“The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian

(Author: Elizabeth Kostova) + (Year: 2005) + (Goodreads)


Review:

As I mentioned in a recent review of mine, I visited Romania last month and I had an extremely strong desire to re-read my favourite Dracula books so I returned to Stoker’s Dracula and, of course, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, which has to be my favourite vampire book ever and I don’t see another book taking its place anytime soon.

My history with The Historian is a long and complicated one. My English teacher turned out to be an acquaintance of the author and could have met her around the time Kostova was writing this exact book, though I don’t know that for a fact.

It rarely happens so that I don’t remember what made me get a certain book, but I honestly have no recollection as to how I decided to buy The Historian. But still, one of the best purchases in my life(and I’ve actually bought it twice since someone stole my first copy of it).

What’s amazing about this book is that it might be a book on the supernatural and it might have a great role in the book, but ultimately, it’s not a mind-numbing fantasy and instead the story takes the shape of a very believable and thorough investigation, which almost makes you feel like it’s completely credible and realistic. At certain points, while reading the book, I’ve felt like it’s the absolutely true account of events which really happened.

My favourite thing about The Historian, which might or might not surprise you, is the travel and the geography. The  way the author describes places, the places she describes and her undeniable passion for travel is enough to spark the flame of wanderlust inside the reader. Kostova talks about my own country, Bulgaria, in a way which makes me want to pack my bags and start exploring. I almost feel ashamed that she has an appreciation for Bulgaria which I don’t think I’ve ever had.

I was sort of sad that she doesn’t talk about my own new passion, Romania, as excitedly as she does about Bulgaria, Turkey or France. For a book focused on the story of Dracula, she certainly goes for locations more unconventional than the expected Romania.

My second favourite thing were the characters and just how vivid they are. They are not perfect, not even that good-looking by the authors description – instead they are realistic and flawed. And since I think that I’m very pedantic myself, I love that some of the characters were, too.

I highly appreciated the layers upon layers of story-telling in the book. There was one particular chapter in which the daughter is narrating the narrative of her father about the narrative of Professor Rossi about somebody else’s narration. I’ve also always admired authors who include all types of means to diversify the story, those being letters, notes, books, conversations and so on.

If there is one thing that I’m not fond of, it is how replaceable the secondary characters are. It’s natural that in an adventure like this one many characters will come and go, but I felt like some of them were too big a part of the story and yet completely forgotten in the aftermath. Such were Helen’s mother and aunt, Hugh, Stoichev, even Turgut Bora.

And speaking of Professor Bora, I would absolutely love to read a novel about his secret organization, set in Turkey. That would be absolutely marvelous! Considering how fantastic Kostova is when talking about travel and foreign countries, I think I’d learn so many new and amazing things about Turkey if she wrote about it.

Last, but not least, I was fascinated by the many little facts that Kostova mentions and to which you might not have paid the needed attention but if you consider them out of context, they are certainly wonderful. Aside from facts about the world or certain countries/cities, the information she provides about Dracula himself is amazing and so is her literary knowledge. Sadly, it would take me quite a long time to comb through the books mentioned in The Historian and find which ones are real and which ones made up in order to contribute to the story. But it would be a real pleasure to find many of the real sources and especially ones that have anything to do with the history of the Balkans, since it has been an interest of mine for a while and especially since I started learning more about Turkey and gained a new perspective through which to appreciate the good side of the Ottoman Empire, even though I fully realize that there was a bad one, too.

Though many of you might not find this book as realistic and as wise as you might want it to be, it’s actually a great mix of everything that I, personally, appreciate in literature: it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, it’s informative on more than one level, and especially when it comes to history, it’s well-written, the characters are well-built and it keeps you on edge.

Keep in mind that I think life is entirely too short to re-read books and yet I’ve read this one three times. As many of my favourite books, it gives you something different each time you read it. For example, the first time I read it, I was mainly fascinated by the Dracula story, after that I remember paying a lot of attention to the travel element in the book the second time I read it. Now that I have a full-blown obsession with the Balkans, I’m in awe with the descriptions and the history.

Advertisements

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

(Author: Haruki Murakami) + (Year: 2014) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Seeing as Murakami is my favourite author, it comes as no surprise that this book was a fantastic treat for me and one of the highlights of my book year. Each one of his books is like a breath of fresh air for me. He masterfully manages to combine the ordinary perils of everyday life and the supernatural, as a reflection of our internal struggles.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a fantastic book, which tells the story of colorless Tsukuru and his group of colorful friends: Ao(blue), Aka(red), Shiro(white) and Kuro(black), and after that Haida(gray). It is sort of coming of age book, but also a very mature book, which, written by Murakami, becomes a very interesting mix.

I am not going to lie, like most authors, Murakami has his own formula for creating a story: he has a very lost main character, mysterious women, people with strange but interesting lives, great advises coming from fantastically weird people, an unresolved mystery and simple acceptance of life. You can sense the likeness between some of his literary worlds – for example the atmosphere inColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage can easily be compared to the one in Norwegian Wood.

