About Bellezza

Reader of translated literature, member of the Booker International Prize shadow jury since 2015, host of the Japanese Literature Challenge 1-13.

Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara: Let’s Talk About The Drink With Ice, Thrown by Julian English into Harry Reilly’s Face

What the hell had he done, he wondered. He had thrown a drink in a man’s face. An especially terrible guy who should have had a drink thrown in his face a long while ago. It wasn’t as if Harry Reilly were a popularity contest winner or something. If most people told the truth they would agree that Reilly was a terrible person, a climber, a nouveau riche even in Gibbsville where fifty thousand dollars was a sizable fortune. (p.97)

I am only a little more than one third of the way through this novel, but I can’t stop thinking about Julian English throwing his drink into Harry Reilly’s face one evening at the club. He threw it so hard that the ice left black marks on Harry’s face…but also on Julian’s social acceptance.

My mother has said to me that life “spins on a hair”, meaning that the slightest choice, or action, can alter the whole course of one’s existence. It seems that Julian’s life will be inexorably altered with this event which occurred early in the novel.

Was it unplanned? He was thinking about how much he would like to throw his drink at Harry one minute, and we dwell in this fantasy with him until the next thing we know, he has really done it.

Is Julian unwilling to let Harry have attention by telling the stories that he does, pausing in just the right places and looking over his shoulder before hitting the punch line?

Is it that Harry is an Irish Catholic, and Julian harbors a resentment or prejudice against such a heritage? Or, maybe he’s jealous that Harry is the man with money to whom everyone seems to owe a little…

I am curious about all these reasons, not to mention the path of destruction that Julian seems to be taking. He is only thirty, and yet he has a wife. A home. Supportive parents. A business selling Cadillacs. And he has recently opened his wife’s Christmas present to him: a leather pigskin box with his initials stamped on them in gold ink. Not J. E., but J. McH. E. as he likes. Now he has a place to put his studs, and I find myself questioning him, while at the same time longing to experience how people really lived in the late 1930s. John O’Hara has a way of making it seem simple and risqué at the same time.

S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, for the R.I.P. XV, and for Great Reading Pleasure

S. is gorgeous, a masterpiece of verisimilitude. . . . The book’s spiritual cousin is A.S. Byatt’s Possession. . . . The brilliance of S. is less in its showy exterior than the intimate and ingeniously visual way it shows how others’ words become pathways to our lives and relationships.” —Washington Post

A drenched man in a dark overcoat wanders the streets, unable to remember who he is or where he came from. He enters a tavern, speaks with a woman who has an olive complexion, and is suddenly grabbed from behind, thrown over a strong man’s shoulder, and taken aboard a ship.

Such horrors lurk there, from holes punctured around the men’s mouths so that they can be sewn together with thread to “hearing muted expressions of pain from all about the ship.” (p. 57)

Who is this man? He learns his name is S., while the reader wonders if this could be the author V. M. Straka, who wrote The Ship of Theseus, as well as other “novels that toppled governments, shamed ruthless industrialists, and foresaw the horrifying sweep of totalitarianism that has been a particular plague in these last few decades.” (p. v)

The Ship of Theseus, the novel within this novel, was written in 1949, and it is this text that I read first. Then, I went back to the beginning to read all the annotations that had been handwritten in its margins. Annotations, and dialogue, from two students: Eric, who is studying Straka, and Jen who found Eric’s book containing all his notes.

“Did you write in the book?” my husband asked when he saw me reading it.

“No,” I told him, “it’s part of the presentation.”

“That would drive me crazy!” he exclaimed, and for some people that would perhaps be true. But, I am enchanted by the parallel stories, and the ephemera tucked within its pages, all interwoven to reveal mysteries beyond my imagination.

S. is not a book for those who prefer technology, or e-readers; it is a book lover’s dream.

Some Spooky Reads I Have Planned for the R.I.P. XV

The events of the early days of blogging, circa 2006 when I began, still bring joy to my heart. I have always participated in Carl’s R.I.P. Challenges, even to the extent where I purchased Poppets which he brought to our attention through his blog posts.

