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Catching Up on Things

Every morning I feel extremely privileged to wake up in The Philippines.  Now in my tenth month of living here, it really is ‘more fun in The Philippines’, as the saying goes.  Despite its status as a third world country, there is so much more to this archipelago than that label. Here people deal with life in such a positive way, day-to-day living here can be hard, the early morning commutes to an ever busier Manila for example, the fight to get on the transport, the endless queueing, and everyone (except me and – thankfully – the driver) grabbing a nap whilst they can.  Yet despite all that people are happier here, perhaps the sunlight is a factor but whatever the reason, despite the challenges people endure, they love life and will make any excuse for a gathering, with more food than its physically possible to eat.

Standing at the door armed with a cup of coffee, usually around 6am (when the temperature has yet to hit thirty degrees but is almost there), I love to look at the palm trees and hear people catching up, sweeping their house fronts, and doing regular people-in-the-morning things.  As I settle down to my own work, the sun usually shines relentlessly, the ebb and flow of passersby changes with the waxing and waning of that fiery ball in the sky, and I get lost in words, and ideas for the future.  Today I realised that, apart from neglecting the blog  -due to other important things that needed doing – I haven’t really mentioned a lot about where we have gone in recent months, so in no particular order and without further ado:

Whilst Summer was still with us we took a trip to Laguna for a day at the hot springs – situated halfway up a mountain – and the most important thing to do was to find a good vantage point and take a photo of the great view spread out below us. That done we rushed down the hill to have a go on the slides!  The so-called express way we took to get there has frequent toll gates which was a new and surprising detail, this of course meant more queueing (an unsurprising detail) but it was worth it for this view alone.

In an effort to fly off the end of the orange slide as far as possible, I threw myself down with reckless abandon and as a burnt my back but to balance that out, I did get a cheer from the people at the bottom of the green slide when I exploded off that one, my nose felt like it had been smashed with a concrete slab, it was brilliant!  There was even some really good reception to Skype with my parents later on, as we munched on our squid dinner.

I was lucky enough to be invited once again to Join the Kiwanis crew for more work in the community. If you missed my first adventures with this wonderful charity, you can read about it here, I’ve lost a lot of weight since then.  This time it was a colouring competition and the kids were really talented, I’ll bring you more about the charity soon.

One of my favourite places to go is Tagaytay, The view from up on high at Sky Ranch, with a glimpse of Taal Lake and the many trees, is always a welcome thing to see.  The breeze was lovely and gazing out with the other impressed visitors really brings home the beauty of this country and also the worrying spread of building which threatens places like this.

Further around the lake at Charito’s, there is another beautiful scenic view, with fishing boats, small villages and on the right of the island is Taal Volcano, one of the world’s smallest volcanoes and was active as recently as 2011.  Food and drink is always abundant and full of seasoning, as well as the obligatory rice, but it tastes even better with this sort of scenic vista for company.  When we were in Bali, I really missed the food of the Philippines, and I am eager for you all to hunt out a Filipino restaurant and go sample some of the delights.
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Posted by on 08/10/2018 in Travel, The Philippines

 

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11.22.63 – Stephen King

In 2011, Jake Epping, an English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, sets out on an insane – and insanely possible – mission to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

Leaving behind a world of computers and mobile phones, he goes back in time to a time of big American cars and diners, of Lindy Hopping, the sound of Elvis and the taste of root beer,

In this haunting world Jake falls in love with Sadie, a beautiful high school librarian.  And, as the ominous date of 11.22.63 approaches, he encounters a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald.

This sizeable novel from the wordy wordsmith himself, Mr King has so much of everything in it.  The inexactness of that statement is accurate as the number of little details is vast, and as such I read this book with a huge amount of appreciation.

I avoided this book for a long time because, for me a time travel story and King just didn’t seem to gel together in my mind but once I started reading, I thought it worked really well.  The element of ‘how would I exploit the past if I could time travel’ is explored = and takes the focus off of the main plot, which itself flows logically and languidly (a good thing) according to the rules set out.

