Author: Bellezza

The Man Booker International Prize 2017 Short List is Announced

BookPile MBIP 2017

With the exception of Mirror, Shoulders, Signal and A Horse Walks Into a Bar, I am in complete agreement with the expert judges for the Man Booker International Prize. While I’m confused about the inclusion of Dorthe Nors’ book, at least they had the sense to leave off the tedious, boring and overwrought Explosion Chronicles.

I’ve heard good things about A Horse Walks Into A Bar, but I am still awaiting my library copy; it is one of the few books I have not yet read. But the others? Wonderful stuff!

I love Fever Dream for its enigmatic, mysterious message.

I love Judas for addressing the age old conflict between the Arabs and the Jews in a fascinating, well written plot.

I love The Unseen for putting us on an island about a century ago, and letting us live there within a closely knit family.

I love Compass for ethereal, brilliant writing like a stream of consciousness but better.

But, surely I would not have omitted Fish Have No Feet from the short list. It remains in my top three.

As for what the Shadow Jury panel chooses for our top short list? We will make that decision public on Thursday, May 4.

The Goldilocks of Lipsticks

As I wait with bated breath for the announcement of the Man Booker International Prize short list, which will be announced in London tonight, I thought it would be a good time to post on a perfect new lipstick.

It’s not too bright, it’s not too dark.

It’s not too orange, it’s not too pink.

It’s not too shiny, it’s not too dry.

If you’re looking for a great shade for Spring, at a great price, Clinique’s Graffiti Pop is just right.

Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer (Translated by Katy Derbyshire, Man Booker International Prize 2017 long list)

IMG_3980Each chapter is a different voice telling a different version of the same desperate story: sex trade in a former East German city from 1989 to the present. It makes you ache at the loneliness and despair, while at the same time feeling horror at the choices these people have made with their lives. For surely becoming a prostitute, or a pimp, or a “guest” (a word preferable to the women than “customer”) is a choice, is it not?

How adept Clemens Meyer is at assuming the point of view of each person in his tale. I feel I am listening to the 30-something woman as she prepares to leave her warm flat in January for the unknown darkness awaiting her in a hotel room; I feel I am listening to the taxi driver who says to her, with a sweeping flourish of his arm, “Your car, madame.”

The irony, the pain, is piercing.

Yet at the same time, I can’t help but feel a little slimed while reading this. There is more than I want to dwell on about the darkest sides of human nature, the way sex is twisted into anything but love, the way that money and drugs and power are more important than a person’s heart.

Surely what Meyer writes about must be based in truth somewhere. Surely this is a world not entirely of his own creation, and who am I to judge? But 124 pages in feels like enough, at least for tonight. There is more than enough sorrow in these pages to last me until page 672.

What do you think? Should the subject matter of a book effect the way it is scored?

Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer
Translated by Katy Derbyshire
Winner of the English PEN Award
Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions on October 17, 2016
672 pages

Compass by Mathias Enard (translated by Charlotte Mandell, Man Booker International Prize 2017 long list)

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“Life is a Mahler symphony, it never goes back, never retraces its steps.”

But that is exactly what Franz Ritter is doing one night; as he struggles to find sleep, he is reviewing his life, his time with Sarah and the joy he felt in her presence.

They met at a conference held at Hainfield Castle in Vienna, and have since taken strolls or eaten meals in Damascus, Istanbul, Tehran and Aleppo.

“I have to admit that, even though I am not what could be called a hedonist or a gourmet, the setting, the food and the excellent Lebanese wine they served there (and especially the company of Sarah, whose beauty was brought out by the Ottoman cortile, the jewels, the cloth, the wooden mashraybiyas) have fixed that evening in my memory; we were princes, princes from the West whom the Orient was welcoming and treating as such, with refinement, obsequiousness, suave languor, and all of this, conforming to the image our youth had constructed of the Oriental myth, gave us the impression of finally living in the lost lands of the Thousand and One Nights, which has reappeared for us alone: no foreigner, in that early spring, to spoil its exclusivity; our fellow diners were a rich family from Aleppo celebrating a patriarch’s birthday, whose women, bejeweled, wearing white lace blouses with strict black wool vests, kept smiling at Sarah.”

You can see how the sentences, which are often a full paragraph in length, contribute to the dream-like quality, while at the same time giving us a perfect sense of place.

And because Franz is a musicologist as well as narrator and dreamer, we are introduced to music and composers such as we may have been previously unaware. Take Felicien David, for instance, who became famous on December 8, 1844, after the premiere of Le Desert which is a symphony in three parts based on the composer’s memories of a journey to the Orient. (What a beautiful piece of music it is.)

