Books

Pan

When I picked up Pan last month at Foyles at Charing Cross, London I had two thoughts in my mind regarding the title. My immediate thought was the pan in which one cooks but then it couldn’t have been this simple given Munch’s work on the front cover of the book. My second thought was in direction of Pan’s labyrinth and from that I thought of Pan – the Greek god of the wild. It turned out that the second guess was more closer to the profile of the work.

I was looking for Hunger by him but couldn’t find it and made peace with my purchase. It was surprisingly lean unlike the tomes of work that was common in the times during which Hamsun produced magnificent works. He veered off from the pallor tradition of writing endless dialogues and wrote bluntly on the raw human emotions in the heart and the various confounding debates of the human mind.

Pan is a story written in first person featuring Thomas Glahn and Edvarda, set in Sirilund, where time is spent frolicking in and admiring nature. I sometimes get bogged down by too much detail as it happens in many famous works where the writers keeps on describing the sunset for three pages, but here I took pleasure in reading about the grass blades, foaming sea against the docks, little hut, beetles, and other wonders of nature and the random act of naming the ants while sitting under a tree in solitude. So very human.

People will say it is a book about psychology but to me it is about the author and his way of describing what humans are and what do they want to say to other humans; They aren’t paragon of virtues but are flawed and thus humans.

“Do not forget, some give little, and it is much for them, others give all, and it costs them no effort; who then has given most?”  – Knut Hamsun, Pan

The timeline love story reminds me of 500 days of summer which has similar events and the misunderstanding between the two reminds me of Dev D. They love each other over a period of spring, summer, and autumn but neither understands what it means and eventually drift away.

The epilogue which describes the fate of Glahn set in southern India seems like another short story and is not archetypal of Hamsun’s period (Although Maggie seems to be an unrealistic character to me in that period in Indian subcontinent). Such literary devices put him ahead of his time and not confined to any literary tradition.

Today, Hamsun is seen in a dubious light despite being a literary genius from Norway who was awarded Nobel prize for literature in 1920, and it’s attributed to his far right political views and his and his wife’s relationships with then Nazi ruling Germany. It opens the never ending debate whether we can dissociate the artist from his/her personal life and political views. Despite that one can’t ignore the significance of his works and the literary evolution he was responsible for, his works aren’t another damp squib but something of Steve Jobs’ dots that one connects while looking in the past.

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Lost in translation – An attempt to read books from all countries

I am annoyed by the nuisance of the pigeons that I see around me, their tiny feet making incoherent noise on the scaffolding and the canopy is distracting. Such is their power that they have forced me to retreat to my cold room than sit in the sunshine. It is peculiar how the pigeons that I have encountered in the cities are fearless of human presence, not only are they oblivious to traffic but also don’t think twice before encroaching human dwellings. Anyway, this isn’t the central theme here.

Starting last year(beginning of 2018), I resolved to accumulate and read as much foreign literature as possible. Literature from countries that isn’t famous in USA, England, Australia, India or other English literature producing powerhouses. Translations of texts known and unknown; They needn’t be considered national literature but whatever I could gauge from blogs and after scouring the internet. I won’t call myself an anglocentric reader but this year I decided to broaden the horizons more.

My peculiar habit of visiting bookstores and coffee shops whenever I visit a new city has helped me amass books which is definitely Tsundoku in Japanese terms. By reading the books I bought, I would not only clear the backlog but also will try to achieve the goal that I set myself for the year.

I ended up reading a few books, stories, travelogues, biographies, historical narratives, forgotten folk tales. I am yet to gauge what did I learn in the process but it is definitely interesting to see how the idiosyncrasies of an individual, his/her background, formative years, beliefs, thought process, rationality, exposure shape up the writing style and the language used. The entire exercise reflected on the wide range of emotions, temporal, and behavioral differences among the societies providing an inkling to what that micro or macroscopic world sympathizes with.

Life isn’t found only in large cities but finds it ways in nooks and the smallest corners of the world and many of the works dealt with those lives. It is comforting and disconcerting at the same time to have a realization that all of us are an ordinary human being living our ordinary lives on an extraordinary planet. The simple life modeled by love, sorrow, laughter, innocence, desire, vice, and sinister political play.

I won’t bore you with the entire list here but I cherished reading a few of them.

