A dialogue about Han Kang, The Vegetarian

This article has been orignally published on the Italian site Bookavenue on the 14th of February 2017. 

the-vegetarian-han-kangDear readers,

we have decided to review in a different way Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”, winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2016. Notwithstanding its conciseness, it’s a book that generates lacerating questions, emotions and thoughts. The text below is a dialogue between two of us: the director of Bookavenue Michele – between Rome and Padua – and Silvia, in Frankfurt.

Despite the distance, this exchange has made us feel close as if we were sitting in front of a coffee. Isn’t it what we feel when we share a good book? Thus, this article is the result of a conversation: a rare experiment both online (apart from interviews) and in printed magazines.

In Bookavenue, it has already happened that more than one member of the editorial staff gave an opinion on the same book, but this time is different. We have been prompted by the urgency of sharing an experience that has been important for both of us and by the necessity to understand it deeper. We have not written our opinions, but our emotions.

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Douglas Coupland, Generation A

This article was originally published in Italian on Bookavenue

I remembered bees. I remembered seeing them in spring among the bloodroot, the yellow goat’s beard and the swamp buttercups in my grandparents’ back ditch – happy, industrious, slightly furry and oh-so doomed. Then they began to flee their hives, and before there was even time to figure out why, they were all gone.

generation-a-9781439157022_hrThe Book Club meeting takes place in the heart of Frankfurt, in the courtyard of a quiet pub. At last, I have managed to book a seat in this circle devoted to wine and books. Today I am interested in the topic, that is the problem of environment in a narrative text. It’s a beautiful evening and the city looks at itself in the river like a picture by Van Gogh. By my side walks the metaphor of a society that considers itself attentive to ecology: a tramp is collecting empty plastic bottles in order to gain the return money. A bee rests on my knee: is it a sign? Probably yes, since the novel we will speak about tonight is Generation A by Douglas Coupland, a post-atomic Decameron on the end of the human species and the salvific power of narration. Continue reading

Orhan Pamuk, A Strangeness in my Mind

This article was originally published in Italian on Bookavenue

novel-of-istanbul-orhan-pamuk

Being the Adventures and Dreams of Mevlut Karataş, a Seller of Boza, and of His Friends, and Also a Portrait of Life in Istanbul Between 1969 and 2012 From Many Different Points of View.

On the 9th of November 2015, Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk launched his last novel at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington. The first question by writer and journalist Elliot Ackerman was: why such a subtitle? Pamuk told an anecdote. During a lesson at Columbia University, where he teaches Art of the Novel, he said something like this: “…and as you know, Anna Karenina commits suicide”. A student interrupted him: “Professor! Please! Don’t’ spoil the ending!”

I imagined the scene in a Hollywood “Dead Poets Society” style: Professor Pamuk-Keating stops for a moment, his eyes and body frozen on the last sentence. He needs some seconds to realize, then he turns his back on the class and walks to the chair. He puts Anna Karenina on the table. Well, in truth he slams it on the table, then looks at the students again and says:

A. NOVEL. IS. NOT. ITS. PLOT. IS IT CLEAR?! Continue reading

Alice Munro, gothic queen in Friend of My Youth

Originally published in Italian on Bookavenue

It will take you 7 minutes to read this article

Once upon a time there was a child who listened to a story. The story was The Little Mermaid and it was so sad that the child decided to rewrite it. She began going to school and the school was far away. Since she had a long walk every day, she started inventing stories to fill the time. Until 2013 – she was 82 years old at this point – when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature with this motivation: “Master of the contemporary short story”.

In place of the traditional lecture in the presence of the Swedish Academy, Alice Munro gave an interview titled In Her Own Words. Wearing a grey cardigan in front of a white window, she introduced herself as one of her stories: pretending that she had nothing to show apart from an anonymous Canadian road. About those early days she says: “Generally, [it was] a very satisfying story from my point of view, with the general idea of the little mermaid’s bravery, that she was clever…”, because “she deserved more than death on the water”. “In those early days the important thing was the happy ending, I did not tolerate unhappy endings. […] And later on I began to read things like Wuthering Highs, and very unhappy endings would take place, so I changed my ideas completely and went for the tragic, which I enjoyed”. The interviewer also asks her how her writing has changed growing older: “Oh, well, in a very predictable way. You start out writing about young princesses and then you write about housewives and children and later on about old women, and this just goes on, without your necessarily trying to do anything to change that. Your vision changes”.

