Anna Karenina

What is love?

The harp, those tingly feelings in the stomach when you first realise you miss someone…

The cello, yearning that doesn’t subside but only becomes stronger and stronger…
(0:13 “I can’t stop thinking about you…about you…“)

The clarinet, anticipation, and in the background your heart palpitating nervously.

When finally you meet, violins like your feelings, unfolding slowly at first, till deep from within everything surfaces, emotions coming to you in waves, and the harder you suppress them the harder they return, they overwhelm you, they erupt into passion and you surrender…

You often ask yourself:
03:49 “what will be the end?

What is doomed love?
Do you hear the train coming?

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Doctor Faustus

34440This book grew on me progressively.

When I finished it I was between 2 or 3 stars, I rated it 3, to end up in 4.

There were many reasons to like it: Beethoven’s life was there, the shy man entering the brothel (to touch only the piano from nervousness) was a young Nietzsche, Leverkuhn and his music was based on a real person -A. Schoenberg- his music too revolutionary to be appreciated at the time also. Actually Schoenberg had it worse, I don’t think any composer had ever been more depreciated and publicly humiliated in his early life than he had been.

There were many historical and cultural references and great descriptions of the collective consciousness of the german people in the interwar period -humiliated after the first war and beginning to revive memories of past glory (relevant today as Germany is at a peak). There were also mentions of people who could see the horrible consequences to come but were too few or too late to speak out against the populist tide (relevant always).

And then there were the long, apparently irrelevant passages, describing so many characters or uninteresting events and with a style not easy to follow. I even got the impression that the descriptions of music were more complex than they could have been. It took too long for the climax, too long for the devil to appear, too long for the protagonist’s great last act.


*spoiler*

This disturbing poem based piece by Schoenberg could so fittingly describe Leverkuhn in the last scene: He admits his demonic possession which explains his out of this world (from another planet!) inspiration, in his dark room one by one his few friends begin to leave accusing him of madness, and as he begins to play the piano he looses himself in tones and eventually suffers the breakdown which will lead to his death. He surrendered to the great breath that his music was. For, what was he than a medium, a spark of the holy fire, the whisper of the holy (in our case devil) voice…

I feel the wind of another planet.
Through the darkness faces fade that
Used to look my way in friendship.

I lose myself in tones, circling, weaving,
With unfathomable thanks and unnamed love
I happily surrender to the great breath.

Swimming in a sea of crystal radiance
I am only a spark of the holy fire
I am only a whisper of the holy voice.


This book could have been much shorter, actually I was wondering if a novel like that could ever be written and published nowadays when most people (and editors!) value easiness and brevity more than content.

That being said, I was left with a bittersweet taste.

However after finishing its 800 pages of the greek translation (and being very content to have finally done so), it kept bugging me. A week passed and I felt the need to read again the chapter with the devil. A week later and I read it once more. Few days after and I would look through the book for passages about Germany. And then I caught myself longing even for the “irrelevant” chapters, wanting to read them just for the style they were written.

In the end, difficult and lengthy though it was, I believe this book deserves a second read to get the most of.

Swann´s Way

12749Argg!!
“À la recherche du temps perdu” or how a book will manage to break your nerves.

First pages in the book, you desperately try to make sense of its chaotic lengthy structure when suddenly you get struck by this:
“But it was enough if, in my own bed, my sleep was deep and allowed my mind to relax entirely; then it would let go of the map of the place where I had fallen asleep and, when I woke in the middle of the night, since I do not know where I was, I did not even understand in the first moment who I was; I had only, in its original simplicity, the sense of existence as it may quiver in the depths of an animal; I was more destitute than a cave dweller; but then the memory-not yet of the place where I was, but of several of those where I had lived and where I might have been-would come to me like help from on high to pull me out of the void from which I could not have gone out on my own; I had crossed centuries of civilization in one second…”

How amazing a description of this state of confusion between sleep and wake, like the first moments after you awake from a dream, when you try to make sense of who what where are you…and as the seconds pass this progressive formation of memories is that helps you, you are in a room, in a bed, your bed, your room, oh it was a dream and you woke up, you are you, confusion goes away. Then it must be true, if you didn’t have these extensive memories to help you, this linking ability of past and present, you can imagine how a goldfish may feel, you can “quiver in the depths of an animal”. Yes, this is truly the closest you can get to the basis of the existence, the foundation of you. Brilliant. You are hooked on reading now.

And then? And then the same style of long sentences follows, and if you are patient you can notice (appreciate?) the strange (beautiful?) syntax while trying to figure out whether you should focus on the story finally and not the words on the paper. Having that in mind you keep reading and reading, page after page, when you realize no sense is unfolding, it is 30+ pages of description of objects, people, trivial childhood memories and places and no sign of all these connecting somehow into something meaningful, storylike. Desperation! Where is the book about memories and self-contemplation you thought it to be? You start wondering whether you are losing your time with it (temps perdu indeed!) or whether it’s you that you can’t get it (most likely!) whilst slowly but surely your attention drifts away and you begin in your mind a “recherche” for what your next book will be. And ironically, on page 42: “when I read, I often daydreamed, for entire pages, of something quite different”. No wonder, Proust. No wonder.

Anyway, you make a connection with the author, you think maybe all those pages were intentional to ease you into a story which is coming. And just when you thought you ll give up, indeed the episode with the tea & madeleine cookie begins. It’s such a nice description of the formation and recall of memories triggered by drinking just a cup of tea. But it’s even more amazing that Proust intuitively figured out that memories of smell and taste last longer than any other memories (it is scientifically proven nowadays). And as if that’s not enough, the chapter ends with another great metaphor: “And as in that game enjoyed by the Japanese in which they fill a porcelain bowl with water and steep in it little pieces of paper until then indistinct which, the moment they are immersed, stretch and twist, assume colours and distinctive shapes, become flowers, houses, human figures, firm and recognizable, so now all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water lillies of the Vivonne, and the good people of the village and their little dwellings and the church and all of Combray and its surroundings, all of this which is acquiring form and solidity, emerged, town and garden alike, from my cup of tea.” Makes you want to read more.

And that’s exactly why this book is so annoying. You know there is so much in it, but it requires so much patience, attention and dedication to uncover it. When you read it fast you feel you are missing something, when you read it slow you feel you are spending so much time for it! Especially when there are other more pleasant novels waiting on your to read list. It’s just…finishing only one chapter of 45 pages, took me so much time trying to focus my attention, so much effort and mental strain that, to put it mildly…it is terrifying to consider there are 400 pages more.

And this is only the first volume.

Of seven.

:-/