Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Classics Club: This Side of Paradise

Having read The Great Gatsby and fallen in love with Fitzgerlad's story-telling, I couldn't help but wonder whether this was a one-off experience.  
I was so mesmerised by the techniques he used, that I wanted to have more of it - and so chose to read This side of Paradise, Fitzgerald's first novel, semi-autobiographical, and the book that shot him to fame.  

Would I distinguish his brilliance already there? Would I feel the "lost generation" he so eloquently spoke about?
Fitzgerald was in his early 20s when his wrote this book, and used elements from his personal experience to draw the character of Amory Blaine: a well-off, spoilt-rotten mama's boy who grows into a sad, lonely young man, never meant to find happiness...

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Classics Club spin: Plato's Symposium

On this first Classics Club spin, lucky number 14 got me The Symposium by Plato - an essay on the many aspects of love and an insight into the notion of platonic love.

The title means something like "a get-together with drinks" which is what DOES NOT happen when several of the main characters meet to eat and be merry (they actually talk of the vice of drinking...oh Dionysus!), and where Socrates will eventually speak of his version of love.

We listen to the description of this feast organised in honour of Agathon through Socrates' companion there, Aristodemus, who recounts the story to Apollodorus, who recounts the story to us.  Complicated, true, but once one gets over these levels of interaction, the story becomes simple enough for us to enjoy...

Monday, 25 March 2013

The Red Azalea, by Anchee Min

A book for my book club, the Red Azalea by Anchee Min came with loads of appreciation from the literary circles.  I was really intrigued to read about the broken childhood of a girl in Mao's China.  
A memoir that would reveal the poverty behind the extravagant curtains and the truth behind the lies of the Chinese regime of the time.

While the book did deliver on its promise, I was not mesmerised with its writing.  While I wanted to be swept away into the feelings of Min of the disasters that befell herself and her family, I could just witness the situations one by one, from childhood until she leaves for the USA, without any sense of emptiness, any sense of stolen childhood -- something I thought I would find in this book.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Classics Club: Antigone

For this month's Let's read Plays, I read Antigone by Sophocles.  A shortish play that forms part of the Theban plays, together with Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus.  

It is a tragedy, as many of Sophocles' plays, but with a slight twist:  here the main character is a woman, a woman defying the limitations of her gender at the time, a woman ready to accept the consequences of her actions.

Her father is dead, her brothers are dead, and Antigone is now left alone with her sister Ismene.  But while Ismene is the typical fairy creature, Antigone is a boyish creature (she reminded me of Joan of Arc), wishing to go beyond the rights given to her gender.  But her uncle Creon, who is now king, will not allow for this.  She is to marry his son, Antigone's cousin, Haemon and do great things for Thebes.

Antigone, however, has different views.  Her brothers died a vicious death, trying to kill each other for the throne of Thebes.  Creon only buried one of the brothers, Eteocles, leaving the second to rot in the elements - something against the customs of the time.

While this is a compact play, there is a variety of themes across the story:  should the family / moral values supersede those imposed by the establishment in the city? for whatever reasons, Creon has banned the citizens from covering Polynices and has even warned anyone with severe punishment.  Still, Antigone cannot let this deter her from her sacred duty towards her family.  Not only that, she's willing to accept her punishment and she will even go against her sister, who's trying to reason with her.  But therein comes the second theme:  that of blind arrogance.  Both Antigone and Creon believe their side of the story the correct is.  The difference between them is that Creon becomes so consumed with his anger towards the "insubordination" of Antigone, that he orders his guards to keep a close leash on both sisters so that they... behave like women again (*insert slight sneer*).

But the biggest theme must be the curse of the house of Oedipus.  All three of the tragedies are very detailed on the misfortunes that befall on the last remaining members of the family, Antigone and Ismene.  They cannot escape:  ever since the glorious victory of Oedipus and his marriage to Jocasta, disaster has remained in this house, "eating up" its members one by one.    But the play also makes a case for love:  Haemon tries to make Creon see reason and not bury Antigone alive and even hints at a possible suicide if Creon doesn't change his mind.  While by today's standards all this would be considered overwhelming and irrational, it is the purpose of this tragedy to show that humans have limited capabilities, their emotions can be destructive and only the fate dictated by the gods should be their guiding light. The only way to convey this message is to exaggerate and present all the horrible results if humans do not abide.
Even the end reads like a list of lessons learnt:  pride can be damaging, wisdom is welcome, obedience to gods compulsory and most important of all:  there is no purpose in violence...

