Thursday, 28 April 2011

The Bad Girl and the Good Boy

The bad girl has many names. She is Lily, comrade Arlette, Mme Robert Arnoux, Mrs Richardson, Kuriko, and Otilia. The bad girl has many nationalities. She is Chilean, Peruvian, French, English, and Japanese. The bad girl lives in different places. You can find her in Peru, in France, in Cuba, in England, and in Japan. The bad girl is a gold-digging femme fatale, who was risen in poverty. She promised herself never to be poor and never to starve again. The bad girl became a ruthless insensitive woman, who used people and then abandoned them. Including the good boy.

The good boy has only one name. He is Ricardo. The good boy has one nationality. He is Peruvian, whose long life dream to live in Paris has lead him to lead a boring but stable life as a translator in the capital of love. He meets the bad girl as a teenager in Peru, where Lily pretends to be Chilean. His infatuation and obsession with the bad girl begins then and there and lasts more than 50 years. Ricardo meets her again years after that in Paris, as the comrade Arlette, a mock agitator for the socialist reforms in South America. His devotion is awaken once again. Ricardo takes care of the bad girl, loves her more than life, and is ready to do anything to provide her with everything she needs. The bad girl answers him with cruelty. She abuses him, mocks him for his lack of ambition, uses him as a love toy, and then abandons him for a richer and more prosperous man. Thus, she becomes the wife of a French diplomat and an English aristocrat and then the lover of a Japanese mafioso. Ricardo and the bad girl intertwine their destinies all around the world, London, Paris, Tokyo, Madrid, Ricardo chasing her, the bad girl hurting him.

This is the story of a different love story. If we can really call it a love story. This is The Bad Girl by Noble Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa. The bad girl is an impossible combination of pragmatism, adventurism, and rebelliousness. Her difficult life has taught her that money and power are essential for happiness. Thus, she looks for wealthy men to provide her with everything she has been missing. Ricardo is romantic and sensitive. He never forgets his first teenage love. No matter how many times the bad girl exploited him, hurt him, or betrayed him, the good boy took her back every time. For nearly 50 years all over the world, his love and her egocentrism and egoism meet and part.

Is this a love story? I say yes. Ricardo loves the bad girl, that's for sure. He admires her ambition, her volatility, her beauty, even her harshness and insensitiveness. The bad girl also loves Ricardo to some extent. Yet, it takes her a whole life time to discover that not money but affection and respect bring happiness. She is abandoned by husband after husband looking for the stability money give and ignoring the simple but real life that Ricardo offers her. The Bad Girl by Llosa is the touching story of two souls, who are so different but so much made for each other. He needs her craziness and she needs his calmness. He needs someone to take care of and she needs someone to show her the right way. Destiny is cruel but also just for Ricardo and the bad girl.

The novel largely reminds us of Flaubert's Madame Bovary. The similarity is not accidental. Llosa admired Flaubert's talent and his depiction of the ruthless and egoistic woman and her loyal admirer. However, this time the student has surpassed the teacher. Flaubert is the master of realism mainly because he uses reality and transforms it into another, alternative existence, where passion overwhelms, immortal and undiminished by time. Llosa deservingly receives a Noble prize for his mastery of postmodernism. The Peruvian author takes a revolutionary story and turns it into a contemporary love story spanning through decades and continents.

The Latin American boom of incredible authors is a fact. Marquez, Cortazar, Fuentes, and Llosa experiment with the traditional literature, challenge the established conventions, and discuss the effect of the political turbulences in the Southern continent. Deservingly, two of them are already Noble prize winners, with Llosa being most probably the most influential and powerful of them

Friday, 22 April 2011

14 Amazing Short Stories By Alexander Shpatov

Yesterday together with a friend of mine (a blogger and a very good one by the way) we interviewed Alexander Shpatov - the most promising contemporary Bulgarian author. Wrong, we didn't actually interview him, we chatted with him over beer, wine, and pizza. I got to know Alexander the writer, Alexander my ex classmate, Alexander the lawyer, and Alexander the dreamer. We talked casually about literature, books, libraries, the future, the past, our friends, everything. And of course we discussed his last book - Calendar of Stories.

