Recent Travel Non-Fiction Reads: The Innocent Anthropologist, and Magic & Mystery in Tibet

the innocent anthropologist coverI. The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut [1983] by Nigel Barley – ★★★★

In the late 1970s, Nigel Barley went to North Cameroon to study the Dowayos, and choosing those that represent the most “ferocious” mountain tribe existing at that time. This is his debut non-fiction account of his travels and exploration in Africa as he embarks on his fieldwork. In this book, Barley is really an “innocent” anthropologist, an idealistic young man who is a bit ignorant about what to expect in the real world outside the academia. Barley tells us how he encountered the mind-boggling bureaucracy, got lost in “the vast range of loose kingship” in the country, overcame malaria, as well as survived a horror-trip to a local dentist, among his other stories. Barley’s style of writing is appealingly laid-back, and this concise book turns out to be funny and engaging as a result. It may not be the book on the Dowayos, but part of the charm is that the account is surprisingly honest and humorous.  Continue reading “Recent Travel Non-Fiction Reads: The Innocent Anthropologist, and Magic & Mystery in Tibet”

Getting to Know You Challenge

I saw this challenge on The Haunted Wordsmith blog, and am deciding to give it a go. The challenge is to answer eight questions and nominate two other bloggers. I will not be as restrictive and anyone can participate. 

Continue reading “Getting to Know You Challenge”

Six Degrees of Separation – from Pride & Prejudice to The Name of the Rose

It is time for another Six Degrees of Separation post, which I first saw on Books are My Favourite and Best. I propose that there are six links connecting the above books, follow me:

Pride & Prejudice is my favourite novel by Jane Austen, but did you know that it was originally titled First Impressions? Another classic book which changed its title before publication is The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald seriously considered naming his book Trimalchio in West Egg, among other titles.  Continue reading “Six Degrees of Separation – from Pride & Prejudice to The Name of the Rose”

Review: I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Young-Ha Kim

book cover 2I Have the Right to Destroy Myself [1996] – ★★★★ 

This will be my first book review as part of The Year of the Asian Reading Challenge 2019. Kim Young-Ha is a South Korean author and this is his debut novel, which was first translated into English by Chi-Young Kim in 2007. The book is set in Seoul and deals with rather dark and uncomfortable issues. Death is a prominent theme of this little book, and, even though it delivers a curious read, it is also rather shocking and racy at times, so giving a warning is justified. In the story, our unnamed narrator helps his clients to commit a suicide, and we also follow the lives of C and K, two brothers, who compete with each other for the attention of one enigmatic woman – Se-yeon. The author packs many thought-provoking messages into this novel, reflecting on art and popular culture, but also on the nature of truth, loneliness and dying. The enigmatic structure of the book, as well as the ambiguousness related to the identities of the characters in the story, guarantee that the read is interesting, even if morbidly appealing. Continue reading “Review: I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Young-Ha Kim”

Review: Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

hotel du lac book cover Hotel du Lac [1984] – ★★★★1/2 

From the window all that could be seen was a receding area of grey. It was to be supposed that beyond the grey garden, which seemed to sprout nothing but the stiffish leaves of some unfamiliar plant, lay the vast grey lake, spreading like an anaesthetic towards the invisible further shore, and beyond that, in imagination only, yet verified by the brochure, the peak of the Dent d’Oche, on which snow might already be slightly and silently falling” [Brookner, 1984: 7], so begins the short novel by Anita Brookner, who was the recipient of the Man Booker Prize in 1984. Clearly, after such an opening, one would expect a rich, highly-descriptive, beautifully-written observational novel of some insight, and this is exactly what the reader gets. Those who are after some fast-paced action in their books should look elsewhere because Hotel du Lac is a quietly powerful, almost reflective, character-driven novel at the heart of which is one embarrassingly unmarried female heroine Edith Hope, an idealistic writer, who abandons her London home for a holiday getaway to be spent in a respectable hotel-establishment in Switzerland. At the Hotel du Lac, Edith encounters a puzzling-to-her company until she finally meets Mr Neville, a gentleman who may finally help our hopeless heroine to gain esteem and respectability in their eyes of the society. 
Continue reading “Review: Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner”

