I bought this book by mistake in one of those charity shops that make any idle and rainy Saturday in Oxford a treasure hunt. What I thought I had founI bought this book by mistake in one of those charity shops that make any idle and rainy Saturday in Oxford a treasure hunt. What I thought I had found was actually "Innocents Abroad" by the same Mark Twain, but somehow the word "tramp" was left out of my raptorous glance.
Well, "A Tramp Abroad" revolves around pretty much the same topic of "Innocents Abroad" which is Mr Twain touring Europe proud of being an American but at the same time eager to get all that the Old Continent has to offer to his transatlantic eyes.
A very good reason to grab this book is its humour. One cannot wonder that Mark Twain was so funny a writer. Or perhaps it's just me having read "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" when I was a kid and getting bored to death with all that exhausting fence painting business and that haughty Becky Thatcher.
And yet "A Tramp Abroad" is funny, witty and it's clear how Twain got amused in writing some of its pages. It's a kind of humour that one may find in a celebrated British author of the same period (1880s) such as Jerome Klapka Jerome, but Twain adds up his American touch: the exaggeration of likelihood.
Where Jerome (an eager traveller too) loved paradoxes and observations about the cultural oddities he found while navigating the Thames or cycling in Germany, Twain liked to put himself at the centre of the scene. But he did so in a very amusing way by pretending to be the bravest person around fooling us and himself in the process. The travels of "A Tramp Abroad" are not particularly exotic involving Germany, Switzerland and a bit of Italy and Twain is not masterful in telling us how and why he got from, say, Heidelberg to Lucerne. Where he excels is in collecting the local stories, news and legends and reporting them on his account along with amazing fictional dialogues and expeditions deign of a maharaja.
Here you can find many gems like a passionate praise of tasty American food along with a lot of sarcasm referred to European menus thay may disappoint a German or a French gourmet, but it's actually only another example of Twain's comic exaggeration. Twain is not afraid of despising the sense of perspective and proportions of the Old Masters in painting, in calling St Mark's church in Venice "ugly" and the edelweiss flower "cigar-coloured". There is no arrogance or sense of superiority in doing this, although someone may think and may have thought the opposite. It seems unbelievable that Henry James lived in the same years and saw a good deal of the same British-American jet-set tourism portraying it in the most solemn and antiquated terms.
And then there are appendixes, introduced by a quote by Herodotus. Mind you, do not miss these appendixes! And if your edition of "A Tramp Abroad" doesn't include them, raise an official protest with the bookseller who sold it to you!
Appendix D, titled "The Awful German Language", is one of the funniest things I've ever read. Eighteen pages of pure intellectual pleasure dedicated to the struggle Twain had with studying German with all the grammar exceptions, peculiarities and oddities of that language he could recall crowned by eight suggestions to make German better. I have never studied German, but I laughed till tears came to my eyes in reading this stuff. And appendix F "German Journals" is irresistible too. Not to mention appendix C "The College Prison". Etc, etc.
On the whole, this book is huge and heavy and for that reason not quite comfortable to read if you're not surrounded by pillows half-lying on a double bed, but "A Tramp Abroad" is worth a try when you want to cheer up yourselves. Not a book to travel with, but a book to travel for. ...more
Absolutely brilliant! I've never laughed that much while reading in English. A bunch of amazing short stories which takes place in the same Raymond CarAbsolutely brilliant! I've never laughed that much while reading in English. A bunch of amazing short stories which takes place in the same Raymond Carver scenarios. But where Carver is monotonous, Sedaris is hilarious.
Short stories like "Jamboree" and "Season's greetings to our friends and family!!!" are staggering works of a humor genius....more
From the snapshots you can find online, Robertson Davies looked like Charles Darwin with a touch of Santa Claus.
The Canadian author had a long white From the snapshots you can find online, Robertson Davies looked like Charles Darwin with a touch of Santa Claus.
The Canadian author had a long white forked beard that was strikingly demode in the 1970s when he delivered the three books of this excellent Deptford Trilogy. And yet, don't be fooled by the first appearances. You better look more carefully at the photos of Mr Davies. If you do that, you will perceive genuine wit and an eager inquisitiveness in his eyes as well as the intimidating irony of his slightly raised eyebrows.
