Tag Archives: Russia

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I was thinking about clubbing these two Novel Cure Challenge Reads together and it only made sense – considering how similar the protagonists are. Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary are bound to be clubbed. I remember reading and rereading these books for the longest time and somehow in a very strange way, I could relate to them. I am not married. I am not a woman. There has been no instance of adultery then, of course, but still there is some affinity which I cannot name or pinpoint. I am only too glad to have reread these books. They certainly brought back a lot of memories.

We all know (or at least most of us do) how it works out for these feisty women. Both stuck in unhappy marriages. I think it would be apt to call their marriages boring, or rather the men they are married to. Charles Bovary almost comes across as a dullard who could not care less about Emma’s youth or her desires or what she wants from life. Anna Karenina on the other hand has everything she could want, but somehow the all-consuming love is just not there, till she meets Count Vronsky.

Emma’s life is ridden with men – her father, her husband, her neighbour, the greedy moneylender, the pharmacist, the pharmacist’s assistant, and her two lovers. She knows it will only end in disaster and yet she wants it all, just like Anna. Anna knows the Russian societal norms and yet she will go to any length to get what she wants. Both these nineteenth-century heroines risk it all, for there is only one life to live. All they want is passion. They want love and they just keep searching for it, everywhere they can. Even if it means they have to end it by giving up their lives. Every time I have read these books, I wished they would come out of it alive and they don’t. I know it but I want to believe that everything works out for them, though it does for some time. These novels were also written in times when both countries, Russia and France were going through changing times. Maybe that is why they were considered so radical for their time.

I have never intended to read these classics with a lot of analysis. For me, they are just testimonies to what I connect to relate to – all the unrequited love, the trapped lives dictated by hypocritical societies and the alienation of the self, despite being loved and surrounded by many.

The anguish of the women comes through superbly in both these books and to me what is also surprising is that these books were written by men. Men who were very strong in their own way and manner and extremely eccentric as well, not to mention, womanizers – maybe that is why they could capture the feminine essence with such aplomb in both these works.

The translations again, when it comes to classics such as these matter the most. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Anna Karenina) and Lydia Davis (Madame Bovary) have done more than just a wonderful job with the words and their interpretation. I think for me most of the time loving these two classics have come from these translations. And yes I also think that perhaps there is no cure for adultery. You have to go through it. There is no moral ground. Anything for happiness, I think.

Next Up in the Novel Cure Challenge: Patience by John Coates

Book Review: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert

The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert Title: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders
Authors: Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre, Frederic Lemercier
Publisher: First Second Books
ISBN: 978-1596433755
Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoirs
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always been a fan of Graphic novels. From the time I started figuring them out or rather discovering them. It was with Sandman I think and what a place to begin. At that time, I used to think that graphic novels only felt good when narrating a fictitious tale. I was so wrong and so mistaken. Over the last couple of years, I have read some brilliant non-fiction graphic novels – from Joe Sacco’s Palestine to Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle, these guys know how to wrench your heart through the form of drawings and words in blurbs.

The Photographer - Image 1

This is what intrigued me about the first book in the “A Year of Reading the World” challenge which I have undertaken (inspired from the blog of the same name, started by Ann Morgan) – and the country to start with was Afghanistan. I did not want to start with the usual Khaled Hosseini (I love the guy’s writing but I wanted to discover something new). I had already read, “The Patience Stone” by Atiq Rahimi and loved it and yet I wanted something new. I then saw a title which intrigued me and that was “The Photographer” by Emmanuel Guibert.

Now let me tell you something about the book. This is not your regular graphic novel. It is definitely more and in the way that a reader would love to explore more books of this nature (if they exist). The book is a graphic novel mixed with pictures as taken by the said photographer in the title – Didier Lefevre.

The Photographer - Image 2

Didier left Paris at the end of July 1986 to go to Afghanistan. It was his first project as a photojournalist, documenting the journey of Doctors without Borders into war-torn Afghanistan. That was the time; the Soviets were fighting the Afghan Mujahedeen. This was the time the US of A was supporting Afghanistan, unaware of how it would backfire years later. The book though is not about that. The book is about the war and help and moments of respite as seen through Lefevre’s lens.

“The Photographer” is all about the perception and unbiased (mostly) perspective of a man with a camera and the need to capture it all. The book is created and compiled by Guibert along with Didier’s photographs. The war-torn Afghanistan as seen by Didier makes a perfect setting alongside its history. The people, the places, and their stories are beautifully captured and Guibert does justice to every single word and illustration – to go with the photograph. This book is a great beginning to how it all started – to how a country was ravaged, torn and how some selfless doctors also tried to save it. Most of all, it is about a photographer and how is life changed completely.

Next Up in this Challenge: Albania: The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare

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387 Short Stories: Day 17: Story 17: Incident at Sokolniki by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

There Once Lived a Woman who Tried to Kill her Neighbour's Baby

Title: Incident at Sokolniki
Author: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Taken from the Collection: There Once Lived a Woman who Tried to Kill her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales

So today’s story is set in Russia. In a totalitarian society, where anything can happen and anything does as a matter of fact. Incident at Sokolniki is a scary fairy tale – of a woman whose husband is dead and somehow comes back from the dead or so it seems and what follows after.

