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review 2018-01-13 11:00
Promoting Modern Art in Tehran: Softcore by Tirdad Zolghadr
Softcore - Tirdad Zolghadr,Tirdad Zolghadr

A young man of Iranian descent moves to the country of his ancestors to open a place for modern art in the centre of Tehran, but he is one of those who don't take life too seriously. There are only eight weeks until the planned great opening and he drifts through his days mixing with the guests of his ancient grand-aunt Zsa Zsa or partying with his artist friends. Before long his carefree behaviour gets him into trouble with the Iranian police as well as with his friends abroad supporting the art project...

 

Please follow the link here to read the long review on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany to know more about this novel!

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
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review 2018-01-06 11:00
Retrospective of a Painter's Life: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood

Some twenty years have passed since painter Elaine Risley left Toronto, Canada. Now she is back for a retrospective exhibition of her work and memories of childhood and youth flood her mind. Many of them are one way or another related to her "best friend" Cordelia who bullied her in primary school until she lost her power over Elaine when she almost froze to death in a ravine. Although she almost forgot those difficult years, they had a lasting impact on her life... and her painting.

 

Read more about this Canadian novel here on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany.

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
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review 2017-09-06 11:00
A Young Woman’s Flight: The Adventure of the Black Lady by Aphra Behn
The Adventure of the Black Lady, and the Lucky Mistake (Dodo Press) - Aphra Behn

The English prose novel as we know it today is an amazingly recent invention. Its rise began only in the seventeenth century thanks to writers like Daniel Defoe (c.1660-1731), Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)… and Aphra Behn (1640-1689) whose work was rediscovered only in the early twentieth century (»»» read my author’s portrait). Although in her time Aphra Behn was first of all a renowned playwright, she also wrote several novels in her later years. By modern standards, however, these novels are hardly more than novelettes or even short stories.  One of these little known prose works from the pen of the first Englishwoman who was able make her living as a writer is The Adventure of the Black Lady first published in 1684. It’s the story of a young woman called Bellamora who has come from Hampshire to Covent Garden in the hope to find refuge and help with a cousin of hers.

 

In her story Aphra Behn skilfully portrays Bellamora as a very naïve and foolish young woman who got herself into serious trouble and sees her only chance in flight. Both her parents are dead and she left her uncle’s estate pretending to visit a recently married cousin living not far away, while in reality she headed for town right away and with the intention to hide for a while in the “populous and public place” where she had another relation who would surly help her out. When Bellamora arrives in Covent Garden, however, she finds that her cousin doesn’t live there anymore and, even worse, that nobody there seems ever to have heard of her. Understandably, the young woman is desperate and uncertain what to do. The author makes her wander aimlessly through the parish in a hired coach and ask people if they know her cousin and her whereabouts. And surprise, surprise, an impoverished gentlewoman who lets lodgings for a living tells Bellamora that her cousin and her husband have been living with her for more than a year, but that they went out and she didn’t expect them back before the night. Greatly relieved Bellamora asks to be allowed to wait for the couple and, trusting as she is, she soon pours out her sorrowful heart to the friendly gentlewoman. When the Lady and her husband return at last, Bellamora is again plunged into despair because she isn’t her cousin after all. Luck would have it, though, that the Lady is an old acquaintance whom Bellamora doesn’t recognise at first, but who recalls the young woman at once and bids her welcome. And again Bellamora pours out her heart and this time she reveals the whole truth to the almost stranger, namely that she is eight months pregnant and fled from the advances of the child’s father whom she doesn’t want to marry for fear that after the wedding he will love her no longer. As befits a romantic “novel” of the time, with a few other lucky – and unlikely – twists brought about by both the gentlewoman and the Lady who is not the sought for cousin, Aphra Behn drives Bellamora’s story towards a happy ending.

 

Instead of the dodo press book that contains also a novelette titled The Lucky Mistake, I read the free web edition of The Adventure of the Black Lady published by eBooks@Adelaide and found it an entertaining and very quick read about Romantic love and the desperation of a fallen young woman in England of the Restoration. Although Ernest A. Baker included it in his 1905 collection of The Novels of Mrs. Aphra Behn, it’s really a short story filling no more than a couple of pages. If it weren’t for the spelling and some peculiarities of language, the story would feel very modern almost like historical fiction written in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries. I warmly recommend it!

 

The Adventure of the Black Lady, and the Lucky Mistake (Dodo Press) - Aphra Behn 

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review 2017-08-02 11:00
Health and Social Gradient: Status Syndrome by Michael Marmot
Status Syndrome: How Your Place on the Social Gradient Directly Affects Your Health - MARMOT MICHAEL

It’s a generally known fact that poverty makes sick, but in our modern Western world people usually don’t fight for mere survival every day and poverty doesn’t equal penury any longer. In Austria, for instance, the net of social security is so densely-knit that everybody can get health care – unless for one reason or another, a person prefers to go underground and therefore doesn’t appear in the system. Nonetheless, data show that those with by comparison fewer material resources, less high education and lower standing have poorer health than those who are better off in these aspects. In his book The Status Syndrome. How Your Place on the Social Gradient Directly Affects Your Health first published in 2004 epidemiologist and public health expert Michael Marmot summarises the results of over thirty years of research and draws his conclusions with regard to what is needed to close the health gap.

