Reviews & Rants - Blogging about books, authors, and generally 

Black Disabled Woman Syllabus

Reblogged from JL's Bibliomania:




The people I've been listening to say that one of the most important things us able-bodied white folks can do is to signal boost.  So I thought I'd share the list of books and resources that Vilissa Thompson compiled about being black, disabled, and a woman. 


Most of what I see coming across my BookLikes feed is fiction, but perhaps someone who is looking for something to read in response to the current US upheaval or for Black History Month will now hear Vilissa and the others she mentions.



Culture and Anarchy

Culture and Anarchy - Jane Garnett, Matthew Arnold

But what is greatness?— culture makes us ask. Greatness is a spiritual condition worthy to excite love, interest, and admiration; and the outward proof of possessing greatness is that we excite love, interest, and admiration.

Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy was an odd book to come back to in these times of so much talk about making  things "great" again. I had first read the book way back when I was at university. Back then, I read the book with the purpose of finding arguments for and against different aspects of "culture" and whatever that meant, but I never got the time to read what Arnold actually had to say beyond his eternal buzzwords of "sweetness and light", both which are still as vague as ever. 


Having revisited with Arnold over the past couple of weeks, the best I can say is that I am glad I have read the book without the pressing agenda of writing a piece of coursework about it. There are a lot of sides to Arnold's writing that are worth exploring - tho, his sometimes tongue-in-cheek style of narration has left me wondering more than a few times which point he was trying to make. 


Just like the quote about greatness could be interpreted to mean all things to all people, Arnold's argumentation by use of fictional characters (and few real ones) generalised his ideas so much, that for most of the book I was left wanting to shout at him: "But where is your proof? Where are your sources for making this claim? What evidence have you to support your claim?"


And this was true even more so with the points I wanted to agree with, than it was with the sketchy claims I was looking to refute. It sounds great to hear Arnold use such flowery rhetoric like:

"It is in making endless additions to itself, in the endless expansion of its powers, in endless growth in wisdom and beauty, that the spirit of the human race finds its ideal. To reach this ideal, culture is an indispensable aid, and that is the true value of culture." Not a having and a resting, but a growing and a becoming, is the character of perfection as culture conceives it; and here, too, it coincides with religion. And because men are all members of one great whole, and the sympathy which is in human nature will not allow one member to be indifferent to the rest, or to have a perfect welfare independent of the rest, the expansion of our humanity, to suit the idea of perfection which culture forms, must be a general expansion.

But where are his examples? 

It sounds great to hear Arnold refer to "men are all members of one great whole" but in the same line of argument, he becomes divisive, too, when referring to the members of the working class not knowing what they want, to members of the middle class as wanting the wrong thing, to the members of the aristocracy as being too remote and not intervening enough in the frivolous pursuit of industry, to Philistines and Barbarians. But most divisively of all, Arnold seems to restrict the benefit of the application of "culture" as he saw it to the English.

"In the first place, it never was any part of our creed that the great right and blessedness of an Irishman, or, indeed, of anybody on earth except an Englishman, is to do as he likes; and we can have no scruple at all about abridging, if necessary, a non-Englishman's assertion of personal liberty. The British Constitution, its checks, and its prime virtues, are for Englishmen. We may extend them to others out of love and kindness; but we find no real divine law written on our hearts constraining us so to extend them."

Sarcasm? Or true sentiment? It depends on the reader's own outlook and interpretation. There is a fine line in Arnold's argument that can be used or abused for and against nationalism, for and against religion, for and against liberalism, etc. but left me with a general sense of puzzlement about whether any of Arnold's points had actually carried any momentum other than to promote the ever-so-wishy-washy phrase of "Sweetness and Light"?

"Now, the use of culture is that it helps us, by means of its spiritual standard of perfection, to regard wealth as but machinery, and not only to say as a matter of words that we regard wealth as but machinery, but really to perceive and feel that it is so. If it were not for this purging effect wrought upon our minds by culture, the whole world, the future as well as the present, would inevitably belong to the Philistines. The people who believe most that our greatness and welfare are proved by our being very rich, and who most give their lives and thoughts to becoming rich, are just the very people whom we call the Philistines. Culture says: "Consider these people, then, their way of life, their habits, their manners, the very tones of their voice; look at them attentively; observe the literature they read, the things which give them pleasure, the words which come forth out of their mouths, the thoughts which make the furniture of their minds; would any amount of wealth be worth having with the condition that one was to become just like these people by having it?"

