Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Japanese "Scandal"

“A person never knows their own true face. Everybody thinks that the phoney, posed social mask they wear is their real face.” 

Like any other Japanese novel that I have read, Shusaku Endo's "Scandal" impresses with the way the story unfolds and with the main character's struggle. Even if some critics have found the motif of the Doppelganger (a ghostly counterpart of a living person according to Merriam-Webster) a bit boring, I was taken aback by the way in which, step by step, everything turned blurry and I could not predict what was going to happen next. The mystery and confusion surrounding the main character, the old writer Suguru, always trying to write a better book, did not bother me; in fact, this was the key element that made me finish the novel in no time.

“True religion should be able to respond to the dark melodies, the faulty and hideous sounds that echo from the heart of men.” 

What would you do if one day someone accused you, a person of high moral beliefs, of something embarrassing and undesirable? What would you do if your wife discovered you actually hired the young girl you had been dreaming about dating to help her with the daily chores? Would you accept the invitation to a love hotel in order to hunt down the impostor that pretends to be you? What if that impostor is, in fact, you?

The novel, written in 1986, is set in Tokyo and it describes the night life of that period, with the sins and impulses that it involves for the modern man. I quite liked the story mainly because it reminded me of Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. A must read for all Japanese Literature lovers. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

About a Dormant Blog, the National Day and Romanian Writers Challenge

No, this blog is not dead, it has simply enjoyed some time off, away from the madding crowds and deeply immersed into some serious reading. To paraphrase John Lennon who said that "life is what happens when you are busy making plans", I could say that reading happens when you stop writing posts :) 

Anywayz :), I have read so many books for the challenges I am involved in that the only problem arising is which book to actually write about these days... but since today is the final day for the First Edition of Romanian Writers' Challenge I definitely have to praise a wonderful short story collection, a book which was also awarded The First Prize for a Debut Manuscript by Herg Benet Publishing House for 2014. 

"Mr. Red's Memoirs" (2015) by Celestin Cheran is the book that made me stop saying I am not a huge fan of short stories, because I think I am. I am so impressed by every single one of these stories that reminded me of Haruki Murakami's talent of sweeping us off our feet with the fantastic turn a story could take, thus being left wondering what has happened and how could the story unfold after the writer has decided to end it on paper. With each of the 20 stories you get the chance to explore a slightly fantastic universe in which dull moments of everyday life transform themselves into a troubling decor for events that may seem unimaginable at first but that manage to make you doubt yourself and your mind. 

Another thing I enjoyed while reading the short stories was the fact that they are so different one from the others that it feels as if you are reading a different author with each story. Still, I do have two or three favorites: "The Man with a Misty Face" in which a man is bothered by some stalker that turns out to be him in the future; "Jumping from a Skyscraper" in which we see a suicide in slow motion; "The Escalator"  - once you get on that escalator, there is no going back...

"You live all the time with the impression that you are somewhere in the middle of things. You are close to something and far from something else, never where you exactly want to be. In the place where something deep and inexact in you wants to be, something like a heart beating in the night covered by rivers." (The Escalator) 

Celestin Cheran defines himself as "an obsessive writer, one who writes "Six Word Stories" is order to keep his mind busy from other minds." He is 30 years old and his second volume of short stories appeared only a month ago and I will definitely read it! :) 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Pleasures of Men

It took me two years from wanting to read this book, to actually getting it and finally finishing it. I do not know why because I quite enjoyed this thriller set in Victorian times and I am glad I did not go with the rather displeasing reviews that stated it was not something spectacular... It proves that there is no account for taste and reading should be about what YOU choose to read and then like or dislike and not other people's opinion... which is not your own if you do not read the actual book.

"The Pleasures of Men" is a captivating book, quite disturbing in certain aspects, but not too disturbing to put it down. It was written in 2012 and it is Kate Williams' first book of fiction about a young girl obsessed with a serial killer in 1840 London. Williams is a historian who first published biographies on Queen Victoria or Napoleon's Josephine and this novel clearly shows her talent on telling a story while writing historical fiction.

