Thursday, December 1, 2016

About a Dormant Blog, the National Day and Romanian Writers Challenge


No, this blog is not dead, it has simply enjoyed some time off, away from the madding crowds and deeply immersed into some serious reading. To paraphrase John Lennon who said that "life is what happens when you are busy making plans", I could say that reading happens when you stop writing posts :) 

Anywayz :), I have read so many books for the challenges I am involved in that the only problem arising is which book to actually write about these days... but since today is the final day for the First Edition of Romanian Writers' Challenge I definitely have to praise a wonderful short story collection, a book which was also awarded The First Prize for a Debut Manuscript by Herg Benet Publishing House for 2014. 

"Mr. Red's Memoirs" (2015) by Celestin Cheran is the book that made me stop saying I am not a huge fan of short stories, because I think I am. I am so impressed by every single one of these stories that reminded me of Haruki Murakami's talent of sweeping us off our feet with the fantastic turn a story could take, thus being left wondering what has happened and how could the story unfold after the writer has decided to end it on paper. With each of the 20 stories you get the chance to explore a slightly fantastic universe in which dull moments of everyday life transform themselves into a troubling decor for events that may seem unimaginable at first but that manage to make you doubt yourself and your mind. 

Another thing I enjoyed while reading the short stories was the fact that they are so different one from the others that it feels as if you are reading a different author with each story. Still, I do have two or three favorites: "The Man with a Misty Face" in which a man is bothered by some stalker that turns out to be him in the future; "Jumping from a Skyscraper" in which we see a suicide in slow motion; "The Escalator"  - once you get on that escalator, there is no going back...

"You live all the time with the impression that you are somewhere in the middle of things. You are close to something and far from something else, never where you exactly want to be. In the place where something deep and inexact in you wants to be, something like a heart beating in the night covered by rivers." (The Escalator) 

Celestin Cheran defines himself as "an obsessive writer, one who writes "Six Word Stories" is order to keep his mind busy from other minds." He is 30 years old and his second volume of short stories appeared only a month ago and I will definitely read it! :) 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Pleasures of Men


It took me two years from wanting to read this book, to actually getting it and finally finishing it. I do not know why because I quite enjoyed this thriller set in Victorian times and I am glad I did not go with the rather displeasing reviews that stated it was not something spectacular... It proves that there is no account for taste and reading should be about what YOU choose to read and then like or dislike and not other people's opinion... which is not your own if you do not read the actual book.


"The Pleasures of Men" is a captivating book, quite disturbing in certain aspects, but not too disturbing to put it down. It was written in 2012 and it is Kate Williams' first book of fiction about a young girl obsessed with a serial killer in 1840 London. Williams is a historian who first published biographies on Queen Victoria or Napoleon's Josephine and this novel clearly shows her talent on telling a story while writing historical fiction.


"The footstep comes once more, and then there is a breath. Walking forward, she tells herself that there is nothing. So many times has she thought a man was too near behind when he was simply close for no reason. She hears a cough and a clack of fine-sounding heels and her chest tightens. She moves more quickly. So does he. God help me.


Catherine lives in Spitalfields together with her dubious uncle and this Gothic story tells us why little by little. She seems tormented by the fact that years ago she chose to let her little brother be taken by some strangers and she is aware this changed her for the worst. She is attracted to what is dark around her, she does not like the company of others and she tortures herself in trying to find the serial killer who hunts young girls in the scary parts of London. Is she going mad because of her past and her mother who had mental problems or the serial killer is about to get her?


She does live in a perverse world, but has she contributed to this with her own nature, or the male dominated society has taken its toll on her? We have the cries at night, the fog and the candlelight, the plotting of almost every character in the book, the bumps in the dark but luckily, we do not have the feeling that this may be a work of fiction, too melodramatic for an ordinary taste. The book often gave me the feeling that I myself was in the story, watching Catherine spying on whoever the killer was... fantasizing about his reasons to kill and his next move.


"That night, he thinks: I must discover the next one. It is exciting, his task, and daunting. The responsibility of finding. Into the streets the next day and searching for her. He understands that he must not be too ambitious, he must not expect to find her immediately. There are many girls in the city, after all."


I loved the fact that we cannot predict what would happen to Catherine and how the story would end until the last pages. Also, the way Williams renders the character's thoughts for pages on end and makes them so interesting you cannot get bored proves her excellent talent as a writer.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Becoming Jeanette Winterson


Today my favorite writer turns 57. Happy Birthday to you, Jeanette Winterson! May you remain the same incredibly inspiring writer who is not afraid to speak her mind! 

