I expected the story of an upper-class couple, with an ambitious husband and a can-do wife who, because of these benefiI wasn't expecting to like her.
I expected the story of an upper-class couple, with an ambitious husband and a can-do wife who, because of these benefits gets to, not only travel the world but, truly experience the cultures and lifestyles of the countries in which she lives all the time gathering up a unique group of dearest friends, giving her children cultural advantages, and stock-piling linguistic skills to make an ambassador blush; and then she gets to modestly boast (oxymoron) about her experiences by writing a book.
"I could see from her clothing and gait that she was probably from mainland China, a place where getting stopped by uniformed officials wielding government papers could mean going to high court. Or prison. 'Ni Hao,' I stepped over, saying hello. Her face brightened and she wiped her eyes. We began speaking in Mandarin. The next half hour was spent switching from Mandarin (with this frightened, transiting tourist from Beijing), to French (with the stiff, Swiss customs authorities, who had intimidated her on the train), to English (with Lauren, who was gracious enough to give me moral backup), and to German (by cell phone with the tourist's friend awaiting her in Zurich at the end of the final leg of her European train trip). Everything was clarified, this poor but greatly relieved Beijing woman and I hugged, and she went safely on her way, dragging her suitcase and calling out, 'Xie xie, xie xie, thank you, xie xie!'(p. 279)"
Truly, it's enough to make a foreign language-loving, wanderlusting, jealous heart ache.
But I loved her. I loved her candor and wit. I loved her ability to share so clearly and with such charm that I felt like I was getting to experience it with her. She wasn't bragging. She was sharing.
"What telling history means, I now understand, is not just talking for talking's sake, 'patching grief with proverbs,' as Shakespeare knows one should not because it kills community. Nor is it charting methodically through some timeline in order to make a graph so as to pinpoint key events or scientific equations behind tragedy. Grief is not time for sterile intellectuality because, when things are raw, it is the heart, not the brain, that says, 'Come be one'(p. 269)."
I was jealous, even of some of her difficult days (though not her most difficult day). But I could see that she truly earned every experience and handled her trials with grace. I haven't lost a son, but I have known deep pain and loss. She candidly and with great vulnerability invites and shares these moments. And so I allowed for my jealousy to abate and just to be grateful that in some small way she had invited me to sit down at her langbord to hear the travelogue of her life.
A favorite to which I could relate:
"'But this is easy,' Mr. Psy said, removing his glasses and folding his manicured hands while leaning forward on his frosted glass desk top. 'You're an artiste. You have the tempérament d'une artiste. You feel things profondément. This is a qualité. This tristresse is simply the price you pay pour l'art' (p. 167)."
Other moments I loved:
* The Høytidelig procession (p. 43) * Hydrofoil ride hilarity (pp. 80-81) * Her attitude toward childbirth
The poor generation that came out of WWI; truly they were lost. Hemingway, Maugham and Fitzgerald were not simply followinPainfully tedious and dull.
The poor generation that came out of WWI; truly they were lost. Hemingway, Maugham and Fitzgerald were not simply following the trend toward post war existentialism, they embodied it. They wrote what they knew. They created characters who were empty shells living empty lives. Dick Diver is no exception.
Granted, a study of this writing as an artistic statement can help to give meaning and understanding to this time. But, unlike The Great Gatsby, which weaves symbolism and tension into those hollow lives, Tender Is the Night just drags. ...more
Another "Foreign Parenting is Better" book; this one (chosen as a book club selection) kept my attention.
Because my children are now young teens, I inAnother "Foreign Parenting is Better" book; this one (chosen as a book club selection) kept my attention.
Because my children are now young teens, I intended on skimming the majority of this book just to get the basics. Within a couple pages, however, I found myself snickering at the author's humor and truly enjoying her writing style. There was very little I skimmed.
I really enjoyed the Tiny Little Humans chapter, with emphasis on the theories brought about by Rousseau. I intend to read Émile or On Education as further study. "Far from being attentive to protecting Émile from injury, I would be more distressed if he were never hurt and grew up without knowing pain.. (p. 82)."
In addition, the chapter entitled You Just Have to Taste It made me wish for a better culinary experience here in the United States. "The proposed menu for one Friday [at a typical, state-run day care] is a salad of shredded red cabbage and fromage blanc. This is followed by a white fish called colin in dill sauce and a side of organic potatoes l'anglaise. The cheese course is a Coulommiers cheese (a soft cheese similar to Brie). Dessert is a baked organic apple. Each dish is cut up or puréed according to the age of the kids (p. 204)."
