In another life

I read In another life by Marc Levy.

The novel is a bit about psychology, a bit about painting, a bit about love, in an interesting mix, with a cinema allure.

We get to know Jonathan, a painting expert, who is about to get married, a man dedicated to his passion for Vladimir Radskin, a fictional Russian painter. Jonathan is the type of man who lost most of his love in the couple, but he will go on with a marriage in which he does not fit much. He dedicated most of his times in studying paintings, and finding the lost masterpiece of Radskin is one of the most wanted goals in his life.

Things change when his friend Peter finds an exposition in London for Radskin’s paintings, but with one more than all his known works. Exploring the possibility of finding the missing painting, Jonathan starts a lifetime adventure, meeting the woman of his life, and of his previous lives.

He meets Clara, who owns the paintings, and during a week in London, they fall in love together. They are both afraid to act on one another, especially Jonathan who is engaged to be married in short time.

The plot unfolds with the fact that everyone has lived the same love story again and again in previous lives, Jonathan meeting Clara in London where Radskin used to work, they unfold the last years in the painter’s life, including the fact that Radskin had a wife named Clara, a daugher named Clara, and his master piece, The woman in red dress.

Jonathan and Clara relive a love story that was done over and over in their previous lives, which most of the times failed, which started with Radskin, and his paintings, and the fact that Radskin’s protector failed in his quest for power and protecting his daughters.

We find out that Jonathan’s fiancee is also involved, in a great masterplan to break Jonathan for meeting Clara, their get-together, and trying to force him to marry her, by blackmailing him with ruining his career and Peter’s.

We find out that his fiancee’s mother is a reincarnation of Clara’s stepmother, the evil mastermind that wants to break the cycle of reliving the same story.

She manages to fatally poison Clara, and force Jonathan to marry her daughter, but Jonathan will take the poison and wait for another life to be with his lover.

In a dark Romeo and Juliet theme, their current life ends, but the end of the novel gives us hope, that they meet again, in front of Radskin’s painting, this time to fulfill their love.

In another life is an interesting cinema story, with a good start, but in my opinion, rushed and exaggerated towards the end. I was hoping to see more of a metaphor than of real fantasy, but, a good travel read with a bit of emotion.

The hunger games: Catching fire

I continued The hunger games with the second part, Catching fire. Unlike the first novel, this book is a little bit more deep into choices and consequences.

We see a more mature Katniss, who is back in her home town, but now facing the consequences of her actions to defy the Capitol. Her friends and family start to suffer, and the rest of the districts who take her as a role model of rebellion.

One one side she is torn by her hatred and rage at the capitol, and on other side her protectiveness of her family and friends is stopping her from doing what she would like to do.

She is forced to live a life of lies, preparing for a marriage she doesn’t want, make a victory tour she does not want, pretend to be someone she is not.

When the 75 years Hunger Games anniversary begins, she is faced again with the arenas, this time doing the ultimate challenge of the Capitol, escaping the Hunger Games before a victor could emerge. The rebellion she started is now full fledged, but she as a symbol, denies it, refuses to accept it, and it’s mostly because of the revenge the Capitol has taken upon her, as a punishment for her actions, the destruction of her home District 12.

Katniss is still a child, she plays her part in the rebellion, but things are way over her head: the other victors in the other districts want to do a great scale rebellion and need a leader. She and Peeta are pawns for this, to act as symbols, but at least stop to be the pawns for the Capitol, as it’s President want them to become a symbol of submission.

Although it presents a lot of dark themes, like pain, suffering, forced marriage, denial of human rights, The Hunger Games: Catching fire is a good adventure book, with a little bit more depth than the previous one, but quickly turning into a clone of Matrix (Matrix: Revolutions) where Katniss is a kind of Neo going to Zion to save the world.

Los ojos del tuareg

I read Los ojos del tuareg (Tuareg’s eyes) by Albert Vasquez-Figueroa.

The novel is a continuation of his previous novel, Tuareg, but it can be read independently, during the first pages we are introduced to the story. The characters are new and just slightly related. That being said, Tuareg’s eyes is about the life of a family who lives a simple life in the desert, about the rules in Tuaregs life, about honor and about tradition versus modernity.

