‘Ducks, Newburyport’ by Lucy Ellman

When I feel the urge to challenge myself with a monstrous book, page count is usually the last merit to sway my pick. Form and content would be leading forces. For everything over 600 pages I would most certainly avoid non-linear or multi-voice narrative, as flirt between past and present, if not delivered masterfully, can be tiresome. I love Faulkner and Pamuk, but imagine reading 800 pages of ‘As I Lay Dying’ or ‘My Name is Red’, respectively.

‘Ducks, Newburyport’ extended the literary boundaries of my reading perceptions. It seized me unprepared for its ambitious intentions, however, the diversion from my own comfort was much satisfying than what would one expect if briefly acquainted with the premise of the book. 

Some of the well-know facts for ‘Ducks, Newburyport’: it’s a single sentence novel, just about 1000 pages long stream of consciousness of an unnamed Ohio housewife, who bakes pies for a living.

For the first 200 pages or so the reader is exposed to the random thoughts of this woman from the American Mid-West, whose line of thinking might not make much sense at first, but what’s peculiar about that detail is that these little notions don’t bore you, nor they make you feel as being stuck in someone’s head and finding no exit. The fact is, she offers multiple exits as her thoughts branch out yet to new horizons. The more one advances, the more the landscape of the narrative clears and reveals the characteristics of the person who is carrying us through. 

The housewife doesn’t spare us from her most inner aches, anxieties, longings and everyday troubles. Some might call her uncontrolled talk neurosis, but I rather call it a sheer reflexion of American reality. She goes back and forth between the personal and the public trauma. 

The gravity of her monologue lays on certain matters she often comes back to — her mother’s death, her own night dreams, her children and the society she belongs to. The narrator is well aware of the political currents of her surroundings, so she frequently renders her verdict on Trump and his policies, on gun violence, on racism, on episodes of atrocities in American History, on mass shootings, on environment mistreatment, on beauty YouTube influencers and so on. What crosses her mind encompasses the most outrageous events of our most recent history, thus the narrative could be read as a chronology of a decaying world… and that powerful inner voice is speaking while she bakes her pies. To avoid sinking the reader in a realm of darkness, the author, Lucy Ellman, very gently pushes the narrator’s thoughts in another direction and time and again uses benign humour to escape dramatizing.

This pie baker’s knowledge is not limited to current affairs but extends much beyond that, as she demonstrates abundant proficiency of culture, that being music, film and literature. Often in fact she compares her life with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book ‘Little House on the Praire’, or fascinates on film roles of Katherine Hepburn or Jane Fonda. 

On top of all that there is a sub-plot about a lone mountain lioness that interconnects very elegantly with the main story plan. 

This novel is rich, it’s a well of facts, some so incredible that I had to Google and sure enough they are all true, and outstanding fiction, written so skillfully that it doesn’t let you down even for a page.. Some critic enthusiasts already call ‘Ducks, Newburyport’ the great American novel of our time, others compare it with Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, I don’t have the audacity to call it either, but this surely is one hell of a enormously entertaining and honest piece of fiction. 

“Mythos” by Stephen Fry


“Mythos” is the first book of a Greek trilogy written by the beloved comedian, actor, writer and public intellectual Stephen Fry. Just mentioning his name one could already imagine the sweetness of his voice and the comfort of his words. 

This first book he has dedicated to some of the most common Greek myths — the creation, the Olympians, the clash of the titans, Prometheus, Pandora, Eros and Psyche etc. Those myths have been re-told for millennia and most of us already know them, but what’s exceptional here is the so imaginative narrative of Mr. Fry. His captivating and artistic storytelling certainly makes the ancient stories sound so vidid, charming and contemporary, if you wish. Although gods were often cruel to mortals, Mr Fry has employed his best skills as comedian to bring humour to his narrative and doesn’t let the reader feel discouraged under the weight of the divine brutality. 

Another valuable asset of this collection is the effort the author has spent to introduce the reader with works of art, literature and poetry that were inspired but those myths. 

I read the book and I also listened to the audiobook, and as much as I love holding the paper copy, I have to admit that listening to Stephen Fry’s friendly voice and his brilliant impersonations of numerous gods, titans and mortals made me laugh out loud the entire time. Needless to say, I am eagerly looking forward reading the following books. 

