“I was never happier than with my nose in a book, tea next to me, and maybe a couple of chocolate chip cookies on a plate. Add in rain against the window and I was in heaven.”
Robbie works at the post office in an idyllic English village. The post office houses a café and a reading area, where people meet to discuss and exchange books, while sipping tea and relishing cakes. An elderly lady, Maggie, who loved books and reading and baking, and had bought the building that houses the post office and café, passes away, bequeathing the entire property to Robbie, while the rest of her estate has been willed to Jason, an American writer. As far as the villagers know, Maggie never had any family and lived her whole life alone in the village.
At the center of the story is a collection of limited edition books by Monroe Kitchener that Maggie has addressed to Robbie. Over repeated attempts to recreate Maggie’s famed applesauce cake, Robbie tries to figure out why Maggie left her property to him. What connection does she have with Monroe Kitchener? And who is the American now living in her cottage? Are all these questions somehow inextricably linked to Maggie’s past that the villagers know nothing of? As the secret ingredients to the applesauce cake slowly reveal themselves, an ephemeral story from Maggie’s past also starts unravelling from over seven decades ago.
A pleasant story to read on a rainy day, with tea and baked treats – just like Maggie would have enjoyed it. The writing however doesn’t match up to the story and is a bit of a letdown with its lack of structure. The characters aren’t well sketched out, and with the exception of Maggie, we know nothing about anyone else. Too much print space is spent on Robbie and Jason, but without any real character development. The mystery of Maggie’s past, the story behind the books and their author Monroe Kitchener are all rushed through. All-in-all, an excellent story line that lacked in presentation. Recommended as a one-time read, but a better writer could have made this book a lot more memorable.
“Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.”
Recommending two books on the occasions of International Yoga Day and World Music Day.
“The Goddess Pose” is a biography of Indra Devi – the woman who brought Yoga to the West in the early twentieth century, from where the practice rose to the global phenomenon it continues to be.
In “Master on Masters“, veteran musician and sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan writes about the lives of some of the greatest icons of Indian classical music, having known many of the stalwarts personally – all eminent musicians of the twentieth century.
Have you read either of these books? Are there any other non-technical books (memoirs, biographies, stories) on these subjects you would recommend?
Halfway through the ‘Birthday Bookathon’. As part of the yearly goals I set on my birthday each year, my reading goal for this year was world literature in translation – an ode to translators, without whom many of the books we read would not be accessible to us unless we knew every single language in the world. I have selected languages from each letter of the English alphabet, and the aim is to read one book (at least) from each of the languages corresponding to a letter. I began on the 14th of November (my birth date). Today we are at the half way mark, and these were the books finished in the past six months.
~Albanian – The Accident – Ismail Kadare
~Bangla – The Greatest Bengali Stories Ever Told – Arunava Sinha
~Cantonese – Never Grow Up – Zhu Mo
~Danish – The Last Good Man – A.J.Kazinski
~German – The Bird Is A Raven – Benjamin Lebert
~Hungarian – Iza’s Ballad – Magda Szabó
~Italian – Six Characters in Search of an Author – Luigi Pirandello
~Japanese – The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa
~Persian – The Blind Owl – Sadegh Hedayat
~Russian – The Heart of a Dog – Mikhail Bulgakov
~Swedish – The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden – Jonas Jonasson
~Turkish – Istanbul Istanbul – Burhan Sönmez
This is the original blog-post I had written on my birthday when I started the reading list. Another fourteen more languages to go. 🙂 I am trying to keep one language for each alphabet, but I also have books from more languages, which will be read as I get the time.
I thought it would be apt to end April by reading a subject the month is dedicated to. April is celebrated as Autism Awareness Month, to raise awareness about people with autism spectrum disorders. “Sam & Chester” is about a child, Sam, who lost the ability to speak and function properly at age two. The toddler who was seemingly growing “normally”, suddenly cut off from the world, grew increasingly isolated, and often suffered meltdowns. He was officially diagnosed as autistic at age four. Chester was a tiny ginger piglet, the only brown one in a litter of white piglets – the one that no one wanted. “Sam & Chester” is the story of two children who didn’t seem to fit into their worlds, and found solace in each other. Sam’s mother, Jo (the author of the book), beautifully describes the relationship between her son and his pet cum best friend, as they help each other get through life.
