Publisher: Penguin

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich

Posted March 19, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana AlexievichTitle: The Unwomanly Face of War (Goodreads)
Author: Svetlana Alexievich
Translator: Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky
Published: Penguin, 1985
Pages: 331
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexievich has a unique take on exploring literature. Her books are all oral histories of an event, where she interviews different people and gets their side of the story. Her background in journalism lends a hand, but what stands out is her willingness to share the different experiences of the people. In Secondhand Time, the people had a range of different opinions about the Soviet era and its collapse. While in The Unwomanly Face of War we get to explore the different roles Russian woman had in World War II and the reactions men had toward them.

The Russian title У войны не женское лицо translates to War Does Not Have a Woman’s Face. This should give you a sense of the attitudes women faced. Wanting to serve their country or help in any way possible, these women were often met with opposition from men. Ranging from ‘War is man business’, to a willingness to fight alongside the women but refusing to marry them, and the list goes on and on.  The attitudes of these men constantly made me angry, even though these women were constantly proving they are capable and in many cases better at the tasks than the men objecting.

I expected to find a lot more physical sexual harassment in the book but it turns out that men are fragile creatures and once emasculated they just resort to verbal abuse more than anything else. The women in The Unwomanly Face of War have amazing stories and it does make me wonder why more stories like this are not written down. Oh, that’s right, the publishing world was dominated by men for far too long and history is just that, his story.

“I am writing a book about war… I, who never liked to read military books, although in my childhood and youth this was the favourite reading for everyone. Of all my peers. And that is not surprising – we were the children of Victory.”

Svetlana Alexievich starts this new translation of her book The Unwomanly Face of War with a reflection on her motivations. I am unsure if this was included in the original 1985 books as there are references on how she would have done things differently. But then again an introduction is probably the last part of a book you would write. I do not have a copy of the 1988 English (translator unknown) so I am unable to compare. The reason I bring up the introduction is because this feels like the first time I have read anything about Alexievich’s thoughts on the book and what she would have done differently if she could do it again. Not vital to the book itself but I appreciated that personal touch.

The 2017 edition of The Unwomanly Face of War has a new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. While not my favourite Russian translators I could not turn down the opportunity to read another Svetlana Alexievich having previously loved Voices from Chernobyl and Secondhand Time. There is one final book translated into English, Zinky Boys, which is subtitled Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War, which I hope to be able to read soon. Leaving two more yet to be translated into English, The Last Witnesses: A Hundred of Unchildlike Lullabys and Enchanted with Death.

Svetlana Alexievich is only the second non-fiction writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (the first being Winston Churchhill) “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”. After reading her books, it is not hard to see why she was chosen. She has a unique ability to craft and piece together a narrative from a collection of interviews. She is able to get these people to open up and tell their story (whether she coaches them or not is a different story). I find myself drawn to her books not just because I am interested in Soviet history and the experience of the people but simply for the way she stitches her narratives together.

I am so glad I picked up The Unwomanly Face of War, while there was never any doubts about me reading more Alexievich, I was hesitant because of the translation. This is a book that has stuck with me and I am constantly thinking about it. I think about the treatment of women and their stories, but never about who translated this book. If you have never read Svetlana Alexievich before than I would recommend starting with The Unwomanly Face of War.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Posted April 6, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Magical Realism / 0 Comments

Exit West by Mohsin HamidTitle: Exit West (Goodreads)
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Published: Hamish Hamilton, 2017
Pages: 240
Genres: Magical Realism
My Copy: Hardcover

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Every so often a book comes along that gets you thinking about an important social issue in a whole new light. These are the books I actively seek out, I am always looking for literature that is going to challenge my thinking or even teach me something new. Mohsin Hamid’s latest novel Exit West was a recent example of a book doing this with the topic of refugees. This is such an important issue and Hamid got me thinking about it in a different way with the simple introduction of magical doors.

The premise of Exit West is straightforward following the budding relationship between Saeed and Nadia in an unnamed country. As the novel tracks their developing relationship, it soon becomes apparent that they will need to escape. As the city they grew up in becomes increasingly unsafe, they are soon planning to leave everything behind. Through a door and into another country.