CountryName of the bookAuthor
EstoniaThe Man who spoke snakishAndrus Kivirähk
NetherlandsFreeloaderNescio
FinlandThe Year of the hareArto Paasilinna
IcelandIndependent peopleHalldor Laxness
HungaryMetropoleFerenec Karinthy
KyrgystanJamilaChingiz Aitmatov
ZimbabweThe hairdresser of HarareTendai Huchu

The man who spoke snakish written in a mythical parallel world knows no bounds to the imagination, it presents the constant struggle and doubt that pervades human mind while the central character in The year of the hare seemed to have transcended the bounds of the human world. The entire setting is incredible yet believable.

Metropole is a dystopian world which can make one shudder if something like that happened in real life while Nescio aka J H F Grönloh writes in a simple yet sublime and effective way about the promises of the youth, the perspectives, and win-loss cycle.

I don’t know what I learned from the process whether I successfully finished it or not but I definitely relished it despite knowing the fact many emotions and feelings that words had to convey were simply lost in translation.

Nastasya Filipovna

Finally last evening I was able to have the euphoric feeling of finishing a book from end to end, the feeling quadruples when it is a classic and the cherry on the top is added for I was moving at a snail’s pace. I picked it up in April while I was on my flight to Seattle and since then I have been reading a few pages here and there but over the long weekend I decided to be done with it and could I be any more successful!

I had purchased it for the first time back in 2011 after finishing Crime and Punishment but tsundoku applies to me. When I was in Paris, I did visit Shakespeare and Company, not for the sake of tourism and getting my photograph clicked and put a tick on my checklist but for some other reasons. At the entrance of the store there is a small paragraph written in chalk which intrigued me a lot and that was the tipping point for me to pick that book again.

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Truth be told, many times I did feel a little overwhelmed with inordinate amount of  details and endless dialogues but the development of the characters over a period of time kept me going. I guess a book becomes a classic when it transcends time, it doesn’t have to be didactic but should show the human emotions in most raw and authentic formats without any adulteration. Dostoevsky has always successfully dabbled with the concept of human emotions, the flaws and strengths that we carry with us since our birth and that makes us who we are. The Idiot deals with the human struggle of being a human being. Many times when I have read books from previous centuries, I have wondered have we progressed at all, are we on the right trajectory, will we evolve more emotionally or have we attained the apex point? The Idiot lets you peek into the Russian ideology, Russian society, customs and religion. I could understand the difference between the catholicism and Russian orthodox church and may be that’s one of the point from where the difference stems between Russia and the other western nations.

The book starts with a great pace and builds momentum over a period of time but then many characters jump in as it happens in Russian classics; As I took some time to read the book, I used a cheat sheet to refer to various characters in the story. There were metaphors and allegories used, and I don’t claim that I understood everything but I indeed relished the character development and the storyline of the main characters. The last 20 percent of the book moves at a faster pace compared to the middle part in which many other characters are getting focus and are having their spiritual transformations e.g. Hippolyte is one of them. I felt bad for Aglaya, she was just a normal girl who was with wrong people at wrong place at the wrong time. Myshkin is a typical nice guy but he is indecisive and his behavior with Aglaya infuriated me a little. Roghozin is one of those who think they are entitled to something great and they can have it by hook or crook but if one ignores his lunacy he did love Nastasya that turned into an obsession. The final one was Nastasya Phillipovana, her role in the story is passive for a long period of time except at the beginning and the conclusion. She is indecisive, she loves Myshkin but is convinced that he can’t be happy with her. She is the typical hot mess who has self destructive tendencies and it stems from her past. She reminds me of words of Jon Krakauer – “Some people feel like they don’t deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past”. She knows how her story would end but she audaciously accepts it.

I think some characters alive or dead stay with you and Nastasya is one of them and I thank George Whitman for the introduction.

Kaikki on hyvin

Sitting in a coffee shop’s bar and hitting the keys on my machine incessantly in pursue of  higher accuracy of the mathematical model I was running, I ordered a decaf and looked to my right. A woman sitting besides me glanced at me and pointed at my T shirt which said “Kaikki on hyvin” and asked what is it? I tried to produce a fake smile and responded it means “everything is well” and plugged in my earphone and started working again while listening to “All we need” by Odesza. A few moments later I felt a tug on my sleeve and I was facing another question from my curious neighbor. I paused Spotify and raised my eyebrows with a nod in a questioning form, she wanted to know what language is it. I said “Suomi, I mean Finnish”. She asked a few more questions and said “Everything is well” in a manner marked with a familiar indignation followed by a passive expression. I saw that she was leafing through a book that prompted me to use the expression “What’s it going to be then, eh”, to which she chuckled. I smiled back and resumed my work.

