domingo, junho 25, 2017

The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood

This is the second book of the MaddAddam trilogy, and it's as good - and scary - as the first. Margaret Atwood really has a knock for the dystopian, she creates them believable and plausible. And her characters show a thorough understanding of human nature. Excellent.

quinta-feira, junho 15, 2017

En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule, by Édouard Louis

What a wonderful, powerful book! I finished literally bouleversé. It's really remarkable - the writing is superb, beautiful even when depicting the most terrible events, never patronizing or romanticizing what and the author writes about. It's an implacable depiction of a mostly forgotten world, and extremely insightful and useful to understand the Le Pen phenomenon in France - and probably similar phenomena in other Western countries. It's very much about politics, and yet it keeps also to the personal view from an individual, whose personality and experience makes him question and face that world. The character of Eddy and his surroundings manages to be totally believable - and moving - never being didactic, and that's how a political novel should be. And how impressive to think Édouard Louis wrote this in his early twenties. I searched him online and read his excellent interview to the Paris Review; he's extremely articulate and to the point, and I think his will be a voice to listen to attentively in the future.

(Once more, I'm so grateful to Garth Greenwell for the suggestion!)

sexta-feira, maio 26, 2017

My Cat Yugoslavia, by Pajtim Statovci

This is a very good book, especially considering it's a debut novel. Beautifully written, moving, tender and strong, about being a refugee (first and second generation) and the search for one's identity, the need to be loved and accepted, and how that often lands one in abusive relationships. The narrative's structure is bold yet well achieved - two plot lines, elements of magical realism, characters believable even if sometimes feeling a little underdeveloped. I liked how the author followed the characters and the plot where they led him, leaving several unanswered questions and much food for thought. It made me sad, but also hopeful. And to think it was written by a 24-year-old, quite a feat! It makes me look forward for more work by this very talented writer.

sábado, maio 13, 2017

La vie devant soi, de Romain Gary (Émile Ajar)

What a wonderful book. Extremely well written, in a poetic tone, and extremely moving. It's the second book by Romain Gary I read, and I'm thankful to Matti Friedmann for letting me know this author.

sábado, maio 06, 2017

Oryx & Crake, by Margaret Atwood

An excellent book. I love dystopian stories, and this one is one of the better I have read so far. Margaret Atwood really nails it, the corporation's ruled world seems like a very probable future. It's extremely well written, and it's really intense. It's sad, but extremely thought provoking. The concept of an apocalypse reminded me of Kalkhi by Gore Vidal. An extremely intelligent book, and an intense read, like a thriller.

Uma Maneira de ser Moderno - exposição de Almada Negreiros na Fundação Gulbenkian

I always liked the work of Almada Negreiros, and the Gulbenkian exhibition is an excellent show. Almada was part of a brilliant set of artists that brought modern art to Portugal - Fernando Pessoa and Mário de Sá-Carneiro in literature, himself, Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso and Santa-Rita-Pintor in painting, to mention the most remarkable. They were all outstanding artists by any standards, and they brought a breath of fresh air to Portuguese art, distinctively Portuguese and yet cosmopolitan, in synch with what was going on in Paris at the time. They were the perfect modern artists, and Almada Negreiros was the one who lived longer. He was a kind of Renaissance man, painter, poet and writer, but I think he mostly excelled as a draughtsman. He had that rare ability of drawing the perfect picture with a few apparently simple lines.

Irreverent as he was at the beginning, his longevity and quality made him become the modern Portuguese artist par excellence, accepted and recognised even by such a backward regime as we had at the time. He decorated major buildings, from cafés to universities to the dockyards buildings, doing mosaics and stained glass windows, and his 40s style became somewhat of a standard in illustration - I remember my childhood books and grade schools books being illustrated by him or in his style.

The Gulbenkian museum keeps doing a great job showing Portuguese art; this show is another great contribution, a par with the one they did a few years back with Amadeo Souza-Cardoso, my favorite Portuguese painter.

domingo, abril 16, 2017

Empire of Self - a life of Gore Vidal, by Jay Parini

I have been an admirer of Gore Vidal for a long time, since the 90s. The first of his books I read was Julian, out of my interest for historical novels, then the completely different Myra Breckinridge, out of a praise by Italo Calvino. I liked them both very much, but I think it was Empire that really got me hooked, and then Palimpsest and his essays. Here was an intelligent, sensible and witty voice, even if somewhat narcissistic and not artistically great.