When all else fails, give up and go to the library

Jake is often just as focussed on the smaller picture as much as his larger mission, and it is fascinating to get caught up in, as does he. There is the usual whole heap of nostalgia which the author always excels at, allowing the reader to feel like they miss that time and place, despite many not having lived through it.  There is a brief cameo from some of the characters of IT, as well as a couple of Dark Tower references, which is pleasing to those knowledgeable but won’t make any difference to those not familiar with the particular works. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 27/09/2018 in Fiction, Sci-Fi

 

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Local Reading

Wandering around Manila at Friday lunchtime, with the typhoon looming, it was exciting to head to the SMX Convention center to attend the 39th Manila International Book Fair, and after a few hours of perusing I came away with just two books. Po-on (renamed Dusk in western editions) which is the first of five books in the highly acclaimed Rosales saga, tracing the successive generations and struggles of a Filipino family.  The second of my choices, Motherless Tongues caught my eye when at the Ateneo de Manila University Press stand, here is the blurb which explains the book better than I can after too much coffee to kickstart my week:

In Motherless Tongues, Vicente L. Rafael examines the vexed relationship between language and history gleaned from the workings of translation in the Philippines, the United States, and beyond. Moving across a range of colonial and postcolonial settings, he demonstrates translation’s agency in the making and understanding of events. These include nationalist efforts to vernacularize politics, U.S. projects to weaponize languages in wartime, and autobiographical attempts by area studies scholars to translate the otherness of their lives amid the Cold War. In all cases, translation is at war with itself, generating divergent effects. It deploys as well as distorts American English in counterinsurgency and colonial education, for example, just as it re-articulates European notions of sovereignty among Filipino revolutionaries in the nineteenth century and spurs the circulation of text messages in a civilian-driven coup in the twenty-first. Along the way, Rafael delineates the untranslatable that inheres in every act of translation, asking about the politics and ethics of uneven linguistic and semiotic exchanges. Mapping those moments where translation and historical imagination give rise to one another, Motherless Tongues shows how translation, in unleashing the insurgency of language, simultaneously sustains and subverts regimes of knowledge and relations of power. 

Although I envisioned an afternoon of agonising which books to purchase from a whole heap spread over the many stands, it didn’t quite work out like that.  It was exciting to see people coming out loaded with books, there was an unrestrained enthusiasm from the masses, which was great to see and this was amped up when receiving a map of the many publishers, bookshops and other assorted stands that were in attendance. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 17/09/2018 in The Philippines, Travel

 

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The Castle of Crossed Destinies – Italo Calvino

A group of travellers chance to meet, first in a castle, then a tavern. Their powers of speech are magically taken from them and instead they have only tarot cards with which to tell their stories. What follows is an exquisite interlinking of narratives, and a fantastic, surreal and chaotic history of all human consciousness.

When my friend Chris passed this book and 100 Years of Solitude to me at the pub years ago, it really opened my eyes to literature beyond the bestsellers, and books that publishers pay to go in the ‘featured’ section.  Thankfully it sent me on a trajectory to discovering some of the best written and most imaginative works of literature, and then beyond to other genres.

As always, Calvino styles this books differently to all his others, it really is impressive to read an author who can consistently change his approach and write such strong works, each of the six books of his that I have read so far have been challenging and ambitious.

The introduction is atmospherically written in the style of Le Morte d’Arthur, presenting us with a medieval castle, a dream like atmosphere and then we are into the story.  Silently telling tales invites interpretations of body language as the placing of cards invites widely differing and not always clearly (for he narrator) conveyed ideas.  Handily for the reader, there are reproductions of the cards in the margins of the book, as they are introduced, the detailed ones do suffer from the necessary smallness of the illustrations.

Interpreting Tarot cards in a direct fashion is not only a refreshing plot device but proves to be equally as subjective as their traditional use is. It is a clever medium in which to tell various stories but not in the original intended style as symbolic, of cabalistic, astrological, alchemical, etc, but of stories the reader will be familiar with in some way.

The structure of the book contains nods to the literary styles of both Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio’s The Decameron. There are also plenty of references to a whole plethora of well-known stories based around such characters as Roland, Oedipus, King Lear, Mephistopheles, Parsifal, and Orlando Furioso to name a few.  It’s a delight to read and encompasses the need for humanity to understand both the world around them and our inner selves.
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Posted by on 30/08/2018 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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Faceless Killers – Henning Mankell

One frozen January morning at 5am, Inspector Wallander responds to what he believes is a routine call out. When he reaches the isolated farmhouse he discovers a bloodbath.

An old man has been tortured and beaten to death, his wife lies barely alive beside his shattered body, both victims of a violence beyond reason. The woman supplies Wallander with his only clue: the perpetrators may have been foreign. When this is leaked to the press, it unleashes a tide of racism.