This man knew what he did and always kept himself up-to-date with the long times he lived in. If Robertson Davies chose to look from another age deserting the barbershops of Ontario, that was not a sign of personal carelessness but very much a deliberate intellectual disguise.
Davies' old-fashioned long white forked beard had at the same time the gravitas of the British born naturalist and the bonhomie of the popular gift-bearer. And in between Darwin's meticolous but revolutionary cataloguing and classifying specimens and Father Christmas' magic but punctual efficiency in delivering airborne gifts, Robertson Davies' prose might be found.
No surprises that reading "The Deptford Trilogy" to me has been like embarking on the Beagle with a flying open sleigh on the deck ready to take off at the author's call. Captain Davies led our brig-sloop time-machine through his story with remarkable confidence and ease leaving the Canadian shores behind with the occasional brat throwing a snowball at us from the quay. During our navigation he always had the first and the last word on board and - to his credit - he managed to keep his whole crew of characters under control without neglecting the needs of his only reader and passenger.
We followed a circular route with a stopover between "Fifth Business" and "The Manticore" to welcome on board a new first narrator looking for psychoanalysis. Then, thanks to the flying open sleigh we brought along on the Beagle, we left the poor fellow on the Swiss Alps between Jung and the Jungfrau. Just in time to begin the exploration of the third stage of our trip leading us to the illusive borders of the "World of Wonders" together with a film troupe and eventually back to Deptford.
Believe me, folks. You will suffer no seasickness sailing (and flying) with Robertson Davies. This guy never loses the control of his helm and - as a plus - is not afraid of pointing straight into the whirlwinds of history, politics, religion and love. That and the difficult art and consequences of dodging a snowball thrown by a brat. The magical realism and real magic you will bring back home after embarking on a journey on The Deptford Trilogy with Captain Davies are equally haunting. ...more
Still reading this one. But without so much hope left of being able to make it over page 10. I have no doubt that this way of writing was really modernStill reading this one. But without so much hope left of being able to make it over page 10. I have no doubt that this way of writing was really modern and provocative back in 1959. The fact is that fifty-two years later I am not able to stand what Mr Burroughs is trying to tell (or not to tell) me.
And I feel more at ease having an over-clothed fasting than a naked lunch. Perhaps it's my problem, after all. ...more
I don't read so much poetry yet, but Szymborska has the precious gift of writing about everyday things and thoughts in an appealing way.
Her poetry hasI don't read so much poetry yet, but Szymborska has the precious gift of writing about everyday things and thoughts in an appealing way.
Her poetry has the power and the strength of simplicity without insisting on metric structures. Reading what Szymborska wrote and writes I have the impression she is a very down to Earth and sensitive person, while most of her colleagues believe to be Words Gods, separated by the rest of the world. ...more
This was one of the books I had to read while attending a journalism programme in the Netherlands.
At that time I have no idea they were going to makeThis was one of the books I had to read while attending a journalism programme in the Netherlands.
At that time I have no idea they were going to make a movie out of it with Kate Winslet as the main female character.
I found the English edition of "The Reader" pretty good and read the whole book with interest. Both the "crime and punishment" and the "illiteracy" topics behind the plot were good ideas by Schlink and generally I have a kind of fascination for novels beginning with the childhood (and yes, sexual initiation) of the protagonist, following him/her getting older and bald. Anyway, I can say I appreciated "The Reader" overall.
Yet, at the end of the English version of this book I found a mistake. The sort of mistake that is probably not that important, but that I consider rather disturbing, especially in a novel that gets inspiration from real and dramatic historical facts.
While writing about Hanna's bookshelf in prison, authors like Levi, Kertesz and Amery are cited, together with the "autobiography of Rudolf Hess". Well I'm afraid this last book doesn't exist at all. There is a biography of Hess wrote by Eugene K. Bird, but what the translator did is simply confusing the notorious Rudolf Hess with another Nazi criminal: Rudolf Hoess who actually wrote an autobiography ("Death Dealer: the Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz").