By the end of the book, I was left craving for a more modern and more scientific approach to dissecting "culture" for all that it means, because while Arnold was (and to some extent still seems to be) celebrated for his efforts on defining culture, his efforts are limited to his own personal views with little to show any credentials of research or actual knowledge of society, history, or any other fields remotely relating to what we would now class as sociology, cultural studies, anthropology, etc. 


Nevertheless, if you're looking to dig into the mindset of a high-Victorian Englishman, Culture and Anarchy does make for an entertaining, tho slightly painful visit. 

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity  - Elizabeth Wein


I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending. I spent the first twelve years of my life playing at the Battle of Stirling Bridge with my five big brothers, and even though I am a girl they let me be William Wallace, who is supposed to be one of our ancestors, because I did the most rousing battle speeches. God, I tried hard last week. My God, I tried. But now I know I am a coward. After the ridiculous deal I made with SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden, I know I am a coward. And I’m going to give you anything you ask, everything I can remember. Absolutely Every Last Detail.

This was impressive. I had kept putting off reading Code Name Verity because I had no idea this was a YA novel when I got it, and when I found out that it was, my heart sank.


However, despite my reservations and some initial concern about the voice of the narrator, I could hardly put the book down. Sure, there are things you can pick apart, but in the end this was a tough spy story - and very much an adventure story that was engaging both mind and gut. And the latter was utterly wrenched.


Maybe it's because I have overdosed a little on Bond recently and a spy thriller from a female perspective was just what I needed as an anti-dote, or maybe it's because Wein takes great care with details without bragging about her research, or maybe it's because it's just nice to read a story about WWII that is not all about patriotism or nationalism or the clear division of good and evil, but this was a nice change of pace from my recent encounters with espionage thrillers.

Found on FB
Found on FB

Bond Does Romance...

On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Ian Fleming



All right. I needed diversion and maybe this will make you smile, too. 


I'm not taking part in the Romance Bingo but I love reading everyone's updates and look forward to those fab bingo cards being filled in. Also, I keep wondering about whether whichever book I'm reading would fit into any of the categories. And then it hit me hard:


While reading the latest James Bond - On Her Majesty's Secret Service - I kept picturing the bingo card and kept filling in different categories, which leads me to this: 


On Her Majesty's Secret Service expressed in Romance Bingo markers.



Are you ready for some VERY tenuous links between the bingo categories and the book???



1. Insta-love - Check!

I'm not sure which one to give you here Bond or Tracey, but Tracey - in a suicidal mood - pretty much decides that Bond is the one man who can save her after they spend an hour (that is one hour) in bed together. Btw, that hour happens within a short time of them exchanging their first words with each other. I'm sure no one is shocked by this - this is Fleming after all.


2. TSTL - Nope.

(Inconceivable, I know, but there are no TSTL characters in this one. Apart from the girl with the chicken allergy maybe. I'm giving her the benefit of my doubt, tho. She may have had hidden depths. We never get to find out.)


3. "Headless" Woman - Nope.

(Again, chicken lady notwithstanding...)


4. Love is Murder - Check! Check! Check!

It's very dramatic and very sad. If you've seen the film, you'll know that there is no happy ending.


5. New Adult - Nope.

(Thankfully, the genre wasn't in vogue when Fleming wrote this.)


6. Young Adult - Nope.

(Again, thankfully so.)


7. Regency Romance - Nope.

(Although, the idea would have been fun...)


8. Eyeshadow and Heaving Bosom - Nope.

(Unless, I've missed this. Hm...)


9. Virgin - Best First Time - Check!

Ok, tenous, because as we know neither Bond nor Tracy are virgins but there is a bizarre scene where Tracy wishes she had been one for Bond. I cringed so hard at that but Fleming just was full of such lines...


10. Gothic Romance - Nope. 

(Again, this might have been fun.)


11. Blown Away - Check!

Most absolutely! There is action in this one and it is practically choc-a-bloc with "tremendous explosions", one of which has Bond hurl "forward and sideways in a Catherine wheel of sticks and skis."


12. Man in a Kilt - Check!

This one is tenuous again. This is the book where we find out that Bond is half Scottish. Also, he gets to impersonate a Scot. However, unlike in the film, there is no mention of Bond wearing a kilt. On the other hand, it is nigh impossible to read this book and not picture him wearing one. So, I'd say it qualifies.


13. LOVE - Check!

In their own stupid ways Bond and Tracy are in love. 


14. Rogue - Check!

Erm, Bond. You have met Bond, right?


