Madame Chrysanthème

4620562229_a354537572What a strange book.

It grips you with beautiful descriptions of Japan, shocks you with harsh, almost racist remarks about its people and leaves you with disgust or pity for the protagonist who had sought after this cold and calculative illusion of a relationship.

In the end she is counting the money while he leaves her like this:

“Well, little mousmé, let us part good friends; one last kiss even, if you like. I took you to amuse me; you have not perhaps succeeded very well, but after all you have done what you could: given me your little face, your little curtseys, your little music; in short, you have been pleasant enough in your Japanese way. And who knows, perchance I may yet think of you sometimes when I recall this glorious summer, these pretty quaint gardens, and the ceaseless concert of the cicadas.”

Well, what a great affair that was.


P. Loti (right) with “Chrysanthème” and his friend Yves in Japan, 1885.


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?

The Piano Tuner

This time it happened to me inversely; hearing a piece reminded me of a book.

Ravel’s piano concerto for the left hand:

A dark, intriguing opening, like the foggy England where the hero considers that mysterious invitation…

Maybe it’s his uneventful life, maybe it’s the prospect of adventure that lead him to embark. But it’s the calling of the piano that tempts and draws him deeper and deeper in the jungle…
It is a long expedition and he is eager to arrive.

5:08 Arrival at the exotic place but days spent in solitude, working on the piano, meticulously tuning it note by note, carefully observing it and thinking of his life…

6:55 Days pass for he delays his departure, he explores, he changes.

Months pass and his stay in Burma, dangers and adventures, all feel like a dream.
Persisting through difficulties, happy times, he plays the piano…
Delights of the orient, where nature and people are savage but pure…rythms, marches and dances…a new world has opened for him and he realises he may not want to leave anymore…

13:56 Yet what about his wife, his life back in England?

17:11 Enemies approach the fort, an attack is imminent…will the truce hold?

Interesting fact: the piece was written by Ravel for Paul Wittgenstein, a pianist who lost his right arm during World War I. Paul was the brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.


Alessandro_baricco_silk_pbA note, her writing in japanese, he could understand nothing, yet he kept it…
Unknown language to him, mysterious, like music can be, no comprehension but still feelings, one feels and hears what he wants to.

The end was shocking.
That selfless, silent devotion and dedication.
The kind of unconditional love which
you do not appreciate until it is too late.
And when it is too late, there is only longing.

(0:09 “κάποτε, κάποτε θα ‘ρθει…” ~sometime, sometime she’ll come…)

‘It is a strange grief.’
‘To die of nostalgia for something you will never live’

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.


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.


Now what to say…Nadja_livre_de_poche

Surrealism, a torrent of words and phrases in the beginning, till Nadja appears…
Nadja, mysterious, and strange, and mad. She comes and goes, comes and goes, and yet we learn little of her, her thoughts are racing, frightening delusions, her way of life as irrational as Breton’s writing -hazy and dreamy and illogical.

And as sudden as she came, she disappears.

So what’s left?
What’s left after love is gone; the impact she had in your life…