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.

I Dodici Abati di Challant

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: “Memoirs of Hadrian” by Marguerite Yourcenar, “Dieser Mensch war ich” by Christiane zu Salm

I read Dieser Mensch war ich (this person was me) many years after Memoirs of Hadrian,  but I wish to review them together, as they share common themes, and have woken similar emotions in me during reading.

Source: randomhouse.de
Source: bookdepository.de

Marguerite Yourcenar wrote a first-person novel about the life of emperor Hadrian, examining various events of his long life with the wisdom of his last moments. I felt that Hadrian showed an uncommon serenity towards the end of his life. Christiane zu Salm collected one- or two-page summaries of hospice patients in her care (she is Sterbebeglieiterin – assisting people approaching death), who agreed to be published in her book. These people are much closer to us than Hadrian: they were mechanics, shopkeepers, teachers, unemployed, with children, with complicated families, married, alone, sad, ready, desperate; it is easier to relate to their words and their feelings, because we share common experiences. Still, I see that the approach of the end of their lives made them all (Hadrian included) think of the same questions, and made them all simply human. I appreciated the somber, elegant lyrism of Hadrian’s long monologue, but I didn’t feel that zu Salm’s patients were less interesting or important because they used ordinary words. Presentation in this case is not relevant to me, and I hope I’m not alone thinking that.

I wish to end with the thought that these are stories of people’s lives. Death is of course very present in both books, but as a future event, as the end, rather than a fact in itself. I felt that their message was to appreciate every moment of life, and they made me think about what makes my life meaningful right now.

French books in my local libraries

I want to dedicate a post to a few French books I found in the libraries in my corner of Berlin, as I have been able to find both books that I knew already, and to discover books at random, and being very happy with it. Thanks to the librarians who have picked up such a valid array of books from an immense pool, to populate the handful of shelves dedicated to foreign language literature!

I start with Amélie Nothomb’s Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam (that I already reviewed here), and Stupeur et tremblements:

Didier Daenickx’s L’espoir en contrebande, a series of black novels which won the Prix Goncourt in 2012. I loved the atmosphere, not so much the plots (spoiler: murders!):

Erik Orsenna’s La chanson de Charles Quint – I had read his novel Madame Bâ a few years ago, and I found his emotional, philosophical and almost myth-like prose again:

And last, Marie Sabine Roger’s La tête en friche – the story of a young man who discovers, step by step, a way of thinking that he thought unattainable and even unuseful. I like her tact in letting the protagonist explore friendship and affections under a new light, with his words, and with all serenity he is capable of.

Stay tuned for more book reviews, and feel free to send me your suggestions!

Book recommendation: “Ce n’est pas toi que j’attendais” by Fabien Toulmé

I read this comic yesterday at the library, in its German translation.

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I have been moved by the story of this father and his family, who discover that their newborn baby has Down syndrome. Fabien Toulmé includes the hard moments as well as the happy ones, his doubts, his difficulty in accepting his daughter, the various degrees of help he receives from doctors, colleagues, family and friends. He doesn’t hide that it took him weeks to take his daughter in his arms. He tells how his wife and older daughter reacted, and how they all took care of the newborn baby.

I found that this story portraits ordinary people, not heroes, facing difficulty, and overcoming it with their own forces and with the medical support available to them. I have thought myself what would happen if I become the mother of a special child, and I felt so unprepared. I wonder how many people feel this too. I am glad that Fabien shared their journey so honestly, and especially happy that he did it in a comic: emotions and feelings pop out of the pages more strongly than printed text would do. I recommend this book to everyone, not only future parents: knowing a bit better what journey it is to raise a special child would hopefully increase empathy and support.

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Book recommendation: “The magic of drawing” by Cliff Wright

I found Wright’s book in my local library, in its German translation. It is filled with ideas for sketching, exploring new techniques and improving your observation skills. I recommend this book to all people who feel too clumsy to draw, even for themselves, and find Drawing on the right side of the brain too lengthy and too… brainy 🙂

I loved how each page captivated me with lively drawings of magical creatures, some of them trying the drawing exercises themselves in cute poses! And how to forget the full pages of his complete drawings, like this one:

The book is mostly a school for observation. There are so many issues in the drawing process that are rooted in the ordinary way of scanning the world with the eye, that is oriented to classification and not to analysis. Wright provides tips to train the eye to collect information for the drawing, and surprisingly few tips for drawing techniques. He even encourages to draw with your other hand, a hand that has had little or no training in holding a pencil – but when the eye has done his observation job well, the drawing will come out far more alive than the one made by an unschooled eye and a skilled hand. Try for yourself!

Happy sketching everyone 🙂

 

Book recommendation: “Mach dir checklisten” by moses. Verlag

I was at the local library/stationery and I had to buy this collection of todo-list templates:

Book cover – from moses. Verlag

It’s a nice selection of lists, box patterns, lines, squares, crosses, checklists… on pages that you can easily take out of the book and stick on a board. The very sparse text is in German, but I don’t see it as a problem for non-German speakers… the layouts are too nice! You can see the preview of most of them on their website.

It reminded me of Calvin was right!’s Pretty Pretty Planner – I’m so thankful for this set of agenda formats in such a pleasant color palette. Have a look there as well!