The beauty of this book is that it is not just a book about our animal friends. Jo Bailey touches on a cornucopia of themes within the book. Just as autism is a spectrum disorder, Jo delves into various subjects surrounding her son’s life. Ultimately it is not about a child with autism, but a family with autism – everyone in the child’s immediate surroundings is affected by and responsible for the child’s development. Jo describes her own divorce with her husband – touching the topic of how relationships between parents of a special child are affected, the shift of blame, or denial of the condition altogether. Striking balance when one child is autistic and one is not – how does one differentiate between a meltdown related to autism, or a regular tantrum by a child? When the autistic child is the older sibling, and the younger sibling shows faster developmental gains, how is the relationship between siblings affected? How much of a role do grandparents and cousins play? And of course, the presence of pets in the lives of special children. Autism is characterized by a lack of verbal communication, and animals seem to instinctively build a connection – they can teach communication and empathy without saying a word. Chester brings a whole new light to the narration. Pigs are considered the fifth most intelligent animals in the world – even higher than dogs. They are more trainable than dogs, have better focus than chimps, and excellent memory. A great many learnings here about an unconventional pet.
Many books have been written on similar themes, but Sam & Chester strikes a chord on many levels. It is not just the story of a boy, but also the story of a mother. And Jo Bailey does a commendable job in bringing her family’s story to us. You don’t need to be an animal lover to read this book; it is powerful on many counts.
Autism Awareness Month is celebrated in April, with April 2nd being the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day. Let’s meet the Schneider twins. Alex and Jamie are identical twin brothers, diagnosed at 21 months of age as being severely autistic. Neither can communicate verbally, they cannot cross the street alone, and display self-injurious behaviors. But with running shoes on and a spring in their steps, they’re making a statement larger than any words can convey. They are runners. Alex ran the Suffolk County Marathon in 2016 in 2:56:20 (finishing in second place overall), and completed the NYC Marathon of 2017 in 2:50:05, his personal best. The siblings have run 26 marathons and over 400 races in all, with Alex even having run ultrathons. The boys are also accomplished pianists.
Now 28, the Schneider twins started running when they were 15. Their mother Robyn Schneider reveals how the family had heard about a running club that paired experienced runners with those with developmental disabilities. According to coaches Shaunthy Hughes and Mike Kelly of the Rolling Thunder Running Club, Alex and Jamie were natural runners; the only hurdle being finding a running partner for Alex who was exceptionally fast along with being especially gifted. The boys didn’t know when to stop, and would only stop when told to do so. They didn’t understand pacing, and every run was a race. Kevin McDermott then became Alex’s personal coach, and under his tutelage and methodical training, Alex consistently began setting new records each year. The boys participated in numerous races for their high school cross country team. After eleven years of coaching Alex, McDermott moved away in 2017, from where Boyd Carrington and Sal Nastasi took over.
Robyn runs shorter races with Jamie, and her husband Allan runs with him on longer distances. The boys have limited communication skills but display receptive language – they require simple words and slight gestures to understand and respond. They cannot fathom how long a race is and will only stop when they cross the finish line. When the Boston bombings levelled the finish line in 2013, Alex had already completed the race, while Jamie was still on the route with their father (ultimately being stopped and ushered away at mile 22). They don’t know the difference between a 5K and a marathon. They won’t eat or drink if food and water are not offered. They have no sense of the weather or temperature. Their coaches pace them to direct them through the course, hydrate them when thirsty, remove hazardous obstacles on the route, offer a jacket if it’s cold, are attentive to road crossings – all requiring great diligence and responsibility that goes beyond merely training an athlete to finish strong.