"The footstep comes once more, and then there is a breath. Walking forward, she tells herself that there is nothing. So many times has she thought a man was too near behind when he was simply close for no reason. She hears a cough and a clack of fine-sounding heels and her chest tightens. She moves more quickly. So does he. God help me.

Catherine lives in Spitalfields together with her dubious uncle and this Gothic story tells us why little by little. She seems tormented by the fact that years ago she chose to let her little brother be taken by some strangers and she is aware this changed her for the worst. She is attracted to what is dark around her, she does not like the company of others and she tortures herself in trying to find the serial killer who hunts young girls in the scary parts of London. Is she going mad because of her past and her mother who had mental problems or the serial killer is about to get her?

She does live in a perverse world, but has she contributed to this with her own nature, or the male dominated society has taken its toll on her? We have the cries at night, the fog and the candlelight, the plotting of almost every character in the book, the bumps in the dark but luckily, we do not have the feeling that this may be a work of fiction, too melodramatic for an ordinary taste. The book often gave me the feeling that I myself was in the story, watching Catherine spying on whoever the killer was... fantasizing about his reasons to kill and his next move.

"That night, he thinks: I must discover the next one. It is exciting, his task, and daunting. The responsibility of finding. Into the streets the next day and searching for her. He understands that he must not be too ambitious, he must not expect to find her immediately. There are many girls in the city, after all."

I loved the fact that we cannot predict what would happen to Catherine and how the story would end until the last pages. Also, the way Williams renders the character's thoughts for pages on end and makes them so interesting you cannot get bored proves her excellent talent as a writer.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Becoming Jeanette Winterson

Today my favorite writer turns 57. Happy Birthday to you, Jeanette Winterson! May you remain the same incredibly inspiring writer who is not afraid to speak her mind! 

You all know that Brexit happened but you may not be aware how vocal she has been about it and how she no longer thinks that Britain, with all the ugly changes, is her country. I love the fact that, while revisiting classic stories such as Shakespeare's "Winter's Tale" in her latest novel "The Gap of Time" (2015) she can still remain grounded in the present and not shy away from having a pertinent opinion about what happens in Britain and around the world. 

In an article she wrote this June, she states something that now seems clear for most of us:

"I am an optimist by nature. I believe in solutions. We need solutions to the absolute failure of the neoliberal Project Few, whereby capitalism has been hijacked to serve the rich, where investing for the long term has been replaced by short-term profiteering, and where globalisation has been allowed to wreck local economies in the name of free trade."

She has a willingness to take risks and challenge herself and her readers that has remained constant throughout her career of more than 30 years. She is one of the most ambitious and inventive writers I have come across and I can't wait to (re)read her creative writing! 

"My two pillars are art and love and I had to learn both." 

Here is a short interview with her in Australia this May, at the Sydney Writers' Festival:

p.s. The black 'creature' in the picture is her cat, Nero. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Born to Be Blue

"I want to play. All I want is to play." 

There is no such thing as too much Ethan Hawke on this blog :) 
I am still incredibly grateful that he can be so prolific and release movie after movie, after book :) 
"Born to Be Blue" (2015) is a fantastic one, a mixture of beautiful  jazz music, a story of never giving up on your dreams and Ethan Hawke getting more and more talented (who would have thought this was possible? :)) 

"You should find one thing and be better at it than anybody else in the world." 

The drama film tells the story of Chet Baker, the American jazz trumpeter with a divine voice who falls in love in his adulthood and after getting his teeth knocked out in a fight, tries to musically come back and impress his audience with his original style and music. All this happens in the late 1960s and this is one more reason why you will most definitely enjoy the movie: the music is perfect, the atmosphere of those times is rendered vividly and 'the movie within a movie' idea (Chet was in fact asked to star in a movie about his life) mingles just fine. 

