The Story of My Life in n Books

When I first thought of this post, I knew I was dying but time was still on my side; in consequence, I didn’t even get past the first sentence before I pushed it aside. Time was too precious to be writing something this final; I preferred to concentrate on living.

That’s been last summer and early autumn. It is winter now, and time is no longer on my side. I frittered it away, living it up, doing rather than writing, enjoying rather than philosophising. I took my moments in the sun, I plunged into the waves of the sea, I sipped golden margaritas at sunset savouring the taste of tequila over the salt, bit into lavishly buttered freshly baked bread in the morning. The miles still melted away under my walking boots and the horizons were still open although I knew I would never now reach them. And I had the company of my loved ones.

It’s winter now and my strength is spent; my horizons have closed. And I’m no longer well enough to write a good post perhaps. Merely sitting up tires me so much;  typing is a physical effort. Yet I before I die, I’d like to leave this summary of my life in books behind. I hope you’ll find some good books among them to consider and if you’ve ever enjoyed my blog, you can learn a little bit about me.

But it’s not chiefly for you, the casual reader. I dedicate…

My Life in n Books: The Books That Made Me

To Sophisticated Young Lady & Young Friend of the Elephants
Both of whom inherited my love of good books

I hope you’ll find it interesting.

I. In the Land of Magic

  • The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
  • The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen
  • Seventy-seven Hungarian Folk Tales by Gyula Illyés

I don’t know how much you remember about the books you read – or rather, were read to you – before you reached school age. In my case it’s easy. I’ve still got them on the shelf.

From toddlerhood to age 6, when I entered primary school, I lived in a magical land of iron-nosed witches and gingerbread houses. In the land of dark forests, where princesses turned into ravens, frogs had to be kissed, valiant tailors won the hand of the king’s only daughter for saving his kingdom and animals talked. Sounds familiar? These are the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Their enchantment never wore off although I haven’t picked them up for a few years now. 🙂

The Brothers Grimm were ably accompanied by the heartbreakingly beautiful tales of Hans Christian Andersen – the Little Mermaid and the Snow Queen were my particular favourites – and by a totally different read: down-to-earth Hungarian folk tales, full of worldly wisdom. These were tales about smart farm yard animals, beginning with the one about the little cockerel who outwitted the Turkish emperor, all the way to the dog that got bested by the cat, about smart peasants outwitting the devil, and many tales of of the type of ‘one good turn deserves another’.

The story of the three golden hairs of the devil, for example, anyone? 🙂

II. The Years of Innocence & Wonder

  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
  • Mondák könyve (Book of Legends) by István Komjáthy

When you go to school, the world opens up. Like most children in Hungary, between age three and six, I attended kindergarten (a type of nursery school) all day, so being in a community and having to conform to rules was not the big change. The change came in that in big school we sat in pairs in benches, facing forward towards the teachers, with textbooks and exercise books crowding our heavy school bags and instead of playing, we now had formal lessons. Silence ruled in the classroom from day one of year one, the teacher alone spoke. Kindergarten was small – a couple of classes in each year group; big school was big: four classes in each year group, and multiply that by eight year groups, thirty-two classes. The oldest kids were fourteen, and we were more scared of them than we were of the teachers. The headteacher was higher than god; I didn’t got to see him until I was in year eight and even then his mere physical presence scared the living daylight out of us.

I remember getting repeatedly lost in the building while trying to find my way across paved courtyards from the dining hall back to class; I remember walking down endless white-washed corridors with closed doors on both sides from behind which came the quiet hum of the lesson going on, I remember everything being so big and mysterious and full of promise. Because in big school we were introduced to the mysterious world of letters and numbers which spoke a secret language which you had to decipher and master, for some not quite clear reason – and then when you did…

When you did, the world opened up as a completely different place. It was as if you just saw the world for the first time ever. On the way home from school I was endlessly fascinated by all the things I could now read: shop signs, street names, the number on the trolleybus, the price of the ice-cream. Instead of a jumble of confusing pavements, Budapest was becoming a city with structure, with a transport network, with places of entertainment… Mastering reading and counting meant pocket money, which in turn meant ice-cream and cake-shops and buying books and toys that I chose – not my mum.

Winnie-the-Pooh, with its simple beautiful philosophy, was my particular favourite that accompanied me to adulthood and to which I can still turn for comfort and peace; while the the enchanting Book of Legends about the origins of the Huns and the Hungarians stretched my imagination and formed my identity, leaving such an impact on me that thirty years later I took the trouble to translate it, albeit in an abbreviated form, for my own children.