While the concept of these doors might be inspired by Nanina, Mohsin Hamid has stated he used this idea as a way to not get bogged down with the refugee journey. He wanted to explore the story as the events that lead these characters to flee and how it felt to be a refugee in Western culture. While I understand his reasoning, the idea seemed to work differently for me as the reader. The magical journey to another country gave off this idea that Western media do not care about the journey they only care about asylum seekers in their country. It worked to symbolise that missing piece that is often left out of the news when reporting on the refugee crisis.

In an interview with the author, he said the doors also where a symbol of globalisation. In today’s world we are able to talk to someone on the other side of the world face to face with video calling programs like Skype. The world seems smaller thanks to the advances of technology and while the idea of walking through a door into another country sound wonderful, it works as a motif for the complex issue of border control. Some doors are heavily guarded and other doors, like the one to their home country, are left accessible as if to invite them to ‘go back to where they came from’.

What I think Mohsin Hamid did really well in this novel was use the character focus to challenge the perceptions people might have of the refugee stereotype. Nadia wore an all concealing black robe in public not for religious reasons but to make her feel safe. Nadia is not religious and lives alone, she had to lie and said she was a widow to get her apartment. Nadia’s story is one of protecting herself from judgement while trying to explore her own sexuality. She longs for the freedom and individuality of the Western world. While Saeed is not overly religious he is the one that wants to wait to they are married. When fleeing the country he wishes to be part of the community of fellow countrymen, he does not want to give up on his traditions.

The two different points of view allows the reader to explore the idea of refugees from their perspective. Rather than focusing on the journey and the conflict with the Western world. Exit West focuses on their personal identity, as the characters try to understand their place in the world. For Nadia this is a chance for a new beginning, to reinvent herself but for Saeed this is the story of missing what he left, the nostalgic idea he had of his homeland.

Mohsin Hamid intentionally left the country and city unnamed because this could be the story of anyone. He did model it after a city in Pakistan but worried that mentioning any names might have been viewed as a political statement rather than the story he wanted to tell. I am so glad that I picked up Exit West and I know I will be dipping into more of Hamid’s works. This novel was so accessible, I feel like everyone should pick it up, in the hopes that it will get more people thinking about refugees.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Posted January 23, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr SolzhenitsynTitle: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Goodreads)
Author: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Translator: Ralph Parker
Published: Penguin, 1962
Pages: 142
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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One of the most important works of fiction to come from the Soviet Union was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It was this novella that informed the world of the harsh realities of the gulag under Stalin’s reign. The reaction from the world even lead to Solzhenitsyn’s most important piece, The Gulag Archipelago, a seven volume exposition into the gulag; it was part oral history, part personal account and a political statement. The Gulag Archipelago has become an important piece of literature, and it is taught in Russian high schools, while One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is sometimes assigned reading in classrooms around the rest of the world.

The novella follows Ivan Denisovich Shukhov for one day in 1951, exploring life as a prisoner in a Stalinist labour camp (known as the gulag). Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was sent to the gulag in 1945 for criticising Joseph Stalin in a private letter. He would have been left there to die but when Nikita Khrushchev became the first secretary of the Communist party after Stalin’s death in 1953, Solzhenitsyn was released in 1956 due to his poor health. Most of his writing is autobiographical in nature, in particular One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (about life in the labour camps) and Cancer Ward (which is about his battle with cancer that lead to his release from the gulag).

The significance of this novel is far reaching, not just on giving the reader an understanding on life in the labour camps but also as a political statement on Stalin. The book looks at the struggle to keep human dignity in such harsh treatment. From constantly being treated inhumanely to the removal of their identity by referring to everyone by a serial number (Shukhov being SHCHA-854). While the guards are constantly trying to discourage camaraderie, we still get a glimpse into the interactions between the prisoners. It is here that we get an idea on just how temperamental Stalin could be. Although getting into the tyrannical reign of Stalin requires more research, you get an idea of unjust punishment while reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

There is a lot to explore in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich ranging from the constant struggle with privacy to the vivid descriptions of the cold weather. However, the one thing that stood out for me is the parcels that Tsezar was selling. Not just tobacco but a range of desirable items. For me he became a symbol of worldly pleasures in a place where everyone had nothing. This turns the novella into something so much deeper. You might notice that the name Tsezar is similar word to Tsar, in fact both are Russian words for Caesar. Keeping this in mind we now have a motif for the events that lead to the Russian revolution and it begins to explore the corruption of power under Stalin. Rather than working towards the socialist utopia that the Bolsheviks dreamt of, Stalin rewarded the people that had his favour while punishing everyone else. This idea stuck with me and I think it transformed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s work into something far greater. Although this is what I have come to expect from this author.

