Monthly Archives: December 2015

Guest post – Bina

When I first saw Bina’s avatar, a guy’s picture and a girl’s name, I was intrigued. And then there’s her blog name, ifyoucanreadthis which always makes me want to come up with a clever ending (still working on that one, but maybe you can help). I had seen her comments here and there on the blogs I visited but not until recently have I really started to get a closer look at what she writes. It turns out I missed some great posts because she reads a lot of books I haven’t read but want to – Life after Life by Kate Atkinson being one of them (maybe next year!). So when I asked her to be my guest for this last month of the year, she graciously agreed and these are her answers. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Thank you, Bina, for answering them.

1. Who are you?

Hi! My name is Bina and I’m from Germany. Currently, I’m finishing my thesis in the field of Cultural Studies. When I get away from the desk, I love going out for dinner and a movie, running and popping by my parents to play with the cats. This year I’m also trying to bake the tastiest bread. #Reallifegoals

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?

I started blogging ages ago, just to have a place to collect my thoughts about the books I read. Though most of my friends read a bit, I couldn’t subject them to the intense bookworm life I aspire to. So, now I take it out on all of you, the book blogging community is the loveliest corner of the web. I don’t really read one genre particularly, though mysteries are my comfort genre. I also like to keep the blog pressure free. Meaning you’ll often have to deal with rambling and unedited posts, but I need to keep it apart from thesis writing.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres.

I love mysteries, especially cozy crime by Agatha Christie, some social justice nonfiction and a lot of what I read falls under the very general umbrella ‘fiction.’ This year, I’ve really gotten into sci-fi and fantasy and discovered the amazing Nnedi Okorafor – Binti was a favorite of mine this year. But basically, give me diverse literature with strong female characters, and I’ll read anything.

4. Kindle or paper book?

E-books aren’t my favorite way of reading, but the last couple of years I’ve used my Kindle frequently. This year I joined an e-book flatrate service just to have a wider selection of books available and have been getting a lot of use out of it. It means reading on the tablet, which strains my eyes a bit, but with a badly stocked library and small budget it’s worth it. Though my first choice will always be the real paper book!

5. Three things you learned from a book.

I learned that it’s okay that book love sometimes leaves a book in tatters (Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman), I learned to make my own sourdough starter (Das Brotbackbuch by Lutz Geissler) and learned more about how the wave model of feminism makes invisible the contributions of Women of Color (No Permanent Waves by Nancy Hewitt).

6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.

The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Amazing world-building and each book takes you on a long journey. Also, finally available in one huge tome!

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

I have a huge copy of five Daphne Du Maurier novels in one book. But I like it too much to put it on the floor.

8. Favorite quotes.

“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity for our existence. It forms the quality of light from which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”

(Audre Lorde)

“It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.”

(Jo Walton)

“The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of
education or a lack of verbal interest is just a fucking lunatic.”

(Stephen Fry)

9. Three tips for bloggers.

1. Comment on blogs you like.
2. Respond when people comment on your blog.
Those are most important, I think, interaction makes you part of the community. Lurking, sadly, does not.
3. Have fun!

10. Best/worst blogging experience.

Oh there’s been so many good ones! Meeting good friends early on and keeping in touch through all the changes in the blogging world (Remember, Vishy?). Hosting a read-along with JoV of Bibliojunkie). Every. Single. Comment!
I haven’t had bad blogging experiences really. Sometimes I had to take a break from blogging because of my workload. That sucked a lot.

11. What are you most passionate about?

Social justice, family and friends, chocolate.

12. Last book that made you cry.

I try not to read books that are likely to make me cry. Still haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars. But one I read this year was so perfect and beautiful, I did tear up: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.


Posted in Guests | 15 Comments

Haiganu. The River of Whispers – Marian Coman

Haiganu and its author

Haiganu and its author

It’s been a few weeks since I read the book and I’m still in love with it. I love the glossy gorgeous cover, the off-white page color, the drawings, the cover art, but most of all I love the story. As a fan of horror and fantasy (Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Robin Hobb are among my favorite authors) I often wondered if there was a Romanian author who would take elements from Romanian mythology and/or fairy-tales and use them to tell a magical story. To my pleasant surprise, such an author does indeed exist.

