Tagged: love

24. Reading: Madame Bovary

So I am actively tackling my classics aversion, and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was the first victim. I bought a nice second-hand hardcover version with some melancholic picture on it to make me want to pick it up. Fortunately, after getting used to the style, it wasn’t difficult to follow. For me, the one question with every book considered a clssic is, of course: why would I still read it? As I see it, novels – or fiction in general – has the potential to educate sentimentalities. Reading the same books will make us have a common ground from which to explore and explain our worlds, so if I want to talk to people who explain their worldviews in terms of, say, Werther’ian descriptions of nature, I will have to read Goethe’s Werther to be able to do so. In my case, I wanted to follow through an argument made by Eva Illouz in Why love hurts.

But after a few chapter I only rarely went back to that argument, and instead reall wanted to know how Madame would have to confront her life choices. As is well known, the story is about a young women with aspirations in a provincial French setting who, out of boredom and a desire to be moved, has two affairs, even though she is married to a loving husband. Apart from the love story, there will also be medical experiments, economic problems, and the quest of a young women trying to find joy in a life that is not created for her to find joy in much more than homely chores. And this focus on women’s lives at a different moment in time (and of course the tension to see how her affairs will be revealed) made this worth reading for me.

How did I come across the book?

That’s kind of a weird question with a classic, isn’t it? Let’s rephrase it to: “Even though you have heard about it much earlier, what made you decide to read it now?”. In this case, the answer is – as I jusr said – I stumbled across it in reading Eva Illouz’s Why love hurts, and I think she also mentions it in Cold Intimacies. She mentioned it in terms of the construction of the idea of romantic love and based on social understandings of class, so I thought it would be a good combination of word and pleasure.

When and where did I read it?

Mostly before going to bed. The last session was particularly long because I just couldn’t put it down for the last 60 pages.

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8. Reading: Como agua para chocolate

Laura Esquivel’s Como agua para chocolate (2012, Penguin Random House) was the first Spanish-language book I read in a fairly long time that wasn’t a pain to finish. Even though reading in Spanish is no big deal for me, I often have difficulties in finding my way into the books. Not so this time, because I almost devoured this novel in less then a week. Funny coincidence: I did so mostly at cafés or restaurants, which might have helped in the creation of atmosphere. Funny because the story is structured in twelve recipes, each belonging to a specific event in the life of Tita, the youngest of three sisters in a matriarchic household of rural Mexico during the revolution.

In Como agua…, Esquivel tells the love story between Tita and Pedro, who are not allowed to marry because Tita, as the youngest daughter, is obliged to stay with her mother as long as she lives. Pedro then marries her older sister to be close to her. The rest is family life at its best, lots of conflicts, lots of secrets, some miraculous deaths, and a considerable number of love stories on the side, including occasional pregnancies. I admit the final choice Tita makes didn’t convince me, especially because Pedro turns into a jealous nagger, and their first love-making isn’t exactly built on consent. Also, the ending is a little too much of magical realism for my taste. But let’s say that until chapter eleven, Como agua para chocolate is a fascinating and entertaining read.

How did I come across the book?

I was given a gift certificate for a book store for Christmas, and wanted to invert in female Colombian authors only. That plan didn’t work out for various reasons, so I ended up adding female authors from other Spanish-speaking countries, and ultimately, male Colombian authors, as well. (So be prepared for the next reviews!)

When and where did I read it?

As I said, mostly in cafés or restaurants in Bogota, but also before going to bed. It took me less then a week to finish.

Cada persona tiene que descubrir cuáles son sus detonadores para poder vivir, pues la combustión que se produce al encenderse uno de ellos es lo que nutre de energía el alma. (p. 102)

6. Reading: This is How You Lose Her

Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her (2012, faber and faber) is the most impressive book I’ve read this year. (And it’s close to being the most impressive one for the last 12 month, too.) In a way, it could be considered the book-version of an essay I had to write in high school. My English teacher back then once made us write an essay about love, and after throwing a little pubertal tantrum about how this was too much of an invasion of my privacy, I resigned and meticulously enumerated and characterized all the different facets of love I encountered in the relationships to the people close to me. Now while Diaz also centers his story around an ego, Yunior, his love stories are (who would have guessed from that title?!) all failed ones.

