Pets and other animals talking about the bestialities of human communism in the former Eastern Bloc countries. A well-doWhat a great idea for a book!
Pets and other animals talking about the bestialities of human communism in the former Eastern Bloc countries. A well-documented and often entertaining approach to well known and less well known facts that truly happened from East Berlin to Moscow passing through Budapest, Prague, Warsaw, Bucarest.
Giving voice to mice and cats, dogs and bears, ravens and parrots with each animal talking about its own country was indeed a work of genius. Most of those who reviewed this book mentioned either the 'Orwellian approach' or the ' Orwellian inspiration' of Mrs Drakulic, but I think otherwise. She's truly original and independent in her own work here so that the comparison with the author of 'Animal Farm' doesn't stand a chance. To me the closest this book gets to is rather 'The Life of Insects' by Victor Pelevin. But then again, unlike Pelevin, Drakulic doesn't insist on metaphors and camouflages: her animals are actual animals from the beginning to the end of their chapters (with one significant exception). Well done, Slavenka!
And yet 'A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism' (let me catch my breathe) falls short of what I expected. Whilst I did appreciate some of the episodes, others were just not at the same level and, in my humble opinion, out of place in the context.
I particularly liked the stories of the mole talking about people digging tunnels from East Berlin to West Berlin, the one about the rabid dogs issue in Bucarest seen from a canine perspective and the musings of General Jaruzelski's pussycat regarding her owner's controversial decisions. One of the reasons why these three 'fables' really work and stand out here is that they achieve a perfect balance between the human-animal narrative and their historical significance.
On the contrary I found unexplicable the choice to have a real woman, Magda, introducing herself as a 'Hungarian pig' in the chapter entitled - sic! - 'From Gulag to Goulash'*. Putting aside the non convincing story itself, why not giving voice to an actual sow? Was that too complicated? The contradiction here with this one and only episode not being narrated by an animal is so evident that I'm inclined to think that Mrs Drakulic did that on purpose. But for what purpose, I wonder? Who knows.
The human-animal denouement is not broken anywhere else, but a couple of stories are just too long a monologue to be consistent (Tito's parrot, the chaperoning mouse in Prague) with the final result of putting their interesting animal perspective at risk with the author's voice popping up.
That being said, I reckon how Slavenka Drakulic did a good job here. I got hooked to this thin but important book and overall enjoyed it. The fables I read taught me some episodes I was not aware of and reinforced my knowledge of other topics I had already heard about.
*The tragedy is that back on 1996 the uncouth leader of the Northern League Party in Italy did call the gulags 'goulash' in a public speech....more
I've never been a great reader of poetry, but these nice little poems are helping me out with my Polish vocabulary and understanding.
Some compositionI've never been a great reader of poetry, but these nice little poems are helping me out with my Polish vocabulary and understanding.
Some compositions remind me of Szymborska in their apparent simplicity wondering on everyday's life and tiny but significant details, but Anna Swir (Świrszczyńska) deals with post WWII feelings and family as well, focusing on her father who was a painter. Both topics are found in the poem I liked the most, so far. It's entitled 'He Did Not Jump from the Third Floor' and reads like this in English translation.
The second World War Warsaw. Tonight they dropped bombs on the Theatre Square.
At the Theatre Square Father has his workshop. All paintings, labor of forty years.
Next morning father went to the Theatre Square. He saw.
His workshop has no ceiling, has no walls no floor.
Father did not jump from the third floor. Father started over from the beginning.
Bless Miłosz who translated Swir into English (taking some liberties in metric) as well as the publisher who kept the original text in this edition. And thank you to the second hand bookseller in Krakow who found this little gem for me when asked if he had anything in English (this book was the one and only)!...more
Read in 2006 as one of three novellas included within 'Parlamenti Buffi' ('Funny Parliaments'). 'Lunario del Paradiso' popped up just at the right timRead in 2006 as one of three novellas included within 'Parlamenti Buffi' ('Funny Parliaments'). 'Lunario del Paradiso' popped up just at the right time inbetween my first experience living abroad (in Norway) and the year I spent in the Netherlands. At that time I borrowed the book from a friend of mine and looked to get my own copy ever since.
