“The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen

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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”.

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Submission

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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.

VIFF

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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.

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“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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“Suddenly A Knock On The Door” by Etgar Keret

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Here is “Suddenly A Knock On The Door”,  another collection of short stories by Etgar Keret. I have already acquainted myself with his prose in some of his previous collections, “The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be a God” and “The Girl On The Fridge”.

Born and raised in Israel, Keret is much influenced and inspired by the twisted reality of his own counterparts and the endless discord between the two nations inhabiting the Promised Land. His stories are humane, however often decorated with absurd circumstances or events. To read Keret is as similar as to go on your own and stretch a towel on a crowded beach where your own ears would turn into German autobahns through which in a high speed are rushing the stories of the surrounding people. There are all kinds of  characters dragging their fates behind. Keret is like a real magician who  distinctively charges his stories with the tragicomical essence of mankind in stories that don’t repeat. His writings are short, dense and crazy as the end is never what you have anticipated.

A few short stories from “Suddenly A Knock On The Door” have reserved a special place in this department of my memory where I collect the most precious pieces of quality literature I come across.

One of these short stories is so dear to me that I almost wish to tear up the pages and fold them in my pocket. It is called “What Do We Cary In Our Pockets” and filmmaker Goran Dukic has made a short film based on it. These might be the sweetest, most encouraging and most inspiring 4 minutes for you today! Enjoy them!

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

_MG_3792 Elena Ferrante deserves your attention. There is something in her works that makes you abandon your life just so you can devour a dose more of a great quality literature. “The Days of the abandonment” was my introduction to her novels. It stuck me with its frankness and reminded me that life could have endless turning points in which we lose and find ourselves. The book is rather claustrophobic and gloomy, however it contains a precise psychological depiction of the “abandoned woman”. “My Brilliant Friend” is something completely different in its dynamics, structure and emotion. This is the first book of the Neapolitan trilogy and evidently attracted the attention of the most prominent literary critics. Here Ferrante collects more characters, places them in a poor Neapolitan suburb, turns the time back to 1950s and sets the story of two eleven-year-old girlfriends, Elena and Lila. The novel starts with a short introduction of the families in the neighborhood and their members. The story is narrated by Elena who is the more obedient one of the two friends, the impeccable, the submissive, the one that diligently cares about school work and ceaselessly reads books to prove herself worthy, but not to her parents, nor her teachers or the rest of the children, but only to her best friend Lila. Lila on the other hand is stubborn, unbridled and intelligent, she possesses a sheer magnetism that doesn’t rest concealed for those around. In the characters of those two girls Ferrante draws the parallel between the established patriarchal tradition of the time and the onset of women’s emancipation. Born in a slum in post-war Italy, the children from the Neapolitan neighborhood are forced to face reality under a different angle, often deprived from their childhood, exposed to street violence and class segregation, they have to find their way of survival. The domestic nature of the novel enhance it as more readable and dense. When I borrowed “My Brilliant Friend” from the library and I was immediately distrustful just by looking at the book cover, it couldn’t be any uglier, however what lies underneath it is something that has more subtlety than silk, its more addictive than heroin, its not historical, nor cultural but yet carries a sincere meaning – the ordinary (with a great deal of exceptions) lives of two girls from the slum. Naples depicted in the novel would lack the glamour of the city centre, the spills of red wine or the insights of a fine epicurean, rather you will be thrown in a rathole of violence, destitution and prejudicial thoughts. And you will enjoy it because what manifests through the pages of this book has been written with a refine and agile literary style. _MG_3799

Cathedrals of Culture

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“I was not meant to be an isolated monument. I am not just a museum or a library. I am a living, breathing culture machine.”  Centre Pompidou, Paris. Designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers.

Fall is the season of culture. As soon as September arrives the electric polls on street corners turn colorful with poster announcements about festivals, concerts and other cultural events. The current ongoing event for me is the Vancouver International Film Festival where in the duration of two weeks around 150 movies from around the world are played. I have noticed that the Canadians are welcoming with generous curiosity and interest the foreign movies as tickets sell out very quickly and the lines in front of the venues resemble a climate change protest.

