Thursday, May 19, 2016

297. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife (2003) was one of the books I read last year or two. Again, I am not truly reviewing them. I am only talking about it.

The story is about a woman who fell in love with a man with a genetic disorder that allows him to unpredictably travel through time. This unpredictability of his travels led to several problems in that relationship. However, through some means involving the future self of Henry, the man, Clare - the woman - got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, Alba. Alba was also diagnosed with chrono-impairment, the genetic disorder that causes time travel; however, Alba was able to control her destinations and the times of her travels.

The story seems to be about waiting for love and the problems that arise from such waiting. It is weird. This novel defies classification: is it a love story? Is it a science fiction? Have you read this novel? What's your opinion?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Quotes from My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk*

Before my birth there was infinite time, and after my death, inexhaustible time. [Page 3]

Four years after I first left Istanbul, while traveling through the endless steppes, snow-covered mountains and melancholy cities of Persia, carrying letters and collecting taxes, I admitted to myself that I was slowly forgetting the face of the childhood love I'd left behind. With growing panic, I tried desperately to remember her, only to realize that despite love, a face long not seen finally fades. [7]

When you love a city and have explored it frequently on foot, your body, not to mention your soul, gets to know the streets so well after a number of years that in a fit of melancholy, perhaps stirred by a light snow falling ever so sorrowfully, you'll discover your legs carrying you of their own accord toward one of your favorite promontories. [11]

After I took care of that pathetic man, wandering the streets of Istanbul for four days was enough to confirm that everyone with a gleam of cleverness in his eye and the shadow of his soul cast across his face was a hidden assassin. Only imbeciles are innocent. [18]

I was a maiden of striking beauty then. Any man who caught sight of me once, from afar, or from between parted curtains or yawning doors, or even through the layers of my modest head coverings, immediately became enamored of me. I'm not being a braggart, I'm explaining this so you'll understand my story and be better able to share in my grief. [47]

You know how in such situations reasonable people immediately sense that love without hope is simply hopeless, and understanding the limits of illogical realm of the heart, make a quick end of it by politely declaring, "They didn't find us suitably matched. That's just the way it is." But I'll you know that my mother said several times, "At least don't break the boy's heart." [48]

[A] person never knows exactly what she herself is thinking. This is what I know: Sometimes I'll say something and realize upon uttering it that it is of my own thinking; but no sooner do I arrive at that realization than I'm convinced the very opposite is true. [49]

Drink down your coffee so your sleep abandons you and your eyes open wide. Stare at me as you would at jinns and let me explain to you why I'm so alone. [56]

Painting is the silence of thought and the music of sight. [72]

True ability and talent couldn't be corrupt even by the love of gold or fame. Furthermore, if truth be told, money and fame are the inalienable rights of the talented, as in my case, and only inspire us to greater feats. [75]

If love is part of the subject of the painting, the work ought to be rendered with love...if there's pain involved, pain should issue from the painting. Yet pain out to emerge from the at first glance invisible yet discernible inner harmony of the picture, not from the figures in the illustration or from their tears. [89]

Before the art of illumination there was blackness and afterward there will also be blackness. Through our colors, paints, art and love, we remember that Allah had commanded us to "See!" To know is to remember that you've seen. To see is to know without remembering. Thus, painting is remembering the blackness. The great master, who shared a love of painting and perceived that color and sight arose from darkness, longed to return to Allah's blackness by means of color. Artists without memory neither remember Allah nor his blackness. All great masters, their work, seek that profound void within color and outside time. [92]

Tell me then, does love make one a fool or do only fools fall in love? [99]

Haste delays the fruits of love. [100]

It wasn't aging, losing one's beauty or even being bereft of husband and money that was the worst of all calamities, what was truly horrible was not having anyone to be jealous of you. [106]

The larger and more colorful a city is, the more places there are to hide one's guilt and sin; the more crowded it is, the more people there are to hide behind. [123]

A city's intellect out to be measured not by its scholars, libraries, miniaturists, calligraphers and schools, but by the number of crimes insidiously committed on its dark streets over thousands of years. [123]

[L]ove is the ability to make the invisible visible and the desire always to feel the invisible in one's midst. [139]

If presented with the opportunity, we would choose to do in the name of a greater goal whatever awful thing we've already prepared to do for the sake of our own miserable gains, for the lust that burns within us or for the love that breaks our hearts... [144]