Druckerman doesn't paint an overly romantic homage to French parenting. She is real (often humorously self-deprecating) and candid about her experiences raising children in Paris. The theories she shares, though, strike a chord with my parenting style and make me wish I would have used a bit more Parentales a la Français for my little ones....more
No need to play the piano (though by the end you just may want to!) nor have an affinity for the charms of Paris (though who do4.5 stars
No need to play the piano (though by the end you just may want to!) nor have an affinity for the charms of Paris (though who doesn't?), this book gently invites, then entices, then embraces the reader into the warm and loving core of the exclusive group who truly love the piano.
Mr. Carhart deftly weaves his own memories and mundane-errands-turned-miraculous-experiences with components of piano mechanics and history and makes them all beautifully cohesive. This book feels more like a novel whose protagonist is the piano... Or maybe the piano is the muse; the elusive lover.
"I played for perhaps ten minutes, pieces I knew reasonably well and could listen to while I sight-read: some Beethoven bagatelles, a few of Schumann's pieces for children, an early Mozart fantasy. I was not disappointed. The Stingl's resonance filled the room with tones at once clear and robust, and a sharp sense of pride welled up at the prospect of owning this distinctive piano, of seeing and playing it daily, of living with it. Good God, I thought, this is a kind of love; and, as in love, my senses amplified and enhanced the love object, all with an insouciance and willing enthusiasm (p. 31)."
"At the beginning of his long career when pianos were not yet iron behemoths with a wooden shell, Liszt commonly had one or two pianos in reserve at each of his concerts. They would be carried on in turn as their predecessors fell beneath his hands, offerings to the god of louder, faster, more emotional music. At the end of the concert the stage was littered with dead pianos, as if after some latter-day approximation of gladiatorial combat. The halls, too, were littered, not with pianos but with hysterical women swooning before the first hero of the concert stage (p. 100)."
"The piano came to be regarded as one of the indispensable 'accomplishments' that made women of the new middle class charming, attractive, and - not least - marriageable. For many this was a mixed blessing. Some idea of the piano's prevalence in polite society can be gleaned from Oscar Wilde's comment at the end of the century: I assure you that the typewriting machine, when played with expression, is not more annoying than the piano when played by a sister or near relation.' (p. 102)"
Laughter rose up and we poured out what remained in the bottle of wine. Looking around at the disparate group, it occurred to me how rare it was in France to mix freely with so many people from different backgrounds. You see it sometimes in the cafés, a rough approximation of camaraderie at the counter, but the groups who regularly meet at their favorite bar can most often be found in the booths and tables at the back, homogenous and closed to all but the initiates. The atelier fostered something else altogether, a coming together of people whose common points were Luc's approval and a love of pianos (p. 126)." ...more
Because I have a delicious fondness for the movie (and based on a number of less than stellar reviews), I wasn't expecting to be enticed by this quick Because I have a delicious fondness for the movie (and based on a number of less than stellar reviews), I wasn't expecting to be enticed by this quick read (but I did have a secret hope that my blasé feelings would be overturned!).
There was a weakness to the novel. I couldn't help but feel that the narration would have been better served by an omniscient third person rather than with journal entries by Vianne and Reynaud, where the retelling quickly evolved into the style of story dialogue.
Other than that grievance, this story is charming and unique and every character is beautifully developed. Vianne and Reynaud play perfect foils, and the vulnerability created by the needs of the various villagers makes them all endearing, none more so than Armande.
Joanne Harris has a talent for describing foods that is the envy of any Food Network star. She has captured the sensual and intoxicating characteristics that come to those who appreciate really. good. food.