Lately the mediocre and undeveloped Bulgarian culture is witnessing its long expected boom. Movies, TV Series, books, all of them show us that the Bulgarian indeed has talent. I, as a patriot, made it my goal to see and read everything the home talent had to offer. I enjoyed Karabashliev's 18% Gray but Shpatov is better. Not because he is an ex-classmate of mine and not because he is very cute. Shpatov is just entertaining, witty, humorous, ironic, sarcastic. He combines reality with fantasy to arrive at stories about the urban life in Sofia. After all, at the end of the day we are overwhelmed with the American culture and lifestyle. We (ok I) want to read something about Bulgaria, about the Bulgarian character, the Bulgarian issues, the Bulgarian lifestyle. Karabashliev focuses on the clash between home and foreign by following the path of a lost soul through the vast lands of USA. Shpatov offers a different perspective, more enjoyable I must say. He takes us on a journey through the 12 months of the year, each with its own story.

To summarize the collection of stories is impossible. Yet, what all of them have in common is the surprising end. Sometimes it's real, sometimes fantastical, but what it does show is Shpatov's immer imagination. I asked him whether the stories are based on real events. No. All of them come from his mind. Yet, he shared, that after writing certain stories, some of them indeed happened to him.

Calendar of Stories is Shpatov's third book and the most successful one. 12 stories about each of the 12 months plus additional two for Easter and Christmas. Why exactly these two holidays? Because they are the most important, says Shpatov. I can't say which one is my favorite. Probably July. Because it talks about a short-cut to the seaside. Because its ending is unexpected and fantastical. Because we are always looking for a short-cut to somewhere with just a mouse click. We want to arrive there (where?) faster, without superfluous efforts. We want to cheat the system, to find something no one else has, to be better, stronger, more honest, more real, more of everything. With Shpatov I arrived at a place where hard work and hope meet, where the talent can flourish in the body of a lawyer, where your constant struggle and desire for development take you exactly where you must be.

This meeting (not interview!) was inspirational. I will be re-reading Shpatov's stories over and over again because I feel that I have missed something. In fact, I believe that the second time I read Calendar of Stories, it will be a completely different book with completely different stories. Maybe next time I will have another favorite story, which I incidentally missed the first time. Maybe one day Shpatov will interview me. And I will return the gesture by giving him an autograph. Maybe. With a mouse click.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A Book Thief in Nazi Germany

Books and movies about Nazism, Hitler, World War II, concentration camps, and Jews are amongst my favorites. I am this weird kind of person, whose daily problems are not enough. I need drama when I read, when I watch, everywhere. I love a good old book or movie that makes me cry and shiver. It is a katarsis. People say they need funny and relaxing moments to forget their issues. I am the opposite. I need bigger dramas, huge sufferings, immerse pain to feel I am still alive. That is why The Book Thief by the Australian writer Markus Zusak is my type of literature.

The story is set in a small German town during the Second World War. The protagonist is Liesel Meminger, a 9 year old girl, who meets Death three times. In this novel Death isn't like anything you imagined it to be - Death sees colors, feels compassion, gently takes away the souls, criticizes war, and is obsessed with humans. In fact, Death tells us the story. Yes, you heard right. When the unwanted but inevitable visitor first meets Liesel, the young girl loses her brother. She is sent to live with foster parents in a small German town. The second time Death and Liesel meet an enemy bomber crashes near the place the girl lives. The third time the whole town is bombarded and Liesel is the only one that survives.