And now we are ready for R.I.P. XV which begins September 1 through October 31, 2020. Use #RIPXV, or @PerilReaders, should you wish to include social media with your posts.

I have tentatively planned the following books:

And, of course, you are welcome to join Amateur Reader and I (and several others) in John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra which may, in fact, also qualify for a disconcerting read.

All This I Will Give To You by Dolores Redondo, a Planeta Prize winning novel for Spanish Lit Month and Women In Translation Month

”All this I will give to you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” ~Matthew 4:9 (NIV)

On World Book Day, Amazon gives free books in translation for one’s kindle. (Mark April 23, 2021 on your calendar should you wish to enjoy such pleasures, for they are worthy titles.) All This I Will Give To You, by Dolores Redondo, has been languishing in my queue for such a time as this: Spanish Lit Month and Women in Translation Month. Not only that, it won the Planeta Prize in 2016.

This thrilling novel is intricately woven and beautifully constructed. It follows the labyrinthine path of Manuel who is suddenly woken in the night with the news that his husband has died in a car crash. And when Manuel drives to Alvaro’s family estate for the funeral, he decides to stay to discover what, exactly, was the cause of his husband’s death. The more he searches, the more intrigue he uncovers, for Alvaro’s family bears many hidden secrets.

The waxy, white petals of a gardenia, discovered tucked away in pockets and drawers…the exuberant innocence of Samuel, a four year old boy…the malicious hatred of the Raven, the matriarch of the family estate which has now been left to Manuel, all combine with the help of a policeman and old friend to reveal the truth.

This was a fascinating novel, one I just completed just last night. I leave you with the trailer from the author’s site, as perhaps it will picque your interest even more.

Cathedral By The Sea, and Other Books I’ve Begun for Spanish Lit Month Before It Ends

I have had a difficult time reading this month, and sadly, finishing books for Spanish Lit Month. I began Cathedral of The Sea which, as you can see from the blurb about the author at the end of this post, sounded fabulous. Fourteenth century? Several literary prizes? It held every promise.

However, I abandoned this hefty novel halfway through. After slogging through well over 300 pages, many of which were interesting, the overall effect was too much of a soap opera. There were dramatics from the characters which seemed contrived, and I would have much rather known more about the cathedral itself than their imagined lives.

So, with The Cave being Portuguese rather than Spanish, and Cathedral of The Sea being boring, I tried another book: A Million Drops by Victor Del Arbol. It too, lies abandoned halfway through, although it is an international best seller which was named a Best Book of The Year by The Washington Post, Seattle Times and Crime Reads. Perhaps I will pick it up after I finish All This I Will Give to You, written by Dolores Redondo which won the Pleneta Prize in 2016. Such are my efforts for Spanish Lit Month, the later also qualifying for Women In Translation Month.

A lawyer and a writer, Falcones’s first book, La catedral del mar (Cathedral of the Sea), was published in 2006, when he was nearly 50. This historic novel is set in 14th-century Barcelona, when the Catalan empire was at its greatest. Cathedral of the Sea won Falcones several international awards, including the Spanish Qué Leer award, the Italian Giovanni Boccaccio award, and the French Fulbert de Chartres award. His second novel, La mano de Fátima (The Hand of Fatima), which is set during the Moorish era, received the American-Italian Roma Prize for best foreign literature. Since 2013, he has released three books. (From culturetrip.com)

An Invitation to read Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara this September

Tom, of Wuthering Expectations, has been posting about John O’Hara here. When he mentioned Appointment in Samarra, I immediately wanted to read it with him in September. And, as Tom points out, Samarra in September has nice alliteration.

It is the first novel John O’Hara wrote, published in 1934, and it is listed in both the Modern Library and Times top 100 books.

