Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Chekhov - The Master of the Short Stories

I am into Russian literature mood. Most specifically into Russian literature from the 19th century mood. After the historical The Captain's Daughter by Pushkin I turned to a rather different topic - the short stories of the master Chekhov. Until now I had read just a few, mostly in literature classes, where I needed to analyze them endlessly. For the first time now, though, I read 10 short stories in a row and I loved all of them.

Chekhov's stories follow the daily life of ordinary Russian people from the 19th century. The author is not concerned with the rich and the wealthy; he finds the simple people: the peasants, the poor, the beggars, the sufferers more interesting, more challenging, more revealing. The Russian genius portrays the depths of human joy, confusion, dissatisfaction, and sorrow. Using irony and satire, he condemns human characteristics such as greed, avarice, stupidity, jealousy, and egocentrism. His protagonists are not absolute people in absolute situations; they are common ones who suffer common problems - lack of money, unhappy love, separation, marriage problems, etc. Reading Chekhov I could relate his personages not only to 19th century people but also to contemporary ones. The author ingeniously captures the anguish of the human soul, the clash between what the heart wants and what the heart needs, and the controversies that shape our everyday life. It is easy to recognize yourself in one or more of Chekhov's short stories. They are written to be understood, to be felt, to be studied, and to learned from.

Personal favorites of mine? Well, more or less I loved all of them but I was mostly fond of the ones, which featured a lot of irony and sarcasm towards the human being and its place in society. For example Anna on the Neck - a beautiful young girl who marries a much older man for his money. In the beginning she is still attached to her poor relatives but as the glamour and luxury of the high society surrounds her, she becomes detached from her previous life and she is ashamed of her family. Or The Lady with the Dog, a short story that focuses on our almost painful need for love and understanding. The lady with the dog is a 30-something unhappily married woman. Gurov is older than her, also unhappy with his wife, who however constantly seeks escape in the form of numerous affairs. When they finally meet each other, they realize the destroying need for love and affection.

And probably one of the most famous short stories by Chekhov - The Man in a Case. The story is about a Greek-language school teacher, who is obsessed with rules and regulations. He fears change, possibilities, and freedom. Prohibitions are safe for him as they clearly state what shouldn't be done. Freedom, on the other hand, is endless and uncontrollable and it can take numerous directions that Belikov cannot control. Thus he surrounds his whole life in a case - to protect himself not only from trouble but also from happiness and enjoyment. Certainly, Chekhov meant Belikov as a figure of ridicule. Still, the author remains objective and doesn't judge; he leaves this pleasure to the readers.

The magic of Chekhov's short stories is that seemingly they are mostly about nothing. Trivial situations, ordinary people, banal feelings. But if you let character, observation, and mood into your heart, you will definitely see that almost no other author has captured so deeply the happiness, joy, suffering, and love of the human being with so much detail, sympathy, and pity. Because even though Chekhov laughs at his characters, we can still feel he is not a judge of human imperfections; he understands, accepts, and forgives.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Luizza Hut - A Love Story by the Controversial Toma Markov

"Every decision is a final refusal" (Karl Lagerfeld). Everything that is real is rational. Be careful with love - it is forever. Be careful with love - it is for real. This is Toma Markov and his new novel - a real love novel as he says it - Luizza Hut.

Toma Markov is weird. Everyone who has read him will agree to this point. Mostly famous for his ironical and satirical articles in popular Bulgarian newspapers, the controversial author now surprises with a brand new novel. Not only that, but he brands it "a love novel". The moment I heard about it I knew what I should do - I should buy it for my ex-boyfriend because he is a huge fan. After he read it, he didn't share a single opinion about it with me. He just said: "I want to hear what you think first and I want to read it in your blog". I hope I don't disappoint him.

Markov is Makaronov, the protagonist of the novel. Or Makaronov is Markov, the author who just had issued his first novel and is bearing the fruits of the newly born fame. Bulgaria in the 1998: people have no money, the exchange rate is two bulgarian levs, the mafia is flourishing, drugs are widely available, alcohol and cigarettes are recreational. In that difficult reality Makaronov is trying to balance between his work in the theatre, his literary talent, and his love for Luizza Hut. The front-girl of the most popular punk band at that time is anything but the good girl. Dangerous and promiscuous, Luizza becomes Makaronov's drug, Makaranov's addiction, Makaranov's end. He loves her and hates her; he adores her and despises her; he wants to be with hur and he wants to her her. What is love and how to manage it - Markov (Makaronov) gives un answer to this question, an answer to be felt differently depending on who you are, what you think of love, and how you experience it.