"This is an art I can enjoy. There is a kind of sorcery in all cooking: in the choosing of ingredients, the process of mixing, grating, melting, infusing and flavouring, the recipes taken from ancient books, the traditional utensils - the pestle and mortar with which my mother made her incense turned to a more homely purpose, her spices and aromatics giving up their subtleties to a baser, more sensual magic. And it is partly the transience of it that delights me; so much loving preparation, so much art and experience put into a pleasure which can last only a moment, and which only a few will ever fully appreciate. My mother always viewed my interest with indulgent contempt. To her, food was no pleasure but a tiresome necessity to be worried over, a tax on the price of our freedom. I stole menus from restaurants and looked longingly into patisserie windows. I must have been ten years old - maybe older - before I first tasted real chocolate. But still the fascination endured. I carried recipes in my head like maps. All kinds of recipes; torn from abandoned magazines in busy railway stations, wheedled from people on the road, strange marriages of my own confection. Mother with her cards, her divinations directed our mad course across Europe. Cookery cards anchored us, placed landmarks on the bleak borders. Paris smells of baking bread and croissants; Marseille of bouillabaisse and grilled garlic. Berlin was Eisbrei with Sauerkraut and Kartoffelsalat, Rome was the ice-cream I ate without paying in a tiny restaurant beside the river (pp. 51-52). "
Here, Harris satisfies a chocolate craving with only words:
"Now making chocolate is a different matter. Oh, some skill is required. A certain lightness of touch, speed, a patience my mother would never have had. But the formula remains the same every time. It is safe. Harmless. And I do not have to look into their hearts and take what I need; these are wishes which can be granted simply, for the asking. ... There is a kind of alchemy in the transformation of base chocolate into this wise fool's gold, a layman's magic which even my mother might have relished. As I work I clear my mind, breathing deeply. The windows are open, and the through draught would be cold if it were not for the heat of the stoves, the copper pans, the rising vapour from the melting couverture. The mingled scents of chocolate, vanilla, heated copper and cinnamon are intoxicating, powerfully suggestive; the raw and earthy tang of the Americas, the hot and resinous perfume of the rainforest. This is how I travel now, as the Aztecs did in their sacred rituals. Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia. The court of Montezuma. Cortez and Columbus. The food of the gods, bubbling and frothing in ceremonial goblets. The bitter elixir of life (pp. 52-53)."
But her descriptive talents aren't limited to foodstuffs. I was entranced with her study of the worn kitchen table, and I wished I could possess THAT table.. or one with my own history of nicks and cuts.
"We sat down to table in the cramped kitchen. The table was left from the shop's bakery days, a massive piece of rough-cut pine cross-hatched with knife scars into which veins of ancient dough, dried to the consistency of cement, have worked to produce a smooth marbly finish. The plates are mismatched: one green, one white, Anouk's flowered. The glasses, too, are all different: one tall, one short, one which still bears the label Moutarde Amora. And yet this is the first time we have really owned such things. We used hotel crockery, plastic knives and forks. Even in Nice, where we lived for over a year, the furnishings were borrowed, leased with the shop. The novelty of possession is still an exotic thing to us, a precious thing, intoxicating. I envy the table its scars, the scorch marks caused by the hot bread tins. I envy its calm sense of time and I wish I could say: I did this five years ago. I made this mark, this ring caused by a wet coffee cup, this cigarette burn, this ladder of cuts against the wood's coarse grain. This is where Anouk carved her initials, the year she was six years old, this secret place behind the table leg. I did this on a warm day seven summers ago with the carving knife. Do you remember? Do you remember the summer the river ran dry? Do you remember? I envy the table's calm sense of place. It has been here a long time. It belongs (p.178)."
The dear characters of this story teach us how to live and love. While many could argue that the philosophies of this book encourage hedonism, I found it, instead, to serve as a reminder that life should be sweet.
Everyone should have an ending celebration as wonderful as Armande's....more
When I heard about the premise of a child locked in a cabinet to protect him from the atrocities of the Holocaust, I was immediately intrigued. The faWhen I heard about the premise of a child locked in a cabinet to protect him from the atrocities of the Holocaust, I was immediately intrigued. The fact that the story was set in Paris held further enticements for me. Unfortunately, the mediocre writing and poor characterizations left the story with much to be desired. I found the modern flash-forward story completely irritating and inane, especially the annoying thoughts of the narrator, Julia, and her willingness to put up with a philandering husband.
I couldn't help but think about "what might have been" had Sarah never locked up her brother. It's probable that the two children would have been sent on the train to Auschwitz and that would have been their end. The author never discusses this - that Sarah saved her brother (and herself) from a different horror. Could not the argument be made that to be locked into a cabinet by a well-meaning loved one is a better death than walking into the arms of the Nazi's and those who followed their barbaric orders?
The saving grace of this book? The characters Jules and Genevieve Dufaure.
Because the French tend to be more tight-lipped about the Holocaust in France than the Germans, themselves, it can be difficult to know what actuallyBecause the French tend to be more tight-lipped about the Holocaust in France than the Germans, themselves, it can be difficult to know what actually happened there during that time. This book is an intriguing account, though even the author herself mentions that much of the information is second, or third-hand. Still, it's a wonderful account of one group of people risking their lives for another.