Ferdinand Hodler: Symbolism

Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) was a Swiss painter known for his realistic and later symbolic paintings. He is also said to have “shaped the image and identity of Switzerland” through his artistic creations. Hodler invented the style of painting – “parallelism” to describe his own way of arranging and presenting his figures in painting. That style focuses on symmetry, harmony and rhythm.

ferdinand_hodler_die_lebensmüden

I. The Tired of Life [1892] by Ferdinand Hodler. This painting shows five old men sitting on the bench facing the viewer, without looking or communicating with each other. The striking feature is their symmetrical positions and their expressionless, tired faces. They are different men, but dressed in similar clothing and adopting similar sitting positions, which may hint at them being united in their destiny and outlook on life past. All this produces an arresting impression, and the near-naked man in the middle emphasised this symmetry and collective hopelessness even more. There is something too honest and isolated in these men’s gazes, probably letting the viewer know that each person’s end is pretty much solitary, definite and final.   Continue reading “Ferdinand Hodler: Symbolism”

The Year of the Asian Reading Challenge 2019

This week I heard about The Year of the Asian Reading Challenge (YARC) 2019, organised by the amazing bloggers from Shut Up, Shealea, The Quiet Pond, Sprinkles of Dreams, & Vicky Who Reads, and cannot help but join the celebration of Asian authors. The challenge is to read as many books as possible written by Asian authors, and this is a great challenge because there are tons of books by Asian writers, which are just amazing and deserve more recognition. 

cobraFor this challenge I am going for a very modest goal of reading 12 books by Asian authors by the end of the year, and will be updating my progress on this page. This is because I am already participating in my other personal reading challenge on travel, and have too many to-be-read books that have been on my shelf for far too long. As I am going for 12 books, my “mascot” for this challenge is an Indian cobra, representing a challenge to read between 11 and 20 books. I strongly urge everyone else to join this challenge, because there will be monthly prompts, link-ups, as well as interesting discussions and exciting giveways. 

Review: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

washington black cover Washington Black [2018] – ★★★ 

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018, Washington Black has certainly been on many readers’ radar. This is the tale of Washington Black, a young boy who is initially a slave on a plantation in Barbados. This is where we begin the journey: the year is 1830 and the setting is Faith Plantation, Barbados. Young Washington (or Wash) is raised by Big Kit, a female slave, who looks after him. Like the rest, Wash witnesses the death of his old master, and sees how his new master – cruel Erasmus Wilde – takes control of the farm. Wash then becomes an assistant to the eccentric brother of Erasmus – Christopher Wilde or just Titch. What follows is the adventure which Wash never imagined (but we, probably, all did). In fact, as an adventure, the story is predictable, rather boring, at times too unbelievable, and, strangely, unexciting. Edugyan introduced several exciting and even original plot lines (such as scientific endeavours), but all of them are dropped before they are allowed to continue. The characters are rather caricaturish and shallow, and even though the beginning and the writing are strong, the issue is still that there is nothing fresh in this story (it follows a very familiar journey). The author has virtually nothing original or fascinating to add to an already long and established (“done-to-death”) literary theme of slave liberation, and hardship and discrimination experienced by a community outcast living in the early nineteenth century. Continue reading “Review: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan”

Review: The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri

the book of hidden things cover The Book of Hidden Things [2018] – ★★★★ 

This book is the first English-language novel of an Italian author Francesco Dimitri. It is set in the south of Italy and begins with three friends arriving to a cafe in Casalfranco, Puglia, and missing the fourth person. These guys made a pact when they were young that each year – on 10th June – no matter where they are in their lives they will return to their home town and toast their childhood friendship anew. This year, Fabio, a London photographer, Tony, a Rome surgeon, and Mauro, a lawyer in Milan, miss their leader – Art…well, a genius, a source of all wisdom. Art’s disappearance triggers unpleasant memories in the minds of all three men, and when they find some damning evidence in Art’s house, their worries escalate to a whole new level, making them question their own sense of what is real. This book’s content is a bit disturbing and sometimes graphic, but I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would. In fact, it was a page-turner for me and I liked the writing style. At the centre of this fast-paced and very atmospheric thriller-story is this claustrophobic mystery, and when we are not getting to the heart of it, we are considering the significance of countryside folklore and nostalgia for the past.  Continue reading “Review: The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri”

Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

jonathan strange & mr norrell book coverJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell [2004] – ★★★★★

