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review 2018-06-09 05:15
The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci by Dmitry Merezhkovsky
Leonardo - Dmitry Merezhkovsky

I read this on the recommendation of a friend whose taste in literature is even more antiquated than mine. I know that's ridiculous considering how many new books I'm reading, but I'm most happy when I'm deep in a Trollope.

Merezhkovsky follows the life of Leonardo da Vinci mostly through the lens of his time in Florence and the attitudes of the people, the politics and life in Renaissance Italy. Often the man himself fades into the background in favor of other characters, particularly his apprentice Beltraffio who goes through many struggles with his faith and the genius of a man like da Vinci. I've seen some criticism at how 'Romance' seems to be an awfully Russian sounding Italian Renaissance, but to that I say booooo. Merezhkovsky clearly did his research here, creating a meticulous image of the era as understood by scholars of the time. The philosophy and the style, I grant you, being written by a Russian, will likely be Russian. They have little to do with one another apart from setting and time-frame, but I kept turning over George Eliot's 'Romola' in my mind as I was reading this. It was a startling time. His characterization of Machiavelli and that man's relationship with Da Vinci was the most interesting historical speculation, but I'll be honest and say that the witches sabbath was just the most bat-shit crazy and unexpected bit of reading I've ever found in a novel of this period. It was pure fun.

This forms the middle volume of a thematic trilogy involving the decay of the classic tradition and its inevitable revival. I don't know if I'll read the others, but I'm intrigued.

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review 2018-04-24 06:39
the Awkward Squad
The Awkward Squad - Sam Gordon,Sophie Hénaff

I can't remember where I heard about this book (best bet is here on BL) but it was described as a new mystery series similar to the old tv show Leverage*.  The premise of the show was a group of misfits coming together to right the wrongs big business perpetrated against the people.  The Awkward Squad's misfits are police officers unfit for regular duty but can't be fired, banded together and stuffed away in a remote location with the ostensible task of investigating cold cases.  I loved Leverage, so bought this directly after it came out.

 

It's not quite Leverage - the misfits here aren't conmen, toughs or savants; these misfits are all broken by their jobs in one way or another, but it's close enough.  For a first novel, I thought the story was excellent and well plotted too, although with definite room for improvement.  It was written well enough that I only had vague suspicions about the solution, but not done so well that the author was able to lead me down the blind alley she'd constructed.  The characters were the kind you cheer on, even if some of them aren't always likeable.

 

I didn't know when I bought the book that it was originally published in France a few years ago, under the name Poulets grillés.  This leaves me with a lingering suspicion that it might have been an even better book in the original French.  Not that the translation is bad - as far as I can tell it's flawless - but some of the marketing I've seen raves about the book humor. I can see how it's meant to be amusing, and one scene was definitely shooting for hilarity, but either something was lost in translation or it's a cultural difference of what defines funny.  

 

Either way, I didn't like it less because I suspect I'm missing something, I just wonder if, had those 2.5 years of French lessons stuck at all, and I were able to read it in the original, I'd have liked it even more.  Ce n'est pas grave, if Hēnaff writes another one, I'll happily be on board for reading it (in translation). 

 

* - Has also been compared to Jussi Adler-Olsen’s tales about Copenhagen’s equally marginal Department Q.  I cannot comment on how accurate this is, as I've not read Adler-Olsen.  Yet?

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review 2016-12-07 22:51
Essential Reading Prior to Inking
The Scottish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook: Authentic Words and Phrases in the Celtic Language of Scotland - Emily McEwan

Why did I read it?  I'm learning (Scottish) Gaelic, and I've seen so many queries for Gaelic translations for tattoos to which the responses were read this book.

What's it about?  Basically, it is a short history of the Gaelic language, and how to go obtain a good translation before having it permanently inked on your body.  

What did I like?  The short history lesson was sound.   What I truly liked were the examples of translation requests illustrating how differently an English phrase can be interpreted in Gaelic, i.e. why there are so many differing answers to a request.   It gave an insight into why there is no such thing as a 'straight' translation from English to Gaelic (or any language for that matter), which served as a warning against asking for 'free' translations from random folk on Facebook, Tumbler, etc., etc.  I also enjoyed seeing the mistakes people have made with their tattoos, how these might have occurred, and how to avoid them in future.

I was in absolute agreement with the author's suggestion to her readers that they should interact with Gaelic language as part of a living, breathing culture, rather than just embedding a small piece of it in their skin.  That to truly honour the Gaelic language, or any speaker of it would be to truly get to know the language, and the people who have it.

What didn't I like?  I would have preferred a few more examples of mistakes, but I do see photos regularly appear on the internet, and I have a good laugh.  Besides, if there were too many examples, along with the grammatical reasons the phrases are erroneous, it might have put off those readers solely interested in their own translated tattoo.

Would I recommend it?   Yes.  I can also see now whey so many people are just referring to this book in response to any request made for Gaelic translation of an English phrase to be tattooed

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url 2016-07-29 03:09
Hans Fallada novel, Nightmare in Berlin, gets first English translation

Hans Fallada

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text 2016-04-05 02:42
Reading progress update: I've read 84 out of 352 pages.
A Celtic Miscellany: Translations from the Celtic Literatures - Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson

Apparently last time I read any of this was in 2009! 

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