Tag: Albert Camus

Distracted by Other Books

Posted March 1, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 6 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in February 2018

My reading in February started off with the amazing The Unwomanly Face of War. It is a book I have not been able to get out of my mind. My wife often gets an intense hatred toward men and I think this is the first time I have come close to understanding how she fully feels. I understand how she would be angry, you just need to look at the news to see all the stupid or terrible actions been taken by men. However while reading The Unwomanly Face of War I got very angry toward men. Especially when one man told Svetlana Alexievich that war was ‘man business’ and she should write about men in war (because we do not have enough of those books). This was a fascinating collection of interviews of the woman and their involvement in war. It highlights the bravery of these women but what really shone through was just the way men reacted and their contradictory nature. The male ego is so fragile.

I have been a fan of Alexievich and but I will admit I am never impressed with these translators. I was reluctant to get The Unwomanly Face of War; luckily I did not let the translators stop me. Translating is such an art form and there are so many different thoughts on the topic; for me I prefer a translator to aim to retain the beauty of the text over complete accuracy. Other people have different opinions and I think it is important to find what works for you; especially if there are other options. One day I might have the opportunity to re-read The Unwomanly Face of War with a new translator, but until then, I take what I can get. With Svetlana Alexievich, I do not want to wait for a new translator. Speaking of which, I still need to get myself a copy of The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson. The Odyssey has been translated heaps of times, but I believe this is the first time it was translated by a woman. I am curious to see how this epic reads without the male gaze and I hear nothing but great things about this translation.

I finally read my first Émile Zola novel; A Love Story which is the eighth book in the Les Rougon-Macquart series. This might not have been the best place to start but what can I say, I love Oxford World Classics, and could not pass up the opportunity to work with them and read some Zola. This was a joy to read and there will be so much more Zola in my future; Thérèse Raquin sits on my shelves waiting. While I do love to receive books in the mail, I do not often review ARCs, simply because I have enough to read. My instinct is to reject any offers to review a book, unless it is a book I know I want to read. In the past I found it difficult to get the balance right, so now it is a rare occurrence. I hope to work with Oxford University Press more in the future but do not expect to see many reviews for upcoming releases. If you look at the books I talk about, it is rare to see a new release.

There are some exceptions, for example, if an author like Julian Barnes releases a new novel, or it is a book club book. This is why The Only Story and Mythos by Stephen Fry was on my reading list for this month. I love what I have read from Barnes and still more to go. As for Mythos, it felt more like Greek mythology for dummies. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just made me want to read those classics; especially Metamorphoses by Ovid (yes, I know he is a Roman and not Greek), or maybe I should read The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. I really need to read both books at some point but reading Mythos only served to remind me how much I need to read from the Greeks and Romans.

This month was the first book club meeting of 2018. It was me and fifteen woman. Sadly I am the only male that turns up to book club; there have been others in the past but they never last long. It did feel very crowded for a book club meeting and I feel like it was too many. Luckily, I suspect that a lot of the new people came as part of their New Year’s resolution, so it is unlikely they will return in March. I am at book club to step out of my comfort zone and I think the books picked do just that. I would not have picked up Mythos on my own; I have enough books on my shelves to read without picking up a retelling of Greek mythology.

There are so many books I need to read, I always feel like I am playing catch up. Luckily I do not need to go through my shelves and do a major cull…yet. While I was starting to get use to the idea of a major move, at this point, it does not look like it is going to happen. I have startied culling my shelves but nothing major yet. There must be twenty or thirty books leaving my shelves this month, but only a few were unread books.

One of the biggest advantages of quitting BookTube, is the fact that I do not have to try and pronounce a name like László Krasznahorkai. It still annoys me that I mispronounced Michel Houellebecq in a video. For an Australian that only speaks English, there are so many authors I read that I am yet to learn how to pronounce. I normally look up how to pronounce the name before filming a video, but still have gotten it wrong. I got to read two novellas by László Krasznahorkai which was in the one collection. Sjón claimed this is the perfect starting place for Krasznahorkai in the blurb on the front but that was only part of the reason I started with The Last Wolf & Herman. In fact I do not know why I picked up this book first, I did have Satantango on my wishlist first. It must have been as a result of some of the bloggers I admire, either Tony at Messenger’s Booker or Stu at Winstonsdad’s Blog.

