In a few hours time I’ll be taking a late night flight to Budapest; by the time you’re reading this I might have even arrived. This latest visit home prompted me to write a long overdue book list for you. 🙂
One good way to get to know a people is by reading their literature. Unfortunately, in the case of the Hungarians this is not easy as the language is obscure and difficult (and no, it’s bloody not related to Polish, or Russian, or German!¹) and not a lot of the country’s literature has been translated into English, let alone into other languages.
So what follows here is not any kind of representative list of Hungarian literature – it is, nevertheless, a list of ten good books which were all translated into English. If you ever decide to visit Hungary, you could do much worse than reading one of them on the flight there. 🙂
About a year ago I looked back at 2018, admitted it had been a real struggle to keep the blog going and hoped for things to go better in 2019. Well, I can tell you this: they didn’t (if you didn’t work this out already for yourselves by the scarcity of the posts). What can I say? May 2020 be better than 2019 and may I write some good posts this year! 🙂
But while you’re waiting for those posts, let’s have a quick review at some of the books of 2019: books you might enjoy – or you’ll want to avoid! 🙂
By the way, if you ever want to know what I’m reading, you can always take a look at the Reading Log (which I do try to keep reasonably up-to-date).
Suddenly it dawned on me: it’s that time of the year again. Four years ago to the day I wrote my first blog post although I didn’t know it at the time. (I didn’t know what a blog was, either.) Four years and I’m still at it; four years and I’m still full of ideas. The difficulty, in fact, lies in finding the time and energy to turn those ideas into posts. At the moment, I’m in no danger of running out of topics.
In the past four years I came to read a lot of great books and I wrote a lot of posts that were great fun to write. Here comes my entirely self-pleasing highlights for each period of twelve months (excluding books that I was re-reading):
19 July 2015 – 19 July 2016
Best Book: El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (No One Writes to the Colonel) by Gabriel García Márquez
Runner Up: Moscow Stations by Venedikt Yerofeev
Two very short books about life not being funny at all – full of dark humour. Beg, borrow or steal, but read these two books before you die.
A post that brings together Austrian author Stephan Zweig, the English poet John Keats and a great moment in history. I only wish my writing was up to the quality of the topic.
20 July 2016 – 19 July 2017
Best Book: The Bible in Spain by George Borrow
Runner Up: Anabasis (The Persian Expedition) by Xenophon
Two first hand accounts: two quests for salvation, two journeys full of adventure, landscape and human interaction. Borrow travelled a civil warn torn Spain peddling a forbidden edition of the Bible to the locals; Xenophon led an army of Greek mercenaries across hostile territory from the heart of Mesopotamia back to Greece. Both are unforgettable.
I probably wrote better posts in this twelve month period; I definitely wrote more informative ones. But with this one, I was just having a bit of shameless fun.
20 July 2017-19 July 2018:
Best Book: The Samurai by Shusaku Endo
Runner Up: Vida de este capitán (The Life of This Captain) by Alonso de Contreras
Two books treating real events in the beginning of the 17th century. The first one is a novel about a Japanese embassy to Spain and to the Vatican in the 17th century; a wonderful travel story and an amazing culture clash. The second one is autobiography of Spanish desperado, who lived at the turn of the 16th-17th century. You couldn’t make the stories up if you tried.
This period was quite rich in posts that I really enjoyed writing: The Master of Cold Mountain for example, or An Evening with Matsuo Basho are such examples. In the end, Implacabile won it because of the research that went into it and because – believe me – you won’t find a word about this topic in English anywhere else on the web. Unique. 🙂
20 July 2018-19 July 2019:
Best Book: The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam
Runner Up: Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra
I discovered Omar Khayyam, this 11th century Persian fatalist, a lover of wine, women, good books and gardens (probably in that order). And I rediscovered Don Quijote in the recent edition of the Spanish Royal Academy – which I can only recommend, if you can read Spanish.
I didn’t have a particularly difficult time to choose this one: in the last twelve months unfortunately I had struggled to keep the blog going at all and I wrote much fewer posts than previously. It came down to a relatively simple choice, with The Dark Side of Life (In Nine Haikus) being a strong runner up. In the end Burns vs Petőfi won because of the outrageousness of the idea to rubbish two national poets. Boy, did I enjoy slagging them off (well, they deserve it). 🙂
The universal cry of Not Fair! can be heard all of over the land wherever there is a moody teenager, usually accompanied by sulky looks and followed by petulant silence. Well, we’ve all been there; contrary to what moody teens believe, it’s a familiar territory for all of us. And like us, they will come out the other end, (hopefully as civilised adults).
