Sunday 29 May 2011

Lora from Morning till Evening

I met Lora and I fell in love with her instantly. No, not the Lora I see everyday in the mirror (although most of the time I love her as well). I talk about Dimiter Kocev's Lora and her crazy, exciting, maniacal, amazing day.

Lora is a modern emancipated woman. No, she is not like the heroines from the so-popular chick-lit novels. Lora is not an obsessed workaholic, who is secretly waiting for the white knight to rescue her from her gray daily life. Lora is the young, controversial, feisty girl, whom you could see walking on the street. She can be strong and fragile, crazy and balanced, romantic and realistic. Lora lives alone with her dog Rocky but she doesn't feel lonely. She likes partying all night but sometimes she wakes up in the morning with a hangover, blurry memories, and shame from her actions. Lora gets up to go to work to deal with her nervous boss, annoyingly curious colleagues, and constant charmers, but she is ambitious and she loves her job. And most importantly, Lora loves our city. Yes, despite all of its dangers, oddities, and disorders. The city gives Lora passion and strength; the city is the ideal place for her experience, which I won't forget anytime soon.

Lora from Morning till Evening is a urban story about a typical urban girl. It begins with six magical dies, which can make any decision come true. Lora, Tiho, and Gladkiya are embroiled into an unbelievable adventure to protect and preserve them. Slightly mysterious flavor, a little bit of irony, friendship and love, and lots of thoughts about the meaning of life make Lora from Morning till Evening not merely another novel, but an ode about the city, about the human, about life itself. You will fall in love with Lora, with her independency, with her energy, and with her desire to experience everything. You will not rest until you discover the secret of the magical dies. And you won't leave the novel aside until you drink it on one breath, until you feel it on your skin, until you feel the urge to go out and be part of your city right now.

In addition to being astonishingly good written, the novel is also amazingly decorated. Every page features pictures connected to the story, which make you an indistinct part of the adventure. Soon to be a motion picture, the film will surprise us with its limited budget and lack of the usual suspects (which lately have become increasingly annoying). Instead, the movie is made by friends and for friends. The book and the movie are there to leave us breathless, to infatuate us with this urban experience, and to make us again fall in love with life and with ourselves.

That's what I am looking in a contemporary Bulgarian author - the spirit of the urban streets, the passions of the young man, the events that we encounter every day wondering how to deal with them, the friendship and the love in its purest and real forms. Dimiter Kocev Shosho and Alexander Shpatov bring us exactly this urban feeling we have all been missing. Of course with a little bit of mystery and fantasy to spice the product. The result - a new generation of Bulgarian authors, who knows what the audience wants and most importantly, knows how to take them there.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Le Rouge et Le Noir - A Chronicle of France in the 19th Century

The years after the French Revolution and the end of the First French Empire under Napoleon. The Bourbon restoration, which again gave power in the hands of the French aristocracy and which returned the monarchy in France. These years are marked by excessive amount of little Napoleons - young poor boys, who dream of socially rising above their plebeian origin. Julian is an example of such a boy. Born in the poor family of a carpenter in the fictional village of Verrieres, Julian struggles to reach the world of the rich and the powerful.

Le Rouge et Le Noir by Stendhal is a chronicle of France and the French society in the end of the 19th century. The upper class is characterized by deceit, hypocrisy, and materialism. People are judged by their social origin and not by their abilities, talents, or wits. The members of the Roman Church are frauds, who strive for power, money, and social position. Julien is unlucky to be born in this hypocritical and dishonorable reality. He has grown with admiration for Napoleon and dreams of following his example. Julien is a dreamer by heart. He wants to see an elevated society of virtuous feelings, strong characters, and subtle sensations, where one must not pretend in order to raise. However, Julien understands that his only path to the upper class life is a combination of hard work, talent, deceit, and hypocrisy. Early in his life the young man realizes that he cannot succeed in the army as during the Napoleon time. Hence, he chooses the path of the Church even though he is not particularly religious. That is the idea of the clash between the red and the black, red symbolizing the blood in battles and black - the monastic robe. Julien's heart dreams of brave and noble deeds on the battlefield, but his determination to be elevated in society forces him to choose the Church.