“The Return” by Hisham Matar



I first came across Matar’s name when I spotted it at Barack Obama’s 2018 list of recommended readings. Since then I was able to run my eyes over two of his books and I can say that I am experiencing a massive intellectual crush on Hisham Matar’s stream of consciousness.
Now, a week since I finished ‘The Return’, the book still lingers in my thoughts.

The spotlight in this memoir is Matar’s father, who has been kidnapped by Qaddafi’s regime, and the void that has dangled open and unsealed in the family ever since his disappearance.

Jaballa Matar was a successful businessman living in exile, rebel against Qaddafi and a financial donor supporting the resistance movement in Libya. Until he was captured by secret police in Cairo, transported and thrown in the darkest and most brutal of all Libyan prisons — Abu Salim in Tripoli. Possessing no knowledge of the day his father ceased to exist, Hisham Matar takes a trip to Libya, 33 years after his last departure. His quest to determine Jaballa’s whereabouts leads to extended family gatherings and a load of stories about Libya’s darkest sides. Some of Matar’s uncles and cousins have also been captured by the regime and imprisoned for decades, their stories and encounters with Jaballa Matar during his captivity bring a new bold image of his personality and ideas.
I had not imagined that one is able to grieve the disappearance of a beloved one in such evocative manner — through literature, art, music and philosophy. In this memoir Hisham Matar contemplates moments of the past, the image of his father, the past and present history of Libiya, Benghazi’s urban architecture and evolves them in brilliantly written prose. Particularly touching I find the construction of his relationship to art paintings in the year when his father has vanished. His ongoing vigil in art museums has acquired him the skill to observe and pull together the fragments of one piece, to examine it and extract the essence. In such way he views his father’s fate and comes in terms to accept it. Hisham Matar communicates with the reader in very expressive and serene fashion — words you are willing to re-read and re-experience

“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Huston


Zora Neale Hurtson (1891-1960) was the most successful African-American female writer in the first half of the 20th century and was part of the Harlem Renaissance movement. As many great artist however the final decade of her life lacked the glamour of success as she relied on welfare and unemployment benefits for her survival. She was so broke when she died that her grave has been left with no marker. 

Her masterpiece “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, published in 1937, is a story of a woman seeking to understand her own self and her long quest for feelings the generations before her have been deprived of. 

Though more or less this is a classic love story, one should not oversimplify the merits of it, because what’s special about it is that it’s largely written in Ebonics: “If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don’t keer if you die at dusk. It’s so many people never seen de light at all.” 

The cultural specifics of the language is what makes the text sound so vibrant and authentic, like the lively rhythm of a jazz tune, and as with the music, this was a novel that came out from within the heart of the black community. 

Jaine’s real journey in life starts at the age of sixteen when her grandma Nanny forcefully marries her to a much older guy, to “secure” her future. Little did Nanny know that Jaine was born free and was emancipated from the burdens of slavery, she was in a different pursuit of freedom — not that of the body, but that of the soul. Thus began her search for love and meaning. 

“Their Eyes Were Watching God” is harmoniously constructed novel, it contains its tragic moment which Hurston has carefully avoided to convert into drama, but rather it has dignified it. She does not patronize the perceived pathological image of black people. Her characters are self-determined individuals, not restricted by ethnic circumstances, capable of navigating their own paths in life. Their dislike of white people don’t come from the chained past, it is more a result of their own experience in the present. 

”She didn’t kill no white man, did she? Well, long as she don’t shoot no white man she kin kill jus’as many niggers she please.”

“Yeah, the nigger women kin kill up all de mens dey wants tuh, but you bet’ not kill one uh dem. De white folks will sho hang yuh if yuh do.”

“Well, you know whut dey say ‘uh white man and uh nigger woman is de freest thing on earth.’ Dey do as dey please.”


The Parthenon Marbles

Figures from the East Pediment of the Parthenon, Acropolis Athens. From left to right cat no D Dionysos ,middle E & F Demeter & Persephone, left G Hebe. British Museum London Exhibit

I was recently acquainted with the knowledge that Christopher Hitchens was one of the leading voices in the case of reunifying the Parthenon marbles and as a consequence of which I discovered his book.
Visiting, not long ago, the Parthenon and the Acropolis Museum, I was greatly attracted by the beauty and the elegance of the archaic marble art found at the vicinity of the ancient monument. This attraction led me to pursuing an expansion of my understanding of Phidias’ pedimental sculpture masterpieces, commissioned by the visionary leader Pericles some 2 500 years ago.

