Monthly Archives: May 2011

A little gem

…of a song… goes perfectly with the rainy weather we’ve had today…and with my mood…


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Nation – Terry Pratchett

With some books there’s love at first word, but with others it’s more like a friendship. That was the case with Nation. I grew to like it and as the story unfolded page by page I found myself looking forward to finding out more about Mau’s trials and adventures.

The story revolves around him, a boy who is about to become a man, but as he follows his people’s ritual of going to the Boys’ Island (where his abilities will be put to the test) and coming back, anticipating the great celebration that will surely await him on his return, something terrible happens: his world as he knows it, is no more. This puts Mau in a new situation, one that he is trying to make the best of, with the help of a “trouserman girl” and a handful of survivors who have their own roles to play in the narrative.

I was captivated by Mau’s determination to build a new life, by his need to question things in order to understand, by his open mindedness and caring attitude. The “trouserman girl”, Daphne, as she liked to call herself, was just too perfect to make me believe – too strong and determined and she seemed to do just the right things at the right times. The occasional humour and the misunderstandings that ensued from their strange circumstances brought a lighter note to the story. I particularly enjoyed the “beer-making” ritual and also the fact that the author took the time to explain the apparent “magic” involved in the process. Also, the stories of the gods Imo and Locaha completed the image of this fantasy tale and I liked them better than the voices of the “grandfathers” and “grandmothers”.

Even though I read this book before Phantastes, the words have been slow in coming together for the review. Maybe it was because of a feeling of disconnectedness from the story, of being somehow not as involved as I would have liked. Oddly enough, I found both books dealt with the same main idea, that of a boy coming of age through some sort of “test”, even though Mau is a lot younger than Anodos and their worlds are quite different. This goes to show that sometimes we are meant to read certain books in a certain order.

Overall it was an interesting book and I look forward to reading more of Terry Pratchett’s novels. Maybe this is just the beginning of a friendship…who knows…

*Read in April-May 2011

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Phantastes: A Faerie Romance – George MacDonald

“But Love is such a Mystery

I cannot find it out:

For when I think I’m best resolv’d,

I then am in most doubt.”

(Sir John Suckling)

I have just finished Phantastes and was immediately compelled to put my thoughts to paper. What attracted me to the book was, beside the title, the blurb at the back which said the story is a “fairy tale for adults” and I needed no more persuasion.

The book relates the story of Anodos, a young wealthy man who, on his 21st birthday receives the keys to a mysterious secretary which belonged to his father. He opens it and so begins his journey into adulthood. It is really the story of his coming of age through challenges he has to overcome, of joy and love and sadness and despair, for he must go through all of that. His journey takes him to a fantastic land – he meets a birch-tree that is not really a tree, statues that are not really statues, giants and knights and kind old ladies. He is imprisoned but escapes, he fights for a noble cause and wins, he meets all sorts of creatures, good and evil, all meant to make him understand and learn life’s lessons. Learn that sometimes we do harm and are forgiven by those whom we have hurt, that love can be of many ways, that beauty does not equal purity of soul, and friendship has wonderful rewards. Each adventure is meant to teach him something and he comes out of this experience an adult.

Although the language was not very easy to read (the book was, after all, published in the mid 1850’s) and I found myself going back to re-read certain passages, the story had a melody which made me want to keep going. Imbued with wonderful bits of poetry and very vividly described scenes, it took me to another world where everything was possible and nothing was left to chance, to a land where beauty goes hand in hand with ugliness and where weeping is the companion of laughter. In other words, life.

“Fight on, my men, Sir Andrew sayes,

A little Ime hurt, but yett not slaine;

Yle but lye downe and bleede awhile,

And then Ile rise and fight againe.”

(Ballad of Sir Andrew Barton)


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I do not know this strange beast
That lies inside me.
It has a cold and frightening touch,
Not marble and not feather,
But more like the moonlight rays
Shining briefly in dark spaces.

A few verses I wrote last year and rediscovered recently while going through my papers.

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What Else Is There?


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The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.

(Elizabeth Foley)

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Happy Birthday, Dave Gahan!