15. Historical Romance -  Nope. 

(There is some genealogy and heraldry as part of the plot, but it isn't a historical romance as such.)


16. Secret Billionaire - Check!

 Ah, but you see this one is interesting. When Bond first meets Tracy, she's broke and in debt with the casino. This would make her a social pariah but Bond steps in just in time to save her from the social disgrace. A few pages later, we learn that Tracy's father is a millionaire and she wasn't broke after all. (It's more complicated but you get the idea...)


17. Twins - Check!

(Again, I am thankful that Fleming did not get to write about twins in this.)


18. Fairy Tale Retelling - Check! Check! Check!

Bond as knight in (and out of) shiny armor rescuing the princess (or, in this case,

Comtesse Teresa di Vicenzo) is the main theme of this book!


19. Wedding Bells - Check! Check! Check!

This famously is the book where Bond gets married.


20. Second Chances -Check!

The first encounter of Bond and Tracy does not go well. They do end up in bed together, but this means little. (This is Bond we are talking about.) It takes both of them a second encounter to warm to each other.


21. Key to my Heart - Check!

As we know, Bond loves a woman who can drive a car. In this book, it is Tracy's driving skills that instantly attract Bond to her. It is quite a cute scene. 


22. Pirates Argh - Check!

A little tenuous, but I cannot help picturing Draco's henchmen as pirates. They are Sicilian and connected with the mafia, but in my mind they are pirates. At least, they conduct their business affairs in a similar style to what pirates did.


23. Guy/Girl Next Door - Nope.


24. Interracial Couple - Nope.


25. Urban Fantasy Romance - Nope.

(Again, it would have been fun...)


I kinda wish the card had been around when we started the Bond Buddy Read, but it may have given the impression that I was not taking Bond seriously. Which, erm, of course, I am. 


Btw, I am still stewing over the actual review of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It just needs a little more thought...


Culture and Anarchy - Reading progress update: I've read 22%.

Culture and Anarchy - Jane Garnett, Matthew Arnold

Well, I'd never thought I'd quote Matthew Arnold, but this seems to turn out to be quite a timely read.


Arnold on Culture:


And because men are all members of one great whole, and the sympathy which is in human nature will not allow one member to be indifferent to the rest, or to have a perfect welfare independent of the rest, the expansion of our humanity, to suit the idea of perfection which culture forms, must be a general expansion.

A Huddle of Pirates and ... Sunday Soup.

A "Huddle of Pirates"???


Yeah, I should explain that. Probably. Of course, if you'd rather keep that mental image, feel free to skip the next paragraph. 


This weekend was the first in a while where I had the time and energy to make plans with friends and do something fun, so I met up with friends for coffees and last night went to the see the local ice hockey team get beat. They deserved it. I'm not their biggest fan, but the other team were just better. Also, the other team has a better name and it includes the word Pirates. No way would I root for another team! :D


So, from our seats right behind one of the goals, we saw them huddle. It was fun. The friend I went with plays ice hockey and she was able to explain things to me. I'm sure she explained the same things to me last year, but I have no memory for the rules. Also, I wanted every opportunity I could get to suggest that the start of the game should be called the "puck off". It's a much better name. I think it will catch on. At least, I will make every effort to promote the term "puck off" as the new legit hockey phrase.



I'm sure others have thought of it before me, but anyway.


In other news, today is Sunday and I have made soup. I apologise for the distinct lack of Sunday Soup posts, but I just haven't felt inspired to experiment with cooking much - and in my case cooking is pretty much experimenting. What I said about memorising rules pretty much also applies to following recipes - it's just such an alien concept to me. (Or my mom. Or, come to think of it, my gran.)


After several simple veg and pasta combinations, I wanted to make something different. My first attempt didn't quite turn out, or turn into anything tasty really, so I didn't count it as a Sunday Soup endeavour. Never mind.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I came across a great vegan food blog that featured a soup I haven't had in years - solyanka.

It's a Russian soup with a nice balance of sweet and sour. It's usually using left-over veg and meat,  lemon, and a dollop of sour cream. The recipe I found is vegan (recipe here) but I changed it slightly to add some white cabbage, veggie "meat" chunks, and greek-style yogurt instead of the sunflower sour cream.


And this is what it looked like:



It was delicious.


Happy Sunday, All!



The Burma Spring

The Burma Spring: Aung San Suu Kyi and the New Struggle for the Soul of a Nation - Rena Pederson

DNF @ 20%


This book isn't for me. 