However, I'm not sure to whom this book is directed. The illustrations are nice, but the amount of words on single pages is too much for any kind of lap-reading with children. Both of my children (ages 9 and 12)approached this book in the same way. They noticed the vibrant blue cover, picked it up and then quickly looked through the illustrations, not interested enough to read it....more
This philosophical book touting the benefits of not reading books one wants to discuss in order to access the full meaning is thought-provoking and miThis philosophical book touting the benefits of not reading books one wants to discuss in order to access the full meaning is thought-provoking and mind-bending. M. Bayard makes incredibly provocative arguments for his case and I found this work quite an enjoyable read.
Bayard's theories have cut me to the quick; He has called my bluff on many reasons why I read and brings up so many thoughts/issues I have felt regarding the urgency and necessity to read as many books as possible in this short life. His take is that I shouldn't. (Though I confirm I'm not swayed. Books are such an integral part of who I am, provide me with escapes to places unknown, and feed the gluttony of my mind, I couldn't possibly use them as simply a creative process for discussion.)
Most importantly, Bayard's thoughts are not new to me. He has simply continued a discussion began by my Professor of "The Russian Consciousness" from my college days. This excerpt is in perfect congruence with (my) Professor Fitzgerald's raison d'etre:
"Like collective inner books, individual inner books create a system for receiving other texts and participate both in their reception and their reorganization. In this sense, they form a kind of grid through which we read the world, and books in particular, organizing the way we perceive these texts while producing the allusion of transparency.
It is these inner books that make our exchanges about books so difficult, rendering it impossible to establish unanimity about the object of discussion. They are part of what I have called, in my study of Hamlet, an inner paradigm-a system for perceiving reality that is so idiosyncratic that no two paradigms can truly communicate.
The existence of the inner book, along with unreading or forgetting, is what makes the way we discuss books so discontinuous and heterogeneous. What we take to be the books we have read is in fact anomalous accumulation of fragments of texts reworked by our imagination and unrelated to the books of others, even if those books are materially identical to ones we have held in our hands (pp.85-86)."
*Note: Though I couldn't highly recommend this book to just anyone, I have thought seriously about using it for one of my book clubs. Once again, the women will cringe at my selection. Alas....more
This book was a gift from one of the heads of the American School of Paris (a friend of a dear friend) who associates with the author. Perhaps this isThis book was a gift from one of the heads of the American School of Paris (a friend of a dear friend) who associates with the author. Perhaps this isn't a book I would have normally picked out for myself, but I found that it was right up my alley.
At times the message was jarring, but I found all explanations and anecdotes accentuated the author's message and allowed greater comprehension to the French consciousness. This book has enlightened my understanding to so many other works of French literature, to the French culture and to French politics.
I have learned that there are many "French" characteristics which I have, several which I wish I had, and a few that I'm most grateful I don't possess.
Poor Napoleon. Though you may protest, you were not the cause of political instability in Europe during the early years of the 19th Century. AccordingPoor Napoleon. Though you may protest, you were not the cause of political instability in Europe during the early years of the 19th Century. According to Leo Tolstoy you were merely a puppet in the wars which bear your name. He even made you a minor character in this, his magnum opus.
“Napoleon ordered an army to be raised and to go to war. This idea is so familiar to us, and we have grown so accustomed to such a view, that the question why six hundred thousand men go to war when Napoleon utters certain words seems senseless to us. He had the power and so what he ordered was done. This answer is quite satisfactory if we believe that the power was given him by God. But as soon as we do not admit that, it becomes essential to determine what this power is that one man has over others.(p. 1423)”
If I were to rate War and Peace against some of my other favorites, it would probably only receive 4 stars. The writing is superb and the character development is complete (what don’t we know about these characters after 1400 pages?!), but there were moments when it felt like a glorified soap opera (albeit with a better script).
I ran into my college Russian professor at the ballet a few nights previous to my finishing this book and I made the mistake of commenting that Tolstoy was a bit “fluffy” compared to Dostoevsky. I’m sure in all his teaching profession he has never heard anyone refer to Tolstoy as “fluffy.” He didn’t correct me (except to mention that in the fifteen or so of his readings of Anna Karenina he never fails to learn something new), but as soon as it came out of my mouth, I regretted the term used in conjunction with this master. What Dostoevsky is to the psychological, Tolstoy is to the emotional.