You all know that Brexit happened but you may not be aware how vocal she has been about it and how she no longer thinks that Britain, with all the ugly changes, is her country. I love the fact that, while revisiting classic stories such as Shakespeare's "Winter's Tale" in her latest novel "The Gap of Time" (2015) she can still remain grounded in the present and not shy away from having a pertinent opinion about what happens in Britain and around the world. 

In an article she wrote this June, she states something that now seems clear for most of us:

"I am an optimist by nature. I believe in solutions. We need solutions to the absolute failure of the neoliberal Project Few, whereby capitalism has been hijacked to serve the rich, where investing for the long term has been replaced by short-term profiteering, and where globalisation has been allowed to wreck local economies in the name of free trade."

She has a willingness to take risks and challenge herself and her readers that has remained constant throughout her career of more than 30 years. She is one of the most ambitious and inventive writers I have come across and I can't wait to (re)read her creative writing! 

"My two pillars are art and love and I had to learn both." 

Here is a short interview with her in Australia this May, at the Sydney Writers' Festival:


p.s. The black 'creature' in the picture is her cat, Nero. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Born to Be Blue


"I want to play. All I want is to play." 

There is no such thing as too much Ethan Hawke on this blog :) 
I am still incredibly grateful that he can be so prolific and release movie after movie, after book :) 
"Born to Be Blue" (2015) is a fantastic one, a mixture of beautiful  jazz music, a story of never giving up on your dreams and Ethan Hawke getting more and more talented (who would have thought this was possible? :)) 

"You should find one thing and be better at it than anybody else in the world." 

The drama film tells the story of Chet Baker, the American jazz trumpeter with a divine voice who falls in love in his adulthood and after getting his teeth knocked out in a fight, tries to musically come back and impress his audience with his original style and music. All this happens in the late 1960s and this is one more reason why you will most definitely enjoy the movie: the music is perfect, the atmosphere of those times is rendered vividly and 'the movie within a movie' idea (Chet was in fact asked to star in a movie about his life) mingles just fine. 

What else to add? Ethan wanted to play this part for more than 15 years but at that time, his age did not match.  After years of effort, he successfully managed to do that with his charisma, energy and fearlessness. Am I just praising him because I am a huge fan? Not really. The Guardian and Rolling Stone have written wonderful reviews. 
Last but not least, Ethan performs two of the 14 songs from the soundtrack, "My Funny Valentine" and "I've Never been in Love Before". Enjoy it! 



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Friday, August 12, 2016

My Romeo and Juliet


"Don't waste your love on somebody who doesn't value it."

How I love a good live performance, especially if I get the chance to see it among the first! Almost two months ago I saw the premiere of the play "Romeo and Juliet" at the National Theatre in Cluj - Napoca. I did not know what to expect, the show did not even have a proper poster advertising it, but I am glad I went to see it with an open heart, because it proved to be unexpectedly wonderful. 

"Romeo and Juliet" (1597) is probably Shakespeare's most famous play and it has been quite popular with directors along the centuries so it was no wonder I did ask myself whether I would be surprised or not by how the director would see the play and how the actors would act everything out on stage. 

"Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs."

Tudor Lucanu, the young director, set the story between the two rival families in two tailoring  workshops. The space looked simple, filled with huge moving mirrors and body-like lamps. Long pieces of colorful cloth separated the two workshops and the costumes were cleverly created so that they represented a mixture between the classic and the nonconformity.

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

The performance was filled with funny moments and even though I knew what was coming next and that the play is, in fact, a tragedy, I could still enjoy the lighthearted moments which made even the actors on stage smile. I loved the way the well-known story ended, the director did not change its ending but he masterfully added a new meaning. What a great idea! Well done to the young actors who offered two hours of exquisite performance! If you have the chance to see it, you should definitely take it! 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Miniaturist

"Every woman is the architect of her own fortune." 

Celebrating August as the month dedicated to Women in Translation, I had to write a few lines on this absolutely fabulous book I read last month, even if it was in English, not in translation. 
"The Miniaturist" is Jessie Burton's first book and I am definitely going to read her latest "The Muse" which appeared this June. 
Back to "The Miniaturist" (2014), the book is set in 17th century Amsterdam and it was inspired by a dolls' house which can be found in the King's Museum in Amsterdam. Actually, last year I saw this dolls' house and I still remember the effect it had on me: so small and yet so perfectly made. It has a special place in the vast museum and this is mainly because there are not as many dolls' houses in that pristine condition in the world. At that time I was not aware of the book, but then this year I read a few lines about it on a blog and the whole story intrigued me so I decided to delve in it. 

"Growing older does not seem to make you more certain. It simply presents you with more reasons for doubt." 