Le Rouge et le Noir is an anti-bourgeois novel, where the artist cannot develop under the constraints of society. In this world, talent is a crime and the only path to money and power is hypocrisy. Sincerity is undesirable; people have to pretend and lie in order to gain people's approval. Julien understands this and tries to follow this path. He deceits people around him slowly rising until he makes a Marquis's daughter, Mathilde de la Mole, fall in love with him. Their romantic relationship is perverse. Julien both desires and despises Mathilde. Stendhal here presents an interesting view of love - affection between two people is always mediated by a third party. You desire someone only if he/she is wanted by someone else or openly courts another one. This relationship is predestined to a tragic end because of Julien's origin and past. His former lover and only true love Mme de Renal under the influence of a corrupted monk informes Mathilde's father of the nature of their past relationship. This puts an end to what Julien perceived to be the path to his dreams. Or did it?

When still young and naive boy in his home village Julien falls in love for the first and only time with the mother of the pupils he teaches. Their love is passionate, sensual, and also forbidden. Forced by his husband to leave, Julien takes the path of advancement in society. Even though he convinces himself he is in love with Mathilde, he never forgets his real love. Upon realizing that Mme de Renal destroyed all of his hopes for a better future, he shoots at her. In the church. A shot not against the woman but against the institution, which was supposed to help people and not to corrupt, lie, and steal. In prison Julien is the happiest he has ever been. He is a dreamer and an artist. He tried to live according to the perverse rules of the French society but he couldn't and for the first time in his life he realizes he doesn't want to. The sensitive and noble young boy doesn't belong to the corrupted and hypocritical clique of rich and powerful people. In front of death Julien is brave, happy, and calm.

Le Rouge et le Noir is a novel of many levels. It discusses the perversity of the French upper class, the nature of love, the clash between the artist and the rest of the world. It openly criticizes a world based on social prejudice, materialism, and hypocrisy. It proves that a romantic and sensible soul as Julien is not to live and survive among such people. Ahead of its time, Le Rouge et le Noir is a book as applicable today as it was in the turbulent years of the French 19th century.

Sunday 15 May 2011

A Summer That Doesn't Want to Go Away - Ray Bradbury

Don't you just love it when it is October and it is still sunny and warm outside. The summer doesn't want to leave us in the dark hands of autumn. It still spreads hope, smiles, and positivism with its dying rays. We pray and cry "Summer, don't go away" and it rewards us with yet another wonderful day.

This is a story about a similar summer. A summer that doesn't want to leave and give way to autumn, school, leaves, darkness, depression. This is a story about a small American town, where the young and the old are captured in a mock war under the burning sun. Farewell Summer is the long expected sequel of Bradbury's bestseller Dandelion Wine. In the latter we met Douglas, his brother, his friends, and his family enjoying a wonderful summer, trying to capture all of the moments, so that they don't fade away. However, as all good things, summer must also come to its end. Douglas doesn't want to let this happen. He gathers his friends in a fight as old as the world itself - the young generation against the old generation. The boy is trying to destroy the town clock in order to stop time and let the summer go on forever. The ruthless battle opposes the strength and spirit of the young against the wisdom and experience of the old. There is no loser at the end; both sides realize they are not to fight time and they are to live in harmony, to understand, support, and learn from each other. Douglas and his friends cling to their childhood but eminently they start growing up. Douglas experiences his new-born sexuality, his first kiss, his first heart skips. The summer has to go but the good times for the growing ups are yet to come. And the old ones have nothing to do but remember the past, share their wisdom with the new generation, and leave a mark behind themselves.