“…memory is the only thing I don’t lack, the only thing that doesn’t tremble like the rest of my body…”

His recounting of a night he slept with Sarah seems to embody not only their relationship, but the love-hate relationship of the East and the West. Perhaps we may admire each other, even partake in the glorious offerings each has to offer, but can we truly ever understand each other? Can we truly be united? It seems an invisible line divides us, one that try as we might, can never be fully dissolved.

11:10 p.m.

11:58 p.m.

12:55 a.m.

We spend a restless night with Franz, tossing and turning, unable to find the peace required to rest.  Each “chapter” is instead listed with a time stamp, recording the hour and the intricacies of his thoughts. They are tangled and knotted; he tries to sort out his memories, his relationships, his past which is inextricable from music and stories and historical figures.

My fellow shadow jury members are well taken with this book, and for its sense of beauty, its important themes, and well wrought sentences, I can concur. It certainly has more power than the trite Mirror, Shoulders, Signal, or cumbersome Explosion Chronicles.  I fully expect Compass to be on the jury’s short list, as well as the official short list which will be announced April 20.

Find other reviews at Tony’s Reading List, The Bookbinder’s Daughter, David’s Book World, and Winstonsdad’s Blog.

Compass by Mathias Enard
Translated by Charlotte Mandell
Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions on March 22, 2017
480 pages

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (A Book for The 1951 Club This Week)

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I first remember hearing of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from my grandmother, and my mother before her. They both spoke of him, and Henri Nouwen, with great admiration. So it was that when I stumbled upon the The 1951 Club hosted by Kaggsy and Simon, and further discovered that Letters and Papers from Prison was published during that year, I knew that I would have to lay down the Man Booker International Prize long list books for just a moment. For long enough to gain new insights from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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The letters begin in April, 1943, although the book was first published in 1951. Dietrich was imprisoned by the Nazis in Tegel Prison, Berlin. He had just become recently engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer, and his arrest was bewildering to him and his family. From the early letters, one gets the sense that they think this is all a mistake which can be sorted out. But his parents are denied visitation, and they get no reasonable response to their inquiries as to why their son has been arrested or when he will be released. In fact, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is executed on April 3, 1945 along with other key figures of the resistance.

It is timely to read this book now, not only because the letters begin (and end) in April. But, because this is Holy Week, I am reminded of the struggles, if not persecutions, encountered in life. I am only reading about fifty pages a day, more as a sort of devotional than novel, because Bonhoeffer’s thoughts are so profound to me. They remind me of the teachings I’ve had all my life; it is from him that I grew up with the mentality that if something wasn’t hard, it wasn’t good for you.

We smile to ourselves, the women in our family, as we say my grandmother’s oft repeated phrase, “Just keep marching on.” For she, too, knew how to be brave in the face of adversity and would not let evil gain any power even when it may have appeared otherwise.

A few meaningful quotes from my reading so far:

“…I’m sure that it is good for me personally to undergo all this, and I believe that no more is laid upon any man than he can receive the strength to bear.”

“For you must know that there is not even an atom of reproach or bitterness in me about what has befallen the two of us. Such things come from God and from him alone, and I know that I am one with you and Christel in believing that before him there can only be subjection, perseverance, patience and gratitude. So every question ‘Why?” falls silent, because it has found its answer.”

“The great thing is to stick to what one still has and can do – there is still plenty left – and not to be dominated by the thought of what one cannot do, and by feelings of resentment and discontent. I’m sure I never realized as clearly as I do here what the Bible and Luther mean by ‘temptation.’ Quite suddenly and for no apparent physical or psychological reason, the peace and composure that were supporting one are jarred, and the heart becomes, in Jeremiah’s expressive phrase, “deceitful above all things…” It feels like an invasion from outside as if by evil powers trying to rob one of what is most vital. But no doubt these experiences are good and necessary, as they teach one to understand human life better.”

“Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”

Read in a steady stream, such as I have laid these quotes out here, they may seem as if he is only sermonizing. But, I believe that he is simply expressing what he feels in his heart, and in reading his thoughts I am encouraged. It is fascinating to read his thoughts, hopes, and disappointments underneath the trials he experiences in prison.

If only my faith was quite as unwavering.

Complete Guide to Bible Journaling by Joanne Fink and Regina Yoder

I have been interested in Bible Journaling as long as I have been interested in the Bullet Journal. Both ideas came to my awareness last summer, and while I was intrigued, I became a little bogged down in the implementation. (See my first Bible journal page above with Psalm 61:2 which says, “From the ends of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” It lacks polish, in my opinion.)

The good part about journaling in one’s Bible is the quiet reflection time spent doing it, as well as the way it is easy to commit a verse to memory once you have illustrated it. Or, even spent time to hand-letter it.