This is only my second Solzhenitsyn book (the other being In the First Circle) but I am constantly surprised with the depth he goes to in order to explore his ideas. His books were often published as samizdat (Russian for self-published but referring to the illegally published and distributed literature of the Soviet era) but he still has a unique ability to hide a deeper idea in his novels to avoid serious repercussions from the government. One of my favourite parts of Soviet literature is the way the authors often use satire, motifs and symbolism to explore their true message. I always get a thrill from these books, as if I am understanding some hidden secret. I do think One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is an essential read for anyone interested in Russian literature and I am a little ashamed I put if off for so long.

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Posted September 27, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 2 Comments

Pale Fire by Vladimir NabokovTitle: Pale Fire (Goodreads)
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Published: Penguin, 1962
Pages: 246
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire is a novel centred around a 999 line poem of the same name by fictional poet John Shade. It is primarily focused on a literary commentary by Charles Kinbote, an academic with an obsession with the poet. Starting with the poem in four cantos, then leading into Kinbote’s analysis, Pale Fire is a wonderfully complex novel on obsession and literary criticism. While Nabokov’s 1962 post-modern masterpiece might sound dense on the surface,  I found the novel itself easy to read, but difficult to unpack.

Before sharing my thoughts on Pale Fire, I feel it is important to point out Vladimir Nabokov’s academic career in America. While in America, Nabokov worked as a lecturer mainly in Russian and European literature, most notably at Cornell University from 1948-1959. The reason why this is important is the fact that this experience would have contributed the satirical nature of Pale Fire. I often found the novel to be a tongue in cheek look at literary criticism. On reading this, I found myself laughing at the leaps Kinbote often took to explain the Shade poem. I could not help but think this was a reflection of some of the assignments Nabokov read as a lit professor.

Looking deeper into Pale Fire and there is a lot to gain from the novel. What I noticed first seems to be a popular trope for Nabokov, and that is the unreliable narrator. I cannot help but comparing Charles Kinbote to Humbert Humbert from Lolita. Not only is he unreliable but the obsession with the poet John Shade feels very similar. His obsession towards the poet and the art leads to an artistic passion, however this turns into a struggle with desire exceeding creative capability. It is here we get an interesting idea of critical commentary verses the desire to creating literature.

As things progress the novel shifts to an exploration into reality. I found myself questioning the sanity of Kinbote and maybe he is actually King Charles of Zembla. He could in fact be the exiled king or far more likely, he is suffering from dangerous delusions. From what I know after reading Lolita and Invitation to a Beheading (the only other novels I have read) Nabokov likes to play around with obsession, in particular the dangerous realities it may lead to. It is here where I wished I had read Speak Memory or a biography on Nabokov, because I get a feeling of autobiographical elements in Pale Fire. There are moments that seem to parallel his own life, in regards to fleeing the Soviet Union and even teaching literature. Zembla resembles the Soviet Union but portrayed in a nostalgic way. Like Kinbote looks at the country through rose-coloured glasses, not remembering the harsh reality.

Apart from the wonderful writing style to be found in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, you can expect to see plenty of allegories and references. One thing I love about Russian literature (and I call Nabokov a Russian simply because he was born there) is the way they often reference other novels; it is the same joy I get from reading books about books. Pale Fire is jammed packed with references from The Brothers Karamazov, A Hero of Our Time, James Joyce, Keats, Proust and even mentions Lolita. A better review could go into a lot of detail exploring the references and what they mean to the novel but I will not go into those detail.