But unlike most authors, he manages to captivate me every time. I have become increasingly tired of Pratchett’s Discworld, or King’s fantasy universe. Murakami, though, has the wonderful ability to take the reader to his amazing and enticing world which is a very balanced mix of the real and the surreal.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage might seem simplistic and on the short side, compared to 1Q84, which I absolutely love, but if you think about it, it is actually a very nice representation of our inner world and the way it influences our outlooks of life and the people that surround us.

Tsukuru Tazaki has spent his entire life believing that he is boring, empty and lacking character. This has left a deep mark on his life, his lack of friends, his obsession with death, his romantic relationships and even his family ties. Having accepted that he can be of no interest to anyone, he has started living a desolate life in his secluded apartment. As the story develops, we come to understand that he is not a bad conversationalist, nor is he too shy when communicating with people. He simply thinks that he has nothing to offer them and does not even try. This is a clear example of how our personality molds the world around us, and what we believe is what we are – as the Hermeticism maxim goes: “As above, so below”. Because, later in the book, when we get a chance to see Tsukuru through the eyes of his friends, we realize that he is not in fact an empty vessel in their eyes, they actually find him both charming and interesting, and also very handsome.

Of course, his laments can become a little tiresome at some points, I have to agree with that, but if you think realistically, each and every one of us can go on and on about our shortcomings if we have the right audience. I am willing to overcome my annoyance with the constant repetition, as I consider how many times I have done the same thing when I have been with a person who can bear my whining. Oops.

The colorful bunch is a bit stereotypical, but not as a fault of the author, the characters fully realize that they have taken on certain roles in their group as to make it the harmonious little society that they need in their lives in order to feel accepted and supported. Ao is the happy-go-lucky jock, Aka is the nerd with the glasses, Shiro is the sensitive, animal-loving musician and Kuro is the sarcastic and funny comedian that every group of males needs in order to be complete. As the book moves forward we face the lives that the characters have sixteen years after Tsukuru’s banishment and they are harshly realistic, enough so to remind us that time is limited and as Kuro herself puts it, “That amazing time in our lives is gone, and will never return. All the beautiful possibilities we had then have been swallowed up in the flow of time.”
Can you imagine that you wake up one day and you are there, at that moment, when you know that all the beautiful possibilities are gone?

Kuro was actually one of the two most interesting characters in the book for me. She is both magical and unreachable in her faraway cabin in Finland, and real and tangible in the way that she leads a live that all of us could end up having. In recent years I have seen many bright and amazing people befallen by depression and desperation which can adequately be described in Kuro’s words: “Nothing worked out for me. One day I just stopped and asked myself: What in the world are you doing with your life? I had no goals anymore and I was just spinning my wheels, watching my self-confidence disappear.” At some point in life, earlier and earlier, it seems nowadays, compared to the stories which I have read of previous centuries, people reach this moment when they become another wheel in a merciless and unforgivable machine comprised of school and work and the burden of our society.

What I got out of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimageis that when faced with the horrifying reality of becoming a grown up in our time, you have to struggle to be yourself and not loose sight of who you are and what your dreams are. You may accept the world as it is, as ugly as it may be, but not give up on it, and instead try to be your best self, not for anyone else but for your own satisfaction.

Sara was the other character that I liked very much. She was way out of Tsukuru’s idealized views of his friends, she was completely and enchantingly corporeal, with all of her flaws out in the open. Her gentle wisdom was very appealing to me, as was her simple view of the world, as seen when she asked Tsukuru to rid himself of the burdens of his past, because while he may not have been willing to admit it at first, unresolved issues can hurt future relationships very deeply.

Murakami and Music

I love how musical all of his books are. His entire writing is like the flow of a lovely and bittersweet symphony. In his books not only does he narrate as a skillful musician, but he includes actual songs which go with story as a perfect soundtrack. In this case it was Liszt’s “Le mal du pays” which is the epitome of the beautiful sadness, described in the book. I was not able to listen to it until I had reached the middle of the book but after that it sort of became the natural background of the story.

The Minuses. *** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

What I did not like about Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage were three mysteries which were left unanswered and frustrated me more than Murakami’s usual vagueness does.

– Shiro’s rape and death. I wanted to know what really happened to her. As far as Tsukuru’s musings go, I can accept that she chose to punish him for leaving by falsely accusing him, but it was still supposedly something that happened to her and I’m discontent by the fact that we were not told who really raped her and finally who killed her.

– The story about the mysterious pianist. While I can see why Murakami squeezes this story in the book and leaves it unanswered, it’s like an itch, the part about the mysterious jar he puts on the piano before he starts playing.

– Haida’s disappearance. This was the part which frustrated me the most. We are partially informed about why Tsukuru was kicked out of his group, resulting in him losing those four friends, but what about Haida? I am assuming that the sexual encounter between Haida and Tsukuru really happened and that’s why Haida left. But what happened with him afterwards? This is going to bug me for a while, I swear.

“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita

(Author: Mikhail Bulgakov) + (Year: 1967) + (Goodreads)


Review:

“Everything will turn out right, the world is built on that.”

