Monday, 31 October 2011

I am back! And gain of love, hope, and justice - Katrin Pancol's La Valse Lente des Tortues

It has been nearly two months that I have been someone else. Being someone else is quite exhausting; it takes all of your time to forget who you are and remember what the other one, the one you are trying to be, is. It is all about restricting your desires and your words constantly and substituting them with your "wanna-be" self's. It took me so much time to do this that I literally had no time to read or write. Fortunately, my schizophrenic phase is over. I quite enjoyed it while it lasted but I feel that I couldn't take care of two people simultaneously. One (real me) is enough so this me is back. With a favorite author of mine and a favorite topic of mine - love.

She is again here and I've missed her a lot. Josephine. Shy, insecure, not self-confident, and clumsy, she is the kind of character that always wins your heard. This is so for a simple reason; she is just a good person. The ones that don't belong to our cynical world. The ones that care and love innocently, without playing games, without pretending, and without acting. You meet them so rarely that you have no other choice but to embrace and to love them. Jo is a real person; one not fooled by the rules of society, one not putting on a mask, one opening her heart to people completely and utterly. In Les Yeux Jaunes Des Crocodiles (The Yellow Eyes of the Crocodiles) I met Jo for the first time and I recognized so many of my traits in her. I couldn't wait for the sequel. Finally, La Valse Lente des Tortues (The Turtles' Slow Waltz) is a fact in Bulgarian and I am sure I was amongst the first ones to buy it. I wasn't disappointed.

Katherine Pancol is the writer I remembered. Always believing in the good in people, always claiming that at the end everyone gets what they deserve. Quite hopeful for our cynical society but also quite enjoyable to read. In the second part of the trilogy we find Jo at a difficult point in her life. She is trying to deal with the recent tragic death of her ex-husband, who was eaten by crocodiles in Kenya. Unfortunately, hope is still alive as the girls receive letters that look like from their father, claiming he is alive. The truth about Jo's book, which she wrote for Iris is out now, so Jo's spoiled sister is curing her broken nerves in a mental institution. Josephine, on the other hand, is rich now. Her older daughter, Ortance, is in London, ready to do anything to become a fashion designer. Josephine's relationship with the mysterious Luca is on the verge of a breakdown because of his total lack of understanding and care. On top of all, Jo starts falling in love with the worst possible man. In order to make the situation even "more enjoyable", Pancol adds a few mysterious murders.

Despite this unsuccessful attempts to incorporate murder in a family drama (I say despite them because they really ruin the book) I loved the sequel. Mostly, I enjoyed the metaphor with turtles - animals that advance slowly but at the end they always reach their purpose. Of course, having to endure ridicule, humiliation, and pain. Although Katherine Pancol is quite naive and cheesy at moments, she still makes me believe in justice. Justice that will triumph only for those who deserve it - Jo, Ortance, Philipp, Shirley, Marcel, and Zoe. She makes me believe that there exists love that doesn't demand, doesn't criticize, doesn't attempt to change, but simply loves, accepts, and cherishes. That you don't have to be someone else to be loved and that there is nothing in the world you can do to make someone love you and know you if he/she doesn't want to.

Katherine Pancol is an easy read. It says simple things about simple events in a simple life. I like her literature even though it is far away from my actual preferences. It doesn't provoke my thoughts, it doesn't make me read until late at night, and definitely it doesn't make me jump out of the chair saying "Oh, wait, this is genious!" However (there is always a but in every aspect of life) in times I need some nice trivial stories that bring me back up when I have spent too much time down. For this purpose, Pancol is amazing. For the metaphysical questions and the purpose of life - please seek elsewhere.

Friday, 21 October 2011

One night, one war, one love story - The Night in Lisbon

Where do memories live? What happens to them after we die? Do they continue floating as little pieces of our soul or are they buried along with our body under the ground? What does one do if he has lost everything but wants his story to live even beyond his life? He shares. The Night in Lisbon by Erich Maria Remarque is a novel about sharing. Sharing at the edge of death, at the peak of WWII, at a moment when you just want to feel the presence of another human being amongst the beasts of the war. Two strangers meet and spent a whole night that brings them closer together than if they had spent their whole lives next to each other.

