Thursday, September 30, 2010

Astrid and Veronika

by Linda Olsson

This novel is about two women, Astrid, who is in her 80’s, living all of her life in a village in Sweden and Veronika, a young woman, who after a personal tragedy in New Zeeland, is looking for peace in the same Swedish village. The older woman is living a very secluded life, not going out of the house much and doesn’t communicate with anyone; the people from the village called her a “witch”.
When Veronika moves into the house next door, she notices that there are no signs of life in the house. The next day she goes for a walk and sees an old woman standing by the window and watching her. Days pass by but she never meets her neighbor. One day Veronika gets ill and doesn’t go out for a few days. Meanwhile Astrid, who has been watching the young woman since the first day, starts to get worried that something bad has happened with her. It takes all her courage to walk over to Veronika’s house and knock on the door. From that day forward a friendship starts between the two women.
This was the author’s first book. Even though the plot of this story seemed promising, it was written awkwardly. There are no dialogues between the women, only monologues and it didn’t convince me about the existence of their friendship. Olsson’s aim was to write a touching story about a beautiful and extraordinary healing friendship, but instead I felt the book that was more annoying than moving. However I can see the beauty of her story in this book, I just wish it was better written. I can’t really recommend this novel, but I am still looking forward to read another book by Olsson. I am pretty sure it will be better than “Astrid and Veronika”.


By Junichiro Tanizaki
The story is set in Japan in the 1920’s. Joji is a 28 years old man, who falls in love with a waitress named Naomi, who is only 14 years old. When they start living together, Joji is planning to make her the ideal woman for him. He is paying for her education, buying her new clothes and taking her to the movies and concerts. Joji is very fond of European culture and with time Naomi also finds western culture more appealing than Japanese. Naomi’s personality starts to develop in an unexpected way, she becomes like a beautiful devil to Joji. She starts attending dancing classes and spends more and more time with her friends. Joji is very surprised when he discovers that she has only men friends from the dancing class. He gets suspicious and after a while he finds out that Naomi is cheating on him. They break up, but after few days Joji is ready to take her back, because he cannot live without her. She doesn’t want to even hear about getting back together with him, so she teases and humiliates him in every possible way, but he doesn’t stop begging her to come back to him. Even when he discovers that she has become a prostitute, he doesn’t stop loving her. Finally she is ready to live with him again, but with new rules. She wants them to have a relationship where both of them are free to see other people. In the beginning Joji hesitates to accept this offer as this is not how he imagined their life together, but after some time he agrees.
This novel made Tanizaki one of the most important writers in Japan. The book is saturated with obsession, eroticism and the contrast of Japanese and western cultures. It is captivating story, when you are reading it, everything around you disappears and suddenly you think you are living in post World War I Tokyo.  I can’t stop wondering about authors like Tanizaki who can make a book, written in 1924, seem like it was written today. The language he uses is so modern that it was easy to read and to follow the weird love story between Joji and Naomi. This is a great book, especially if you are interested in Asian culture.

The house of paper

By Carlos Maria Dominguez
It is a story about books. It begins with the death of a woman, who has had a car accident and in her hands is a book that she had just purchased – Emily Dickinson’s poems. Her name was Bluma Lennon; she was a professor of Latin American literature at Cambridge University. Several months after her death, a package that was addressed to her, arrives from Argentina. In the package is a book, covered with cement and has a weird inscription on the first page. So Bluma’s ex-lover goes to Buenos Aires to find the sender. When he arrives in Buenos Aires he discovers that Carlos Brauer, who was the sender, has disappeared without a trace.
The book is a mystery about Carlos Brauer, who has led a weird life. He was a real book addict; he had a precious library with lots of valuable books. Brauer spent all of his money buying books and had nothing left to make a proper storage place for all of them. He even sold his car to make more room in his garage to store more books, but soon even that was not enough. The last thing that his friend, who was also a bibliophile, heard was that Carlos had moved to Uruguay with all his books. There he built a house using them like a bricks.
I was completely in love with this book. It tells a story about people who are obsessed and dedicated to books. It was about reading and building valuable book libraries. One of my favorite quotes from this novel is: "It is often much harder to get rid of books than to acquire them. They stick to us in that pact of need and oblivion we make with them, witnesses to a moment in our lives we will never see again."  This is so true at least for me, I can’t get rid of my books. I can’t even give them away, I need to own them. Sometimes I read a good book that I have borrowed from somebody and I feel like I need to have it forever and I buy it, even though I know I won’t ever read it again. It’s like, Dominguez says, building a life and saving moments of time that you don’t want to forget, books can help you to remember. This is a must read for every true book lover.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fur Elise