We have a Tuareg family that has a very simple life in the desert, lonely, with barely enough water to survive. They even lose one of their family members in order to construct a well to get the water they need. They get stunned at the fact that when they offer someone hospitality, they are treated with hostility and they get their water reserves destroyed and face imminent death.

The find out that the western people decided to create a rally through the desert, a competition which they claim to be sportive, but in fact it’s done just for earning more money, creating advertising possibilities for companies willing to pay a lot of money, which they cannot do in a normal advertising slot.

Gacel , the main character and the leader of the Tuareg family, decides to follow the path of his ancestors, to seek justice for the injustice which was served to him, and to do that, he takes hostages, people who have no blame, and tries to force the owners of the Dakar rally to fix up his well, and surrender the criminal, so that his right hand is cut off, as it should be by the ancient law.

In here we can see the fact that Gacel wants to adapt to the new world, but he cannot give up his old ways, as he always claims that a Tuareg rather dies than loses his honor. He is being helped by a chopper pilot who understands him, and warns him that the rally owners would rather present history and facts using their own power: 6 innocent people killed by the Tuareg bandits, instead of telling the truth and trying to save the people’s life.

We can see the lack of moral interest from the owners, their interests, and the suffering which happens to everyone, including the people in the countries in which the rally takes place, the pilots themselves who may die or get hurt during the rally, and the people back home watching TV and spending their money and health buying more cigarettes as a consequence of commercials.

The action gets more cinema-like when a commando troop is sent in the desert to try to recover the 6 hostages, but only finding themselves at the mercy of the Tuaregs, after their water supply is being cut off, and facing extreme temperatures and sun.

Gacel manages to get justice done, and decides not to wound his criminal, but only by resorting to another big criminal, from Italian mafia, who helps him as thanks for letting his only son go, as he was part of the hostages.

However, life and the author does not let things unpunished, and sentences the criminal to a most likely death in the desert.

Los ojos del tuareg is an interesting novel, putting up some interesting ideas on the table, but very much a cinema-like story, which can be easily adapted to an action movie. I would have hoped to see more social aspects evolved, like the possibility of marriage for both boys and girls inside the Tuareg family, being alone in the desert is very unlikely; also with respect to the Tuareg traditions, except honor, I would have been interested to know more.

One interesting aspect is the effect of heat and desert on people’s life, which is very underrated in Europe, when looking at the nomads of Sahara.

The only story

My last read is The only story, by Julian Barnes.

Considering that The sense of an ending was a really good book, my expectations were much higher this time from Barnes. Considering this is his latest novel, and all critics highly appraised it, I jumped right into it.

The only story is not the usual story that may send a very strong emotion from start, a story that might make you shed some tears, or the story that might make you stop and start thinking for some time before you continue. This novel is mostly about pain, in different aspects, of loving, or rather, of not knowing how to love.

We two characters from different worlds, but very much alike: Susan and Paul.

Susan is a middle aged woman, wife and mother of two children, who mostly missed her whole life, being stuck in a marriage without fulfillment, and without any joy in her life. The daughters, old enough to purse their own life, and her husband, lonely and distant enough to allow her to do whatever she wants or likes with the time and money at her disposal.

She meets Paul, a young boy, of only 19, who has no idea about life, about love, about expectations or the reality that he lives in. He just started college, living with his parents, and imagining life and love in an absolute and idealistic way.

He finds in Susan a mature woman that does not treat him like a child, and the exact opposite of Veronica from The sense of an ending. He is very much attracted by her independence, her straightforwardness, her lack of “too much talking” or “undecided behavior” which characterizes most girls of that adolescence age.

Paul has the courage, the recklessness and the blindness to go inside the Macleod’s house, basically starts living with them, and begins to interact also with Mr. Macleod, who is too weak or too comfortable to really confront his wife and throw Paul out.

It is not long before this story comes to a natural , or expected resolution: Susan and Paul move together in another town, him abandoning his parents , she, abandoning her husband and her old life.