Tommy Des Brisay was a highly active child. He began walking at 8 months of age, bounced on his trampoline for hours on end, and slept only 3 hours a night. He was diagnosed with autism at age two, and would run whenever he was stressed or upset. Running was all he knew – without comprehending traffic, weather, strangers – thereby exposing himself to all sorts of dangers. When he was fourteen, his father took him along on his daily run, hoping to channelize his movement. “Take something someone is instinctively driven to do and make it into a positive“, says his mother Mary Ann. The medications he was taking to cope with the challenging symptoms of autism, caused Tommy to battle weight issues. Consistent training helped him shed 35 pounds and brought down his 5k race timings to 24 minutes. The first time he won a race, he was confused about where everyone else was, so he turned back and ran the route again. Tommy, who will turn 27 this month, now runs the 5k at 15:17, a half marathon at 1:10:34, and a full marathon at 2:38:50. He “passes time” on the route by reciting lines or singing songs from his favorite movies. The speedy timings don’t sync with the seriousness of the runner, because he doesn’t realize he’s competing. According to his dad, Tommy’s pace usually keeps him surrounded by serious runners who look at him in bewilderment while they’re breathing hard and he’s humming a tune from a Disney movie.
Scientists are beginning to explore what makes running as a sport a potent tool for people with autism. Autism is a spectrum disorder with a wide range of symptoms and behaviors, along with individual variations that go along with it. The spectrum is primarily characterized by deficits in social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests and activities. Both, the Schneider as well as Brisay families, have pointed out how running has reduced anxiety in their children. It increases their social circle, giving them opportunities to practice their language and communication skills. Over the ten years that Tommy has been a runner, he has been less reliant on medication and experienced fewer meltdowns. Tommy did not speak till he was seven and his verbal abilities only grew through his teens, which his parents credit to running as being the catalyst. Research has also confirmed what both families have noticed with regards to running and autism. At the Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy section in the 2016 Pediatrics Annual Conference, researchers from Achilles International and New York Medical College presented the findings of their studies on autism and running. Statistically significant improvements in social awareness, cognition, endurance, communication and motivation, and fewer restrictive and repetitive behaviors were seen in those who ran for a minimum of two days a week. While exercise in general can benefit people on the spectrum, running offers it’s own unique advantages.
Mikey Brannigan is one of the most prominent runners known to be on the autism spectrum. He was diagnosed with autism at 18 months of age, and couldn’t speak until he was five. Team sports were out as he couldn’t understand rules and scored for opposing teams. When he was fourteen, his dad Kevin took him to Rolling Thunder (the same club where the Schneider twins trained), where he was found to keep up with older and more seasoned runners. Organized running got him on the high school varsity team, and by senior year he was one of the top runners in the country. According to his mother Edie, running also brought about boosts in his academics. In August 2016, the then 20 year old shattered the four minute mile barrier, running at 3:57. Brannigan hopes to make the US Paralympic team in 2020 or 2024. Jonathan Bruno was diagnosed with autism at age two and a half, and was sixteen when he joined Rolling Thunder. He ran his first full marathon in 4:48:08 at the 2008 NYC Marathon. He has run 10 NYC marathons and 8 Boston marathons so far, along with one 50k Ultrathon, running for various charities. According to his brother Verlaine, he doesn’t understand the concepts of pace or time and needs help with reading and directions.
19 year old Zoe Jarvis runs a 5:16 mile and credits running to helping her make more friends. The running community is inclusive and a runner is a runner, says Tommy Brisay’s dad. “He’s not an autistic guy or a different guy, he’s just a guy running“. 21 year old Grace Ling was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age eight, and credits running to giving her the motivation to do things. Andrew Novis, 55, is also afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome (one among the autism spectrum disorders), and ran his 18th Boston Marathon in 2017 in 3:11:24. He runs both marathons and ultrathons. “You can choose to look at autism as a disability or as a collection of abilities“, says Tommy Brisay’s mom, and it holds true for all these runners on the spectrum.
