There was a time when I would bemoan the onset of January because that meant, all festivals and holidays were over and we would have to wait atleast another 9 months for the next set of celebrations. However with time comes perspective and January, I realize need not necessarily equate to end of joy; for joy is where you find it and you do not need much to to find it either! So here we are, on the first day of the year, celebrating January –
“January is here, with eyes that keenly glow, A frost-mailed warrior striding a shadowy steed of snow.” ― Edgar Fawcett
“Bare branches of each tree on this chilly January morn look so cold so forlorn. Gray skies dip ever so low left from yesterday’s dusting of snow. Yet in the heart of each tree waiting for each who wait to see new life as warm sun and breeze will blow, like magic, unlock springs sap to flow, buds, new leaves, then blooms will grow.” ― Nelda Hartmann, January Morn
“To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre
“The first day of January always presents to my mind a train of very solemn and important reflections and a question more easily asked than answered frequently occurs viz: How have I improved the past year and with [what] good intentions do I view the dawn of its successor?” ―Charlotte Brontë
“I love beginnings. If I were in charge of calendars, every day would be January 1.” ―Jerry Spinelli
“Leaving any bookstore is hard . . . especially on a day in January, when the wind is blowing, the ice is treacherous, and the books inside seem to gather together in colorful warmth.” ―Jane Smiley
“Little January Tapped at my door today. And said, “Put on your winter wraps, And come outdoors to play.” Little January Is always full of fun; Until the set of sun. Little January Will stay a month with me And we will have such jolly times – Just come along and see.” – Winifred C. Marshall, January
Janus am I; oldest of potentates; Forward I look, and backward, and below I count, as god of avenues and gates, The years that through my portals come and go. I block the roads, and drift the fields with snow; I chase the wild-fowl from the frozen fen; My frosts congeal the rivers in their flow, My fires light up the hearths and hearts of me
What a year 2020 has been!! Truly a watershed year, an epoch-making year, a year about which future generations would say, “during the year of the COVID -19 my mum/dad/grandpa/grandma”, etc. etc. Needless to say, this has been an unprecedented year, quite unlike anything we have seen in recent history and from what I read in the papers, with the new UK and South African strain, it’s far from over. For me personally, it was a year, where I developed more resilience, faced more realities and understood that things are not always what they seem, but that need not necessarily be all bad! I also learnt, that despite losing both my parents, I am surrounded by a lot of love and affection and few people can claim to be as fortunate as I am in such matters! Yet another great aspect of this year for me was that after a very very long while, I was able to not only complete the GoodReads reading challenge but exceed it! It was indeed a great year in terms of reading and writing and that is another factor I am very grateful for in this year! Despite the exhausting emotional and then professional requirements, I was able to read some brilliant literature and as a parting note for the year, I decided to list 10 of my most favored reads this year. So here we go –
Delight by J.B. Priestly – This book was without doubt my “find” of the year! Thanks to Karen, I had the joy of reading this wonderful piece of non-fiction writing by Priestley (not his usual genre) about simple everyday joys of life!
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit – I have no idea why I waited so long to read this brilliant work by Ms. Solnit tackling the conversations of between men and women and other amazing essays like one on Virginia Wolfe and violence against women.
A Russian Journal by John Steinbeck and Robert Capa – Yet another book that I came across thanks to Karen. This 1948 publication by the two giants of modern art & literature, tries to capture what life of the common man in Soviet Union looks like – what do they eat, how do they party, what do their farmers do before the iron curtain fell remains one of the most humorous and insightful reading of mankind beyond politics!
Provincial Daughters by RM Dashwood – Written by the daughter of EM Delafield of the Provincial Ladies series, Ms. Dashwood takes a look at the sometimes silly, sometimes tragi-comic life of an educated young English woman trying to be an expert homemaker and efficient mother in 1950’s England
The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo, Louise Heal Kawai (Translator) – A wonderful review by Helen made me try this Japanese classic murder mystery & and to say it blew my breathe away is an understatement! Set in 1937, a tragedy is visited on the night of the wedding of the eldest son of the Ichyanagi family and only detective Kosuke Kindaichi is able to find the why’s and how’s leading up the tragedy!
