22.12.09

Wetlands

Paddle
boats paddle steamers
wriggle
out of oblivion,
fiddle
about with the rivers
a deadend riddle
for stagnant waters
muddled up
in rust.

20.12.09

Level B1 Threshold

Grammar makes sense
For everyone but the mother tongue
What else now?
Let's suppose you don't know
What you are speaking of
While blabbering in wonder
Whose soap box
has been found and then lost?
and Where and How and
When?
This is the meaning of
Get something across

Cold Stream

Snow hails the shoreline
tucking its blanket
for Her Majesty Foam
Heal-all through the tempest
while a Blizzard
Calls
Far, in the mainland
There where morning hoar-frost
Melts
Scared by the upcoming Storm
Who's coming next?
Stiff breeze sails the Vessel
Like it did for those wandering trees
whipped by the Wind
for leaving behind what they got
The state that they were in, lost
Wrecked
On the white-covered coast
Bones of a sunken Wish
Untold
Some dressed up icy cellars
calling them Home
let bygones be bygones.

17.12.09

Legitimation Attempt

Shot calls shot
No matter what came first
Forgotten fist, unstable brick
So long
Demolished fault, cause and effect
Twin tipped speech
Keep on
Turning the tables to throw them
Off

16.12.09

Default


Black hole, white spot, minuses and don'ts
Their sum makes no plus
Definitely not
So...
We hereby inform you on the status quo
Sirs, what we got is widely known
as insolvency
it occurs when you won't get neither
your money back nor currency bonds
as long as one can live as far as we can see
You will owe something to yourselves
That's default, a national moan
afore-mentioned and uneasy to blame
Though we accept your proper disdain
No need to argue, we're right, we're unfair
Attention please:
the protest will cease in five minutes.

15.12.09

Ice Cubes

Shapes
Reflecting you attracting me
Rejecting both
Defrosted, defeated
Odd numbers made even
in each single cast
of those dice you earned
Gambling for free
Below stalagmites served on the rocks
Six serial icebergs
Sold as painkillers dot com

8.12.09

Gustaw Herling - Inny świat (A World Apart)


Rating 7.6

This is one of those books which not only should but might deserve to be more widely known.

The first account of "Russian labour camps" I read so far in which the author not only writes about what he survived to, but tries to put it in a larger historical context.
Of course Herling was helped in this task by the fact that his isolation was awful but not as endless as the one of Salamov and Solzenicyn, but still he did an extraordinary job.

At the same time he had the humility of reckoning that the Hell he was put into by fate was a better one compared to the atrocities of the Kolyma.
The passage in which Herling says that he later understood how being sent to the Kolyma for the people "working" in his camp sounded like being sent to Auschwitz for the prisoners of Nazi lagers is astonishing.

One of the many unforgettable lines I already found:

"We can say that the Revolution really overthrew the former order of things. Once slaves were thrown to lions. Now lions are thrown to slaves".

4.9.09

Pawel Huelle - Who Was David Weiser?


Rating 7.0

Another book about the Gdansk / Danzig region I read by coincidence in the same days I put my eyes on the pages of Dog Years by Gunther Grass.

Who Was David Weiser? takes place between the 1950s and the 1970s with a massive use of flashback. It was uneasy to get into the mood of this book, but then I have to say how Pawel Huelle writes like no other novelist I read so far.
Sometimes I appreciate his style sometimes not (the metatextual references to readers, chosen terms and hypothetic editor are out of place), but as a matter of fact the novelist is able to create an interesting and unconventional story out the mysterious events of a distant summer.

The character of Dawid Weiser is one of the most enygmatic I ever found in literature.
Huelle doesn't tell us that much about him, creating a feeling of constant expectation about Weiser all through the book.

Besides, this book revolves around childhood and the process of recollecting its faded memories which is a topic I always liked a lot.

24.8.09

Helga Schneider - The Bonfire of Berlin


Rating 5.8

The climax of this book is basically built on a single peak moment: the young protagonist meeting Adolf Hitler in the Reich Chancellery bunker during the dark days of the so called Battle of Berlin.
One may say that, by writing this, I'm underrating the importance of The Bonfire of Berlin, but actually I do think this "hello-Adolf" moment is the main reason which led editors to publish this book.

Don't take me wrong. I was really interested in this story and particularly happy when I found it midprice. Then I literally devoured the 240 pages wrote by Helga Schneider. Yet sometimes quickness in reading is not to take as a good signal. I guess how most of the times people devour bestsellers, rather than brilliant and insightful books just to read what happens next. As for me, I read the "Da Vinci Code" in a single afternoon but I do think it's crap. Personally a slow reading is more involving and makes me wonder more about story, plot, characters and the message behind a book.