The top floor of the Bernard Tschumi designed Acropolis Museum, which is aligned to the Parthenon, is dedicated to the long awaited reunification of the marble figures as most of the relics exhibited are plaster cast replicas of the originals which for the past 200 years are part of an imperialistic trophy exhibition at the British Museum. This, some may say, harsh conclusion I draw from all facts presented by Hitchens in this book which discusses the arguments aroused in Britain about the moral legality of the possession of the sculptures since the return of Thomas Bruce Elgin from Constantinople. The first half of the book is particularly painful – Hitchens reveals in a factual detail the unscrupulous acquisition of the Parthenon marbles by Elgin who, possessed by cupidity, tore off the frieze from the monument and shipped it to Britain. The firman he was issued from the Ottoman authority at the time did not permit him to strip the sculptures and in a later correspondence Elgin himself admits that he had acquired the marbles without authorization. Most heartbreaking is that his intentions for their fate were far from noble, again revealed in another correspondence letter he expresses his desire to use the looted art as a decoration of his house.
Further in the book Hitches presents positions of various British intellectuals of the time expressing their concerns about the hideous act of appropriation of cultural and historical artefacts, especially in times of great vulnerability of the patron state. The author also expresses his strong positions against each of the arguments employed by the British Museum to defend its right of possession of the Parthenon marbles.
Reading Hitchen’s work, one cannot remain impartial to the subject of the Parthenon marbles reunification. The hellenic civilization has been a longtime donor of ideas and artifacts to Western modus operandi. Ideas, being so intangible, travel with the intention to be shared. Artifacts have a meaning only in the context of their original provenance. It is a fair claim to be made in restoring the contextual attributes of the site that had given us the protogenesis of democracy, especially when they have been saved/smuggled out in times of imperial occupation as a spoil for another imperial ambition.

For the sake of humanity and those of us who marvel astonishingly at the works of art should such a unique piece of ancient art remain amputated and torn apart? Others don’t think so. As a friendly act of generosity and solidarity the Vatican has returned the head of a young man from panel No 5 of the Parthenon frieze, the museum at Heildelberg has also returned the foot of a young man playing the lyre on panel No. 8, so has the Salinas museum in Palermo given back the foot of goddess Artemis.
Ancient Greek art is scattered all over the world and the modern Hellenic state has no other claims but to only reunify once again Phidias’ marble assembly, so to revive their brilliance and integrity in their birthplace of Athens where they were conceived, executed and adored. (less)

“The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen



I have never felt this way with a book as I did with “The Corrections”!

The claustrophobic genre of family saga is my least favourite, when it comes to book preferences. Additionally, all the characters are so fucked up already that I was instantly repelled by the contagious decadence of their personalities. Last but surely not least, the 600+ pages of this Midwestern family neurosis is suffocating.

Despite all the negativities, “The Corrections” is intelligently crafted novel so if it doesn’t depress the hell out of you, you will keep indulging the misery of the Lamberts as to just further fuel the contempt for them.  Weird, isn’t it?

The rotten relationship in the family starts with the marriage of the parents Alfred and Enid. Him – a stubborn, joyless husband and a hard-working man and her – a love deprived wife and domesticated, yet ambitious, mother of three, dreaming for bourgeois lifestyle.  The children – Gary, Chip and Denise, now all grown-ups, have left the unhappy parental cage for careers in New York and Philly but only to sink deeper in their wretched personal lives.

One last Christmas in the Midwest is the event that will precipitate the catharsis in this despicable family crisis. To get to the point though, the reader is kept in suspense only to endure an enormous portion of the distressing occurrences each character has encountered (Alfred’s turd chase hallucination is a challenge to get through).

The dramatic family dysfunction and rebellion against societal norms is not entirely deemed licentious, as it often happens in great literature, one may grow a little sympathy and hope for some of the characters.  A bizarre redemption is served, especially at the very last sentence of  “The Corrections”.