It is hard to remember why I put a book on my wishlist, this is one of the main reasons I am writing these reading updates. The Fountain in the Forest by Tony White was added to my wishlist because of the high praises from Andy Miller on Backlisted (my favourite podcast). I still do not recall why I wanted to read A Girl in Exile, maybe because Ismail Kadare is Albanian. The novel reminded me of The Trial to begin with but it lost momentum quickly. The book left me with the feeling that male authors should not write about breasts. I will not go into my reasoning but let’s just say it feels too creepy.

On the other side, when Natsuo Kirino writes about rape in Out, it feels so brutal. At least when Kirio talks about breasts, it does not feel like she is breathing heavily in ecstasy. Out was such a compelling thriller, and she did not shy away from the brutal nature of the topic. I do enjoy a dark crime novel and the Japanese are able to deliver. I might need to seek out some recommendations but I think I will be reading more Natsuo Kirino in the future.

Seven books read in February, while three did come from the library. I also purchased three new books, Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, Stalin by Oleg V. Khlevniuk and The Seven Madmen by Roberto Arlt. I have already started Frankenstein in Baghdad but not sure what else will be read in March, except The Seven Madmen and maybe that biography on Stalin. I hope everyone else had a great reading month.

Read More


Organising Your Personal Library

Posted February 14, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 4 Comments

Recently I have been thinking about building the perfect library; this was due to a collection of essays I was reading called The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel. In this book, Manguel explores the process of building his personal library from an old barn but he also looks at the history of libraries around the world. Each essay is titled ‘The Library as…’ space, power, shadow, and so on. These essays explore different topics, giving you a wealth of information. Take for example ‘The Library as Shadow’, which explores a darker side of library history, from book burning to censorship.

What I am particularly interested in was from the essay ‘The Library as Order’, which focuses on how we would arrange our personal library. It does not matter where or how you house your personal library; every person has their own opinions on that topic. I wanted to explore the concept of how we arrange the books. There are so many ways to arrange books, currently my books are everywhere and there is a certain appeal to this. I have bookshelves around the house and any new books end up wherever it fits. If I need to find a particular book, I can spend hours searching for it. This is not always ideal but there is something about this literary treasure hunt that I enjoy. I often discover books on my shelves that I have forgotten about or I want to dip back into. Looking at a shelf that offers no rhyme or reason can be mesmerising, and who does not enjoy just staring at a bookshelf? While this method works for me now, it is not practical if I have a library, I need to arrange my books differently. In The Library at Night, Alberto Manguel suggests some different ways to organise books;

  • alphabetically
  • by continent or country
  • by colour
  • by date of purchase
  • by date of publication
  • by format
  • by genre
  • by literary period
  • by language
  • according to our reading priorities
  • according to their binding
  • by series

Amidst all of these choices, I have to admit ‘according to our reading priorities’ does sound appealing but I feel like this would continually change. The obvious choice would be to organise alphabetically (by authors last name of course) but there are some draw backs with this. Not only will fiction and non-fiction sit side by side but the idea of Charles Dickens sitting next to Philip K Dick or Jane Austen beside Paul Auster seems odd. Although for those authors that dabble in both fiction and non-fiction, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn this system may be preferable.

Sorting by genre seems like a popular choice, and for all intents and purposes the most logical. As someone that reads on a whim, the ability to just head to somewhere like the detective fiction section and pick a gritty hard-boiled novel sounds wonderful. My only problem is the fact that it is often difficult to fit novels neatly into a single genre. Also, with an author like Jonathan Lethem you would have to separate his works, especially with his early books. I like the idea of sorting by genre but I found too many flaws in this system.