Here is more about the 240 page novel from Penguin:

One of Time’s All-Time 100 Best Novels

The writer whom Fran Lebowitz called “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald” makes his Penguin Classics debut with this beautiful deluxe edition of his best-loved book.

One of the great novels of small-town American life, Appointment in Samarra is John O’Hara’s crowning achievement. In December 1930, just before Christmas, the Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, social circuit is electrified with parties and dances. At the center of the social elite stand Julian and Caroline English. But in one rash moment born inside a highball glass, Julian breaks with polite society and begins a rapid descent toward self-destruction.

Brimming with wealth and privilege, jealousy and infidelity, O’Hara’s iconic first novel is an unflinching look at the dark side of the American dream—and a lasting testament to the keen social intelligence of a major American writer.


Do consider joining us for Samarra in September! I am sure we will read and post throughout the month as we feel led, and even write one or two tweets using #SamarraInSeptember.

Have Life…Abundantly

I love walking through Herrick Lake Forest Perserve. My mother and I have walked there several times a week ever since the pandemic of COVID-19 began. We are refreshed by the beauty of the trees and the path beckoning us forward. We are restored by the oxygen coming to our faces which can be mask free in the good outdoors.

Yesterday I asked the Morton Arboretum, another place of great beauty, why it is that they insist on timed-entry passes when even public parks have been open for weeks. Well, I didn’t exactly I ask. I suggested that they eliminate their timed-entry passes (which must be reserved daily) on Instagram, and I got this reply from some random Instagrammer:

I loved the timed-entry. Seriously, everyone should be doing that! The virus is NOT under control. You must get your news from Fox.

I have been laughing at the last line ever since I read it. Please, take offense at my suggestion and accuse me of a certain political persuasion when all I want to do is walk amongst the trees.

People are in such great distress emotionally, and I don’t mean to minimize their pain. I know someone very dear to me who is just coming through a tremendous battle with depression that kept him down for several weeks. But, we don’t have to accept the enemy’s darkness! Remember what Jesus said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. -John 10:10 (ESV)

Let us choose an abundant life filled with hope rather than fear. Or, judgement. Or, discouragement. And might I suggest taking a walk in the forest, as well?

Shadow Garden by Alexandra Burt “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

Here is a fact: by recalling an incident, you corrupt it. If you want to maintain its pristine and virgin state, just let it sit, don’t disturb it. I’ve been playing that game for a while and it’s time to blow away the cobwebs and look at the truth, even if it isn’t pretty.

Shadow Garden reminded me of Rebecca’s Manderley. The atmosphere was shrouded in mystery, in darkness, and secrets such that the reader doesn’t know whom to trust…is Donna, the wife of Edward, reliable? She has been, after all, brought to Shadow Garden as a convalescent. Her husband has left her under the housekeeper’s care, and every time Donna asks, “Has Penelope called?” she is told, “No. Not today.”

Penelope, called Penny, or Pea when she was very small, is Edward and Donna’s daughter. She has caused untold traumas for her family through behavior she is either unwilling, or unable, to control and soon their perfect world has spun out of control. Even the skills of a surgeon, which is Edward’s profession, are unable to stitch together the image of perfection which all three of them succeed in ripping apart.

I was caught up in the relentless suspense of this domestic thriller, eager to find out exactly why Donna was at Shadow Garden and if she would ever escape. The plot unfolded seamlessly, without tricky manipulations which authors of this genre so frequently use to create artificial suspense. One is left feeling both sympathy and horror for the family that suffered enormous pain due to their impossible expectations and grave misunderstandings.

Shadow Garden was published on July 21, 2020. My thanks to Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read and review it here.

Spanish Lit Month: July will be José Saramago for me

I haven’t been blogging much. I can hardly bear social media in general, having deactivated my Facebook page and coming close to doing the same with Twitter. There is too much unbearable news and most of the opinions are not even vaguely aligned with mine.