This should somehow bring happiness for everyone, but it’s not the case. Susan is a mother, an adulteress, a scarlet woman. The social and psychological pressure on her is too great for her to bare. She was a simple girl, did not have many relationships, did not know how to express her feelings, did not know where and how to go. Even at the mature age (50) she still is a little girl in many ways. She cannot find a solution, and perhaps in her way she realizes that her new lover, 30 years younger, cannot and will not be by her side as an old lady forever.

Susan starts drinking, first in a small matter, then reaching the stages of alcoholism. This leads to her brain damaging, dementia and later getting her committed in hospital care.

Paul never manages to get through after his relationship with Susan. He tries with different women, some more or less understanding of his past. All his remaining life he tries to understand what is love, what was wrong with his love, and why his feelings have died, and why Susan has abandoned him, them, and mostly herself.

The sad ending can only tell us that we should live the moment, enjoy while it lasts, and expectations of forever joy, forever happiness are futile.

As Paul finds out, every one has a story. And all stories have a bad ending.

The only story is Paul’s story, not necessarily Susan’s, it’s a sad and compelling story, in some ways similar with The sense of an ending, but with different emotions. Both novels focus on understanding past love, as seen from later age, one of them about the misunderstanding of love goals, and the other about not understanding the pure femininity.

Barnes proves once again that he is a great writer. I am looking forward for his next novels in my queue.

The autumn of the patriarch

I read The autumn of the patriarch, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Very originally written, in very long phrases that contain hundreds of words, hardly having any connection sentences, The autumn of the patriarch is an expression, much like poetry, of a nameless dictator from the Americas, who lives and rules for a very very long time, comparable to an eternity.

We are shown what it means for a country to have an absolute ruler, who can dictate everything, starting from TV shows, the weather, who lives or dies, free sexual favors from whoever he feels like, free hundreds of offspring, the feel of unquestionable and unchallenged ultimate power.

Even if the ruler is on one side much less than educated – we can see that he cannot read nor write – on the other side he gets to make country-wide decisions without being questioned, and is seen by his people as the patriarch, the one who can lead them to a better life, even if grinding through his calls makes a lot of people suffer and die.

The patriarch is old, very old, and even if we do not know his age, we get the feeling that he is forever in office, even though we are reminded about his coming to power, however nobody knows how long ago it happened, neither anyone is alive that witnessed the events. The patriarch has the same weird habits, like counting the cows at the imperial palace, having people suffering of leprosy in his palace, checking by himself that all doors are closed, hiding his bee honey, even though him being the supreme leader nobody would steal from him. He can have all the luxury in the world yet he sleeps in a cold dark room, on the floor. We can see a glimpse of treachery paranoia, as he always feels someone is beside him in the room, even if he spends a lot of time and effort to lock all his doors and windows, to make sure he can sleep in safety. Sometimes the fear is not about a specific enemy in person, but maybe death itself.

We can see the patriarch even finds a clone, a man which resembles him physically very well, who is assassinated after many years in which he took his place in public places. The real dictator makes his reappearance after the scam funeral, just to see who his enemies are, and eliminate them. Such things make people think he is immortal and nobody even knows whether he is still alive or dead – television shows older photos and videos, during the years in which he has no mood to appear publicly, but still being alive and leading.

A central point in the novel is his mother, Benedicion Alvarado, which this time has a name. A former prostitute, now a simple woman who lives in the country-side, raising chickens and tending to simple house activities, his mother never realizes what is happening with her son, his power and his position. She still awaits him at home as she would have with a young boy. I can see a bit of mockery from the author regarding the mother pathology, showing that even the dictator has a mother, someone who can dictate to him.

More events that we can see in the book is the patriarch falling in love for a mysterious woman, which is depicted as the complete opposite of modern beauty: hairy, not feminine, boyish even. We see the patriarch falling for this woman who manages to become de facto ruler because of him allowing it, and the same patriarch devastated of pain when Letitia Nazareno is killed among with their child.

Other themes we can understand: enemy killing, hanging, population starvation, turning the dead mother into a saint, foreign politics, selling the sea around the country to the foreigners, physical suffering of the patriarch: born and living with testicle hernia.