I checked the Italian edition and I found the autobiography correctly referred as the Rudolf Hoess' one. So I guess Schlink is not to blame for the mistake, but the English translator is.
Call me pedant and fussy, but I really can't stand these inaccuracies in translation work. Especially when the book I read is rather good.
This was an excellent, engaging and quite informative read which happened just when I needed it. I've been interested in the 1956 Hungarian Uprising/ReThis was an excellent, engaging and quite informative read which happened just when I needed it. I've been interested in the 1956 Hungarian Uprising/Revolution for quite a long time, but - by sheer coincidence - one week upon finishing 'Twelve Days' I finally visited Budapest for the very first time.
I guess it might have been rather annoying for my partner (she has just confirmed that it was) being led through the Hungarian capital by me unawaringly lecturing her on events and anecdotes from October '56. And I reckon how more than once I juxtaposed the monumental main streets and squares we were navigating through with the black and white pictures depicting Soviet tanks, urban guerrilla, rubble and destruction dating back to the uprising. Sorry for that, Paulina! And blame on you, Victor Sebestyen.
For reading 'Twelve Days' brought me straight into a Budapest that is no more. I got sucked into a time vortex blowing me away from A.D. 2014 Poland and leaving me stranded but not confused in 1956 Hungary. It took Mr Sebestyen's wizardry only a few pages to captivate me and - much to his merit - once I get into the history whirlwind I was reluctant to get out of it. I'll tell you why.
'Twelve Days' is one of those rare history books where the context is introduced and explained thoroughly, the chronology is always clear and the narration manages to be enthralling, coherent and consistent. It reads like a well-plotted political spy story with a Machiavellian cast of characters, but it deals with one of the darkest pages in recent European history. Despite of the title he chose, the author doesn't rush to the brave and bloody twelve days of the 1956 uprising/revolution. At the contrary, Mr Sebestyen takes his time to explain what happened to Budapest and Hungary during and after World War II. By doing so the Anglo-Hungarian historian skilfully introduces the readers to a place and time they might not be familiar with and gradually builds up the book to its climax.
Each of the main domestic characters who played a major part in the events leading to 1956 and following it - Matyas Rakosi, Erno Gero, Laszlo Rajk, Imre Nagy, Janos Kadar - is carefully disclosed in an unbiased and quite objective way. True, when it comes to villains Mr Sebestyen stresses out Gero's 'sadistic smile' or Rakosi's 'overwhelming cynicism', but one must not forget that these men sent thousands of people to death and are justly remembered as criminals by Hungarians. What I've found interesting is that the author doesn't depict Imre Nagy - now considered a hero and a martyr by his compatriots - as an entirely positive character. In fact, Sebestyen does quite the opposite by showing us an often undecided politician, an excessively cautious man uncapable to cut the bounds tying him to the USSR and reluctant to accept the moral leadership the Budapest crowds granted him. In the same fashion, Janos Kadar - the man who took over the power after the uprising/revolution was crushed to bits by the Soviet tanks - could be included into the villains ranks as he was 'loathed as a Judas' by Hungarians. And yet, Sebestyen doesn't portray Kadar as merely a Muscovite puppet but reckons how in the years following the uprising he actually did something to soften things up leading to the so called 'goulash socialism'.
On a side note, my only criticism to the author is that he might have done a better job on the international stage. The role played in smashing the uprising by a deus ex machina such as Nikita Kruscev in Moscow is explained but not investigated as much as it could have been. Looking Westwards, Sebestyen expresses some mild criticism towards the lack of interest in Hungary from the US and the UN, but eventually justifies both Eisenhower and Hammarskjoeld for their giving priority to the Suez crisis unfolding in the very same days. This point of view is a tad too simplicistic to be accepted completely, but Sebestyen did such an excellent job overall that I can forgive him.
If you are interested in knowing more about the 1956 Hungarian uprising, revolution (or whatever you call it), 'Twelve Days' is a book to get and read soon. ...more
Ok, perhaps a four stars rating is a bit over generous with this book. But somehow I had to stress out how "Enduring Love" is the best novel by Ian McOk, perhaps a four stars rating is a bit over generous with this book. But somehow I had to stress out how "Enduring Love" is the best novel by Ian Mc Ewan I have read so far. You may be surprised, but it's true. I put this one over "Black Dogs" and "The Child in Time" and "First Love Last Rites" and even "The Cement Garden" (although I reckon how the last one might deserve a re-read).