What disappointed me in this novel / memoir has very much to do with both: the writing style used by Helga Schneider and her attempt to write a self-biographical book largely based on her childhood experiences.

Chapter One: style.
I didn't understand why Schneider switches from present to a literary past tense (at least in the Italian edition) from chapter to chapter and even inside the same chapter without a logic. I mean it's not about flashbacks or reminiscences of the young Helga, it's just random.
Moreover, my impression is that the whole book was written in a rush, without caring that much of a re-reading process. I reckon how this aspect may be a quality, looking like a spontaneous impulse to tell a story long time kept by the author, but I didn't appreciated it as someone else did.
Schneider's language is very direct but oozes too much with victimism: basically young Helga was the only good and honest person to be found the collapsing Berlin, while everyone else behave like a beast, being selfish, arrogant, spoilt (i.e. her little brother, portrayed as a blond little creep) or double-dealing. And I found this vision somehow disturbing.

Chapter Two: autobiography.
One may wonder how is possible that fifty years later, Schneider is able to recall what she felt as a seven years old girl, reconstructing whole dialogues and situations with such accuracy. She never mentions about having a diary while living that awful experience and even if she tries to explain this precision with frequent references towards the end of the book to the importance of "looking around for remembering it all" I have some doubts about it. But I guess how this "power of memory" is a common problem while talking about autobiographic novels.

Given this, there are still many good reasons for reading this book, especially if you're interested in a different account of the final days of Germany in World War II seen (and felt) from the side of the defenceless population. But The Bonfire of Berlin is still very far from perfection and delivers a cold-hearted message: everyone deserved to be burned in the German bonfire apart from the innocent, abused narrator who found her way out of the flames.

18.8.09

Ilf & Petrov - American Road Trip


Rating 8.0

Serendipity happens. And this book looks like the perfect example for such an interesting phenomenon. I was randomly investigating on the shelves of a second hand bookstore while my eyes were caught by something named "Il paese di Dio" (God's country)*.

At first I thought it had something to do with theology or whatever else connected with Watchtower or Scientology. With a sarcastic smile painting my face I turned the book on its back I read some magnificent expressions such as: "journalistic account","russian","comic novelists", "road trip", "1935". It was enough. I immediately started salivating just like a Pavlov's dog and I hold the book in my sweated hands caressing it like a cat.

Then for the next three months the book flirted with dust in my room.
But I couldn't forget it. Thus, in a rainy Sunday afternoon, I blew away the dust from his frontpage intoxicating my flatmate and begin to read the Ilf & Petrov's adventures in US.

This book is astonishing. It's not only about its uniqueness. It's about its unresistable humour, its wit, its elegant style, its extremely careful way of observing something that doesn't exist anymore. The two Soviet writers visit the US a few years after the Great Depression without even naming it but making a portrait of a country where everything works, where people are helpful and talkative without being arrogant, where social welfare is making miracles.

At the same time they're extremely realist to show an America where virtues rhymes with vices. This has very much to do with the total lack of curiosity for what is outside the US borders or for the boring similarity of thousands of small towns where you can always choose among three kind of breakfasts, sleeping in the same furnished "camps" (motels have to come), watching the same brainless movies at the cinema.

But you can't miss this book for many other reasons too. Historical ones, for instance. Travelling coast to coast from NYC to Los Angeles and then backwards on their old "noble grey mouse colored" car. the two Russian writers meet Ernest Hemingway and Henry Ford, Bette Davis and Upton Sinclair. They visit General Electric factory and Carlsbad caves, they are introduced to Navahos and walk on the suspended gigantic wires of a still under construction Golden Gate Bridge. They picture an exhilarating description of a football match in San Francisco and are disgusted by a corrida in Juarez, Mexico. And at the same time Ilf & Petrov make an extremely accurate social and economic account of the US, being able to foretell the clockwork mechanism that recently leads to the subprime crisis.

Moreover, I'm sure you will never forget such interesting chaperons like Mr & Mrs Adams who drove the car through the US and represent very well with their way of speaking and behaving the compendium of Ilf & Petrov humouristic side. A sense of humour masterfully built without any trivial aspect but based on cultural influences, interest for everything and a touch of Jerome K. Jerome.

*Don't ask me why in 1947 the Italian translators chose this title. Ilf & Petrov, indeed, talk about US like "God's country" in one of the chapters, but that's not enough to justify this weird choice.

15.8.09

Thor Heyerdahl - Kon-Tiki


Rating 7.0

What are six Norwegian men doing on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?