What is unusual about Liesel is that she is a thief. A book thief. The little girl finds compassion and enjoyment in stealing books and reading them in the middle of the night with her stepfather. Soon, Liesel starts writing her own story - a touching story about a book thief in Nazi Germany. A story that Death itself finds during her cruises to gather souls and is so impressed with, that it decides to share it. Liesel's life is difficult. Her family is poor, her mother is a communist persecuted by Hitler, her stepmother is strict and her best friend is a Jew hidden in their basement. Max Vanderburg is a Jewish fist-fighter, whom Liesel's father Hans shelters in their home. Max and the girl develop a strong relationship, based on their mutual love for books, reading, and writing. However, Nazi Germany is not a place to be a friend with a Jew. Liesel lives in a difficult world and soon she loses all the people she cared for and loved. This is the story of growing up in a world torn by prejudice, hatred, and bitterness. Liesel survives because of the books she steals. She finds worlds in there, which help her overcome her difficult life. She is young but she opposes the regime she doesn't understand by stealing books supposed to be burned and by helping a Jew. When Death finally comes for Liesel's soul, she is already a grown up woman in Australia. However, her life story is forever captured in her novel.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a different book. Its language is fragmentary and simple. Sometimes the narration is interrupted for clarifications, lists, conclusions, and wisdom. All of which come from Death. The novel is gloomy, depressing, and tragic. Yet even though it is told from the point-of-view of death, it is a story about love, hope, compassion, and help. It brings up all the best virtues in the human beings, which they manifest in times of great crisis. It is a must read novel for all of us, to remember the power of literature, to understand how books become treasures, to feel the great fulfillment that comes from finishing a novel. And it is there to remind us of one of the worst tragedies in world history. And it is there to bring us hope. Even though this hope comes from Death.

Recently I thought a book I wanted to see made into a movie. I thought about my favorite ones, but most of them have already been adapted for the big screen. The Book Thief is a book I want to really see. We can never have enough movies about the Holocaust. Combined with the fact that this book is about the treasury of literature, I strongly hope that soon we will have the chance to watch its adaptation in the cinemas.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

13 Reasons Why You Should NOT Read Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is a novel with a promising title, capturing back cover information, and attractive front cover. This sentence summarizes all the praises I have for the book. I discussed just the other day with two friends that I rarely write negative reviews (I think I only have one so far). However, Thirteen Reasons Why is so bad that I feel the need to caution you not to read it and never ever think of buying it (as I did).

Here are my 13 reasons why not:

