Saturday, December 26, 2015

All I want for Christmas is ... SNOW!

No, this blog is not dead, it just took a break away from the maddening crowd until next year, which is just a few days away :)

Have Yourself a Happy New Year, full with Love and Light... and Good Books! :)

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.'

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Contempt Part I

I have read the first seven chapters and I am quite amazed at how well Moravia can capture the struggles of a married man trying to prove to himself that his wife no longer loves him.
"Look and you shall find" seems to be the motto of these chapters. If you are not careful, a single gesture can ruin your relationship. Still, if you knew what gesture not to make, what questions not to ask, would you still decide to go on doing what you're not supposed to do for your own good?
The main character asks a few serious questions about relationships and your supposed 'better half'. We go from defects that seem lovable to suspicion, pain, revolt and remorse, and we still question, at the end of the 7th chapter if she has been unfaithful to him.
These chapters made me ask myself the serious questions that the male charater puts forward: is it true that the moment we start judging, we cease to love? And if we don't judge, should we tolerate everything? How important are money and physical comfort in a relationship?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

May Read-Along

If I remember correctly, this is my first read-along, but hopefully not my last. Although May is such a busy month, with final test papers to grade (around 150) and other tests to give, I decided to join Bellezza, Richard and Frances in reading Alberto Moravia's "Contempt" because I simply cannot stay away from such a writer, plus it was also time to read some other books by writers I enjoyed back in college. In a nutshell, if you want and have the time, immerse into some serious reading between 23rd - 25th May. Will it help to say that the book was turned into a movie by Godard, the famous French director, starring Brigitte Bardot?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Strange Weather...

“If the love is true, then treat it the same way you would plant - feed it, protect it from the elements - you must do absolutely everything you can. But if it isn't true, then it's best to just let it wither on the vine.” 

I am so pleased every time I manage to read a book by a Japanese writer, and the Easter holiday gave me this chance. "Strange Weather in Tokyo" is a lovely book, perfectly suited for a few days off work, when the weather outside makes you stay indoors and read. The story captured perfectly that special Japanese like mood, in which everything takes time, from asking someone how they have been to telling them you love them.

In fact, the novel has two titles "The Briefcase" and "Strange Weather in Tokyo" and I still did not manage to discover why the author allowed this to happen. Needless to say, both titles describe bits and pieces of what happens between the two characters, a woman in her thirties and her former teacher, a much older man, constantly called "sensei". The two of them spend nights on end in a bar, sharing little but still getting closer and closer, until one of them says "I love you". What happens next and whether they manage to leave their solitude aside to share time and space together is for you to discover. :)

"Being in love makes people uncertain." 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Marriage - the final frontier?

"Marriage" was written by Dan Coman, a writer from my town who is 40 years old and who seems quite prolific when it comes to writing and publishing in Romanian or in anthologies from all around Europe.
The book appeared this year and I decided to read it because I met with mixed reviews and I wanted to check for myself. Also, I am always eager to discover new Romanian writers, especially those coming from my area, with whom I can seem to relate on quite a few levels, ranging from local venues to attitudes deriving from the regional ethos...

"Today I realized I am no longer in love with him. I love him with a sad love, rather the man I want him to be and whom I always have on my mind than the real one."

The book starts quite interestingly, with his thoughts on being bored with his wife and what happens in his uninspired life as a high school teacher. Then, we get her side and how much she is willing to either get a divorce because she feels she is unloved in her marriage, or to sacrifice her needs and prioritize those of her two children and her husband. These movements from 'she said' - 'he said' are mixed with extracts from a book, one written by the third character in the novel, Daria, who seems to be the link that keeps the couple together... for how long and with what consequences is for you to discover.
I enjoyed the story and the characters' obscure feelings up to the last 30 pages when I felt the writer pushed the story into a very questionable territory, and everything seemed to highly diminish in importance from that moment. But you should judge for yourself!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Famous Venetian

"Venice makes you feel like you can dare anything." 

Veronica Franco has been known for centuries as the famous Venetian courtesan who shared intimacies with emperors, those who ruled Venice in the 16th century, whether it was due to their political power or money. However, in her book "Honorata Cortigiana" the Italian writer Rosa Ventrella, manages to go beyond the infamous person to expose a woman in love with poetry and aspiring to a higher lever of beauty, love and life. It somehow reminded me of the main character from the movie "Moulin Rouge", the courtesan Satin, played wonderfully by Nicole Kidman.