“Haiganu. The River of Whispers” is the first volume in “The Cursed God” trilogy. It’s a story that uses elements from a famous Romanian fairy-tale about Harap Alb (which is also the name of the story) – the son of a king who travels to his uncle’s kingdom to be crowned king. On his way there he falls prey to an evil man who takes his place, swears him to secrecy and has him fulfill some dangerous tasks, one of them being the killing of a deer whose bejeweled skin and especially his head are supposed to hold some of the biggest and never before seen precious stones. Harap Alb manages to overcome all the obstacles with the help of some unusual friends who posses incredible talents that come in handy in time of need. All ends well, as the hero of the tale resumes his rightful place and he lives happily ever after. But that’s the oversimplified version.

Marian Coman, the author

Marian Coman, the author

Haiganu is the name of the hero in this new tale. Proud and defiant, he wants nothing to do with the mortals, spending his days in solitude, away from them. He is one of the Great Ones, a god with a single eye, cursed to wander the earth, never to find rest but to forever be tormented by the voices in his head. Voices of mortals, each with his own predicament, crying, cursing, shouting, all in pain, a never-ending stream of lamentation. Until one day he hears a voice that is different from all the others. It’s the voice of Zourazi, a child with wizard blood in his veins. Suddenly Haiganu has a purpose, to find this child, an orphan taken from his family and forced to serve his master, the cruel Dekibalos. With the help of Moroianu and his spells, Dekibalos is building the Orphans’ Army, comprised entirely of children whose only purpose is to kill and eat the flesh of their enemies. It’s a cruel world, bloody, tormented, on the precipice of change, where griffins are more than just a means of transportation and the secrets of the great wizards not as safe as they once were.

The author combines elements from the story of Harap Alb with bits of Romanian history and to this he adds a dash of horror to create a new world that has all the makings of a great fantasy. This first volume felt a lot like warming up. We get to know the characters, there are a few twists and turns but it feels as if the great mysteries are yet to come. Reading this I was reminded of Robin Hobb’s “The Farseer Trilogy”; the two stories seem to have some things in common – the ability of some of the characters to bond with animals (I particularly loved such a scene that is described with exquisite detail in Haiganu), and the prisoners of war that are captured, transformed into soulless beings and used with the only purpose of destruction.

Gaudeamus International Book Fair

Gaudeamus International Book Fair

I loved the book. I had to re-read the original story of Harap Alb because it’s been so long since my last reading and I’d forgotten some of the details. I’m glad I did because it helped me understand how the author used the original story to forge something new. My only complaint is that I’ll have to wait another year for the next volume to come out. So far it’s only available in Romanian but I’m hoping that one day soon it would be translated so more people can enjoy it. And with it, the story of Harap Alb. It would be useful so see where it all began.
I had the pleasure of meeting the author at a book signing during Gaudeamus International Book Fair last month. We chatted a bit, he signed my copy and I took some photos. It was one of the best days I had this year.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Read in November 2015

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 20 Comments

Reading Erich Maria Remarque for German Literature Month

German Lit Month big
November was German Literature Month, an event hosted by Caroline@Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy@Lizzy’s Literary Life. I’d like to thank them for devoting their time to such a great event. I’ve wanted to participate for years and I loved all three books I managed to read.
I’m a little behind with my reviews, trying to carve slices of time to write and succeeding only today in finally putting my thoughts together. My first contribution to the event was a short collection of stories by Franz Kafka which can be read here.

Remarque A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1954) is the first novel by Remarque that I’ve read. It starts with a rather graphic description of the ravages of war, of dead bodies and smell and the horrible weather that changes the human flesh in a way I didn’t really want to know but became fascinated with from the first page.
The main character, Ernst Graeber , is a German soldier who, after two years spent fighting in the war, finally gets a two-week leave to go home and see his parents. But home as he remembers it is no more. His parents’ house is a heap of rubble, as are quite a few of the houses nearby. He tries to adapt to this new reality, nurturing the hope that somewhere his parents are safe and one day he will see them again. When he meets Elisabeth, things don’t look so bleak anymore. Suddenly the two weeks that seemed like an eternity before, now seem too short to spend with Elisabeth.