Ray Bradbury is unsurpassed in his ability to combine magic with reality. His novels depict realistic events but from time to time the author gently inserts a little bit of fantasy. Both Dandelion Wine and Farewell Summer are simple stories about the magic of childhood, the power of memories, and the relentless passing of time. Yet, these novels show us some truths about the relationships, love, friendship, and compassion, which seem strikingly obviously but yet somehow along the way we have forgotten them. It took 50 years for Bradbury to write the sequel of Dandelion Wine but the waiting was all worth it. Another amazing novel saturated with nostalgia but also with hope.

It is weird reading about a passing summer when I am about to experience my own. Probably the greatest summer is ahead of me. A summer of changes, a summer of writing, a summer of self-development, and maybe a summer of loneliness. Maybe it is best I experienced Farewell Summer now. I will know to capture every moment and to experience every sun ray. Because time waits around the corner and soon I will see the green green grass of home turn brown and yellow.

Friday 13 May 2011


Hunger. Not just nutritional hunger. Hunger for life, for excitement, for change, for passion. Hunger – a devastating feeling of vacuum, as if something vital for living is missing. Hunger – takes away your soul and your personality and turns you into a shadow of a human being. What would we do without hunger? Hunger is the driving force in the universe, something that prompts people to search for greater possibilities, to abandon their trivial existence and to fight for something more instead. People that do not experience hunger are doomed. They can never feel the painful need of something, they can never be obsessed with an idea, and they can never desire fireworks. They are bored. They just exist because the driver of change has been taken away from them. Abundance is destructive. Hunger is constructive.

Amelie Nothomb, the somewhat weird Belgian writer, discusses the nature of hunger in her novel The Life of Hunger. She starts by giving a short description of hunger and why it is so important. Without nutritional hunger, there can never be anything. Satiety kills ambition, drive, strength, desire. Wars, conquests, struggles, all have been caused by hunger. Starving people are the strongest people. They know something is missing inside of them, they feel the painful contractions of their stomach, and they search for food to fill that emptiness.

The Life of Hunger is a semi-autobiographical novel, where Nothomb shares parts of her childhood. Her father worked as a consulate, so she spent her childhood in Japan, China, USA, Laos, Bangladesh, and Burma. She came from a wealthy family so she never actually experienced the nutritional hunger. But little Amelie was always hungry for something. She felt something important was missing in her life, something that needed to be filled up. Food and water were not enough; Amelie needed cataclysms, catastrophes, and devastations in order to feel alive. The notion of hunger is extended to a desperate compulsion to fill that void.

When you read The Life of Hunger you can almost sense Amelie the anorexic. Her father was bulimic so the girl was exposed to the issues of eating disorder. However, she realized that overabundance with food doesn’t fill that void inside. At 15 years the writer was bored. She felt her life has already passed by. Leaving countries and people behind, Amelie felt a sense of abandonment and loneliness. People, situations, events, nothing seemed to fill her desperate hunger. She was hungry for living and when she couldn’t get it she became hungry for food. She decided to stop eating for good. Her personality started changing. Amelie was no longer a person; beyond continuous hunger what we call soul gradually disappears. The nutritional deprivation becomes a mental one. Amelie recedes and isolates from people in her small world of literature. When she cannot eat food, she eats letters. The girl attempts to find a meaning to life beyond what is happening around her.

The Life of Hunger is philosophical, slightly humorous, and extremely profound. It attempts to decompose hunger into its main components and to show that nutritional hunger is merely a symptom that something is ingeniously wrong. Nutritional hunger signifies the search not for some utopian pleasure but for the simple quest for something to appear, where previously there was nothing. Life of Hunger is not simply about nutritional anorexia. It is about the anorexia we experience in life when we feel we have been deprived from our driving force. Physicists have attempted to discover this driving force, the one thing that forces people to continue searching, to continue fighting, to continue being. Nothomb finds the answer to this question. Hunger. Hunger determines the battle, hunger leads the battle, and ultimately hunger wins the battle.