Picking an organisation strategy appeared to be much harder than it looked. Organising by colour is aesthetically pleasing but I never considered this as an option; it is just too random. I am playing around with a book-sorting app on my phone, which allowed me to create different shelves for organising. This allowed me to scan my books into the program and play with different ways to organise.

I eventually decided that there was no perfect way to organise a library, you can go into your public library and see evidence of this everywhere. I had to come up with a solution that worked for me. I do not have a library yet, but when I do, I am now sure I know how it will be organised. I have settled on sorting by continents for my fiction, this is because I have a keen interest in books in translation. I have discovered that splitting my fiction into continents will give me the opportunity to see where my strengths and weaknesses lie. If I organise my fiction by continent, I will notice which continents I need to focus on, like South America and Africa. I love reading around the world, I find it both an educational and rewarding experience.

If your reading journey and your library is a personal reflection, then the books that do not appear on your shelves say just as much about you as the books you do have on your shelf. When I became a reader, I quickly started building my book collection to a point where I have shelves and shelves of books everywhere. The problem I face now is the fact that I have only read about half of them. Publishers sent me books because of my blog but I also purchased books that sounded interesting. Now I have evolved as a reader and discovered where my literary tastes lie, there are books that remain on my shelf that are not a reflection of me as a reader. These books do not tell you anything about me because I have no desire to read them. While I know I should cull all books I have no interest in, it is hard to let go of a book that you have never read. What if it is fantastic and I just do not know that yet? There is the problem, but I do feel like I am getting to a point where I can be confident about a book I would not like. So maybe a purge is coming.

Now the problem with sorting the fiction by continents is that there are some countries I have a greater interest in – the literature of France and Russia for example. Do I split them into their own section? I am interested in all post-Soviet literature, so that brings up another question. How do I shelve these books? Russia seems too exclusive; calling them post-Soviet countries just does not sit right with me; Baltic and Slavic countries do not cover all the countries. This is one problem I need to solve, but for now I think this is the best choice for me.

Another issue I found with sorting by continent is that the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland fall under Europe but they do not feel the same. There is so much literature from the United Kingdom anyway, I feel like it would require its own shelves. I wonder about North America but honestly, does it matter if Canada and the United States sit together? For me it does not, although this may displease my Canadian friends. There are so many things to consider and this is only a small fraction of the problems I face with sorting my books.

When it comes to non-fiction, it was not difficult; this was always going to be sorted by subject. Philosophy, history, Russian history, books about books, art, and so on. However, that posed some interesting questions as well. Do you include philosophical novels like The Stranger by Albert Camus or Either/Or by Søren Kierkegaard in the philosophical section? My feeling is yes but where do you draw the line? There are novels that are philosophical in nature that I would not include under philosophy, like The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

I will continue to ponder just how I would organise my dream library, but I wanted to give you plenty to consider. Instead of reviewing The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel, which everyone should read, I preferred to explore what I got out of this essay collection. I have not even touched on any of the other topics in this book; I will leave that for you to discover. Also, I have not even talked about other aspects of setting up a library, like using the Dewey decimal system, or a card catalogue system. Thinking about setting up a dream library is an exciting activity for every bibliophile and we all have different ideas. I loved reading about someone’s journey and it gave me plenty to contemplate. For now, I will continue cataloguing my books using the app BookBuddy and working out how to organise everything. This experiment should also help me discover the gaps in my own library so I can pick better books to purchase.