I read all his Narratives of Empire, several of his satirical novels and many of his essays, and his memoirs. I enjoy his writing, and find myself agreeing with him more often than not. His constant auto-biographical remarks naturally led me to take an interest in his life, and what a life it was. He's one of the writers whose life I like to know, like Virginia Woolf, Bruce Chatwin, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Simone de Beauvoir. Deeply flawed as he undoubtly was, his was a courageous life - how else would one rate his publishing a book like The City and the Pillar in the 1940s? - because some writers' lives and work are so inextricably linked.

And how can one not love his witty remarks? Just a few samples: In my country, yes, the people can say anything they want, as long as nobody is listening. They do as they are they are told. On the other hand, Hollywood makes them happy. The sort of exuberant badness which so often achieves perfect popularity cannot be faked. I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people simply would do as I advise.

Jay Parini's book looks like a very balanced biography, affectionate and acknowledging its subject's qualities and flaws. I think it's does justice to its subject, and it's also an enjoyable read.

quinta-feira, abril 13, 2017

A weekend in Lyon

So I went to Lyon for a weekend; it's always nice to get away from the routine for a while, and I love to visit European cities. Lyon is a nice city, France's third largest, and I really enjoyed going there. The weather was nice enough, some periods of rain but also some sunny times to enjoy city walks and café terraces.

Arriving on a Friday afternoon, I started by walking around - crossed the Rhône to Presqu'Île at the huge Place Bellecour, headed north along 19th century boulevards to Place des Terreaux with the Hôtel de Ville, then enjoyed a drink at a terrace in the cosy Place Sathonay, where young people chat and smoke at the café terraces while old men play boules in the square.

I went up the hill by the Montée de la Grande Côte, toward a great view over the city, that even features a miniature Eiffel tower. Went down again and crossed the river to Vieux Lyon near the Saint Paul church, lots of people strolling or just sitting by the river banks on that sunny afternoon.

There were lots of kids around Saint Paul, it was probably the time when school finished. After visiting the small church, I walked around Vieux Lyon, the Rue Juiverie, the Rue du Boeuf, and then climbed the many steps of the Montée des Chazeaux to the hill of Fourvière, to enjoy the gorgeous view over the city, next to the 19th century basilica, appropriately described as an elephant on its back, the kind of huge religious building like the Sacré Coeur in Paris or the Notre Dame basilica in Marseilles.

Going down to Vieux Lyon was much easier than climbing the steps, and I had a glass of wine before dinner at the cathedral square, before eating a great meal at a bouchon nearby - I think it was one of the better meals I had in a long time - quenelles de brochet, Lyon saucisson, joue de boeuf, very good wines.

The next day, Saturday, it was cloudy and rainy. But I was lucky since it stopped raining around noon, so I could walk around Vieux Lyon and go to the Saint Just neighborhood to see the old church of Saint Irénée, and then the Roman ruined theatres. There's very little left of the Romah Lugdunum which, being the capital of Gaul, must have been a big Roman city. The site of the theatre is amazing nonetheless, commanding a splendid view over the city.

A rainy afternoon was the perfect time to go to the Musée des Beaux Arts. It has a very good collection, especially of Middle Eastern artifacts from Antiquity, and Limoges art and 19th century sculpture.

Then it stopped raining and I walked by the Opera along the river to my hotel.

On Sunday, I started the day visiting the Saint Jean cathedral, with its beautiful 14th century astrological clock, then went to Place des Terreaux, which was crowded with people coming to some urban races. I walked from there to the Croix Rousse neighborhood, along some very nice traboules, which are shortcuts between main streets, across nice courtyards and stairs.

I loved the Croix Rousse, with its buildings and squares, spent some time in a nice bohemian looking café and enjoyed the views over the river from its slopes. There was a little rain and I came across the Sunday runners several times. Then back to the Presqu'Île boulevards with its beautiful 19th century façades, and perusing the Gibert Joseph bookstore and buying a few books.

What else can one wish from a weekend abroad? Good sightseeing, great food, nice walks and a few good books to bring home and read later. Love Europe!