September 30, 2021

Happy International Translation Day!

Today, September 30, marks a special day in my reading life. Before I began blogging, I was only aware of the most obvious books in translation: Anne Frank, The Diary of A Young Girl; Pippi Longstocking; Anna Karenina; Madame Bovary. I was unaware that an enormously broad world was waiting for me, thanks to the work of skilled translators.

It is because of them that we are introduced to attitudes, cultures, and ideas far beyond our own. How greatly the world is enriched because we have access to writers through the skills of their translators. 

I am so grateful for their talent, their ability to bring such meaningful fiction to my life. Thank you, translators, for your gifts.

Pictured above, from the bottom up, a few of my newest additions:

The Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki T’sujimura (translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel)

Waiting for the Waters To Rise by Maryse Conde (translated from the French by Richard Philcox) longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature

Planet of Clay by Samar Yazbek (translated from the Arabic by Leri Price) longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature

The Movement by Petra Hulova (translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker)

Winter Flowers by Angelique Villanueve (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter)

The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls)

I Is Another: Septology III-V by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls)

A New Name: Septology VI-VIII  by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls)

August 19, 2021

Second Place by Rachel Cusk (Booker Prize 2021 longlist), and a few thoughts on others I've read...


I am slowly making my way through as many of the books long-listed for the Booker Prize as our library has. I read most of The Promise by Damon Galgut before abandoning it for Perpetual Light by Francis Spufford. Now I am finishing second place by Rachel Cusk.

It is disarming to read so many sentences which end with an exclamation mark! I’m absorbing a fresh idea, or pausing to write a quote in my commonplace book, and wham! An unexpected quotation mark jerks me out of my reverie!

Of all the pages in this book, I found my favorite quote early on:


Why do we live so painfully in our fictions? Why do we suffer so, from the things we ourselves have invented?

(p. 8)

If you look closely at the cover of second place, you can see it is a painting of a naked woman in a marsh. A woman who looks most distressed, covering her face with her hands, crying. This, supposedly, represents the narrator; a woman whom I perceived as greatly troubled. She searches for identity, her place as a wife, mother, desired woman. (Yawn.) Throughout the novel she addresses a person named Jeffers, whom I can only assume is a counselor of some sort.

I could not bring myself to care about her, or the foolish life she leads, inviting an artist to the marsh where she and her second husband, daughter and daughter’s boyfriend, live. The novel is very atmospheric, to be sure, but it had nothing profound (or new) to say to me. I didn’t like it very much.

The Booker long list of 2021 is not going very well for me. I was bored by The Promise, with its story of siblings in South Africa. Light Perpetual held gorgeous writing, as it imagined children who had been struck by a bomb in WWII actually living; the only “problem” was their lives were so ordinary one wonders if it made any difference that they lived. second place is my least favorite of the three. I have now begun China Room, and that is quite promising in its revelation of life in India. More news on that when I finish.

Are you reading the Booker long list this year?

September 1, 2014

The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojastaczer

The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer is ostensibly a novel about a shiva held for mathematician Rachela Karnakovitch. But it is much more than describing the seven days one sits in honor of the loss of a loved one. No, this novel is an homage to mathematicians and scientists, Russia and America, mothers and fathers, but most of all to courage and strength.

It is told through the narrative of Sasha, Rachela's son, interspersed with chapters from her own memoir. We catch a glimpse of what it meant to have lived through the war, suffering under Stalin's terrible hand. Yet that which does not kill us, can only make us stronger. Or, as my mother would say to me, "Courage grows strong in a wound."

Rachela learns mathematics as a child, an eleven year old girl who is close to starvation. Through the deprivation she endured, and the brilliant mind she possessed, she became adept at solving complex mathematical problems. Her life was unique as a Soviet defector, a Jew, and a woman who was a genius in mathematics.

She writes in her memoir, "I needed a war to make me into a mathematician. I needed deprivation to make me appreciate every little gift, every tiny increment-like a crumb of food, yes-of understanding while solving a problem. I don't believe a spoiled child, even one encouraged to pursue the intellectual world, can ever be anything more than a second-rate mathematician. This is what war gave me, a life of the mind that would sustain me almost always."

