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Category Archives: World Lit

Diary of a Mad, Old Man

old man Junichiro Tanizaki’s Diary of a Mad Old Man is just what the title says. Well, he’s not completely mad. The main character is an old man obsessed with his daughter in law, a former cabaret singer, whose husband’s grown tired of her.

The old man is sickly and most of his life is spent going to doctors and taking medication. His infatuation of Satsuko, the daughter in law who leads him on, but doesn’t let him do more than kiss her legs or eventually her neck, gets him to buy her jewels and later a pool. She’s got a lover and a fondness for Western fashion. It’s an interesting look at desire mixed with a battle against a failing body.

A quick read, the book provides an interesting glimpse of Japan in the post-WWII period when the Japanese were starting to prosper.

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Posted by on February 1, 2015 in classic, psychology, World Lit

 

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Goethe’s Faust, Part 1

My online book club’s October pick was Faust, Part 1 by Goethe. While I liked the poetry of the play, I found it made me read too fast. The rhythm pulled me swiftly along, and pages would go by, before I realized I hadn’t remembered what had happened.

Faust is the traditional story of a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for success in this life. The bargain soon turns out to be horrid. Faust gets to seduce Margaret (sometimes called Gretchen), but she gets pregnant and since she lives in a society that will exact punishment for that transgression, she drowns the baby. Every favor turns out horrible for Faust.

I read that Goethe was influenced in part by the Book of Job. He takes the bet between Satan and God in a different direction, but it’s quite dramatic. The play ventures into that dark realm that’s I’d say next door to the horror genre, a genre I don’t like at all. So I found the play masterfully written, but I didn’t get into the story and doubt I’d return to it. Still it is worth reading.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2012 in classic, drama, World Lit

 

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Theme Thursday: Mirror

Theme Thursdays is a fun weekly event that will be open from one Thursday to the next. Anyone can participate in it. The rules are simple:

  • A theme will be posted each week (on Thursday’s)
  • Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading
  • Mention the author and the title of the book along with your post
  • It is important that the theme is conveyed in the sentence (you don’t necessarily need to have the word)
    Ex: If the theme is KISS; your sentence can have “They kissed so gently” or “Their lips touched each other” or “The smooch was so passionate”

This will give us a wonderful opportunity to explore and understand different writing styles and descriptive approaches adopted by authors.

The theme for this week is MIRROR Glasses, Spectacles, etc.

My THURSDAY THEME for MIRROR is below.

She got up and walked over to the mirrored door of the closet. . . . From the mirror to me: a sharp, mocking triangle of eyebrows, lifted slightly, to her eyebrows.

From WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin, p. 196

 
 

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Madame Bovary, Part 2

I felt reading this time to have more sympathy for Charles (and Berthe, who pays the highest price in the end). It’s no crime to be mediocre. Actually, that’s a strength of the novel and Vargas Llosa in The Perpetual Orgy, a book of essays on his favorite novel contends that this is the first modern novel because it centers on the ordinary in a way that other novels hadn’t. Other novels dealt with ordinary characters and circumstances but always made them heroic is some way. Flaubert didn’t. Ironically, that is what annoyed me most about Emma. She was so ordinary, so overly appraised by her husband and in different ways her lovers, even Rodolph overestimates her in the beginning. I saw her like Daisy Buchanan, a pretty, but empty vessel.

Flaubert wrote a lot about the ordinary in his letters. He wrote to his lover that “Beautiful subjects make mediocre works” and “It is not in fact great misfortunes that are to be feared in life, but minor ones. I am more afraid of pinpricks than of saber blows. . . . we have no need of continual acts of devotion and sacrifices, yet constantly need from others at least the outward signs of friendship and affection, in a word, kind attentions and politeness.”

But I want to say to him, Emma’s problem was living in a society that preferred appearances and her own desire for a sophisticated life that really existed only in her dreams.

Actually, a lot was in my head as I read the book this time. I was in my early twenties the first time I read it and aside from the good style and character descriptions, I didn’t get that much out of it. I just hadn’t lived that long and I don’t think I really had any life experience that informed my reading.

Then I read it again with a book group at a Barnes and Noble. I recall our discussion as centering around the humor in the book and one guy quipped that Madame Bovary shows that reading can be detrimental. We forget how people looked down on reading novels the first century or two they were around.

This reading I still appreciated how funny parts were and how well Flaubert writes, but it wasn’t as easy to read, I had to think more about the themes and Emma and the author’s aim and I’m still mulling all this over.

Then there’s the predatory lender Lheureux, who basically bundled Emma’s loans adding to her financial troubles. Talk about timely. It’s interesting that money and love go so hand in hand in Madame Bovary.

I was harder on Emma than I had been before because now I’ve known people who’ve lived through infidelity and I’ve seen the pain it causes. I can’t trivialize it. I wanted to tell Emma, “Okay, your life isn’t what you dreamed, but nothing is. Thank God, you’re not begging in the street or stricken with a disease.”