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Azar Nafisi and the subversive power of literature

 

Iranian writer Azar Nafisi has written her last book in 2014, titled The Republic of Imagination. I haven’t read it yet, but a couple of years ago I wrote a review about her previous works. It is a short essay about her two wonderful memoirs – Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I’ve been Silent About, but I also mentioned a lecture she gave in Rome in 2004. The main theme is the subversive power of imagination and the political, empathic role of literature. Besides, I was particularly stunned by Nafisi’s analysis of the role of family as the first model of tyranny and the liberating power of books. All the links are taken from Azar Nafisi’s website, where you can also read excerpts from the two works.

Article first published in Italian on Leggere Donna, 157/2012, Tufani Publishing

Reading Lolita in TehranWhat we search for in fiction”, writes Azar Nafisi at the beginning of the novel that has made her famous worldwide,“is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth”. The expression holds the essence of her entire work and is the advice she used to give her students, a group of Tehran girls who “had both a real history and a fabricated one”. From 1995 to 1997 they periodically met at her house, in a clandestine literary salon. The meetings – described in Reading Lolita in Tehran – went on with resolution in spite of the dictatorship and were all dedicated to the most “wanted” subversives of the Iranian Republic: Truth and Beauty. Writes Nafisi: “We were, to borrow from Nabokov, to experience how the ordinary pebble of ordinary life could be transformed into a jewel through the magic eye of fiction”.

No doubt, Azar Nafisi is the literature professor we would have liked to meet at school. Her presence is delicate and familiar, but she possesses the charm of those masters who build bridges between imagination and reality, literature and life. Through her words, the great works of literature shake the dust off in order to reveal their universal wisdom.

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J. K. Rowling, Very Good Lives

23731881It is a speech – just published in English – by the author of Harry Potter. It has winked at me from the window of a bookshop near an Asian restaurant guarded by a gigantic Buddha. I entered to have a look: it was a tiny hardcover book, an edition with poetic illustrations. Buddha was still smiling at me with indulgence, so after an exchange with the bookseller – Is it a present? Yes… for me!” – I went to sit near him. I ordered a dish of boiled rice in tamarind sauce and started reading.

“President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates…”. The text opened this way, with the voice of J. K. Rowling Dumbledore filling the Great Hall at Hogwarts. It was the 2008 Harvard commencement speech, that still remains famous in the history of the prestigious university: “The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you’. […] I am at the world’s largest Gryffindor reunion”. Continue reading

The Girl with the Wooden Glasses

This article was originally published in Italian on Bookavenue.

“Io Leggo Perché…”  

I Read Because…

Last month in Rome I was attracted by a large panel in front of a bookshop. Passers-by could take a post-it, write their sentence and stick it on the panel. “I Read Because I need to dream”, “I Read Because the journey by train is too long!”, “I Read Because I want to forget my mother-in-law”…

Foto_Ragazza_occhialiI was overwhelmed by memories. I realized that every book I had loved was – in its own way – a proclaim on the redeeming power of imagination and words. I thought about the last one I had bought, which had been laying on my table for days. I didn’t have the courage to open it: in addition to the painful empathy for the story, I wondered how I could draw the readers’ attention. How could I convince them that they were involved? The Road by Cormac McCarthy came to my mind… that book on my table began with a couple of words that seemed stolen from the father of the novel: “I am cold. I am so cold”. But what the heck had Cormac done to convince us that The Other did not exist?! How had he persuaded us that those father and child pushing a shopping cart towards the end of the world were us all? Perhaps… with a story? Continue reading

Paul Auster, Hand to Mouth: a Chronicle of Early Failure

1107529I wanted a book for an hour and a half journey, something short that could prevent me from thinking over that creeping groans of planes that all of you perfectly know. I entered the bookshop with the familiar sense of Connection with the Universe that goes together with the act of Buying a Book, but I had finished Brooklyn Follies a few hours before so I was in the middle of a Paul Auster Withdrawal Syndrome. I thus pointed to his shelf like a diviner and caressed the covers until I sensed a bookish vibration. I chose a tiny, thin book. The back cover said: In my late twenties and early thirties, I went through a period of several years when everything I touched turned to failure. At that point the Message from the Universe was quite clear, but it was the following line that convinced me that it would be my plane-book: Paul Auster speaks of his initial failure and his struggle to write and earn a living. Continue reading

Kafka’s Doll

Modificate in Lumia Selfie

While I was reading Paul Auster’s The Brooklyn Follies I stumbled upon this passage, which deeply moved me. It is a sort of cammeo, a metaliterary digression that interrupts the plot in order to blink at the reader. You will find much material about this passage and this (at first glance) light novel by Paul Auster. Here, the author clearly reflects on the double-edged power of literature and imaginary worlds.

Down here for you, the wonderful excerpt about Kafka’s doll…

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