Ever heard of sensation novels? No? Me, neither until I met A Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, published in 1859. For the most part I listened, rather than read the book, courtesy of Librivox.org. I’ve sampled many audiobooks at this site and I take my hats off to volunteers who’ve dedicated precious time and energy to bring classic literature to people who prefer to … Continue reading A Sensation of the Victorian Age: Wilkie Collins’ A Woman in White
L’Assommoir is a veritable tearjerker. The saddest women’s fiction ever. Emile Zola, in Book #7 of his Rougon-Macquart cycle directs his Victorian male gaze on Gervaise, sister of Lisa and the female protagonist of The Belly of Paris (third book in the cycle). But Zola’s gaze, as you might expect, is neither fleeting nor superficial. His perception is filtered through the viewpoint of “literary naturalism.” … Continue reading Emile Zola’s Uncompromizing Victorian Male Gaze: L’Assommoir (The Dram Shop)
If Àlain Badiou, greatest living French philosopher—that is, according to his compatriots—writes a book called In Praise of Love, wouldn’t you pay attention? After all, love is an ever fascinating subject and some of the greatest philosophers are French (Voltaire, Descartes, Sartre to name a few). And the French are up there as some of the world’s greatest lovers (after the Spaniards, Italians, and Brazilians—all … Continue reading In Praise Of Love—But What Is It, Really?
Have you read Love In The Time Of Cholera? Have you been as enchanted by it as so many people and big reviewers seem to have been? The Christian Science Monitor thinks it’s boldly romantic, profoundly imaginative, fully imagined work of fiction that expands our sense of life’s infinite possibilities. I don’t quite grasp the difference between “profoudly imaginative” and “fully imagined” but “life’s infinite … Continue reading My Feminist Sensibility vs. Love In The Time Of Cholera
In the cramped studio we rented when we first stayed in Paris a few months, a well-worn paperback of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast lay on top of three or four books on a night table. The intriguing title was familiar, the first few pages beguiling. I “knew” Hemingway, having read two of his books. Reading about 1920s Paris in Paris? Who could resist? Besides, … Continue reading Hemingway’s Paris of the Twenties: A Moveable Feast
Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. I heard those names spoken with some reverence by my professor of Western Thought, a course deemed essential to round out all college degrees by the university I was attending. In the next breath, the professor uttered, “Existentialism.” Even now, I’m not entirely sure what the word means although its precepts (or at least some of them) are … Continue reading The Existential Life: Left Bank: Art, Passion and the Rebirth of Paris 1940-1950
I can’t remember the last time I bought a cookbook. Until My Paris Kitchen, by David Lebovitz. The ones I have, I hardly ever consult anymore, since I have my own collection of recipes all organized in my iPad recipe app. But for me, if you throw in certain magic words, then I could be tempted to shell out a few dollars—I splurged on a … Continue reading My Paris Kitchen by David Leibovitz
The internet, streaming video, and discs have made films timeless. Here are two I liked very much, but they’re not for everyone. Coriolanus Different times. Morphed characters. The same story. Coriolanus, the film, attests to the timelessness of truths Shakespeare wrote about—in this case, that we haven’t yet conquered our hunger for war. Men’s ambitions, beliefs, and/or desire for revenge still lead to destruction. … Continue reading War, Two Viewpoints—Coriolanus and In the Land of Blood and Honey
Why Emile Zola’s title has been translated as The Masterpiece isn’t very clear to me. Literally, l’œuvre means “the work;” “masterpiece is “chef d’œuvre.” Zola’s main character, artist Claude Lantier, actually fails to produce a masterpiece. It isn’t even obvious that Claude thinks of the large piece he’s been working on as a potential chef d’œuvre. He is obsessed by it—that’s clear enough. But as … Continue reading Emile Zola’s L’Œuvre (The Masterpiece): Fine Line Between Artistic Genius and Mental Illness?
Les Halles in Paris—do you know it? Unless you’re into a bit of French history, you may not. It doesn’t exist anymore, demolished in 1969/70, its centennial year. It was a huge market, much of it housed in at least ten pavilions of glass and iron designed by Victor Baltard. Plus a big domed central pavilion that later became the Bourse de Commerce, the French … Continue reading Emile Zola’s The Belly of Paris: Celebration of Food or Satire?
Disbelief. That’s my initial reaction as I follow the life of orphan master’s son, Jun Do, in Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. Is this really what life is like in North Korea? Lives subjected to unrelenting propaganda from its one radio station, and unrelenting trauma, probably almost from birth if you’re an orphan? As he grows up, Jun … Continue reading Adam Johnson’s North Korea: Fiction as Trauma Narrative
“War is nasty; war is fun, War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.” Harvard University President Drew Faust borrows this quote to illustrate that war fascinates because it is a paradox. The remark actually comes from Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien about the “awful majesty of combat.” For films and books, war is a readymade but challenging setting … Continue reading War Stories: Why they may be worth your time
A story of a woman full of angst. A woman whom modern, educated women can relate to. But only to some extent. Meredith Ruth (MR) Neukirchen is the first woman president of an Ivy League university. That alone makes her totally unique. She’s achieved the pinnacle, a plum usually denied women, even those with her background and ambition. But what’s more remarkable about MR is … Continue reading Joyce Carol Oates—Mudwoman
How much of life is made up of coincidences? And is coincidence Fate? Or is it Chance? I think these questions are at the heart of Antoine Laurain’s novel, The Red Notebook. When a guy called Laurent finds a discarded stolen bag on top of a bin, a bag that he later learns belongs to a woman named Laure—is that fate or chance? On the … Continue reading Fate in Fiction: Antoine Laurain’s The Red Notebook
I picked up the Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway because of my interest in music. But I find that it’s more like a meditation on the senselessness of war than a story on some theme regarding the power of music. The novel has no clear beginning, middle and end. Maybe, that’s how it should be. The story happens during a real war, when Sarajevo … Continue reading The Cellist of Sarajevo’s Tribute to Victims of Ethnic Hatred
I suppose in a large country like India you can see life in as many ways as you can imagine it to unfold. But in the poorest hovels of that huge country the reality is that life unfolds in ways you’ve never imagined. Ways that make you wonder how people can endure them. Ways that coax your admiration for a resilient social class whose existence … Continue reading Stark Truth: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
The telling of a terrible event seems somehow more compelling when done from the point of view of a child. We often assume that a child does not have the biases of an adult to color his perception. We also assume that he’s less likely to lie when recounting what he sees. On the other hand, lack of a life history may mean a child … Continue reading Cruelty Knows No Bounds: In The Country of Men by Hisham Matar
How much do you know about sex? Probably less than you think. That’s how I felt, anyway, after reading The Story of Sex, a delightful book on sex. I first came across The Story of Sex in an article in theguardian.com with a long, formidable title: A graphic history of sex: ‘There is no gene that drives sexuality. All sexuality is learned. As if that … Continue reading The French do it again: An irresistible Story of Sex
I anticipated a great read with Reading Lolita in Tehran. It tackles two of my main interests—a woman’s journey through life, and her experience living in a culture quite different from that I live in. I strongly empathized with what I saw to be its underlying themes. But after reading pages and pages full of details to support those themes, I thought, okay, I get … Continue reading Mature Iranian Women’s Kinship with Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita—Reading Lolita in Tehran
Forty years after the end of the war in Vietnam comes a widely-acclaimed, generously awarded début novel—The Sympathizer: A Novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen, published by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. in 2015. I’m going to throw in my two-cents worth among the throng of gushing admirers of this 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning novel (plus at least five other awards), because this work says something essential to me. … Continue reading Vietnam War, A Retrospective: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer