Polyphonic secrets and unanimous war consequences – Le poids des secrets (pentalogy), by Aki Shimazaki


First tome of the pentalogy

I hesitated to write about this series of books I’ve just read, not because I wasn’t sure what I thought about it, but because they haven’t been translated to English yet. Then I thought, they deserve whatever meagre attention I’m able to bring to them, so here it goes:

This is a series of 5 small books (100 pages), that my physical therapist lent me, when we were discussing books in the middle of some knee exercises (what, do I manage to bring books in just any conversation? I at least try!).

Each of the five books has a different narrator, all from the same extended family. It starts with Yukiko, telling her and her parent’s life, and the dramatic events that occur, both in the familial history and outside of it, as Japanese history unfolds, with the 2nd World War, and the atomic bomb in Nagazaki. All the other books follow the same general themes: the family history, spanning over 4 generations, and its  devastating secrets, and the History of Japan, of the Korean immigrants, of the bombs and the 1923  earthquake.

9142909It is a very skilled picture of Japanese culture over the years covered – and a great lesson in Japanese history, also, as I knew very little of the tensions between Koreans and Japanese, the earthquake, but it is also a masterful portrayal of this family, through all those different voices. Even more impressive when you learn the books have been written directly in French by Shimazaki, who learnt it when she was 40 years old, living in Canada (geniuses like those would be very annoying, if they didn’t produce such interesting books!)


Handschuhen in April? Sind Sie verrückt? and other Berlin oddities


Don’t let the blue sky fool you. It was 5 degrees at noon yesterday, and windy

Ich bin jetzt in Berlin (don’t worry, the whole post won’t be in die wunderbare Sprache von Goethe (I’m just thinking in German right now, which – with the beer I’m drinking – makes my brain even more mushy than usual).



Memorial to the murdered jews of Europe, a sobering ensemble of grey blocks on uneven ground, with an underground information center stating the names of 3 millions holocaust victims

As you may or may not know, I’ve had to re-organize this gap year I’m in due to my knee ligaments turning into cauliflower (that’s the way the radiologist described them, so I’m going to assume it’s a new technical term they didn’t teach us at med school), after a ski injury. Part of this reorganization and new-found love-hatred relationship with my crutches meant I couldn’t go to Senegal for a project any more, and decided to go to Berlin to practice my German, something I would have had to do anyway, normally later in the year, as I’m going to start working (“for real”) as a doctor (which still sounds very strange) in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, come fall.


So, to say it in a few words (which means you might have skipped that whole intro, too bad), I’m in Berlin for 2 months, still half-handicapped, with “intensiv Deutschkurse”, and still some time on my own to discover the city. Really, as rehabilitation goes, I could be worse.
Continue reading

Mad women. Mad women? The days of Abandonment, by Elena Ferrante, Book Review (#AW80Books

Everybody (mostly in the english-speaking bibliophile world) has been talking about Elena Ferrante, lately. I was curious, as, strangely, though she has been translated in French for quite a few years already, there wasn’t that much of a buzz surrounding her Neapolitan Novels (or not one that I noticed). Which is paradoxical because I usually hear about more Italian writers in the French (translated) book world than in the English (that is not limited to Italian fiction, and probably due to the fact that the English literary scene is bigger than the French-speaking one, and therefore the drive for translated fiction is less important. Or, it might be a cultural thing. I was half suspicious, I had kind of decided in my head that I already had my panel of favourite Italian writers (Calvino,Erri De Luca, Goliarda Sapienza, Margaret Mazzantini, and a few others), and, like I often do in the most annoying way, judged in advance that maybe that buzz wasn’t really worth it.

Anyway, I was looking her up at my public library (yes, it is mine, I’ve decided), and found not the Neapolitan Novels, but one of her first novels, The Days of Abandonment (I giorni dell’abbandono). This is a long, almost continuous monologue about Olga, a writer, a mother of two children, and an spouse, whose husband leaves her, suddenly. This abandonment, as it is felt, leads her to a slow descent of rationality loss, where she abandons the world, her family, her normal functioning, and herself.

Beautifully written, it explores this episode of loss of self, this gripping, raw testimony of a crumbling, like no other book I have read so far. You are, at every step, with Olga. You are, for once, the mad woman, you don’t get to observe from afar. In that same way, you don’t get to judge. And you feel, or at least I felt, the fall, almost from within. She seems to be left with no skin, exposed to the tiniest drift of air, with burst of violence and rare moments of self awareness, and you aren’t spared any second of it.

From the premise, you might think this is a story that has been told many times already: the woman who loses herself, in a crisis. But I don’t think it has been told that way. It is gripping, and beautiful, and scary, as true madness, felt, must be.

So I get the buzz surrounding her, and I’m joining the fan-base, at least for this book. This is a must read.

Books… to break your back while traveling

Books happened.

I know.