We can see in the end that the autumn is not just about an endless regime, but also its real end, when the freeing death finally approaches the patriarch, which gives us the idea that in the end, nobody escapes from it.

The autumn of the patriarch is a strong expression of autocracy, a poem of power and the suffering caused, but also a glimpse into the solitude and unhappiness of power.

Un soir au club

I read Un soir au club by Christian Gailly.

A cute short story, Un soir au club , translated to An evening at the club, presents a man that has been dulled by his late life coming back to his origin, to his youth and his long time hidden desires.

Simon was a famous jazz singer, a piano player, who retired, got married, quitted drinking, and living a life as an electrical engineer. Just that one evening, he finds himself close to the piano again, and his old wishes resurface.

We are presented with the situation where the real character of a man still comes back to the present, even if ten years or more has been dormant. Simon is attracted by the mirage, the power, the feeling of the piano, and starts living again. He drinks again, he feels again, he is alive again. He falls in love again, meets a new woman, who stirs up all his desires that he thought long time lost.

He postpones telling his wife, he wants to spend more time with his new and old life in the same time.

The price to pay however is that his wife dies. I found the fact very much symbolical, even though from my point of view this was unnecessary in the novel and the main point of my dislike. The author could have proved his points even without this futile death.

The price Simon pays is not very much paid by him. He finds a new love, a new hope, a new dream, but the price is paid by his wife who loses her life. I find the solution at least a bit disturbing.

To move further, we are changed from a third perspective, observation, at the start of the story, to a much more personal approach, the storytelling from a first perspective of a presumable good friend of everyone in the book.

Simon, even though he was to blame for the life he used to live, for his suicide attempts, for the drinking, he is given redemption by his wife,  who saves him, bears him a child, and gives him a much better life. And yet, even though this happens, Simon finds his way back to his old life, but still we see him as the good character, the innocent. He cheats on his wife and finds nothing wrong with it. He somehow even blames her for the dull life he is living, and thanks her when she passes away to give him his freedom.

Honestly I did not like Simon’s character too much. Egocentric, cheating, his only qualities are that he avoids lying, and that he is so good in what he does: piano playing.

His new life is starting with his new love, a woman which is much more suited for him: a singer, a bar owner, full of the American spirit.

Simon will live a better life, at the expense of the others.

Un soir au club is a short novel that presents a sometimes very true fact: we cannot change people, we can restrain them, but they will not be happy. Some people are ment to be in some way, and they need to follow their path, and hopefully not destroying other people’s lives.

The Hunger Games

I managed to read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins .

A critical success, The Hunger Games exceeded a little bit my expectations. Even if it’s an easy read, it catches the reader by not being dull, or by refraining on action. Well written, it puts the reader in the skin of the characters.

We have a girl, young lady, Katniss Everdeen, who is much more mature for her age of 16, living in a dark future where she has to take care of her family, working something which is not really fit for her powers: hunting in the woods for wild animals which they can eat or exchange for other goods.

She lives in the most poor districts of a future fictional country, where the biggest attraction are the so called Hunger Games, where 24 children kill each other in the arena. I find everything in the book pleasing and believable,  except the fact that the kids have to kill each other in a televised show for the fun of everyone in the country. The author clearly wanted to emphasize on something very painful for the eye, to underline the clear absurdity and pain of such a show. I would expect and think it’s more believable to have full grown men in such a dark spectacle, let alone children.

So the ridiculous of the situation is a bit too much, to see young children of age 12 being killed, is hardly an idea of a good spectacle, most likely in any dark future.

To get past that, we have Katniss, a young girl, who has a role in life to take care of her mother and younger sister, and develops all the skills she can do, at her age, to achieve that. She has a hunting partner, and they bring back home anything they can muster in the wilds.

Katniss is a bit naive, a bit childish, and is not much interested in personal growth. Which is understandable considering her situation, lost father in childhood, and not questioning yet life motifs and reasoning.

She would do anything for her family, and offers herself as a tribute to the Games instead of her younger sister, knowing this most likely means her end. Her noble spirit and self sacrifice are most commendable.