Repetitive behaviors, fixated interests, strict adherence to routines – all characteristic of autism – are also helpful for training. Coaches of runners with autism need to be diligent about their athletes being impervious to pain and not communicating about pain the way other runners might. People with autism are usually prescribed occupational therapy, speech therapy, applied behavior analysis, and social skills groups. According to Russell Lang, director of the Clinic for Autism Research, Evaluation and Support at Texas State University, all conditions do not require complex interventions. How does one decide which form of intervention is better than the other? Most professionals recommend exercise only to counteract weight gain as a side effect of medications prescribed to manage symptoms associated with autism. Exercise, however, could eliminate the need for or reduce the dosage of these medications in the first place. (Christopher McDougle, Lurie Centre for Autism). According to Tommy Brisay’s dad, running is the best medication for his son. Russell Lang reiterates how running as a sport emphasizes repetitive behavior, which aligns itself well with the characteristics of autism.
The beauty of language is that it opens up so many new avenues of communication. We can talk to more people, watch movies and read books in their original form, learn about different cultures. This blog site features write-ups mostly in English to cater to a wider reader base. When I post in any other language, the English translation follows the original post. I started learning German a few months ago, and have been attempting to read books in the original language, on the recommendations of librarians. The past few weeks have been busy, and I just finished my Deutsch A1 exam yesterday. I’ve barely even scratched the surface of the vast expanse of German literature. Like every little drop adding to the ocean, we start with baby steps and gradually increase our strides towards bigger things.
This is a review of the book Miss Hamburg. I’m attempting to write in German (and the English translation will follow below).
Der Buchtitel – Miss Hamburg
Die Autoren – Theo Scherling und Elke Burger
Genre – Fiktion
Sprache – Deutsch
Ein Buch aus der Leo & Co. Serie – des Bücher über eine Kneipe. Leo is einen Maler und eine leidenschaftlicher Koch, und Besitzer der Kneipe “Leo & Co.” Unsere Protagonistin Anna ist eine Studentin, die Teilzeit in der Kneipe arbeitet. Anna liest eine Anzeige von einer Modelagentur und möchte mit einem professionellen Portfolio einsteigen. Ihre Freundin Veronika, Boss Leo und Oma Trude, zusammen mit dem Fotograf Kai helfen Anna dabei. Ihr anderer Freund Paco scheint es nicht glücklich, dass Anna mit dem Modeln anfängt. Das Buch führt uns durch die Reise diese Gruppe von Charakteren, die Anna bei ihrer Verwandlung von der Kellnerin zum Model unterstützen und im Miss Hamburg-Wettbewerb beenden. Nervenkitzel, Missverständnisse, Freundschaften, Familie – der Leser wird zussamen mit Anna.
Eine mittelmäßige und kurz Geschichte. Gut herausgeätzte Charaktere und eine interessante Übersicht, die von Klischees ferngehalten wird. Eine etwas ausgedehnte Erzählung hätte das Leseerlebnis verbessert. Das Buch wird von einer Audio-CD begleitet, die eine große Hilfe ist, um die Aussprache beim Erlernen einer neuen Sprache zu üben.
Empfehlenswert, wenn Sie Bücher mit einfachen Handlungssträngen mögen – aber ohne Klischees – die menschliche Gefühle berühren.
Bewertung – 3/5
For English readers,
Title – Miss Hamburg
Authors – Theo Scherling and Elke Burger
Genre – Fiction
Language – German
A book from the Leo & Co. series – a number of books featuring various incidents surrounding a pub of the same name. Leo is a painter and passionate cook, who runs the pub “Leo and Co.” Our protagonist Anna is a student who works part-time at the pub. Anna chances upon an ad by a modelling agency, and wishes to enter by creating a professional portfolio. Her friend Veronika, boss Leo, and grandma Oma Trude, along with Kai the photographer, encourage and help Anna in the endeavor. Her other friend Paco doesn’t seem too keen on Anna taking up modelling. The book takes us through the journey of this motley group of characters as they assist Anna in her transformation from waitress to model, culminating in the Miss Hamburg contest. Thrills, apprehensions, misunderstandings, friendships, family – the reader is taken on a roller coaster along with Anna.