Wallander’s life is a shambles. His wife has left him, his daughter refuses to speak to him, and even his ageing father barely tolerates him. He works tirelessly, eats badly, and drinks his nights away. But now Wallander must forget his troubles and throw himself into a battle against time and against mounting racial hatred.

It’s been a long while since I’ve read a crime novel and as there have been a significant number coming out of Scandinavia in recent years, in both books and on TV. Being, always behind the times, my first foray into the subgenre arrives fashionably late like a clue that traditionally cracks the case.

Faceless Killers is the first novel in the Wallander series and as you would expect the landscape, plot and the titular character’s personal life are all a bit bleak.  There are plenty of descriptions of the weather which will please the Brits, a grim murder scene to be analysed and a familiar feel to protagonist Kurt Wallander.  Family struggles, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and being a lover of classical music are by now all common themes in the detective world.

There are lots of meetings in this book, which I liked, as it felt properly police procedural, rather than being a case of swanning off every five minutes to badger a suspect because nobody likes paperwork.  Most compelling is the patient layering of lots of different pressures coming from many angles,it helps keep distract from the main focus of the investigation but brings up some interesting questions about life in Sweden and the complexities of its politics..

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Posted by on 31/07/2018 in Crime

 

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The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver

Mexico, 1935.  Harrison Shepherd is working in the household of famed muralist Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo.  Sometimes cook, sometimes secretary, Shepherd is always an observer, recording his experiences in diaries and notebooks.  When exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky arrives, Shepherd inadvertently casts in his lot with art and revolution and his aim for an invisible life is thwarted forever.

This has been on my to read pile ever since I read Cuban writer, Leonardo Padura’s excellent novel, The Man Who Loved Dogs. The title, The Lacuna alludes to much in the text, the gaps in the reader’s knowledge of Shepherd’s life, his feelings of not fitting in, and of the other characters stories and in part their motivations.

Like a game of football, this is a book of two halves. The latter part I found to be a lot more engaging, partly because it allows the narrator more room to speak, and also as it helps fill in another gap in history that I hadn’t really much knowledge about.  Perhaps that is excusable as most of European literature and history is focusing on the rebuilding of the continent after WWII and our own part in the Cold War.

The past is all we know of the future

To begin with I wasn’t overly blown away by the writing, more annoying was that certain themes were alluded to and then outright brought to my attention through the narrator. It would have been much more subtle, if left hanging in the background, for the reader to discover, even if on a second or third read through.

I didn’t get much of a sense of Diego Rivera as a character either, he is fairly peripheral, his wife Frida is more interesting and remains pleasingly enigmatic, although she is seen as faultless, precisely because of her faults. Trotsky is mainly seen as a hero/saint type of figure, lacking some of the complexity that could have made him more interesting, as in Padura’s book.  Shepherd himself is detached in this first part, as he struggles to discover his place, and true self. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 26/07/2018 in Fiction

 

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The Lunar Men – Jenny Uglow

Led by the larger-than-life Erasmus Darwin, the Lunar Society of Birmingham were a group of eighteenth-century amateur experimenters who met monthly on the Monday night nearest to the full moon.  Echoing to the thud of pistons and the wheeze of snorting engines,Jenny Uglow’s vivid and swarming group portrait brings to life the inventors, artisans and tycoons who shaped and fired the modern world.

If ever there was a book to celebrate the exhilaration of investigation, that infectious enthusiasm for knowledge, then this is surely a strong contender. In an age where amateurs could be at the forefront of breakthroughs in the sciences, the Lunar Society were keen to share knowledge which brought on new trains of thought and enquiry, as they dared to dream the fantastical.

These pioneers were to explore many different facets of our world;  through botany, geology, physics, medicine, art, literature and so on, as well as profit (for themselves and country), politics, and market forces.  The group also felt the full force of the beginnings of the burgeoning, awkward relationship between science and religion.

The scope of the book is impressive, each of these men could have had a book devoted to themselves so combining them into one overlapping narrative is a monumental feat.  To keep things fresh, we move between the main players frequently, it helps with both pace and the narrative structure, and allows the huge amount of innovations to be explored in their (more or less) chronological order.

It feels genuinely exciting to follow these lives and the societal changes that stem from their drive.  The book doesn’t just focus on the professional but humanises them with plenty of details about their personal lives, which are as eccentric as their work lives.  It reveals heart and a resonance that is lacking in some other – drier – books on this era. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 19/07/2018 in History, Science

 

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