Luizza Hut is an example of what modern Bulgarian literature must be. Brutal, cynical, controversial, but straight to the point. You read Markov and you think "Wait, this is way too vulgar for my taste". And then he says something that makes you stand up in your chair and cry "THIS MAN IS A GENIUS. HE KNOWS WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT". Definitely difficult, definitely misunderstood, and definitely haten, Markov marks the beginning of a new novel. One that on a first glance doesn't say much but when you come to think about it, it says a lot. About what love is today. Not the sugar-coated romantic and perfect version American movies desperately try to show it to be. Love is everything that we think it is not. Love is a good of the lovers. Love is what no one every suspects it to be. Love is what makes you happy somewhere else, in some other time. Love is difficult; it is never simple. Love cannot be explained, and sometimes it cannot be understood. And love is cynical and brutal, no doubt about it.

I will be reading more from Markov. This guy knows what he is talking about, he has seen things, he has experienced brutalities, and he has much more to show is. In his typical controversial way of doing so.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Captain's Daughter - Love in the Time of Revolt Against Serfdom and Tsarism in Russia

About the classics of world literature - either good or nothing. Especially about the Russian classics of the 19th century, founders of contemporary Russian literature. You may find me extreme but for me the Russian literature from that period is most probably the most powerful and influential. Wordy, descriptive, and highly psychological, these are the giants Tolstoi, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Lermontov, Chekhov, etc. One of the most prominent and my personal favorite, Alexander Pushkin, is mostly famous for his poems. However, he also wrote verse novels (Yevgeny Onegin), drama, and prose.

In The Captain's Daughter, a historical fiction, Pushkin describes the famous revolt of Pugachev against serfdom and tsarism. This is a time of evil and love, of deceit and honesty, of hatred and generosity. The circumstances of the war between the rebels and the soldiers of the king is portrayed through the eye of the young Pyotr Grinyov. At a very early age he is sent by his father to military service in Odenburg. There he falls in love with the captain's daughter, Maria. Their love, though, is subject to difficulties and turbulences. The betrayer Shavbrin is in love with Masha and wants to make her his wife. Pugachev advances towards Odenburg, gathering loyal followers along the way. The country is on the verge of war and Pyotr must not only fight against the self-proclaimed new king but he must also protect his future wife to be.

The innocency and the naivete of Pyotr is confronted with the cruelty and ugliness of the war. Thanks to his strange encounter with Pugachev before his rise to power, Pyotr escapes death. Still, he must balance between his duties for the Queen and his love for Maria, whose salvation largely depends on the benevolence of the impostor.

The Captain's Daughter is the first novel in Russian literature that makes a coherent and exhaustive analysis of the historical turbulences in Russia at the end of the 18th century. Pushkin follows the historical sequence of events with just a little bit of anachronisms. A wonderful historical piece that accurately portrays the struggle between the servants and the aristocrats, a struggle that will continue for much of the 19th century as well and will eventually lead to the idea of social equality and justice, which, as we all know, put the foundations of communism and socialism in Russia.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Henri Troyat Explores a Family Drama in Les Eygletiere

Les Eygletiere are a French family, whom you definitely may envy. They have it all - a nice apartment in the center of Paris, a summer house in a nearby village, and vacations in foreign countries. They are rich, beautiful, smart, and powerful. Their life seems perfect, yet beneath the surface they are average people - torn by passions, doubts, love, lies, and betrayals.

The father - a successful lawyer, who has three children from his first marriage but is now enjoying life with his second wife - the much more younger and much more beautiful Carol. Yet what the old Eygletiere ingeniously believes is that women are on earth to be used, enjoyed, and then changed. His love affairs are numerous but at home he continues to appear as the perfect father and the perfect husband.