III. Life Is An Adventure

  • Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransom
  • Karl May and his ilk
  • The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  • Two Years Vacation by Jules Verne
  • The Kon-Tiki Expedition by Thor Heyerdahl

By the time I hit age ten, I was living in books. The real world – school, home, parents, what friends I had – was just an illusion, a figment of my imagination. I passed through it unscathed, unaffected, uninterested even. Inside the cover of whichever book I chose was the real life which I wished to live and did live. A life of adventure. I walked the book landscape talking to book characters and played my part in their adventures as myself or as taking on one of their characters. I was sensible Susan cooking breakfast over the campfire on Swallow Island; I was Wah-ta-Wah fleeing from the Hurons; I was Jim in the apple barrel overhearing the plans of the mutineers on board the Hispaniola… I rode into battle behind Crazy Horse at Little Bighorn, I sailed under the seas in the Nautilus with Captain Nemo, and Athos, Porthos and Aramis (not to mention D’Artagnan) gave me my first fencing lessons.

Life as an adventure was good – it made the difficulties in real life less important. I was in a new school which I hated: but school bullies, complicated maths problems, scary teachers and being forced to eat spinach sauce with boiled egg for lunch could be survived. Even my dad being away for a whole year working abroad and my mother’s illness… I coped with it all, hardly noticing.

IV. Life Lessons

  • Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Of course, eventually I had to return from inside the pages of my books and start taking part in real life.

Lassie Come-Home and The Little Prince were both compulsory reading in year 5; and were the only ones I liked. They are also the books, together with Winnie-the-Pooh, which helped me form my first notions on what is right and what is wrong, what is important and what is not. They served as my first compasses in the complicated situations that real life threw up.

Lassie’s story taught me two things: that love and loyalty mattered above all and that honesty was something non-negotiable. When Joe’s dad explained to his son that he couldn’t have the dog anymore because they sold it to buy food, that was that. No matter how many times Lassie returned home, she had to be given back to the new owner. Keeping her would have been dishonest. When you’re poor, and have nothing, not even enough food, you still can have honesty. Nobody can take that away from you. This simple concept defined my moral stance for the rest of my life. (It helped that my grandmother taught me the same life lesson.)

The Little Prince taught me slightly different life lessons but they too stayed with me to this day. To be open-hearted and kind, to begin with. To look for good in others. To understand that you have to dedicate time and effort to achieve something. To believe in the power of love and in friendship. To understand that you have to nurture love and friendship otherwise they might wither. That it’s important to savour the moment… And to understand that what’s really important is inside, in our thoughts and our hearts.

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Little Prince)

Every child should read The Little Prince – one of the most beautiful books on love and friendship – written by a French pilot who was playing a deadly hide-and-seek among the clouds against the Germans in World War II even as he wrote this tale of humanity.

V. Cinderella & the Wicked Stepmother

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

My mum died when I was thirteen, after a long illness. I didn’t know it at the time but it was a genetic illness and it’s the same that’s killing me now. My father, who loved her very much, went to pieces, and within months, brought another woman home to live with us, soon marrying her. I never found out why the new wife hated me but for the next five years I lived the life of Cinderella, minus the protective fairy god mother, while she alternated in the roles of various wicked fairy tale stepmothers, depending on the mood she was in. She stopped short of acting out Snow White’s stepmum but that’s about all the good I can say of her. Perhaps this is why I was reading the rather disturbing stories of the Brontë sisters over and over during those years.

VI. On the Road towards Adulthood

  • Catcher in the Rye by D. J. Salinger
  • Antigone by Sophocles
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Day of the Dolphin by Robert Merle
  • The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene

Modern day Cinderellas still go to school and my great place of safety in my teenage years was, in fact, my grammar school, where I made some life-long friends and where my teachers attempted to make a creditable human being out of me, despite of the terrible situation I had at home.

I had a great literature teacher and even if I hadn’t, I’d have read a tremendous amount. The list above shows the books which made the deepest impression on me in the four years of grammar school while I was trying to learn to make sense of growing up and the adult world around me. They helped to form my political opinions, my artistic opinions and my literary taste in general.

In every book I was reading during these years, I was also, invariably, looking for an answer to my wicked stepmother problem. I had particularly high hopes when I embarked on Hamlet – can you imagine my total disappointment then, when I found that Shakespeare’s solution to the problem was to massacre everybody at the end? Couldn’t see how I could benefit from that! I just had to soldier on, until I managed to grow up and move away.