1. Trivial story line - Hannah is a teenage girl, who decides to kill herself because of the attitude of her classmates and friends.
2. Too complicated structure - The novel is written from the point-of-view of two people - Hannah and Clay, a boy she fell in love with but because of her overdramatic character, she failed to develop a relationship with him. The voices of Hannah and Clay alternate and are interrupted in the most ridiculous places. Thus, the reader easily loses the sequence of the story and has to re-read over and over again to remember what the previous narrator said.
3. Reasons to kill herself - Hannah's reasons to kill herself are mildly idiotic. Some boy has kissed her but then has shared with the rest of the school that they went to 2nd base. Her best friend is no longer her best friend. Another boy put her ass in the list of the best asses in the school (this sounds like a reason to celebrate, not to die). A girl was jealous of her because of that. The school teacher didn't understand her issues. One schoolmate stole some of her letters. These problems are experienced by almost every teenager on the globe. Hannah is no different than other problematic teens, yet she decides to dramatically kill herself.
4. Accusations - Hannah accuses her classmates, her friends, her teachers, her school, the world for her decision commit suicide. She never even considers the possibility that she might be wrong. She never even asks for help. She sits quiet, believing that the world owes her something. The world owes you nothing, Hannah. It was here first.
5. Method of delivery - Hannah records 13 message to the 13 people she accuses of her suicide. Each of them has to listen to all the stories, then pass on to the next one in the list. If someone breaks the chain (God forbid!) she will make sure that all of the world hears her recordings. So what? The world doesn't care. The stories are banal and I doubt any of the characters in them would mind even if Mars heard them. Yet, the author insists that these stories are so shameful and important that we, as readers, must simpatize with the "villains" for following Hannah's rules. Sounds like a bad horror movie.
6. Happy exception - Clay is the 9th person to listen to the recordings. All the time he is afraid to hear his own story. Turns out, he is the happy exception. He appears in the story because Hannah is in love with him and without this, her explanation would not be complete. How convenient! The main character is not guilty. If I wanted to see a sugar-coated US comedy, I would have downloaded one, thanks.
7. Malevolence - Reading the novel, I couldn't feel sorry for Hannah even for a bit. Her recordings sounded angry, coarse, and sarcastic. I always imagined her rubbing hands and laughing creepy. Hannah must have gloated to the thought that her victims would feel guilty. It was as if she killed herself only to revenge herself and to make the other suffer. Well, Hannah, the only person you did hurt was yourself.
8. Overdramatism - Clay listens to Hannah's recordings and cries. His outpourings are filled with accusation, regret, and hatred. The whole novel attempts to be moody, infinitely sad, and devastating. The result is quite the opposite. I kept waiting for a really dramatic event to explain the suicide of Hana. It never came. She wasn't raped, her family was stable, she was a good student. In fact, she isolated on purpose from her friends, transforming insignificant events into life-changing tragic circumstances. She just needed someone to blame that she was unable to deal with her life and to accept the difficulties of teenage years.
9. Poor author - Jay Asher is not convincing at all. I couldn't feel any power in his words. I couldn't place myself in the place of neither Hannah nor Clay. The novel is just too far away from the reader. It doesn't provoke any feelings (except boredom).
10. Discrepancies - The "guilty" people are said to be 13. It turns out they are 12. One of the boys is twice as guilty. So far so good. She shares that one of the reasons for her suicide is that she witnessed another boy raping a girl. Do not even get me started as this for a reason. If the raped girl had killed herself, I understand. But then Hannah witnessed the raping and didn't do anything to prevent it. She refuses to share the name of the villain, yet in the next chapter she implies who he is and she sleeps with him. Hm...Of course, he is guilty for her suicide even though she voluntary had sex with him AFTER knowing that he raped a girl.
11. No parents - Throughout the novel we never ever hear about Hannah's family. Her parents are mentioned only once but we never get their point of view. Did she have a stable life? I suppose she did, otherwise she would have included them in the tapes, again pointing fingers. If they were good parents (as we suppose) didn't they notice something was wrong with their daughter? Did they try to help her? We get no information about that.
12. Apathy - Hannah doesn't seek for help. She expects other people to read her mind. She expects other people to behave the way she wants them to. When she and Clay get closer, she repels him. No reason whatsoever. The boy likes her and wants to help her out. Yet, our drama queen is now too disillusioned by all the "unfortunate" events in her life, that she just escapes. And then she blames. She talks to her teacher but she doesn't listen. She wants him to know what's going on in her head without her even showing any signs. Hannah is apathetic and bored with life. She doesn't want to fight so she finds it easier to blame everyone else.
13. Why yes- Hannah broke her rules (12 people not 13) so I am going to break mine. I will give you one reason to read the book. If you feel despaired that your teenage (adult) life is going from bad to worse, read this novel. See how a little bit hysteric and over dramatic girl exaggerates her misfortunes and ends up killing herself. Think about your problems. Do they resemble Hannah's? Do you blame everyone else for your unhappiness? Do you think suicide is the right answer? Reading about Hannah first you will see how stupid and inadequate her reasons are. Maybe you will feel the same about your problems. Maybe you will see that people have the inclination to underestimate their successes and overestimate their failures. After all, good things happen only to positive people. Proven by personal experience.

Friday, 15 April 2011

18% Gray - A Nostalgia

The most common thing you are going to heаr about Zachary Karabashliev's 18% Gray is that it is the Bulgarian version of On the Road by Jack Kerouac. As Luben Dilov said it, "On the road. Not with Jack but with Zack.". As a quote it sounds good, almost original, you might say. As a hint towards the topic of the book, it is a complete bullshit.

In 18% Gray the protagonist Zack is indeed on the road. He also takes the famous Route 66 (or what is left from it) as his prominent predecessor. He also travels from the West coast to the East coast, passing through places, people, villages, towns, cities. Zack looks a bit like Jack. And that's about it with the similarities. We don't have our Dean Moriarty here. We have a road ahead of us, sky above us, earth beneath us, and nothing left behind us.

Zack is a man of a transition. The transition between the past and the future, the old and the new, the east and the west, the communism and the democracy. The transition that happened in 1989 (the year I was born!) in Bulgaria that left the country devastated. Zack witnessed the poverty, the difficulties, the crimes, the lack of perspective, the deadlock, the despair, and, like many other Bulgarians, decided to immigrate. From the Bulgarian nightmare to the American dream. With hopes of a bright future, Zack and his wife Stela moved to the US, seeking to release their talent and to find happiness.