We see her exploring the Capitol, the capital of the fictional realm, where everybody is wealthy, and her preparation for the Games, which is a deadly reality TV show, pretty well pictured, with sponsors, attractions, interviews , depicted very well, but still giving a lot of mock-up impression of the reality shows of today’s media.

At some point it reminds me of Jim Carrey’s movie The Truman show.

Katniss is small, weak, injured, poor, but she can master a bow, and has a natural intelligence. Through her journey in the arena, she finds friends, she finds enemies, she gets hurt, she finds pain, she finds relief, she learns to lie, she learns to pretend, she learns to cry and to withhold.

Together with the boy from her district, they manage to find a solution to win, even if this means defying the Capitol, even if it means killing, even if it means lying and playing the love part for the audience.

I find it very pleasing that The Hunger Games did not turn into a soapy love story between Katniss and her fellow boy tribute Peeta, considering they win together, play the romance for the public, and defy the Capitol to win together.

The depicted pain and sorrow is challenging, and the reality of the hurting is also well described. The bitter feeling is still there, of the remorse, of the ludicrous of the situation. The general feeling is that the children, and poor people, have much more common sense, love, caring, and attention that we would expect, much more than the grown ups themselves, who are much more interested in blood bath than anything else.

We also see the resemblance of the vicious circle in communist regimes, nobody likes it, but everyone praises it, and it’s still going, because nobody has the courage to step up and stop the illusion.

Overall a good read, even although sometimes predictable, The Hunger Games is a success and a pointed finger towards media and the ludicrous of the modern day television.

99 francs

I read another of Beigbeder’s books, after Love lasts three years, this time 99 francs.

In the same sarcastic, sometimes funny style, this time we are put in the world of advertising and money. Last time , the author criticized marriage and love, this time, it’s a different subject, and the arguments are much better put.

We are shown the life of an ad creator, Octave, who works for a big company, and his solely task is to create the perfect commercial for a product, such that everyone’s bank accounts are filled. We get a glimpse of the industry, how it’s seen from the inside: to brainwash people, get their money, manipulate them into believing they want different products. The book is also a big warning for everyone, that the big companies are money driven and will do anything to get their products into your basket.

Because Octave had a success before, he now can do whatever he wants and gets plenty of money from his company. He can afford everything he likes, and starts to live a depraved life, separating from his girlfriend, who is pregnant with him, and only lives by the day with all the pleasures he can find: cocaine, prostitutes, vacations, drink, smoke.

He is put in the situation of having a new clip for a new product, and almost completely messes it up. This brings him into his boss’ attention, who expects more from him. Once pressure settles in, he starts to behave pretty erratic and tries to find solutions, one weirder than the previous. He goes with the team to film the clip for the new product, convincing his company to hire his prostitute friend for starring the video.

The absurd of the situations are both funny and ridiculous: ads companies are being blamed for everything in the world, and the people who run them. The people involved in the creation of the ads, including the characters, are on the last step of humanity, full of misogyny, disrespect, arrogance. They accuse and blame everyone for the consumerist society, for the current pension funds, they even kill an old lady for the fact that she owns shares in a retirement fund.

Octave receives what he deserves, getting jailed for murder complicity. His boss tries to escape the pressure and the situation with the company and fakes his death. His old girlfriend fakes also her death to be with his former boss. His prostitute love abandons him for a rich man who can provide her with all her needs.

Octave realizes he is alone, somehow a broken genius, but full of mistakes, bad approach, and regrets.

The book presents the ad world in a way that perhaps many of us did not know about, and it’s a good read and a good introduction to a 21st century motive, the consumerist society, capital market, and the results of the actions of the people in these new situations.

Son de mar

I read Son de mar by Manuel Vicent. It’s a wonderful story, full of emotion, full of heart, full of feelings and the atmosphere is very unique. The immersion is very well done, and the reader is taken exactly in the time and place where the author wants it to be.

It’s a strange love story, full of symbols, full of myths, about the discovery of love, the discovery of lust, the need for getting close, and the need to get away, to explore, to find, to experience, and the need to return. Based on the legend of Ulises, the story first presents the ending: a drowned couple in the Mediterranean sea, and then goes on with the beginning. The symbols start to appear from the first page: the couple are dressed as a bride and groom, the groom resembles a man who has already died, but somehow he was still alive again. They both return to land dead, after a long story, just to be reunited in death, as they seem to have been united in life.