The oldest son - Jean Marc is a quite idealistic boy, who wants to study literature but fearful to disappoint his father he decided to follow his path and become a lawyer. Jean Marc doesn't take any risks until he falls in love with his stepmother. His life becomes torn between his respect for his father and his killing passion for Carol.

The daughter - the extremely religious virgin Francoise, who is engaged to be married to her boyfriend in 5 years. She is even-tempered, serious, and right-minded. Her life is devoted to doing the right thing at the right time until she steps out of the way - she begins a sexual affair with her Russian teacher. The girl is faced with the choice between her devotion to God and her passion for Alexander. Francoise's tender soul cannot bear the downfall and the degradation in her family as she discovers the secret of Jean Marc and she takes drastic measures.

The youngest son - the dreamer Daniel who wants to explore Africa and the Middle East, who seeks for adventures and risks, and who doesn't care much about studying. He is about to travel to the Ivory Coast in search for escapades.

The aunt - Madeleine is the fiduciary of her nephews. She has lost her husband years ago and along with him her desire to communicate with people. Madeleine likes things - she is an antiquarian living solely in a small village surrounded only by her old possessions. The struggles in the Les Eygletiere family however force her to return to the city and to engage in the family drama.

And Carol - the passionate and beautiful stepmother who knowingly seduces her stepson. The purpose in Carol's life is to be pretty and to be admired. She knows her husband is unfaithful but so is she. Carol without shame starts a sexual affair with Jean Marc and when confronted by Madeleine doesn't show the slightest regret or sorrow.

These are Les Eygletiere - beautiful and perfect on the outside but treacherous and dual on the inside. Henri Troyat is not only one of the best autobiographers in the world; he is also an incredible psychologist of the human mind. The French from Russian decent deeply goes into the human soul, analyzing the temptations in front of it and the struggle between what one should do and what one wants to do.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

"We" is Bigger Than "I" in Zamyatin's Dystopian World

Before George Orwell, Anthony Burgess
Ray Bradbury, and Aldus Huxley, there was the pioneer of the dystopian novel. The first man who wrote a shocking novel about the extremities of totalitarianism and control was actually Russian. Yes, Orwell, Bradbury, and Huxley were taught about socialist dictatorship by no other but Yevgeny Zamyatin.

We was published in 1926 as a response of the author's personal experiences during the Russian revolutions in 1906 and in 1917. The dystopian world of We is set in the future, where people do not have names but numbers. Males have odd numbers prefixed by consonants while women - even number prefixed by vowels. All of these "numbers" wear identical clothes, sleep in identical places, and are subject to the ideal of industrial efficiency. Human beings are screws in a machine - the "I" is not important; the "We" creates the state. The whole country is made up of glass as to facilitate control by the secret police and the spies. The ruler is (and has been for quite some time) the same one, the Benefactor, always chosen non-anonymously, as there is no other candidate. The control over society is secured by the successful victory over the two things that drive it - hunger and sex. People eat only mechanically prepared food (the ancient, or future equivalent of GMO) and have sex with whomever they want but only in the pre-determined hours.

In the light of this totalitarian regime, the main character is D-503. He is the builder of the Integral, a space ship supposed to take the logic of the One State to the rest of the universe. However, love and affection mess up the mechanically functioning mind of D-503. He begins doubting the regime and its sustainability and he visits a doctor, fearing he might be having a soul. The reason for his rebellion is a woman, an idea followed by Orwell and Huxley as well. I-330 is magnetic, sensual, and sexual. She dreams of life outside of the wall that surounds the state from the wild nature. She smokes, drinks, and experience the pure pleasure of sexual affairs. Her character and passion attempt to shaken the carefully mechanized world in which D-503 lives.

The Integral that is supposed to send the message of power and control to other nations is analogous to the Marxist's view of a Global Communist state. The focus is on industry and mechanization, which break down actions to easily understood and performed tasks, which require no imagination or creativity. D-503 writes a poem, the initial purpose of which is to share with the others the happiness and wisdom of the One State. Zamyatin here is disgusted with the use of literature by the communists to manipulate and shape public opinion. D-503's poem is a manifesto of conformity and equality but as the protagonist begins to experience his "soul", his attitude towards the regime understandably changes.