He is a photographer, she is an artist. He ends up working in a pharmaceutical company and she ends up leaving him. Zack has lost himself but has found something else - a bag of pot. "Before you find yourself, you have to lose yourself?" No! Before you find yourself, you have to find something else. In this case, a bag of pot.

Are we people of the extremes? Do we live lives in black and white? Can you always say with certainty that one thing is right and the other is wrong? What is the basis, on which you thread, to categorize anything that happens to you? Or do we always live in the middle? 18% gray? 18% gray is the starting point of black-and-white photography. Everything needs a starting point, a basis on which to judge everything else. Darker than 18% by how much %? Or lighter by how much %? Why exactly 18%? Well, why is life that way? Why does life go forward and not backward? Why don't we die first and be born at the end?

18% Gray is a novel of travelling, of losing, searching, and finding. It's a novel of dreams, hopes, love, and rejection. It's a novel of despair. It's a vulgar brutal confession of a man on the road. Man, who has nothing to lose yet so much to find. Does Zack find it the end? Does he know what he is searching for? Can we ever know what we want, and even if we know, can we find it?

This review is full of questions since the novel poses questions. All the time. Questions about life, questions about love, questions about the world. I can't give you the answers. You have to find them in the book. Or at least, start asking yourself the right questions. The only right way to finding what you need is to ask the right questions. Before that you may ask a lot of wrong questions. Trial-and-error, dude. That's life, trial-and-error.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

South of the Border, West of the Sun, Straight in My Heart

Hajime is an only child. So am I. He loves reading books and listening to music. So do I. He is regarded by others as eccentric, selfish, self-consumed, and strange because he is an only child. So am I. Most of the time Hajime prefers being alone; not that he doesn't have friends; he just keeps other people at distance. So do I. The only person he ever let close to him is his childhood friend Shimamoto. At the age of 22, Hajime is bored with life, he doesn't see any purpose, and he feels his life is over. So do I.

South of the Border, West of the Sun is a story of growing up and searching. For fulfillment, for love, for peace, for all those things people spend their lives searching for. South of the Border, West of the Sun is the story of Hajime - a boy born in post-war Japan and growing up in the suburbs. At the age of 12 he meets Shimamoto, a girl with a lame leg and also an only child. They develop a strong relationship, based not only on their alienation from the rest of the world, but also on their shared common interests. They listen to jazz and classical music, they take long walks, they talk, share, and touch. Yet, life is often unfair. Hajime moves to another town and the two of them lose touch for more than 20 years. Yet, Hajime never forgets his first and only love.

Years go by and Hajime is already grown up. Bored from his life, having passed numerous senseless affairs and trapped in a job he detests, Hajime is ready to give up on life. His twenties are marked up by despair, desolation, and further loneliness. The image of Shimamoto never fades away, but Hajime hasn't tried contacting her. Yet, she appears in the most unexpected moment, when Hajime' life is already stable and ordinary. He has a family, children, and a successful business running a jazz club. Shimamoto reappears, beautiful, changed, intense, enveloped in mystery. Hajime is once again enchanted by his childhood friend, realizing all of these years she was the one thing that kept his life incomplete. Now, he is facing Sophie's choice -to abandon everything he has worked for for the woman he loves or to continue with his trivial existence.

I loved Murakami's book. It is sensual, romantic, powerful, full of desire and feelings. Love, as Murakami sees it, is irrational and vertiginous. It doesn't fade away with years, it gives life a purpose and a direction. Without this love, the one that aches your heart, corrupts your mind, and leaves you exhausted and crushed, our life is incomplete. We can build a stable life, we can have a fabulous job, we can have a family that loves us, children that worship us, friends that support us. Yet, this unrequited, unexperienced love grows as a little bacteria in our body, slowly taking over it as a disease. It leaves us wondering: "Is there something worth south of the border, west of the sun, some cure for this suffering, some experience to make us feel again?"

Haruki Murakami is amazing. He creates a different novel about love. Not the sugar-coated stories of impossible love, but the true story of the souls, whose life separates them and reunites them after years of searching and suffering. Two lost souls, whose only hope for happiness and fulfillment is in each other's arms. Life is never that simple, though. You know what you want from life but you know you're not living the life you want. Do you dare change it?