VII. Out Of This World

  • The Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett
  • The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Tales of Pirx the Pilot by Stanislaw Lem

The years of growing up under the proverbial wicked stepmother were hard, as you can understand. I needed escape and frequently. Books remained my friends and I immersed myself in fantasy and sci-fi.

VIII. Long Summers in the Country

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • People of the Puszta by Gyula Illyés
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

My physical escape was the summer holidays, when I was often sent down to my grandmother’s house in the countryside for a few weeks. Life there was quiet, with nothing much to do (at least for me). My grandmother was not well educated but she liked to read, especially in winter and had an interesting collection of books, mostly given to her by other family members. I worked my way through them all.

Repeatedly.

The most noteworthy among them is People of the Puszta: a part sociography, part autobiography by the Hungarian poet and writer, Gyula Illyés. Illyés was roughly contemporary with my great-grandfather and he was brought up in the same tiny area of Transdanubia where my family lived and still lives. The people of the puszta are Illyés’s people; and my people. My grandma spoke the same accent, lived in exactly the same way as Illyés has described in his book. The events that took place in this tiny area (a few square kilometres, no more) of Transdanubia, in the first half of the 20th century are all true as described by Illyés; my grandma bore testimony to it to the last letter, including the crucifixion of the unpopular local policeman on the pub door of Ozora by the drunken peasants one Easter Sunday…

When I consider how poor a family I come from, a family of real not-haves, to be able to hold up a book and a good book at that, and be able to say: “this has been written about us!” is a wonderful piece of good fortune.

IX. The World is Your Oyster

As we know, Cinderella escaped in the end. I turned 18, moved out, went to university, took a degree in literature and started to learn English. My reading horizons became very wide open indeed… as they remain ever since. Can’t possibly list all my favourite readings and authors over the years but here are some of the very best:

  • The Honour and the Glory by Graham Greene
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • La morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
  • Captain Alatriste by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
  • The Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard
  • No One Writes to the Colonel by Gabriel García Márquez
  • Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
  • Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  • Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa
  • The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
  • 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
  • A Passage to India by E. M. Forester
  • Ransom by David Malouf
  • The Samurai by Shusaku Endo
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

X. Whenever It Got Too Much

Adult life of course was not without its vicissitudes. And whenever things got too much, I had a trusty band of prolific writers to turn to:

  • Pigs Have Wings by P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Golden Rendezvous by Alistair Maclean
  • Sindzse szeme (The Eye of Sinje) Leslie L. Lawrence
  • The Last Place God Made by Jack Higgins
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
  • Piece of Cake by Derek Robinson
  • Happy Return by C. S. Forester
  • Master & Commander by Patrick O’Brian
  • On Basilisk Station by David Weber

I took Pigs Have Wings into the hospital with me when I gave birth to Sophisticated Young Lady, since it’s such an entertaining book and hospitals are gloomy places even if you’re only there for childbirth. But Sophisticated Young Lady was born by emergency caesarean, and when I tried to read my book during my recovery, it made me laugh so much, it hurt. I had to send it home and get my husband bring me something a lot more boring… Can’t remember what he found.

XI. Nothing New Under the Sun

As I became older, I turned away from novels a little bit and started to read more history. Travel narratives, from ages long bygone, can be particularly fascinating. I discovered a couple of historians who can spin a good tale (and discarded by the wayside others who might have an encyclopaedic knowledge but they would bore the hind legs off a donkey with their narrative). Most of this reading seeped into Waterblogged – the blog I only started because I got fed up with my family pulling faces at me at the dinner table whenever I got overenthusiastic about Herodotus…

  • The Great Siege: Malta 1565 by Ernle Bradford
  • Historical travel diaries (Felix Fabri, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Francis Drake…)
  • The Histories by Herodotus
  • Anabasis (The March of the Ten Thousand) by Xenophon
  • The Adventures of Captain Alonso de Contreras
  • City of Fortune by Roger Crowley

Hungary in Ten Books

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. 🙂

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest in winter fog. Photo by Noval Goya via Flickr.

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. 🙂

Continue reading “Hungary in Ten Books”

Twelve Books in Twelve Months (2019)

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).

Continue reading “Twelve Books in Twelve Months (2019)”

Musashi: The Master Swordsman of Medieval Japan

The Battle of Sekigahara… anyone?