Existence Precedes Essence: Understanding Existentialism

Posted December 5, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Philosophy / 4 Comments

When thinking about the term existentialism, a quote by Jean-Paul Sartre may come to mind; “existence precedes essence”. 1 This was a relatively new way of thinking within philosophy. The idea criticises the concept that everyone has an essence and our lives tend towards the actualisation of our essence, which dates back to Aristotle. Over the years, this idea of essence evolved into predestines, as philosophers leaned more towards religious ideas. For Sartre, this was an absurd way of thinking and this might have been connected to his atheist beliefs. However, this is not a universal idea in existentialism, many disagreed with Sartre, but it did start a new philosophical movement.

existentialists
Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre

While Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoevsky are all considered existentialists, the term was actually coined by Jean-Paul Sartre. It is widely believed that Kierkegaard may have been the first existentialist philosopher but he used the word ‘individualism’ to refer to his philosophical ideas. When looking as his writing, it is easy to see why it is closely associated to existentialism. In his book The Sickness unto Death, Kierkegaard wrote “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.” 2

This leads us to ask, ‘What exactly is existentialism?’ which is not an easy question to answer. If you consider historical events that were happening at the start of existentialism (early twentieth century), you notice the world was a confused and complex place. When Sartre started his works, the world had already experienced one World War and was about to head into a second one. The political landscape was very unstable; Marxism, Communism and Fascism were all growing movements. Western ways of thinking were not providing the answers people craved about the meaning of life or at least a way to address the human condition.

Existentialism became a new philosophical way of thinking; a new way of facing a confused world that they could not accept. It was not a doctrine or a philosophical system rather existentialism was a movement. It was an inwards approach to thinking, when Jean-Paul Sartre said “existence precedes essence”, he was stating we exist first, and it is up to us to find what defines us then live our lives accordingly.  Which linked back to Søren Kierkegaard who said, “The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” 3 This was the foundation of existentialism; it did not matter if other philosophers believed existence came before essence, what mattered was living life authentically. To do so, there were three main sides to this form of thinking to consider: individualism, freedom and passion.

Individualism is the ethical idea that we are all responsible for our own actions. Rather than living by the morals set out by our society, religion and our elders, we must seek our own individual self-relevance and liberties. It was Friedrich Nietzsche who once said “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” 4 Moral individualism should not be confused with selfishness or a desire for anarchy; rather it simply suggests that humanity must be defined by the individual. No two people are alike; thus, having set rules and ideas for everyone imposes restrictions on living authentically.

Freedom was a response to the current social/political situations; without freedom there was no possible way to allow people to be individuals and is considered the primary virtue to authenticity. This is more than the freedom to do whatever one desires. Existentialist often use the term facticity as a term to mean the limitation and a condition to freedom. For example, our birthplace, past choices and so on, may either limit or aid our quest to live our life authentically. If we are born blind, that may take away our freedom to read this text but does not mean we can never read.

Passion is self-evident, the need to find a purpose to life. A primary concern to “existence precedes essence” was simple to find a reason to live – your passion. For me, my passion would include literature, philosophy and writing articles like this. I am motivated in working towards a way to make my passions my career. That is not to say that there are no other reasons to live; such as loved ones or the simple pleasures in life.

meaning-of-lifeOnce you establish these four philosophies as the backbone of existentialism, you may have started on the journey down the rabbit hole into the existentialist way of thinking. Having definitive answers to life maybe be attractive but we realise life is not that simple. When adopting existentialism as your personal philosophy, be warned that many of the great existentialists did abandon their own philosophies. To quote Søren Kierkegaard once more; “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 5 Existentialism has its appeals; it is often adopted by young adults as permission to be an individual and focus on themselves. However as the quote above stated, it is only in reflection that we understand our lives and where we went wrong and life is not that easy, you cannot simply rely on other people’s ways of thinking.

Essentially, existentialism suggests that we should all live our lives authentically and free. Our goal in life is to find our essence – our reason to live. Albert Camus has been quoted as saying “should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?” 6 which suggests that something as simple as a cup of coffee is enough to continue living. There are two major branches of existentialism that I have not mentioned, nihilism (the belief that life is meaningless) and absurdism (life has no purpose and the universe is chaotic) but I will not be going into details about the differences at the moment.

My goal of this was to give you a better understanding into existentialism but as you might have discovered, it can be complex. I hope you now have a basic understanding, allowing you to go down the rabbit hole of thinking about philosophy and what you believe. For more information about existentialism and the people behind this philosophical movement, I would recommend the book At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell. 7 This covers the history of existentialism as well as a little about people involved, like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and so many others. I felt very inspired after reading At the Existentialist Café, that I have gone down a rabbit hole exploring philosophy and hope to write more about it in the near future.