Pale Fire is a book that will take a lifetime to read, there is so much here to explore and that is what appeals to me. The more I read from Nabokov the more I want to read, and re-read. I do feel like I need to learn more about this author before diving back into his novels. Speak Memory will be my next read from Nabokov but I am half tempted to crack open a collection of essays I have called Lectures on Russian Literature. I am excited to return to Pale Fire in the future and talk even more about the novel.

Mini Reviews; Crime Edition

Posted January 13, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Thriller / 14 Comments

I do not know if it is the fact that I have had some big months recently or that I associate violence with the holiday period but I have felt the need to read crime fiction lately. I think after a recent review of Dexter is Dead, I have been searching from a new crime series, and hopefully I will find one soon. As crime novels are hard to review without spoilers I thought I will combine them into a mini-review.

Mini Reviews; Crime EditionTitle: Vanishing Games (Goodreads)
Author: Roger Hobbs
Series: Ghostman #2
Published: Knopf Doubleday, 2015
Pages: 304
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: Library Book

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Jack the Ghostman is backed, this time his mentor, Angela needs his help. After a heist to steal some uncut sapphires worth millions of dollars goes wrong, Angela finds herself in trouble. An unknown crime organisation seems to be after her and she is stuck in Macau without any help. She turned to her protégé in the hope to get back the sapphires and get out alive.

I remember Ghostman to be a fun, fast paced heist novel so when book two, Vanishing Games was released, I knew I would eventually read it. What worked really well in the book was the setting; Macau becomes this mysterious city full of uncertainty. A sovereign state of China, Macau is one of the richest countries in the world, thanks to housing the largest gambling district. A tourist attraction for high rollers, but still housing a seedy underbelly. I had a lot of fun with this book, it was fun and action packed, but still a typical heist novel which is not a bad thing

Mini Reviews; Crime EditionTitle: In the Woods (Goodreads)
Author: Tana French
Series: Dublin Murder Squad #1
Narrator: John McCormack
Published: Viking, 2007
Pages: 429
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Audiobook

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I have been recommended the Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French multiple times, not sure why. So I finally decided to pick up the first book In the Woods, which tells the story of Detective Rob Ryan and Detective Cassie Maddox assigned to the murder of a twelve year old girl. More than twenty years ago Ryan and two friends got lost in the same woods. He returned, but what happened to his friends remains a mystery.

This was a fresh and dark psychological suspense, which I enjoyed far more than I expected. My problem with best-seller crime novels is they tend to be very formulaic and unoriginal. Tana French managed to keep the same format but still made the book stand out. I think the chemistry between Ryan and Maddox played a big part of this. I was shipping the two and hoping they will end up together. I hear this series follows different characters in the Dublin murder squad which I am worried about, I want more from these two characters.

Mini Reviews; Crime EditionTitle: Villain (Goodreads)
Author: Shūichi Yoshida
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Published: Vintage, 2011
Pages: 295
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Library Book

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One morning in January 2006, the body of a female insurance saleswoman, Yoshino was found dead on Mitsue Pass. A young construction worker, Yuichi is arrested for her murder. Shifting perspectives, Villain tells the story of the events leading up to Yoshino’s murder and the aftermaths.

Kosaku Yoshida is often considered as one of Japan’s best crime writers and as a fan of Japanese Lit, I knew I had to check one of his books out. However I was a little disappointed; the story was interesting but I was not a fan of the execution. I thought it builds up the suspense, then shifts perspective; which felt like it kept stopping and starting and that just felt too clunky. Yoshida explores the idea of alienation, which seems to be a common theme in Japanese fiction. This worked well, however this was not enough to redeem the novel for me.

Mini Reviews; Crime EditionTitle: Hit Man (Goodreads)
Author: Lawrence Block
Series: Keller #1
Published: Harper Collins, 2002
Pages: 342
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: eBook

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Lawrence Block is a hard working pulp crime novelist, best known for his hard-boiled detective Matthew Scudder, gentleman thief Bernie Rhodenbarr and hit man John Keller. Hit Man is the first book in the Keller series, combining a collection of short stories to develop this character. This is an interesting technique and Block’s short story book One Night Stands and Lost Weekends remains one of my favourite crime collections. He manages to pack the same punch of a normal pulp novel into a stripped down story.

