“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”.

“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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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

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!

Postsecret by Frank Warren

Are secrets meant to be discovered?

That was probably what Frank Warren was questioning himself when he decided to become a collector of secrets.
“Postsecret” is a project I discovered quite recently, and – to my great surprise – I enjoyed browsing other people’s abysmal secrets that much, that at one point I felt like a weirdo on a peephole. I first came across the graphical book – a compilation of anonymous postcards each one containing a secret that cannot be linked to the sender, at a later stage I discovered the website too.

Flipping through the pages of the book I felt astound how different, random and incredible people’s wishes and secrets could be.
The secret often takes the demonic shape of a phobia, suffocatingly embracing our inner selves with its tyrant hands and holding us a hostage of our own thoughts, hopes and fears. Silly or sensible, pleasing or traumatic, a memory or a dream, each one of us has something sacred and untouched, diligently concealed and hidden from the rest of the world. Silently and patiently subsided in our shadows, secrets wait their time to be revealed, to arise from the dungeons of time and strip the layers of mystery around us.

Frank Warren turned a great idea into a global community of secrets sharing. Back in 2004 he went on the streets of Washington, DC where randomly handed out cards to strangers. On the back of the card there were simple instructions and a PO Box address. Shortly after, postcards with secrets started piling up in his mail box. At a later stage he started publishing the most interesting and amusing secrets on his website. His website evolved to be a worldwide anonymous secret sharing community. Today he has more than half a million secrets meticulously collected for almost ten years.

It is part of our nature to keep safe our secrets however it is also part of our nature to be curious of what others are hiding from us. Well, let me offer you a glimpse…

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Serpent and Lily by Nikos Kazantzakis

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Last week as I was aimlessly browsing around the sections of Vancouver Public Library, I suddenly remembered an old book I always wanted to read – “Serpent and Lily”. This is the first literary work of Nikos Kazantzakis and I wondered if VPL would have a copy of it, since it  hasn’t been re-published for decades, and copies of it are scarce.

Luckily, there was one wisely resting on the shelf.

“Serpent and Lily” appeared into this world in 1906, while Kazantzakis was still a student in University of Athens. The first sore routs of the unrequited love are not only the inspiration of the author to write the novel, but also the salvation of the demonic influence of this devastating love on his soul.

In this literary work Kazantzakis transforms himself in an inspired artist and by the natural laws of existence meets his beloved who morphs into a muse, a flower and a demon in the heart of the artist.

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“O when I imagine You in the tomb, wild instincts of sensuality and horror rise like waves in my blood and I feel the urge to trap You and press my lips on Your lips and clasp You with all the strength of hopelessness and love, to become one flesh, to melt together in the same flame of one embrace – to compress our whole body in one unending kiss and die at night, at midnight, in a single thunderbolt of pleasure – so that death will find nothing to take but a few ashes. “

“Serpent and Lily” is a diary-novel, intimate and poetic where the main character suffers the euphoria, the obsession and the corruption of his passion. The narration resembles an ancient Greek tragedy, where the characters wrapped in a shroud of the mystery of time, walk the path of understanding their own feelings. This aspect is peculiar to Kazantzakis’ works, where the inner sensation and perception of the world, the formation, the life and the death of feeling is manifesting over events and story lines.

“Serpent and Lily” is Kazantzakis’ aspiration to engage art and philosophy through the elegant form of the verbal expression. An ambition which once born becomes а distinctive signature that encompasses his works. Kazantzakis draws inspiration from the worlds inhabiting his soul – from the murkiest abyss to the rising of the spirit.

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“I sense that the thing I am seeking is higher than love and higher than the joy of life and higher than science and glory and higher even than starts. Don’t keep my wings tied in Your embrace.

You are only a shadow and only a smile in the great journey of my soul. Your eyes are the two clear springs where my thoughts came to drink and rest for a moment. And between Your breasts hides the soft pillow where I slept for a moment in order to waken again. Don’t hold me bound. The enigma is not hidden in Your Lions nor in Your enormous eyes. And Your arms are small and weak and do not embrace my entire soul. There is a magnet above the stars that pulls me. And my entire body shudders, magnetized by the Great Nostalgia and the Great Longing. Someone is pulling at me from the stars. Do not hold me bound. The thing I am seeking is higher than love and higher than the joy of life. “

Kolyma Tales

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During Stalin’s ruling, the Soviet Union has established prisons called Gulag – camps for forced labour punishment. Everyone was exposed to the danger to be sent to a labor camp – from petty criminals to intellectuals, often considered socially dangerous, deemed to hard labor and death for the most ridiculous reasons including jokes or foreign correspondence. 

