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review 2017-02-01 11:00
Saint Augustine and His Abandoned Concubine: Vita Brevis by Jostein Gaarder
Vita Brevis: A Letter to St Augustine - Jostein Gaarder
Das Leben ist kurz = Vita brevis - Jostein Gaarder

During much of European history men shaped the world of things and thought as they believed right and passed over women in silence, if they didn’t hold them in contempt. Highly revered Fathers of the Christian Church like Saint Augustine of Hippo Regius further institutionalised this contempt of women… and of earthly pleasures altogether as shows his autobiography titled Confessiones. In this theological key text he admits that before his conversion to Christianity in 385 he was a man who tasted life to the full. For over ten years he lived with a concubine (probably law forbade a formal marriage) and had a son with her, but in retrospect he regrets this sinful and immoral relationship because it kept him from true love of God. In Vita Brevis. A Letter to Saint Augustine (also translated into English as The Same Flower) the Norwegian writer, philosopher and theologian Jostein Gaarder gave this abandoned woman a voice.


In 1995 in a second-hand bookshop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jostein Gaarder comes across an old manuscript in a red box titled Codex Floriae. Its first sentence shows that it’s the letter of a certain Floria Aemilia to Augustinus Aurelius, the Bishop of Hippo Regius in Northern Africa (today: Algeria) who was later to become Saint Augustine. When he translates another sentence, it occurs to him that Floria Aemilia might be the saint’s long-time concubine whom he mentioned in his Confessiones without ever revealing her name. Of course, the author doesn’t know if the seventeenth-century copy is of an authentic letter, but it intrigues him that it might be and he buys it. Back home he makes a copy of the entire letter and sends the original to the Vatican Library for inspection. The Codex Floriae gets lost and the author decides to translate the Latin text from his copy and to publish it as Vita Brevis. A Letter to Saint Augustine. So far in brief what Jostein Gaarder says in his introduction about the actual letter of Floria Aemilia that makes up the major part of the book.


As it soon turns out, the author was right to assume that Floria Aemilia is the concubine of Saint Augustine. The exceptionally intelligent and self-assured woman from Carthage read the Confessiones of her former lover and obviously felt the urgent need to comment on them, notably on the passages dealing with their life together in Northern Africa, Rome and eventually Milan and with the emotional bonds between them that he tries to reduce to sexual desire. But she doesn’t only give her point of view of events (sometimes drifting into bitterness or mockery seeing how religious frenzy distorted his memories and opinions). Thanks to thorough studies of philosophy, theology as well as rhetoric during the years since Augustine sent her back to Carthage, she is able to challenge his notions of (original) sin and morality with great dialectical skill. Above all, she can’t agree with his attitude towards women who are for him the seducers leading men astray from the way to God and Eternal Life. Augustine postulates that all pleasures on Earth are sinful and should be avoided in preparation of life after death, while Floria Aemilia is convinced that pleasures are God-given and that denying them means to deny God’s creation. She supports her arguments with many quotations from classical Greek and Roman sources that Jostein Gaarder points out and explains in footnotes if necessary for understanding.


All things considered, Vita Brevis. A Letter to Saint Augustine isn’t so much a book about Floria Aemilia than it’s about Saint Augustine, his biographical background and above all his philosophy that helped to marginalise women not only in the Christian Church, but in Christian society altogether for more than one and a half millennium. Alone for the critical examination of the Confessiones from a female point of view, it’s a worthwhile read. In addition, it’s well written and easy to follow despite the complex philosophical argument.


Many have wondered, if the Codex Floriae really exists or if the “feminist manifesto” of Floria Aemilia is an invention of Jostein Gaarder. As it seems, the author always refused to clearly answer the question. I think that the book is a gorgeous work of fiction.


Vita Brevis: A Letter to St Augustine - Jostein Gaarder 

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review 2016-01-23 20:52
Food for Thought
Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder

This was a re-read for me. In fact, I think this may well be the third or fourth time I’ve read this book since I got it twenty-odd years ago. I don’t re-read books very often and that has little to do with how much I enjoyed a book. For me there’s nothing like experiencing a story for the first time, and that is something you can only do once. Re-reading Sophie’s choice comes close to reading it for the first time all over again, though. There are so many layers to this story it is all but impossible to grasp it all in one reading experience.


On the surface this is the story about Sophie who is invited to do a philosophy course by a mysterious and man called Alberto Knox. Yes, the invitation and the way she receives her subsequent lessons is a bit strange, but not something that would raise eyebrows except….


Except that at the same time Sophie starts receiving post for a girl named Hilde; a girl who is apparently the exact same age as Sophie and who also has a father who’s away from home for huge chunks of time.