Down the Non-Fiction Rabbit Hole

Posted November 2, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature, My Essays / 6 Comments

The quote by Socrates “The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know” has been on my mind for quite some time. There seems to be no truer statement to describe how I feel at the moment. One of the reasons I spend so much time reading is because I want to learn. Fiction can tell us so much about the world around us, and the experiences faced by different cultures. I am drawn to translated fiction because of what it can teach me about the world. It has taken me some time but I am slowly been drawn to non-fiction as well. Reading recently Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich (translated by Bela Shayevich) and Wild Swans by Jung Chang I discovered just how much about the world I still need to learn.

While Russia is a particular interest of mine, Secondhand Time gave me some insights I did not realise I needed. This is a stunning collection interviews collected by Svetlana Alexievich of people just talking about their personal experience with the collapse of the USSR. I thought I had a decent grasp of the history of the Soviet Union but this book shattered it completely. It is not enough to understand the basic history, life is much more complex and there is so much more to learn. I need to know more about post-Soviet Russia and I plan to learn, starting with The Invention of Russia by Arkady Ostrovsky.

Wild Swans is a biography of three generations of women living in China. Jung Chang tells the story of her grandmother, her mother and then herself, the experiences they all faced in a rapidly changing country. Her grandmother, grew up in a world of foot binding and warlords, while her mother saw the rise of Chairman Mao and communism. This is a story that spans from the Manchu Empire to the Cultural Revolution. It was here I discovered a deeper understanding of communist China; I would never have known about the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution in such detail without the personal accounts found in this book. If I combine my love for Soviet history, I find myself wondering if I should learn more about communism in other countries. Do I dare to try and compare the differences?

nonfiction2016

There is so much to learn and I feel myself being drawn down the rabbit hole. I have identified three major interests that seem to be the current focus of mine when it comes to non-fiction. This is Russian history, philosophy and books about books. I know this is only the tip of the iceberg and I will be venturing down so many more paths in the future but for now I will start here.

With my love of Russian literature, I feel the need to have a deeper understanding of their history, especially surrounding the politics. Not only will this aid my understanding into the literature I am reading but it will also help me better appreciate the satirical nature that is often found in Russian literature. I am slowly working my way down this rabbit hole with books like Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum, a look into the way the USSR treated Eastern Europe and Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich (translator: Antonina W. Bouis), an oral history into the nuclear disaster in 1986. Even a book like The Zhivago Affair by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée has been useful; not only does it explore the story of Doctor Zhivago but the impact it had on the world around it.

A new love for philosophy started with At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell and now I want to know so much more about Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and Søren Kierkegaard. But I do not plan to just stop at the existentialists, I have so much to learn. My knowledge of philosophy may have come from a novel called Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder (translator: Paulette Møller). There is a lot more I could learn from the philosophers, and I have started my journey, with Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche (translated by R.J. Hollingdale) and The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant.

Finally, my love for literature has drawn me to reading about literature. Not just memoirs and biographies, although you may notice in my reviewing that I find context important. So a memoir or a biography gives me a deeper appreciation of the literature. A memoir like Little Failure gave me a greater understanding about its author Gary Shteyngart and a collection of letters and diary entries called Manuscripts Don’t Burn (translated and edited by J.A.E. Curtis) was a valuable insight into Mikhail Bulgakov. But then there are books about the reading journey that are entertaining to read, while still being a valuable part of my own reading life. I am talking about books like The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller, 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff and Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. I can be very particular about books about books, the tone has to be right, their taste in literature and the way they talk about literature is equally important, and so for my money I would recommend Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman as the pinnacle in this genre of non-fiction. My reading journey is far from over, in fact it is only just beginning. Having only spent six years as a reader, I have so far to go. It is all part of my never ending quest to become well read. I will be focusing on reading more non-fiction, starting with these three interests and branching out.