I've read 20% and two things are clear to me:


1. This is a biography by an admirer of Aung San Suu Kyi's who seems to have fallen into the trap of lining up one sugar-coated cliche after another; and 


2. There has been little critical analysis of the subject so far, and skimming through the rest of the book, there doesn't seem to be much later on either.


It may be that the books publication preceded much of the more recent criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi with respect to her condoning violence against a muslim minority in Myanmar/Burma, but the tone of the book is a little too enthusiastic for me.


Saying that, Pederson does give a good historical account of Aung San Suu Kyi's life and her involvement in politics.

#Follow a Newbie (or any blog with few followers....really)

Reblogged from BrokenTune :



I'm just sharing this again as there seem to have been a number of new members to the BookLikes community.


Because it isn't easy to find people / blogs to follow and interact with on BookLikes, some BLikers set up a few open discussion groups some time ago where people can drop in say hello or tell others about new blogs they have found. 


The Groups are located in :


Find New Booklikes Blogs To Follow


There has been quite a bit of activity there recently, so I thought it would be worth letting people know.


Happy reading!




OHMSS: Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 259 pages.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Ian Fleming

I am a tiny bit excited. 


This is the book in the Bond series that I have been looking forward to the most, and now finally, we have reached the stage in the Buddy Read where this book is next.


In celebration of finally getting to read On Her Majesty's Secret Services, I have cleared my currently reading shelf, which in itself is a first!


I hope the book lives up to my expectations. No, sorry, let me rephrase in view of my previous Bond experience...


I hope the book is not crap. I hope the book is not crap. Please book, DO NOT BE CRAP.


Treffpunkt im Unendlichen

Treffpunkt im Unendlichen. - Klaus Mann

The more of Klaus Mann's work I read, the more of a fan I become. 


It took me a while to read Treffpunkt im Unendlichen not because I the book wasn't good, but because I needed to get rid of some other distractions to spend time sinking into the book. Luckily, I have finally had that lazy Sunday that enabled me to do that. 


There is not much of a plot to the book. It is the story of a group of young friends who start their own lives and careers in the late 1920s / early 1930s Berlin and all the entanglements that this brings - Treffpunkt im Unendlichen is as much an account of the Lost Generation as Fitzgerald's stories, tho I by far prefer Mann's. 

In contrast to Fitzgerald, Mann does not hold back on the descriptions of the full range of emotional sensations, not does he spare the details of the seedier side of life - prostitution, drug abuse, suicide, cruelty. Not that his books are dwelling on these themes, but they are present. Where Fitzgerald always caused me to revel in the descriptions of the age but wanting to slap his whiny characters, Mann's characters are much less self-absorbed and create a sense of community on the page that makes it easy to join in, even if this community is dysfunctional.

The dysfunction and doom do not come across as dramatic devices, either. Rather the fates of Mann's characters are mere observations of what happened to people around him, chronicles of the forgotten, the lost of the Lost Generation. There is some realism in this book that surpasses the descriptions of bright city lights, cosmopolitanism, parties, cabarets. There is a sense of foreboding. There is a sense of uncertainty. Most of all there is a sense of how differently people are affected by the ever-changing demands of the world around them, and how at the end of the day each person has to find a way to cope that works for them, because community can be marred by unreliability.  


I loved it. 


P.S. If people were upset by Mann's depiction of Gustaf Gruendgens in his celebrated work Mephisto, they clearly haven't read this one. The character of Gregor seems to be a blueprint of the character that Henrik Hoefgen in Mephisto was going to be. 


P.P.S. I deliberately do not make comparisons to Hemingway. Hemingway's characters (and maybe the man himself) had the emotional range and empathy of a block of wood. In my view, he's just pretty overrated. 


P.P.S. I don't know if Treffpunkt im Unendlichen was ever translated other than into Danish (when it was published in 1932), but the title is an interesting choice - I would translate it as "meeting point in infinity", although I have seen people describe it as "rendesvous in eternity". Part of the point of the characters experience is that they long to find someone that they can be one with, but it is not clear whether this is possible or whether are forever existing as separate entities living in parallel with others. But there is some hope that these parallels will cross or "meet" at some point.


Interestingly, this seems to be a point that Carson McCullers seems to take up in her work, too. (McCullers knew Mann, and his sister, and their friends.) It was interesting to see the parallels (ha!) between both writers, but of course I could not say whether McCullers drew any inspiration from Mann's work (even tho she was decidedly close to a mutual friend).