Houellebecq is a true master of refined literature, delicate subjects and penetrating meanings.
Submission is a dystopian novel set in 2022 where the moral and the ideals of academic intellectuals in the Western European society have declined to the level of alienation, indifference and disbelief in idealism. The core of their values has been reduced to pure pragmatism. The lack of faith in concrete or established beliefs and apathy towards on-going political structures creates fertile grounds for religious ideologies to rise to the surface of the political scene. Thus France elects its first muslim president.
Perplexed with this situation and its immediate consequences the protagonist François suddenly wakes up in his misanthropic and meaningless life in search of merits for his own existence. His academic career as a XIX century literature professor and a Huysmans specialist has brought him well deserved success and fame amongst the scholarly circles, however the purpose of his own life has remained uncertain. Perhaps driven by the lack of parental love at earlier age and his failed relationship with his student girlfriend, or just because he is the trademark Houellebecq character with limited social contacts and communication, isolated in his own capsule, François’ only regard is Huysmans’ works and life and their reflections in his own reality.
François’ philosophical journey in understanding the current political adjustments gradually exposes him to a new perspective of sustainable ideology. Supped by the currents in the academic circles he finally submits to the doctrinal conditions imposed by the new president.

Submission is a profound work of discomfort that challenges our modern values of tolerance, acceptance and attachment in a provocative and decadent setting.



It has started! The most anticipated annual event – the 34th Vancouver International Film Festival. More than 375 films from 70 countries will be screened this year. I have made my selections and bought my tickets, so stay tuned for reviews in the next several posts.

‘Zorba The Greek’ by Nikos Kazantzakis

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When I finished the book, I poured myself a glass of Kritiko red wine, baked a handful of chestnuts then remained still and thoughtful at the table. The feeling of separation was tearing my soul. I hardly pulled myself out of the story, I took a deep breath and my fingers started dancing eagerly on the keyboard.

“Zorba The Greek” is one of those novels, where you are present not as a reader but rather as  an interlocutor, a witness, or a contemporary of the events and the people portrayed in it.  Nikos Kazantzakis possesses the craft of enveloping a story around you in a way that feels somehow familiar and ordinary even to a reader who is distant to the culture flowing from the arid hills of the island of Crete. Many, once they have completed the reading, feel the urge to meet Zorba, to have a bite of his witticism, to immerse, for a moment, into the unbridled impulse that fills up his life, to enter the abyss of the Cretan story. Zorba is not just a charismatic and soft-spoken wanderer who roams throughout the pages igniting and burning the established dogmas, he is the meaning of life – the question or the answer of it, the God and the demon, the existence and death. The same philosophical path has grasped Kazantzakis when he first met the real Alexis Zorba and provoked by his ingenuous conception of life the novel was conceived.

“Zorba The Greek” it is not an ethnographic book of the Greeks, nor praise of the Greek ethos, rather it is a manifestation of freedom and contentedness beyond the moral boundaries imposed by the society.

To me, “Zorba The Greek” was just the beginning of what later became to be a great Kazantzakis passion. As an ordinary reader I haven’t been as much devoted to any other author as I am to Kazantzakis. I have read and compared his works in different languages and struggled greatly with the English translation as I find it the least precise and accurate to the original. The good news for the anglophone reader is that as of 2014 there is finally a new translation of “Zorba The Greek” and some other works of Kazantzakis by professor Peter Bien who has devoted a large part of his life to the Greek writer and philosopher. I strongly urge you to look for Mr. Bien’s translations because in Kazantzakis’ prose every single nuance matters.


“Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind”

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Have you ever come across one of those little, cute books that you would like to own even only for its pocket size, minimalistic graphic design and typography? So attractive, that even a glimpse through its pages is enough to stimulate you to stare inside yourself and find the imagination to create something on your own, something completely responding to your concepts and thoughts.

The idea about “Manage Your Day-to-Day” flashes across Jocelyn Glei as she decides to collect short essays and articles from various authors who give their advices on how to organize our life and time so we can be more productive, creative and successful. The bad news, at least for me, is that all the contributors publish books mostly in the self-help genre, in other words, names that are little known to my common knowledge.  The penetrating advices they give are clichéd thoughts that you have heard over and over again. If you work in the creative field and still haven’t figured out that you need to get enough sleep, organize your priorities, build a strong working habit and routine to stay motivated, then I would sincerely doubt your intelligence, creative talent and capabilities. The good news is that after each essay there are quotes in a large size font from more prominent thinkers that have saved the purpose of the book and just reading them you can still feel the boost in motivation. Creating a book of such nature is a challenging and a gripping idea, especially with such marvelous and compelling design. However the lack of diversity and innovation in the light of contributors and ideas has let me down.



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