In the meantime, perhaps we can try to make the life of our moody teens – and our own – a bit more tolerable. Reading is fun and can be a solace (not to mention instructive and character forming). So here are a few books to add to a moody teen’s library – all suitably full of dark and gloomy landscapes, sinister occurrences, brooding heroes, monsters, misfortune, madness, ghosts and star crossed lovers… the lot. If they show a slight feminine bias, it’s because, well, I’m a female and so are my children – the younger of whom is currently in the moody teen phase. (Moody Friend of the Elephants, this is for you!)
Hace unas semanas he escrito unas líneas sobre Alonso de Contreras, un soldado español del siglo XVI, cuyas memorias inspiraron la vida del capitán Alatriste, el conocido héroe de Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Cosa que al parecer no le gustó a casi nadie (pero a mí sí que me gustó escribirlo). Si no lo has leído, puedes encontrarlo aquí:
A few weeks ago I wrote some lines about Alonso de Contreras, a Spanish soldier from the 16th century, whose memoirs inspired the life of Captain Alatriste, the well-known hero of Arturo Pérez-Reverte. A piece that apparently almost nobody liked (but I did like writing it). If you haven’t read it, you can find it here:
Bueno. Como mencioné en ese post, Alonso de Contreras no fue el único soldado español que escribió sobre su vida. Hoy os voy a recomendar dos libros más; porque, creed me, la historia es mejor que la ficción.
Anyway. As I mentioned in that post, Alonso de Contreras wasn’t the only Spanish soldier who wrote about his life. Today I’m going to recommend you two more books; because, believe me, history is indeed better than fiction.
I read The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in the bath last night. This is always a recipe for disaster, but despite of long years of practice in soaking books, Omar Khayyam survived dry, probably due to the fact that he quite woke me up. (Which was not the effect I had been looking for but these things happen when you settle in for a relaxing read in the bath before going to bed.)
A murderer at the the age of thirteen, exiled from Madrid… what future would have had a boy like that?
Well, it seems that he had a pretty interesting future. So interesting that later he considered it worthwhile to write his memoirs. So interesting in fact that these memoirs gave life to a character in a well-known – at least in Spain – novel. And this character, in turn, gave life to a character in a TV series…
Do you know who they are?
If you have seen the original Spanish version of this post, you may have noted that it contains several quotes by Eduardo Marquina. They are from his play En Flandes se ha puesto el sol, The Sun Has Set in Flanders. Unfortunately, I was unable to find an English translation of this work, and I most definitely draw the line at trying to translate poetry. My apologies, but apart from a brief excerpt, you'll just have to do without.
For certain unfortunate reasons I don’t wish to detail here, I struggled to keep the blog going last year and, as you might have noticed, there were times when weeks went by without me being able to publish any other post than the weekly quote. Nevertheless, I still did manage to read a few books… so to start the new year off (may it be better than the last), let’s look back on some of last year’s readings.
Books you might enjoy – or you’ll want to avoid! 🙂
Autumn is here again with mellow sunshine, golden leaves, conkers in the grass and local teams playing football on the pitches behind our house. The uncharacteristic (for this part of the world) sunshine takes me straight back to childhood: where I come from such sunshine is an integral part of September and the time when you go back to school.
So today, we go back to school – although not as you knew it. The following three stories will let you experience education in a different way, in another place, another time. One story will take you back to wooden desks, inkwells, blackboards and chalk; another will take you to the future; the third one can be considered a ‘school story’ only in the widest sense of the word – think of Mowgli being educated in the jungle…
Throughout history, there were soldiers who wielded the pen with as much as skill as they wielded the sword; sometimes better.
Autores con la espada en mano
A lo largo de la historia, hubo soldados que manejaron la pluma con tanta habilidad que la espada; a veces, mejor.