I enjoy Lawrence Block’s style; it is nice to know someone is trying to keep the pulp crime genre alive. However Hit Man is more of a thriller series, which develops the complexities of this character with short intervals for an assassination. I like the way the stories interlock as a way to introduce John Keller, I have never seen this technique and think it worked well. Having said that, I think this is a fun book but I am not sure if I will continue the series. I am looking for something darker and do not think the Keller series will give me what I desire.

Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum

Posted January 8, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

Iron Curtain by Anne ApplebaumTitle: Iron Curtain : The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-56 (Goodreads)
Author: Anne Applebaum
Published: Penguin, 2013
Pages: 613
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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When the Second World War ended, the political landscape of Europe changed drastically. More so, for Eastern Europe, and from 1945 to about 1956, it was controlled by Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union. However after the war, the Red Army were not really the enemy, helping to liberate a lot of countries from the Nazis. It was the mismanagement of the Eastern European countries that became the problem. The Iron Curtain is a history book focused on the events that happened in these countries.

First of all, I would like to say, as a fan of the Soviet Union I do have a bias view point. I do not agree with Stalinism but I thought Lenin had some very good ideas. The Soviet Union was a political experiment that did not turn out the way it should have. I have a decent understanding of the history of the Soviet Union (though I am continuing to learn), I did not know much about the effects the USSR had on countries like Poland, Hungary and East Germany.  This is where The Iron Curtain came in to fill in that knowledge gap.

I was a little worried going into this book, Anne Applebaum is an American author and there was a concern that this would turn into a propaganda piece. Applebaum does not pull any punches, she reports every gruesome detail but never in a way that felt anti-Soviet. In fact I was pleased to find out that a lot of the research came from the Moscow libraries. Having said this, I have not read anything else on this exact topic so I cannot compare or judge the accuracy of the information. But this is turned into a good overview of what turned into the rape and pillaging of these countries.

I am fascinated but the Soviet Union and its history and The Iron Curtain was a nice addition to add to my collection on the topic. I feel I have so much more to learn and am looking forward to dive in further. I do not think I can review this book well enough because I have no way to compare it. I did enjoy the book as I am interested in the topic but it often felt very dense.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Posted December 16, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Horror / 0 Comments

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley JacksonTitle: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Goodreads)
Author: Shirley Jackson
Narrator: Bernadette Dunne
Published: Penguin, 1962
Pages: 146
Genres: Horror, Classic
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The Blackwood sisters, Constance and Merricat (Mary Katherine) try to live an idyllic life with their uncle Julian in their big New England house. The villagers surrounding them hate them and often chant hurtful words. The Blackwood family were once much bigger, but one meal changed it all. Arsenic in the sugar served with dessert killed the rest of the family, Constance never had sugar, Merricat was sent to her room before supper and Julian only had a little sugar and is now a shell of his former self. Despite the fact that Constance was arrested and then acquitted of this crime, the rumours still run wild and the Blackwoods live their life in seclusion, that is until Charles arrived and tried to steal the family fortune.

While We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the first Shirley Jackson I have read, it was in fact her final novel. I went into this book knowing nothing about the story and I found it the perfect way to experience the novel. An American gothic that is in part a haunted house story, in part a mystery, and as Jackson’s biographer Judy Opphenheimer calls it a “paean to agoraphobia”. A psychological story that explores the effects of rumours and public opinion, all told from the perspective of eighteen year old Merricat, who is an unreliable narrator.

There is a real mystery about the Blackwoods, but I was more interested in the effects the villagers had on the family. I know the isolation is a reflection of the author’s own agoraphobia and nervous conditions but I took it more as a look into social issues, essentially the effects of rumours and speculation. I cannot help but compare the book with Frankenstein. This is the beauty of fiction and the way people all have different perspectives on the same piece of literature.

I found both Constance and Merricat to be wonderful characters, they are both strong and at times unlikeable, while being mysterious and complex. Merricat has to be one of the best narrators found in literature; I never could fully understand her and she often surprised me. She is likeable but I could never trust her completely. She was an enigma and as the novel progressed and secrets revealed, I really appreciated the way Shirley Jackson crafted these characters.