It took a great deal of courage to sustain herself. As a child she left Russia with her parents; as a young mother she defected to America certain that her husband and son would find a way to follow. 

When she dies from lung cancer at the age of 70, the problem faced by her son is how to keep her funeral from "turning into a Russian theatrical tragedy." A private ceremony is not possible; the great mathematical minds of Rachela's world insist on sitting shiva with her family, for they are convinced that her solution to the famously difficult Navier-Stokes problem lies somewhere in her home.

The dialogue, the relationships, the insight into family life in general, and the minds of incredibly strong women in particular, is what makes this novel shine. It is a novel I devoured in one day, making my Labor Day vacation one long to be remembered. This is one of the most spectacular novels I have read this year, for I feel that Stuart Rojstaczer has written what it means to be an immigrant with incredible determination finding one's way in America. He has written of American strengths and idiosyncrasies with an appraising eye. He has written of a son's love for his mother, for his family, for his history with a tenderness that almost makes me weep. Except for the parts where I laughed with joy at the connection I found between his family and my own.

August 30, 2014

The Wishing Tide by Barbara Davis

"It's a hard thing to forgive those who wound us, but harder still to forgive the wounds we inflict upon ourselves."

The Wishing Tide has a story you would expect by looking at the cover. Lonesome-woman-whose-heavy-heart-has-her-grappling-with-the-tides-of-life and that sort of thing. I normally don't read this genre, a book clearly belonging to that of "women's literature". 


It's a rainy, humid Saturday of Labor Day weekend, and I find myself unexpectedly drawn in to the story of Lane; her affection for an apparently crazy old woman who sits on the beach; and Michael, the man who has come to Lane's Bed and Breakfast with more baggage than just his suitcase.

Their story is an intricately woven one, with plenty of grief for each of the characters involved. There are threads of wondering about one's past and second guessing one's choices. There are threads of having enough courage to go forward. But the best thread of all has to do with forgiveness. Without that, we are immobile. 

Without forgiveness, the tide can carry us anywhere it wishes, for we have given up the rudder that guides us forward. 

Praise for The Wishing Tide:

“Everything I love in a novel: a coastal setting so rich you can practically taste the salt in the air and feel the sand under foot, an old inn, and a deeply-felt and explored love story with a smart, relatable heroine and a handsome hero with a mysterious past. Atmospheric, suspenseful and very romantic, The Wishing Tide is elegant and haunting proof that secrets buried in the heart will always rise to the surface.”—Erika Marks, author of It Comes in Waves

“A captivating read about fighting for the life you want and daring to believe that happily-ever-after can exist outside of fairytales. Set on a desolate, storm-tossed North Carolina barrier island lush with family secrets, madness, and ghost stories, this lyrical novel will haunt you from the first page to the last.”—Barbara Claypole White award-winning author of The In-Between Hour

“Beautiful and haunting….Filled with wonderful descriptions of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, The Wishing Tide is a book about love and loss and finding your way forward. I could not read it fast enough!”—Anita Hughes, author of Lake Como

August 29, 2014

Short on Patience, Short on Time

If you had any idea, even vaguely, of how hot it's been in my classroom this week then you would understand why I haven't put up a post since Tuesday, let alone visited any of yours.

I'm sorry.

The pencils above give a pretty good indication of how things are going all around. The dear children in my class are driven to distraction with the humidity in a corner room, closed off to any possible air circulation with windows that don't open for everyone's "safety" in a school with no air conditioning whatsoever.

The children have been sharpening their pencils in between my lessons. When I saw them, I had to laugh. "Hand them over," I said, "so I can take a picture."

Needless to say, there's not been much reading Chez Bellezza. Taking baths and going to bed at 8:30, yes. Reading from my stack of glorious books? Not so much.