Dead Man’s Quarry by Ianthe Jerrold – Many many moon’s ago, Jane had reviewed this Golden Age Mystery and based on her high praise, I had added it to my TBR. However, until recently I had not read it and after reading, I kept wondering, why did I wait for so long??? A cycling holiday that is disrupted by a murder of a comrade and an amateur detective, a chance stranger, John Christmas is drawn into the events that lead to a surprising discovery.
Not at Home by Doris Langley – At the end of World War II, to improve her financial position, Elinor MacFarren—middle-aged botanical writer rents part of her beautiful home to American Anotonia Banks which leads to complete mayhem and now Ms. Mcfarren must seek help of her nephew and his friends to solve for the confusion, with some unexpected assistance from her rival! Shout Out to Ali for helping me find this little-known gem!
Reveries of a Solitary Walker by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Russell Goulbourne (Translator) – I always need support when tacking what can be considered a “difficult” or “Challenging” read! This being one of them, I had infinite support and read along help from my soul sister Cleo (Where would I be without, thou??!) Written in exile a few months before his death, Rousseau reflects on his life and abandonment by his friends and supporters and how he draws strength from nature and solitude and draws contentment from self-awareness and knowledge.
The Other Side of Silence by Urvashi Butalia – This sensitive, insightful and important work of history looked at the tragic events in wake of partition of India in 1947 from the perspective of those whose voices are often neglected by History like women, children and backward classes. This book remains a modern historical classic for all those interested in India and her troubled past.
These are my best books of the year! These do not include my re-reads which always bring me such infinite joy like Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye, The Dairy of the Provincial Lady by EM Delafield, High Rising by Angela Thirkell and of course, Pride and Prejudice by one and only Ms. Austen! As always, my reading year has been enriched by the suggestions, recommendations and discussions with many of my blogging friends and yet again it is brought home to me that I would never have read so widely had I not stumbled upon this wonderful community of fellow readers/bloggers and most importantly friends!
To end, I would like to leave you all with this short poem! Wishing you and all your loved ones a Happy, joyous, healthy and bookish 2021! Cheers Everyone!
Poem for a New Year
-By Matt Goodfellow
Something’s moving in, I hear the weather in the wind, sense the tension of a sheep-field and the pilgrimage of fins. Something’s not the same, I taste the sap and feel the grain, hear the rolling of the rowan ringing, singing in a change. Something’s set to start, there’s meadow-music in the dark and the clouds that shroud the mountain slowly, softly start to part.
Oh! Glorious December! This is month I thrive in; I rejoice and I celebrate! As cold winter comes down on the plains of North India, suddenly everything looks beautiful in the afternoon sun, with all the roses in bloom. It is cold, very cold, but it brings with it a stark beauty of merry making and joy and smell of woodsmoke and delicious foods like Sarson ka Saag (a puree of mustard leaves), home made white butter and gajar ka halwa (a pudding made of Ghee, milk, jaggery, dry fruits and carrots) all served hot! This is a month of such wonder and here are some pieces that illustrate the unstinted beauty of the month!
“May and October, the best-smelling months? I’ll make a case for December: evergreen, frost, wood smoke, cinnamon.”
― Lisa Kleypas, Love in the Afternoon
“December is a bewitching month. The grey of cold teases to explode into something worthwhile, into a dream of cold, a starlight shower you can taste, a cold that does not chill.
I’ve lost my memory of my first snow– did I gasp at a field of white? Or scream at the freeze untill my cheeks reddened?
The crunch underfoot is satisfying and the thrill of virgin snow near leaves.”
― Joseph Coelho, A Year of Nature Poem
In December ring Every day the chimes; Loud the gleemen sing In the streets their merry rhymes. Let us by the fire Ever higher Sing them till the night expire!
―Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Of all the months of the year there is not a month one half so welcome to the young, or so full of happy associations, as the last month of the year.
– Charles Dickens
And finally, one of my personal favorites, originally shared with me by the wonderful people at Daak (they are treasure trove of sub continent’s culture, art and literature. You must check their website or Instagram handle for some hidden gems) describing the beauty and the daily life of winter in Kashmir with lyricism, simplicity and great humor. This was penned by Mulla Muhammad Tahir Ghani, known as Ghani Kashmiri, who lived in Srinagar, around 17th century,
In this season where the water is frozen
Every bubble has become a glasshouse.