Murakami is expected to be the next Noble prize winner. People say he is commercial. So what if he is? His style is understandable, clear, tender, delicate, real. He talks about real people, real situations, real life. He will touch you, make you think, provoke you, make you cry, but never never leave you indifferent. How can anyone be indifferent when we talk about love?

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck

In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck is not a "red" novel. It is not a communist propaganda that seeks to provoke people to fight for the common good. It is not written to encourage people to strike against the status quo. Steinbeck himself was not a communist. In fact, he shared he disliked the communists as people. Yet he wrote the best novel about a strike in world history, a novel that appears to be radical to the core. What could be the explanation of this?

In Dubious Battle is Steinbeck's first novel, followed by Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, out of the trilogy which focuses on the problems of the common man during The Great Depression in the USA. The book encompasses around ten days, which follow the rise and the development of a strike of Californian apple pickers. Inspired by true events, In Dubious Battle aroused immense controversy when published in 1936. It was seen as a rebellion against the status quo, as a quest for social and economic equality. The whole strike is seen through the eyes of Jim Nolan, a disillusioned young man, who has lost his family in the current regime. Searching for self-realization, understanding, and purpose, Jim joins the Communists. Together with Mac, he becomes entangled in the strike of the migrant workers, prompting them to rebel against the low wages and seeking for supporters for the cause. However, the strike soon turns to disaster, as the workers are forced to live on a farm in unhygienic conditions, to starve, and to fight. Despair and disillusion are in the air and Mac and Jim as agitators must continuously devise ways to maintain the group's commitment and to prevent the participants of turning against each other. Steinbeck brilliantly follows the birth of an idea, the means to its development, and its tragic but inevitable end.

The title of the novel is adapted from Milton's Paradise Lost, where "the dubious battle" is Satan's revolt against God and his means. The similarity between both battles is not that their outcomes are uncertain but that the confrontation is unnecessary and unjustified in the first place. Milton justifies the ways of God to man by pointing out the futility of any resistance to his power; Steinbeck, on the other hand, shows the struggle over how the profits from cultivating fruits of the earth must be shared among the participants. In that sense, Steinbeck's novel can be read as a propaganda for social equality. However, the title itself foreshadows that the battle is purposeless. Even Mac, one of the main agitators, admits that the situation is fairly hopeless. Yet the struggle continues.

However, the novel is not merely a story about a dubious confrontation, nor it is a meditation on the differences between human beings acting as individuals or within group. It is not a summary of the pros and cons of the communist ideology. In Dubious Battle is actually a portrait of the maturing of a young person, Jim Nolan. The whole novel is centered around his character, starting from his despair and decision to join the Communists and tracking his transformation from a silent loyal follower into an inspiring leader of the masses. At the centre of every scene is Jim, what he learns, how he feels, what he suffers. The reader is taken on a journey of the development of a personal point-of-view, or so called a philosophy of life. Usually, it takes people years to build self-confidence, to find purpose, to feel passion. It takes Jim 10 days to grow from an apathetic boy into a clever quick-witted individual. As the author perceives it, the battle was not dubious because of the uncertainty of the outcome; it was dubious because it should never occurred in the first place. Jim is a capable young individual, who, however, is trapped into a hopeless confrontation. The author attempts to promote understanding, to shake people out of their complacent self-seeking by portraying its consequences, and to discuss the devastating effects of man's inhumanity to man.

The author's message thus should not be regarded as a slogan for a red party. It is much more universal than that. Steinbeck aimed to promote the necessity of orderly rational change and to use of the talents of the gifted in facilitating this effort so that all the "dubious" battles might end, leaving way to a more constructive effort towards change.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Bill Bryson (and me) on a Trip around the Fields of England

In two months I will say goodbye to the UK after having spent nearly 3 years here. To say that I am sad will be an exaggeration. However, to say that I will not miss it is just plainly unfair. After all, the UK has taught me several important life lessons, which I will never forget soon:

1. How to pass an exam, when you haven't attended a single lecture and you have two days to learn everything
2. Yes, it is possible to be rainy and windy 364 days of the year.
3. Never be surprised when a total stranger calls you "love" or "mate".
4. "Cheers" is the ultimate word. It can substitute absolutely anything you want to say.
5. Cider is cheep and fairly disgusting
6. Burger&Chips CAN be a national dish.
7. You can always start smoking after you have successfully passed the "wanna be" phase of your life (in my case you can start smoking not at 13 but at 20).