"The Miniaturist" is a mysterious character in the novel who helps the young and newly-wed Nella Oortman to discover the truth about her husband and his relatives and see life in a different (better?) perspective. To pass the time, Nella receives a present from her husband: a dolls' house, which is, in fact, a perfect replica of her own house. Then, the eerie miniaturist sends more figurines than she is required and the secrets start to unfold. Will she be able to cope with all of them? That is for you to find out...

"A lifetime isn't enough to know how a person will behave." 

What I really loved, besides the thrilling story and the unexpected events was the witty voice in which the whole story was narrated. The words seemed to be perfectly chosen and everything came together in such a way as to create a perfect novel. Sold in more than 1 million copies, this is a wonderful must-read. 

Here is Jessie Burton talking about her book in a BBC interview. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Women in Translation Month


Tony, from Tony's Reading List reminded me that August is the month for Women in Translation and since I am quite eager to read two or three women  writers translated into Romanian, I am definitely in for the challenge. It is the third year in which Meytal hosts the challenge and this is very simple: you have to read women writers, no matter their country or year of publishing and I am sure that, for most of you, this challenge can easily go hand in hand with others. In my case, I will read a Japanese writer (also for Bellezza's Reading Challenge), a Romanian one for the challenge I host and another one for the 20 Books of Summer Challenge. 

"Sticletele" (The Goldfinch) will be my first Donna Tartt and I can't wait to see the reasons why this book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2014. 

I really liked Ana Manescu's "alter.ego" and I am looking forward to reading this one, "Quasar".  She seems such a promising young voice in the Romanian literature. 

 "Pravalia de maruntisuri a domnului Nakano" (The Nakano Thrift Shop) is going to be my third Kawakami and I hope I will enjoy it as much as the other two. 

What are you reading this August? :) 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Amelie Nothomb - Part II of Paris in July


'Il y a un instant, entre la quinzième et la seizième gorgée de champagne, où tout homme est un aristocrate'

On my way to rediscover Paris in July I started reading Margaux Fragoso's "Tigre! Tigre!" but the memoir of a young girl falling in love with a fifty year old man was too serious and "fatigante", so I replaced it with Amelie Nothomb's "Le Fait du Prince", published in 2008. 

I have read books penned by Nothomb in the past, and every time I did that, I (re)discovered a very talented writer, one whose imagination goes beyond the ordinary, and "Le Fait du Prince", translated into Romanian as "The Right to Live and Die" makes no exception. 

The short novel starts with the idea of someone dying in your home and with the best steps to follow if you find yourself in this dreadful situation. Then, the main character, a bored man who can't even remember what his job is, "allows" a stranger to die in his home... only to decide to steal his life and become that rich man himself. Even though it may seem strange at first, Nothomb knows how to turn an unbelievable story into something you would like to experience... or at least write about. I really enjoyed the way she can take unpleasant characters and make them quite plausible in their actions. 
A story worth reading, whether it is for Tamara's "Paris in July" reading challenge or simply because you want to discover a very imaginative French writer... 


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cold Fish


I decided to watch another Sion Sono movie and this time, I got more than I would have wished for. I was aware that the Japanese director was in for shocking the hell out of us, but he went much further and exploited the true story of two serial killers in order to transform it into something horrifying and totally outrageous. 

The title of "Cold Fish", directed in 2010, has a double meaning: the main characters are owners of exotic fish shops, but the idiom "cold fish" also refers to someone who shows no emotion and looks uninterested, until... 

The first 45 minutes seem "reasonable" to watch and you may think the story could go anywhere just to end up into something ordinary, but do not be fooled, at the Venice International Film Festival in 2010 the movie received the best screenplay award, so if you are not sickened by the literal blood and guts spread everywhere, you may ask yourself why a perfect stranger would want to help you when you face a problem... Add to this an unsatisfied wife, a house in the woods and a calm husband who can take so much... "Life is pain", utters the main character as his final line and if you are brave enough, you will be able to discover his madness at the end of this vicious and dark horror movie. 
You can find the trailer here. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Extension du domaine de l'amour... ou Paris in July part I


Mid July, I managed to read two of the three books I planned for Paris in July challenge and I was quite pleased with them, even though the two books are quite different. Here is why:

"Extension du domaine de la lutte" was written in 1994 by the French Michel Houellebecq and it was as its protagonist a depressed 30 year old man working as a programmer and whose name is not mentioned.

"Sleeping with Paris" was written in 2013 by Juliette Sobanet, who spent her youth years in the United States and Paris. Her protagonist is Charlotte Summers, a young French teacher in the States who discovers, just days before moving to Paris with her fiance, that he is a cheating bastard.