There is an edge of despair even to a fairy tale. Petrushevskaya’s stories are dark, brooding and almost bordering to be urban folk tales or perhaps they are. Characters depart from physical reality and enter another dimension. There are people’s dreams, loss, ignorance and consolations all throughout this short story. A two and a half-page story that deserves a read.

Book Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra Title: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Author: Anthony Marra
Publisher: Hogarth, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1781090053
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are debut novelists and then may be after reading him I can safely say that there is Anthony Marra. This is after reading his book, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” and the fact that I could not stop sighing and being spectacularly amazed by most of his writing as the pages were turned. The writing does not seem as though it belongs to a debut writer or maybe I am just underestimating debut writers, but this one is sure to look out for. For one, no one or maybe very few people would have heard of the Chechen wars before reading this book. It was certainly an eye-opener for me and I can only thank Anthony enough for introducing me to this side of the world as well.

“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” is not going to be an easy read. It is not even a happy read as far as I am concerned. It has its moments of happiness and then it gets quite dreary. What does one expect of a novel told in the time of war and unrest? Well, for most things, one expects humanity and Marra delivers like a charm with reference to that expectation, thereby not only fulfilling but also surpassing it.

The book passes through or rather is told through a decade – from 1996 to 2004 and speaks of lives that were embroiled during the Chechen War, with the Russian History but of course making an appearance time and again in the book. The history of Chechnya is long and often confusing. Anthony Marra on the other hand, does not give us complete details of the land. Instead he chooses to talk about ordinary lives and the impact of ethnic strife on them and how their lives change beyond recognition. This worked with me as a reader on most levels. I guess all readers want to know more of the humane side of the story than anything else and Marra most certainly delivers on that one.

In this hard-hitting novel, Anthony takes us back and forth in the lives of the major characters, surrounded by the secondary characters that are equally integral to the plot and structure. There is Akhmed, an incompetent doctor with a big heart and an invalid wife, Sonja, a surgeon who labours each and every day at a bombed hospital and living with her own demons, and Havaa an eight-year old girl who has lost her family and is now about to start a new life. Centered around these are the other characters that make up the entire concept of Six Degrees of Separation that runs strongly throughout the book.

The cycle of life is seen through the book – birth, changes, adaptation, movement, growth and sometimes death is what holds the book strong. Marra’s writing is surreal and often had me wonder: Where did the stories come from? What is the deal with the plot? The title in itself is intriguing and as you move through the novel, you understand its importance. The novel is intense and deep and yet the moments of compassion are plenty that take you by surprise. After all, sometimes all one needs is compassion to get one through in times of uncertainty and a war-torn land and a heart that needs much more. The emotional highs are plenty and that is precisely why I was urging everyone to read this book. It may be dark and depressing in places, but for me, it filled my heart with joy in most places. A must read.

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Book Review: Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag by Orlando Figes

Just Send Me Word by Orlando Figes Title: Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag
Author: Orlando Figes
Publisher: Penguin Group
ISBN: 9780241955901
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

To live a life away from the one that you love is not easy at all. It almost leaves me breathless thinking about it. I mean just the thought of it is enough for me to send out a prayer for it to never happen to two people who love each other deeply. And while I type this, I am thinking of a wondrous book I finished reading this month. A lot has been written on war camps and the tortures people had to undergo in any war-time, in any country and any place in the world. However, this book is extremely close to my heart after I finished reading it, and now to its review.

“Just Send Me Word” is a moving love story of two people, Lev and Sveta, who first met while taking an entrance exam in Moscow University in 1935, moving through tough times of the Gulag and ending only with their death in old age. The book talks of how these two loved through these tough times and the only means of exchange they had through these times were letters. This is when Lev was a victim of the political scene and could not do much about it. All they had were letters.

Letters written in abundance and smuggled in and out of concentration camps – from those of WWII to the ones at Gulag and the ones that existed during the Cold War. Lev’s life was that of a prisoner from 1946 to 1954, almost eight to nine years, knowing that his wife loved him and keeping the faith that they would meet someday.

What follows in the book is simply extraordinary – the lives led through letters, the exchanges that take place, the longing to have a normal life and being denied that. There are lots of life lessons in this book as put by Orlando Figes – the way he saw it while reading their letters. I was only too glad that he decided to write a book of this nature, which is not only unique but also quite moving. While a lot has been written about the Gulags and the condition that existed in those war camps, this one provided a heartfelt perspective to me – it was beautiful, hopeful and as a reader I was hooting for the couple to see it through it all and be reunited.

Books like these speak to you. As a reader you do not have to relive the experience or have gone through it. I guess you just need to have a heart – the one that feels the words and the emotions and can connect to them like any other human being. It somehow makes you see the atrocities of war and how love triumphs almost everything. I would not say that this should be made into a film at all (though it has all the elements of one), however it should be felt again and again for the beauty of its words. A must read for a reader who wants to cry and feel happy at the end of it all.

Here is a sneak peak from the book, from Sveta’s perspective and what she thinks to herself: “if letters couldn’t be smuggled in, why couldn’t she?”

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