The stream flowing across the garden
Looks like a line drawn on the page.
The minstrel’s hand is without a drum.
It seems the dewy song has frozen too.
Cold has turned water into ice.
Etching it is like etching a stone.
In all this, the duck in the water croons
‘Lucky the bird that’s become a kebab.’
The spark too has been struck by the chill
And has hid itself back in the flint.
The spark and flame are together no more.
The chilly drought has torn them apart.
No sooner does a spark rise from the fire
Than it turns into a hailstone.
Such is the nip in the biting air
That the moist eye resembles a stony glass.
Scared to their bones now men are of water
Like the mirror they hide it under the earth.
The means of living are in the hands of Chinar
Which in autumn has provided for fire.
The fish offers itself to the hook
In the hope that it might see fire
So cold has the oven of the sky become
No longer visible is the bread-like sun
Can a stream flow on the face of the earth
When the sun’s eye itself is frozen?
Release from the stinging cold does the fish find
When it slits itself with the icicle’s sword
No fear of water does the snow show.
It floats on its surface like foam.
The ember glowing in the brazier
Looks like a gem in the casket.
He who relaxes his hold on the chair
Finds himself skating on the ice.
And he who breaks his leg on the ice
Is plastered there on the wooden plank.
His joy knows no bounds if a sad soul
Gets hold of a few flint stones.
How could one walk on the murky earth
If it were not covered with planks of ice?
Agonized such is the fish by the chill
It seeks to flee from all that is wet.
Every sigh that soars up to the sky
Becomes a snowflake and falls to the ground.
Behold the game that the winter plays
Fashioning myriad mirrors from water plain.
Though a flame hides within its breast
The leaf of chinar breathes no warmth.
And he whose life leaves him in this chill
Prefers hell to escape the cold.
As children make their way to school
They practice skating on the planks of ice
He is wise who in this season
Clings to the stove like a madman.
Narrating this, my tongue is coated with ice.
My breath, it seems, has frozen to make another tongue.
And when the chill turns chillier still
Like the ear, even the mouth turns still.
The tear which drops from the crying eye
Freezes like the wax dripping down the candle.
All this is known to the wise ant
Which entombs itself when alive.
This winter’s tale I can no longer narrate
For the tongue is now an icicle in my mouth.
I leave you with some beautiful illustrations from Kashmir, Sir Francis Edward Younghusband, Illustrated by E. Molyneux, which captured the beauty of this land in some wonderful watercolor imagery. Circa 1887.
The Classic Club announced the Spin Number! It’s #14!! Yay!!! I am super excited to read Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor’s Son by Sholem Aleichem. This book has been on my list forever and I am so glad to get the nudge to read it! This book on which the musical Fiddler on the Roof is a joyous looks at life despite the harsh conditions, especially of the Jewish peasants in the Tsarist Russia. This book is one of the first modern classics of Yiddish literature published in 1894. The second book in this volume is narrated from the eyes of a 10 year old orphaned mischievous and keenly observant boy who emigrates with his family from Russia to America
What makes this reading an Icing on the cake that my dear friend Cleo, will join me for a read along of this work! She is my soul sister and we have had heaps of fun comparing notes and discussing books that we have read together over the years. Lately life kind of took the front seat in both our lives and put our joint reading adventures to halt! I am therefore incredibly overjoyed to not only read a book I really wanted but also have her company!
This year despite all the turbulence, both personal and pandemic related has been a very good reading year! After many years have, I been able to read to my heart’s content and though there have been some reading events I failed, in most I had moderate success. Therefore, I thought I will go for the last Spin of the year hosted by Classic Club. CC Spin #25.
Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.
Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog before Sunday 22nd November.
We’ll announce a number from 1-20.
Read that book by 30th January 2021.
I know I am posting this on Sunday 22nd November but I am sneaking it in under the cover Time Zone differences. Anyhow, here is my list of 20 Books1
The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarrington
Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope
Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy
Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
So Big by Edna Ferber
Son Excellence Eugène Rougon by Emile Zola
The Bucaneers by Edith Wharton
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
And Quiet Flows The Dawn by Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov
A Country Doctor’s Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor’s Son by Sholem Aleichem
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Kumarasambhava by Kalidasa
Gora by Rabindranath Tagore
Gossip in a Library by Edmund Grosse
Staying on by Paul Scott
White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
That’s my list! With an exception of Zola and Gaskell, I am pretty edgy about most! But then I have discovered that the books I am most anxious about are the one I love the most! So here’s hoping for the best – Happy Spinning Everyone!