Yes, we follow the musings, romances, mistakes and evolutions of these families for what feels like generations, but Tolstoy is not merely writing a novel. He uses his characters to direct the reader to the overreaching themes of the book: Morality, Freedom and Power. As Pierre asks himself, “...What is bad? What is good? What should one love and what hate? What does one live for, and what am I? What is life, and what is death? What power governs it all? (p. 424)” These characters are not one-sided. They are not shallow. They are, most of them, with time improving and refining their moral character.
Tolstoy asks the reader many times to rethink who is ultimately in control. While he doesn’t force the existence of God (though one begins to see that Tolstoy believes it himself), he questions the ability of one person to lead and direct an entire population. He would lead us to ask if we are acting or being acted upon. Napoleon didn’t wage war on Russia by his own will and the peasant working in the fields is more than a servant to his master. Are we in control of ourselves? Are we fated to the will of something/someone else?
The sections where Tolstoy breaks away from the characters and elucidates on his definition and theory of power are some of the most brilliant. (I especially enjoyed the entirety of the Epilogue, but specifically, Part One, Section 1; and Part Two, Sections 1 and 28!) Yes, I was charmed by Natasha, adored Marya, esteemed Pierre, deplored Anatole, pitied Prince Andrei, etc. etc.; but I found myself most riveted by the political and sociological theory embedded between the chapters of this epic drama.
Below are a plethora (would you say I have a plethora?) of my favorite quotes which fall into the varied themes of this book. They are written mostly for my own benefit, but you may sort through them if you have the stamina/interest to do so.
Goodness and Morality
Pierre’s early reflections: “He [Pierre] recalled his promise to Prince Andrei not to go there again, and immediately, as happens with people who, as they say, lack strength of character, he felt such a passionate desire to indulge once more in the debauchery to which he was now quite accustomed, that he decided to go. And it occurred to him that his promise to Prince Andrei was of no consequence because he had earlier promised Prince Anatol that he would come; and for that matter, he thought, all these words of honor are mere conventions, having no definite meaning, especially if one considers that one may be dead by tomorrow, or something so extraordinary might happen that there would no longer be any question of honor or dishonor. This sort of reasoning, which nullified all intentions and decisions, was not infrequent with Pierre. He went to Kuragin's. (p. 59)”
Pierre’s evolution as he discusses God with the Mason: “If He [God] were not,” he [Alekseyevich] said softly, “you and I would not be speaking of Him, my dear sir. Of what, of whom, have we been speaking? Whom hast thou denied?” he suddenly asked, with an exultant, rigorous authority in his voice. “Who invented Him if he does not exist? Whence came your hypothesis of such an incomprehensible Being, a Being omnipotent, eternal, and infinite in all His attributes? … He exists, but to understand Him is hard,” the Mason resumed, not looking into Pierre’s face but straight before him, while his old hands, which in his state of inner excitation he could not keep still, kept riffling the leaves of his book. “If it were a man whose existence though didst doubt, I could bring him to thee, could take him by the hand and show him to thee. But how can I, an insignificant mortal, show His omnipotence, His infinity, all His mercy, to one who is blind, or to one who shuts his eyes that he may not see, may not understand Him, and may not see and understand his own vileness and depravity?” (p. 428)
…Look at your life, my dear sir. How have you spent it? In taking everything from society and giving nothing in return. You have been given wealth. How have you used it? What have you done for your neighbor? ... You have spent your life in idleness... (p. 430)
Further, Alekseyevich spells out for him to what aim a moral man should reach: “The principal duty of a Mason, as I have told you, lies in perfecting himself. But we often think that by removing all the difficulties of our life we shall more quickly reach our aim; on the contrary, my dear sir,” he said to me, “ it is only in the midst of worldly perturbation that we can attain our three chief aims: (1) self-knowledge – for man can only know himself by comparison; (2) self-perfection, attainable only through conflict, and (3) the chief virtue, love of death. Only the vicissitudes of life can show us its vanity and can quicken our innate love of death or of rebirth to a new life.” (p. 530)
Natasha watching the opera: “After her life in the country, and in her present serious mood, all this seemed fantastic and amazing to Natasha. she could not follow the opera, could not even listen to the music: she saw only the painted cardboard and the oddly dressed men and women who moved, spoke, and sang so strangely in that brilliant light. She knew what it was all meant to represent, but it was so blatantly false and unnatural that she felt alternately ashamed for the actors and amused by them. She looked about her at the faces of the audience, seeking in them the same bewilderment and sense of the ridiculous that she herself felt, but they all seemed absorbed in what was happening on the stage and expressed what appeared to Natasha to be a feigned rapture. (p. 678)”