Following the path of knowledge wherever it might take me. I look forward to talk about my journey as I continue and would also appreciate any recommendations.


The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

Posted September 12, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 2 Comments

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel DaoudTitle: The Meursault Investigation (Goodreads)
Author: Kamel Daoud
Translator: John Cullen
Published: Oneworld Publications, 2013
Pages: 143
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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

One of the key components to philosophy is the ability to argue your point, this is done in many different ways and Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger does exactly that. Kamel Daoud took the same approach for his counterargument, with his novel The Meursault Investigation. This novel seemed to have taken the world by storm, winning the Goncourt du Premier Roman, the Prix des Cinq Continents, the Prix François Mauriac and shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt. It follows Harum seventy years after his brother Musa (the Arab) was killed by Meursault. Harum is reflecting back on his life and the impact Meursault’s story has had on himself, his family and Algeria.

Kamel Daoud’s response to The Stranger is basically saying that life is not absurd, it has meaning. Taking a life has consequences and execution is not simply a life for a life. Meursault killing the Arab had a big impact, and never referring to him by name allowed Camus to focus his story but at the risk of missing the bigger picture. So seventy years later, well after Algeria has declared their independence from France, the story of Meursault is still a topic of discussion.

First of all, the death of Musa has an impact on the life of Harum and his family. The Meursault Investigation starts off exploring the life of Harum and his mother and how the death of Musa effected them. The novel spirals out, first looking at the effect it had on Harum, then his mother and family and then finally Algeria. This may come across as repetitive but I think it was important to understand the impact.

I watched a lecture by Daoud that talks about The Stranger and comparing it to Robinson Crusoe. This is an exploration into post-colonialism; Meursault meets someone who was different to him and kills him. Robinson Crusoe did the same thing to Friday, just not physically; he forced him to convert to his idea of civilisation. That meant changing the way his acted, dressed and most of all his religious beliefs. The fact that Meursault killed an Arab on the beach could be symbolic of the island. If you follow this train of thought, The Meursault Investigation turns into a very complex philosophical argument, not only against The Stranger but the opinions of Western society (especially France) towards the raise of Islam.

The Meursault Investigation is an angry novel with some very deep philosophical ideas embedded into the pages. Published originally in French (translated by John Cullen) this novel evoked similar reactions for me as Submission by Michel Houellebecq in the way it explores France’s reaction to Islam. I understand people’s criticism about repetitive in The Meursault Investigation but I feel like it was necessary as Daoud needs to keep circling back to the death of the Arab and exploring how it affected everyone. This is the butterfly effect and I enjoyed every moment of this novel.


The Whispering City by Sara Moliner

Posted May 15, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Thriller / 2 Comments

The Whispering City by Sara MolinerTitle: The Whispering City (Goodreads)
Author: Sara Moliner
Translator: Mara Faye Lethem
Series: Martí #1
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2013
Pages: 416
Genres: Crime, Thriller
My Copy: Paperback

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

General Franco was at the height of his power in Barcelona, 1952. When a wealthy socialite is found murdered in her mansion, the police scramble to seize control of the investigation. An over eager journalist named Ana Martí Noguer is assigned the task of shadowing the lead investigator, Inspector Isidro Castro. However, Ana discovers a bunch of letters that dramatically contradict the official statement made by the police. Now she is in mortal danger; her information can expose a conspiracy of murder and corruption.

The Whispering City (originally title: Don de lenguas) is a Spanish novel written by Sara Moliner and translated into English by Mara Faye Lethem. Sara Moliner is the pseudonym of the writing duo of Spanish author Rosa Ribas and former German philosophy professor Sabine Hofmann. This is their first book together and, with their backgrounds and the premise, I went into this novel with high expectations. Sadly, this turned into a run-of-the-mill thriller novel which is not a bad thing; I just was hoping for so much more.