A mediocre story line, which I felt passed too swiftly. Well etched out characters, and an interesting synopsis that stay away from clichés. A little drawn out narration would have enhanced the reading experience and given us more time with each character and their role in Anna’s life. The book is accompanied by an audio CD, which is a great aid to practice pronunciations when learning a new language.
Recommended if you like books with simple story lines – but without clichés – that touch on human emotions.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Günter Grass, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Heinrich Böll, Franz Kafka, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche – whether literature or philosophy, German writers have given us some of the finest works in novels, short stories, and non-fiction. Several literary gems have been made accessible to us through translators. The curiosity over what might be lost in translation, however, coupled with the quest to read what the original writer has written, in his/her own words, is something that drives me to learn new languages. The ocean of these literary giants is too vast to dive into so soon, so I’m momentarily dipping my toes into the smallest pond of German literature.
This site has not seen many write-ups lately, because I started German classes a few months ago. I have daily lectures, along with working full-time, and haven’t had much time to write.
So, I just finished reading my first German book – EINE SPEZIELLE BAND by Sabine Werner. I will attempt to write a full review in German in a separate post. For the time being, this is a YA book featuring its protagonist Michael who hates school, doesn’t like the area he lives in, and doesn’t get along with the kids around him. His only happiness lies in music – listening to his favorite musicians and trying to recreate their music on his guitar. At a concert one day, a chance encounter with a random stranger and fellow music lover, leads him to being invited to join a band. And thus we set out on a musical journey with this group of youngsters who love hearing and making music.
Sabine Werner narrates a simple story, accompanied with beautiful illustrations for each chapter. The book came along with an audio CD. I highly recommend audio accompaniments when learning a new language. Often, even voracious readers mispronounce words since they’ve only read them and never heard them. When starting a language from scratch, it is important to learn correct spellings and pronunciations. The audio uses different voices for the various characters, which is a good learning aid since people speak differently, even in the same language. There are questions pertaining to each chapter, so the reader can practice how much of the text has been understood at the end of every chapter. Interspersed between chapters, are a handful of pages sharing general information about Germany – something that relates to the chapter you just finished, as well as educates about the country’s culture.
A beautiful package of reading and hearing a delightful story. A must-read for music lovers, or those looking for a simple story on friendships and life surrounding music. It’s always a sense of achievement to learn something new. As a reader, studying a new language gives one access to a whole new ocean of literature in its true form. The giants of German literature are still a long way off, but baby steps with easier books will get me closer there some day.
P.S. If there are any German speaking bloggers who follow this blog, your suggestions and recommendations on German books to read will be highly appreciated.
When curiosity flares up and you can’t help yourself…
The first picture was taken about three years ago, when my older cat was obstructing my Italian lessons. The second picture features the newest kitten in the household snooping around my German workbook. They’re not called curious cats for nothing! 😸
The year takes off with a literary bang! The first book of the year and what a treat it has been. In continuation with my Birthday Reading Goals of reading translated books from languages starting with each letter of the English alphabet, I had selected this literary masterpiece from Iran for Persian.
“There are sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a kind of canker.” When a book opens with such haunting lines, you marvel at the author’s ability to keep the reader hooked from the start, and at the same time to not discourage one with its morose theme. According to folk lore, screech owls are considered to be harbingers of death. The Blind Owl is considered as one of the major literary works of the twentieth century, and is a story of romance as much as it can be seen as autobiographical. The story opens with an unnamed narrator – a painter of pen cases – who has confined himself to a room, as he lumbers about within its four walls thinking of death, and gives the reader glimpses into his murderous thoughts as he shares his writings with the shadow on the wall. “My shadow on the wall had become exactly like an owl and, leaning forward, read intently every word I wrote. He understood perfectly. Only he was capable of understanding.” The narrator considers only solitude and his shadow as friends, to the extent of believing his shadow to be more real than himself. “The shadow that I cast upon the wall was much denser and more distinct than my real body.” He is in poor health and is waiting to die, while remembering an unrequited love that brought him to this state. Or maybe his ill health caused his love to be unrequited in the first place. Who knows for sure? “Was not my room a coffin? This bed that was always unrolled, inviting me to sleep, was it not colder and darker than the grave?” Is he waiting for death, or considers himself dead already (as he often refers to himself as a living corpse)? Who are the familiar faces he sees, and what are the experiences he remembers as already having experienced in another life?