We certainly set the beginning of the dystopian novels that widely spread in the second half of the 20th century. Authors were fascinated with the topic of totalitarianism gone mad, especially in the light of the USSR and its rise to power. In We every hour of life is determined by The Table, a precursor of 1984's telescreen. The benefactor is the equivalent of Orwell's Big Brother. The similarities with Brave New World are even more obvious - the control of sex, the focus on industrialization and mechanization, the lack of the family, and the programming of people to love the regime that deprives them. Huxley indeed goes a bit further with his society of promiscuous conformists, pleasure seekers, and happy consumers.

To be honest Zamyatin is not as good as the other authors that followed him. His novel is still a child in its ideas about the endless possibilities of control mechanisms over the society. yet, the Russian is the first one to see through the idea of social equality and to the devastating effects its extreme form might lead in a futuristic world. In that sense, his contribution to the future development of the dystopian literature is incomparable.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

All Those Things We Never Said - Mark Levy Follows the Trouble Relationship between a Father and a Daughter

What would you do to hold again someone who has left you for good? Where would you go to reconnect with your father, whom you have missed all of your life? Do you need this katarsis - all the things you wanted yo say but you never did because you were too proud, too hurt, or because you felt you still had the time? And when once of a sudden this person is no longer alive, would you take the chance of spending one more week with him just to hear his explanations and excuses?

Julia, a 30-something years old woman faces these questions on a very important day - her wedding day. All of her life she didn't have a father - he was the always busy and successful businessman. She saw him only in between his business trips and she always felt his absence. Years later they lost touch but Julia expects him now to take her down the aisle to her future husband. However, her father still finds a way to ruin her celebration. He dies several days before her wedding and his funeral is on the worst possible day- Julia's wedding. Is it a mere coincidence or is her father trying to change her life once again?

Devastated, Julia doesn't know how to react. She doesn't cry but she feels the emptiness of losing her father. Until she finds a strange box in her living room. Her rich father has found a way to spend six more days with her and to tell her all those things he was too busy to tell before. Of course, only if Julia wants to listen. If not, she can easily turn him off and send him back. No, he didn't send her tapes; he send himself in the form of a high-tech android, who astonishingly resembles, talks, and behaves like the original. Julia is faced with a difficult choice - should she allow the robot to fill the void left by her father all those years or should she just reject it and continue with her life. Julia's decision takes her on a tender and unforgettable journey through Canada, Paris, and Berlin. As she gets to know her father once again she learns more about his mistakes in the past, his feelings towards her mother, and his love for his daughter. Along with that, Julia discovers a secret her father has kept for nearly 20 years; a secret connected to the love of her life, the German Tomas, whom she taught to be dead.

Is Julia brave enough to go after her teenage love? Most importantly, is her father's sudden death a few days before her wedding a sign that she shouldn't marry Adam, her boring, but gentle and secure fiancee? And what is the role of Julia's father in all of this? Mark Levy takes us through the story of two different generations and how they choices affected their actions. The author elaborates on the extremely difficult relationship between father and child, still showing that it is never too late to try to understand, to ask for forgiveness, and to receive it. It is also never too late to find the one love, whom you have been missing for 20 years.

This is a tender fantastical novel, which will move you and prompt you to think about your own relationship with your parents. Sometimes they do what they perceive to be beneficial to their child and often subconsciously make mistakes. Children, on the other hand, blame their parents for these mistakes and for their failures and exclude them from their lives. But all our parents want is for us to be safe and happy. They don't find the right means of communication and as Julia father says: "I wanted to be your friend, your accomplice, your trustee, but I was only your father and I will remain your father forever".

And the ending...well the ending is unbelievable. Levy shows the extreme actions, which a father will undertake to help his daughter make the right choices. Because no matter how we feel at times, all our parents want is to see us happy. Julia's father is a definite example of that, and safe to say, the girl understood and forgave. As we all should do. Since there are miracles in the world and all one should do is open his/her eyes and see them.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Brutality in the Balkans - Zlatko Enev's Requiem for Nobody

Hard, brutal, cruel, and cynical - this is the requiem of Zlatko Enev. A story about the turbulence in Bulgaria in 1984-1985, followed by the outrages in Serbia and Kosovo, and finished with contemporary Berlin. A story that begins with a French bread and ends with a sacrifice. Painfully honest and painfully realistic, Enev turns towards a shameful period in the Bulgarian history without the proud nationalism and patriotism - to present a picture we must see, although we don't want to believe.