An old bookstore in Tallinn, Estonia

Estonia, once under the iron curtain of Russia is now the most connected country in the world. Its capital city Tallinn indeed feels like a city straight from a fairy tale. From the cloudy skies, cobbled pathways, canopied passages to the orange rooftops, each has direct connection to a dream woven story.

The ochre and other pastel colors in the old town remind me of Gamla Stan in Stockholm and large hanging drapery of sky is a splitting image of the Prussian blue water of Baltic Sea.

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Pastel passages of Tallinn

The city has cool neighborhood, Kalamaja, famous for its wooden architecture. The bohemian and hipster hood akin to certain parts of Brooklyn where I like to hang out. If I were a Finn living in Helsinki I would take a ferry most of the weekends to eat at F-Hoone(May be it means F-building) in the Tellskivi center. The market nearby – Depoo, runs from an old locomotive depot. One side of the market reminds one of the Soviet past of the country. Tchotchke from the yesteryear era find home in the market while the other end is as modern as any other city market.

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F-Hoone, The hipsters paradise

Such medieval city has to have a rich reading culture and I did end up in Raamatukoi opposite the tourist info center in the old town. The Estonian word Raamatukoi means bookcase in English and it indeed is apt given the bookstore is brimming with books – new and old.  The reading skill foundation laid by the Children’s book trust and National book trust acquaints one with Russian literature very early; Seeing the familiar Mir publisher logo on various titles made me smile and was surprised to see a few statements written here and there in Hindi.

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The bookstore sells chiefly old and used books, postcards, old vinyl records and is a pit stop of the history. It holds in itself a historical account of what the country has gone through and has been an eye witness to various churns of time without getting stuck in a time warp.

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Inside Raamatukoi

Rahva Raamat is another bookstore that was well equipped but when I learned that it is a chain bookstore present in entire Estonia, I kept it in the same bucket as Barnes and Nobel. There is something charming about the old, independent bookstores and coffee shops that is comforting.

I wish I had more time to uncover the other parts of the city but the impromptu ship journey from Helsinki turned out to be fruitful and gratifying indeed.

The silver-lining  of Estonia is instead of being held back by its past and playing the blame game as has happened in many post disintegration countries, it chose to start from scratch and build. The strategy has paid really well and Estonians can enjoy the view of their capital city from either Patkuli or Kohtuotsa and breathe the fresh air with pride.

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The orange rooftops of Tallinn from Kohtuotsa

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St. Catherine’s passage (Katariina Käik)

A quiet place to sit

Not very often we find a place where we can gather our thoughts, find solace, have a cup of coffee and browse through an impressive collection of literature – fiction and non fiction. After visiting Auschwitz, I came back to Krakow in the evening and wanted to be at a place that can give me silence for some time. My hostel wasn’t conducive of such ambience so I walked a little south west of my location across the Planty park and reached Massolit books and cafe at Felicjanek 4/2. I entered the quiet bookstore and strolled around, a few people were browsing, a few talking, and a few were working on their computers as in any coffee shop in a big city of USA. I ordered a latte and seated myself in a corner seat besides an old woman who most probably was a teacher and was correcting papers and was nodding her head in disappointment while embellishing the answer sheets in big red circles. IMG_20180609_185244

A few days ago I was in Nordisk Museet in Stockholm and learned about the concept of lighting the spaces and how optics and light designers have revolutionized the concept and the device itself. The Scandinavian region doesn’t get a lot of light for a large part of the year, so artificial lighting is the key but the fundamental principle is to have a smooth transition between darkness and light or vice versa and create an environment that is cosy, comfortable, and makes you calm. While I was sitting there, I could feel those principles in application.

The books on the table in front were the ones which I won’t generally find in your around the corner bookstore unless I go to City lights in San Francisco. Apart from that, the old and used tables here have a charm that needs to be enjoyed again whenever I find myself in Kraków.

 

Guy De Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant can easily be one of the best short story writers that existed on the face of the earth. But as all talented people aren’t perceived normal in society’s eyes, so was he. Maupassant swayed between happiness and sorrow, Emile Zola used to say that he is happiest of the unhappiest people on earth.

After serving in the Franco-Prussian war he spent most of his free time in writing stories and meeting women from different strata of the societies, many of whom became the subject of his stories later in life. He eventually contracted syphilis which later became the cause of his death but his mood used to alter greatly because of his condition and it had an effect on his writing which would have mood swings of a human if personified. His mother had introduced him to Gustav Flaubert who had great influence on him and he urged him to pursue literature and writing on a serious note.