But how am I to resist when the English library in my Hometown decided to do a big spring second hand book sale just the weekend before I left for Berlin (where I am now, by the way, more about this later), I just had to fill my bag pack with them, really. Travelling light is overrated, I tell you. I went in and found (for a bargain price – one more reason I couldn’t resist, what usually keeps me from buying too many books in Switzerland is their ridiculous price, so when they are that cheap, nothing stands in the way anymore) :


Pile of Books getting used to a Berlin environment (fitting rather well, I would say)

A song for Issy Bradley, by Carys Bray, which I sort of remembered I had heard good things about, so I just went for it

Deaf sentence, by David Lodge (the only Lodge they had, which coincidentally is one of the few I haven’t read yet, that’s predestination for you or I wasn’t raised in the birth place of Calvinist protestantism)
On Chesil beach, by Ian McEwan. Which is a test, as I didn’t enjoy Atonement that much, and wouldn’t have bought an other McEwan at a full price, but for 1 Swiss franc, you can allow for second chances to happen.

– Charles lamb’s Essays for Elia

– Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth (Because I read “the taxidermist daughter”, a few months ago, and really enjoyed the atmosphere and her writing,  so I am really looking forward to this)

And(left on my piano who in the present reduced circumstances (in terms of book space) is forced to shadow as a bookshelf)

-That edition of Vile bodies, all black and gold, and shiny, and,… well, maybe I’m a superfictial bright young thing
The other books decorating this bed table in the room I’m renting are books I received and took with me to Berlin, so that they  may travel a bit too (it is only fair). Safe to say a couple of bookish weeks are coming!



Room I ‘m renting even has the required “I’m fully at home here, what are you doing here intruder” cat, which is all I needed to really enjoy Berlin

A poem for Sunday

Today, one of my absolute favourite poems in the English language, even if  I generally don’t care that much for E. E. Cummings’ poetry. But this one, for an unaccountable reason, stands out. It probably is due to the sheer magic of the verse “Into the street of the sky night walks scattering poems“. Perfection.

23 23(Sonnet IX from Tulips, 1922)

A poem for Sunday (and for National Poetry Month)

This, for a change, is a more modern poem, by W. Waring Cuney – an American poet and singer I discovered through this poem, which was on my way to the city centre when I lived in Leiden. I just like the atmosphere of the picture.

IMG_0839As April is “national Poetry Month”, the Poetry foundation is giving their April issue for free, as a pdf download, a great way to discover (American) poets, check it out!

Here’s the full poem, so that you can appreciate it without the disturbing branches:

This here 
Is what 
To the Blues.
That there 
Is what
To the Blues. 
This here,
have you any cool?
one horn full.
Filled the Blues
That's what 
To the Blues. 
That again 
A nickel in, 
John Burkes 
Carried on. 
A nickel in, 
The platter 
A spin,
Let's listen 
To what Charlie
To the Blues.

W.Waring Cuney

Great boat – thank god!

Inspired by Charlie Croker’s “Lost in translation, misadventures in English abroad” that I just recently read and adored, I went through my travel pictures to pick a sample of random, funny signs from all around the world. I don’t think those as mistakes –  in fact, most of them are clearly far better that way!


A very musical boat/beat rule, I mean, please don’t climb out of the beat, that’s at least a pitch-perfect-level offense!


Puducherry Police warning at the beach. When the sea is not safe for bath AND life, really, you shouldn’t push it.


Entrance of a Cinema in Benin, reads: Comfort, refinement and quality with Master Soft, – hard, – emotional, – “big show”, – “all age” films

Chapattis2 141

In a natural preservation area, India: Please throw your glasses before entering, it will surely help you find all those rare birds living in the wild we were advertising for


A boat in Benin has God’s mobile phone number, always convenient


Gym in South India: has real estate facilities, a travel agency, and rents minicabs. What you would expect from any gym, really


In the tradition of naming your small business after God or religion, here comes “Great boat, thank God!” which doesn’t sound like the most confident boat-related-statement, but do come in!

Personal interests: donating blood, 14 gallons so far

This amazing quote – which I would probably have used as a title at some point, regardless of what I was going to write underneath, comes from “ Lost in translation“, by Charlie Croker, a hilarious small book collecting mistakes and weird phrasing used abroad (but not exclusively). It had me in fits of laughter a few days ago, and I rarely laugh out loud while reading, which is a testimony to how great it is. Continue reading

Lazing on a sunny afternoon…

Let me preface this by saying I know I will annoy anyone stuck inside working, or enduring rain somewhere. But I’ve just spent 3 hours reading in the sun, in my garden, interrupted only rarely by the occasional tenacious ant or fly, and to go make myself a coffee.
To me, that is the definition of bliss.

And I tend to forget how rare the true peaceful moments are, how celebrated they should be. I’ve only had a garden for a few years, growing up in the city, and won’t have it for many months more, sadly, so this is the last spring I’ll get to enjoy in it. I thought I would share it with you. How does your reading environment look like, this weekend?


Said garden would not be complete without our usual visitor, chasing his main enemy: grass


Our old apple tree, who fell one windy day but decided to continue on a more horizontal way of life



Didn’t even have to photoshop out a single cloud – not that I would know how to do that anyway