When faced with death, people lose control of their bodily functions - particularly the majority of those men who are known to be bravehearted. For this reason, the corpse-strewn battlefields that you've depicted thousands of times reek not of blood, gunpowder and heated armor as is assumed, but of shit and rotting flesh. [151]

Disappearing in a sulk might be a symptom of love, yet a sulking love is also tiresome and holds no promise of a future. [184]

Color is the touch of the eye, music to the deaf, a word out of the darkness. Because I've listened to souls whispering - like the susurrus of the wind - from book to book and object to object for tens of thousands of years, allow me to say that my touch resembles the touch of angels. Part of me, the serious half, calls out to your vision while the mirthful half soars through the air with your glances. [225]

The first step is marriage ... Let's see to that first. Love comes after marriage. Don't forget: Marriage douses love's flame, leaving nothing but a barren and melancholy blackness. Of course, after marriage, love itself will vanish anyway;  but happiness fills the void. Still, there are those hasty fools who fall in love before marrying and, burning with emotion, exhaust all their feeling, believing love to be the highest goal in life. [231]

Only when one escapes the dungeons of time and space does it become evident that life is a straitjacket. However blissful it is being a soul without a body in the realm of the dead, so too is being a body without a soul among the living; what a pity nobody realizes this before dying. [281]

[I]n order for a genuine wandering dervish to escape the devil within, he must roam his entire life without remaining anywhere too long. [339]

If all men went to Heaven, no one would ever be frightened, and the world and its governments could never function on virtue alone; for in our world evil is as necessary as virtue and sin as necessary as rectitude. [350]

You're seeking what you want with your heart, whereas you need to be making decisions with your mind. [420]

Despite knowing what it takes to be content, a man might still be unhappy. [445]

Time doesn't flow if you don't dream. [466]

Without harboring bad intentions, one never goes to Hell. [482]
*Version published by Faber and Faber 2001

Saturday, May 14, 2016

296. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

This belongs to the books I read when my interest in read was waning. I did not get to review it. And I am not going to do so now. Again, I am going to state what I remember of this book so we can discuss it, if you have read it. 

One of the reasons I wanted to read Pamuk was that he is a Nobelist, having won it in 2006. Besides, he's Turkish and the Turkish have a rich history including the Ottoman Empire, making it a joy to read the level of sophistication of the time. This book covers a lot in just over 500 pages. I cannot seem to recollect and link the strands but this is what I remember:
  1. Each character narrates his part of the story in the first person in chapters dedicated to him or her. Thus there are multiple narrators in the story who are aware of each other. The narrators know each other and they know they are characters. The story begins with a murder with the would-be murder narrating his part of the story followed by a dog and a tree;
  2. The narrators are also aware of the reader and occasionally address the him or her. In fact, the reader is part of the narrative;
  3. The narrators sometimes refer to themselves in the third-person  even when they are the ones narrating the story;
  4. The story is about the culture of the Turkish people during the famous Ottoman Empire and the nascent stages of Islam. It explains why artists or miniaturists of the time did not draw their objects - trees, humans - in a way as to make them be identified, as the Franks (Europeans) did.
A great European master miniaturist and another great master artist are walking through a Frank meadow discussing virtuosity and art. As they stroll, a forest comes into view before them. The more expert of the two says to the other: "Painting in the new style demands such talent that if you depicted one of the trees in this forest, a man who looked upon the painting could come here, and if he so desired, correctly select that tree from among the others".
I thank Allah that I, the humble tree before you, have not been drawn with such intent. And not because I fear that if I'd been thus depicted all the dogs in Istanbul would assume I was a real tree and piss on me: I don't want to be a tree, I want to be its meaning. (Chapter 10, Page 61)
  1.  The book also discusses the unrest and military invasions and murders among Provinces and rulers;
  2. The making of books: printing, illustrations, and binding seemed to be one of the themes of this story. And love too.
  3. Pamuk made every significant thing he wanted to talk about, such as the role dogs played or how they are perceived; Death, to narrate its story. It is as if he does not want to be directly involve - like making the culture show itself to the reader instead.
Actually, I enjoyed the book but I also remember struggling to keep up with some of its slow sections. It is different and for me this is what novels should be - novel.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

295. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Usually, when I read a book I make an attempt at reviewing and sharing with my readers. Sometimes attempt fails. Sometimes it feels like smugness: why should anyone pay attention to you when there are a thousand splendid reviews on the same book. This feeling becomes worse when I am talking about a non-African book. Consequently, I am changing the tack today. Today, we are all going to review this beautiful, and yet unsettling, book together. Yes, you and I - we; that is, if you have read it.