Set in a milieu of a Caribbean migrant New York suburb, the language is sprawled with Spanish half-sentences, curse-words, and allusions that I imagine will be difficult to understand for the non-Spanish-speaking reader. However, this makes for an extraordinary vividness and caught me right from the start. The quality of the language stands in stark contrast to the melancholy that spreads through the stories, there’s little hope in love as there is little hope in life, it seems. But it’s not a sad book somehow, more one about the difficult choices people sometimes have to make and on how expectations can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies, and how one mistake can follow you around for years.

How did I come across the book?

I’ve been looking for Haitian Authors a few years ago, and discovered Edwidge Danticat’s novel The Farming of Bones [Huge Recommendation!] on the Parsley Massacre at the Haitian-Dominican Border in 1937. So I continued searching for contemporary writer’s with Caribbean background, and Diaz seems to be one of the big fishes. Then I found This is How You Lose Her on offer for less than a dollar, so I had to get it.

When and where did I read it?

Late January, mostly before going to bed, but also on the bus to work. The paragraphs allow for reading in smaller time slots.

I can’t, she said. I can’t make any mistakes. Why is sex with me a mistake, you demanded, but she just shook her head, pulled your hand out of her pants. Paloma was convinced that if she made any mistakes in the next two years, any mistakes at all, she would be stuck in that family of hers forever. That was her nightmare. Imagine if I don’t get anywhere, she said. You’d still have me, you tried to reassure her, but Paloma looked at you like the apocalypse would be preferable. (p.151f)

4. Reading: Große Liebe 

Große Liebe by Navid Kermani (2014, Carl Hanser Verlag) is a book about a man reflecting on his first love, which was also his greatest, as far as he was (and somehow is) concerned. The narrator describes the love story – which didn’t even last two weeks – in 100 chapters, each no longer than one page (letter format, I guess, because in the book there’s everything between 1 and 5). So he remembers how he fell in love with a girl from his school when he was fifteen, while she was four years older and almost done with high school. The love story itself does not need much explanation: he sees her, falls in love with her, then finds a way to talk to her. They have a short romance until from one day to another she stops speaking to him and their story ends.

Of course, this story alone wouldn’t make for a hundred pages (or at least not in the way I just described it). This is why the narrator constantly compares his teenage-self’s feelings to those of some great islamic poets and scholars of mystique. Unfortunately, for me this does not make for additional emotional depth, and the story somehow fails to convince me here. However, it probably is an apt description of how an adult middle aged self would reflect on his great love as a fifteen year old. I just sometimes missed the connection between the two. The narrator’s fatherly attitude becomes enervating at some point, and I wished for a little more compassion with the dreamy teenager and his rebellious intentions.

How did I come across the book?

Navid Kermani was all over the news for the speech he gave at the German Bundestag on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the German Grundgesetz in 2014. Last year, he was also awarded with the Peace Price of the German Book Trade, and so I decided to have a look at his works. He’s also a renown scholar of Islamic Studies, and lot’s of his writings center on religion more generally. Since that is not a mayor interest of mine, and because the catch phrase of Große Liebe quite literally caught me, I decided to read this story. [Admittedly, there’s been quite a bit of religion in this one, too.]

When and where did I read it?

On a short trip to Berlin, overwhelmingly while on trains.

There’s this great one-phrase-summary by Galen in chapter 77: “Post coitum omne animal triste”. But maybe the following part might also convince you, especially if you have equally vivid memories of your pubescent self:

Schon der Titel [seines damaligen Tagebuches] Traum & Chaos, auf dem Einband der Nachwelt in Schönschrift bekanntgegeben, schlägt den Ton pubertärer Selbsterhöhung an , der im Tagebuch dann auf beinah jeder Seite enerviert. Unbewußt ist es, so scheint mir, eine Karikatur des Sturm und Drang, dessen Sakralisierung der eigenen Stimmung über etliche Vermittlungsstufen hinweg auf den Jungen gewirkt haben muß, nur daß von der Originalität und ja auch sprachlichen Brillanz keine Spur blieb außer der Häufung von Ausrufezeichen: “Was für ein schönes Gefühl, das Gefühl der Liebe!!!” (p. 38)