The beginning. The nationalization of the bulgarian turks, who were forced to change their names. The process, which many mistake with patriotism, involved persecutions, murders, and brutalities comparable to the Turkish yoke. Those, who didn't want to abandon their religion or name were persecuted outside the boundaries of Bulgaria. In Turkey they called them Bulgarians, in Bulgaria - turks. They were nobodies - no name, no origin, no belonging to any particular group. This requiem is for them - for the innocent victims of the Bulgarian so called nationalism. People that felt themselves Bulgarians but because of hatred were punished. Enev takes the objective position of an external observer. The author doesn't belong to any ethnic group, he is simply Human. And the actions against the Turks in the 1980s were anything but human.

The women. Beaten, raped, killed, when they even attempted to raise their voice. Maria, the girl who fell in love with a gypsy, an idea unacceptable at that time (and still to be honest) bore the guilt of her beloved's death. Sold as a prostitute by her savage step father, Maria found herself in the Albanian reality. There she was a victim of men's perversities, filming porn movies. Her sufferings are too terrible to describe here. Enev, however, does an incredible job. I had to stop several times while reading because literary I felt the need to throw up. So savage, so brutal, so totally inhuman, Maria's destiny was never to be happy when she finally meets her torturer.

The turk, whose husband is suspected of organizing anti-Bulgarian activities and subsequently killed, falls in love with her rapist. The young girl who becomes pregnant from the local judge is killed by him. The German teacher expelled from Bulgaria because she dared call a turk girl by her own name. None of these outrages against women was punished. There was no system in place to punish the guilty ones. The women were nobodies. Their sufferings were unimportant, their guilt was inherent, and their destiny to suffer was predetermined. This is a requiem for them.

Zlatko Enev's Requiem for Nobody is difficult to read and accept. Yet it is objective (sometimes way too brutal) description of a period in Bulgarian history carefully hidden by communist propaganda. It is not recommended for people with weak nerves.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

One Lovingly Strange Book - Paul Auster's Man in the Dark

I love strange books. Revolutionary books, absurd books, books you cannot compare to anything you have read before. Books that carry different message to different people. Books from which you can extract exactly what you need at that moment. Books that are weird, unconventional, not falling into any category. These and only these books make me excited and assured that there is always something more in world literature, a topic, a style, an idea not yet explored. Paul Auster's Man in the Dark is definitely such a strange book.

Imagine a world where the USA is not in war with Iraque but with itself. Imagine a parallel world, co-existing with ours, where the States is devastated by a civil war instead of devastating other nations but living calmly on their huge continent. This is absurd, you might say. Yet, this is the world of the 72-years-old August Brick. Paralyzed by a sever car accident, the former journalist moves to live with his daughter Miriam and his granddaughter Katya. The three poor souls have been devastated by life. August's wife recently passed away. Miriam divorced her husband and Katya's boyfriend was savagely killed in the war on terror. The three of them suffer from insomnia (what you will also do if you make the mistake of starting the novel late at night). The three of them try to forget the pain and suffering in their lives, slowly going back to normality.

August Brick has invented his own way of dealing with insomnia. He makes up stories. In his alternative America the Twin Towers are still standing and the States are in the state of a terrible civil war. The protagonist in August's stories is a magician, recruited to kill..well August himself for inventing this parallel reality. Brick tries to distort himself from thinking about his and his family pain. By escaping to another reality, he attempts to disprove the existence of the reality he is forced to live in. A reality, where he was the bastard, who cheated on his wife and failed his marriage. A reality where he reunited with his wife only to see her die. A reality where his daughter failed her marriage and where his granddaughter is hunted by guilt for her boyfriend's murder. A reality where the family together watched the video where Katya's boyfriend was murdered by extremists in the most violent way.

Yet reality is not something you can escape that easily. Even when focusing on his stories, Brick involuntarily returns to the present. His mind waves back to the past, to the mistakes, to the present sorrow, and to the insomnia. Problems cannot be washed away because reality has the terrible habit of reminding you it is still there. In the face of Katya, who visits her grandfather in the middle of the night to share the sorrow.