There is a fine balance between the morbid and the whimsical to be found in We Have Always Lived in the Castle; it is poetic and haunting. Discovering Shirley Jackson came at the perfect time, I read this book during Halloween and I eagerly await next year to read another one of her novels. I know I could read Jackson at other times, but I do think her writing suited Halloween perfectly. I know The House of Haunting Hill is recommended, but I would love to know which of her other books should take priority.

Candide: Or Optimism by Voltaire

Posted December 9, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Candide: Or Optimism by VoltaireTitle: Candide: Or Optimism (Goodreads)
Author: Voltaire
Translator: Theo Cuffe
Published: Penguin, 1759
Pages: 224
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Hardcover

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Candide has lived a pretty sheltered life in an Edenic paradise, madly in love with the Baron’s daughter Cunégonde. His mentor Professor Pangloss taught him the ways of optimism but his adventures may challenge his life philosophy. Candide is a satire from Voltaire, a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment. The book enjoyed much success, as well as a lot of controversy, being banned for religious blasphemy.

“Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”

In Candide, Voltaire sets out to challenge the philosophical ideas of optimism, particularly the works of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. Essentially he used a stripped down idea of optimism and explores it from a religious perspective. The idea is simply, if there is evil in the world would that be a sign that God is not entirely good or not all-powerful?

While Voltaire wrote Candide as a parody of the classic adventure tales, it also satirised organised religion. This was the main reason the novel got banned. Throughout the book all the religious leaders were either corrupt or hypocritical and you even encounter the Pope’s own daughter within the story. Most of the Catholic priests are never celibate, the hard-line Inquisitor has a mistress, and there is a friar who is a thief, despite the fact he is a member of the Franciscan order and has taken a vow of poverty.

For me, the connection between optimism and religion was what stood out the most in Candide. The whole concept of “everything will work out for the best” reminded me of the flawed thinking of some Christians. I grew up in the church, and I have heard people say things like “God will heal me” and never go to a doctor, or “God will provide” and never look for a job. I always thought this was a terrible attitude and a misunderstanding of the Bible. So while reading Candide, I saw this come through so many time and I really enjoyed that element.

This novel was a buddy read with a fellow booktuber (Shut Your Typeface) and her problem was the sexual exploitation of women within Candide. For me I thought Voltaire was trying to demonstrate a real situation effecting woman. The problem with having mistresses, rape, sexual slavery and still wanting women to be chaste and virtuous. I really do think he was trying to show a real problem that is effecting woman; all the women in the book were victims of some form of sexual assault. I might have viewed it one way but I can see how it could be interpreted as chauvinistic and disrespectful towards woman.

There are so many other themes that show up within Candide, from resurrection, wealth, and class. So many interesting topics worth exploring, but I did not want to make this review too long. I would love to talk about the parody of adventure tales, the humour and other themes but maybe I will leave them for the next review I do of this book, after a re-read. Candide was a very interesting and surprisingly easy to read. I had a lot of fun checking this novel out and looking at the depth to be found within the pages.

Bonjour Tristesse and A Certain Smile by Françoise Sagan

Posted November 28, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 2 Comments

Bonjour Tristesse and A Certain Smile by Françoise SaganTitle: Bonjour Tristesse (Goodreads)
Author: Françoise Sagan
Translator: Heather Lloyd
Published: Penguin, 2013
Pages: 217
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Françoise Sagan become an overnight sensation in 1954 which the publication of her first novel Bonjour Tristesse. At the age of 18, she published the novel she will be remembered for; the story of Cécile, a seventeen year old living with her widowed father and his mistress on the French Riviera. During an uneventful summer, an old friend of her late mother comes and stirs the peaceful balance of their summer villa.

Not knowing much about Françoise Sagan, I could not determine just how autobiographical Bonjour Tristesse might have been. I do know that Sagan, much like Cécile was kicked out of school and both enjoyed the bourgeois lifestyle. Sagan is a pseudonym (real name Françoise Quoirez) that was taken from the character Princesse de Sagan from Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perd (In Search of Lost Time). I expect that much of this novel is semi-autobiographical because she managed to perfectly capture the narcissism, emotions and angst of teenage life.