Well, I’d never heard of it either before I read Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel, Musashi.

Which brings us to the next question: Miyamoto Musashi, anyone?

Your answer, of course, is in the title of this post: Miyamoto Musashi was one of the most famous – if not the most famous – swordsman Japan ever produced. Already in his lifetime he became a legend.

Continue reading “Musashi: The Master Swordsman of Medieval Japan”

Highlights (Four Years Blogging)

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.

Favourite Post: When with Eagle Eyes He Star’d at the Pacific

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.

Favourite Post: Pride & Prejudice in a Dozen Tweets

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.

Favourite Post: Implacabile (The Corvette that Never Was)

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.

Favourite Post: Burns vs Petőfi: Or Whose National Poet Was More S**t?

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). 🙂

To another year of blogging!

Cheers!

You might also like (or more highlights from previous years):

2015-2016:
⇒ Tolstoy, Mario Vargas Llosa, My Grandmother and Me (On War & Peace)A Trial of FreedomFever PitchExit

2016-2017:
⇒ The Bible in SpainOzymandias: Shelley and the Feet of Ramessess IICity of FortuneSave the Trinidad: The Unwritten Biography of Cayetano ValdésThe Power and the Glory

2017-2018:
⇒ The Battle of Salamis (Retold in Poetry) I and IIThe Beauty of Patterns (The Rabbit Problem)In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons: Climbing the KanchenjungaFace to Face with My Ancestors (The Scythians in the British Museum)The Master of Cold Mountain

2018-2019:
⇒ The Dark Side of Life (In Nine Haikus)Call No Man HappyThe Rubaiyat of Omar KhayyamThe True Stories of...

Dark & Moody

Or Books for Moody Teenagers

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!)

Continue reading “Dark & Moody”

Las verdaderas historias de… (The True Stories of…)

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:

Capitán y español (Las vidas de aquellos capitanes)

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:

The Three (Spanish) Musketeers

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.

Continue reading “Las verdaderas historias de… (The True Stories of…)”

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

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.)

Continue reading “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”

The Three (Spanish) Musketeers

Leer esto en español

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?

The Surrender of Breda by Diego Velázquez [Courtesy of the Museum of Prado, Madrid]

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.

Continue reading “The Three (Spanish) Musketeers”

Beats Working in a Bank (Mejor que trabajar en un banco)

Or

Three Authors Who Escaped their Tedious Day Jobs by Becoming Writers

We start with the one who gave the idea for the title of this post: the one who did, in fact, work in a bank.

And loathed it.

O

Tres autores quienes escaparon sus trabajos penosos convirtiéndose en escritores

Empezamos con el que dio la idea para el título de este post: el que, de hecho, trabajó en un banco.

Y lo odiaba.

Continue reading “Beats Working in a Bank (Mejor que trabajar en un banco)”

Twelve Books in Twelve Months (2018)

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! 🙂

Continue reading “Twelve Books in Twelve Months (2018)”

Back To School

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…

Enjoy!

Continue reading “Back To School”

Elephantastic!

Lee esto en castellano

Mingling with Elephants: Young Friend of the Elephants on Elephant Apprecition Day in Whipsnade Zoo

Elephant Appreciation Day is on us again and what better way to celebrate these lovable animals than with a collection of memorable books featuring elephants?

People are so difficult. Give me an elephant any day.

(Mark Shand)

Enjoy!

Continue reading “Elephantastic!”

Pen Mightier than Sword (Pluma más poderosa que espada)

Authors with Sword in Hand

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.

Meet five of them.

Aquí abajo puedes conocer a cinco de ellos.

Continue reading “Pen Mightier than Sword (Pluma más poderosa que espada)”

Six Mouse Clicks

The most boring type of blog post?

A book review.

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.

Fiction – English-Speaking Countries:

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Fiction – Spanish-Speaking Countries:

Death in the Andes

Fiction – Rest of the World:

Moscow Stations

History:

City of Fortune

Biography:

The Novel Life of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain

Autobiography:

The Bible in Spain

Throwback Thursday:
Revisiting the early days of Waterblogged

El Samurai

Read this in English: The Samurai

…y el sacerdote

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?

Continue reading “El Samurai”

Six Books, Six Continents

Africa

Red Strangers by Elspeth Huxley

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.

⇒ A Girl Called Aeroplane

(Do let me know what you think of it!)

Continue reading “Six Books, Six Continents”

The Samurai

…and the Priest

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?

Continue reading “The Samurai”