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review 2016-06-30 14:32
Zeno's Conscience - Italo Svevo,William Weaver

Du même coup, le chagrin que j'éprouvais de ne pas savoir si j'étais essentiellement bon s'atténua. Il me semblait que j'avais résolu un angoissant problème: nous ne sommes ni bons ni méchants, et il y a bien d'autres choses encore que nous ne sommes pas. La bonté est une lumière qui n'éclaire que par instants et de furtives clartés le fond obscur de l'âme humaine. Une flamme s'allume, nous brûle et s'éteint. (Je l'avais sentie en moi, tôt ou tard elle reviendrait.) Mais dans le temps qu'elle nous éclaire, nous pouvons choisir la direction que nous continuerons à suivre dans l'obscurité. C'est pourquoi il nous est toujours possible de faire preuve de bonté, et c'est là ce qui importe. Quand la lumière reviendrait, j'en soutiendrais l'éclat sans surprise ni éblouissement. Pour le moment, j'avais soufflé dessus: je n'en avais pas besoin. Ma résolution prise, je resterais dans la bonne route.

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review 2016-05-28 11:00
A Woman Longing for Peace: The Church of Solitude by Grazia Deledda
Church of Solitude the - Grazia Deledda,E. Ann Matter
La chiesa della solitudine - Grazia Deledda

So here's a classical novel dealing with a very serious topic. This time it's breast cancer. Its author is the Nobel laureate in Literature of 1926 who suffered from breast cancer herself. She died in 1936, the same year when the novel was published.

 

However, The Church of Solitude isn't just the author's attempt to cope with her own fate. Far from it! Like all this writer's novels it offers a very interesting as well as first-rate portrait of rural life on Sardinia, Italy, during the 1930s. Moreover, its plot surrounding a female protagonist who suffers from breast cancer and who longs for nothing but peace and quiet so she tries her best to keep at bay her suitors is touching as well as gripping. I enjoyed the read and hope that the novel will be to your taste too!

 

If you'd like to know about this novel by Italian Nobel laureate, please click here to read my review on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany or you can find its duplicate here  Read the Nobels.

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
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review 2016-04-20 01:10
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

"There was, once upon a time ......."

The Adventures of Pinocchio was originally serialized in the two years prior to its publication in 1883, and was written by the Italian children's writer Carlo Collodi.  Initially Collodi had Pinocchio die a rather gruesome death at the end of chapter 15 (which is rather reminiscent of Hilaire Belloc's instructional children's poetry), but his editor urged another ending, so the reader was finally treated to an extra 21 chapters and a wise addition it was!  The book has been translated into 240 languages and remains an icon in children's literature.

Pinocchio begins as a talking block of wood that is given to a woodcarver named Gepetto, who carves him into a puppet and tries to teach him sense, responsibility and moderation.  Yet instead of being grateful to his creator, Pinocchio follows his own selfish inclinations and calamitous adventures are the result of his self-indulgent, thoughtless decisions.

From being defrauded of his money by a Cat and a Fox, nearly roasted in a fire, hung by his neck on a tree, arrested and thrown in jail, turned into a donkey, and eaten by a fish, one wonders why Pinocchio doesn't learn his lesson and become a good boy. But through these disastrous adventures, we see changes in Pinocchio that are like small flickering lights in the inky darkness of his character.  Initially his zest for fun is nearly uncontrollable but, while it can seem doubtful on the surface, he steadily learns from each adventure, and at each temptation, he is able to put up more resistance.  Pinocchio wants to be good, but his conscience is at continual war with his boyish enthusiasm and his childish lack of forethought and discipline.  The blue fairy, who is like a mother to him and attempts to aid in his moral development, is harsh in her instruction, but Pinocchio benefits from this treatment, knowing she is looking out for his best interests.  And in spite of her firmness, love is always in her actions:

"I saw from the sincerity of your grief that you had a good heart; and when boys have good hearts, even if they are scamps and have bad habits, there is always something to hope for: that is, there is always hope that they will turn to better ways ..."

Eventually Pinocchio learns how dangerous it can be to follow your impulses of the moment, and that responsibility and hard work bring a maturity that is rewarded in a way, that fun and pleasure can never match.

