Month: August 2020

Returning to Blogging and My #WITMonth Plans

Posted August 6, 2020 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 12 Comments

I have somehow fallen off the blogging bandwagon, which really disappoints me. I love this blog; I have had it for eleven years now and I think it has been a great reflection of how much I have changed as a reader. There was a time where I considered myself a literary explorer, I would read from all genres, trying to find what I like and did not like. I used the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list as a guide to try out books and discover my reading personality. I think I have found it now; I want to read the world. Translated literature has become my focus and I tend to navigate towards women in translation because I realise just how easy it is to throw off the gender balance in my reading. This is not by desire but more the fact that around a third of all books being translated into English are by women, which means that if I don’t focus on women in translation my reading balance will be all wrong.

There was a time when I thought people should read whatever they want and while this is true, we need to also be aware just how biased our own reading can become. If I look at my reading spreadsheet, 35% of all the books I have read (since 2009) were women. However, last year 79% were from female authors, this gives you an indication of just how messed up my reading balance was in the past and how much of a struggle it can be to get that balance back to an acceptable level. This is why events like #WITMonth have become an important part of my reading life, but I do think it is more #WITForever for me. Also, it is just so great to see readers talking about translated literature and reading the world. Not to mention the fact that these are books I am interested in and want more people to discover how great it is to read outside of US and UK literature.

I tend not to plan my reading, I find it hard to read on a schedule and I know I am very much a mood reader, but I did pull out a pile of women in translation books that I would like to focus on and thought it might be a good idea to list them here as a way to promote #WITMonth and maybe get suggestions on which to prioritise. I did make a YouTube video on the same topic, but this list includes audiobooks and ebooks as well.

Here is my list;

  • The Book of Anna by Carmen Boullosa (translated by Samantha Schnee) – I am currently reading this one because of the 2MR podcast
  • Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami (translated by Sam Bett & David Boyd)
  • Bright by Duanwad Pimwana (translated by Mui Poopoksakul)
  • Claudine in Paris by Colette (translated by Antonia White)
  • Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated by Susan Bernofsky)
  • Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann (translated by Philip Boehm)
  • Katalin Street by Magda Szabó (translated by Len Rix)
  • The Notebook by Ágota Kristóf (translated by Alan Sheridan)
  • Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli (translated by Christina MacSweeney)
  • A Winter Book by Tove Jansson (multiple translators)
  • A Man’s Place by Annie Ernaux (translated by Tanya Leslie) – I wanted to read another Ernaux and this was her highest rated on Goodreads so just picked that one
  • Last Witnesses by Svetlana Alexievich (translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky)
  • Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (translated by Sarah Moses)
  • Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (translated by Jamie Chang)
  • Inheritance from Mother by Minae Mizumura (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter)
  • The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (translated by Marlaine Delargy)
  • Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector (translated by Alison Entrekin)
  • Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko (translated by Halyna Hryn)
  • Dark Constellations by Pola Oloixarac (translated by Roy Kesey)
  • Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery (translated by Alison Anderson)

Movie Review: Midsommar (2019)

Posted August 5, 2020 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Movie-Horror / 2 Comments

Title: Midsommar
Ari Aster
StarsFlorence Pugh, Jack Reynor
Genre: Folk Horror

I have spent a large amount of time lately thinking about Ari Aster’s film Midsommar; it has been awhile since I first saw it and it won’t leave my head. The basic premise follows a group of anthropology students that make their way to Hårga, in Hälsingland for the midsummer festival. Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) was reluctantly invited along by her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) after the sudden death of her sister and parents. The festival turns out to be unlike anything, completely unimaginable. An outsider may call it inhuman, but to an anthropology student, a gold mine of a topic for their thesis.

This community we see in Midsommar continually plays with these ideals we have in how people should act by spiralling deeper and deeper into the bizarre. While there is no real evidence of some of these rituals existing, Ari Aster has blended a lot of old Swedish and Norse mythology to create the Hårga commune. Breaking down the iconology alone would offer some interesting insights into this film; if I was a more skilled critic, I would go into those details but instead I will refer you to an interesting video on the topic by Wisecrack.

What I want to focus on, is what Midsommar is saying about personal relationships. At the start of the film we find out that Dani’s sister Terri has killed herself along with their parents. We don’t know much as to why, but it is implied that it may be due to a lack of a support network. We know Dani’s support network is lacking as well, as she relies heavily on her emotionally distant boyfriend. In fact, he had planned to break up with Dani before the trip but she was invited by one of his friends in a moment of sympathy. On the other hand, we have this cult-like community that supports each other in everything. The elderly willingly throw themselves off a cliff when they have outgrown their use and there are multiple examples of them sharing in each other’s pleasure and pain. When an old man doesn’t die on impact after throwing himself off the cliff, the community join in on his anguish. During a weird mating ritual, the woman moan in unison with Maja. This commune becomes increasingly more appealing to Dani as a source of comfort and support.