What else to add? Ethan wanted to play this part for more than 15 years but at that time, his age did not match.  After years of effort, he successfully managed to do that with his charisma, energy and fearlessness. Am I just praising him because I am a huge fan? Not really. The Guardian and Rolling Stone have written wonderful reviews. 
Last but not least, Ethan performs two of the 14 songs from the soundtrack, "My Funny Valentine" and "I've Never been in Love Before". Enjoy it! 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Friday, August 12, 2016

My Romeo and Juliet

"Don't waste your love on somebody who doesn't value it."

How I love a good live performance, especially if I get the chance to see it among the first! Almost two months ago I saw the premiere of the play "Romeo and Juliet" at the National Theatre in Cluj - Napoca. I did not know what to expect, the show did not even have a proper poster advertising it, but I am glad I went to see it with an open heart, because it proved to be unexpectedly wonderful. 

"Romeo and Juliet" (1597) is probably Shakespeare's most famous play and it has been quite popular with directors along the centuries so it was no wonder I did ask myself whether I would be surprised or not by how the director would see the play and how the actors would act everything out on stage. 

"Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs."

Tudor Lucanu, the young director, set the story between the two rival families in two tailoring  workshops. The space looked simple, filled with huge moving mirrors and body-like lamps. Long pieces of colorful cloth separated the two workshops and the costumes were cleverly created so that they represented a mixture between the classic and the nonconformity.

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

The performance was filled with funny moments and even though I knew what was coming next and that the play is, in fact, a tragedy, I could still enjoy the lighthearted moments which made even the actors on stage smile. I loved the way the well-known story ended, the director did not change its ending but he masterfully added a new meaning. What a great idea! Well done to the young actors who offered two hours of exquisite performance! If you have the chance to see it, you should definitely take it! 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Miniaturist

"Every woman is the architect of her own fortune." 

Celebrating August as the month dedicated to Women in Translation, I had to write a few lines on this absolutely fabulous book I read last month, even if it was in English, not in translation. 
"The Miniaturist" is Jessie Burton's first book and I am definitely going to read her latest "The Muse" which appeared this June. 
Back to "The Miniaturist" (2014), the book is set in 17th century Amsterdam and it was inspired by a dolls' house which can be found in the King's Museum in Amsterdam. Actually, last year I saw this dolls' house and I still remember the effect it had on me: so small and yet so perfectly made. It has a special place in the vast museum and this is mainly because there are not as many dolls' houses in that pristine condition in the world. At that time I was not aware of the book, but then this year I read a few lines about it on a blog and the whole story intrigued me so I decided to delve in it. 

"Growing older does not seem to make you more certain. It simply presents you with more reasons for doubt." 

"The Miniaturist" is a mysterious character in the novel who helps the young and newly-wed Nella Oortman to discover the truth about her husband and his relatives and see life in a different (better?) perspective. To pass the time, Nella receives a present from her husband: a dolls' house, which is, in fact, a perfect replica of her own house. Then, the eerie miniaturist sends more figurines than she is required and the secrets start to unfold. Will she be able to cope with all of them? That is for you to find out...

"A lifetime isn't enough to know how a person will behave." 

What I really loved, besides the thrilling story and the unexpected events was the witty voice in which the whole story was narrated. The words seemed to be perfectly chosen and everything came together in such a way as to create a perfect novel. Sold in more than 1 million copies, this is a wonderful must-read. 

Here is Jessie Burton talking about her book in a BBC interview. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Women in Translation Month

Tony, from Tony's Reading List reminded me that August is the month for Women in Translation and since I am quite eager to read two or three women  writers translated into Romanian, I am definitely in for the challenge. It is the third year in which Meytal hosts the challenge and this is very simple: you have to read women writers, no matter their country or year of publishing and I am sure that, for most of you, this challenge can easily go hand in hand with others. In my case, I will read a Japanese writer (also for Bellezza's Reading Challenge), a Romanian one for the challenge I host and another one for the 20 Books of Summer Challenge. 