The admirable subjects of his writing are real as life and are taken from various walks of life and their interaction with the rest of the society. Some people could term it as vulgar but he wrote about what he knew and the audience appreciated it. The characters are not deified in his works, they have the natural tendencies and inherit the human flaws. Short stories are special; the characters, the plot, the emotions, the climax all develop simultaneously and the writer has the responsibility to do justice with each of them without considering one or the other as his/her favorite offspring and he has to execute the task in finite number of words without creating a tome. Maupassant was successful in this and that puts him in the cohort that belongs to Munshi Premchand, Anton Chekhov, Natsume Soseki, Allan Poe. He was audacious like Flaubert to write on controversial subjects that gives makes him stand in a cluster of his own.

It takes a thinking brain and strength to create Boule de Suif, Bel Ami, Une Vie, and likes of The Necklace, and Guy de Maupassant had both.

 

Scheltema – The Secret Lives of Color

Scheltema – a book store on Rokin st. near Dam Square in Amsterdam is one of the largest bookstores in Europe and the oldest in Netherlands serving the bibliophiles since 1853.IMG_20180311_122700

When I walked in, some children’s activity was going on and a few volunteers were arranging things. I was scouring for the Tulipmania by Mike Dash for I was interested in how tulips came to a level at one time that single bulb of tulip costed more than cost of a house. It mirrors today’s economy when we think of bitcoin’s surge in past few months.

I finally found it on 4th floor of the store in the history section and sat down on a cosy chair to flip through the pages. There was a lot of moving space around and the place carries the attitude of a young and confident speaker, telling stories coherently in a cogent fashion but I won’t compare it with the capitalism that Barnes and Noble brought to the world.

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Apart from the American Book Center on Spui 12, Scheltema is another place where one can find quality English literature in Amsterdam area.

It’s here I realized how wonderful oil pastel art can be and thus I picked a random book from the shelf named The Secret Lives of Colors. It is so interesting to see the possibility of a book on colors. Soren Kierkegaard said “Is anything more sparkling, more dizzying than the possible?”  The book provided history on many colors, how they were found, what’s the significance, which artists use them, how do they align with the values of various countries, what is/was the economic significance of certain colors. It would lead you to the paths of history where you can find yourself in the multitude of kaleidoscope of  hues and pigments. It is a compendium of answers that will establish the connections such as bard, green, and envy. I wonder what Moilere might be thinking here?

The Shakespeare of Vienna

It is humanly impossible to have all the experiences of the world (at least that’s my belief at this point of time) but the paper friends come in handy there. Books are the portals to  unknown adventures, we can live a thousand lives and experience myriad emotions at the same time. In the era of kindles and nooks there is something about the independent bookstores that allures a tumbleweed. The unkempt bookshelves with piles of books packed tightly in close quarters such that various characters and the plots can talk to each other from various stories.  Akin to vast empty space where you can drift forever or stumble upon something which will be your moment of truth, they epitomize the brain of a someone who wants to know it all but is busy scouring the pieces that are yet to be uncovered.

A week ago during a cold and wet winter evening in Vienna, I stumbled upon this bookstore – Shakespeare and Company booksellers, and was I delighted. I was roaming around the old part of the city and it started raining heavily, I took refuge under a window sill to open my bag and get umbrella out and that’s when I saw this bookstore from a distance and I knew immediately that I have to go in.

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The charm of old bookstores is never fading, there is a sense of comfort in the ramshackle appearance and the disorganization. They are like human beings growing old over a period of time and accepting one’s flaws and being humble about it but not apologetic.

The bookstore is located on Stergasse and near Rupert’s church and Stephansplatz. The readers and writers have to go in for a time travel while walking in the labyrinth of this place on creaking wooden floors to get their dose of stimulant.

Tumbleweed

When you find yourself in unknown parts of the world, trying to finish some work assignment or a presentation while nibbling on your croissant and listening to some white noise to gain concentration,

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always try to find some time for yourself, to gather your thoughts, to introspect and retrospect, to write your thoughts down to crystallize the concoctions of your brain over a cup of coffee and to listen to some music to enjoy those stolen moments,

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because it is important to find your own story at the end. The story of our life to break us free from ourselves and from the tangible and intangible object, so even if our body can’t walk through walls and obstructions but our imagination and soul can.

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