    

Was I imagining it, or were there a number of Biblical allusions in the story? When Pinocchio buried his money, it reminded me of the parable of the talents, where the servant chooses selfishly to bury his money instead of making good use of it.  With the large fish swallowing Gepetto, of course, this alluded to Jonah and the whale.  And finally, all Pinocchio's catastrophic adventures that come about by his poor life choices and his eventual change of heart, are on parallel with the story of the prodigal son, who finally returns home to the one who truly loves him and has his best interests at heart.

 
The Return of the Prodigal Son (1773)
Pompeo Batoni
source Wikipedia


In spite of some of the more bloodthirsty episodes, this was truly a heart-warming story.  That sentence sounds odd, I know, but I really appreciated the reality of Collodi's message.  The company we keep has an enormous influence on the character that we will develop, and each of our decisions in life carry an import, sometimes with consequences that are not easily realized. For me, the most shocking part of the story was the episode where the Cat and Fox hung Pinocchio in a tree expecting him to die, but honestly in some bad decisions the outcome could be death, and it's important to realize that.

Finally, I'll share a few pictures by illustrator Fritz Kredel from my 1946 edition that are rather fun:



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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review 2016-04-04 14:03
Sound Advice for a Budding Ruler
The Prince - George Bull,Niccolò Machiavelli

Having now read this book three times I sort of wonder how Machiavelli's name came to represent a sort of politics that involved deceit, manipulation, and backstabbing, because for those who claim that this is what the Prince is about have probably read the wrong book, or probably not read the book at all. Somebody even suggested that The Prince was satire because they could not imagine that anybody would suggest such actions to anybody, especially if that person was seeking to live a virtuous life. To the person who claims that The Prince is satire my response is that Machiavelli is deadly serious. He was not laughing when he wrote this book, and his audience were not laughing when they were reading it. As for the person who claims that the book is about scheming and manipulation, I respond by asking them to show me where it says that because after the third time I struggle to actually find anything of the sort. Further, in response to them, I will also suggest that if you are a ruler then you ignore Machiavelli's advice at your own peril.

 

Before I go further to expound upon what Machiavelli is advising in this book we must first look at the context in which it was written. I say this because if we apply Machiavelli's principles to the modern day you will probably find yourself in The Hague being charged with war crimes. To be blunt, we simply cannot apply Machiavelli's advice as written to the modern world, in the same way that we cannot act in the way Joshua (of the Bible fame) acted when the Israelites invaded the promised land.

 

Now, Machiavelli was writing to a Florentine Prince in 14th Century Italy (which puts us right in the middle of the Renaissance). Now, today we live in a world with instantaneous communication where there are a handful of powers that dominate world affairs, and is governed by a basic parliamentary style institution (which we call the United Nations). However, that did not exist in Machiavelli's time. These days there are effectively four superpowers (Russia, China, Europe, and the United States) and practically every other country will throw their allegiance behind one of them (usually for protection against the others). Any alliances that exist between the superpowers are tenuous at best (though Europe and the United States do have a reasonably strong relationship, though it does not mean that Europe will always vote in accordance with the US's wishes).

 

However Renaissance Italy was much different. While the church still had power, it was in decline. Gone were the days of Pope Innocent III where kings would fear excommunication for even thinking in opposition to the Pope, and gone were the days when the Pope sat securely on his throne in Rome, however the church still held sway over Western Europe. Still, it did not come down to the church having control, but which noble family had control over the church (one could easily swing the church over to your side by installing your man in as pope, as the Medici's, among others, had managed to do on occasion). There were some large kingdoms, such as France and Spain, that could influence control, but in many cases these kingdoms were not exactly powerful, and one could protect oneself by playing them off against each other. There was also Venice, which was a very powerful maritime power, but when it came to domination over the land, it was quite weak. Venice's navy was powerless against landlocked principalities such as Florence and Milan. Northern Italy (as well as Germany) were not unified nation-states, but a collection of city states and principalities that would forever be at each other's throat, and while there was a titular 'Holy Roman Empire' he was effectively powerless. In fact he did not even have his own army, but had to rely upon the generosity of his allies to attempt to exert control, and as Phillip of Spain discovered when he was elected emperor: ruling Spain and ruling the Holy Roman Empire involved a completely different skill set.