By Magda Szabo
The book is an author’s memoir, set in Hungary at the beginning of the 20th century. Magda was an only child whose parents raised her with the understanding that one day she would be a famous writer. Her father loved culture, literature and art. So he started educating her before she even started to attend school. He taught her Latin. Magda was surrounded by the love of her parents, when one day her father comes home with a little blond girl named Cecilia in his arms. She was orphaned when both of her parents were shot as they all tried to leave the country. When Magda sees Cecilia in her father’s arms she becomes angry and jealous, screaming to her father to bring back the little girl. This book was dedicated to that girl, who now is Magda’s sister. As time passed she begins to love her sister, always protecting and caring for her. Cecilia was very musical with an amazing voice and a talented dancer. The story is about the tragic life of Cecilia. She fell in love with a boy from her dancing class who also fell in love with her. They knew they never could be together as the young boy, also an orphan, had been “bought” by the town’s richest man. In exchange for the support that allowed him to study medicine he promised to marry his ugly daughter. Since they both knew their love had no future, Cecilia decides to marry a famous musician from Italy. She was only 18 at the time and her husband was 52. She married in order to escape from her lost love. All she really wanted was to be far away from her true love. Tragically she died only two years later.
Magda Szabo is a famous Hungarian writer who was 90 years old when she wrote this book. I enjoyed her novel “Abigail”, it was so vividly written, that I was sure I would like this book too. Unfortunately this is not one of her best books; I found the story hard to follow.  This is the first of two her memoir books she wrote, but I’m not sure if I will read the second one. I was disappointed after reading this book, not because the story, but the way it was written. Szabo is a good author and I’m sure I will find one of her earlier books I will enjoy as much as I did “Abigail”.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

This is one of my favorite books of all time. Everyone has heard about this story, even if you haven’t read it. The following lines will help you to remember it.

The story is about Ebenezer Scrooge, a grumpy old man, who on the Christmas night is visited by 3 ghosts, who guide him through the past, present and the Christmas Yet to Come. In one night Scrooge’s life and attitude towards Christmas is changed forever.

As I mentioned before, this is the most widely known Dickens book and doesn’t need for introducing with its story anymore. This novella is loved not only by Dickens fans, but every other reader. The story is deeply moving and is very special to me; I like to read it every year at Christmas time to remind myself about the most important things in life. I have also seen the movie version of this story, but the book is so much better. I think it’s richer, deeper and funnier. It’s a wonderful Christmas tale, even if it was written in 1843, it’s timeless. It’s a book for everyone of every age; it will make you a better person.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Of Mice and Men

by John Steinbeck

George and Lennie, two migrant workers are on their way to start a new job. George is small, dark man and Lennie is his opposite, he is a big man and you can see he is a little slow. As it comes clear later Lennie has a mental disability and George is in charge of him. George often complains about being responsible for Lennie and says it would be easier without him, but you can feel that even if George says things like that he truly loves Lennie and cares about him. Lennie likes to pet soft things, but often he accidently kills them; he doesn’t realize how strong he is.