So, it was a pleasant relief to be reminded of Spanish lit month, hosted by Stu and Richard. Some of the best reading I’ve ever done has been for events sponsored by fellow bloggers and bibliophiles. And even though I’ve never made friends with Roberto Bolaño (gasp!, I know!), I am quite fond of José Saramago. I have never forgotten the power of Blindness, and I would reread Skylight if there weren’t the three novels pictured above in our local library. Here is a blurb for The Cave:

Cipriano Algor, an elderly potter, lives with his daughter Marta and her husband Marçal in a small village on the outskirts of The Center, an imposing complex of shops and apartments to which Cipriano delivers his wares. One day, he is told not to make any more deliveries. Unwilling to give up his craft, Cipriano tries his hand at making ceramic dolls. Astonishingly, The Center places an order for hundreds. But just as suddenly, the order is canceled and the penniless three have to move from the village into The Center. When mysterious sounds of digging emerge from beneath their new apartment, Cipriano and Marçal investigate; what they find transforms the family’s life. Filled with the depth, humor, and extraordinary philosophical richness that marks all of Saramago’s novels, The Cave is one of the essential books of our time.

~Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books

I have already begun The Cave, and I must leave you now to get back to it. Lying in the hammock, under the maple tree in our backyard, with a lovely piece of literature for Spanish Lit month…there is not a better way to spend the afternoon that I can think of.

Weather by Jenny Offill (“Aren’t you tired of all this fear and dread?”)

No pictures of books lying open on a bed, surrounded by neutral blankets, dried flowers, and half drunk cups of coffee, for me. I prefer simple. Real over artificially composed. And, an author who writes as if she understands exactly what I am thinking myself.

Such is Jenny Offill.

Her writing is lyrical. It is contemplative. Stream of consciousness, within a wry joke, within a story. Somewhere in this novel she is pointing us to hope, using the devices of humor, anecdote, reflection, and “prepping.”

What to Do If You Run Out of Candles

A can of tuna can provide hours of light. Stab a small hole in the top of an oil-packed tuna can, then roll a two-by-five-inch piece of newspaper into a wick. Shove the wick into the hole, leaving a half inch exposed. Wait a moment for the oil to slack to the top of the wick, then light with matches. Your new oil lamp will burn for almost two hours and the tuna will still be good to eat afterward.

But, this is not the stuff that appeals to me the most. It is the narrator’s reflection on her job as a librarian, her role as sister, wife and mother. (As I read, I wished I had written more of the things my son said to me when he was small. All I can remember is, “Mom? What do strangers look like?”)

I will leave you with some snippets of my favorite bits. Surely they will give you an indication of why I love this book so much:

But how to categorize this elderly gentleman who keeps asking me to give him the password for his own email. I try to explain that it is not possible for me to know this, that only he knows this, but he just shakes his head in that indignant way that means, What kind of help desk is this?

And:

The problem with assortative mating, she said, is that it feels perfectly correct when you do it. Like a key fitting into a lock and opening a door. The question being: Is this really the room you want to spend your life in?

And:

I kiss Eli’s head, trying to undo the rush. Why didn’t I have more kids so I could have more chances?

And:

Young person worry: What if nothing I do matters?

Old person worry: What if everything I do does?

And:

There is a species of moth in Madagascar that drinks the tears of sleeping birds.

And:

Don’t use antibacterial soap! Catherine told me, because lalalalalalalala.

And:

I’m like a woman carrying a full cup into a room of strangers, trying not to spill it.

And:

A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad, you are not like us.”

I think, ultimately, that she reminds us we are in charge of our own thoughts, our own outcomes. Here is one last passage:

A man is having terrible dreams. In them, he is being chase by a demon. He seeks counsel from a therapist, who tells him he must turn around and confront the demon or he will never escape it. He vows to do this, but each night in his dreams, he runs again. Finally, he manages to turn around and look straight at the demon. “Why are you chasing me?” He asks it. The demon says, “I don’t know. It’s your dream.”