But, it's Labor Day Weekend. And I'll be free of Labor for at least three days. Surely in that time I can post on the books I've received this week: The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojsyaczer, River by Michael Ferris Smith, and We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. Surely I can come by to see what you've been doing while I've been sweating.

August 26, 2014

The First Day of School

This is the school district's plan for keeping cool as we have no air conditioning.

But it doesn't rob me of the joy of fresh pencils ready to write new ideas,

glue sticks and

64 fairly sharp crayons for art projects.

This Granny Smith is not for the teacher, but for a project later in the day involving paints,

and all my ideas are being recorded in this Moleskine binder with my Rhodia pencils made of linden wood.

I can't tell you how excited I am for a brand new year. Teaching never, ever
gets old.

August 21, 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: Initial ThoughtsAfter My First Time Through

The first sentence is rather shocking. "From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying." It's not exactly a hopeful beginning, and yet right from the beginning we are in touch with a familiar theme of Murakami's: despair.

Tsukuru Tazaki's despair is born of loneliness, a legitimate feeling since his four closest friends have abandoned him with no explanation. He is left wondering what he could have done to be rejected so completely, and having not even the strength to ask for explanations, he retreats to Tokyo.

As Tsukuru reflects on his four friends, he feels empty and isolated by comparison. One of the reasons is that each of the four had a name containing a color.  "The two boys' last names were Akamatsu-which means "red pine"- and Oumi-"blue sea"; the girls' family names where Shirane- "white root"-and Kurono-"black field." Tazaki was the only last name that did not have a color in its meaning. From the very beginning this fact made him feel a little bit left out."

Even though Tsukuru's name does not have a color, it does have significance; tuskuru means "to make or build." It is a name which perfectly fits a character who is able to build train stations, and more importantly, who must build meaning into his life again. 

While Tsukuru Tazaki swims laps at a pool in Tokyo, he meets a new friend, Haida (whose name means literally, "gray field". And he also meets Sara, who is the impetus behind his pilgrimage. She knows that he cannot carry on without knowing the reason for his expulsion from the group, and it is she who encourages him to meet each one of the friends sixteen years later. Three times, by Chapter 11, this quote is given, "You can hide memories, but you can't erase the history that produced them." 

Tsukuru's pilgrimage is to find out why he was rejected. But more importantly than that, in my opinion, it is to find the strength to carry on regardless of the past. His pilgrimage is to put the past to rest, while bravely embracing the future with a confidence which has been dormant for far too long.

(I plan on rereading this book before September 12, on which I will post the discussion questions put forth by Random House. From there, those who have read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage are welcome to answer any of the questions they choose. Please know now much I enjoy the discussion we began with the book cover yesterday. I look forward to more insight from your comments and reviews in the weeks to come.)

August 20, 2014

What's This? The Latest Murakami I've Been Waiting For? Details About The Physical Book Itself

How surprised I was to find the little cellophane windows which are indeed colorless:

Underneath each clear stripe is a color indicating one of the main characters, with Tsukuru's leaning off to one side. Rather alone, clearly separate.

The cover under the dust jacket "reveals" more about the characters, particularly Tsukuru who loves train stations.

And did you notice this? Every page number "4" is white.

Here's a number without 4 (above),

...and here's one with double 4.  If you flip through the pages you'll see that every 4 is white. Colorless? I'm not sure yet, as I have about fifty pages to go.

I've been marking passages as I read, ever so slowly on purpose, and I will put up an initial post probably in a few hours knowing we will talk about it more thoroughly in days to come.

And I won't mention the rip in the dust jacket ever again. (Thank you,

August 17, 2014

Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

"He had little choice of means, whether fair or foul, because of his helpless circumstances. If he chose honest means, he would undoubtedly starve to death beside the wall or in the Sujaki gutter. He would be brought to this gate and thrown away like a stray dog. If he decided to steal...his mind, after making the same detour time and again, came finally to the conclusion that he would be a thief."

The servant whom this paragraph describes has been dismissed because of the declining economy. He waits under the Roshomon gate for the rain to cease and ponders his circumstances. Should he be honest and die? Or should he be a thief and live? He seems to feel that these are the only two choices available to him.