Who are these men? Refugees from WWII. They are unique yet they are like the millions other refugees trying to escape from the long hands of Gestapo. Do we know their names? I am not sure they even know their birth names. They have changed personalities, passports, names, and faces so many times that now they just know they exist. And we don't even need to know who they are. Lets just call them Talker and Listener. Where are they? They are in Lisbon, two men, who at some point in their lives dreamt of boarding a ship to the land of dreams - America. What are they talking about? Life, love, war, betrayal, hope, deceit, death. Why is this novel important? Because it tells the life story of an ordinary man, one of the many enemies of the Reich, who had to flee Europe at the edge of the war. It could have been anyone of these poor souls, who attempted to oppose Hitler and his army of blind believers. And yes, it happens over a night.

The Talker and the Listener meet at the edge of hope - the Lisbon port from where salvation begins, the long dreamt off America. The talker offers a simple deal - he will give the Listener 2 tickets and 2 visas, something unbelievable during these days in exchange of one night of talking. The deal seems suspiciously good. However, despair and hopelessness are all around; one would do anything to escape the land of evil. Numerous bars, several dishes, and constant drinking later the reader knows the story of the Talker. He has fled Germany, he has lived as a refugee, he has come back to take his wife, and he has lost her in between. He has run, lied, suffered, killed, but at the end Gestapo won. In this tale of bravery and love, the power of love is immeasurable but the legacy of German evil - infinite. The talker needs to tell his story; he feels that there must be someone who knows it even when he will no longer be there. Memories will continue living as long as there is someone to remember them. In that sense the deal for him is priceless. Having lost every hope and every will to live, he needs this night in Lisbon to relive the happy memories, to unburden the pain, to remember once again the woman he loved. The role of the listener is far more difficult than it sounds. He has to understand, bear, support, calm, and above all, listen well to the stranger in front of him. Sometimes telling it is easy; comprehending it becomes the tricky part.

The Night in Lisbon is very different from the previous two novels by Remarque I read - A Time to Love and a Time to Die and The Black Obelisk. It is much more static, yet it explores the feelings and doubts of a man faced with impossible choices. The strength of the Talker is sometimes overwhelming. Risking his life, he returns to Germany to save his wife. Overcoming his man pride, he forgives her infidelity. Trying to protect them both he commits a most dangerous murder. At the end, though, he fails to defeat death. He passes on to the Listener not only his life story; he passes to him hope. Hope in the form of the saving two tickets. Hope in the form of advice how to live and how to love. Hope in the form of assurance that you must do the right thing and leave yourself in the hands of destiny. Hope that there is always hope. Even in Nazi Germany. Even in the hands of Gestapo. Even when it seems the whole world has gone mad and has forgotten what love and compassion actually meant.

The unshakable bound these two men form is for life. They have shared a sacred moment, and at the end they even share a name. A legacy passed on from one to another. The death of one becomes the key for a new life for the other. A great novel, where you experience a whole lifetime in a single night. Erich Maria Remarque once again proves he is the most educated author about the two world wars and the sentiments and feelings associated with them. I am planning on a big research on his biography in order to get a thorough understanding of his dedication to this topic. I hope I really got you excited about exploring the amazing philosophical world of Remarque, an experience I so far cannot compare to any other author I have read.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Insanity in The Black Obelisk - Germany between the two world wars

I continue with the absolutely amazing Erich Maria Remarque and of course with the topic of war. Unlike A Time to Love and a Time to Die, which is set during WWII, The Black Obelisk examines the period between the two wars. Set in a small German town, the novel portrays a period of hyperinflation, disillusionment, post-war suffering, and rising of nationalism through the eyes of Ludwig, a naive post-war veteran trying to find his place in a greedy and insensitive world. More philosophical than descriptive, Remarque again denounces war and condemns its terror, brutality and senselessness.

War is terrible. On that there are no two opinions. We have had an enormous amount of literature, both fiction and non-fiction on the subject so we know how it affects people, how it awakens their most animal traits, and how it destroys compassion, love, and emotions. But what about the period between the two wars? How did Germany and its people recover from the disastrous defeat and what spirits and thoughts led to a even more disastrous war? Didn't Germans suffer enough? Didn't they learn their lesson from WWI or did they think the new nationalistic movement was going to restore Germany's fading glory? Remarque attempts to give us an answer in The Black Obelisk, where the insane, the disillusioned, the opportunistic, the impostors, the nationalists, the crippled, and the naive shape the richness of characters and moods in 1920s Germany.