"Extension" is much for serious than Sobanet's book and I found the male character quite obnoxious from time to time, while having problems understanding his attitudes and complaints. I did not see him evolving, and this is a major trait I look for in the characters from the books I read. In fact, there is a lack of purpose and desire in him that I did not find suitable for a book during the summer days. However, it is quite interesting to see the controversial Houellebecq at work.

On the other hand, "Sleeping in Paris", or "Love in Paris" (the Romanian translation) is a light, funny book, full of kisses, sexy French guys and love... something we all connect the City of Light with, especially during a hot (please get the 'double-entendre' of the word) July. I loved its pace and the fact that each chapter brings something exciting along, whether that is a French neighbour offering you chocolates and nights full of passion, or the ex-husband who appears out of the blue to convince you he has made a huge mistake. The book is the first in a series of romantic reads set in Paris and they seem perfect for my next Paris in July challenges.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Paris in July ... Once More!


July is almost here and my reading list of French literature is ready to be tackled. I love reading in French, especially French authors because, as with Japanese literature, the French writing style is quite different and unique in capturing the French way of living and understanding life.

For this July I decided to read Michel Houellebecq's "Extension du domaine de la lutte" because I enjoyed "Platforme" years ago when I first took part in the challenge managed by Tamara here, and Houellebecq is quite a controversial figure on the French literary scene. Also, I hope to find time to watch the adaptation for the screen of the same book.

I will also read something "easy" because we need to escape the heavy, more serious literature and drown into something romantic, and what is more romantic than falling in love in Paris? So, "Love in Paris" will just come in handy. I have not read anything by the French writer Juliette Sobanet but I hope I will not be disappointed.

Trying to keep up with the novelties, I came across the title "Tigre, Tigre!" by the French writer Margaux Fragoso. Although I know nothing about her, I will give this book a go because the subject of the book is quite controversial and I am curious to see if the book is as good as it was praised by journalists from The Guardian here. 

And since the French mood is nothing without some French music, I will immerse my ears into some French sounds sung by Navii. Here is a taste of his style and his adorable Paris.

BONNE LECTURE A TOUS! 



Monday, June 20, 2016

My 20 Books of Summer

For four years now I have challenged myself to read 30 books in 90 days (from the 15th of June to the 15th of September). This summer I also plan on doing other creative things, so I have in mind to read at least 20. Here's a glimpse of what I am about to read.


This challenge is hosted by Cathy, here. 

HAPPY READING THIS SUMMER! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Guest Cat

I have started Bellezza's Japanese Literature Reading Challenge with a truly beautiful book, "The Guest Cat", (2001) and translated into English in 2014 (and in Romanian in 2016). In fact, it is so melancholically beautiful that I named my cat, which I just adopted a day ago, Chibi. Chibi is the guest cat, a cat that comes and goes as she pleases in the house of a thirty year old couple.
The novel is quite short, about 140 pages and there isn't much action taking place, but if you take into account the fact that the writer, Takashi Hiraide, is a poet and this is his first work in prose, and he is also a Japanese writer, meaning that we all know how subtle they can be in their writing style, this little book comes out as a gem.
Chibi manages to make the couple, who have neither children nor pets like her so much that when she "leaves" them, they have a problem getting used to the feeling.

Eating and sleeping as much as she liked, circulating freely between locales, it seemed as if the boundary between the two households had itself come into question. Even the words we used to talk about Chibi had become a mass of confusion: was her coming to our house a return – a homecoming – or was it the other way around? Was home really over there? The whole situation seemed to be in flux. Once, when we had been out for the day, we returned to find Chibi there in the dim light of the entrance to welcome us, seated properly, feet together on the raised wooden floor as if she were a young girl who had been left to care for the house while we were away.
 “See, I told you. She’s our girl.”
 …or so my wife said, though she knew she wasn’t really ours. Which is why it seemed all the more as if she were a gift from afar – an honored guest bestowing her presence upon us.


The way the writer perfectly captures the soothing calmness of the cat is in tone with the type of poetry in prose that he writes. Click here if you want to read the complete interview with Takashi Hiraide in which he also talks about "The Guest Cat":

"The Guest Cat is written in keeping with the Japanese tradition of the I-Novel. This is a kind of novel that is very near to the essay, but also a form that is interested in the difference between the two. The novel is a form of fiction, the essay a form of non-fiction, but I am very much interested in their subtle differences—in the space that exists between them but also in places where they overlap."

