sábado, Agosto 16, 2014

The Broken Road, by Patrick Leigh Fermor

The third and final book about Patrick Leigh Fermor's travel on foot from Holland to Constantinople is a joy to read, just the first two - A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Written before the others, and not finished during the author's life, it feels a little more personal and emotional, and it's not the least worst for it. I reread the other books before starting this one, and it didn't look at all inferior to the others. Leigh Fermor was a passionate traveler and a passionate writer, his curiosity and enthusiasm are contagious, and he is never boring nor sounds condescending, his youthful naiveté is assumed and, as all optimistic travelers, he tends to see the good everywhere.

His descriptions are always enthralling, the dilletantish digressions interesting and engaging, and I'm left with an immense yearning to travel again, and to visit those places that I never went to - the Rhineland, Hungary, Transylvania, Rumania, Bulgaria, the Danube - and to go to Greece again to see the monasteries in Mount Athos and Meteora. And what more can one wish from a travel book?

quinta-feira, Julho 31, 2014

A Schoolboy's Diary, by Robert Walser

I didn't know Robert Walser, and I bought this book in Zurich when looking for Swiss authors. I wasn't very impressed at first - nice stories, elegant writing, but not really engaging. But as I read on there were a few I liked very much, so I think it is worth reading. There was particularly a small text that I found beautiful and I transcribe it here:

Morning and Night

Early in the morning, how good, how blindingly bright your mood was, how you peeked into life like a child and, no doubt, often enough acted downright fresh and improper. Enchanting, beautiful morning with golden light and pastel colors!
How different, though, at night - then tiring thoughts came to you, and solemnity looked at you in a way you had never imagined, and people walked beneath dark branches, and the moon moved behind clouds, and everything looked like a test of whether you too were firm of will and strong.
In such a way does good cheer constantly alternate with difficulty and trouble. Morning and night were like wanting to and needing to. One drove you out into vast immensity, the other pulled you back into modest smallness again.

Or this other piece, so immediately familiar to anyone who loves to read:


Reading is as productive as it is enjoyable. When I read, I am a harmless, nice and quiet person and I don't do anything stupid. Ardent readers are a breed of people with great inner peace as it were. The reader has his noble, deep, and long-lasting pleasure without being in anyone else's way or bothering anyone. Is that not glorious? I should think so! Anyone who reads is far from hatching evil schemes. An appealing and entertaining thing to read has the good quality of making us forget for a time that we are nasty, quarrelsome people who cannot leave each other in peace. Who could deny this clearly rather sad and melancholy-inducing sentence? No doubt books often also sidetrack us from useful and productive actions; still, all things considered, reading has to be commended as beneficial, since it seems to be utterly necessary to apply a restraint to our violent craving for belongings and a gentle anesthetic to our often ruthless thirst for action.[...]

sexta-feira, Julho 25, 2014

How I feel about the reactions to the present Gaza war

I'm getting so depressed about the subject of the Gaza war. War is always terrible, people die, get hurt, lose everything, hate runs loose. Unfortunately, as History repeatedly shows, there are and probably will ever be times when countries will have to use violence and go to war. It's pretty obvious that this is one of those times: Israel had no other way to protect its people from the Hamas repeated aggressions but to respond with a war operation to dismantle their capacity to attack it.

But, apart from the terrible violence that war inevitably entails, the loss of lives and the suffering on both sides, it's most disheartening to feel that this conflict, even if Israel succeeds in the short term (and I hope it will), will not be over in the foreseeable future, probably not in decades. The Palestinian problem, even if it receives a lot more press than other and much bloodier conflicts, is just a tiny part of the Arab / Middle Eastern quagmire - it's just a part, and far from the worst, of the terrible mess the Arab world is in since the decadence of the Ottoman Empire, much worsened since WWII - just look at Syria, Iraq, Egypt, the obscene oil monarchies...