Also read for the 2013 Back to the Classics challenge

Sophocles' Antigone (in both Greek and English) is available on Project Gutenberg.    
This post will also be published on Project Gutenberg Project.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Emma, vol. 1 - by Kaoru Mori

I have always thought graphic novels were not serious.  They were for children, teenagers and not more beyond that... Leave it to my friend Carmen to introduce me to a wholly different world, a world that yes, includes all those teenagers, who will not be afraid to show up at a comics convention dressed up as their heros - I know this is normal, but for me, visiting an exhibition next door, quite a  revelation - but will also move into the adult population, only to find there an equally passionate audience (minus the dressing up).

After the Largo Winch initiation, it was time for something softer, something closer to the classic literature I so appreciate.  So Carmen introduced me to Emma, and a major Japanese graphic novel author:  Kaoru Mori.  But this initiation was also for the type of graphic novels:  as I was informed, these are the "true" Japanese manga, which one has to read backwards:  from the end to the beginning, from right to left.  Now, just that change is enough to put me in a good mood and start reading without any prejudice at all!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Modern March: Miss Lonelyhearts

I had long wanted to read Miss Lonelyhearts by N. West.  When Allie offered to host Modern March, I knew this would be a great opportunity to do so.

When I finished it, I was perplexed.  Too many feelings, sometimes contradicting each other, left me wondering at the messages West was trying to get across.  I couldn't say I didn't like it, but reading Miss Lonelyhearts certainly was not easy...

Dealing with religion is never easy.  There's never a universally accepted manner in which to portray one's struggle with moral values and the contrast with modern life.  Combined with a failed society, in the midst of an economic depression, one can feel the despair Miss Lonelyhearts experiences in his daily life.

Miss Lonelyhearts is an advice columnist, receiving lots of letters asking for a ray of hope.  His conviction is that Christ is the answer for their ailments, but Shrike, his boss, thinks otherwise - they need this column to increase newspaper circulation, so art has to be used instead, because art is all about suffering...

Monday, 11 March 2013

Time for outrage! (Indignez-vous!) by S. Hessel

It was last month when I heard on the radio of the death of 95-year old Stephane Hessel.  A Frenchman, he had several accomplishments to his credit:  he worked for the French Resistance during the  WWII and he was an observer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The most remarkable, however, was that at age 93 he wrote a little booklet entitled "Indignez-vous!" (be outraged!).  

Why did he bother?  Because, as I listened to a radio interview he had given, he was astounded to find that, after all his generation had been through (and that was not little), he was witnessing the decay of a society that did not look to make the best possible for its citizens and the future generations.  

Just like he had done with the Resistance, or with the UN - people saw the opportunity to set some groundsteps towards a better tomorrow.  At 93 then, Stephane Hessel came to realise that society not only did not do anything towards a better tomorrow, society really didn't care what we thought of it.  And that got me thinking:  society nowadays, let's face it, is at an all-time low.  We keep to ourselves, we step over other people's bodies to get to what we want, we walk past people in distress trying not to catch a glimpse of them, we can even kill people for as little as EUR 50!  

Where is this feeling of belonging to a community gone? why have we reached a point of accepting all this and simply say "well, this is how things are now, we can't change anything...".  No, said Hessel, we shouldn't accept this degradation in human relations!  If anything, we should always look to the past and see what what we can learn to avoid similar situations - we should always aspire to a society full of hope for us, for those we care and for those who do not have:

"a society we can be proud of:  not the society of illegal immigrants, of expulsions, the constant suspicions against immigrants, not the society where there is injustice against the retired and their  proper right to social security, not the society where media are in the hands of a few..."

Hessel makes a point for the ever growing gap between the rich and the poor and he calls for measures to protect the environment and the welfare system.  A society which does not care for its members is destined to collapse...