So what does it make this book better? I am not sure to know, but I'll try to explain it.
I can see how many reviewers here and there have found disappointing the fact that after a brilliant beginning this novel goes spiralling downwards by proceeding in circles and losing its grip. I can see their point. "Enduring Love" has, in fact, an extremely convincing first chapter, a kinetic and cinematic beginning, as perfectly shaped as a geometrical problem. There is not a single out of place word in the dramatic and compelling very first pages of this novel involving the balloon you see in the cover (which, by the way, is "grey" and not red). Then Mc Ewan decides to win over the temptation of investigating any further on the balloon trail and takes a step forward and back at the same time, developing and following a parallel plot, almost a spin-off of the orignal accident. There we can see his mastery which is not simply "proceeding in circles" but working on a very peculiar double obsession revolving around the interpretation and misinterpretation of love.
Unlike he did elsewhere, say "The Child in Time", here Mc Ewan does not experiment too much, keeping his focus on the main character and his account with only an unexplainable detour from the first to the third person at some point. Ian does not juggle with time. We do not have flashbacks and flashforwards here, but a growing tension and a growing sense of frustration which is beautifully written. Everything is realistic, or so it seems. And this makes "Enduring Love" stronger: Mc Ewan makes things happen in a rather logical way.
The main characters of this novel behave in a plausible, but not predictable way. In short, I could see them. Not that it always happened with these Mc Ewanesque men and women drinking Beaujolais and Chablis and gathering around either the south of France or the Vale of Oxford to end up somewhere between Arles and Headington. Actually, the Oxfordshire element is rather enjoyable and a pleasure to read, at least for me. The beautiful Port Meadow is a recurring location (see "On Chesil Beach") in Mc Ewan's novels and it is indeed an eye-opener place where I myself spent several idle Sunday afternoons, taking a walk with some friends and staring at the peaceful, ruminant cattle. It's clear how the author, having studied and lived in Oxford for a while love these places and is able to deliver a concise but affectionate description of them. Besides, the references to the police having their own "priorities" and not paying attention to a case of harassment not involving any phyisical threat made me smile having contacted the stolid Thames Valley Police officers in the recent past. Well said and written, Ian!
There is only one minor detail that left me rather puzzled. Whereas Mc Ewan made some extra research on John Keats and William Wordsworth in order to write this novel, he forgot to do the same with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson also known as Lewis Carroll. As much as JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, the creator of "Alice in Wonderland" is a literary (and commercial) glory of Oxford and the town even offers "Carroll Tours" which flocks of European or Asian tourists attend in religious awe. "This is the house where Carroll slept". "This is the dining hall where Carroll used to have lunch". "This is the stone where Carroll once sat on". "This is Carroll's dodo". And so on. I bet Ian Mc Ewan never took part to these tours. And yet as a former Oxonian he should have known Carroll's life better. At some point he states that the fictional father of Alice was "the dean of Christ Church". Well, Ian, he never was. He was a lecturer. A math lecturer. And when he was playing with "his Alice" along the shores of river Thames, the girl was the daughter of the actual dean.
But, hey, this is nothing. How can I be so picky to write twelve lines on a single unfortunate sentence? "Enduring Love" is a very good reading. Don't listen to its detractors, please. And forgive me for being pedant. After all, there is a lot about forgiveness in this book. ...more
Phoo-wee! How hardly I dislike Isaac Asimov? Four stars on a scale of five. And five stars minus four stars is my rating of this heavy heavy heavy TrilPhoo-wee! How hardly I dislike Isaac Asimov? Four stars on a scale of five. And five stars minus four stars is my rating of this heavy heavy heavy Trilogy.
Let's call it prejudice, but my own idea of "science fiction" is less solemn and more joyous than Asimov's one.
Yet, I can understand how the whole Foundation saga could be fascinating for many others. I do believe in subjectivity. ...more