Anatol’s Vanity: “Anatol was always content with his position, with himself, and with others. He was instinctively and thoroughly convinced that it was impossible for him to live otherwise than the way he lived, and that he had never in his life done anything base, but he was quite incapable of considering how his actions might affect others, or what the consequences of this or that action might be. He believed that just as a duck had been created to live in water, so God had created him to spend thirty thousand a year and always to occupy a prominent position in society. (p. 686)”
Tolstoy: “Pfühl was one of those inordinately, unshakably self-assured men – self-assured to the point of martyrdom, as only a German can be, because only a German bases his self-assurance on an abstract idea: science, that is, the supposed knowledge of absolute truth. A Frenchman’s self-assurance stems from his belief that he is mentally and physically irresistibly fascinating to both men and women. An Englishman’s self-assurance is founded on his being a citizen of the best organized state in the world and on the fact that, as an Englishman, he always knows what to do, and that whatever he does as an Englishman is unquestionably correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and others. A Russian is self-assured simply because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe in the possibility of knowing anything fully… (p. 770)"
“For Russian historians – strange and terrible to say – Napoleon, that most insignificant tool of history, who never anywhere, even in exile, showed human dignity – Napoleon is the object of adulation and enthusiasm; he is grand. But Kutuzov, the man who from the beginning to the end of his activity in 1812, from Borodino to Vilna, was never once by word or deed false to himself, who presents an example rare in history of self-sacrifice and of present insight into the future significance of events – Kutuzov seems to them something indeterminate and pitiful, and when speaking of him and of the year 1812 they always seem rather ashamed. (p. 1297)”
Freedom to Act vs. Fate
Natasha’s inability to resist Anatol: “She did not know how it was that within five minutes she had come to feel terribly close to this man. When she turned away she feared he might seize her from behind by her bare arm, or kiss her on the neck. They spoke of the most ordinary things, yet she felt that they were more intimate than she had ever been with any man. (p. 683)”
“Every man lives for himself, using his freedom to attain his own ends, and feels in his whole being that he can at any moment perform or abstain from performing this or that action, but as soon as he has performed it, that action executed at a given moment in time becomes irrevocable and belongs to history, in which it has not a free but a predetermined significance. There are two sides to the life of every man: the personal life, which is free to the degree that its interests are abstract, and the elemental life of the swarm, in which he ineluctably follows the laws decreed for him (p. 732)”
“When an apple has ripened and falls – why does it fall? Is it because of the force of gravity, because its stem withers, because it is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing under the tree wants to eat it? None of these is the cause. All this is only the conjunction of conditions in which every vital, organic, elemental event occurs. And the botanist who finds that the apple falls because the cellular tissue decomposes, and so forth, is just as right and as wrong as the child who stands under the tree and says the apple fell because he wanted to eat it and prayed for it to fall. (p. 733)”
“The peasants say that a cold wind blows in late spring because the oaks are budding; and, in fact, a cold wind does blow every spring when the oaks are budding. But though I do not know why a cold wind blows when the oaks come out, I cannot agree with the peasants that the budding of the oaks is the cause of the wind, for the force of the wind is beyond the influence of buds. I see only a coincidence of occurrences such as happens with all the phenomena of life, and I see that however long and however carefully I study … oak buds, I shall not discover the cause of … cold winds blowing in spring. To do this I must entirely change my point of view and study the laws of the movement of … the wind. History must do the same. (p. 988)”
Enlightenment through Love
Prince Andrei to Pierre: “I should never have believed it if anyone had told me I could love like this,” he said. “It is not like anything I ever felt before. The whole world is divided into two halves for me now: one is she, and there all is joy, hope, light; the other is where she is not, and there all is gloom and darkness…” (p. 574)
“Prince Andrei held her hands and looked into her eyes, but he failed to find in his heart his former love for her. Some sudden change seemed to have taken place in him: there was no longer the former poetic and mysterious charm of desire; instead he felt pity for her feminine and childish weakness, fear before her devotion and truthfulness, and an oppressive yet sweet sense of duty binding him to her forever. The present feeling, though not so bright and poetic as the former, was stronger and more serious.” (p. 579)