In spite of that, Man in the Dark is a positive novel. Three people solitarily share their pain and their sleeplessness. It is exactly trough family and friends that one leaves the past where it belongs - in the past and looks towards the future, whatever it might show. Blending absurdism and existentialism Auster ingeniously points out the faults of our contemporary life but still leaves hope that despite the tragically painful existence there might be still a way forward. Through patience, solidarity, self-compassion, and love.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

When Everything Changed - How the American Woman Turned from a Brainless Doll into a Heroine

Discrimination. In the American sense the first word that comes to mind is Negro. In the Bulgarian sense - gypsy. However, there is one discrimination that despite nearly 40 years of constant struggle still forms a huge part of the society we live in. Someone said that the worst thing you could be is a 40-years-old white man in the US. You cannot file against any part of discrimination. I would disagree. Despite the feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s it is still very difficult and challenging to be a woman.

Gail Collins, the first woman to hold the position of editorial page editor of the New York times presents a thorough study of the change in the status of the American woman - from a home servant to a heroine. It took nearly five decades for women to overcome the discrimination in universities, jobs, salaries, and lifestyle. Collins tracks this amazing story by providing numerous examples of women who have been discontent with the status quo and have fought despite the public opinion for the right to be human beings equal to men. Now, in the 21st century, I still ask myself, has anything changed that much?

In the 1960s the average American woman went to university with the sole purpose of finding a husband. Marriage took place at a very early age, usually 21 or 22. Afterwards, women began having babies and stayed at home. Men were in charge of providing for the family and women were in charge of raising the children and taking care of their husband. They were not only restricted to most jobs; most of these housewives didn't want to work. They were educated in the idea that the place of a good woman is at home, waiting patiently for her spouse to arrive. Women didn't need careers and didn't enjoy sex. They were simply an attachment to a man.

Understandably, some women indeed had to work if their husband didn't make enough money or if they were lonely mothers or (God forbid) old maids. However, there were the typical "female" jobs - waitresses, secretaries, flight attendants, and sellers. There were no women dentists, doctors, lawyers, or businessmen. In the 1960s, the situation started to change. The feminist movement and the movement for women's rights gained significant advantage. They fought for equal pay, for equal sharing of domestic chores, and for protection of women. Ironically, men were claiming to be protecting women by forbidding them to enter certain jobs or to engage in certain activities. The female was seen as the weaker sex, who needed protection against the harsh world. The feminists showed that this was not the case.

The 1970s witnessed the sexual revolution and the abolishment of the double standard. Women not only enjoyed sex but they were free to have as many sexual affairs as men before marriage. The age of marriage and of giving birth rose significantly with more and more women entering universities, playing sports, and reaching high positions in the work hierarchy. Still, in many areas, they were again discriminated. The law (which constituted still mostly of women) fought severely to keep the woman where she belonged - at home with the children.

The 1980s and 1990s witnessed more progress and women were now approaching the ever so desire for equality with men. The peak being when in 2007 Hilary Clinton was nominated for a president and Sarah Palin - for a vice-president. Yet, one thing remained unchanged - women even in the 21st century are still expected to manage between their careers and their family. Even though now, compared to the 1960s men help more with raising children, still the biggest burden falls on women. And although pay has approached equality, women continue to get paid less than men holding the same positions. So my question is: "Has anything changed that much?"

Well, some parts of life have indeed changed. We are no longer restricted of holding prestigious jobs, of playing sports, to having numerous sexual affairs, of choosing our own spouse and of divorcing him whenever this seems reasonable. We receive almost as much money as men and we can be managers, doctors, lawyers. More and more men accept the idea of having a woman boss and even of voting for one in politics. Yet, I somewhat feel that the discrimination against women is still present.

The typically female jobs are still mostly occupied by women. How many flight attendants, secretaries, or waiters have you seen to be men? Women are still expected to raise their children, to clean the house, to prepare a homemade meal, while at the same time working a full time job. And most of all, women continued to be perceived as sexual objects with lower intellectual capability than men. Even stating the growing old argument that women are worst drivers than women. So my point is, we have gained responsibilities but we have barely removed discrimination. Of course, it is not as tough as it was back in the 1960s, but I still feel the look :"You are a woman; you don't undersand".