The narrative spans different times and eras, but the writing is almost surreal and leaves you wondering whether you’re reading about the same person or different people. We know the unnamed narrator is sinking into despair after the death of a loved one, and his own worsening health. But which one was the cause and which one is the effect? “I would cut up her body, pack it in a suitcase, take it away with me to some place far, very far from people’s eyes.” The writing swirls with memories, dreams, nightmares, a gory past, a fearful future, a confusing present, leaving the reader to figure out what is actually happening and which parts are in the head of a madman. Sightings or hallucinations? Dreams or reality? “It seems as though I have forgotten how to talk to the people of this world, to living people” , writes the narrator. So can we, as readers, be sure of what he writes for us?
Hedayat seamlessly weaves the overlapping narratives, often reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s morbid themes, but makes you read in awe as his writing, without for a moment, causes the book to appear sad. (The novel was originally banned in Iran with the reason that it made people suicidal.) He teases the reader with ironic lines from his narrator like, “How sick I am of well-constructed plots and brilliant writing!” But it is this very writing that makes this book so brilliant and a treat for literary enthusiasts. In spite of the narrator’s obsession with death, the lines are beautifully composed.
“Death was murmuring his song in my ear like a stammering man who is obliged to repeat each word and who, when he has come to the end of a line, has to begin it afresh.”
“It seemed a miracle to me that I had not dissolved in the bath like a lump of salt.”
“The fact of dying is a fearful thing in itself but the consciousness that one is dead would be far worse.”
Some more beautifully constructed figures of speech:
“It was more pleasant to sit in the dark, that dense liquid which permeates everything and every place.”
“The sun, like a golden knife, was steadily paring away the edge of the shade beside the walls.”
“The interlocking trees with their wry, twisted branches seemed in the darkness to be gripping one another by the hand for fear they should slip and crash to the ground.”
“The night was departing on tip-toe. One felt that it had shed sufficient of its weariness to enable it to go its way.”
Several lines strike a chord of what haunts us as humans – fear of death, loss of time, soul searching, hope, random musings being universal themes.
“I stood in front of the mirror and stared at my face. The reflection was unfamiliar to me. It was frightening.”
“What do days and months matter? Time has no meaning for one who is lying in the grave.”
“If it were possible for my being to dissolve in one drop of ink, in one bar of music, in one ray of colored light…”
“Silence is a language which we do not understand.”
“All my life has passed within four walls.” I read somewhere about Hedayat’s writing – it is meant to be an experience in itself, and not a book about an experience.The themes are dark, but the lyrical prose shines a light on what great writing truly is. The Blind Owl was originally published in 1937 in Bombay (India), and only released in Hedayat’s native Iran in 1941. The novel was written when Hedayat was a student in Paris in 1930, and ironically, the French translation by Roger Lescot during WWII was what first brought it popularity. The English version by Costello (which I read) was published in 1957. Hedayat committed suicide at age forty-eight, following years of addiction and disillusionment. (He allocated money for his burial, closed up the doors and windows and turned on the gas in his apartment in the heart of Paris city, where The Blind Owl was written years ago.)
Another one of those books where a review cannot do sufficient justice. It needs to be read to be experienced. The book has been translated into numerous languages, and much gratitude needs to be expressed to the translators who make such wonderful literature accessible to readers everywhere.