The reader gets a crash course in philosophy together with Sophie. The book, or Alberto Knox, depending on your perspective, takes Sophie and the reader from The Garden of Eden, via the Greek philosophers to Freud and the modern times. Both Sophie and the reader are required to think about existential questions and wade their way through often conflicting answers.


While Sophie progresses through history it becomes clear that the surface story isn’t all there is in this universe. There’s more to Hilde and her father than first meets the eye and it’s a mystery that centres around the question what is real; can we rely on what our senses tell us or is there more to our world? Between the various philosophical theories and the mystery surrounding Hilde, this story had me hooked from the first to the last page. And even now I finished reading it, questions and ideas are still running through my mind—a clear sign that the story fascinated me.


And it’s a clever book. I could share quite a few examples to prove this but will limit myself to this; a sophist is a wise and informed person. By the time the story ends both Sophie and the reader are wiser and better informed than they were when they started their journey.


If I’m perfectly honest I have to admit this is not the most smoothly written book I’ve ever read. In fact there were one or two things that started to throw me by the time I got to the end of the story. For one thing the book, out of necessity, contains a lot of information dumping and while the study in philosophy fascinated me, those informative sections were on occasion to long. At least a few of them could (and maybe should) have been broken up with sections of story-line I feel. I also got a bit fed up with the conversation between Sophie and Alberto. Given the teacher-pupil relationship they have, it makes sense for there to be a lot of questions from Sophie, but that got repetitive after a while—simply because there are only so many ways in which you can ask someone to explain something. J


But, even taking into consideration these reservations, I still have to say this was a brilliant read. This book required that I paid attention to every single word in it. I couldn’t skim and I couldn’t allow myself to get distracted and I love it when a story does that.

Long review short: This is a fascinating and wonderful novel if you enjoy magical realism and are interested in philosophy. If you’ve never thought about things like the meaning of life and why the world is the way it is, there’s a good chance this book will bore you to tears. Personally I was hooked…again.

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url 2015-12-19 16:19
Nie tylko Dickens! Poznaj inne opowieści wigilijne. Zapraszam serdecznie! :)
Opowieść wigilijna - Charles Dickens
Szukając Noel - Richard Paul Evans
Podaruj mi milosc. - Stephanie Perkins
Noelka - Małgorzata Musierowicz
Tajemnica Bożego Narodzenia - Jostein Gaarder,Halina Thylwe
Szczęście w cichą noc - Anna Ficner-Ogonowska
Pamiętnik Świętego Mikołaja - V.C Tannenbaum,J .M
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review 2015-12-19 00:54
What does it mean to be human?
Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder

It's an international bestseller which for some reason I had never heard of until suddenly I found it on my library holds list (I don't remember placing it there but I guess one night I was cruising the library website half asleep). It's translated into English from Norwegian so that might be why it caught my eye (Remember my obsession with Swedish translations? I'm branching out.) or it could be because it's a book on philosophy. I had little to no knowledge about the great philosophers of the past or even what it meant to be a philosopher. I can happily say that is no longer the case. Not only did I learn about it but I experienced what it means to think philosophically...and I may have had an existential crisis as a result. The book starts out with Sophie who discovers a letter in her mailbox asking her questions such as "Who are you?".  It snowballs into packets of lecture notes and suddenly she finds herself enrolled in a philosophy course with a professor who prefers to remain hidden. I don't want to give any more away because it's better to experience it for yourself. I guarantee you'll be scratching your head and asking "Who am I?" by the end.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2015-11-19 00:00
The World According to Anna
The World According to Anna - Jostein Ga... The World According to Anna - Jostein Gaarder,Don Bartlett Actual rating 1.5?

I’m sorry. I really, really am, but no. Just no.

When I was about fifteen, I took an after-school philosophy class, and Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder was our first text. It was heavy, slow, and full of info-dumping, but I loved it. At one point, after a fight with my mother, I went and lay in an empty lot and read that book for three hours and made little progress because the subjects covered required a lot thinking on the reader’s part. But I didn’t care. I loved it. And when I heard about The World According to Anna, I was unbelievably excited.

It’s a book about global warming and the damage people have done, and are still doing to this planet. Great!

It’s aimed at young adults, so it will be accessible to the people coming up in the world, who will be the next ones in charge. Great!

It’s full of cardboard characters and has no character or plot development. Gr- wait, what?

That’s right. This wonderful idea of a book accessible for teens, about topics so very important to focus on now, was lost among the shitty story. SUCH a shitty, shitty story.

The rest of this review, complete with examples of shitty story, can be found HERE!
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