In 1955, a censored translation of Bonjour Tristesse hit the shelves for English speaking readers. It was only recently with Heather Lloyd’s translation that we able to enjoy an uncensored edition. Not that there was much of a reference to sex in the novel anyway. This new translation also packaged Françoise Sagan’s second novel, A Certain Smile into the one book. A novel about Dominique, who bored with her lover, starts an affair with a much older married man.

I found that Françoise Sagan likes to play with ideas of morality and pleasure, while also exploring just how problematic a wealthy and carefree life can be. She likes to look at the disillusionment of the bourgeois characters and explore the emotions that she must have been facing herself. In a lot of ways, I tend to associate the angsty style of Sagan with The Sorrows of Young Werther. Françoise Sagan and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe both managed to capture the intensity of emotions in their novels that I have not experienced in more recent books.

 Bonjour Tristesse is a stronger novel than A Certain Smile, but I think both books are worth experiencing. I feel like Bonjour Tristesse had a depth that was not found in A Certain Smile. Both come in at about 120 pages each and A Certain Smile might have benefited with more pages, to fill in the plot and characters a lot more. I enjoy the style of Françoise Sagan and I hope to get a chance to read a few more of her other novels. I wonder what age and life experience does to her writing style.

The Story of My Purity by Francesco Pacifico

Posted October 10, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

The Story of My Purity by Francesco PacificoTitle: The Story of My Purity (Goodreads)
Author: Francesco Pacifico
Translator: Stephen Twilley
Published: Hamish Hamilton, 2010
Pages: 293
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Thirty year old Piero Rosini wants to live a life of purity, wholly dedicated to God with a dream of become a modern day saint. Living in a sexless marriage, Piero spends his days working in a conservative Catholic publishing house. Although this publishing house was not conservative enough; they plan to publish a book that makes the claim that Pope John Paul II was secretly Jewish. He plans to leave and start an ultraconservative publishing house, where he can have more control over the content being released. The Story of My Purity is a novel that explores religion in relationship to faith, freedom and purity.

Living life with the idea of becoming a modern day saint, trying to do everything right and be perfect really sets up the satirical nature of this novel. Saint Augustine of Hippo’s autobiographical book Confessions comes to mind when I think about the difference between Saints and people who try to live a sinless life. I found that this novel really dealt with the idea of spirituality and religion in an interesting way. There is an exploration with the idea of freedom and faith when it comes to organised religion (in this case the Catholic Church).

A little understanding of theology really helps understand The Story of My Purity and the humour behind it. Firstly, when it comes to the seven deadly sins; it is alright to feel envy, greed and so on. The Church’s teaching on the seven deadly sins, is that these are gateways that can lead to trouble, so we should be aware of these feelings and learn to understand them. Although, there have been a lot of misconceptions around the deadly sins, that have led to the concept of Catholic guilt.

For Piero Rosini, he never learned to manage his lust, he went to a priest for help and was told not to think about women. Piero really took this advice on board to the point that he was unable to get an erection to consummate his one marriage. His sexless marriage was a result of him constantly trying to not think about sex, or feel a sexual attraction to his own wife. Although it proves impossible to not have sexual thoughts, and Piero’s life of purity began to unravel with the help of an attraction to his sister-in-law and spam emails.

The satirical nature of this novel comes from the fact people do not understand what the Church says about sex. Pope John Paul II did 129 lectures on the Theology of the Body, going through the Churches views on sex and sexuality. These lectures are about understanding your body, your desires and attraction. The theology should never feel restrictive by religion, rather we should be free and it should correct people’s misassumptions on the Churches teaching. Although the author may not have written this as a satire and this was actually his thoughts on Catholicism.

Unfortunately The Story of My Purity was not a great book, I loved viewing the book as a satire and exploring the theology behind it. However it did take a direction that I did not enjoy and ended up falling on its face. I am fascinated by theology and I feel like this could have been a great novel. The predictability of the book was just too much of a stumbling block for me. I am curious on Francesco Pacifico thoughts on Catholicism; I viewed the book as satire and would hate to think of it as anything else. I have also done a video review on this novel, if you are curious; although I think I talk about all the same ideas.