"Sticletele" (The Goldfinch) will be my first Donna Tartt and I can't wait to see the reasons why this book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2014. 

I really liked Ana Manescu's "alter.ego" and I am looking forward to reading this one, "Quasar".  She seems such a promising young voice in the Romanian literature. 

 "Pravalia de maruntisuri a domnului Nakano" (The Nakano Thrift Shop) is going to be my third Kawakami and I hope I will enjoy it as much as the other two. 

What are you reading this August? :) 

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? :)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Venice in February... Again

I have no intention of giving up on my other challenge, which turns 4 today, mainly because Venice is still my favorite city in the world and I can't wait to rediscover it though fantastic literature. I have in mind quite a lot of books, but I will definitely read these two: "La Tempestad" written in 1997 by Juan Manuel de Prada, translated into Romanian a few years ago, and which seems to present a totally different image of the Venice we may know, and the long awaited "Venice Noir", a selection of 14 stories set in Venice, which range from the ones depicting tourists during Carnevale to criminals trying to elude the law.... These two tomes should be quite intriguing, to say the least!

Do join me this month in my quest for the mysterious Venice! 

Monday, January 18, 2016

You + Me = US

“I had always been led to believe that ageing was a slow and gradual process, the creep of a glacier. Now I realise that it happens in a rush, like snow falling off a roof.” 

I decided to read "US" by David Nicholls because I simply adored "One Day" and I was secretly hoping this novel would be as good as the previous one. Even if certain critics claim that it has lived up to its expectations, I myself can say that it is a good book, interesting in its story, but not as good as "One Day". In fact, up until the last 50 pages I quite loved it, hoping it would end the way I wanted, then I was brutally disappointed by its quick denouement, just to notice a glimpse of hope for the main character when he decided to call that woman in

"US" tells the story of a man in love with his wife who wakes up one morning, after 20 years of marriage, to hear his wife say "Our marriage has run its course .... I want to leave you." What follows is his struggle to make his wife change her mind, to convince her that he truly loves her and to recreate a broken bond between him and his 17 year old son Albie, all this on a previously planned trip through Europe.

“From an evolutionary point of view, most emotions – fear, desire, anger – serve some practical purpose, but nostalgia is a useless, futile thing because it is a longing for something that is permanently lost, and I felt its futility now.” 

We know we are reading a love story, but sometimes this turns into a comedy, when Douglas, the scientist, remembers the first years or his relationship with Connie, the artist, and into a tragedy when he does not manage to reconnect with Albie, the rebel son. The whole trip though Europe turns into opportunities often missed to win back his wife and son. However, this is not a depressing book, in fact, thank goodness there is still some hope in the universe, both for the main character and for us, readers, looking for books to be inspired by.

“Was it the happiest day of our lives? Probably not, if only because the truly happy days tend not to involve so much organisation, are rarely so public or so expensive. The happy ones sneak up, unexpected.” 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Scream

Art can be serious but you can still enjoy it while having a laugh. I have been familiar with Van Gogh's work for decades, and I am a fan of Munch's The Scream, but to see the two painters together in an amazing exhibition, that was quite extraordinary. While visiting Amsterdam last December I wanted to see The Sunflowers and Starry Night but I did not expect to be caught by surprise with some of Munch's most famous works  of art brought from Oslo, Norway in a parallel between the two painters' creations. I had no idea there are so many similarities in their art but seeing them side by side, I was impressed by the intensity with which they painted life, almost the same life even if they never met, although they were contemporaries. Their self-portraits resemble as well, which is quite astonishing.

The exhibition opened on 25th September and runs until January, the 17th, so there are just a few days in which one can admire both painters in the same place.

If not, there is always the virtual option. Click here to go to the museum site.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Ogawa's Housekeeper and Professor

“A problem isn't finished just because you've found the right answer.” 