The hard part is getting the design to look as well executed as you would like. That is why The Complete Guide to Bible Journaling is so helpful. Within its pages are chapters including:

Getting Started

  • What is Bible Journaling?
  • How to Begin
  • Choosing a Bible

Tools and Techniques

  • Tracing, Drawing and Patterning
  • Painting Backgrounds with Stamp Pads
  • Stencils
  • Colored Pencils
  • Watercolors
  • Page Prep
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Washi Tape
  • Stickers and Die Cuts
  • Rubber Stamps
  • Lettering
  • Layout Techniques

Artist Profiles

  • Shanna Noel
  • Karla Dornacher
  • Valerie Sjodin
  • Sephra Travers
  • Valerie Wieners-Massie
  • Rebecca Rios
  • Tai Bender
  • Krista Hamrick
  • Jennifer Rydin
  • Rebekah R Jones
  • Christina Lowery

Gallery

  • Outside the Bible
  • Trust in the Lord
  • Graphic
  • Patterning
  • Watercolor Effects
  • Colored Pencils
  • Floral
  • Linework
  • Brights

Bonus Section

  • Journaling designs
  • Stickers and Tabs
  • Vellum Designs

This guide is so very helpful with its text and illustrations. The topics it covers gives beginners a way to begin, and can take those already familiar with the skill to new levels. I am renewed in my hope that what I produce will be more aesthetically pleasing, while certainly worth my time in quietness and in rest. I highly recommend this book.

In Which I Revisit Acetamine Codeine

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At our house, the Easter Bunny has been delivering things that are not traditional. Or, crunchy. I have four ice packs on rotation, and a lovely bottle of pain killers, for a rear molar which was yanked on Friday.

“Not yanked,” said my oral surgeon who once was a Marine. “Gently extracted.”

Be that as it may, my neck is swollen, my eyes are swollen, and my jaw throbs. My son teases me about my favorite lipstick shade. “Are you wearing ‘Cherries in the Hole?’ ” he asked, (rather than Cherries in the Snow in case you’re not familiar with the famous Revlon lippie.)

So I decided it was time for a personal whining post instead of a Man Booker long list review, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

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But, my beautiful niece has come up from Florida to visit the family, and that is a welcome event. We had lunch together as a family yesterday, such as I could swallow, and hugs are ever welcome.

And I messed around with my blog layout, trying this Spun theme, which has advantages and disadvantages like everything. Perhaps I’ll keep it, perhaps I’ll return to the reclining woman of whom I am so fond.

The books surrounding me are a great comfort.  I am completely absorbed by each Man Booker, and last night I reached for an old favorite, Anna Karenina, on my new nook. So, I’ll spend one more day in a codeine haze, and then off to teach the children tomorrow.

I miss dear Siddarth, who every time I call on him when he raises his hand says, “I got two stuff.” And the class groans because he does indeed always have two things to say.

Judas by Amos Oz (translated by Nicholas de Lange, Man Booker Prize 2017 long list)

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“The fact is that all the power in the world cannot transform someone who hates you into someone who likes you. It can turn a foe into a slave, but not into a friend. All the power in the world cannot transform a fanatic into an enlightened man. All the power in the world cannot transform someone thirsting for vengeance into a lover. And these are precisely the real existential challenges facing the State of Israel: how to turn a hater into a lover, a fanatic into a moderate, an avenger into a friend…Power has the power to prevent our annihilation for the time being. On condition that we always remember, at every moment, that in a situation like ours power can only prevent. It can’t settle anything and it can’t solve anything. It can only stave off disaster for awhile.” (p. 106)

I don’t suppose it matters if I agree with what Shmuel Ash writes in his notebook, with what he comes up with for his thesis, that Judas was “the first Christian. The last Christian. The only Christian.” My job is not to agree or disagree with Shmuel’s reasoning, or Oz’ writing, it is to absorb what he is saying and like Mary, to ponder it in my heart. For the concepts about Christianity (and Judaism) presented in Judas are fascinating to me, as I have been a Christian all my life and read the Bible all the way through for more years than I can remember.

It is not my understanding that the disciples “were hungry for power, and in the end, like all those who are hungry for power, they became shedders of blood.” (p. 137)

But, this novel is not a religious treatise, and we do need to look at some of the characters.

Shmuel Ash, who lived in Tel Azra, has come to live in Rabbi Elbaz Lane in Sha’arei Hesed in order to be a caretaker for Gershom Wald. Shmuel first steps into the meticulously kept home over a rickety stair which seems to symbolize much that is unsettling to him, and the home’s inhabitants, throughout the novel. For each has quite a story which is disclosed bit by bit as we read on.

Shmuel is attracted to Atalia, a woman in her forties who also lives there. She was married to Gershom Wald’s only son, Micha, who was killed during an assault on a mountainside on April 2, 1948 when he was only 37 years old. Now she lives with her father-in-law, hiring caretakers for him as they seem to fall in love with her then move on when they encounter her resistance.