In 2011, one of the names given to the Spanish protests against corruption and bipartisan politics was Los Indignados (The Outraged), taken from the title of the book's translation there (¡Indignaos!). These protests, in conjunction with the Arab Spring, later helped to inspire other protests in many countries, including Occupy Wall Street which began in New York's financial district (Wikipedia)

Hessel says nothing new.  But the mere fact that a 93-year old has not given up but instead is full of passion about fundamental rights should be used as an inspiration for us to move from our comfortable, idle seats and not passively accept changes to our detriment.  We should engage in a viable environment, with welfare that provides a cushion to those in need, and a stable society that encourages people to work towards a better tomorrow.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Recipe: mediterranean mac and cheese

Continuing my quest for delicious meatless recipes, this is an extraordinary take on the mac and cheese variety:  I'm usually the type to go for sausage/pepperoni additions, but here I have converted to this plethora of (grilled) vegetables - the addition of many layers of cheese only makes me happier!

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Classics Club: Chronicle of a Death foretold (Crónica de una muerte anunciada)

In honour of Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez's birthday this past Wednesday, I read a little book of his - the Chronicle of a Death foretold. A book little in size, but definitely not in content...

So many themes get mixed up in an atmospheric background, that I almost forgot what the subject was about:  this is a heinous crime, the murder of Santiago Nasar, and the narrator wants put the pieces of the puzzle together and record the events leading up to Santiago's demise.

Did I get a chronicle?  No. Do I know who the real culprit was? No. Do I know who the narrator is? No.  Yet, I really enjoyed this little novel...

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Classics Club: On Jane Austen

For March, the Classics Club's question came at the right time:  

Do you love Jane Austen or want to “dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone”?

I'm a very recent Austen reader.  I blame the movie versions of her books for not reading her sooner, all about the romance and the oh-so-beautiful characters, and oh the drama of losing one's loved person, going through such horrible calamities - but not to worry, everything turned out well in the end...

I first came across Jane Austen when I saw Pride and Prejudice.  This film is considered representative of Austen and the famous scene of Mr. Darcy in a wet shirt is still one that first comes to mind when referring to this film.  The film, but not the novel.  I've long had a "heated" argument with a friend Austenite (in contrast to me being a Brontënite...), where I would accuse her of reading "Harlequins" (the bad romance novels) - in Brontë novels, everything is gloom and doom -- and much closer to the reality of that period, I said.  In vain did she try to convince me that no, Austen novels, while they do include romance, also devote a major part in social commentary.  I simply refused to see this...

Fast forward to my blogging adventure, where I read Lady Susan.  What a revelation!  I was reading something of Austen that did not ooze with romance, did not blind me with Herculian handsome men and definitely did not describe any damsels-in-distress!  Furthermore, I could actually pick up her wittiness and the subtle manner with which she managed to include the famous "social commentary".  I was relieved - I could like Austen after all!
As I said, it's still baby steps for me.  I've recently read Persuasion, which continued the previous experience of Lady  Susan and also included politically-incorrect references -- much to my delight! (although, to be fair, I also liked the movie adaptationCiarán Hinds is Mr. Darcy for me!)

I still love my Brontës.  There is something when I read their novels that stays with me long after I've finished reading.  I want that kind of feeling when I read Austen - up to now, I'm happy to report that it looks promising.  I look forward to reading more of dear Jane...

Monday, 4 March 2013

The Classics Club: Cymbeline

For February's Let's Read Plays, I chose to read Cymbeline by Shakespeare.  I was intrigued by the reports I had read about this not being Shakespeare's finest works, of it actually being the work of someone else, or - worse - of it being pieced together and not in the smoothest way...

Well, in a nutshell, I have to agree.  I was almost frustrated when I finished reading it because I did not know what to make of it.  The mess in the plot, the unbelievable twists, the Deus ex-machina and the forced happily ever after - well, at least it made for an eventful reading...

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Recipe: Broccoli and potato soup

Starting in March and for as long as I find inspiration, I will be trying my hands at meatless (and fishless) recipes. Much has been said of the advantages of cutting down on meat (let alone that with all the scandals lurking around, one inevitably loses appetite), and I do indeed NOT eat meat every day. I don't intend to become vegetarian, though, I just want to enrich my culinary adventures with all the goodness in the vegetable and pulse world. Without further ado, here is the first of my vegetarian dishes:



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