The story starts from the beginning, with a young and full of fantasy adolescent love, between a young and inexperienced history teacher, and a young girl, a waitress, who at 18 years old, fancies stories, legends and cinema stars. They discover together love, affection with words, physical contact, lust and desire. After a while their life becomes dull, only in a single place, on the Mediterranean coast, until one day, Ulises is lost at sea, presumed dead. Even if their love was never confessed, Martina suffers deeply and greatly, and never finds joy again. Even after years of mourning and a new marriage with a very wealthy man, her joy was still in the years together with her first husband, in their poverty, by the sea, eating fresh fish and serving at the bar.

As in the legend, Ulises returns after ten years of exploring the world, as a new man, experienced, full of new stories, but back to his first love, which he still considers the woman of his life. Martina accepts him, this time as a hidden lover, for her love and affection to him was beyond the facts and the reasons for him dumping her without a word for ten years, with a young son to grow. Even if her life moved on, Martina is still forever connected to him, even without words.

Their hidden life cannot last forever, Martina’s actual husband discovers them, and they run at sea, this time having their boat sunk for good, both of them ending their lives as seen in the beginning of the story.

The book is full of poetry, a Romeo and Juliet story, accepting their sad fate, but this time even if their love was consumed in their own marriage, their happiness was never completed. They were too young to be happy together, and then it was too late, as the strings attached could never be broken free. Somehow the story presents the impossible love, even if it was achievable at first, it was still impossible. Thus, the paradox implied gives the reader a feeling of grief.

The very strong emotions presented are touching, makes us feel to want to enjoy and appreciate the people in our lives, and the time we spend together with the people we love, as the future holds much of the unknown, even if maybe at some points, people have to be separated in order to understand what they mean for one another, and be happy together, in the short or long time they have to share.

Love lasts three years

I have read Love lasts three years, by Frederic Beigbeder. A very short novel , cynical, funny, written in a modern way, Love lasts three years is an argumentative speech over the theorem given by the title.

We see a life experience of a marriage, then adultery, love and divorce, through the eyes of an young man, who jumped to a hard conclusion in his life, that love cannot last longer than three years, and then trying to convince himself with all possible arguments, to support this scenario. A young man falls in love, lives happily with his wife, a year full of passion, a year full of tender, and then a year of boredom, only to fall in love with another person, cheat, and divorce.

As it looks to me, the character of this novel experiences a very strong emotion, passion, that subsides with time, which is somewhat normal, but emphasizes this into his life tragedy. The author wants to underline the fact that too many young people marry too soon, before knowing very well the other person, and more importantly, before knowing themselves. So, circling around the main theme, love and marriage, we find a good example of a person trapped in a marriage without knowing really themselves, and then because of the society norms, finds himself trapped in an forbidden relationship, which affects him deeply , especially because it’s forbidden and elusive. At a more mature age, he finds a mature love, and his evolution in time gets him in a situation which is hard to escape from.

We can pick some few motifs that are highlighted in the book. First, it’s the model of the young man, scared of getting trapped into a marriage. Second, is the young man, who is already trapped into a marriage and wanting to escape. Third, it’s the man who always wants what he cannot have, and gets bored and doesn’t like what he already has, the man who does not appreciate his life. We also have an intellectual who wants to find logic and reasoning in love, feelings and emotions. The character wants to find an explanation, an excuse, for dumping his wife, for getting in love with another woman. So, we have the motif of the trapped intellectual.

In the end we are being given the hope that maybe in some situations love doesn’t really last three years, as the adultery couple manages to get and be together, even if their relationship is not exclusive.

Beigbeder explores an old theme, in a modern fashion, no inhibitions, pure brainstorm, mind exercise, bringing arguments for a big issue of the 21st century: marriage and divorce, the traditional versus modern family, future of the family as the basic cell of the society. Overall an interesting book to read, worth an hour in an airplane flight.