Pierre, after having spoken of his love to Natasha: “It was clear and frosty. Above the dirty, ill-lit streets, above the black roofs, stretched the dark, starry sky. Only as he gazed up at the sky did Pierre feel the humiliating pettiness of all early things compared with the heights to which his soul has just been raised. At the entrance to the Arbat Square an immense expanse of dark, starry sky appeared before his eyes. Almost in the center of it, above the Prechistensky Boulevard, surrounded and spangled on all sides by stars, but distinct form them by its nearness to the earth, with its white light and its long upturned tail, shone the huge, brilliant comet of the year 1812 – the comet that was said to portend all kinds of horrors and the end of the world. In Pierre, however, that bright star with its long, luminous tail aroused no feeling of dread. On the contrary, he gazed joyously, his eyes moist with tears, at that radiant star which, having traveled in its orbit with inconceivable velocity though infinite space, seemed suddenly, like an arrow piercing the earth, to remain fixed in its chosen spot in the black firmament, tail firmly poised, shining and disporting itself with its white light amid countless other scintillating stars. It seemed to Pierre that this comet fully harmonized with what was in his own mollified and uplifted soul, now blossoming into a new life. (p. 726)”
“Natasha did not follow the golden rule preached by clever people, and especially the French, which says that a girl should not let herself go after marriage, should not neglect her accomplishments, should be even more careful of her appearance than when she was single, and should be as alluring to her husband as she had been before he became her husband… The subject that wholly absorbed Natasha’s attention was her family, that is, her husband, who she had to keep so that he should belong entirely to her and to the home, and the children, whom she had to bear, give birth to, nurse, and rear. And the deeper she penetrated, not with her mind, but with her whole soul, her whole being, into the subject that absorbed her, the larger did that subject grow under her attention, and the weaker and more inadequate her own powers seemed, so that she concentrated them all on that one thing and yet was not able to accomplish all that she considered necessary. (pp. 1382 – 83)”
“With a swift but cautious movement Natasha drew nearer to him, still on her knees, and carefully taking his hand, bent her face over it and began kissing it, barely touching it with her lips. “Forgive me!” she said in a whisper, lifting her head and glancing at him. “Forgive me!” “I love you,” said Prince Andrei. “Forgive…” “Forgive what?” asked Prince Andrei. “Forgive me for – for what I have d-done!” Natasha faltered in a scarcely audible whisper, and began quickly cover his hand with kisses, lightly brushing it with her lips. “I love you more – better than before,” said Prince Andrei, lifting her face with his hand so as to look into her eyes. (p. 1103)”
“She [Natasha] did not know and would not have believed it, but underneath what seemed to her an impenetrable layer of slime that covered her soul, tender, delicate young shoots of grass were already thrusting up, which, taking root, would so cover with their living verdure the grief that weighed her down that soon it would be unseen and forgotten. The wound had begun to heal from within. (p. 1293)”
Power and Puppets
“Many historians say that the French failed to win the battle of Borodino because Napoleon had a cold… If it had depended on Napoleon’s will whether or not to give battle at Borodino, and if it had depended on his will whether or not to issue this or that order, then it is obvious that a cold which influenced the manifestation of his will might have determined Russia’s salvation, and, consequently, the valet who forgot to bring Napoleon his waterproof boots on the twenty-fourth would have been Russia’s savior. reviewer's sidenote: I love this one!(p. 942)
"The storm of nations begins to subside. The waves of the great sea recede, leaving a calm surface on which are formed eddies of diplomats who imagine that it is they who have produced this lull. (p. 1360)"
"Power is the collective will of the masses, vested by expressed or tacit consent in their chosen leader (p. 1423)
"What is the cause of historical events? Power. What is power? Power is the collective will vested in one person. On what condition is the people’s will vested in one person? On the condition that the person expresses the will of the whole people. that is, power is power. In other words, power is a word the meaning of which we do not know. (p. 1429)"
"Having reached this conclusion we can give a direct and positive answer to those two essential questions of history. (1) What is power? (2) What force produces the movement of nations? (1) Power is the relation of a given person to other persons, in which the more that person expresses opinions, suppositions, and justifications of the collective action the less is his participation in the action (2) The movement of nations is caused not by power, not by any intellectual activity, nor even by a combination of the two, as historians have supposed, but by the activity of all the people participating in the event, who always combine in such a way that those who take the largest direct share in the event take the least responsibility, and vice versa. (p. 1437)"
This book has overturned my theory that good writing is more important than good subject matter. Don't get me wrong; What better subjects are theSigh.