The fact that Dani’s boyfriend is named Christian should not be a surprise either. While Christianity is meant to be about community and a deep personal relationship with God, many don’t have that kind of experience. Christianity can feel like a dysfunctional relationship with an emotionally distant partner, especially when they are going through something so tragic as the loss of an entire family. In that moment we would all crave love and support like Dani. She received everything she craved from the Hårga commune.

I have heard that the genesis of this film was that Ari Aster was commission by the Swedish film industry to develop a horror film, but he was in the middle of a bad breakup and wanted to write about that. So, he combined the two and come up with Midsommar. His anger really comes through in the film and I think the way he blended the two will benefit his writing in the future, in the sense that he has stumbled across a winning formula. It is obvious that he sees himself as the character Dani Ardor, I mean the similarities to his own name feels like he didn’t even try to hide this fact. Also makes me wonder how his ex feels about being portrayed as a character like Christian. Knowing this fact, I think really helped me understand the ending of the film.

I don’t know much about the technical style of cinema, but I have to say this is a beautiful film. The way Pawel Pogorzelski did the cinematography was breathtaking. There are a few scenes that really stand out to me but the one that comes to mind is the transition in which Dani runs to the bathroom crying and it cuts to the bathroom in an airplane. The transition really stuck with me, it also was a great way to show that Dani’s grief is still affecting her in the same way a few weeks later.

I love this film and I wish I had the skills to analyse it further. I might write more about Midsommar in the future, but I am feeling a need to write about great cinema, possibly with a focus on world cinema as it ties in nicely with my translated literature obsession, but this film demanded an essay. I probably will not be watching Ari Aster’s other film Hereditary, but I am curious to see what he comes up with next. Also, I am a big fan of Florence Pugh and will follow her career closely; if you haven’t seen her in anything else, I highly recommend Lady Macbeth. Let me know what you thought of Midsommar, and if you have any recommendations similar to this film.

For a book recommendation to pair with Midsommar, I suggest Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda (translated from the Catalan by Martha Tennent), it has a similar style of weird traditions and nature.

Honey, I Killed The Cats by Dorota Masłowska

Posted August 1, 2020 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Honey, I Killed The Cats by Dorota MasłowskaTitle: Honey, I Killed The Cats (Goodreads)
Author: Dorota Masłowska
Translator: Benjamin Paloff
Published: Deep Vellum Publishing, 2019
Pages: 176
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Polish writer Dorota Masłowska has had a stellar literary career so far, publishing her first novel (Snow White and Russian Red) at just 19. She has won the NIKE Literary Award (a prestigious Polish award) in 2006 for her second novel, which has yet to be translated into English. Out of her six books, half have been translated into English, the latest being Honey, I Killed the Cats which was translated by Benjamin Paloff. In this novel Dorota Masłowska tells the tale of two independent woman as they try to navigate their lives and friendship in our modern world.

Before talking about the novel, I want to quickly talk about satire, mainly because I am sick of seeing confusion around this literary device. There are two main types of satirical writing, Horatian is playful, while Juvenal is scolding. Satire is used to criticise social issues; it doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with humour. The reason I wanted to talk about these differences is because I think Honey, I Killed the Cats does a wonderful job in incorporating the Horatian and Juvenal satire into the novel. On one hand we have a playful, humorous look at mass-media and consumerism, then there is a harsh exploration into the dangers of corporate greed, diet culture and fitness fads.

Another reason why I wanted to talk about the different satirical styles was because I have an example of each that I think seem to share some similarities to Honey, I Killed the Cats. For Horatian satire, I had a similar vibe to Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, in the sense that it shared a very similar style of dark humour. Then the style of Juvenal satire similar to this novel, I think would be American Psycho, in the way it attempted to explore the destructive nature of modern trends, but it used advertising jingles in a similar way Bret Easton Ellis did with fashion descriptions.

On the back of the book is a quote that says this books a cross between Virginie Despentes and Blade Runner. While this is an apt description, especially since Blade Runner is set in 2019, the book that I am reminded of is Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. There is a similarity here that is both playful and bitter towards modern consumerism that I find fitting. Needless to say, I appreciate a novel that knows how to both have fun and deal with some real issues.

I read this novel soon after finishing Ducks, Newburyport so I think I might have gone for some deeper interpretation. The plot became less important and even irrelevant to my reading experience. I had a great time with Honey, I Killed the Cats and am curious to explore more from Dorota Masłowska. I found it strange going from a book like Ducks, Newburyport to something like this novel but thankfully there was plenty to explore. Despite the fact that this review says nothing about the plot of this book, I hope I have said enough to interest others.