(Erika Mann, Klaus Mann, Pamela Wedekind, Gustav Grundgens - all of whom are reflected in Mann's characters) 

Mrs. McGinty's Dead

Mrs. McGinty's Dead - Agatha Christie

‘I should, perhaps, madame, tell you a little more about myself. I am Hercule Poirot.’

The revelation left Mrs Summerhayes unmoved.

‘What a lovely name,’ she said kindly. ‘Greek, isn’t it?’

Now this is a Poirot novel that strays from the script a bit. It's fascinating but there seem to be three parts to this novel and the crime/mystery part is the weakest one. Yet, I really liked the book because first and foremost, Christie made me laugh out loud quite a few times. 


Eh bien, let's start with the weakest part - the crime/mystery:


So, Mrs. McGinty is found dead and her lodger has been arrested, is standing trial, and will probably be sentenced to hang, but ... Superintendent Spence is having doubts and is consulting an old acquaintance to have a look at the case.

‘I don’t know what you’ll go there as,’ continued Spence doubtfully as he eyed Poirot. ‘You might be some kind of an opera singer. Voice broken down. Got to rest. That might do.’

‘I shall go,’ said Hercule Poirot, speaking with accents of royal blood, ‘as myself.’

Spence received this pronouncement with pursed lips. ‘D’you think that’s advisable?’

From there on, the typical sleuthing adventure ensues, except that there are a lot - and I do mean way too many - characters that are part of the investigation, a few red herrings, Ariadne Oliver - whose involvement in the book has less to do with the plot (I'll get to that later) -, and an ending that seems to have been rather far-fetched. 


In fact, by the time the mystery was resolved, I had kinda lost interest in the whodunit part and really enjoyed the characters interacting with each other. 


This book is really not about the mystery, which, in my opinion, was rather sub-par. No rather, the book seems to have been a self-reverential celebration of all things Poirot. And this may or may not be to readers tastes. I quite liked it in this case.


We have a lot of details about Poirot himself:

In his early days, he had seen plenty of crude brutality. It had been more the rule than the exception. He found it fatiguing, and unintelligent.


My work has enslaved me just as their work enslaves them. When the hour of leisure arrives, they have nothing with which to fill their leisure.

We have a couple of tips of the hat to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which was published 25(!) years before Mrs. McGintys Dead, when Poirot discussed gardening with Spence: 

Me, once I decided to live in the country and grow vegetable marrows. It did not succeed. I have not the temperament.’

In many of the details that describe Poirot in this book, Christie seems to take a retrospective stance, It serves as a celebration of his previous adventures, but I also could not help feeling that Christie took the opportunity to have some fun herself and poke her famous character at every opportunity. Not only, does she send Poirot to the country - and we all know how much Poirot hates the country -

It’s not really a Guest House, just a rather decrepit country house where the young couple who own it take in paying guests. I don’t think,’ said Spence dubiously, ‘that it’s very comfortable.’

Hercule Poirot closed his eyes in agony. ‘If I suffer, I suffer,’ he said. ‘It has to be.’

And Christie makes sure of it his suffering. This was one of my favourite parts and I am sure anyone who has ever been exasperated by Poirot's eccentricities would chuckle about the following scene of Poirot taking up lodgings at a country inn:

The room was large, and had a faded Morris wall-paper. Steel engravings of unpleasant subjects hung crookedly on the walls with one or two good oil paintings. The chair-covers were both faded and dirty, the carpet had holes in it and had never been of a pleasant design. A good deal of miscellaneous bric-à-brac was scattered haphazard here and there. Tables rocked dangerously owing to absence of castors. One window was open, and no power on earth could, apparently, shut it again. The door, temporarily shut, was not likely to remain so. The latch did not hold, and with every gust of wind it burst open and whirling gusts of cold wind eddied round the room.


‘I suffer,’ said Hercule Poirot to himself in acute self-pity. ‘Yes, I suffer.’


The door burst open and the wind and Mrs Summerhayes came in together. She looked round the room, shouted ‘What?’ to someone in the distance and went out again.

Mrs Summerhayes had red hair and an attractively freckled face and was usually in a distracted state of putting things down, or else looking for them.

Hercule Poirot sprang to his feet and shut the door.

A moment or two later it opened again and Mrs Summerhayes reappeared. This time she was carrying a large enamel basin and a knife.


A man’s voice from some way away called out: ‘Maureen, that cat’s been sick again. What shall I do?’