And most depressing of all is looking at all the hate circulating, all the outsiders in the West taking fanatical stands, shouting insults and slanders or cheering, as if they were watching a particularly fierce football game between teams that awaken strong feelings. The amount of news, videos, facebook posts, nasty arguments, hateful lies, is appalling. It's known that "truth is the first victim of war", and one can understand the need by the belligerent parts to use propaganda; but the outsiders should be able to keep a cooler head and take a more dispassionate and rational view. As a Portuguese journalist wrote today on her column, "when the mere mention of the conflict makes people in Europe and the US start shouting insults and coming to blows, how can we expect serenity from the ones directly involved, in the terrain and with guns?". There are a lot of good analysis of this Western frenzy (like this one) but it doesn't make it any less depressing and obscene. It's obscene people shouting death to the Jews, it's obscene all the manipulation and fotoshopping of gory images (as if the true pictures were not horrible enough), it's obscene the stereotyping and demonization of one people or the other, etc. Makes one wish all these warmongers on the couch got a one-way ticket to the Middle East and be left there to fend for themselves.

In the meantime, I worry about the friends I have in Israel, who are in the middle of it all - and, tellingly, are far from being the ones with the most hateful speeches - and wish and hope they and their close ones will get through it all unharmed. And I'm sad when I see other friends, who I know are decent and humane people giving way to the warmongering hate frenzy, taking things at front value, disregarding the big picture and neglecting to remember that most people on both sides are ordinary humans caught in a terrible and extremely difficult to solve situation.

That's why I post and comment less and less on facebook posts about the war. My Israeli friends know I care and support them, and I really don't want to fight with the others, it's not only depressing but useless.

sábado, Julho 12, 2014

Du Côté de Chez Swann, de Marcel Proust

I finally read the first volume of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu in French - and already ordered the second. I'm a little of a bookworm, read lots of books, and if I had to choose the BEST, it would be Proust's seven volume book. I'm reading it now for the fourth time, the first time in French, and the pleasure is always the same. Du Côté de Chez Swann is such a wonderful book. The first part, Combray, introduces one to its universe in a most delightful way; the second, Un Amour de Swann, is the best treatise on love and jealousy I ever came across, and the third makes you yearn for the next book... And reading it in French is a delight in itself, with such an elegant writing in such a beautiful language. Some people say "there's no time to read Proust in modern times". Wrong! He's timeless.

quinta-feira, Julho 10, 2014

O Outono do Patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch), de Gabriel García Márquez

An interesting book, not as good, in my opinion, as Cien Años de Soledad or El Amor n los Tiempos del Cólera, but still engaging. The loneliness and alienating character of dictatorship are very well depicted; the writing is a little too baroque for my taste, but I think the translator did a very good job.

quarta-feira, Junho 11, 2014

Kafka à Beira-Mar (Kafka on the Shore), de Haruki Murakami

I read and enjoyed before a few books by Haruki Murakami, even if it usually I forget them completely not long after having finished. He is a great story-teller, and his books are always a very enjoyable read, full of twists and turns of a kind that has a long and honorable tradition in story telling, from the Arabian Nights until Paul Auster - the story flowing somewhat erratically and unexpectedly, without an apparent plan, making us turn the pages wishing to know what happens next, making us enjoy its sheer unfolding. Murakami is very alluring to a reader like me, who enjoys literature, music and cinema, he's cultivated and the books are full of references to the kind of culture I like.

And yet, sometimes - and this book is one of those - he overdoes it, and the result sounds somewhat shallow and pretentious. Too many cultural references, too many pseudo-metaphysical, pseudo-philosophical details, a story too baroque because in the end completely meaningless. It is an entertaining read, but often annoying, and more than a couple of times I almost put it aside. So, not a very accomplished book, I think.

domingo, Maio 25, 2014

How to Live - A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer, by Sarah Bakewell

A delightful book. I don't remember how I knew about it, probably read some review, and since I love Montaigne and like to read biographies, I ordered it from amazon, and then waited till finishing to read the Essais in French to read it. I liked it a lot; one can see the author loves her subject, and has assimilated a lot from him - guess it's impossible to assimilate everything. A most enjoyable read, very informative, and above all capturing what I think it's the essence of Montaigne's intentions in writing. I think it's an excellent introduction to Montaigne if you never read him, and also very interesting if you already did - it makes us want to go back to it right away!