In Amelie’s case, hunger helped her write. Every September, Nothomb’s fans are expecting another novel from the brilliant Belgian writer. She writes simply and understandably about life. She doesn’t pretend to be deeply philosophical but she is engaging and entertaining. Her novel Life of Hunger is for all those people, anorexic, bulimic, or whatever, who have felt a desperate hunger that they couldn’t fill. For all those people that realize that hunger must not be fought but instead used as a driving force towards a better tomorrow. Because how you act today determines how you are going to live tomorrow.

PS: While reading The Life of Hunger I also felt the hunger for excitement, for drama, for cataclysms in my life. The saying "Be careful what you wish for" is absolutely relevant in this case. Minutes after I wrote this post I fell on the street on my chin, I started bleeding like a dead pig on Christmas day, and I had to go to the emergency. I wished for something to happen and well, it did happen. On Friday, 13th.

Sunday 8 May 2011

The Angel's Game - Another Masterpiece from Spaniard Zafon

The Angel's Game is the second novel from Carlos Ruiz Zafon's planned tetralogy. In the first one, The Shadow of the Wind, we were introduced to the streets of Barcelona. We met the charming Daniel and we followed him as he discovered the secrets of the mysterious Julian Carax and his novel of the same name. A book heavily soaked with the tender atmosphere of the Barcelona streets, a book that combines history, love, suspense, and thriller. A book that keeps you awake in the middle of the night, dying to know what happens next. When you finish it, you know you want more from Zafon.

The Angel's Game is different. We are back in Barcelona and we are once more submerged into a story about the ultimate power of novels. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books again plays a central role, this time in David Martin's life. David is a writer with a difficult childhood. His mother leaves him and later his father dyes; David is left alone to deal with the complexity and unfairness of life. Slowly but surely the young man's literary talent is discovered. He spends years writing books he doesn't feel reflect his true personality just to survive. Until he meets a strange publisher, who offers him a strange deal. David is to sell his soul, to release all that makes him human in order to produce a literary masterpiece, a religious book that has the power to control the masses through subordination to a given faith. However, David doesn't realize that this arrangement is going to lead to ominous consequences. The young man finds the novel of his predecessor, also tempted by the strange man, moves into his house, and falls into the maelstrom of terrible events. People around him start dying suspiciously as Martin gets closer to discovering the secret behind the mysterious publisher, the death of the previous hired writer, and his role in the whole story.

To say that one or the either novel is better is impossible. They are just different. As the author himself states, The Shadow of the Wind is the good daughter, who always comes home on time and brings joy to her parents. The Angel's Game is the bad daughter. She is naughty, dark, suspicious, and always causing trouble. In that sense, The Angel's Game is a novel about the dark side of life. It is much more brutal, much more violent, and in fact much more insidious and honest. A mystery thriller with a light touch of fantasy, the book is a masterful tale about the power of the books and the darkest parts of the human soul. The Angel's Game will make you shiver and look behind your back in the middle of the night. But it will also make you reconsider the limits of human obsession and the devastation effects such an obsession can have on an individual.

Barcelona, books, thriller, and a touch of love just for flavor, Carlos Ruiz Zafon's novels are chef d'oeuvres of contemporary literature. The following two books of the tetralogy may be the most waited books in the literary world. At least for me.

Thursday 5 May 2011

The Art of Finding the Best Spot in the Library

To find the best spot in the John Rylands University of Manchester library during the exam period is a state of art. It requires years of practice, carefully prepared strategy, patience, nerve, arrogance, and sometimes hard muscles.

First of all, you have got to realize that during the summer exam period, all Manchester students start loving the library. Most of them (including me of course) simply cannot concentrate on the ultimately exciting subjects at home. I personally find everything to do but to study while I am in my house. I start by cleaning the whole room, arranging my clothes by color, matching, size, type, season, etc. Then I change my sheets (sometimes 2-3 times a week), I wash my clothes (although I washed them the other day), I clean the bathroom, the toilet, the kitchen.