The American woman - from a housewife to a manager and from a sexual object to a heroine - the subject of Gail Collins's book is as important and as controversial today as it was years before. A book definitely worth reading as contemporary society certainly witness a step back. More and more women prefer not to work and to leave the money-bringing and career-making to men. It seems that some of them voluntarily place themselves as sex objects, using their sexuality to get what they want from men. These women undermine the struggles for female equality and threaten to destroy the fragile respect we have earned so far. I am more than pessimistic about the future of the American woman. As we know, time tends to go circular. Now we are wearing the clothes of the 1960s and 1970s. How long before we return to our place in the 1960s and 1970s?

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Art of Living and Surviving in Nazi Netherlands - Anne Frank and Her Heartbreaking Story

From the countless stories, memories, diaries, academic investigations, secret lists, interviews, and conclusions about the Holocaust in Europe between 1939 and 1945 one diary stands out. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Not merely a recollection of her 2 years in hiding, but a manifesto of strength, life, love, friendship, and constant struggle for development. Translated into more than 40 languages, the story of Anne is one of the most read books in history.

Anne Frank is a normal 13 year old girl. She lives with her parents and her sister in Amsterdam. While reading her first diary entries you would never guess that she lives in one of the most terrible periods in world history. Anne is slightly spoiled, she is taken great care from her parents, she has many friends and admirers, she goes out, laughs, plays, all and all she is being a regular teenage girl. Unti the persecution of Jews in the Netherlands expands enormously and her family is forced to hide in a secret annex of a house. Eight people, among who are Anne and her family, another friendly family, and a dentist spend more than 2 years hidden from the rest of the world in a place, where no one suspects their existence. Helped our by their loyal friends, the eight survivors are forced to live between four walls, to suffer deprivation, and to wait patiently for the end of the war. The Diary of a Young Girl is Anne's recollection of that period. Her numerous diary entries show us the war through the eyes of a young, yet very perceptual and intelligent girl.

Why does Anne's diary stand out among all else? Why is the voice of a girl able to touch us so deeply and to make us experience her story as if we were there. The secret is hidden in Anne's personality. Just 14-years old, Anne realizes the absolute value of her own personality and her unique mind and way of thinking. The girl objectively observes, evaluates, and criticizes her actions and thoughts. Anne proclaims herself and protects the right to be who she is. The young girl is forced to grow up and to form her character alone. Her family doesn't understand her and still accepts her as a small child. The prisoners in the house laugh at her, criticize her for her extra energy, yell at her for her humour and irony, and attempt to change her. However, Anne shows strength and confidence atypical for her young age. She doesn't place her parents on a piedestal. She realizes their faults as both her guardians and as people. When Anne remains alone, with no one to understand the transformation in her mind and soul, she turns up for her diary for support.

As the young girl herself states, the paper is more patient than human beings. Anne self-identifies through writing and sharing to her imaginary friend Kitty. She is looking for someone to understand her the way she is, to hear her thoughts, to accept that she is not a child anymore, but a mature individual able to make his/her own decisions. The diary follows the daily struggles of the eight Jews about food, shelter, and space. Anne observes these quarrels making ingenious conclusions about the characters of her forced housemates. She surprises with her ability to go beyond the outside surface of the people and to see through their actual characters. In that sense, the diary is not only about Jews in Nazi Europe; it is an ode of a growing up girl, who is forced to construct her personality in unnatural conditions.

Yet, the most admiring thing about Anne is her desperate desire to live. She spends more than two years locked in the house but this deprivation doesn't invoke her inertness as a prisoner. Instead, Anne shows up incredible energy and will to experience, to learn, to love, to understand, to write, to think, to love. She enjoys the chores, she regularly studies, she reads, and she even falls in love. This constant movement is Anne's way to suppress fear, to overcome anxiety, and to wait patiently for better times. In essence, the girl's energy is a peculiar struggle with depression and win over death. Through writing Anne manages to understand herself and the people around her better. As she grows, she transforms from the universal " I am alive and that is important" to the unique "I want to be remembered even after I die". The girl didn't even realize how close she was to the truth.