A song
to sing
my soul
to bring
to heaven.
Your voice
I hear
the sounds
are near
may they
go on


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Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

I believe magic still exists in the world and it lives in the books. There is something special about being in a library or a bookstore, with so many stories around, waiting to be read, to be rescued from the shelves and taken home.

It strikes me how very like Zafon’s “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” (a concept I’ve read about in two of his novels, Angel’s Game and The Shadow of The Wind) the whole process of choosing a book is. You go into a bookstore and all the books on the shelves are waiting patiently, waiting to be touched, opened, read. Waiting for you to choose. The air is heavy with the scent of anticipation and the joy of discovery. And every time I’m looking for that special book, the one that will tell me more than all the other books around, the one that will take my hand and never let go.

This time it was Fahrenheit 451 that caught my eye. I have heard of it, of course, but never knew what it was about and I opened it and read the first sentence. Need I say more? The book had cast its spell on me and I was lost, couldn’t resist, didn’t want to, so I sat down there near a shelf and began reading, feeding on the words, that first sentence revolving in my head over and over again: It was a pleasure to burn.

At almost 200 hundred pages (including the interview with Ray Bradbury at the back) the book is a quick read and the prose is wonderfully charged with emotion. The reader is introduced to a world where books are hunted down and burned like witches at the stake, where people are more or less machines going through motions, a life without meaning and individual thought, with lots of visual distractions and repressed anger. And Guy Montag, fireman, fits the pattern beautifully. That is, until one day he meets Clarisse, who is different, who likes to think and walk outside and look at people when she talks to them. Their encounter has the effect of a spark in Montag’s soul, igniting his curiosity, making him wonder and question and search for answers. But it’s not easy breaking away from the neat monotony of life, and this he finds out soon enough. With the help of Faber, an old English professor, Montag is determined to find out more about the long lost world of books and as memories come back to him and he starts feeling again, his actions have terrifying consequences, making him a fugitive, running to stay alive.

The more I read the more I thought of OrwelI’s 1984, a novel describing a dystopian world where the communist regime controls everything and where everyone has its specific place. But whereas Orwell’s novel dealt on a larger scale, Fahrenheit 451 is more concentrated, focusing on books, the consequences of their disappearance from the world in favor of the media. Visuals versus thought. Readily made ideas versus imagination.

The end is reminiscent of “The Book of Eli” (the movie), in which the main protagonist carries a book with him and then loses it, but it’s not really lost. I’m afraid saying more will give away too much so I’ll stop here and just add: it was a pleasure to read.

Read in May, 2011

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If life is a book we write, it should be a book of dreams. And even if they don’t all come true, at least the story will still be amazing.

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The Glass Palace – Amitav Ghosh

I got The Glass Palace from a colleague at work and I had no idea what to expect.

In the beginning, the book has the feel of a memoir, a personal story put together with historical facts, starting with the British invasion of Burma at the end of 1885, then going through the Second World War and ending almost in the present day. It spans across generations and several countries, and it begins with introducing Rajkumar, an Indian boy orphaned from an early age who uses his ambition and determination to rise from his humble origins as a poor boy in a foreign land, to a prosperous teak merchant.

The march of the British forces into Burma’s city of Mandalay is the catalyst that sets things in motion and it is at this time that Rajkumar has his first encounter with the Royal family. In the pandemonium that ensues he sees Dolly, one of the queen’s maids and she makes such an impression that years later he goes to search for her. From this love story events start to unfold, and it is their descendants’ lives that the author is following in his narrative.

The author introduces the characters gradually but by the end of the book all of the family connections and their ramifications made it difficult to keep track of how they were related.

One of the themes running through the novel is that of the dispossessed. People separated by war, forced to abandon their country (as was the case with King Thebaw and the royal family – one of my favorite stories within the story), trying to adjust to a new life in a new land.

The action progresses at a steady pace with very few changes. The glimpse into the art of photography, used to add more depth to the romance between two of the characters, was interesting. As I delved deeper into the narrative, I had the feeling that the author manipulated the characters to describe the events of the time, rather than letting their stories become part of the history. Although the roles they had to play were focal points in the narrative, I wish there was more of their stories, rather than the story of the times they lived in. But that’s just me.

The end is touching and provides a suitable finish to the tale, bringing back that intimate feeling from the beginning of the book.

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