“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”.

‘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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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

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