When I am done and satisfied that the whole house resembles a hospital, I start with myself. I decide that the best time to look absolutely astonishing is of course during exam period when no one is going to see me. I take a long hot shower and then I start shaving every part of my body that can be shaved. I do my nails, I straighten my hair, I even apply some make up. I put on every possible lotion I have and then I put on my most fabulous clothes. And I am done. I have done absolutely everything but study. ( I skip cooking on purpose. I can never be bored enough to start cooking. I even prefer studying to cooking).

That is why, you understand, it is absolutely crucial to find the best place in the library. Especially when you are final year, you have 1 more essay and 3 more exams, and you get the diploma you so hard worked for (drunk for) for 3 damn years. So here are the rules of a specialist, who by now has mastered to perfection the art of surviving in the library.

1. Choose your group - You have got to understand that there are two types of students during exam period - the larks and the owls. The larks come early in the morning (around 8 and 9) and stay up until 8 or 9 in the evening. Then the owls take over, who spend the whole night. Of course there are some random (obviously confused) students, who come in the middle of the shifts, but for them it is absolutely impossible to find a good spot. That is why, choose your type and stick to it. Only come when the shifts change.

2. Toilet and Water - It is absolutely essential that your spot is as close to the toilet and to the water fountain as possible. The library is huge and you don't want to spend 10 minutes in one direction going to the toilet. I know, this may seem as a distraction of studying, but is a pure waste of time. Do your thing in the library and then go home and distract yourself. Same applies for the water. You will be drinking a lot of water (in addition to coffee) so be sure you strategically position yourself next to the water fountain.

3. Floor - Years of practice have shown me that the best floor to be on is the 2nd one. Not the 3rd or the 4th one, or the 1st one, but the second one. If you are a smoker (as I am), your most favorite break is going outside for a cigarette and feeling how the nicotine slowly releases your body from the anger, tiredness, and basically the shitness of the whole situation. The second floor is the best because you get to do some exercise (don't use the lift!) but you don't do as much as to get tired if you are for example on the 3rd or the 4th floor. That's called strategy! Combining effective study with a little bit of care for your body.

4. Patience - You have got to have a lot of that in order to survive in a library full of hungry for knowledge (or grades) students. You will be waiting for a computer (almost impossible task unless you are so luck that you come just when the shifts change; see point 1), for a printer, for the toilet, for the water, for a coffee, to get out, to get in. I will assure you, you will even wait to wait. So gather together all of your patience, possibly bring your laptop so that you don't waste precious time waiting for a computer and get in line.

5. Nerve - Lots of nerve. Really lots of it. You've got to understand that even though you may have come to the library to study, others may have other arrangements. Some students come to socialize, to chat, to eat, to see their friends, to go around, to watch movies, to facebook (I think dictionaries should include this as an official verb now), basically to do anything but to study. These people are different than you. They love spending 10-15 hours in the library doing absolutely no productive work. You want to get in, do your thing, and then get out (please don't get the sex analogy here). So they will do anything to stop you (unintentionally of course) for finishing your work. My personal favorites are the one that eat. First, they apple champ. Then they start with the crisps, which really is the most annoying thing. Crisp, after crisp, after crisp...and there you go. My concentration is only on when these fucking crisps are going to be over. The other ones are the ones that socialize. They murmur quietly, but loud enough to make you participate in their conversation. Soon enough you know that he broke up with her, but then texted her in the middle of the night (boody call), now he has a new girlfriend, but he is obviously still in love with her. There are some strategies to deal with them. The most effective one - look at them scary (if you can) or at least annoyed, angry, whatever expression you can get on your face. Do that in intervals of 2-3 minutes. If they don't get the point, well fucking tell them to SHUT UP!