* Note: Finished this on 20th August 2009. Rereading from 4th November 2014. What a marvelous experience. I loved it the first time around. And Now…

…I have realized that this is not just a book that I love. It is so much more. The Master and Margarita contains absolutely everything that a reader could look for in a book, plus a whole constellation of things that the reader wouldn’t even know they needed until they found this book. I am eternally grateful to high school for giving me the opportunity of reading this absolute and utter masterpiece.

The Master and Margarita is a universe of marvel, combining in an absolutely enticing way the mundane and the magical.
One of the most amazing things about this book is that it can be read on so many levels, it’s mind blowing. On the upper level there is the plot as it is, and quite frankly I find it both interesting and absolutely hilarious. There is also the social satire: here I have to admit this is maybe the only book in my life, in which I’ve cherished satire of any kind. Irony is something that I both like and use often, but satire I find sort of pathetic. Most of the time. I may not have lived in Soviet times but I have seen the aftermath of it in my country as much as in a couple of ex-Soviet republics, so I can agree with the things that Bulgakov mentions, openly or open-to-interpretation. There is also the very deep and deeply philosophical level of this book, the rendition of good and bad and right and wrong in the face of so many positive, negative, positively negative and negatively positive characters. Which points out to the size of the fight in each and every one of us.

The Master
tumblr_inline_mpw2ui1noj1qz4rgp

The first time I read this book I had mixed but mostly positive feelings toward both the Master and Margarita. Reading again I could not find it in me to feel sympathetic to the character anymore. The way he simply gives up and saves himself the pain of going on by simply refusing to do so and staying safe in the asylum made me very repulsed. Maybe in my earlier years I was an escapist also, but it seems to me that his behavior is quite undeserving.
But also, I can’t help but feel that Bulgakov wrote the Master mainly for himself. Knowing this and that about his life, I can’t not think that the Master, in many ways, is Bulgakov himself and his endless desperation to not have his works published. As far as this swan song goes, Bulgakov possibly outdid himself.

Margarita
97675280cbfec45d5ad9e221471f4ef3

Much the same as it happened with the Master, Margarita fell into my area of dislike. Only now, a couple of years older and MAYBE a couple of years wiser, I realized that she is selfish and spoiled beyond salvation. She insists that her husband always treated her with nothing but respect, was always good to her, that her life was great and on and on, and yet she is not happy, far from it, she is absolutely miserable. What had me in true disgust with Margarita was her conversation with Azazello in Chapter №19. She has lost her loved one, her reason to live… but hey, she is bored, she probably should find another one to fill her bed. And just as Azazello invites her to Apartment №50, she is unquestionably ready to sleep with Woland if it is asked of her. Why not?

Woland and his entourage
"Defendor" Screening - TIFF 2009

(I know that I’m breaking the rules here. It’s customary, if not mandatory, that the Devil in pop culture is someone like Rutger Hauer, preferably in his sixties at least, surely with white hair.
But from the first and last good description of Woland that we get, I think that Woody could be fantastic. When Margarita meets Woland she describes him as balding and a bit strange faced, but not old and wrinkled to his bones.)

Now to my favourite part of this book. The “bad” guys. I threw some quotation marks there because I’m not really convinced that they are bad. Not by far. I actually think that everything that Woland and his entourage did was sort of justice. In my eyes Woland does not represent evil. On the contrary, he is the instrument of justice in the shadows, and he is also the instrument of the author while wreaking vengeance on the things and people and beliefs that he dislikes.

Through humor and sarcasm Woland along with his underlings manages to disrupt an entire nation, but one that is essentially already messed up. In such a fashion he truly rights many wrongs. Completely unforgettable for me is this quote, which both proves my point and shows the nature of “evil” in the face of Woland. He is therefore not bad, just the lack of good, as shadow is the lack of light.

“But would you kindly ponder this question: What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. Here is the shadow of my sword. But shadows also come from trees and living beings.
Do you want to strip the earth of all trees and living things just because
of your fantasy of enjoying naked light? You’re stupid.”

I can proudly say that Fagotto and Behemoth were my favourites in the entire book. The most humorous by far and also interesting in the sense that their origin and history is drawn from many other books and stories and also from history and religion.

283568scarlett4
But the one that I found the most terrifying was Hella, after the scene in Rimsky’s office.

The Murder of Judas

Among the trillion of things that impressed me was the chapter in which Pontius Pilate and Aphranius are discussing the aftermath of Judas’ murder. Never have I read such an ingenious portrayal of manipulation and the altering of truth and reality. Bulgakov manages in an astonishing way to describe as inconspicuously as possible the way hidden powers work.

The Mad, My Dear…

My other favourite aspect of this novel is the way nothing is left unresolved and every story is put to a proper ending, or should I say a proper punishment. I was delighted while reading how one by one the presumed mad were filling the asylum and even more so while following the police investigation. One of the most beautiful sides of Bulgakov’s writing for me is the way that he doesn’t force readers to guess what happened to this or that person, but tells the story not only fully and in masterful detail, but also in such a fashion that if doesn’t feel forced as a biography but interesting and intriguing.

Also, it is important for me to mention that another one of my favourite things about this book was the depth of the author’s knowledge about history, religion, languages, philosophy, literature, music and so on. It is always a true delight to stumble upon a book full of information, especially to such a degree.