Both men share a common dream about having their own house, a piece of land that they could take care of; they are dreaming about working for themselves and being free of worrying about another job. When they finally arrive at the farm, George is so worried that because of Lennie they could miss out on the job that he convinces Lennie to let him do all the talking. George, to avoid any questions, tells their new boss that he and Lennie are cousins travelling together. First evening talking with the other workers they find out about the boss’s son Curley, who is a newlywed and very jealous of his wife. George gets feeling that this man could cause them problems and he asks Lennie not to talk to him. Curley is in a bad mood that evening and is walking around searching for his wife so when he can’t find her, he starts a fight with Lennie. Curley gets hurt in the fight, but when he gets home he tells them that he got his arm crushed in a piece of machinery.

On the next day George confesses to Slim, another worker, that he and Lennie are just friends not cousins and that they lost a job because of Lennie’s obsession about touching soft things. He tried to touch a woman’s dress and was accused of rape. Slim, has a dog who has puppies and he agrees to give one of them to Lennie.

One evening, a man with one arm missing, named Candy, hears a conversation between George and Lennie about building a house and buying some land. So he offers them his life savings and in return asks them to make him part of their plan. Now there are three of them and it seems less like a dream and more like reality. So now they begin planning how to make their dream come true as soon as possible. That night almost all the men from the farm go to the local brothel. At the farm stays Lennie, Candy, Mr. Crook and Curley’s wife. She sees the cut on Lennie’s face and realizes that he was the one who hurt her husband and this thought amuses her. The next day Lennie accidently kills his puppy in the barn, when in walks Curley’s wife who tries to calm him down. She confesses that her life with Curley is a mistake and she wishes she would have followed her dream to become a movie star. Lennie tells her that he liked to pet soft things and she offers to let him feel her hair. He grabs her hair strongly, she screams, Lennie tries to calm her down, but he breaks her neck accidently.

The story starts out sweet when the author talks about the friendship between Lennie and George, but then it turns out really shocking. It’s a short story, but very intense. I didn’t expect so many different emotions from a book this thin. The author makes you live the whole spectrum of emotions from being touched in the beginning about George taking care of Lennie, to feeling excited about their dream almost coming true then feeling disappointed even angry about Curley’s behavior finally shocked in the end of the book. The last part was unforgettable; it was so disturbing for me that I couldn’t stop thinking about this novel for days after finishing it. It was such a weird mix between cruelty and sweetness, but it’s definitely worth reading.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Prayer for Owen Meany

by John Irving

This is a beautiful story about John Wheelwright and his best friend Owen Meany. The book is divided in two parts. The first part is about the boys’ growing up in Gravesend, New Hampshire. The second part is about the present that in the book was 1980.

Owen is a small, underdeveloped boy with “wrecked voice” and weirdly luminous skin. He is very fond of John’s mother who adores Owen. She even convinces his parents to let him attend the elite Gravesend’s Academy. John, who lives with his mom and grandmother, doesn’t know who his father is, but hopes that one day his mom will tell him. All his hopes are shattered one day when Owen kills her accidently with a baseball. However John and Owen still remain close friends even after this tragic event. Owen believes that everything in life happens for a reason and that his faith in God will help John to find his father.

After John’s mom died, Owen wins the role of baby Jesus and the Christmas ghost in a Christmas play at the amateur theater. Owen shocks everyone in the middle of one of the performances, when he sees his parents in the audience; he demands that they leave… He was very good as a scary Christmas ghost in A Christmas Carol, but on the final night of the performance he sees a vision; a vision of his own gravestone with the date of his death. He is convinced that the vision will become true. As Time passes he sees other visions which give more and more details of his own death. Owen starts to believe that he is an instrument of God.

When the boys were old enough they begin attending Gravesend’s Academy. Owen was an odd boy who was physically fragile, but reading the book you can see how strong he was mentally. You can easily imagine that Owen would be the boy that everybody makes fun of, but instead you find he was somewhat of an authority for all the other boys at the school. He had a column, called “The Voice”, in the school’s paper, but shortly before graduating he was expelled for helping students making fake IDs out of their draft cards.