The Diary of a Young Girl is many things. It is a historical proof of one of the most savage periods in human history. It is a psychological auto-portrait of a growing up girl in terrible circumstances. It is also a warning against the biggest evil done from people to people. Politics appears only sometimes in Anne's diary but the treasure of this collection is in Anne's extraordinary desire to live, to embrace the world, to be positive, and to grow. The character of the girl somewhat reminded me of a very young Ayn Rand. She presents herself as an ultimate virtue, she values her thoughts and ideas, she places her happiness and well-being over everything else. Anne doesn't follow someone else's rules (even her parents). She sees herself as able to make her own choices and to construct her own destiny. In that sense, Anne is much more than a little Jewish girl. Anne is what we should be despite of other people's opinions, despite of our problems, despite of the world. Because Anne teaches us one very important lesson - you must follow your own path and find someone who accepts you and loves you the way you really are.

This is the second book about a girl in Nazi Europe that I read in the last months. The first one, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was about little Liesel, who overcame the war difficulties through reading and stealing books. She also had a Jewish friend, whom her family was secretly hiding in their basement. In The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank fights fear and desperation through writing and thinking. Both girls develop their own ways to survive and show us that sometimes children have the answers better then adults.

For more information about Anne, her subsequent capture by the Nazis, and her death in a concentration camp, you can visit the official website:

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Woman in White By Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White is young, beautiful, but mentally disabled. She has been living a life of fear and deprivation being sent by her mother and her accomplice to an Asylum at a very early age. Anne Catherick learnt to fear all people with the exception of Mrs Fairlie, who became her mentor and her only supporter. The mentally slow girl thus devotes her life to the memory of her patron. When the daughter of the late Mrs Fairlie is threatened to make the biggest mistake in her life, Anne appears as the woman in white to try and warn her.

Walter Hartright is a poor man, who earns his living by being a drawer master. He secures a job in the Fairlie mansion, where he meets Laura Fairlie and immediately falls in love with her. Laura, however, is to marry Sir Percival Glyde, the very man responsible for Anne Catherick's unfortunate life. Walter leaves his beloved upon learning of her marriage. Despite Anne's virtuous attempts, Laura is bound by a promise maid to her father to marry Glyde.

Ms Marian Halcombe is most probably the greatest character in the novel. She is the half-syster of Laura and spends her life protecting her and taking care of her interests. Witty, intelligent, and resourceful, Marian somewhat reminds me of Jane Austen's Elizabeth Benet. The two of them are most probably the finest creatures in the Victorian Age. Strong and independent, they the role of the woman is not merely to be a part of her husband, but to have her own opinion and character. Throughout the story I got to admire Marian, her clever judgment, her strength, and her mind. Thanks to her great love, Laura and Walter manage to overcome all the obstacles in front of them.

Sir Percival Glyde appears to have it all - name, title, money, fine character, and good education. Upon marrying Laura, however, his secrets begin to appear on the surface. His dark past and his problematic future explain the marriage with Laura, based not on love or admiration but on poor need of money. Still, Sir Percival is quick-tempered and passionate and his judgement is often misguided by his emotions.

Fortunately for him, his best friend Count Frisco is there to guide him. The Italian is the second best character in the novel, even though he plays the villain. Smart, intelligent, and menacing, he matches Marian's intellect and becomes fond of her. Fondness, which later costs him the collapse of his plan to take Laura's money through deceit. Upon realizing the astonishing similarity between Anne Catherick and Laura Fairlie the two villains form a vicious plan to rob Laura from her fortunes and to get rid of Anne, thereby securing Sir Glyde's secret. Thanks to Walter Hartright, however, and his immense love for Laura, the story is unravelled and the guilty receive their punishment.

These and many more characters form one of the first mystery novels in world literature. Wilkie Collins uses multiple narratives (as it is done in court) to solve the secret of Sir Percival Glyde's and Count Frisco's past. The story is told from the point-of-view of more than one character as the offense against law is told by more than one witness. Collins's experience in legal training helps him produce this incredible novel, where the reader is presented with controverse point-of-views and is left to form his/her own opinion.

I haven't enjoyed a novel about 19th century England as much since my most favorite Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Definitely worth reading as it will keep you wondering until the end and the resolution, I promise you, is nothing you have expected it to be.