Unfortunately - and mysteriously - all editions of 'Lunario del Paradiso' have been out of print for around 15 years. Maremagnum, Abebooks, Bookdepository and even Ebay never helped. Not to mention all the second hand bookstalls, fairs and car boot sales I've been to.
Then I sent an email to an Italian radio programme specialized in bookhunting and booksharing on the excellent Radio3 (which I find much superior to BBC Radio3 culture wise). In two weeks time (today) I was contacted by the programme and told that they found someone who's eager to send me 'Lunario del Paradiso'. Hurrah!
In one hour time - and on air - I will know who this benefactor is and how come he/she chose to say goodbye to this wonderful wonderful novel narrating the disillusioned romantic adventures of an Italian twentysomething going to Hamburg in the late 1950s. An update will follow in due time.
UPDATE So it looks like there was a misunderstanding so that I will have to untag 'A-my-Italian-library' from this book here for the time being. For 'Lunario del Paradiso' has not yet been found, but I had to explain on air the reasons why I have been searching it. Nevermind (but blimey). I just hope my plea will be successful!...more
Over the last five years I became a great fan of Polish journalism so that every time I skim through bookshelves labelled 'travels' or 'reportages' IOver the last five years I became a great fan of Polish journalism so that every time I skim through bookshelves labelled 'travels' or 'reportages' I hunt for that bunch of authors I know or for any Polish sounding surname. That's how I 'discovered' Tochman and Stasiuk, for instance. And that's how Wojciech Górecki showed up with two books he wrote, one about Caucasus as a whole and this one about Georgia.
Now, the only Górecki I knew was the composer Henryk whose Third Symphony became an unusual worldwide hit in the mid 1990s. The unexpected success for the Polish composer came thanks to the British trip hop band Lamb who sampled a tiny bit of it in their aptly titled song Górecki back in 1996. (I didn't like that song as well as the symphony).
Wojciech Górecki is not related to Henryk. The Italian edition I bought calls Górecki 'the heir of Ryszard Kapuscinski' and Wojciech himself dedicates 'La terra del vello d'oro' ('The Land of the Golden Fleece') to the great Polish reporter.
Are there similarities in writing style and reporting approach between Kapuscinski and Górecki? To be honest I couldn't find many. The dean of Polish reportage liked to write about his own personal daily experiences living in foreign countries and stressing out his fascination for everything local and his distaste for the spoiled reporters gossiping from their five starred resorts. The young dauphin prefers to draw sketches of what he sees around him keeping himself as humble as Kapuscinski, but standing more in the background than him.
The Georgia portrayed and narrated by Górecki in the early 2000s was not at war, for the time being. This state of temporary, if apparent, serenity let the Polish reporter tell the reader about the country's turbulent history, its unique traditions, its multi-layered character. For someone like me who didn't know much about Georgia having read only a single book marginally dealing with it and dating back to the 1960s ('Journey into Russia' by Laurens Van der Post), Górecki's book brought a gust of fresh and precious knowledge.
Even though forty years have passed from Van der Post being invited to a lavish Georgian banquet and writing about its peculiar etiquette, I was happy to read that Górecki experienced the same hospitality and jotted down similar observations. The pages regarding the towerhouses dating back to the 13th century that are still inhabited in some remote and beautiful regions of Georgia are excellent and reminded me of the Albanian towerhouses depicted by Kadare in his novels. Which was a delightful deja-vu.
Whereas the book is thin and somewhat disjointed, it is also very informative and a pleasure to read. My only criticism is that the last chapter might have been placed at the beginning of 'La terra del vello d'oro' as it's extremely helpful in contextualize Georgia and its debated regions such as Abkhazia, South and North Ossetia. But this is only a minor detail. Even though I'd be more careful to call Wojciech Górecki the heir of Ryszard Kapuscinski, I'm certainly eager to read that second book by him that I bought for he knows his topics well and is a brilliant reporter.
*Please note that my review refers to the Italian edition of the book. Unfortunately, it looks like this book is not yet available in English translation. ...more