 

Now that we have an idea of the political situation of the time, let us now consider what Machiavelli is actually saying. The theme that runs through the book is how to be an effective prince and how to survive: to do that you need to be respected (loved and feared) and not hated. Machiavelli is very clear on this point because if you are hated then you are not long for this world. Remember, Renaissance Italy is like 'The Game of Thrones' on steroids, and as it is said in The Game of Thrones, 'when you play the game of thrones you either win or you die'. That, my friend, is 14th century Italy.

 

Now, it is clear from the first couple of pages of this essay (because that is what it is) that Machiavelli means what he says. First he says that there are two forms of government, the principality, which is the rule by a human, and there is the republic, which is the rule by a constitution. He points to another book he has written, The Discourses, which deals with the republic, so he skips over that system of government and focuses on the idea of rule by a human. The main difference is that where the state is ruled by a human, the human can effectively do what they want. The only restraint on their power is the potential that they are removed from their position, usually by force. They cannot forfeit their role simply by breaking the law because they are the law. One of the things that he warns against is living in excess, namely because that generates hatred among the subjects, and when that happens all they need to do is to either rebel and thus overthrow you, or petition one of your enemies to come and remove you.

 

Machiavelli also makes extensive use of examples of other princes, both modern (in his time that is) and ancient. Now, all of the ancient sources that Machiavelli had we also have so we can easily check his references, however with a number of the modern examples we only have him to rely upon. However you can be assured that his readers would have been well aware of the political situation at the time. Simply put, he could not make them up. In any case it is very clear that he is not writing to an idiot, but to an intelligent person that would be quite well aware of what he is talking about. Further, he also appeals to common sense, but uses examples to prove why that course of action is wise. For example, he talks about using auxiliary troops (that is borrowing an army from another prince) and why such a course of action is foolish. The reason being is that if you lose you are going to have another prince that is somewhat upset with you because you have weakened his position. However, if you win, then you have a neighbouring territory that is occupied by a foreign army that is more than likely not going to leave. As such this situation is a lose lose situation.

 

Now, can we apply his principles to today and my response is that we can. One of the managers at my former work would give new team leaders a copy of The Art of War explaining that the principles that Sun Tzu uses to fight wars can also be used to manage a team, or even a department. I would suggest that the same applies to 'Il Principe'. Yet we simply cannot take the book as is and apply it literally simply because, as mentioned above, we will get into trouble (and we simply cannot invade and conquer our neighbour's team). However the principles of respect and hatred apply. As a manager we need to inspire respect within those we are managing, we cannot demand respect because that garners hatred, and by garnering hatred, we undermine our position. However we need to garner respect, and if that means making an example of a disruptive and rebellious team member, then so be it. In fact, that is expected, because once again if we don't make an example of a rebellious team member we end up undermining our own position.

 

In my time I have seen team leaders as leaders who have earned the respect of their team, and advanced. I have also seen team leaders act as bosses which results in them being removed or demoted. I have also seen team leaders play their team members up against each other, and while they survived for a time, their position was eventually undermined. Indeed Machiavelli does say that there are times when playing factions off against each other will strengthen your position, however it will not work all the time. In fact, while it may strengthen your position when you are at peace, it undermines your position when you are at war. Then there is fairness and justice (another theme that runs through this book) because by doing so may result in a perception of injustice, and indeed a team that fights amongst itself and stabs each other for their own personal gain (and to garner favouritism with the leader) may work in the short term but will ultimately fail. A team where each of the members respects and supports each other is an effective team (and I have seen that happen where a team goes from being at the bottom to being at the top) while a team that is at each other's throats will eventually find themselves collapsing in on their own disunity.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/382851995
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-01-16 16:40
Vita Nuova by Dante Alighieri

"In my Book of Memory, in the early part where there is little to be read, there comes a chapter with the rubric: Incipit vita nova.  It is my intention to copy into this little book the words I find written under that heading ---- if not all of them, at least the essence of their meaning."