Mrs Summerhayes called: ‘I’m coming, darling. Hold everything.’ She dropped the basin and the knife and went out again.

Poirot got up again and shut the door. He said: ‘Decidedly, I suffer.’

As I said I really enjoyed this part of the story but I did keep wondering why Christie took to treating Poirot in such a way. Was it to celebrate him or was she falling out with him as a character that had become so famous that he had a life of his own - just as Arthur Conan Doyle fell out with Holmes?


Which brings me to the third part - Ariadne Oliver. Ariadne is basically Christie's way of injecting a fictionalised version of herself into the Poirot stories, and in this one Ariadne enters the scene - nearly knocking Poirot over with her car - and spends a lot of time agonising over how her own fictional creation - Sven Hjerson - is being changed inappropriately by theatre and film producers. 

Robin continued blithely: ‘What I feel is, here’s that wonderful young man, parachuted down—’

Mrs Oliver interrupted: ‘He’s sixty.’

‘Oh no!’

‘He is.’

‘I don’t see him like that. Thirty-five— not a day older.’

‘But I’ve been writing books about him for thirty years, and he was at least thirty-five in the first one.’

‘But, darling, if he’s sixty, you can’t have the tension between him and the girl— what’s her name? Ingrid. I mean, it would make him just a nasty old man!’

‘It certainly would.’

‘So you see, he must be thirty-five,’ said Robin triumphantly.

‘Then he can’t be Sven Hjerson. Just make him a Norwegian young man who’s in the Resistance Movement.’

‘But darling Ariadne, the whole point of the play is Sven Hjerson. You’ve got an enormous public who simply adore Sven Hjerson, and who’ll flock to see Sven Hjerson. He’s box office, darling!’

Yeah, I can see Christie having exactly this sort of conversation with agents and producers about Poirot and Marple, and I can see Christie using this particular book as a dig at people trying to exploit her characters. And given the resolution of the plot, what a dig this is!!! If only it had deterred her estate to employ Charles Osborne to adapt her plays as novels!


So, while the mystery plot is rather mediocre, the context this novel provides for Poirot as a character that has developed a public persona outside of the books is just marvelous.



Two Serious Ladies

Two Serious Ladies - Jane Bowles


She was suffering as much as she had ever suffered before, because she was going to do what she wanted to do. But it would not make her happy. She did not have the courage to stop from doing what she wanted to do. She knew that it would not make her happy, because only the dreams of crazy people come true. She thought that she was only interested in duplicating a dream, but in doing so she necessarily became the complete victim of a nightmare.

Well, that was a rambling gallop through the litany of first world problems faced by the bored if ever there was one.


Did this book have shock value when it was first published?


This nearly ended up being the first DNF of 2017, and part of me wish it had been. 

In the Shadow of Islam & The Oblivion Seekers

In the Shadow of Islam - Isabelle Eberhardt The Oblivion Seekers (Peter Owen Modern Classics) - Isabelle Eberhardt

In the Shadow of Islam & The Oblivion Seekers are both collections of writing by another lady travel writer that I have encountered - Isabelle Eberhard. 


Never heard of her? I had not either, but a quick look at her biography ensures that I will look at a more in-depth biography about her.

"ISABELLE EBERHARDT (1877–1904) was born in Geneva, the illegitimate daughter of a former Russian Orthodox priest and a part-Russian, part-German aristocratic mother. Her father was an anarchist and nihilist who was to convert to Islam, and his daughter’s life was to take similar dramatic turns before her tragically early death at the age of twenty-seven. Increasingly isolated from her family and her inheritance, she was plagued by emotional and financial problems, but she had a fierce will. From an early age she dressed as a man for the greater freedom this allowed, and she developed a literary talent and a gift for languages, including Arabic. Like her father Eberhardt became drawn to Islam. She converted while in Algeria with her mother. After her mother’s death she cut all ties with her family, called herself Si Mahmoud Essadi and travelled throughout North Africa. She became involved with Qadiriyya Sufi order, married an Algerian soldier, worked as a war reporter, helped the poor and needy and fought against the injustices of French colonial rule. She was also the victim of an assassination attempt but later successfully pleaded for the life of the man who attacked her. She openly rejected conventional European morality of the time, preferring to choose her own path, and drank alcohol, smoked marijuana and had numerous affairs. She died in a flash flood in Aïn Séfra, Algeria, in 1904."