Even if Tony has given up on his challenge, January in Japan, I still wanted to read at least one Japanese writer this month, and I have chosen Ogawa's book, mainly because I quite enjoyed her previous book, "Hotel Iris" and then, because 2016 looks like the year of big reading challenges, I have to tackle - or continue - two challenges I really love: Bellezza's and The Women Challenge.
"The Housekeeper and the Professor", published in 2003, tells the story of a mathematician who had a car accident and whose brain was damaged, meaning that every 80 minutes his memory erases, but he can still remember things that happened before the accident. And he loves numbers, prime numbers.
Reading the book you immerse yourself into Maths problems and the struggle of both main characters to relate to each other beyond the 80 minute time gap. You notice how the professor becomes affectionate towards the housekeeper's son, nicknamed "Root" and how they start sharing each other's passions. The professor rediscovers his penchant for baseball while the mother and son find out the pleasures of Maths problems. Until one day, when the professor's memory declines even more.

“The Professor never really seemed to care whether we figured out the right answer to a problem. He preferred our wild, desperate guesses to silence, and he was even more delighted when those guesses led to new problems that took us beyond the original one. He had a special feeling for what he called the "correct miscalculation," for he believed that mistakes were often as revealing as the right answers.” 

Even if at times I was wondering if the Maths problems and equations did not take too much space within the story, I did enjoy seeing the connections beyond the obvious, the mystery that surrounded the numbers, just as there is always a mystery when you read poetry or listen to music.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

My Literary Challenges in 2016

I have read on a lot of people's blogs that they wish to drop challenges in 2016 and rely more on quality rather than quantity when it comes to their chosen books. I think that should apply to anything in life, whether it is food, clothes or time spent at the gym. :) 

However, in the last few years, when I joined a few (or more than a few) reading challenges, I did not see myself as choosing quantity over quality. In fact, the challenges made me focus more on reading while also managing to discover great books and fantastic writers, no matter if I had the time to write about them or not. With this in mind, I realized that there are more and more Romanian writers on my reading list(s) because they write fantastically and I love their style, and also, there is no such challenge on the internet - or one that I could find after attentively looking for - so here I am, starting a brand new reading challenge, one that is extremely simple: 


What exactly do you have to do for this challenge? 

It starts on the 1st of March 2016 and it ends on the 1st of December 2016, when we, Romanians celebrate our National Day. 

So, you have 9 months to read at least one book by a Romanian writer, whether in the original or in translation. 

If you decide to also write a review on your blog or send the review (because you do not have one), you will be entered in a draw on the 1st of December to win a special prize

So, without further ado, please join the following list:

Friday, January 1, 2016

Call me Vicky

I have been planning to write about Cristina Nemerovschi since I first read her book, "nymphette_dark99" a few months ago, but I just did not find the time (obviously). However, at the beginning of December I started reading the sequel to that, "Vicky, nu Victoria" and I knew I had to express my awe towards her writing and thrilling imagination.
Cristina's books are not for weak souls, I can truly say that. Having read only these two, out of 10 that she has published since her debut back in 2010, I am not quite sure I will soon gather the courage to read something else, not because they may not be good, but mainly because they may not be as good as these two.

"She would always tell me that if you bothered with whatever may happen after you did something, you would no longer want to do it. And this is how you become a robot that has given up on living."

What first draw me towards these books was the main character and the controversies surrounding her. Sure, I have read Nabokov's "Lolita" and I was thoroughly impressed by it, but this goes beyond any rebellion you can find in there. Just imagine a much darker Lolita, who loves sex but hates her mother, who has no problem skipping school, using drugs or cutting a stranger's eyes in the woods. I don't remember having read something more "deranged" and yet, captivating. You cannot but want to see how far the main character will be going. "Vicky, not Victoria" is a very violent book, but one that makes you think that it is in some people's blood to start a revolution. I need the writer, seen by critics as "the rebel of Romanian literature nowadays" to write a sequel to the sequel, one that will make me hope that nothing is in vain, not even setting fire to your school.

"Once again, I praise my taste in clothes. It is always harder to spot blood on black."