 

Beatrice was eight years old and Dante, nine, the first time they set eyes on each other. Instantly, he felt an abiding connection with her, even though it was nine years after that before he finally saw her again, and she greeted him, her words entwining through his heart.  Lovely Beatrice, who became Dante's love, his obsession and his Muse.   Never a conversation was had between them, only greetings, yet his life was filled with her presence, her goodness and grace, her being so angelic that she filled his heart until he wondered if it could contain her.  All thoughts revolved around his beautiful Beatrice; she was his life and through her, his poetry gained a new vitality.

 

Dante's three meetings with Beatrice

Elisabeth Sonrel

source Wikipedia

 

Vita Nuova, or new life, chronicles Dante's first sight of Beatrice, his occasional casual meetings with her, his attempt to deflect his interest in her by pretending his poetry was for another woman, her disgust at his perceived behaviour, the death of her father, Dante's own illness and then, tragically, the death of the woman who had become the centre of his world ..... his lovely Beatrice ......

 

The book's structure is unique in itself, as it is organized into chapters (probably by later translators/scribes), but nearly every chapter follows an easily recognizable pattern:  first he gives an account of his life circumstances and events, almost like a journal; second he shares a poem where he again relates those circumstances, usually in the form of a sonnet or canzone; and third, an analysis of the poetry, describing his intent and the divisions of thought in each poem.

 

Beata Beatrix (1864-70)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

source Wikipedia

 

The poetry is in the courtly love tradition, a form borrowed from French poets which emphasized chivalry, bravery and nobility.  It is important to keep this in mind while reading this story, as the intensity of Dante's emotions, the near idolization of Beatrice, the groans and sighs, the personification of Love and the professions of near despair can be somewhat hard to relate to in our unromantic day and age.

 

I found myself vacillating between two different emotions.  One one hand I wanted to say, "oh, you poor love-sick man", and on the other, "what a fool!"  Why would you have your entire life be built around the gaze and approval of one person?  Why would you wrap your whole soul around a being who was as transient as the wind?  As for Beatrice, would it be tragically romantic to be loved this much by someone, or would it be just downright annoying?  But then Dante's poetry began to speak through my cynical view, as his love and devotion to her was so apparent.  His descriptions and poetry to her rang with a tender regard, high terms of respect and an abiding love.  The vibrancy of his conflicting emotions, which were often buffeted by circumstances, won my heart.

 

 

Dante and Beatrice (1883)

Henry Holiday

source Wikipedia

 

 

 

Time and Again

 

Time and again the thought comes to my mind

 

Of the dark condition Love imparts to me;

 

Then the pity of it strikes me, and I ask:

 

"Could ever anyone have felt the same?"

 

For Love's attack is so precipitous

 

That life itself all but abandons me:

 

Nothing survives except one lonely spirit,

 

Allowed to live because it speaks of you.

 

With hope of help to come I gather courage,

 

And deathly languid, drained of all defenses,

 

I come to you expecting to be healed;

 

And if I raise my eyes to look at you,

 

Within my heart a tremor starts to spread,

 

Driving out life, stopping my pulses' beat.

 

 

Dante Alighieri

source Wikipedia

 

I was also struck my another aspect of the book, something perhaps Dante never meant to emphasis.  So many people go through life feeling small and insignificant, wondering how their everyday actions could possibly matter.  Well, they do matter and Dante illustrates quite marvellously how.  Just Beatrice's looks affect him for days afterwards.  He recounts how her gaze not only brings out his imperfections but challenges him to be a better person.  And it's not just his character that her actions work on; Dante emphasizes that her manner and virtue have an illuminating affect on the ladies who are in her company, and instead of being envious, they appreciate her qualities and feel joyful to be around her.  What a testimony to the importance of our every day actions.

 

Six Tuscan Poets

(Dante Alighieri, Guido Cavalcanti, Francesco Petrarch,

Giovanni Boccaccio, Marsilio Ficino & Cristoforo Landino)

 

 

After the death of his love, Beatrice, Dante made a promise to himself, and by writing the Vita Nuova, to the world.  He was going to write about Beatrice, not like he had been writing, following the pattern of a courtly love, but that he would write of her as no other woman had ever been written of before.  And twelve years later, the Divina Commedia, or the Divine Comedy was born, immortalizing Beatrice, not only in verse, but in the thrones of Heaven.  The Vita Nuova was certainly a new beginning ...... a new life ........

 

 

translated by Mark Musa

 

 

 

© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Photos are in the public domain.

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