Neil Gaiman called Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrellthe finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years”, and I will agree with him. It is a very long book, but it is totally absorbing from the very first page. The novel begins in autumn 1806 with Mr Segundus, a theoretical magician, wanting to know why there was no more magic done in England. He is a new addition to the society of magicians in York, England. Practical magic has declined in England and there are apparently no practising magicians left in the country. The profession of a practising magician has fallen in reputation, and Mr Segundus comes to inquire of another magician who lives in Yorkshire why this is the case. He finds, however, that not only the reclusive Mr Norrell has an established library filled with rare books on the practice of magic, he also claims to be a practising magician himself! Mr Norrell soon desires to establish himself as the only practising magician in the country. The episodic-in-nature plot is delightful to read, and, in style, it reminds of Dickens’s Bleak House [1853]. Delving into the British folklore, Clarke opens up a fascinating magical world, which you will not want to leave, and takes her task quite seriously. Inside the book, one will find a gripping adventure-mystery, great characterisation, unforgettable atmosphere, humorous sequences, and the masterful use of the language. The book’s story, format, style and language all give the impression as though the book was written back when it was set – in the 19th century. In sum, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is quite brilliant in every respect, and I cannot recommend the novel highly enough. As I would like to discuss the book here in some depth, the following review will contain spoilers. Continue reading “Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke”

3 Quirky Museums of London

soane museum pictureI. Sir John Soane’s Museum  

This museum was a home to the eccentric architect and collector Sir John Soane, who asked to preserve his house after his death, which happened in 1837. This house museum is a real marvel and full of wonders and curiosities. On display are various artefacts from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, as well as objects from ancient Egypt, including Pharaoh Seti’s sarcophagus. It also has art works by Canaletto, paintings by Hogarth, interesting architectural drawings and various fascinating sculptures. The cosiness and the mysterious nature of museum make it even more appealing. The owner definitely had a taste for the macabre, and the newly restored catacombs area is also on display. What is great is that this museum is free to the public, and it hosts various exciting candlelit nights throughout the year where you can see and admire the wondrous objects by candlelight; address: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.  Continue reading “3 Quirky Museums of London”

Review: The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector

the hour of the star coverThe Hour of the Star [1977] – ★★★★★ 

This thought-provoking novella by Clarice Lispector was translated from Portuguese by Benjamin Moser. It is narrated by one man Rodrigo S.M. who tells the tale of Macabéa, an ordinary girl from the northeast, who tries to make ends meet living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The novella is very unusual because, before the narrator gets to the crux of the story, he spends quite some time musing on the task at hand – how to write this story (for example, should the writer undergo some physical transformation before writing?), and whether there is any point in doing so since fiction may never capture the real truth. Despite its short length, the book tells an immersive and emotional story, while the author, through her narrator, also meditates on human existence and the meaning of life.  Continue reading “Review: The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector”

Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

the dry cover1The Dry [2016] – ★★★1/2

This bestseller is a debut novel of Jane Harper. It is a murder mystery with two tragedies at the heart of it. The setting is a small town of Kiewarra, Australia that was shaken by the gruesome murders of the Hadler family: Luke, Karen and their son Billy. The official version is that Luke, the father, killed his family before committing suicide. But is this open-and-shut case as straightforward as it seems? Aaron Falk, a police officer in Melbourne, arrives to his native town of Kiewarra for the funeral of his estranged pal Luke, and finds out that there is more to the deaths than first meets the eye. The Dry turns out to be a good, atmospheric book, but not necessarily because of the story. The story is actually quite typical in the genre of “small community” mysteries and not something extraordinary or special at all. What elevates this book above many others is the assured execution of the plot, the particular atmosphere conveyed, as well as some insightful character study. All this provides for an emotional and engaging read. Continue reading “Review: The Dry by Jane Harper”

The Age of Innocence

The Age of InnocenceHe was not sure that he wanted to see the Countess Olenska again; but ever since he had looked at her from the path above the bay he had wanted, irrationally and indescribably, to see the place she was living in, and to follow the movements of her imagined figure…The longing was with him day and night, an incessant undefinable craving, like the sudden whim of a sick man for food and drink once tasted and long since forgotten. He could not see beyond the craving, or picture what it might lead to…He simply felt that if he could carry away the vision of the spot of earth she walked on…the rest of the world might seem less empty” [Edith Wharton, 1920: 191].