Eberhardt, Isabelle. In The Shadow of Islam (Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 25-32). Peter Owen Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

In both collectoins, In the Shadow of Islam & The Oblivion Seekers, Eberhardt describes life in norther Africa, Algeria to be precise, from the point of someone actually living with the people at around 1900. She doesn't cling to any European perspectives she may hold and gives a voice to the people she encounters, their believes, their customs, their reasoning. She describes tribal rivalries, domestic issues, love, slavery, hardship, wealth - all of which seems to have its place in her settings. The stories are not  connected and aren't really stories either. Rather they are vignettes of observations or conversations mixed with stories. 


Because Eberhardt does not give the account from the perspective of a European traveller, but of someone who is searching for her own self, she does not judge. or at least, she pretends not to judge.


The stories truly are interesting. However, her writing is - lyrical as it is - does at times come across as too stylised to be a true account of her observations. Some poetic licence was no doubt at play.


When looking at both collections separately, In the Shadow of Islam is a better book. It contains one or two stories that are also in The Oblivion Seekers but I found the translation of the stories in In the Shadow of Islam to have a much better flow.


In a way this is surprising because The Oblivion Seekers has gathered more praise on account of the translation by Paul Bowles, which in my opinion is not warranted. I found Bowles' translation hard to read. 


In the Shadow of Islam - 3.5*

The Oblivion Seekers - 2.5*




‘I don’t care if I dress as a workman, but to wear ill-fitting, cheap and ridiculous women’s clothes, no, never...’


-- Isabelle Eberhardt

The Woman in White

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

At the ripe age of sixty, I make this unparalleled confession. Youths! I invoke your sympathy. Maidens! I claim your tears. 

So finally, finally I got around to reading the classic that is The Woman in White. Many thanks to Murder by Death for being my reading buddy. It certainly helped me to sustain momentum at the end.


About the book, I am so glad I read it. I didn't love it, but I fully acknowledge that it is a remarkable book and, its time, must have caused quite a stir. 

I loved the narration from several points of view - basically, every character got their say at one point. Even a grave stone got a paragraph to tell part of the story!


I loved the plot and the twists - but I won't go into them because, erm, spoilers and such - even tho I already had a good idea of where the plot was going to go.


I loved that there was such a mix of characters. From the courageous, to the devious, to the whiny, to the downright pathetic. And no, the "hero" of the piece was not necessarily the best character.


In fact, Walter Hartwright was such an annoying, whiny, lovesick puppy for the first part of the book that I felt some great relief when another character took over the narration.

Luckily, Walter improved later in the book. (Although, he remained a condescending git.) 


The second main character, Laura, was no better. If there was a quote to describe her, this would be my pick:

"I am so useless— I am such a burden on both of you," she answered, with a weary, hopeless sigh. "You work and get money, Walter, and Marian helps you. Why is there nothing I can do? You will end in liking Marian better than you like me— you will, because I am so helpless! Oh, don't, don't, don't treat me like a child!"

Luckily, Laura is absent for much of the book's a mystery.


Btw, Murder by Death and I had the same edition of the book - a 1967/8 faux leather Heron Books (London) edition from the Literary Heritage Collection, and I have to say this was a fabulous way to read this book -





No, my favourite character of this book was Marian Halcombe, whom Walter (the main character) describes as follows on their first encounter:

The easy elegance of every movement of her limbs and body as soon as she began to advance from the far end of the room, set me in a flutter of expectation to see her face clearly. She left the window— and I said to myself, The lady is dark. She moved forward a few steps— and I said to myself, The lady is young.

She approached nearer— and I said to myself (with a sense of surprise which words fail me to express), The lady is ugly!

Never was the old conventional maxim, that Nature cannot err, more flatly contradicted— never was the fair promise of a lovely figure more strangely and startlingly belied by the face and head that crowned it. The lady's complexion was almost swarthy, and the dark down on her upper lip was almost a moustache.

She had a large, firm, masculine mouth and jaw; prominent, piercing, resolute brown eyes; and thick, coal-black hair, growing unusually low down on her forehead. Her expression— bright, frank, and intelligent— appeared, while she was silent, to be altogether wanting in those feminine attractions of gentleness and pliability, without which the beauty of the handsomest woman alive is beauty incomplete.

Well, as I said, Walter was a bit of a git. However, this is one of the examples in the book that shows how Collins set out his narratives and that he did to include humor, even if it was kinda shallow. 


Some of us rush through life, and some of us saunter through life. Mrs. Vesey SAT through life.

All of this was very well. Good writing, a well laid out plot, a romantic element, experimental writing (for its time), fascinating characters, ...