One of the often-overlooked aspects especially by the Western Historians and even some India scholars is the Partition of India. With the exception of Israel, no other state in modern history was created on religious grounds and there is no precedent in history to such mass scale killing, migration of population and loss of property that happened with the announcement of division of India in 1947, into two nations, Pakistan (created for the Muslims) and India. This artificial drawing of boundaries separating peoples and communities that have resided in the same way for a thousand years led to not only economic and political upheaval, but also lives lost, including rapes and abductions marred the joy of India finally “gaining” its freedom from British rule on August of 1947 and continues to echo till date.
Lately there have been some scholars from the subcontinent who have started looking at this epoch moment of history, The Great Partition by Yasmin Khan and Partition, The Story of India’s Independence and Creation of Pakistan in 1947 by Barney White – Spunner to name a few; most of these books focused on “what happened” at the political level that led to division of India in two parts. While it is important to understand these politico-economics dynamics, it is also critical to understand people’s history and the story of the common folks who had to leave everything they knew as a way of life and with nothing except the clothes on their back and start a journey of 100 miles to a new unknown but apparently safe future. Among these narratives, however there are certain voices missing, like those of the partition Women, who were perhaps the biggest victims of the mass rioting that broke out in Punjab and Bengal, the two impacted states of the partition; losing not only family, but also subjected to some of the most brutal violence and heinous sex crimes in the recent history and then silenced either through death or forced conversion and marriage.
Urvashi Butalia, now one of the most respected scholars and publishers of India, began her work by trying to fill this gap by writing about these silenced voices, in her brilliant book, The Other Side of Silence – Voices of Partition of India published 1998. In 8 chapters, Ms. Butalia captures some of the most intense oral histories of men, woman, children to bring together a people’s history of what partition did to everyday men and women. She begins the book with by sharing how while helping some friends film a documentary about Partition, she became interested in the subject. This subject became even more personal as she takes us into her own family and how it split her mother’s family in two – her mother and her siblings choosing to make a dangerous journey to India on the eve of some of the worst violence and her mother’s younger brother who chose to stay back in Pakistan, convert and marry and settle there. In subsequent chapters, she explores narratives of women – women who tried to commit suicide rather than be raped and violated or “honour” killings, where girls and women were killed by the families to prevent them from being abducted and sexually exploited by fathers and brothers. She also talks about the children of the partition, those orphans of the conflict or those who were product of rape and kidnappings. Finally, she looks at the “Untouchables” the lowest in the Hindu Caste system and their stories during this time of history.
Ms. Butalia manages the remarkable feet of keeping the narrative empathetic and soulful, while remaining factual and scientific in her approach ensures that her book never descends into high drama story telling. Her voice is clear and concise and her honesty in acknowledging her own emotional turmoil, especially the story of her family adds another layer of depth to the book. Non judgemental and deeply human, she never blames any religion or the people, instead she subtly directs the readers to think about the political mechanizations that went on that time and the “leaders” who were could be seen as “responsible” for this catastrophe. She is not afraid of calling spade a spade, but instead she focuses on the main principals of the books, the overlooked others. Her nuanced and sensitive story telling picks on so many unspoken actions that speak not only of Partition but all marginalized groups across history. She speaks about how women who survived Partition were never allowed to speak to her alone and was always surrounded by family, to the extent, that at times even answers were given by family members who may not have actually witnessed the conflict. She gives voices to things left unsaid, the old man, who does not mention his mother, because she could commit suicide ( the wells were filled up and women could not drown anymore) and of the lack of choices for the woman – when they were honour killed or abducted and forced to marry or when after being settled with the new family for more than 10 years, they were forced to go back to their old families where they were disrespected on account of having lost their “purity” by the flick of signatures of the governments of two countries that embarked on a repatriation program. She speaks of little acknowledged facts of history – of the amazing middle class women who came together to set up camps and provide shelter and occupation for their lesser fortunate sisters and their children; these women from well to do families had their own griefs to deal with of lost and murdered families but they put their own personal tragedies aside for greater good and till date remain the unsung heroes of the country. She speaks about the “Untouchables” who were stranded in Sindh and Pakistan would not let them go to India because they formed the complete sanitation workforce and, in their absence, the already struggling hygiene of the city would totally breakdown and the lack of initiative by the political leaders of India which allowed this population to be lost in annals of history. The book is not a complete history of the “other” voices, the author herself acknowledges, that she has not captured the stories of Bengal focusing instead of the impact of Partition of Punjab. But in her limited scope, she is able to convey many things and provide a profoundly deep and disturbing chapter in the tumultuous history of this 5000-year-old nation.