Ludwig, like most of the men, is a post-war veteran trying to find another occupation and another life. Ironically, his destiny has brought him again close to death, working as an assistant in a funeral house. Proximity to death allows Ludwig to analyze people. How else would you know the true character of someone if you don't see him facing and handling death. Some cry, others get depressed, and third ones celebrate. But it is in the way we deal with it that our true character emerges. Through Ludwig's constant interactions Remarque gives an exhaustive portrait of the German population of that time. Hyperinflation has made the DEM invaluable. People receive money in the morning, which by the afternoon cost absolutely nothing. Poverty and desperation is everywhere. Suicide is sometimes the only choice. The ones that actually carried on their backs the WWI are suffering the most. Post-war veterans without legs, arms, and with terrible wounds are begging on the streets. The government does nothing. Nobody cares. It is just the way it is. Some of them are disillusioned and blame the war. Others long for the old military discipline, for the greatness of the German state, for the prosperity. These people are exactly the ones who turn to the nationalist movement, hoping it will eventually restore stability and bring Germany back to the world powers.

There are also the men who prosper. Opportunistic soulless people, who speculate with stocks, money, and people's lives. The exploite the system and become quickly (but as we see unstably) rich. They use ambiguous ways, they visit the trendiest restaurants, they are surrounded by pretty but shallow women. They are on top of the poor German state. But like everything in post-war Germany, this power is fleeting. One day you are rich and alive and the other day you are broke and disillusioned. It was hard surviving the war but at times it feels difficult actually living after the war. Remarque faces us with some of the ugliest human characteristics; he shows that even if human beings are primordially good, unfair and difficult life can turn them into beasts. They are not to be blamed; they are to be understood. Sometimes, though, it is difficult to read and accept the unfairness, the senselessness, and the dispair of the situation.

Ludwig doesn't belong to this world. He was just born in the wrong time, wrong place, wrong surroundings. He is sensitive, naive, and poetic. Even though he works for a funeral house, most probably the least compassionate place, in his free time he attempts to keep his soul. He is a poet, a teacher, a musician. Women take a great part of his life but unfortunately, they always leave him at the end. Understandably. Ludwig cannot survive and win in a world of power and greed. He looks at things and asks questions. He doubts religion, God, money, power, love, sanity. He doesn't conform to established rules, he has his own moral, and he attempts to defend it. However, in a world where people don't feel but steal, don't think but flow, don't love but hate, don't care but corrupt, he is lost. Ludwig's women search for money and stability. He can only offer them romance and tenderness. Not enough for the corrupted minds of the 1920s.

I can probably go on for pages about the war and its devastation effects. But no, I want to talk about love now. Yes, there is and there can be love even in post-war Germany. It is just not the typical sane love you might expect. It is actually strange, unusual, even confusing at times. You hate the person and you love him. At times you don't understand him but that makes you love him even more. I will say that this is my second favorite love story after Florentino and Fermina in Love in the Times of Cholera. Exactly because both loves stories are NOT what you expect them to be and NOT what the world says they should be. The times Ludwig lives in are insane; what is then more normal than to fall in love with an insane girl. Isabel is a patient at the asylum, where Ludwig sometimes work. She is several different people at ones; she has suffered a lot and she has chosen the path of multiple personalities to protect herself from the world. Ironically, she is more sane than the others. Isabel, although being a schizophrenic looks at the world objectively, criticizes unfairness, asks questions, and refuses to oblige to imposed norms and questionable morals. Her beauty is in the way she doubts everything, from the color of the grass to the singing of the birds. Insanity is all around; the biggest irony is that sometimes one finds sanity in the most insane places. In fact, insanity was the only way to survive in Germany. You had to be crazy, you had to be different, you had to be unusual in order to bear the terror and the brutality. You had to lose your mind to find a purpose and a sense in everything that was happening. Insanity protected Ludwig's love; insanity made him connect to Isabel even more. Sanity then ruined everything. Sanity took away passion and connection; sanity destroyed love.

