Sunday, 25 November 2012

Peter Hoeg "Smilla’s Sense of Snow"

It is almost winter. Do you have snow? Look at these magnificent pictures.

Smilla's feeling for snow

The Chinese say that a dish must contain five tastes to be harmonized; in fact they apply five elements formula to everything in life. I think the Book of Peter Hoeg "Smilla’s Sense of Snow" brings together five elements. Just the way I like it. 

First, it is an unusual detective story.

Second, you learn a lot about Greenland and Denmark. I have not been to any of these countries, therefore it was very interesting to discover winter Copenhagen. Hoeg raises also a social theme (Greenland, the largest island in the world has been, for centuries, a colony of Denmark. So you do not expect to count on the kindness of Greenlanders). 

Third, I was literally fascinated by countless descriptions of snow; I did not know that there exist so many names for snow and ice. I wanted to post many more photographs of snow to transfer the feeling of snow, which remains after the book. 

Fourth, there are elements of science, I actually did not like it a lot, sometimes the characters speak as if they are Wikipedia, the dialogues are long and omniscient. But I think that it will satisfy the taste of those who love scientific explanations and technical descriptions (especially of ships).

And finally, the most important character is the fifth element:), Smilla. Her cold loneliness, endless and snowy, but not painful (maybe sometimes) appeals me. I like that she does not work as a detective agent and her extraordinary potential opens up because of the situation in which she found herself. I like her Nordic passionate nature, I like the way Hoeg (almost without epithets) was able to communicate his special feeling to the main character, to the reality in which Smilla lives. You plunge into silence masterfully created by Hoeg, you understand without quotes, you perceive snow as a special kind of silence. In short, I love an outstanding and brave character of Smilla and her wonderful descriptions of snow.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Margaret Atwood "The Handmaid's tale"

Atwood-The Handmaid's tale
Did the book flash my feminist spirit? No and no.

The role of women in the imaginary society created by Margaret Atwood is "functional" but not diverse. Either you  are a Commander's wife (and must be present during your husband's  sexual intercourse with his Handmaid), or a Handmaid, and your role is limited to procreation. You may also be declared as Unwoman (women who are not able to have children) and sentenced to colonies where they die very quickly, or you can become Marthas (cooking, cleaning etc), there is also a possibility to become a sterile Prostitute for Commanders in a secret brothel. 

Handmaids are supposed to give birth and leave the child to the Commander's family. Then go to another house to fulfill the same duties. Each Handmaid has 2-3 - years for reproduction, afterwards they are deported to colonies. 

Everything is reduced to the cold functionality,robotic humanity. Frivolity is excluded  in every aspect of life - full dress covering bodies, "butterflies" in the collars, rigid Puritan traditions, no cosmetics, no books.

The handmaid, the main character of the book, is deprived of her name,  her husband, and her daughter.  She does not have clothes except for the hideous red robe symbolizing fertility and white wings covering her face. She does not have even a possibility to commit suicide. 

I read some reviews and many women are horrified by the fate of women in this book.  This  book is considered to be feminist. 

In fact, Margaret Atwood created a society in which men are just as unhappy as women. If you are one of the Commanders and do not have children with your wife, you are entitled to have a couple of Handmaids. The way Commanders have interscourse with their Handmaids, can make some men impotent:)  Men of lower ranking do not have rights to get married! Homosexuals are executed and their dead bodies hung from the city wall. If you flirt with Handmaids you will end up at the city wall. It seems that in a new society  women are supressed and the world belongs to men, but what exactly does this new society offer to men? Most of books and professions are banned. Due to military regime, a lot of men work as guards or patrol, which is as dull as being Marthas. Those citizens (men and women) who are involved in resistance, or simply do not agree with the regime are executed too. So why this book is feminist? I did not get that.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Alessandro Baricco "Silk"

Silk-Alessandro Baricco
Some people do not like this work, some do. I find  "Silk" of Alessandro Baricco interesting but it is not my favorite; he managed to stand out from the crowd. This story stays in memory due to its unusual rhythm which reminds me of Maurice Ravel's Bolero. Maybe he decided to express Japanese aesthetics in this way. The story also resembles an old fairy tale that focuses on the main story line omitting detailed descriptions, which is also facilitated by the book's design, its division into short chapters, and repetitions (repetitive long trips to Japan). Well, Alessandro Baricco experimented.

I think this book falls under the category "Women as symbols of hope, illusion, dream." Here, as in The Great Gatsby, a married Frenchman, Hervé Joncour, takes enormous efforts (in this story he undertakes long journeys from Europe to Japan) just to have a glimpse of his dream that he imagined.

A young Frenchman smuggles silkworms in 19th century. He is sent from France to Japan to pick up secret cargoes. In Japan, he meets a beautiful girl, a local rich man's mistress. They do not speak to each other, they do not touch each other. This tension, hidden promise and exotic culture made his passion grow like mount Fuji when you climb it. Not being able to speak the same language, they communicate through letters.  In the meantime military interventions begin in Japan, however the love of Joncour does not wane, and Helene, Joncour's wife, begins to suspect...

At the the end of the story Joncour understands that his true love was never far. The question is: why do we make tremendous efforts to discover one day that the truth is nearby?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Barbara O'Brien "Operators and Things: The Inner Life of a Schizophrenic"


People are not very flexible. As soon as one gets out of ones comfort zone the world becomes a threat. Do you feel comfortable when people  speak a language you do not understand? Just imagine what fear people have towards crazy people who are not just representatives of another country, they are aliens. 

What is schizophrenia? Who visited this planet and came back from there in his/her right mind? 

Barbara O'Brien is a pseudonym of a woman who worked in a big corporation during 1950-1960. She worked in a typical snake atmosphere which we all witness today. However such a corporate ambiance was not for impressionable natures like Barbara. One day, Barbara realized that she got crazy in the literal sense of the word. Her personal journey back and forth to madness Barbara described magnificently.