So, why did The Woman in White not sweep me off my feet?


I guess the simple answer to this is that the story dragged. A LOT. I'm at a loss to see why we needed to read the Third Epoch, other than this having being printed as a serial originally and Collins obviously kept the story going for a paycheck.


Had he cut some of the overly detailed explanations at the end I would have enjoyed this much, much more. Alas, he didn't. Just could not come to the point, which reminded me of all the things that were so annoying about Walter in the beginning of the book - it took him ages to come to a conclusion about his feelings that were just so obvious:

I loved her. Ah! how well I know all the sadness and all the mockery that is contained in those three words. I can sigh over my mournful confession with the tenderest woman who reads it and pities me. I can laugh at it as bitterly as the hardest man who tosses it from him in contempt. I loved her! Feel for me, or despise me, I confess it with the same immovable resolution to own the truth.


No shit, Sherlock.



Metropolis - Eddie Vega, Thea von Harbou

Dieses Buch ist kein Gegenwartsbild. Dieses Buch ist kein Zukunftsbild. Dieses Buch spielt nirgendwo. Dieses Buch dient keiner Tendenz, keiner Klasse, keiner Partei. Dieses Buch ist ein Geschehen, das sich um eine Erkenntnis rankt: Mittler zwischen Hirn und Händen muß das Herz sein. —Thea von Harbou

This book is not of today. This book is not of the future. It tells of no place. It serves no cause, class or party. This book is a story which grows on the understanding that: "The mediator between brain and muscle must be the Heart." —Thea von Harbou

Inspired by Troy's posts on all things Metropolis, I finally managed to watch the film and read the book by Fritz Lang's wife Thea von Harbou. Unlike some of her other novels, Metropolis actually did not start as a script but was published 1925, before the film was made. 


It is of course nearly impossible to read the book without being reminded of the imagery of the film. Even tho I had not seen the film before I read the book, the images from the film have permeated western culture so much that I would wager that only few people have not been exposed to them - be it through music videos, films, design...



Back to the book. I really enjoyed it. It was not perfect. It had some issues, but they were not able to spoil the story or the imagination, or the language. 

I cannot put my finger on it but this was a book where I had to read out passages aloud because the writing was so dramatic that I had to hear it. (Btw, I read the German original and cannot speak for the English - or any other - translation on this.)


With other books, the overly dramatic writing would have caused me to dislike the book, but for Metropolis - whose story and imagery (even in the book) is based on the constant struggle between extremes (like the "head" v "hand", the "above" v "below", "man" v "machine", etc.) - it worked. 


The second aspect I really enjoyed was the use of different pieces of mythology that are woven into the story. We get medieval chivalry, biblical, references, Hindu mythology (there are references to deities like Ganesha), Norse mythology - one of the characters who set off the plot is "Hel"! (bodes well, doesn't it?) - Greek mythology, and so much more. While the message is rather general, the symbolism is so strong in this one that it felt like a puzzle at times, which was highly entertaining.


There are some aspects, however, which were challenging in the book, which the film (and I cannot praise the film high enough) overcame: At times the book drags, and there are some scenes that don't really make sense (like what was up with Josaphat and the plane???). As a result, some parts of the book take a bit work (yes, actual work) to get through them to get to the somewhat vague message that is already given to us on page one. 

Also, there is this one dream scene in the book that is so obscure that it made little sense without the visual aid of the film, even though the text does not withhold any information about the significance of the scene. It just really works better in the film, but this is why von Harbou was better known for her screenwriting than for her novels. 

"The crown rested on the head of a woman. And the woman was sitting upon a scarlet-coloured beast, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet and decked with gold, precious stones and pearls. She had in her hand a golden cup. On the crowned brow of the woman there stood, mysteriously written: Babylon."

"Like a deity, she grew up and radiated. Death and the seven Deadly Sins bowed low before her."

"And the woman who bore the name Babylon had the features of Maria, whom I loved… "

"The woman arose. She touched the cross-arched vault of the lofty cathedral with her crown. She seized the hem of her cloak and opened it. And spread out her cloak with both hands… Then one saw that the golden cloak was embroidered with the images of manifold demons. Beings with women's bodies and snakes' heads— beings half bull, half angel— devils adorned with crowns, human faced lions."

In the film, this translated into one of the scenes I loved best for its expressionist features, when the danse macabre ensues within the club reserved for the elite of Metropolis, when the re-imagined Hel (in a manner of a stylised dance) unleashes her evil onto onlookers...


Dancing Lady anyone?


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