The back drop of a fascist government, known for their shadowing tactics, mixed with the philosophical background of Sabine Hofmann meant I was hoping for some interesting insights. I was hoping to learn about the cultural landscape and the political impact of Barcelona in 1952 but the main focus on this book was the murder and the conspiracy. Having recently read Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo (translated by Edith Grossman), which explored the political and cultural issue in Peru at the time, I was expecting something similar with The Whispering City.

The Whispering City is in no way a bad novel, and I found it incredibly entertaining and worked as a palette cleanser for me while I was reading The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis and The Stranger by Albert Camus. One of the main reasons I am drawn to books in translation is the insight into the cultural life and I did not get that with this book. The Whispering City reminds me a bit of The Millennium series by Stieg Larsson, with a journalist as a protagonist investigating murder and corruption. While it was not as dark as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I found it a lot more enjoyable but still the same thriller formula.


The Stranger by Albert Camus

Posted May 2, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 6 Comments

The Stranger by Albert CamusTitle: The Stranger (Goodreads)
Author: Albert Camus
Translator: Matthew Ward
Published: Vintage, 1941
Pages: 123
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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

The Stranger (also known as The Outsider or L’Étranger) tells the story of Meursault, an unsympathetic French Algerian, who after attending his mother’s funeral, finds himself killing an Arab man. The novel follows a first-person narrative that explores the events before and after this murder. Albert Camus said is best when he said “I summarised The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

On the surface The Stranger is the story of an emotionless protagonist; Meursault does not care about anything and could be considered a sociopath. However, this novel is often cited as an example of Camus’ philosophy on the absurd and existentialism. So in order to fully grasp the intent behind this classic novel, we must look into just what existentialism is and more practically absurdism.

The absurd is often referring to the conflicting philosophy that humans have a tendency to seek out value and meaning in life. However absurdism believes it is logically and humanly impossible to find any meaning of life. Philosophers may have very different doctrines but they generally believe that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject. Though existentialism comes from the disorientation or confusion that we are living in a meaningless (or absurd) world.

For Albert Camus, The Stranger is an exploration into the meaning of life and if life has no meaning what is the purpose of morality. Meursault’s detachment from the world is a result of his conclusion that life is meaningless; “The chaplain knew the game well too, I could tell right away: his gaze never faltered. And his voice didn’t falter, either, when he said, ‘Have you no hope at all? And do you really live with the thought that when you die, you die, and nothing remains?’ ‘Yes,’ I said.” Paradoxically, it was only after being sentenced to death, that Meursault was able to obtain some sense of happiness.

Without an understanding of Albert Camus’ philosophical ideas, I do not think that the reader will have any hope in truly understand or appreciating this novel. However I have heard that The Stranger has been an option for high school students (especially in America) to study. I wonder how many students fall into the trap of picking this novel thinking it was short only to discover how difficult it is to analyse. I do not have enough of an understanding of absurdism or existential philosophy to full appreciate The Stranger. However re-reading this novel has helped me understand this enough to enjoy the Camus’ philosophical ideas.


Killing An Arab

Posted March 7, 2010 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Philosophy / 0 Comments

The debut single from UK Goth greats; The Cure was Killing An Arab. Robert Smith calls the song a “short poetic attempt at condensing my impression of the key moments in L’Étranger (The Stranger) by Albert Camus”. The song tells the story of the scene on the beach where the protagonist Meursault shots the Arab attacker. The Stranger (also known as The Outsider) covers philosophical concepts like) absurdism, atheism, determinism, existentialism, nihilism, and stoicism.

One interesting concept in this book and the main reason I want to read it, is the fact that Meursault chooses not to lie. In the afterword Camus stats;

[Meursault] refuses to lie. Lying is not only saying what isn’t true. It is also, in fact especially, saying more than is true and in the case of the human heart, saying more than one feels. We all do it, every day, to make life simpler.

The best example of people lying would be the typical conversations

“How have you been?”

“Fine”

The response “Fine” is hardly ever true and is just avoiding the real issues you are going through. But in the same conversation; how many people ask “How have you been?” and not really cared one way or another, just using it as a conversation starter.