When he sees a light go on above him, he discovers an old hag pulling out the hair of a corpse, beautiful hair that she plans to make into a wig which can be sold for food. Is she a thief?

Does it matter if we take from a person who is alive or dead? In the taking are we automatically categorized as a thief?

He is filled with hatred, and yet he decides that if the old woman can take from the corpse, who sold snake flesh as dried fish while living, he can take from her.

When the hag looks for him through the gray locks of her hair, all she can see is darkness. It seems to be the darkness of hopelessness; an endless circle of using another for one's own good.

"The Rashomon was the largest gate in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. It was 106 feet wide and 26 feet deep, and was topped with a ridge pole; it's stone -wall rose 75 feet high. This gate  was constructed in 789 when the capital of Japan was transferred to Kyoto. With the decline of West Kyoto, the gate fell into bad repair, cracking and crumbling in many places, and became a hideout for thieves and robbers and a place for abandoning unclaimed corpses." (Tuttle edition)

I read this story for the Japanese Literature Challenge 8 and the Deal Me In short story challenge.

August 16, 2014

If You Want A Book, Don't Pre-Order It From Amazon (and a Murakami read-along update)

If you were the least bit frustrated waiting for news about the read-along I'm hosting on Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, you're not half as frustrated as I. 

Completely forgetting about the time that I pre-ordered Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows for my son, and it took so long to arrive that I bought a second copy at the now defunct Borders, I pre-ordered Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage in December, 2013. On August 12, 2014, its release date, I eagerly awaited the post.

On August 14, giving them time to have sent it on the 12th, I eagerly awaited the post.

Today, four days after it has been released, I checked my account on, which boldly told me I can expect my book on August 19. A full seven days after even Wal-Mart has it, while this whole debacle hangs on the hope that Fed-Ex can hold up their end of the deal.

I am surrounded by incompetence, and I have no patience for it. Books undelivered, appointments not kept, dental insurance which covers not a single procedure I'm having done this summer...the sum total of people and companies not doing what they're supposed to, infuriates me.

Deep breath.

Okay, when my book does arrive? I suggest those of us who are reading along together, and this includes those of you who have already read it as I wait (Diane and Stu), should work our way through it marking passages as appropriate. Then, on September 12, I will post questions the publishers have put forth for our discussion. Feel free to answer all, some, or none of them as you see fit.

Meanwhile, I am living in hope that I'll have my copy by the first day of Autumn. 

August 14, 2014

Magritte: The Mystery of The Ordinary

Let's get surreal. 

That is what the Art Institute of Chicago suggested we do, as we appreciate the works of surrealism. Particularly those of Magritte.

Yesterday, my mother, a dear friend, and I went through the exhibit which included well known paintings such as the locomotive coming through the fireplace:

The Art Institute reminds us about his purpose with this: "Seeking to make “everyday objects shriek aloud,” or make the familiar unfamiliar, Belgian artist René Magritte created some of the 20th century’s most extraordinary—and indelible—images."

I laugh when I see his painting with the caption, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." Because it isn't! Can you really smoke that thing?

But perhaps most interesting of all (to us readers) is the collection of books the Art Institute put in the shop to accompany this special exhibit on surrealism.

The Healing Trumpet by Leona Carrington
Impressions of Africa by Raymond Roussel
The City and The City by China Mieville
Selected Poems by Rene Char

Little, Big by John Crowley
The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Shulz
Selected Stories by Robert Walser
Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovskii
Memories of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber     

Nadja by Andre Breton
Locus Solus by Raymond Roussel
The Melancholy of Resistance by Laslo Krasznahorkai

The only one I own is John Crowley's Little, Big. But, I surely want to become familiar with the other titles.