"She possessed a more wicked gift than money: she knew how to read in men's eyes unutterable desires. And she was willing to turn them into reality." 

Back to the book, we discover Veronica as a teenager, before her mother convinced her to follow in her footsteps and become a courtesan herself, then we see her struggle in an unsatisfying marriage with an old but rich man who is aware of her sexual needs that she is trying to fulfill by turning into the most desired courtesan of that time in Venice to finally giving everything up - fame, fortune and even freedom -to be together with the man that she loves.

"The pain of living was tearing her heart."

Veronica was truly a powerful woman and a visionary, beyond that flaws that some of us may see in her character. Her wish to spend her fortune on building a shelter for former courtesans is something to appreciate her for, together with the honesty that she shows in her final years. A wonderful book to read in order to discover a world long gone yet still vivid in the writer's imagination. And ours.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Music and Social Change

Music has always been a means of expressing oneself and the injustice that occurred all around, but not many musicians dared to express their revolt and take a stand in this regard. I guess speaking up was only for the bravest of them, whether they were called John Lennon, Bono or Madonna.
John Lennon fought for the rights of the common people, while Bono militated for helping the poor African countries and Madonna was one of the first people from the music industry to speak about gay rights and fighting prejudice. With such models, I believe it is quite hard for others to follow in their footsteps ...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Foreign Affairs

English has always been a passion for me, whether it was reading and exploring new words and their meaning or listening to my favorite artists performing their songs in English or laughing at my favorite sitcoms while wondering what on Earth that certain expression may mean.

I started learning English at school, when I was eleven, the old fashion way: reading, translating and then working on some grammar rules. No speaking or listening exercises until I finished high school, so I always felt the need to develop these skills more and I managed to do so while in college. However, only in high school did I realize I would really enjoy studying it further and discovering how multi-faceted it could be.

Now, in the 12th year as an English teacher I am extremely proud I can inspire mu students so much that they make their English a priority in their studies and I am delighted whenever one of them decides to work for a Cambridge examination (and even more delighted when, after months and months of studying hard, they pass it with flying colors.
To sum up, English has turned me into a more creative person, one always eager to explore, discover, apply and then pass it on. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Between Shades of Gray

My students are taking over the blog! This post is written by my dear Alexandra, aka The Pianist Butterfly :) 

The book is written by Ruta Sepetys, who was born and raised in Michigan, in a family of artists, readers and music lovers. She was born on November 19th 1967. Her first novel, “Between Shades of Gray”, about the Genocide of Baltic people after the Sovietic occupation, was critically acclaimed and translated into over 22 different languages.

I found this book on a rainy day in November. It was just as if she was calling my name hidden between hundreds and hundreds of books from the shelves. So, when I took it, I felt that a new world is about to be born in my hands; a world made of words, simple words which built a story of hope and love. Love above all.

The voice of a young girl breaks the silence of history. Lina is a fifteen year old teenager who lives in Lithuania with her parents and her younger brother, Jonas. But one night, when some frightening bangs threaten their door, their life is about to change forever. Lina, Jonas and her mother, Elena are evacuated from the house. The secret police arrest them. They are dragged in cattle vans. Soon, they discover that their destination is Siberia. What happens next? The story describes a page of history. A page full of despair, screams, cruelty and death. But, in between the lines, some hope and shy courage sneak in Lina’s heart. She fights for Jonas even if their mother dies.

The story shows that love, even if it sounds trivial, love will overcome. Always. Nobody says that there will be no scratches, wounds and tears. Bu all these make a worthy victory. And Lina takes all those risks to win the victory against death and war in the end.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Women Writers - January 2015

This month I came across some quite interesting books, very different one from the other.

I discovered Jenny McCarthy while is high school and she was hosting some shows on MTV. I didn't like her back then because I thought she was just a dumb blonde. Then, while she was dating Jim Carrey I watched her in some interviews and realized she actually has a brain and is not afraid to use it. I was touched by her story and the fact that her son had autism and years later, "Love, Lust & Faking it" has dropped into my virtual hands... The book is a bit naught, just like her nature, lots of fun (you must love the episode in which she meets Brad Pitt, or does she... ) and how strong she can be when it comes to expressing herself no matter the obstacles or the entourage. it is a light book that still has some seriousness to it: you are responsible for your own happiness and the compromises you make. Click here for a lighthearted interview with the writer herself.

