Fear and Trembling



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…

Post Secret 0Post Secret 1

Post Secret 2Post Secret 3

Post Secret 4Post Secret 7

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Serpent and Lily by Nikos Kazantzakis


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.

Dec 24th

“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.

Nov 20th

“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




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


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!” 


I highly recommend the Stephen Mitchell translation…

Who will be the next Pope?


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.

“The Map and Territory” by Michel Houellebecq


Michel Houellebeqc is the ultimate misanthrope in literature I have known so far, yet his works are so addictive that I realized I placed him amongst my favorite authors. Amidst the gloomy and unavoidable destiny clouding the paths of his characters, I most often find an immaculate innocence deeply rooted in their souls. His latest novel, “The Map and Territory” is enveloped with the raw features of the winter season – dark, cold, cheerless. It is not a surprise that the storyline is mostly narrated in the frigid months of the year, contrasting to this fact, I noticed, that the novel is layered with more satire compared to his other works.

In “The Map and Territory” we meet Jed Martin, simply an artist who, of course, lacks any social skills, yet becomes very successful after an exhibition of his photographs. At the event Jed encounters Olga, a progressive young woman, who is willing to love and care for him. Being a socially autistic, Jed is perplexed how to deal with his feelings for her:

Olga was nice, she was nice and loving, Olga loved him, he repeated to himself with a growing sadness as he also realized that nothing would ever happen between them again; life sometimes offers you a chance, he thought, but when you are too cowardy or too indecisive to seize it life takes the cards away; there is a moment for doing things and entering a possible happiness, and this moment lasts a few days, sometimes a few weeks or even a few months, but it happens once and one time only, and if you want to return to it later it’s quite simply impossible. There’s no more place for enthusiasm, belief, and faith, and there remains just gentle resignation, a sad and reciprocal pity, the useless but correct sensation that something could have happened, that you just simply shaved yourself unworthy of this gift you had been offered.”

Jed is not only puzzled regarding his love for Olga, but also he hardly accepts his friendship with the author Michel Houellebecq who was kindly asked to write a prolog for Jed’s next exhibition. Yes, Michel Houellebecq himself is a main character in the novel.

Again Houellebecq’s criticism with its derisive tone on modern life, manifests through the pages. I was not surprised to encounter the character of another bohemian of contemporary French literature – Frederic Beigbeder, who is also depict in the novel, just as I have always imagined him – cynical, self-centered and armed with the entire French arrogance.

Interweaving real personalities with fiction, cultural upsurge with dreadful crime and, of course, discussions about writers, artists, architects; Michel Houellebecq, once more, offers substantial piece of work which perfectly fits our time.



Journey through a book. The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

I love traveling. I adore the odour of new places, the eyes of the locals and the distinctive emotion roaming in the air. There are places which ethos I am able to absorb quite rapidly. It`s always the same formula – I dive into their atmosphere, I explore the little nooks, as well the obvious attractions, I often capture them with my camera and then I discard them in a special corner of my soul dedicated to exploring, that way they will never haunt me back again. But there are those places which ethos is so ancient and fascinating that the necessity to blend with their crowds again and again pursues me with undying desire. Such is Istanbul for instance. I always return there full of eagerness but never can stay more than three days. As much as I am attracted to its culture, that much I am irritated by the deafening uproar of its throng. The “Bir Lira” knocks the bottom of my ears even in my deepest sleep. The jostle and the noisiness unceremoniously perform their “Sabre Dance” by Khachaturian on my nerves, but even in this relentless atmosphere I find an unusual amount of charm and allure.

I found “The Bastard of Istanbul” in the Thrift Store and I only bought it because there is Istanbul in the title. I was clueless what was it about but once I started, from the very first pages, I was nicely surprised I could wander over the cobblestone streets again.

The novel itself is not a one I could not live without but it is one of those readings that are capable to bring back memories from a certain place where one has been and one has the urge and  need to visit again. In “The Bastard of Istanbul” Elif Shafak crosses the paths of two young girls, Asya and Armanoush, from two different ethnic groups, Turkish and Armenian. The first half of the book meticulously describes the peculiarities and pre-history of both families. One deeply rooted in Istanbul and the other one derived from Istanbul, but in an account of extraordinary events resettled in San Francisco. The main conception of the novel  moves along the brim of the Turkish-Armenian conflict regarding the Armenian Genocide (1914-1918) committed by the Ottoman Empire. The two essential points of the conflict are the Turkish denial of the massacres and the sore recollection of the bloody events on the Armenian side transmitted from generations as a national heritage.