Kafka on the Shore is a story of two strands: the story of the 15-year old Kafka Tamura around whose neck, or on whose head, lay a huge chunk of Oedipal curse; and an old Nakata who lost a large part of his mental faculties when he survived a long coma induced by strange lights somewhere in the forests during the World War II, when he was a child. Nakata, however, gained the ability to talk to cats and to make strange things happen, like making leeches fall from the sky.

Kafka on the Shore is not the usual story that seems to provide answers with nicely tied-up endings. In this, Murakami tested the boundaries of belief and of the novel itself. He stretched the horizons of reality and the paranormal. To western readers satisfied with realist novels, this book will not be interesting as they cannot imagine how people - like Johnnie Walker or Colonel Sanders - could just appear and act, the latter says he is just a 'concept'. These individuals will marvel how walking through a forest could lead you to a place that is between this world and the world beyond, perhaps Dante's Limbo. They will scratch their heads to understand how a self-confessed cat-killer could collect the souls of cats and make flutes with them or how a 'concept' Colonel could suddenly become a pimp. However, for readers used to Latin American literature and for African readers, this will not be difficult to fathom for these are the stories we tell every day.

Even though this book borders on the surreal, it purveys modernity. In it you will meet characters who discuss music - classical music, poetry, philosophy both Eastern and Western, among others; you will meet individuals with so much America in them that sometimes you will wonder if the book is set in one of these western countries instead of Nakano, Shikoku and those in between. There is even a transgender gay who dresses like a man and who was referred to with masculine pronouns throughout the book. Juxtaposing modernity and such 'absurdity' to get a novel so complex and yet so easy to read is not a task the novice novelist can attempt. It, truly, is the work of a master.

So I am inviting you to a discussion of the novel. What did you take from this novel? Did you like it? Anything you have to say is welcome. I will respond to comments.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

A Lady’s Handbag

I am sharing with you my first poem in more than two years. 

You were like a lady’s handbag
Binging on all the lists they provided;
You were ravenous…

Having not learnt the hows and whens
of letting go
you swallowed all:
            the pens, the sandals
            the pains, the scandals

You imbibed them
and you swell, like a river in July,
and hanged on

On a branch
whose xylem has been beaten by the Harmattan

On a ledge
whose underbelly has been eaten by salt

On a hand
that gets weaker every step of the thousand miles

And the wind came and broke the branch
and shook your outstretched hand
and the bag fell from its ledge

onto their torrid faces

Exposing the dross –
The gross congeries of misshapen things;
An amorphousness

Of memories lost and forgotten
Of things seen and unidentified
Of events fluxed in the static-fluidity of time

You laid there
A consciousness of shattered things
under the feasting flashes of social-media addicts

who meme’d you and mined you
into juicy feeds and newsy reads, conjecturing
            The cause
            The source…


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Currently Reading...

This week something nudged me. I have not been reading for sometime. It has been about two years of leave, an unnecessarily hiatus, from reading. But then I had lost the joy of reading. The beauty and fun of being in multiple places at the same time; of being in people's world; of being both an active and passive observer of lives.

Of this, several things played a part. I discovered other things, both good and bad. I found myself reading more of 'social media stuff'; playing games; and others. Nothing pushed me to read. Within this period, I also participated less in literary activities. In fact, I have not written a poem in more than two years (excluding Haiku, which I indulged in once in a while). 

But on Sunday, out of nowhere, something nudged me. It suddenly occurred to me that I'm missing my books. So I went to pick up Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. It was the last book I abandoned. Now I am enjoying it. And I believe reading is going to be fun again. And so, I hope, will blogging.

Writers Project of Ghana's Book and Discussion Club - Books for the next three Readings

The Writers Project of Ghana has selected the following books for its next three readings:

  1. May: The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is a collection of short stories;
  2. June: The Mirror of the Sea by Joseph Conrad. This story was published together with A Personal Record by Penguin Classics in an eponymous book titled The Mirror of  the Sea & A Personal Record;
  3. July: Daisy Miller by Henry James
Copies of these books are available at the EPP Bookshop Legon. For inquiries about joining the book club please email bookclub[at]
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