This book has overturned my theory that good writing is more important than good subject matter. Don't get me wrong; What better subjects are there than Art, History and Paris (and Art History in Paris)? What's more, the gorgeous cover art had me chomping at the bit to begin (I've never learned my lesson by that old 'don't judge a book' adage). So. The writing was grand. The subject sublime. The cover exquisite. But what should have taken a week or two, took me months to get through. It felt like those dreams I've had where I'm trying so hard to get somewhere, but my feet are just so heavy I can't pick them up.
Master McCullough has sought to give us understanding into the mixing of lives and the fitting together the cogs of these contemporaries (and the overlap of two generations). Unfortunately, it was not executed as skillfully as Erik Larson did in The Devil in the White City.
I came to the conclusion that the protagonist of this work is Paris with the people passing through becoming simply events in her life.
The greatest impact this book leaves with me is the story of Samuel Morse. He yearned so much to be a great artist (and had the makings of one) but it was not to be.
"But when word reached Morse from Washington that he had not been chosen to paint one of the historic panels at the Capitol, his world collapsed. Friends and fellow artists wrote to express their disappointment and sympathy, and if possible to lift his spirits...He 'staggered under the blow,' in his words. It was the ultimate defeat of his life as an artist... Morse gave up painting entirely. He abandoned for good all his dreams of accomplishment and recognition as an artist, the whole career he had set his heart on since college days. No one could dissuade him...The 'one thing' henceforth would be his telegraph, the crude apparatus for which was also to be found in his New York University studio apartment. Later it would be surmised that had he not stopped painting when he did, no successful electromagnetic telegraph would have happened when it did, or at least not a Morse electromagnetic telegraph (pp. 150-151)."
This thought, of having a life's work to do and wishing it to be one thing when God's intent is for it to be another, will stay with me.
This was truly an ambitious work, but not nearly the caliber of McCullough's other writings. Perhaps leaving the medical field out may have helped, though once I passed that section, I still felt bogged down in a milieu of which I am usually enamored.
(I was also miffed at the absence of many images of art which were discussed)
Renée and Paloma are both brainy and analytical, but their characters are self-indulgent, dislikeable, and miserable. I found**spoiler alert** Lovely!
Renée and Paloma are both brainy and analytical, but their characters are self-indulgent, dislikeable, and miserable. I found distaste and distrust for both of them. If they could only get out of themselves, perhaps their cynicism could be replaced with understanding. In my reading, I couldn’t help thinking of a verse from Latter-day Saint scripture: “When they are learned they think they are wise… wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not (2 Nephi 9:28).” This novel is filled with educated yet closed-minded people whose intelligence is wasted on their own vanity or self-wallowing.
I disliked Renée (and was annoyed by Paloma). But after I accepted my dislike for her, I slowly found that I adored her! Her idiosyncrasies developed into humorous and endearing traits of a beloved curmudgeonly aunt. Had she changed… or had I? (With time, even Paloma’s arrogant ways became less annoying. Her ideas were suddenly insightful rather than just belligerent)
Just when I, on my own accord, had theorized that intellect for intelligence sake was empty and, without goodness, to be cultured was useless; that a novel full of self-aggrandizing characters was off-putting… just then in walks Mr. Kakuro Ozu, the perfect example of goodness, culture and acumen. This one character, whose wit and wisdom is tempered by his warmth and genuine open-mindedness, is the magnifier and decipher-er who is able to restore balance to an apartment building full of weighty thinkers. Clearly, his appearance sets in motion the process of the evolution of Renée and Paloma. Through him, and then through each other, they become the heroines they were intended to be.
In some novels, I internalize a character, and weep for their sorrows as if they were my own. But here, at the end, I shed tears not because I somehow saw myself in Renée, but because I would miss her.
“should have named cat ‘Roget’” (Renée)
Need for silence – to go within (Paloma)
We hold up mirrors to others and think we are seeing them… but we are only looking at a reflection of ourselves. (Renée)
“Seeing” others is like trying to grab water in our hands (Paloma)
“Wabi” = understated beauty (Renée) Still life – love without selfish desire (Renée) ...more
Thinking that a more mature understanding would overcome the (twenty years) previous distaste I had for Hemingway's book For Whom the Bell3 1/2 stars.
Thinking that a more mature understanding would overcome the (twenty years) previous distaste I had for Hemingway's book For Whom the Bell Tolls, I was barely moved by this 'moveable feast.' Hemingway portrays Roaring Twenties Paris with a mere grunt.
There were definitely some high notes, but the overall dispassionate tone left me disinterested if mildly amused. ...more