The traitor in this novel is her deceased father, Shealtiel Abravanel, a man who was disgraced by being thrown out of both the Zionist Executive Committee and the Council of the Jewish Agency because he believed that they had “all deviated from the path,” and were carried away by David Ben-Gurion’s “lunacy”. (p. 205)

He was firm in his belief that Zionism could not be achieved through confrontation with the Arabs, whereas I had understood by the end of the forties that it could not be achieved without some such confontration. (p. 206, Gershom Wald speaking to Shmuel about Abravanel)

How easy it is for any of us to become a traitor, especially when we follow today’s rhetoric to follow you heart. For “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9 (a quote sprinkled throughout the text.) How easy it is to be blind to any truth but our own, to betray the ones we love.

The themes of Arab opposition, Jewish denial of Jesus as savior, and the intricacies of a family in the Land of Israel make this an extremely powerful book. It is as pertinent to us today as it was in the 40s, indeed as it was in the times of the New Testament. Surely this is a most worthy contender for the Man Booker International Prize; it is one of my favorites on the long list.

Find more reviews at Winstonsdad’s Blog, David’s Book World, A Little Blog of Books, and Tony’s Reading List.

Judas by Amos Oz
Translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange
published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
320 pages

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (translated by Misha Hoekstra, Man Booker International Prize 2017 long list)

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I shouldn’t be so intolerant of Sonja, a woman in her forties who just wants to learn to drive. Or, more specifically, to properly shift.

There was a time when I could drive a stick shift on any autobahn in Germany, but ever since having a small panic attack on 294 outside of Chicago a few years ago, I’ve been reluctant to go on any toll road whatsoever. So you’d think I’d be patient with this character’s weaknesses.

But, as I made my way through the book I just wanted to slap her.

She translates the fictional Swedish author Gösta Svensson’s crime novels, all the time wincing about the blood and semen descriptions, and nursing her aching wrists.

She complains about her driving instructor, Jytte, who seems boorish enough to make anyone nervous. But when Folke, the owner of the driving school, hears Sonja’s complaint and offers to teach her himself, she worries that he’ll attack her in the backseat.

She wears unpopular yellow clogs because the red are sold out. She has positional vertigo. She likes to sit in a field of rye. And, she doesn’t get along with her sister, Kate.

“In a lot of ways, thinks Sonja, Mom did me a disservice in believing I could just be myself. If I hadn’t been allowed to, then I’d be sitting right now with the whole package, but that train’s left the station. And if anyone does, Mom knows that you have to adapt if you’re going to entangle yourself in an intimate relationship. Kate knows that too. And Dad.” (p. 107)

Mirror, Shoulders, Signal is interesting enough in its own way, if you feel like reading a big long whine until you come to the last fifteen pages, but how it managed to be on the Man Booker International Prize long list surprises me.

Find more reviews at Messenger’s Booker, Winston’sDad’s Blog1st Reading’s Blog and Tony’s Reading List

Mirror, Shoulders, Signal by Dorthe Nors
Translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra
published by Pushkin Press
188 pages

Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg (translated by Eliza Marciniak, Man Booker International Prize long list 2017)

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How fresh is the voice of a young girl, especially in the hands of Wioletta Greg. It is as if I am listening to one of my students telling me a story; there is a mixture of the bizarre within truth such that you can hardly separate the facts from the imagination. Both are equally important to the story teller, and in this case, to me, the reader.

In chapters which could stand alone, but together contribute to the overall story, we see what it is like to pass from childhood to adulthood in a Polish rural community during the 1970s and ’80s. Often the chapters will hold luminous description and then end suddenly, jarringly, with a revelation about adults which they have tried to keep secret. It’s as though the girl speaking to us, Wiola, has an omniscient eye. She tells us everything, with no agenda or shame.

What is behind the locked door at the dressmaker’s house? Why does Wiola swallow mercury after coming back from the doctor’s? How does the (fictional) town of Hektary prepare for the visiting portrait of Our Lady from St. Anthony’s Basilica? How does a small group of students, organized by the student council to search for scrap metal, turn into a game of spin the bottle in an old woman’s basement?

Wiola will not bend to the expectations of authority around her (much like her father who deserted the army and became a taxidermist). She would rather burn her collection of matchbook labels than acquiesce to the demands of a bachelor who catches her reaching for his box of Orbis travel agency matches featuring Krakow’s famous Lajkonik horsemen.

As she grows up, the political events of Poland during this time period are gently referred to. Familiar names to me, such as Lech Wałęsa, make the briefest of appearances to remind us that this is more than a coming of age story. It is also a finger pointing to the realities of daily life in Poland at the end of the communist era.

Find more reviews at 1st Reading’s Blog, Winstonsdad’s Blog, Messenger’s  Booker and David’s Book World.

Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg
Translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak
Published by Portobello, January 5, 2017
160 pages