Can a lifetime be lived in fourteen days? Can happiness and love blossom on the wasteland of war? Is living a normal life possible? I found myself pondering these questions as page by page, Graeber becomes more and more a person and less a character. He’s compassionate and he questions the part he had to play in the war. The conversations he has with Elisabeth are full of depth and meaning and sometimes they’re quite philosophical. Questions about life and death and the futility of it all, the disillusion of war, the reality behind what he’s been told on the front and what actually happened back home, it all becomes a living nightmare. But Remarque gives Graeber resources to keep on living and the wisdom to appreciate whatever morsel of goodness he finds.

What I liked the most was the dialogue. It gives the story a real and urgent pace, sprinkled here and there with humor, something I did not expect to read about in a war novel but there you go, it’s there and it’s done in such a way that it adds even more depth to the story. Many times I stopped and wondered at the passages showing the cruelty, the hope, and the ability of the characters to climb right back from the abyss of despair. It wasn’t an easy novel to read, but Remarque doesn’t let things get too bleak – an unexpected turn here and there, help coming from strange places, and the extraordinary beauty of the words make this truly a book to remember. And I’m sure I’ll remember the abrupt and beautiful ending. It could not have stopped any other way but I still have mixed feelings about it.

The Black Obelisk (1956)

Having liked “A Time to Love and a Time to Die” so much, I immediately dived into “The Black Obelisk”. This book is set in 1923-1924, a time when war was a thing of the past but its effects were still very much palpable. Inflation was running every business into the ground, and for those working for the funeral house Heinrich Kroll & Sons staying abreast was done with the ability of a juggler performing at the circus.
Georg, the owner, and Ludwig, the main protagonist, work together, trying to stay in business. And dying is a profitable business after all, says Remarque with an irony present from the first page. It is clear this book is a lot lighter, more than slightly ironic and a lot more humorous than “A Time to Love and a Time to Die”. The characters have their own idiosyncrasies, and they each play their part in something that resembles more of a spectacle than anything else. Eduard, the owner of the restaurant Walhalla, who once sold coupons to his customers thinking this will bring him more money, only to have inflation ruin his plans; Wilke, the carpenter who made coffins and sometimes slept in one; Isabelle, the young lady living in an insane asylum; Lisa, the temptress, married to a horse butcher; Knopf, the former general who comes home drunk in the evening, and Gerda, whose relationship with Ludwig made me remember that of Graeber and Elisabeth.

Ludwig is an idealist; a World War I veteran, he clings to his beliefs, keeping himself apart from the new world of greed and speculation. Because of this his relationships with two women don’t last. Through his conversations with Genevieve Terhoven, or “Isabelle” as she likes to call herself, he is as close to love as he can, but Remarque adds a twist to this story – the young lady is a schizophrenic and their relationship anything but simple.

I enjoyed this novel as much as the first but for different reasons. While “A Time to Love and a Time to Die” is somber for the most part, and more introspective, it is clear that in “The Black Obelisk” the author created a more relaxed atmosphere where humor plays a bigger role, and the conversations verge on cheerful at times, only to be punctured by the achingly heartfelt exchanges between Ludwig and Elisabeth. The black obelisk that gives the title to the novel is real and as I often wondered about its role in the story, it is at the very end that it is made clear. I have to say I love Remarque’s endings even if I wish they were different; the novels feel complete, and Remarque trades open endings for something with more substance, giving plenty of answers and not much ambiguity.
I’d be hard pressed to choose one book over the other. I liked both. The writing is superb, the dialogue is perfect, his characters believable and likeable. Unfortunately I can’t quote from my favorite passages since the books I read were Romanian translations, but there were so many! I would like to read more of Remarque’s work – perhaps his famous “All Quiet on the Western Front”. He’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors.

*Read in October-November 2015
*My rating 5/5 stars for both books

Caroline’s review

Posted in Challenges | 14 Comments