The first movie for me this year was Cathedrals of Culture, which coincides with the North American premiere of the movie.

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Oslo Opera House. Designed by Snøhetta. Photo credit to http://www.viff.org

What would buildings say if they could talk to us? This question perhaps inspired Win Wenders, Robert Redford and four other directors to create a documentary film about the cathedrals of culture. Cathedrals of Culture is divided to six parts each one presented by a different director. The cathedrals in the movie are not religious establishments, they are buildings designed and constructed to serve and elevate the most delicate need of the society – the need for culture.

Cathedrals of Culture is a three-hour architectural hymn about six buildings – Berlin Philharmonic, National Library of Russia, Halden Prison, Salk Institute, Oslo Opera House and Centre Pompidou. Each building demonstrates its meaning with its own voice and it becomes the existing evidence of the life within itself.  The movie is fashioned as a audio-visual confession that illuminates a more profound dimension of architecture – the soul of the building as a synonym of the aggregation of the architect’s ideas, the purpose in society and the inspiration on those who sojourn in it.

Cathedrals of Culture is not an ordinary documentary film, with artistic sensation of ‘Baraka’(Ron Fricke, 1992) and blended with 3D technologies manifests the intellect behind the art of architecture.

Days Of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

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Elena Ferrante is amongst the most prominent contemporary Italian authors, however she is almost a phantom since no one really knows who she is. Her personality is clouded with mystery as she refuses to reveal who she is, standing behind the statement that “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors”( James Wood, The New Yorker – January 29, 2013 ). Her works, however, posses the charming force of a very refined and elegant literature.

“The Days of the Abandonment” took my breath away. This is a book that could make you ill.

Ferrante has relied on a very classical scenario – a husband abandons his wife and children for a younger lover. The triangle is a simple geometric figure, but when its shape is drafted in a love relationship, its complexity takes boundless dimensions.

Of course, such a storyline sound rather banal, threadbare and tedious, however once you start reading you would become astonished by the depth and originality of the novel.

Olga is 38-years-old, married with two children – a woman devoted on her family and domestic work, while one day, at the very first sentence of the book, her harmonic world cracks under the demonic impact of the departing husband.

The portrait of a caring and loving wife at once diminishes and what comes instead is the repulsive and vulgar shadow of the abandoned woman. Olga lands in a vicious psychological labyrinth, where the accepted in the society moral virtues are deprived of any value.

Ferrante is merciless to the protagonist, she gives her a slap after a slap, she hurls her at a corner and strips slowly every layer of her tortured soul. The tone of the novel is bold, sharp and rigid. There are moments, where you would want to shout at Olga, to shake her off her thoughts and rescue her, however the author keeps digging in the wound until she reaches the bottom – the emptiness. Ferrante emphasizes on the matter of how frightening fragile is the woman’s soul and provides to the reader the psychological aspect of living through the abandonment.  She reveals depths which not many of us have reached, but she doesn’t let you agonize in despair because salvation always lurks somewhere out there.

The scattered in the novel debris of one completely broken marriage demonstrate how elastic woman’s psyche could be – although the hardship, it will never break – it will only bend.

Fear and Trembling

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The Japanese wave keeps crashing my shores. This time the novel is called “Fear and Trembling”, written by the eccentric Belgian author Amelie Nothomb. It tells the entertaining story of the young Amelie during a year of work experience in a big Japanese company. Since she was born in Japan she loves the country as her second home, but this changes a bit after she faces the cultural differences, the matter of honor and the strictness of its citizens. A charming, funny and elegant read about Japan in the 90’s. Nothomb’s witty analysis of the absurd situations she is in all the time have a great humoristic impact on the entire novel. “Fear and Trembling is a delicious book and once you start you don’t take your eyes off until you complete it!

Amelie Nothomb is my new literature discover and I am absolutely convinced to read more that came out of her hand!

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