This was a weird story, funny and sad; extremely vividly written. John Irving is a master of words. This novel is his most autobiographical. He, like John in the book, lived in New Hampshire, didn’t know his real father and even his stepfather was a professor at the University. This was my first book from Irving’s works and it’s still my favorite. The author is such a talented story teller that in one page he makes you laugh and in the next page he can make you cry. This was an amazing book, I know it’s a favorite of many people; you can’t go wrong by choosing this novel. This is a thick book (over 600 pages), but it’s fast, easy and very enjoyable an unforgettable read. This is one of those books that you don’t want to end.

The Story of the Trapp family singers (The Sound of Music)

by Maria Augusta Trapp

Maria tells a seemingly light and optimistic story about the Trapp family life in Austria before the war and their immigration to the US during the war. She describes about her family learning English, trying to be part of a new country, their ups and downs with concerts. She talks about learning to survive during tough times when they didn’t have any concerts to play and about the many new friends they found in the USA.

Even with all the bad things that happen to them she was still able to describe it optimism. When they were living in Austria and lost all their money, she even told her husband how happy she was about that. Only now after they lost it all, could they see the true character of their children. Maria’s American friends told her that she must remember that they are now poor, Maria answered: “we are not poor, we just don’t have money.” She was right; people like the Trapp family can never be poor.

This book is so sweet and the Trapp family was so loving and warm hearted with each other, almost too good to be true. It seemed more like a fairy tale than a true story to me. This is a great read for days when you feel sad or just need to be cheered up.


by Ian McEwan

One cold winter day three men meet at Molly’s funeral. All of them were her ex-lovers; Vernon is a newspaper editor, Clive is a composer and Julian is an important person in London’s government. Vernon and Clive are old friends and the next day after the funeral they make a pact that they would rather kill each other, than suffer like Molly did at the end of her life. The story guides you through Clive’s and Vernon’s friendship and their moral values. Each of them will make decisions that never should have been made; their friendship will be changed forever. Julian will fight for his good reputation only to be destroyed by Vernon’s tabloid.

This was a fast read. As it usual is with McEwan I didn’t enjoy the novel in the beginning, but in the end I liked it. This was an odd story about friendship, love, jealousy, betrayal, sex, moral standards, politics and press. Everything gets twisted more and more with every page you read. This is not his best work, but worth reading anyway, especially if you are a fan of McEwan. If you can appreciate the beauty of a well written novel, you won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Enduring Love

by Ian McEwan

The story starts with a perfect morning in England. Joe Rose and his girlfriend Clarissa are having a picnic in the park when they see a hot air balloon with a little boy in the basket and an old man running after the balloon trying to stop it from flying away. For a few seconds Joe is watching them and then he starts running towards the old man to help him. At the same time some other men were getting there to help them. In the end the boy is saved, but the old man is killed.

What they don’t know is that this day will change their lives forever. That evening one of the men, Parry, who helped to save a little boy, was calling to the Joe’s and Clarissa’s flat. From that evening on the story turns into Parry’s obsession with Joe. The further it goes the more complicated it gets. For no reason Joe starts lying to Clarissa about the phone calls, like it wasn’t anything important. Later he starts getting messages from Parry on his voice mail, but he always deletes them, not knowing why; he thinks he will protect Clarissa from something he doesn’t realize yet. When Parry’s shadowing is out of control, Joe finally confesses to Clarissa about everything that is happening. He hopes they would find a solution out of that, but it’s too late; Clarissa doesn’t believe him. She thinks that Joe is having some sort of mental problem and that he made up the story about Parry chasing him. It’s heartbreaking for Joe to realize that he has lost Clarissa, who used to be so close to him. Now she is a good wishing stranger, who believes he is seriously sick. Everything that happened in the park and after is now like a wall between them…

This book was captivating. A little slow, but intense at the same time. McEwan takes the event of the balloon and reexamines it; the whole story is built around this one event. He makes you think how destructive love can be.

Ian McEwan is an author I always struggle with. Every book I have read written by him leaves me with different feelings – I like, I love, I’m amazed by his writings yet on other hand I don’t understand him. There are moments I absolutely hate the book and think I will never read anything from this author again, but in the end I always know that next time I see his name in a bookstore, I will pick one of his books again.