This ludicrous  yet dreadful idea about submissive society and oppression persuaded anyone who was not faithfully contributing to the Communist Party. Prisoners were sent to the most remote regions of the Soviet Union, including Siberia, where they were exposed to the most extreme and harsh working conditions. 

It is estimated that over a million inmates  have died in the Gulag, some experts suggest even a higher number as far as ten million. 

 

Kolyma is located in north-east Siberia and is known to be the most notorious region for the Gulag forced-labour camps. Government efforts to increase the industry in the region established compulsory hardship for prisoners, demanding working in subzero climate conditions, often intolerable with scarce or in times no food supply.

 

Varlam Shalamov was one of the detainees whose ‘anti-government actions’ have sent him to serve a sentence in Kolyma. In his book ‘Kolyma Tales’ he writes short stories dedicated on the surviving of the harsh conditions prisoners have to bear in the labour camp. Shalamov resurrects all those forgotten people whose life was brutally deprived and buried under the heavy snow. He depicts in details day-to-day routines, prisoners’ personalities and the diverse ways of managing how to stay alive. His stories, although brutal, are full of life and struggle, revealing page after page the unimaginable endurance a human being is capable of. Varlam Shalamov is talented narrator, his writing and depiction of savage events is fluent. His profound insights on the prevailing moral decline amongst prisoners manifests as a legacy from the destitution and punishment of ordinary people imposed by the Stalinist regime. 

 

The Gulag considered as the most merciless instrument of governmental repression against its own citizens ceased in size and function after Stalin’s death in 1952, however the world will long remember the incurable wounds it left behind.

Letters To A Young Poet – Inspiration from Rilke

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Timidly hidden under a thick blanket of dust in a humid cold basement, patiently waiting to tell its unique inspirational story from a time long gone, a tiny little book with creased covers grabbed my curiosity. I was eager to save it from the abyss of oblivion.

I haven`t read any of Rilke`s poetry, however his extraordinary letters collected in this work elevated my spirit. “Letters To A Young Poet” is a collection of his correspondence with Mr. Kappus – a debutant poet, whom he had never met in person.

In his letters Rainer Maria Rilke elaborates on the upcoming poet`s work, however real wisdom rests in his frank opinion about life. Rilke is a true master of the lost art of giving a good advise, at numerous times I thought that his letters are a dialog with his inner self, trying to understand himself, while understanding others, trying to convince himself that he has chosen the right path.

The letters are profoundly inspirational! I re-read numerous times certain parts of his “advises”, which exhibit rhetoric and enlightenment on a higher scale, and I have found analytic wisdom and well-organized patience that I always believed it was out there in the world.

This miniature book eclipses all the self-help-self-discovery bookshelf nonsense literature that is in existence today. All that one needs to know regarding ones understanding of oneself is encompassed and offered as eloquent and compact as it could be in this collection.

Rilke’s letters are absorbing and loving.  As he puts it himself  in the letters commenting another piece of work “…the more often one reads it, the more everything seems to be contained within it, from life’s most imperceptible fragrances to the full, enormous taste of its heaviest fruits.”

Rilke’s profound approach to creativity envelops the entire content of this book captivating reader’s attention still until the last word .

Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whatever it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This of most all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple ‘I must’, then build your life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose.”

“Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterwards summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!” 

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I highly recommend the Stephen Mitchell translation…

Who will be the next Pope?

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Photo – Reuters

As usual the world has turned its head towards the upcoming Pope conclave this week. Although, the Catholic Church’s worshipers have declined in the last decades, we all seem to be curious who will be the next Pope. Some even go further initiating gambling schemes to gain a profit.

There are, however, several names circulating in the media as potential popes, yet none of them seems “charismatic and suitable” enough for the role.

The Catholic Church is in need of reform and whoever becomes the head of it will face a solemn challenge to address the sore issues hanging unsolved from his predecessors.

As societies become more democratic and citizen’s mentality  grows more open-minded and progressive, the Catholic values are no longer hype. The conservative approach to modern life and the lack of dialog and adequate measures on vicious acts by its clerics have banished many from the house of God.

The role of the church in the Western world is gradually vanishing and in order to retain its followers and increase them, the call for urgent change is inevitable.

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