The Black Obelisk is a difficult novel. Difficult to read, difficult to understand, difficult to bear. I must say, though, with all my heart that it is probably one of the best books I have read. I wasn't only reading; I was thinking, doubting, asking, revolting, feeling, crying, and loving. I questioned my own beliefs, I looked at my own morals, I changed my perspective towards love and war and sanity. Erich Maria Remarque creates his own philosophical world and takes us slowly without condemning or criticizing openly. He just gives the facts, presents the conversations, describes the characters. At the end though, you are left overwhelmed with many more questions about the purpose of it all. Whether it is love, life, war, compassion, or sanity.

Starting to read Remarque was probably one of the best decisions I have had lately. I know it is the right time now. A few years back I would have been too young. A few years later I will most probably be too cynical to appreciate it. But now I am exactly the person to read it. Emotional, sensitive, slightly insane, and trying to adapt to a world, where these qualities will make you anything but happy.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Words of Wisdom Vol.1

For those that don't know, I have a pocket book, which I carry everywhere, but I don't show to anyone. No, I don't write there the names of the men I have slept with with some notes along (as in all of the cheesy movies we've seen). I'm a bit nerdy, so I write quotes. Obviously, quotes from novels I have read or quotes I have found inspirationalY. So far, I have accumulated quite a few of them and I decided it was time to share a bit of my so-called wisdom. Before closing the window with the idea that these are trivial quotes we all know and we all have read a million of times, I have to warn you, this is not the case. Indeed, some of them you might have heard, but I tend to like more unpopular ones, which meaning hasn't been lost because of endless repetition. In fact, I intend to make this a regular section of the blog, so here come Words of Wisdom Volume 1.

As a matter of fact, I tend to re-read them every time I feel the urge or need to do so. After careful investigation, I discovered I have a quote for almost every problem/issue/situation in life. I don't even have to think about what to say to my friends and relatives when they are having a hard time. I just open the pocket book and read them something. Unfortunately, most of them take it quite harsh, usually with the words "This is fiction. I am talking about real life problems here." I already expressed my opinion in a recent argument that literature as an art is NOT meaningless and pointless. I won't try to prove anything here. I will let you enjoy some of these quotes I have gathered and then think whether literature indeed can help you in some practical and tangible way.

"Time is the longest distance between two places."

"Prime numbers is what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you can never work out the rules even if you spend all of your time thinking about them."
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

"Money is only a too. It will take you wherever you wish but it will not replace you as the driver."
Ayn Rand

"You must never give yourself a chance to fall apart because when you do, it becomes a tendency and it happens over and over again. You must practice staying strong instead."

"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don't have books, don't fuck them."
John Waters

"Our words are giants when they do us injury and dwarfs when they do us service."
The Woman in White - Willkie Collins.

"Women can resist a man's love, a man's fame, a man's personal appearance, and a man's money but they cannot resist a man's tongue, when he knows how to talk to them."
The Woman in White - Willkie Collins.

"In most of these universes, the conditions would not be right for the development of complicated organisms; only in the few universes that are like ours would intelligent beings develop and ask the question:'Why is the universe the way we see it?' The answer is then simple: if it had been different, we would not be there."
A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking

"If you loved someone, you loved him. And when you had nothing else to give, you still gave him love."
1984 - George Orwell

"All men fear death. It is a natural fear that consumes us all. We fear death because we feel we haven't loved well enough or loved at all, which ultimately are one and the same. However, when you make love with a truly great woman, one that deserves the utmost respect in this world and one that makes you feel truly powerful, that fear of death completely disappears. Because when you are sharing your body and heart with a great woman, the world fades away. You two are the only ones in the entire universe. You conquer what most lesser men have never conquered before you, you have conquered a great woman's heart, the most vulnerable thing she can offer to another. Death no longer lingers in the mind. Fear no longer clouds your heart. Only passion for living and loving becomes your sole reality. This is not easy task for it takes insurmountable courage. But remember this, for that moment when you are making love with a woman of true greatness, you will feel immortal."
Ernest Hemingway.

"No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time fr reading or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance."

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
Ain Rand

"Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your value."
Ayn Rand

"I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."
Ayn Rand

"The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love."
Love in the Times of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Enough for now. Take whatever you need from this but don't get overexcited. To end with a quote, as Oscar Wilde said it: Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."