This is a difficult book to read but it is an important book to read. The stories of what women were subjected to is harrowing and heart-breaking. The fates of the abandoned children are beyond distressing. But it is book that needs to be read so that we do not forget and we do not repeat!
My reading is mostly restricted to everything published till 1950’s with a few exceptions here and there. I realize that this makes my reading restrictive in many ways but it is one of those personal prejudice type of thing and while I try very hard to overcome them, 9 out 10 times I would rather be in 19th or early 20th century when reading fiction. However, I recently read a post by Karen where she shares that she and Simon over at Stuck in a Book will be hosting a 1956 book club for week of October 4th. She mentioned that it was a bumper year vis-à-vis books published and intrigued I began to explore. And as always, Karen was right! This was an amazing year with all kinds of authors publishing from James Baldwin to MM Kaye to Georgette Heyer to C.S. Lewis to Elie Wiesel to Allen Ginsburg to just name very very few.
This was just too much of a great reading opportunity to pass up and I joined in. The principles are really very simple, read a book and discuss it on your blog. Reading the book and posting the book was the easy part, but considering this extraordinary literary year, the hardest part was choosing which books to read. After much deliberation I settled on the following –
Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie – Once can say I am in a bit of murder mystery spin and considering RIPXV is also on, this book seemed a great choice to cover for both events.
Detective in Togas by Henry Winterfeld – This history mystery for adolescents seemed very interesting, especially the art work Charlotte Kleinert.
Imperial Woman by Pearl S Buck – There is a change of pace necessary in everything and this modern classic by Pearl S Buck retelling the story is a fictionalized biography of Empress Dowager Cixi seems just the thing to move away from mysteries and whodunits.
That is my list for the reading this week for the 1956 club. I am not fully sure if I will be able to finish all of them, especially Imperial Woman which is a 500+ page book, but I am going to try for sure.
I was very fortunate to get to read one of the books that had been on my TBR for a very long time by an author whom I admired and whose books had defined my formative years. I speak of none other than John Steinbeck and one of his last books, Travels with Charley.
In 1960, after recuperating from a heart attack, against the explicit instructions of his Doctors, John Steinbeck set off to explore America again. As a writer of people, he felt that he had lately lost touch with his own country and its people, about whom he had written prolifically at one time and he set out to correct this miss! He started with meticulously organizing for the road trip, which included a customized Camper which he named Rocinante , furnishing it with all the books and maps he could not possibly need, stocking up food and other essential supplies and then choosing a traveling partner, his 10 year old, extremely pragmatic French Poodle – Charley. The trip started from a ferry at Long Island which was to take Charley, Rocinante and him to Connecticut from where he would start his actual “road” trip. He drove through Maine, New York, Buffalo, Chicago, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota, then onto Montana, through Seattle and Oregon and California, Salinas where he grew up. He then headed back home via Texas and Virginia and then New Orleans where heart sickened, he proclaimed that his journey was technically over and he was just now heading home. He saw Niagara Falls and drove through Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast and the Yellowstone Park. He met small store clerks and motel owners who yearned to take off like he did and he spoke to migrant farmers who came over from Canada to help out during the autumn pickings and the supervisor of a ranch who would be seduced away from the wild beauties of the land to a secure albeit boring job in the city, at the behest of his young wife who wanted luxuries. He wrote of the “plastic” culture that decorated each motel and of the upwardly mobile aspirations of the people he met. He drank coffee and whiskey with strangers in a trailer park and spoke to them about the country, the upcoming elections and their aspirations. He was saddened by the people at Sauk Centre, the home town of Sinclair Lewis who failed to appreciate his genius and at one time had treated him as pariah until his death, made the town a lucrative tourist destination. And finally, he was completely heartbroken by the hatred and venom he witnessed from people opposing a newly integrated school. He felt that his journey ended with this episode and he drove home to New York summarizing that the country and it’s people had changed dramatically, moving directionless, away from all that which was real and good into an industrialized and material living frenzy, that did not brood well for the future.