This is a novel that will leave a trace on you as long as you are sensitive enough to see how much a feline's soul can alter yours for good. And if you wonder who the cat in the middle of the collage is... it is my Chibi! :) 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

To Be or Not To Be

I have read almost everything Shakespeare wrote hundreds of years ago, but my favorite play still remains "Hamlet". It is so complex and the main character is incredibly intriguing that it makes you raise so many questions about human nature, revenge, love and the intricacies of the human mind.
I got acquainted with "Hamlet" in high school because we had to study a few extracts and I found the prince of Denmark quite mysterious.
Years after that moment, in 2000, I discovered that my favorite actor, Ethan Hawke, starred as Hamlet in the modern-day New York City adaptation of Shakespeare famous play. I saw it first in 2004 or 2005, I guess and I was absolutely amazed at how well he succeeded in embodying the main character and how actual the story can be, even if written at an uncertain year between 1599 and 1602. Watching the adaptation for the screen makes you realize once more what a powerful universality Shakespeare can have.
Another plus that this movie offers is the fact that it was directed by Michael Almereyda, the famous, talented director who also directed "Cymbeline" in 2014, based on Shakespeare's play and which also stars Ethan Hawke as Iachimo.
"Hamlet" (2000) got mixed reviews from different important magazines, but you cannot judge it until you see it, and you also need to appreciate how faithful it is to the original play, not by simply sticking to Shakespeare's lines, but by playing with ideas and feelings in crucial moments. prior to delivering the well known monologue "To Be or Not To Be", Ethan's Hamlet watches a movie of a famous Buddhist teacher in which he explains the principle "To be is to be with others, to be is to inter-be."
Almereyda has definitely created a new standard for Shakespearian adaptation, one in which we should understand more the emotional pull of the characters while still "TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE." 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

My reading Plans for June


The month of May was full of activities and it did not give me the chance to read as much as I would have wanted, but I am looking forward to the month of June in which I am planning to finish two big tomes, Cartarescu's "Solenoid" (for my Romanian Writers Challenge) and Pamuk's "A Strangeness in my Mind" (I am two thirds into the book) and I would also want to start two new books, one for the Japanese Challenge "The Guest Cat" by Takashi Hiraide, and "The Vegetarian" by Han Kang because from what I have read on Bellezza's blog, it seems quite intriguing. Still, I may allow myself to be surprised by other books and get distracted from this plan :)

Happy reading to all of you! 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Book of Kisses


If you read in Romanian, then you may be familiar with this wonderful mysterious poet I fell in love with years ago, Iv cel Naiv (Iv the Naive One). Not only do I own all his books, some of them autographed, but I have big plans concerning his work this summer...
Anyway, a day ago his latest book appeared, "Cartea Saruturilor" (The Book of Kisses) and I had to have it, read it and write about it in positive terms, because you cannot do things otherwise when it comes to Iv.You can find all the 42 poems here, together with Vali Petridean's drawings.

My favorite one? The Eyes Wide Closed Kiss :)

cei doi protagonisti isi imagineaza
ca-n jurul lor zeci de flamingo danseaza
in timp ce peste ei ninge cu flori de caisi
si ca totul va continua cand vor avea ochii deschisi 

(the two protagonists imagine
that around them dozens of flamingos are dancing
while apricot flowers are snowing upon them
and that everything will continue when their eyes are open) 

Here's an interview with the anonymous Iv :)



Monday, May 2, 2016

Guilty of Romance



Once or twice a year I indulge myself in watching a Japanese movie that has been regarded by critics as a controversial artistic creation. I do not do this more often because, just as with Japanese literature, Japanese movies are something from a different planet, the type of movie that ends up haunting you and you find yourself every other day asking about the different meanings behind certain dramatic or kinky scenes.

My first viewing this year was "Guilty of Romance" (2011) directed by Sion Sono. It is a mixture of sex and death and pseudo-relationships between mother and daughter or husband and wife. The dark human psyche of a bored wife leads her from non-existent physical love to sexual deprivation and something even more repulsive than that. Izumi yearns for passion and attention and she gets it at first from a hot blooded prostitute by night and a professor by day, then from men who pay for her sexual services, and finally from her husband, to close the circle. The mixture of madness, danger and sexual gratification is almost palpable and the ending leaves you nauseated.

"Guilty of Romance" is the final part of the "Hate" trilogy, with "Love Exposure" (2008) and "Cold Fish" (2010) being the other two and I am sure I will gather the strength to watch them sometime later this year. The films are not connected with each other but the themes are similar: sex, religion and family. A self confessed "hater", Sono declared in an interview that the hate inside him was so strong that "Guilty of Romance" was his "concession speech towards love, because I was exhausted from hating."