing sugar and a bunch of basil, but you could use any compote you like.

To make the compote, place all the ingredients in a pot and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally during this time to help dissolve the icing sugar.

To make "the pain perdu" whisk the egg, milk and sugar together in a dish. Place the bread in the egg mixture and soak for a minute on each side. Heat the butter in a large frying pan on a medium heat. Add the bread and cook for 2-3 minutes or until golden, then flip the slices over and cook the other side. Serve the "pain perdu" straight from the pan, with the compote spooned over and around.

Rachel has her own show on BBC Two. Click here for more info on her cooking preferences. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Boredom Read Along Part I

"In the beginning was boredom, commonly called chaos. God, bored with boredom, created the earth, the sky, the waters, the animals, the plants, Adam and Eve; and the latter bored in their turn in paradise, ate the forbidden fruit. God became bored with them and drove them out of Eden."

I have only managed to read a third of Alberto Moravia's book, due to a very busy weekend, but I can truly say it is not as enjoyable as "Contempt", mainly because I could not relate to the main character who does not find pleasure in anything, whether that is money, women or art. He seems to be bored with life itself, without feeling the need to end it, but rather go into rambling speeches about "boredom". Maybe the movie will be more interesting.

"And the main feature of my boredom was the practical impossibility of remaining in my own company - I myself being, moreover, the only person in the world whom I could not get rid of in any possible way." 

To be continued...

Friday, July 3, 2015

Madame Bovary

What an excellent adaptation this was! I am thrilled directors still choose to return to classics and create beautiful pieces of art. I few years ago I saw "Madame Bovary" starring Isabelle Huppert (which appeared in 1991) and I really enjoyed watching it, but then, Huppert is one of my favorite actresses. This time, I think Mia Wasikowska is among my favorite young actresses. I was impressed with her acting in "Alice in Wonderland", "Jane Eyre" and "Stoker" and she did not let me down playing the part of Madame Bovary.

We all know Emma's story. She marries a country doctor and starts feeling bored in the small village where he practices medicine. She also begins to see him in a different light, until she cannot stand him any longer. If at first she can say "no" to a younger man who shows affection towards her, she then longs for a different life, with more money to spend on clothes and trifles next to a man who can have time for her. Her wish does come true, but Gustave Flaubert's novel is not a fairy tale...

Reasons to watch "Madame Bovary" (2014): Mia, the story, the scenery, the inner struggles.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Another Beautiful July in ... Paris!

There is no such thing as July without Paris and since I can choose whatever I want to read, watch or listen to, this month is going to be fantastic!
I will be watching the controversial "Belle de Jour", starring Catherine Deneuve and the new adaptation for the screen of Flaubert's famous story "Madame Bovary", starring the young and talented Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre). I am really looking forward to this one. Also, I have some plans for one or more French movies, depending on my free time.

Bookwise, I am planning on reading Marc Levy's "The Shadow Thief", Simone de Beauvoir's "The Woman Destroyed" and David Foenkinos' "Lennon". It is such an eclectic range of books that I know I will have quite a blast going from one to the next.

However, what will Paris be without its lovely chansonettes? To my huge surprise, one of my all time favorite French singers, Benjamin Biolay has just released a tribute album to Charles Trenet and Paris. The first released song is "Revoir Paris". Can you think of something more beautiful Paris related?

Enjoy your own Paris in July! 
P.S. Visit Thyme for Tea for more info on the challenge :)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Look! A Red Feather!

THE GAP OF TIME - Jeanette Winterson

The Hogarth Shakespeare series will launch in October 2015 with The Gap of Time – Jeanette Winterson’s reinvention of The Winter’s Tale. This major international project will see Shakespeare’s plays reimagined by some of today’s bestselling and most celebrated writers. The books will be true to the spirit of the original plays, while giving authors an exciting opportunity to do something new.

Winterson said of The Winter’s Tale: ‘All of us have talismanic texts that we have carried around and that carry us around. I have worked with The Winter’s Tale in many disguises for many years. This is a brilliant opportunity to work with it in its own right. And I love cover-versions.’

Other writers involved in the project and whose books will appear in 2016: Tracy Chevalier, who will be retelling Othello, Gillian Flynn (Hamlet), Margaret Atwood (The Tempest). 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Lavender in My Dreams...

"He turned and saw me, my wings exposed. He paled. For reasons even I remain unsure of, I dropped to my knees, raised my chin, and opened my mouth. For a moment he stood unmoving, possibly awestruck by the close proximity of the blooms of my lips. Then he held up a paper-thin wafer and brought it to my mouth. I reached up and touched it with my tongue."

I had no idea this book would turn out to be so wonderful. In fact, I can't remember having read a more beautiful book in the recent years and the term "magical realism" is highlighted once more as one of my favorite styles of writing. It is Leslye Walton's debut novel, which appeared in 2014 and named by Publishers Weekly as "entrancing and sumptuously written." 

"The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender" is the story of a simple girl... who is born with wings. She is not a bird, nor and angel, but not quite human. The first half of the book is dedicated to presenting the lives of Ava's mother and grandmother, their struggle to "fit in", to face sadness and love that is not shared. The second part of the novel presents in more detail Ava's life and her attempts to reveal herself to the world. 

"I often thought I was going crazy- or maybe not going but already there. As if my future was only a locked room with white painted walls and white painted floors, with no windows or doors or any means to escape. A place where I opened my mouth to scream but no sound came out."

Real human love goes hand in hand with religious love, or does it? Obsession can lead you to commit the unthinkable and still, what I wished to happen all along the novel happens in the end and both Ava and me have felt liberated... Love is truly the one and only miracle. It is definitely a mesmerizing read! 

"Love makes us such fools!" 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Japanese Summer Is Here...

As usual, I decided to join Bellezza's Challenge and this summer I will be reading these four supposedly great books. I am a fan of Kawabata's work, so I am looking forward to his last piece of writing "Dandelions"; two months ago I read Kawakami's "Strange Weather in Tokyo" and I really enjoyed it, so I am quite eager to discover a new novel "Nishino's ten loves"; "The Pillow Book" should be the 'kinky book" of the summer and I am also planning on rediscovering Tanizaki with his "Some prefer nettles". Will you care to join us? You only have to read one book written by a Japanese writer till January 2016.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Old Man of the Moon

'Our passion was so great. Will the Old Man understand and help us once again?'

The Old Man of the Moon is Shen Fu's intimate and moving account of his marriage - from early passion to the trials of poverty and separation - and his great, enduring love for his wife in eighteenth-century China.  In Chinese mythology the Old Man of the Moon is the God of Marriage, meant to bring people together. This small gem speaks for itself...
"All things are like spring dreams, passing with no trace."

"She was too sensitive to be completely happy in life."

"True respect comes from the heart, not from empty words."

"Most arguments people have begin with a joke."

"One who has seen the ocean cannot desire a stream." 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Contempt Part II

'The ambiguity which had poisoned our relationship in life continued ever after her death.'
'I despise you and you disgust me' can be the line that summarizes Emilia's attitude, noticed through Riccardo's eyes, but getying to the last pages of the novel, can we really trust his words and emotions. In fact, can we trust the dangerous mind and desires of a beautiful woman?
We leave Riccardo mourning Emilia's death but still unable to discover what was really hidden behind his wife's contempt. Was she really cheating on him or it was only his mind looking for excuses for his inferiority? Was it an unhappy misunderstanding that lead to tragedy or Penelope truly stopped loving Ulysses?
'Contempt preceded by a long way any justification of it, either real or imaginary, that I might have provided by my behavior.'