John Steinbeck as always is deeply observant of human nature and the book is replete with many insightful and in some ways prophetic remarks. On watching migrant farmers from Mexico, India , Philippines work on the crops, he is reminded of the lessons in history where Carthaginians hired mercenaries to fight their wars; Americans bring in migrant laborers to do the hard work and he hopes that one day, they are not overwhelmed by the hardier race, in mighty foretelling of the future. He captures narratives from people who are comfortable living in mobile homes and not worried about not having roots, for they are convinced that obsession with building roots stops progress and moving forward. He muses “Perhaps we have overrated roots as a psychic need. Maybe the greater the urge, the deeper and more ancient the is the need, the will, the hunger to be somewhere else” The wonderful thing about the author is his ability to see two sides of the story; while he misses the more personalized way of doing things prior to the industrial boom, he also acknowledges that “I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days.” and therefore nostalgia is presented with a pinch of salt. The rediscovery of America is always sombre, but there is much humour that only a master craftsman like Steinbeck can bring to a book, that is a difficult narrative – his conversations with Charley are downright hilarious, filled with laugh out loud moments. Charley is an intelligent dog and Steinbeck never forgets this fact in his 4-month long journey and the intellectual parley’s he engages in with him. His sense of irony is equally powerful when describing a quiet and enjoyable Thanksgiving, at a Texas millionaire’s place, talking a dig that the incorrect representation of Texas as loud and ostentatious. The language is flowing and despite being a travelogue, not once is the reader exhausted wondering when this journey will end. In fact, his description of the landscapes he covers is vivid and lyrical that brings alive the places and the reader is swept away with them! There is so much I can say about this book, that to end, I would only say that I read some essays which state that Steinbeck took several artistic liberties in writing this book, and this work is more fictional in nature. Be that as it may, his insights about life and humanity holds good now as it did 60 years ago and his deep heartbreak at people not being able to internalize respect for fellow creatures and the mad race of consumerism holds true today more than ever!
When I had first started blogging so many moons ago, Stefanie, had introduced me to R.I.P (Readers Imbibing Peril; originally started by Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings) that was hosted every year during the Fall season. Over the years, R.I.P events introduced me to such classics like We have Always Lived in a Castle. But the last few years, like everything else life was became kind of crazy nightmare and though this year is hardly better bringing in it’s own surreal qualities, I atleast have the time and energy to look around and read! So when I saw the posts coming up about the 15th R.I.P. event, I knew it’s time again to pick up those things that I had to let go and start again!
The rules this year are extremely simple and the only expectation is to read books from the following genre during the September-October
I am *******trying****** to not buy more books after the splurging of the last few months and instead am digging up from my current TBR. I m not sure if in the end I will stick to this list, but for now this seems to be the plan of action –
The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie – This is one of those few Christie books not to feature her regular detective quad of Poirot, Miss Marple, Parker Pyne etc. There is a dead body and strange neighbors, set in the Cornish Moors and a young woman who is out to prove her finance’s innocence.
The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne – The mathematical genius not only created the famous Winne the Pooh but was apparently wrote some very good mysteries. The Red House is one of them and set in over a weekend in the typical English country house where the host disappears suddenly, after some mysterious shorts being heard.
Dead Man’s Quarry by Ianthe Jerrold – I was introduced to this book by Jane when she wrote a wonderful review of a cycling holiday gone wrong with one of the members being found dead at a quarry.
The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo – A brilliant review by Helen got me to buy the book. Set in 1937 Japan, a newly wed couple’s wedding night is marred with a gruesome death
The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz – I have tried reading Horowitz a few time but it never quite works for me. But again a wonderful review by Helen made me pick this mystery within a mystery novel
This then is my plan; I am sure I will deviate and pick something else along the way, but as a starting point, this is what it looks to be!
