Sunday, 28 November 2010

Eat, Pray, Love - The Modern Woman's Guide to Devotion and Pleasure

Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love...I have no words to describe this novel or to express my gratitude for the author. Certainly, the bestseller of the year; the most influential "girl" book since...Well I am not going to compare it to anything because it is not like anything I have ever read. The influence this tale of the pursuit of devotion and pleasure had on me is beyond anything words can express. You just have to read it to feel the energy and strength coming from it.

Eat, Pray, Love is Gilbert's biography, which she starts writing at a every difficult time of her life. She is going through a difficult divorce and a remorseful rebound break-up, which both leave her depressed, lonely, and hopeless. Elizabeth had tried everything - psychiatrists, pills, meditation, yoga, another lover...But nothing seems to take her out of her depression and into life again. That is when she decides to take a one year journey in the pursuit of pleasure and devotion. 4 months in Italy, eating pizza and pasta (pleasure), 4 months in India trying to find God within herself through meditation (devotion) and 4 years in Bali combining both. Gilbert shares this amazing journey with the reader, commenting on issues such a self-understanding, religion, devotion, purpose of life, and love. A truly amazing novel, Eat, Pray, Love must be experienced (I am not saying read because this novel has to be experienced with the heart) by everyone. People live such a hasty life now, that they forget to pursuit their own balance and stability. This is exactly what Gilbert aims with this year of travelling. And she succeeds.
The novel as I already mentioned is divided into three parts and into 108 tales. Each part has 36 tales and is devoted to one of the amazing places Gilbert visits during this year. Why exactly 108 - well, you have to read and find out yourself. What is more important is Elizabeth's motivation behind this journey. She gets almost no support from her relatives. They say she is irresponsible to take a year of at the age of 35. However, as Elizabeth points out "I have lost my appetite for life. I need to get it back".

And this is exactly what she does. Gaining almost 10 pounds in Italy, Gilbert indulges herself in the pleasures of good food and good wine. In India she spends almost every hour of the day meditating and trying to find this balance (or God) within herself. Finally in Bali, she is calm, secure, and happy.Throughout this journey the author meets a lot of new people and new friends, who help her in her search for her true self.

I was highly fascinated and touched by the novel. It can still be claimed to be one of those self-help books but I am starting to love the idea of a self-help book. Each and every one I read is better and better than the previous one. I want to compare Lorna Martin's Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, because both of these novels are full of sarcasm, humour, self-irony and deep honesty. Both authors reveal themselves in a time of crisis and both find a way to deal with it. I am starting to get this sense of admiration for self-sufficient strong women, who do not need men to validate their existence, who are willing to go against the current, so to say, in order to find this inner balance necessary for a happy ending. I would like to believe I can be this kind of a woman some day.

The main difference between Martin and Gilbert, though, is that the latter goes very deep into the self-understanding concept. I mean, she travels half the world in the search of her true self. The author of Eat, Pray, Love is an amazing woman and her autobiography is a must-read for any self-respecting modern woman. What Elizabeth does is to transform the patriarchal view of the woman as a housewife and as a cooker into a self-sufficient individual, who is not afraid to break up with conventional norm and to find happiness in the most unexpected place.

I do not even need to mention that the movie is not even half as influential as the book itself. If you want to feel Gilbert's warmth and passion floating through your body, I suggest you buy this novel and indulge yourself in some properly deserved pleasure and devotion.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

My First Book in Russian: The Chicks - Two Years Later

My first visit to Kazakhstan coincided with the first book I ever read in Russian. Even though I studied Russian for nearly 12 years, the only things I ever read were textbooks and autobiographies.

Now I decided to give it a go and actually try to read a novel in Russian. Of course, as ambitious as I am, I started from the top, and by the top I mean the only book by Dostoyevsky I haven't read - Idiot. Very soon (by very soon I mean the first 5 pages) I realized that Dostoevsky is a challenge I am not ready to face without a dictionary, so I passed on to something lighter - Sergey Minaev's Videoty - the sequel of his famous novel The Chicks. I read The Chicks several months ago in Bulgarian and I was quite impressed by Minaev's style. Of course, he is vulgar, brutal, and sometimes insensitive, but hey, he is talking about the "values" and "morals" of contemporary society. He ought to be vulgar, brutal, and insensitive, as this is the world we are currently living in.

