Book recommendation: “La montagne magique” by Thomas Mann

An absolute classic, about which I am a bit intimidated to write. But I am moved by how close I felt to the people and events related in the book. I read it in French and I found the language and form very pleasant, elegantly aged. I wonder how it feels to read it in the original version, and in the many translations.

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I remember the impact with the first pages of the book. Even more than with Barkskins, I started at my standard reading speed (a reading trot!), but, as soon as Hans Castorp arrives at the sanatorium, the rhythm of the narration slows down so abruptly that I felt like falling in a metre of soft snow. I was stuck for a couple paragraphs, then found out how to wade forward by reading much slower, paying attention to every word, stopping sometimes to think about a line.

It has been a deeply fascinating read. I felt a lot of affinity with Hans Castorp’s thoughts and discussions about the world and the meaning of life, and I suppose this is because I am, like him, currently sitting away from the world’s continuous, sometimes frenetic, activities. I sympathise with his unheroic stance, his trembling look up to the higher truths that stand white and tall like sublime but also dangerous mountain peaks. This novel is an incredibly detailed soul journey. I hope that my heartfelt review will encourage you to give a look at this book 🙂 – and as usual, let me know your impressions in the comments!

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Book recommendation: “I dodici abati di Challant” by Laura Mancinelli

This novel is a favourite of mine. What I love most is the atmosphere, in that medieval castle in the Eastern Alps.

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Laura Mancinelli wrote in a style that evocates troubadors, storytelling and human society in a time that none of us can directly remember, but strongly resonate as our common past. The many characters appear like in a theatre play, each with a defining characteristic. Some pages sound like poetry, or songs, with repetitions and rhymes. Here and there are life lessons, cooking recipes, drama, melancholy, deep thoughts.

I like this story because it feels close to me, even if so many details definitely belong to a distant past. Sometime I spot the contemporary thinking in the words of a character, or maybe that thought was common in those times already…

The other two stories included in Einaudi’s edition are set in different times and places, but the atmosphere and the way of writing are similar. I liked Il miracolo di Sant’Odilia a lot, but not as much as I dodici abati di Challant, my first and unforgettable encounter with Mancinelli’s prose.

Book recommendation – “Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam” by Amélie Nothomb

(I want to make an experiment and write this post in two versions, one in French and one in English.)

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Je viens de terminer la lecture de ce roman qui m’a doucement émue. Il m’est rarement arrivé de me reconnaître autant dans les pensées de quelqu’un d’autre et d’avoir reçu l’inspiration et la calme pour avancer dans ma propre partie d’échecs. Durant ces dernières années, j’ai cherché ce genre de modèle avec une frénesie croissante, n’en trouvant que de très partiels. Le récit de ce début de vie m’a si simplement fait comprendre que je peux renoncer aux développements sociaux classiques (travail, mariage, maison, enfants, chien etc.) sans forcément détruire mon futur ou me sentir coupable pour toujours. J’ai grand besoin d’histoires de survécus. J’ai besoin de savoir qui il y a d’autres histoires où un non n’engendre pas de rage, de bile, de résistance.

De plus, l’autrice est d’origine belge comme moi. Ceci pourrait n’être qu’un mot sur un document officiel, mais c’est ce qui m’a fait dire “Oh, moi aussi!” en lisant les quelques phrases du roman où l’autrice parle des nuages gris de la Belgique avec une affection simple et profonde. Moi aussi, j’aime le temps couvert de la Belgique. Il a été la lumière estompée d’autant de bonnes mémoires.

Je remercie Amélie Nothomb d’avoir réussi un livre aussi sincère et puissant.

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[English version]

I just finished the last pages of this novel and I feel so moved. It rarely happened to me to identify myself so easily with the thoughts of someone else, and to receive inspiration and serenity to keep playing my own chess game. I have been looking for such models with increasing frenzy, as I only found very partial ones. This story made me understand that I can give the usual social upgrades up (good job, marriage, house, children, dog, etc…) without automatically condemn my future or feel guilty forever. I need survivor stories so badly. I need to know that there are other stories where a “no” does not generate rage, acrimony, opposition.

Moreover, the autor is Belgian like me. This could be a dry word on an official document, but it is what made me say: “Me too!” when reading the few sentences in which the author writes with simple and deep affection about the dull grey clouds that are so typical of Belgium. I love the overcast skies of Belgium too. They have been the background and the diffuse light of so many good memories.

I would like to thank Amélie Nothomb for her sincere and powerful book.

Book recommendation – “Mhudi” by Solomon T. Plaatje

Today I wish to write about a book I read several years ago in its Italian translation: the novel “Mhudi”, written by the South African author Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje in 1919 (published in 1930). Plaatje was the first black South African to write a novel in English; he was a politician, activist, intellectual, translator (he spoke seven languages) and writer.

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The narrative is centered on the development of the Transvaal kingdom, seen by the eyes of Mhudi and Ra-Thaga, a Barolong couple displaced by the Matabele invaders. The courage and hope of Mhudi are the moving forces of the entire story, and her point of view was (and still is) a less well-known insight of tribal wars and South African folklore, deeply intertwined with colonial wars.

I remember reading this book in the spring sun on the banks of Adige river. Mountains around, alpine plants, Italian houses around me could not take me away from the parched plains and hot sun of South Africa. The flow of narration was so captivating that I read it in few takes, feeling enriched by the numerous historical references and the personal story of Mhudi and Ra-Thaga. It also remembered me my stay in South Africa, in Gauteng province, with some trips to northern Limpopo, where I took these pictures:

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I hope you enjoy the novel! Let me know your impressions in the comments.