August 9, 2014

Women In Translation Month: Books I Own, Books You May Want To Try

These are the hard copies of books I own which fit Women in Translation Month this August. I'm sure I have more on my Kindle and Nook, but I will have to go through those carefully to complete the list for next year:

The School of Possibilities by Seita Parkkola (translated from the Finnish by Annira Silver and Marja Gass)

Short listed for the 2006 Finlandia Junior Prize

Who Ate Up All the Shinga? by Park Wan-Suh (translated from the Korean by Yu Young-Nan and Stephen J. Epstein)

Me, Who Dove Into The Heart of the World by Sabina Berman (translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman)

Swimming to Elba by Silvia Avallone (translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar)

Swimming to Elba

The Hunger Angel by Herta Muller (translated from the German by Philip Boehm)

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang (translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim)

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Panchol (translated from the French by William Rodarmor and Helen Dickinson)

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan (translated from the French by Irene Ash)

Out by Natsuo Kirino (translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder)

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto (translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich)

The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa (translated from the Japanese by David Karashima)

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich)

Short listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize

I would have loved to participate in this challenge hosted by Biblibio, which many of my friends from the IFFP Shadow Jury (Jacqui, Tony M. and Tony) are doing. However, I have set aside August for Haruki Murakami's latest release, Colorless Tzukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. That novel, and the preparation for a new school year, will occupy my month most fully.

Still, I wanted to see what I own and offer up to you some reading possibilities. I know that Diane of Bibliophile by the Sea loved The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly. And my favorite from the list, though far from all are read, is Swimming to Elba. That novel is actually in my top five favorite adult books ever, the other four being Possession by A. S. Byatt, The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.

August 7, 2014

- the day was not bronzed with special light - Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"Relaxing your hair is like being in prison. You're caged in. Your hair rules you. You didn't go running with Curt today because you don't want to sweat out this straightness. That picture you sent me, you had your hair covered on the boat. You're always battling to make your hair do what it wasn't meant to do. If you go natural and take good care of your hair, it won't fall off like it's doing now. I can help you cut it right now. No need to think about it too much."

My friend Jeannette has the most beautiful hair. She has worn it in braids, she has worn it straight, she has worn it full and curly. I never know quite what to expect when I see her, and I used to be reluctant to comment as if I was drawing attention to it unnecessarily.

But when we drove to Normal, Illinois, together for our National Board Certification ten years ago, I told her, "Jeannette, I love your hair. It's always so beautiful." 

"My hair?!" she screeched. "My hair and I are divorced! We have irreconcilable differences."

Which made me laugh, and remember what she said perfectly clearly even today, because curly hair is a Big Deal whether you're Black or White. 

Ifemelu, the charming and honest heroine of Americanah, centers her story of coming to America from Nigeria around her hair. Interspersed with the chapters of her life, are the tales of going to salons for braids, or going to the drugstore for relaxers, or having her friend take up the shears to cut it an even two inches all around. All this fuss is because hair is important. Far more important than just the literal stuff that comes out of your head. Hair practically defines you.

When I was in high school, the popular girls had hair like the girls in 1970s Pepsi commercials. Their hair was blonde, straight and parted down the center. It swung when they tossed their heads. It never frizzed out of control in humid Illinois weather, or took hours to dry after swimming lessons. It resembled my own hair not at all.

My Italian hair is thick, and curly, and prone to wildness. It has taken me years to find a stylist who can cut it, and years to find the way to dry it with a diffuser so it is full and swirls around my face. It has taken me years to accept it as who I am, which once I've done I now embrace. And with that embracing comes compliments from others. "Oh, I wish I had your hair. Is it natural?" I hear that all the time. Because once we accept the natural part of who we are, quit forcing a part of ourselves we don't like into something it isn't, we become more beautiful.

So while I commiserate with Ifemelu's woes, her distress and pain about fitting in, I suggest it isn't just hair that's the problem. It's cherishing who you are no matter what the rest of the world holds up as a certain standard.

"On a unremarkable day in early spring - the day was not bronzed with special light nothing of any significance happened, and it was perhaps merely that time, as it often does, had transfigured her doubts - she looked in the mirror, sank her fingers into her hair, dense and spongy and glorious, and could not imagine any other way. That simply, she fell in love with her hair."