Most of the literary output of these soldier-writers was, understandably, autobiographical: descriptions of battles and campaigns they took part in. A classic example of this is Xenophon’s Anabasis, better known as The March of the Ten Thousand, a gripping account of the retreat of ten thousand Spartan mercenaries in the wake of a lost battle across hostile territory, from Mesopotamia all the way to the shores of the Black Sea. Another is Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s The Conquest of New Spain, a similarly gripping (at least in the abridged version) account of how four-hundred desperadoes under Hernán Cortés conquered Mexico and overthrew an entire empire in the process. I warmly recommend them both.
La mayor parte de la producción literaria de estos soldados-escritores fue, naturalmente, autobiográfico: descripciones de batallas y campañas en que lucharon. Un ejemplar clásico de este tipo de libro es La anábasis de Jenofonte, mejor conocida con el título La marcha de los Diez Mil, un relato emocionante de la regresa de diez mil mercenarios espartanos después de una batalla perdida, a través de un territorio hostil, todo el camino desde Mesopotamia hasta las orillas del Mar Negro. Otro relato que es semejante emocionante (por lo menos en la versión abreviada) es la Historia verdadera de la conquista de Nueva España por Bernal Díaz del Castillo, que narra como cuatro cientos aventureros bajo el mando de Hernán Cortés han conquistado Mexico y derrocado un imperio entero en el proceso. Os recomiendo ambos libros.
But in addition to these authors, there were a handful of soldiers who are better known by literature professors than by military buffs; a handful of soldiers who are more famous for being authors than for ever having been soldiers.
Pero además de esos autores, hubo un puñado de soldados, que son mejor conocidos por profesores de literatura que por aficionados de la historia militar; un puñado de soldados que son más famosos por ser autores que por su pasado como soldados.
They all follow the same predictable pattern – understandably. After all, a reader will rightfully expect information about the plot, the characters and the style of writing, with some tidbits about the author. The result, as with any genre writing, is a complete lack of creativity.
That is why, although Waterblogged is ostensibly a book blog, I was never really in the business of writing book reviews. Nevertheless, over the past three years I found myself writing a handful. There are books that are so good that you can’t help recommending them to others.
(There was, of course, an exception. You’ll find it here.)
Six reviews; six mouse clicks. Six books you will want to read.
Porque El samurai, esta novela por el autor japonés, Shusaku Endo, tiene de hecho dos protagonistas, aunque el título sólo menciona uno. Dos personajes principales en paralelo: unidos en el propósito pero, al mismo tiempo, con un marcado contraste entre los dos.
El propósito que une el samurai Rokuemon Hasekura y el padre Velasco es negociar privilegios comerciales con Nueva España para los japoneses a cambio de que los misioneros europeos puedan predicar al cristianismo en Japón. Lo que los separa es… pues todo los demás, empezando con sus razones para participar en la embajada. El año es 1613, y el caudillo Tokugawa Ieyasu acabó unificar Japón bajo su propio mando.
¿Y la recompensa para los dos protagonistas después de un viaje arduo cruzando dos océanos? El samurai espera que recobre sus tierras solariegas; el sacerdote sueña de hacerse el primer obispo de Japón. Pero sus Señorías sólo les conceden sus deseos si consiguen la misión … ¿pueden hacerlo?
Africa has a lot going for it as a continent – like elephants – but somehow it doesn’t often feature among my readings. (That could be because I don’t keep re-reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.)
I read Red Strangers for a reading challenge a couple of years ago and boy, was it a challenge!… But the last paragraph made up for it all.
Because The Samurai, this novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo, has two protagonists for all that only one of them is mentioned in the title. Two main characters in parallel, united in purpose – yet in contrast to each other.
The purpose that unites them is gaining an agreement for the establishment of direct trade between Japan and Nueva España, New Spain, in exchange for Japan allowing Christian misssionaries to proselytise in the country. What separates them is… everything else, beginning with their reasons for setting out on the embassy. The year is 1613, and the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu has recently managed to unify Japan under his own rule.
The samurai, Rokuemon Hasekura, hopes to get his ancestral lands back; the priest, Father Velasco, dreams of becoming the Bishop of Japan. Their desires will only be granted if their mission is successful… can they carry it off?
For the past two months (on and off, there’s life outside this blog) I’ve been researching a post about the Hungarian corvette Implacabile – yes, you heard me right, a corvette of a land-locked country.