I do think she needed community. She had no one in her corner who’d also be real with her. In part, she didn’t seem to seek that out. Was life like that in small town France? The Bovary’s didn’t live on a prairie miles and miles from neighbors. I do feel I need to know more about the culture of the day before I judge her, but she really isn’t sympathetic or heroic. I suppose as Vargas Llosa points out she’s the first anti-hero.

I wonder about Flaubert. He had a long time affair, and a few trysts, biographers now think. Emma takes a lot of people down with her and this seems so at odds with his living. I know it’s not the first time for such a tension within a person and I actually think it may be essential to having an affair, this kind of double life.

Finally, Vargas Llosa makes some interesting points about beauty and violence. He points out that there’s a lot of violence in the book, not just Emma’s suicide but the disastrous surgery, the spiritual violence of Lheureux preying on the Bovary’s “down to their last sou,” the derogatory murmuring criticizing Catherine at the agricultural fair for donating her winnings to the church when she desperately needed money, all the prejudices, envy, and intrigue presented in the book. Vargas Llosa says he really doesn’t like stories that don’t contain violence; they don’t come across as real to him. What do you think? Do you agree?

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in classic, French Lit, World Lit

 

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Don Quixote

My online book club read Don Quixote, Book 1 for March. I had seen The Man of La Mancha last spring and knew the outline of the story. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this light hearted comedy. Poor Quixote. The world he imagines is just so much kinder and more noble than the world he actually lives in. At times I wanted to shake him, but at other times I thought who wouldn’t want to live in his world?

There were a lot of fun, engaging stories embedded withing Don Quixote, that I felt could stand on their own, could be, say made into movies. Every day, I picked up the book, I had a smile on my face. Delightful. That in and of itself is a success.

I had read an excerpt in junior high and really found it meandering, but this time I loved it.

Melvin Bragg‘s In Our Time has a good broadcast of a discussion of Don Quixote.

What writing is coming out of Spain now, I wonder. Seems the most august Spanish language writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, etc. are from Latin American.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2012 in classic, World Lit

 

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From The Writer’s Almanac

Old washing machine in Bunratty, Ireland

Old washing machine in Bunratty, Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Beware!

I can’t fathom someone railing against refrigeration or washing machines. I get the preference for fresh food, but what about dairy? Must we get milk and cheese daily?

Today is the birthday of the poet R.S. Thomas, born Ronald Stuart Thomas in Cardiff, Wales (1913). Most of his poems were about the Welsh landscape and its people. He was an Anglican clergyman, as well as a poet, until 1978, when he retired and devoted himself to the cause of Welsh nationalism. He often grew frustrated with his fellow countrymen, though, blaming them for letting their culture fade away into history. In his poem “Welsh Landscape,” he called them “an impotent people, sick with inbreeding / worrying the carcass of an old song.” He didn’t learn the Welsh language until he was 30, and though he wrote his poetry in English, he wrote his autobiography in Welsh. He called it Neb (1985), meaning “nobody.”

He was a Luddite, viewing modern conveniences as distractions that cause us to neglect our spiritual health. He and his wife Elsi lived in a small and almost primitive stone cottage for much of their marriage, and their son, Gwydion, remembered his father preaching against the evils of the refrigerator and the washing machine from his pulpit. His poems were as austere as his lifestyle, and he once wrote: “A recurring ideal, I find, is that of simplicity. At times there comes the desire to write with great precision and clarity, words so simple and moving that they bring tears to the eyes.”

That must have been some church. Was using a washing machine sinful? Or just dirty?

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in World Lit, writers, Writers' Almanac

 

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Dante’s Inferno

February’s book for my online book club was Dante‘s Inferno. I much preferred this Medieval epic to The Odyssey. It just flowed better. Perhaps it’s the translation. I read the Norton Critical Edition translated by Michael Palma.

In a way, the Inferno is sort of a guide book in which Virgil leads Dante’s personal down, down into the depths of hell. Thus there isn’t a plot as we find in most stories. As the reader follows the pair through each level of hell, you get an understanding of the theology of the day.I also enjoyed learning about all the historical figures, the battles and scandals that led the people to their particular end.

It’s a very visual book and I can see why it makes a good computer game.

It was hard at times not to feel sorry for the damned. I suppose that’s a modern flaw. We tend to rationalize and prefer a softer God. Yet Dante read the New Testament too and probably more often and with a keener mind than I have. I did remind myself that the theology of the time clearly believed in grace and everyone in hell chose it, they could have avoided their punishment.

I was surprised how short the epic was and recommend reading the essays in the back of the critical edition. Also the BBC’s In Our Times has a good program on The Inferno.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in classic, poetry, World Lit

 

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