If you feel a sense of bitterness, irony, and sarcasm...well you are absolutely right. To be honest, I don't only have bad memories from my time here. Of course, I am now expected to share that my life abroad has made me more responsible, more organized, and more self-sufficient. Well, it did. It is quite obvious. Leaving the comfort of your home behind, where your mum and dad take care of every disgusting chore and moving on to live by yourself, having to learn how to cook, wash your clothes, manage your finances, etc will ultimately transform you from a careless teen into a mature individual. It is not the UK that did this. It is merely the living abroad, which could have happened in exactly every other country.

However, I have two things to be thankful to the UK. Firstly, I started this blog here. I realized how much I love books and how much pleasure dedicating time to reading and writing gives me. Secondly, I realized I want to write a book about my life (I wouldn't have anything to write about if it wasn't for the UK but that is another issue). So, England, this is my big thank you for releasing my literary talent and for giving it a subject to write about.

Maybe sensing my feelings towards his home country, my flatmate provided me with a book to change my opinion (or at least attempt to do so). After spending nearly 20 years on the island, Bill Bryson (a born American) is about to leave it for good and move to live with his family in the US. Feeling nostalgia, the author decides to take a journey around the fields of England starting from the south and finishing in the north. Bryson enters the UK through Dover, the same way he did in the distant 1970s and starts a trip, visiting not only every major UK city, but also going to relatively unknown places and villages. The book is funny, entertaining, and clever. It is not merely a trip through the fields of UK, it is a trip through a whole life time. There is as much about England and its miracles as about Bryson and his life. The author is sarcastic and funny; his elaboration on the Britons and on their island is straight to the point. The author not only describes the absolutely astonishing parts of England; he also attempts to draw a rather comprehensive picture of its public face. What are the key characteristics of the Britons? What made them so? What transformed some prosperous industrial towns into deserted and isolated places? What makes the green green grass of the UK so lovable? Bryson answers all of these answers from his own perspective, as an immigrant for almost 20 years. His imagination, sense of humour, and wittiness make Notes on a Small Island more than a road trip book. They actually make it a guide to understanding England. When I read it, I kept thinking "This is absolutely the way it is".

However, along with making me laugh out loud while reading (I really did that) Bryson managed to show me the good things about the UK. Things I just failed to notice, being too busy hating everything I see. The nature, the places, the sweet weirdness of the people, their extraordinary rituals, their behavior, everything. Bryson described all that makes the English so different from all other nations. Their almost adoringly strong belief that the island is ultimately the only place worth living on, their inclination to call each other "love" or "darling", their history, their traditions, even their food. Bryson is far from being over idealistic. Just like me, he hates the fact that every town has to have its Marks&Spenser, Boots, Tesco, or Sainsbury's. Yet, he points out the little pleasures one can encounter, the absolutely magnificent English nature, the richness of historical artefacts, etc. I just felt the desire to be along with Bryson on his road trip.

After finishing this great adventure, I felt a great nostalgia. Nostalgia not about the UK I experienced, but about the UK I didn't. Somehow these 3 years being busy complaining about everything I could think of (starting from the rain and finishing with the wrong side buses seem to come from) I failed to get a sense of the greatness of this nation, of almost the immerse possibilities it can offer to a stranger like me. I lost this time and now it is the time to say: "England, I am sorry". I am sorry that I didn't take all you could offer and I am sorry I got to dislike you so much. Just the time and place were not right for me and you to meet. Maybe in years, I will come back for a tour similar to Bryson's. Maybe then I will be able to appreciate the vastness of your land, the beauty of your weather, the cosiness of your people. Maybe then I will be more healthy, more mature, and more happy to say something like: "England, I came here. I disliked you. I hated you. I cried here. I was happy when I left. Then I came back. I travelled. I saw you. I got to know you. I realized I didn't hate you. I hated the person you made be here. But I am different now. And I thank you. For changing me. For helping me hit the bottom. For helping me stand up. For helping me reach the sky."