In Videoty we meet Andrei Mirkin two years after the unfortunate AIDS incident. Mirkin has spent the last two years in Holland, living a trivial existence with a girl named Helen. However, when his friends Anton and Vanya call him with an offer to lead his own TV Show on Moscow's most popular TV channel, Mirkin instantly catches the plane and returns to his ordinary life - drugs, alcohol, forgettable nights, expiration dating, and shallow girls. Soon, however, Andrei realizes he is not the guy he used to be 2 years ago. Mirkin despises the TV show he leads; he condemns the public media and the tools it uses to control the masses. Andrei indulges in his former lifestyle only to discover he feels lonelier than ever. Being a TV star and having many followers and imitators doesn't translate into happiness. When meeting Natasha Andrei feels it is time for him to change. However, is he capable of leaving behind his old habits and entering into an honest and loyal relationship?

Minaev cleverly compares contemporary society to video idiots (hence the title Videoty). We are controlled and possessed by the mass media sometimes without even realizing it. All the endless TV shows work towards identity and conformity (in the negative way). We are told what to listen to, how to dress, how to act, how to look like. If you are different - you are weird. If you are different - you are an outcast. We've become video idiots - slaves of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. We have more than 500 friends, yet no one to go out and have a cup of coffee. We can talk endlessly on Skype, yet somehow when we go out we have nothing to tell each other. We have replaced real hugs with virtual teddy bears; real kisses with virtual ones. The test of a real relationship is whether your significant other has admitted to the whole world (IN FACEBOOK) that you are together. Of course, you realized you are dumped also thanks to Mark's genius invention.

In this abyss of digital information it becomes harder and harder to find this one "special" person out there for you. When a girl dies in his studio, Andrei is devastated. He realizes his life (and the life of the people around him) is pointless. Fame and adoration are temporary, youth is fleeting and Mirkin doesn't have anything permanent to stick up to. Anything but Natasha.

If you liked Minaev's style in the first part, you will be even more enthusiastic about this second part. We meet Andrei struggling between his old self and his new self; between the shallowness of his life and the opportunity to enter into a brand new unexplored territory. Sounds familiar? At least to me it definitely is.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Which Came First - The Movie or the Book?

In the era of commercialism more and more bestsellers are turned into movies with the hopes of generating huge profits for the producers. In some rare cases, though, a very good movie may be turned into a book. Obviously, the choice between the book and the movie depends on the particular individual. Sadly, however, contemporary society prefers to spend 2 hours with popcorn and coke, instead of many hours actually reading. Still, some people read the novel and then watch the movie only to discover that it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the book whatsoever. So my question is Which came first - the movie or the book?.

I prefer reading the book and then if I feel like it maybe watch the movie. However, I have had many disappointments so lately I evade watching movies based on my favorite novels. It seems that the producers and the directors either haven't read the book, or have read a completely different one. Let's take Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. I understand that a 2 hour movie is incapable of capturing all the nuances of the book. However, dear producer, this doesn't justify you actually CHANGING part of the books. If you can't incorporate everything, do not add additional moments. I do not reckon Mr Wilde authorized you for this.

Same story with my most favorite novel Gone with the Wind. As much as I adore Vivian Lee and Clark Gable's amazing performance, I still cannot overcome the fact that two out of Scarlett's three children are simply eliminated from the story. As if they haven't existed. In fact, Scarlett had children from all of her husbands, which I believe is an important part of the story. The producers could have squeezed in two more children; I doubt this is such a waste of film time.

One of the books of 2010 is definitely Eat, Pray, Love. Not because it was just published, but because Julia Roberts stars in the movie of the same name. I wouldn't even start commenting on the differences between the film and Elizabeth Gilbert's book. Let's just say that if you felt very inspired to change your life simply by seeing Roberts travelling around the world, I would imagine you would conquer the world if you actually benefitted from Gilbert's writing. Much more influencing, enthralling, and inspirational.

Of course, there are some tolerable Hollywood examples. The Harry Potter movies are all very good, keeping of course in mind that the novels are enormously long and it is practically impossible to translate everything into scenes. Still, as I have read all of them as a child, I find it particularly enjoyable actually visualizing all the characters and the magics. And for the sake of little children, it is a great amusement.

i>Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote is another example of a book turned into a very good movie. Of course, some of the story is distorted, but Audrey Hepburn's amazing performance makes us forget about it and simply enjoy. I just cannot skip the fact that the ending is sugarcoated Hollywood style but there is no ideal satisfaction.

Finally, I was pleasantly surprised by the Swedish film industry. I loved Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy so much that I was dying to see it on a movie. The Swedish outran their Hollywood competitors and did an outstanding job with the movie adaptation. The actors are very good, the plot is as closest to the book as possible, and the movie keeps almost as excited as the novels themselves. I most certainly recommend them.