Are you participating in R.I.P ? Do you have some good recommendations especially in the Gothic/Horror genre?
In July of 1948, a writer and a photographer started on a journey for 41 days across Russia and the other Republics of Soviet Union in a quest to find out how does the common people act, “what do they serve for Dinner? Do they have parties? What food is there? What do they talk about?” . They were not interested in politics and instead try and understand the everyday Russian people if they can. They sold the idea to Herald Tribune and convinced the Soviet Embassy to give them necessary permissions and visas, and thus began A Russian Journal, by John Steinbeck and Robert Capa.
The two geniuses started their journey with a stop at Moscow, Kiev, Stalingrad and Georgia . They were assigned by the Government to help them navigate their journey’s as they visited farms, factories, nigh clubs and writer’s union dinners. They wrote about the suffocating flights where no food was served, so passenger’s carried their own food. They wrote about magnificent dinners which were put up on their honor by collective farms and farm managers and playrights. They attended local community theater and the scintillating ballet. They spoke to farmers, factory workers and the drivers who drove them around and documented everything they saw, including farms which had been burnt to the ground, by the invading armies, the complete destruction of Stalingrad and of heroic factory workers who fought to defend their factories and then went back to complete their work because the country needed their machines. They wrote about Russian music, including “popular music”, folk music and the Russian attempts at American Jazz, They spoke of the dignity of a city destroyed but still standing tall and the beauty of Georgia. They also captured the essence of the Soviet populace with characters of being cold and bureaucratic in Moscow and larger than life, boisterous people of Georgia; of women who crawl out of destroyed buildings and fix their hair on the way to work and of now demobilized soldiers working in the factory wearing their army clothes because that was all they owned. They also discover that the people in Soviet Union have the same questions that they themselves had about USSR – what do people eat, what do people wear, how do their farms work?
The book does what it set out to do – describe the everyday life of Russians. Steinbeck with his innate brilliance manages to convey facts, with humor and empathy with a deep understanding of mankind. Capa’s photos, black and white capture every singular detail of what it is to live everyday, work everyday and build back a life that had been brutally torn apart. The book is alive with the presence of hard and long fought battle and it comes through in every page – farms destroyed, families with pictures of son’s lost in the war, of a magnificent city called Stalingrad, destroyed to pieces, but still holding on. This book was written as the “Iron Curtain” described by Churchill was descending between the former allies of USSR and USA-England allies and before another bout of Stalin’s purges. In the introduction to the book, scholar Susan Shillinglaw states that the lives and facilities described in the book was a carefully staged act provided by the Soviet Government and all succeeding books have similar description. It may have been stage managed, the USSR government was hardly known for it’s benevolent and tolerance for any kind of dissent, but the jokes that the farm wit cracked and the dignity with which people struggled to re-build their lives cannot ever be “created” and here lies the brilliance of the two in not only being able to capture those moments and pieces, but managing to masterfully communicate the deep understanding of courage of human soul, while reporting everything factually. The book is replete with insightful observations about Soviet people; while they appreciate the cleanliness of the cities and the good working conditions of the farms, that included apartments for the workers, schools and creches for the children and a clinic, they were smart enough to be able to distinguish between what was real and unreal and this comes through in a wry statements which they make through the book “Russian people live on hope, hope that tomorrow will be better than today.” “In Russia, it is always the future that is thought of. it is crops that will be next year, it will be the comfort that will come next year” The humor of both craftsmen keeps the book from becoming a dry document with observations like “Capa says that the museum is the church of Russia” or when they kept hearing about wait till you see Georgia “We began to believe that most Russians hope that if they live very good and virtuous lives, they will not go to heaven, but to Georgia, when they die.” To end, with some lovely photographs and sparse but powerful prose, the books makes you realize that the authors had succeeded in doing, what they had set out to do, tell stories about everyday people and help realize that “Russian people are like all other people in the world. Some bad ones, there are surely, but by far the greater number are good.”
If you have not read, it is high time you did! In this world where more than ever we are dividing ourselves in us versus them, this books stands as a historical testimony to the simple thought, that folks are just folks everywhere!
Shout out to Karen for setting me on the path of this wonderful book!