6. Muscles - Well, I haven't used aggression in the library yet but you got to be careful that others might be willing to do so. So much studying is definitely bad for you so from times to times someone might need to release this anger and you might be unlucky enough to be very close to him. This is where the exercise I mentioned in point 3 comes very handy. Still, some harmless shouting, yelling, and arguing is good to get rid of the tiredness, desperation, and hopeless need of a strong drink and to blame everyone else that it is their fault you didn't go to a single lecture during the semester and now you have to read 500 pages (and learn them for that matter) in 3 days.

Well, if you are prepared to follow all of these instructions, don't be such a fool that this guarantees you a 1st in the exams and a happy summer. My best advice is, get your lazy ass, go to lectures during the semester, and don't leave everything for the last minute. That's the good thing about advice - I am great at giving them, but I suck at following them.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Death is a Lonely Business; Reading Bradbury's Criminal Novel is a Boring Business

If I hadn't seen the author's name on Death is a Lonely Business's front cover, I would have never guessed it was Ray Bradbury. That Ray Bradbury, who wrote the denunciative critique Fahrenheit 451. The same Bradbury, who shared his childhood memories in the amazingly nostalgic Dandelion Wine. No, this genius of 20th century literature cannot possibly write such a mediocre collection of words. I wouldn't call it a novel; it doesn't deserve this praise.

Death is a Lonely Business is a criminal thing. However, those of you raised with Chandler, Christie, Doyle, etc do not be misguided that you might enjoy this. You won't. The plot is set in Venice, California, a small town near Los Angeles and Hollywood.A mysterious murderer kills innocent people without leaving any trace behind. Our character (also an author but unfortunately quite a bad one) together with a provincial detective (who also attempts to be a writer) try to solve the murder. At the end our "brave", "clever", and extremely boring protagonist manages to do this by himself through shallow conclusions. Really,even I could have come up with a better plot and I am not really into detective stories.

The author mentions in an interview that he grew up i Venice, California and a lot of the images in the novel were actually memories from his childhood there. In addition, most of the characters were inspired by real people, whom Bradbury met at some point of his life. Again, we can feel a slight nostalgia (very slight) as in Dandelion Wine. Also, critiques claim that the protagonist is Bradbury before he got married. I sincerely hope that one of my most favorite authors was not such a person. This is by far the worst thing (again not a novel) that I have read in a long time.

First of all, the plot - shallow, predictable, unrealistic, and boring. The protagonist - scared, oversensitive, constantly crying or complaining about something unaccomplished autor.He quite resembles Hamlet, to be honest. I would never believe that such a person will have the guts to go after a murderer, let alone solve the crime. Yet, by the powerful means of Bradbury's imagination, he does. OK, Bradbury claims that he didn't want to focus on the plot line but on the feelings created in his personages. The author aimed to deflect the attention from the crime and into the experiences and the anguish of the main characters. Than why did he write a criminal thing? Why didn't he just write a novel about feelings, nature, signs, whatever he wanted to show and just guide the reader through his intimation and even make him/her feel as if he/she was actually there, looking through the narrator's eyes, feeling the shivers through his body or the pain in his soul. No, he had to burden us with this ridiculous crime, which at the end becomes even more ridiculous when the murderer and his motives are revealed.

Throughout this collection of words, Bradbury attempted to be original. Either that or he was just high or drink. His comparisons and descriptions makes me wonder whether I am at a crime scene or in the zoo. Really. To compare waves to elephants is just too much. To say that the elephants were roaring and to expect me to deduct that the waves were crashing on the shore is as insane as to tell me the sun is rising and to want me to imagine the moon. I mean, metaphors are good; they make the text richer, more sensual, more influential, more touching. However, they only do that when they are clever and to the point. As if trying to sound smart Bradbury opened the metaphor synonyms dictionary (something like the Word synonyms dictionary) and changed everything. Attempting to look original, the only thing he does is sound weird and stupid.

As I soon as I finish writing this review I will do my best to forget I ever read this and mainly the fact that this was written by Ray Bradbury, an author whom I greatly admire.