I haven't actually read a book based on a novel. To be honest I hadn't hear about one until lately, when one of the most successful Bulgarin TV Series, Glass Home was turned into a book. I cannot imagine what the feeling of reading something based on what you have watched be like. The author is a very promising young Bulgarian singer and writer and I expect the result to be worth it.

Here comes my greatest concern - the availability of most novels as movies does make reading superfluous. I am afraid that in some decades libraries will be extinct and will be replaced by more and more cinemas. As all of us passionate readers understand, reading a book has almost nothing to do with seeing the movie. I want to pick up on the plot through the author's own choice of words, to feel the characters'feelings through my own perspective and not through the perspective of some American producer, to extend the pleasure of reading a book beyond the two hours spend in the stuffy cinema, to appreciate the ending as a kind of completed "job". However, most people do not think that way. Their loss, you would say, but this loss translates into less and less books being bought and read. Which, of course, raises another question: Would very talented authors be bothered to write anything if the payout is close to zero. Of course, they could hope to sell the rights to some producer and see their piece of literature being torn to pieces and transformed into something else. Without being too pessimistic, this "bright" future expects the book of the 21st century.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

A Little Bit More from Bogomil Rainov's Sweet Propaganda

Bogomil Rainov is one of those authors, whom you either openly worship or you severely criticize. It actually depends on your point-of-view, or, to be honest, on your political preferences. I am not exaggerating even a bit because Rainov is known as one of the most prominent Communist authors in Bulgaria. If you have read at least one of his criminal novels, you will understand what I am talking about.

My first experience with Rainov was with the novel There is Nothing Better than Bad Weather, which I quite enjoyed. Emil Boev is not the typical investigating protagonist you may encounter. That is why I am not going to call him the Bulgarian Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, or even Mikael Blomkvist. Boev has his method of action and his own charm. His monologues, descriptions, and comments are full of self-irony, sarcasm, and a light sense of humour, which cannot leave the reader be bored even for a second. Of course, after the first novel, Rainov becomes a little bit predictable but still, if you fancy stories about secret agents, who try to uncover the traitors of Communist Mother Bulgaria, this type of literature is definitely for you.

The next two novels I read are Die as a Last Resort and Typhoons with Tender Names. I apologize for the poor translation in advance but I have no information about whether they have been actually translated in English at all. Anyways, in both novels we encounter Boev in a typical situation - trying to capture a Bulgarian traitor, who is selling important government information to foreigners. The only difference is that the first novel is set in London, while the second one - in Bern, Lausanne, and Geneve. All else is pretty much the same - Boev receives a task from the general and he has to travel to Europe, find the traitor, and capture (or liquidate) him. We are of course gently subjected to a sweet Communist propaganda - the traitors are the bad guys, who are so selfish as to sell even their mother country to the enemy. They need to be punished for treatening such a peaceful and ideal regime as the communist one. The European capitalists are also the bad guys, using every method and possibility to attack communism and bring it to its end. Here comes Boev aimed with the uneasy task of saving our country ONCE again.

What made Typhoons with Tender Names slightly better is the bitter chase of 9 legendary diamonds, whereas in Die as a Last Resort we are faced with a trivial drug contraband. I enjoyed Rainov's novels but only as a slight distraction from my overwhelming everyday routine. Otherwise, I am not a huge fan of his type of writing. Do not get me wrong, it has nothing to do with the propaganda (although sometimes it gets a little bit too much). I just find Rainov predictable and repetitive. The three novels are more or less the same; only the place and several details about the situation are changed.

Still, we shouldn't judge Mr. Rainov too harsh. After all, the freedom of speech in Communist Bulgaria was non-existent. If a writer wanted to be published, he had to write about the communists, or not write at all. Remember the case with Dimiter Dimov's Tobacco. The author had to add a whole new plot line and a whole new love story and to shorten his original novel as to fulfill the ruling party's requirements. Still, Dimov is an amazing author and this slight alternation didn't in any way decrease the quality of his novel. I read the Communist version and still Tobacco is one of my favorite Bulgarian novels.

Rainov just chose the easy way around. Or he was really a communist believing in the world-wide conspiracy against Communism. Whatever the truth may be, I don't really care. Although Boev sometimes utters a phrase worth remembering, more or less the novels are just a criminal story with a political touch. Definitely not my style of literature and I can safely say I am done with Mr. Rainov.