This question may sound as the beginning of a funny joke or as a riddle, but in fact is the story behind the Kon-Tiki travel. Thor Heyerdahl was certainly a dreamer, but not a stupid. He surrounded himself of practical and tough men for his "suicidal expedition" with the aim of proving his own theory about colonization of a bunch of the most isolated islands of this world.

The book turned out to be less scientific and didactical than I thought and is the kind of story I would have loved to have for bedtime when I was a child.
Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft looks like a very relaxed and even ironic account of 96 days spent navigating all the way through ocean with a balsa wood made raft. The six men enjoy quietness and isolation, symphatizing with fish and living the ocean like a friendly place.

I would like to underline an important aspect: when they did it.
It was 1947. No gps for orientation. No internet for communication. No possibilities of being rescued by helicopters. No technology at all, except for a primitive radio system. When the Kon-Tiki men did this trip their knowledge of the same Pacific Ocean was really fragmentary. Yet they were excited and very much confident about that "crazy flight".

I appreciated their approach to the whole expedition and enjoyed the narration without focusing on literary style that much. Heyerdahl was an explorer and not a novelist and he never tried to pretend to be a writer. He simply tells us what those Six Norwegian Men were doing on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And that story is interesting enough.

5.3.09

Vassily Aksyonov - A Ticket to the stars


Rating 7.6

When I searched for this book and then bought it I didn't know anything more than "Soviet Union bestseller in the 1960s about a bunch of young guys going to Estonia". For my curiosity that was enough for expecting something interesting.

And yet, while reading another Russian novel about travelling by train from the Russian capital city to somewhere else (Moscow to the end of the line by Venedikt Erofeev) I became more and more sceptical about the possibility of reading Aksyonov's one. Erofeev's writing style was confused and hard to follow in sobriety for really capturing my attention that much, even being able of getting his genius and wit here and there.
In fact, when I finished that book I moved "Ticket to the stars" on a distant shelf, far from my view. I made a mistake.

My cat saved me. While hunting a grasshopper in my room she accidentally throw down Aksyonov's novel, that I had almost forgot meanwhile.
I picked up the book and started to read it for winning insomnia without any serious intention of going that far with it. At the contrary, Ticket to the stars turned out to be a refreshing book, about some Moscovite guys in their late teens who decide to win over their boredom going to Tallinn by train with some idealistic dreams of getting a living while there.

The way in which the author write about this bunch of four is really interesting, because of his decision of changing narrator in the different sections of the book. So at first is the older brother of one of the runaway guys, then is the young guy himself, then the story switches to another narrator and so it goes. This might have been confusing but it's not, because of very clear division of the different sections of the novel (I think it helped being published in episodes on a magazine).

At the same time, there is another risk that Aksyonov managed to avoid. Writing about Soviet Union in the early 1960s without putting focus on politics and more or less obscure satire about the government was not that easy. And yet this book is about youth, not about Ussr. Of course the frame around the travelling guys is soviet Russia (they find a job in a kolkhoz, they smoke "proletarian cigarettes", they are shameful of having not read enough Turgenev or Tolstoj), but the novelist talks about them, their aspirations, their dreams, their struggle for being independent from their families.

I've read how this book was not particularly appreciated by the inner circles of Soviet Union when it became popular and now that I finished I can understand the main reasons why. Ticket to the Stars was a brave attempt of writing something new, far from the regime literature as well as the creative (and sometimes frankly boring) forms of literary protests against it. Vassily Aksyonov - or whatever his name is spelt - was a step forward.

28.2.09

Venedikt Erofeev - Moscow to the end of the Line


Rating 6.3

This is a draught of a travelling novel in the eyes of an alcoholic.
Particularly indicated for methodical boozers or alternatively to dedicated followers of pretty much subterranean Russian literature during the last communist years. If you're both, well this book may suit you best. Please, serve your own drink and follow me as far as you can get.

I praise Erofeev. He finally made me learn the importance of choosing the right vodka among hundreds. Thumbs up for Venedikt! Now I know I was wrong and superficial. Yet, unfortunately I still don't like vodka that much.

In a wide range of soliloquies of the tramp protagonist with some astonishing dialogues among a bunch of allegorical, often stray-like characters there is even room for cocktails recipes. Just don't try these cocktails at home. You may have some problems in obtaining the right ingredients and then in mixing them up without causing a blast in your guts. May I suggest you to serve another plain drink of your own?

Well done folks.
Ol' Venedikt would appreciate this identification a lot.

And now it's time for a final sober account. Venedikt Erofeev certainly knew what he was writing and where he was going (end of the line, Petuski!), but for the reader who doesn't manage to find a comfortable place in the author's train it may be hard to follow the same trip on paper. Cheers!