 

With immense expertise and with a dash of English humour now and then Michael Marmot presents chapter by chapter the different aspects that, as he discovered in decades of research, account for the health gap in rich countries. Quite naturally his focus is on the UK and the USA where he made his own studies, most importantly the two Whitehall ones about the health of public servants, or participated in studies of other public health experts, but he also keeps an eye on the situation in countries “across the world from Finland to Tierra del Fuego, and parts in between” that turns out to be by and large the same. Starting point is the finding that according to available data, life expectancy and health seem to be related to household income. Nonetheless, it’s not just a question of having money or not as Michael Marmot states referring to the opera La Bohème by Giaccomo Puccini. Statistics reveal that among countries that have to be considered poor by Western standards there are some – like Costa Rica and Cuba – with higher life expectancy than can be expected judging from the GDP (gross domestic product). Evidence doesn’t allow to attribute the fact to genetic determinants and environmental circumstances in these countries. Thus more important than income seem to be “capabilities” in comparison to others, i.e. relative wealth or poverty. And then other aspects connected to relative rank in society come into play. There’s power or rather control over your own life for one that is essential and that like income shows a clear relation to the level of education, but also opportunities to participate fully in society influence health. Who stands alone to face all the ups and down of life is more at risk to fall sick or to commit suicide as Michael Marmot points out using Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo as a literary example. There are, however, interesting differences with regard to how much social bonds improve the health of women and men. If the environment encourages the individual to trust others and the general level of social cohesion are crucial points also. For instance, it’s quite understandable that in a shabby neighbourhood with a high crime rate it isn’t easy to muster up the courage to go out, mix with people and make friends to rely on in hard times. The same goes for societies that have been turned upside down by historical events, notably Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union after the breakup. Finally, Michael Marmot deals with the question if and how the family background, i.e. descent and upbringing, determines where on the social gradient an individual ends up and what impact it has on future health, if it has one. The book’s appendix reprints the Recommendations from the Independent Inquiry Into Inequalities in Health that the Acheson Group to which the author belonged as scientific advisor submitted to the British Government in 1998.

 

Overall, The Status Syndrome. How Your Place on the Social Gradient Directly Affects Your Health by Michael Marmot gives a highly interesting and sometimes even entertaining insight into the workings of society with regard to health. Since the author is a physician, moreover a scientist his language (as was to be expected) tends to be rather technical and I found that sometimes it was even a bit difficult to follow for a layperson and non-native speaker of English like me. However, I liked the read very much and not least for the many references to literature and music, but also to history that Michael Marmot included into his book.   

 

Status Syndrome: How Your Place on the Social Gradient Directly Affects Your Health - MARMOT MICHAEL 

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review 2017-03-01 11:00
An Author’s Fictionalised Experiences: The Novels of Ōe Kenzaburō by Yasuko Claremont
The Novels of Oe Kenzaburo - Yasuko Claremont

All his life Gustave Flaubert claimed that only the story counted and that its author should disappear without trace behind it, but however passionately a writer may assure that her or his work has nothing whatsoever to do with her or his life, such complete objectivity is an illusion. It’s impossible to achieve because nobody’s soul is an empty slate. Every word that a person jots down, be it on the spur of the moment or after long thought, be it in fiction or non-fiction, inevitably mirrors past experiences, education and views. To truly understand a literary work it can therefore be helpful to know the biography of its author, notably when the writings are complex or full of symbolism. In her critical study The Novels of Ōe Kenzaburō Yasuko Claremont from the University of Sydney analyses the literary oeuvre that the recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize in literature produced between 1957 through 2006 and links it with important events in the Japanese author’s private life beginning in his childhood.

 

As Yasuko Claremont illustrates, the writing of Ōe Kenzaburō – like every author’s – isn’t static but changes over the decades and often mirrors events that had a more or less important impact on him as a person, on his family or on society altogether. She also demonstrates by several examples that the works of the author, notably early ones like Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids and award-winning Prize Stock, clearly show the marks of his partly traumatic, partly spiritual experiences as a boy in a remote village surrounded by dense forests during and shortly after World War II and then as a young man in war-shattered Tōkyo where he studied French literature. According to the scholar these formative years quite naturally account too for the more constant elements in his opus, above all for Ōe‘s themes that are generally depressing as well as full of violence and despair in all their (cruel and destructive) manifestations. She states as well that his entire literary oeuvre is permeated with humanistic moral views that are clearly influenced by Western literature and philosophy, notably Jean-Paul Sartre, C. G. Jung, Wilhelm Reich, Mikhail Bakhtin and the Bible. Moreover, Yasuko Claremont finds the roots of the mythical abstractions that he uses throughout his career in the ancient legends that he heard in his childhood and that he internalised. The most obvious changes in Ōe’s writing the scholar sees in his approach to themes and characters. The three big stages of development that she identifies in the author’s long as well as successful literary career are a deeply Sartrean existentialism that saturates his rather bleak early work – e.g. the story Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids or the novella Seventeen – on which follows a more positive phase surrounding the principle of atonement – as in the novels A Personal Matter and The Silent Cry – that eventually leads the author to the concept of salvation in daily life – like in the novel Somersault.

 

Having read so far only one novel by Ōe Kenzaburō (»»» read my review of The Changeling on Edith’s Miscellany), it was difficult for me to follow the literary and spiritual path that Yasuko Claremont traced in such detail. It’s true that she integrated summaries of all the author’s important works into her study (not least because several of them aren’t available in English translation), but naturally it wasn’t the same as knowing the full text. Certainly, her target audience were other scholars and fans of the author with a comprehensive knowledge of his work. Nonetheless, this critical study of The Novels of Ōe Kenzaburō was an interesting and as regards the novel that I read and reviewed also an enlightening experience that made me curious about the en-NOBEL-ed writer’s other works, above all the later ones that seem to be less bleak and less overtly violent.

 

The Novels of Oe Kenzaburo - Yasuko Claremont 

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