The plot, however, is not very dynamic in the present, we mostly witness the revealing of past events, slowly connecting the families of Asya and Armanoush. The strong domination of female characters really confused me at times, the perplexed relations in both families was a little too much and this part of the storyline I could not handle. Sadly to confess that, but I could not entirely attach to the plot.   As a contrary I found myself cheering up every time Shafak illustrates the Istanbuli atmosphere, as accurate as I see it every time I visit – the sinuous cobblestone streets, the shouts of the shopkeepers, the blended scent of spices, donairs, tea, baklava, ashure and freshly squeezed juices. The entire time while reading I was trying to imagine where would, the so called, “Cafe Kundera” be – a gathering point where the sediment of cultural Istanbul meets on a weekly basis or did it even really existed.

At the end, I have to acknowledge that I was mainly fascinated by the image of Istanbul than anything else in the book.

“Platform” by Michel Houellebecq


Reading Houellebecq, one can never be indifferent to his opinion, it`s a bipolar relationship of admiration or condemnation. His point of view is perplexed. To get a clear vision of his philosophy I needed to familiarize myself in deep with his works. The nuances of his novels are strikingly depressive, the characters – introvert loners, whose existence is defined by their sexual necessity. The pages are saturated with scenes of sexual conduction, in which vulgarity is manifested, yet non offensive. Well, at least, I think so.

“Platform” reminds me a lot of “The Stranger” by Albert Camus. The leading characters of both novels share identical social status, with the sole difference that Michel (“Platform”) is more contemporary than Mersault (“The Stranger”), two lonely bureaucrats that met love in the middle of their apathetic existence. Both characters pave similar paths of solitude, hope and decadence.

To end the short parallel between the novels, I would not conceal that the philosophic complexity of “Platform” embedded me with the impression that “The Stranger” was a fairytale.

In “Platform” one sinks. Houellebecq possesses the genius ability to describe quite accurately  the gray shades of modern society. I praise the organic way that he reveals the nature of sex tourism – the hedonistic aspect of it reflecting through the scenes of intimacy. Even after all the lust I did not feel violated. Amongst the lust there is love – tender love, reviving and unconditional.

The driving force of pleasure in the storyline coexists with  ideas of women’s emancipation, economic and political relations in corporate business, the relation between suffering and sexual extravagance and obvious despise of Islam.

Michel Houellebecq carefully sifts out the lumps of modern society through the sieve of his philosophical ideology and is  skillfully unveiling them. His findings highlight the unspoken, yet obvious dark sides of contemporary Western lifestyle. The author has no inhibitions in his outlook on life and I find this to be the reason why his works аrе scandalously frank.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami


Without a solid evidence for the following statement, I have concluded that Haruki Murakami is so far the most read contemporary author for the 21st century.

Although he was excelled by the worldly unknown Chinese author Mo Yan for this years Noble Prize in Literature, Murakami’s works have been translated into numerous languages and he has gained popularity among readers of all ages.

I still can not determine myself as Murakami’s fan, but certainly 1Q84 has  settled an imprint somewhere in the abyss of my soul.  I refer this to my continuous curiosity about the socially reclusive people in our society.

Ever since I was in elementary school I have made number of unsuccessful attempts to understand their worlds and I have learnt that it is close to impossible to break their shields and glimpse at their sacred universe.

I still remember this girl with low grades and shaggy hair, who would not speak to anyone, not even a teacher, and shortly after she joined our class became an object of bullying. Girls had no sympathy or interest in her and boys were merciless, sticking chewing gum on her hair, looting her belongings, mocking and provoking her to talk or cry. But she never did. She was expressionless and as confident in her class status as the moon in the sky. Two years later she moved to another school and from the bottom of my heart I hope she found better classmates there. I often wonder what happened to her and did she ever got away with all the cruelty she experienced in elementary school. Did she overcome the isolation and what was the reason for it.

That’s why I became so fond of 1Q84. Not only the two main characters, Aomame and Tengo share similar fate as my elementary school class mate, but the rest of the characters are also ‘lone wolves’ in their own way.

I admire Murakami’s love and inclination to write about the socially handicapped people, whose introvert lifestyle often throws them in the shade and conceals their existence. His meticulous depictions of their personalities illuminates the dark abyss of a whole unknown entity.

1Q84 starts with the parallel stories of Aomame and Tengo, who both imperceptibly enter another altered reality where bizarre range of events occur, devoid of any logical explanation. For Aomame this is the murky year of 1Q84 with too moons, Little People, Air Chrysalises and for Tengo this is the cat town which he has to leave “before the exit is blocked”. The entire time they are traveling to each other, following different paths, because this is the reality they are meant to meet in. The obstacles, the two of them are facing, turn the novel into a fast-paced mystical thriller that wont let you put it down.

At least that was the effect on me. I was sunken in the story and praised all the secret forces that made me come across this book (for some silly reason I am frightened of high-volume books, even though I have never been disappointed, yet I can not overcome the fear). However, there is one tedious moment between book II and book III that I had a hard time getting through, but besides that 1Q84 is a wonderful piece of literature.

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