"You can create an exceptional life" was written by the famous Louise Hay, whose books I appreciate quite a lot, for being so helpful in my understanding of how things work and how you can stay positive no matter what. I follow her posts and I plan on finishing reading all her books this year, so you may call me one of her fans :) This book is written together with one of her disciples, Cheryl Richardson and you can listen to a short interview about the book here. 

How ironic to find two books whose titles are switched. After having read Murakami's "The Men without Women", I came across Parsipur's "Women without Men" (1989), a novella about five different women from Iran whose faith is defined by the men who are, were or will be present in their lives but also by the garden they share from time to time. It is a daring book, banned in Iran and one that placed its writer in jail back when it was written, but for us, the one who are free to read and discuss it, it is a special book which mixes tragic events with a magical realism that has impressed me a lot. The beautiful image of the woman transforming herself into seeds one summer will surely remain with me for quite some time.

All these books read for my pleasure and for The Women Challenge 2015 :)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Men without Women

The second Haruki Murakami book I managed to finish a few days ago is "The Men without Women", a collection of short stories that appeared in the spring of 2014 in Japanese edition and at the end of the year in Romanian translation. I am so proud Romanian publishers appreciate his work so much as to translate it even if the American publishers have decided not to do it yet, maybe expecting to include the stories in a bigger collection, just as they did with "The Elephant Vanishes"...

Unlike the Japanese version with 6 stories, the Romanian version contains 7 stories, "Samsa in love" being added to it. All the stories except the one that gives the title of his collection had previously been published in different international magazines.
Here are the stories, in short:
"Drive my Car" - an actor and a female driver, both with a less than happy past and with a possible future together.

"Yesterday" - the story of two college students who learn how to love and let go.

"An Independent organ" - the story of a doctor so in love with a married woman that he isolates himself from the world.

"Scheherazade" - probably my favorite story of this collection, it presents Habara, a lonely man visited by a woman who tells him strange stories.

"Kino" - after his wife leaves him, a man opens a bar and thus encounters a strange presence.

"Samsa in Love" - a cockroach wakes up to discover he has been transformed into a human, one that needs to love and to feel loved.

"The Men without Women" -one midnight you are woken up by a phone call that lets you know your previous love died ...

All these Murakami stories seem to echo one another and mix lost love, disappointment and sadness, with a pinch of wonder about what it might have been. I really enjoyed rereading some of them in Romanian and I am looking forward to (re)discovering other short stories of his.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Murakami all the way...

"If you don't know something, go to the library and look it up." 

It's the 12th of January and it is Haruki Murakami's birthday! What better way to celebrate him than read one of his works and to start the new year and the challenges mentioned in the previous post I have chosen "The Strange Library", a dark story Murakami released in Japan in 2008 and in an English version with drawings at the end of last year.

The fable presents a boy who loves reading and who finds himself entrapped in an enormous labyrinth in the basement of the local library, expected to read books about how taxes were collected in the Ottoman empire and do his best in order to learn them by heart.... or else.

"Just because I don't exist in the sheep man's world, it doesn't mean that I don't exist at all."

Reality and illusion seem to mingle to perfection in this story and recurrent themes and characters put up an impressive show for the readers. Having read "Memoirs of a Shepherd", the boy seems to meet a shepherd in the basement; bitten by a ferocious black dog, he sees one there as well. The library with its hidden basement is actually meant to represent his subconscious.

How often do we find ourselves wondering about characters in the books we read, willing to meet them and interact with them? The boy seems to go through such an experience that leaves him wondering what really happened "how it feels to be alone, sadness surrounding me". Going back to 'the real world' after having been away for three days creates a feeling of loneliness and of missing out ... maybe girls speaking with their hands...

"The world follows its own course. Each possesses his own thoughts, each treads his own path."

Monday, January 5, 2015

New year, Old but Great Challenges...

Time has come for me to go back to the reading/writing board and stop fooling around :) I miss jotting down a few lines now and then to let you know what marvelous books I have come across, but one of the resolutions I am planning to stick to this year is to have 2-3 posts related to books each month, so stick around, this blog is not dead :)

And what better start than reading Japanese literature - this month for January in Japan challenge and all along the year for Bellezza's Japanese literature challenge (see links on the right)? I am planning on reading two Haruki Murakami books, since it's his birthday on the 12th of January and Kawabata's The Lake. I have wanted to read it for quite some time now and I think it will happen :)

Also, I am planning on reading 2 books each month written by female authors for The Women Challenge and this goal should not be difficult to reach since I have noticed I tend to read quite a lot of female writers. With more than 20 books read this year, this will actually turn me into a Wonder Woman (see challenge).