Can You Stomach It?

2356414991.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Hygiène de l’assassin (Hygiene and the Assassin) by Amélie Nothomb
Audiolib (2012), Narrated by Guila Clara Kessous

Oh good grief! The original French language audiobook is only 6h20 long, the paperback 221 pages. I only had one hour of listening left (or 30 pages) and just. couldn’t. stand it. any more. So I quit. Because the idea of having to stay with the characters and the story for that much longer didn’t break down to just 60 more minutes, but to 3,600,000 milliseconds of infinity. And after spending a half hour trying to figure out how I could occupy myself so I could get to the end without having to really listen, I realized I really needed to part with this book. The premise is interesting enough; an elderly author and Nobel prize laureate becomes the target of journalistic curiosity when it is announced his advanced rare form of cancer leaves him with less than two months to live. The author, Prétextat Tach is one of the most repulsive characters I’ve ever come across; morbidly obese, misanthropic, misogynistic to the nth degree, for starters. He has always previously refused to give interviews until now; four interviewers try their luck and within a few minutes are so mistreated by the author, who takes a sadistic pleasure in mentally torturing them, with, among other things, detailed descriptions of his nauseating culinary delights (various forms of pure fat feature prominently) that they all literally run away from their unfinished interviews. Then a fifth interviewer presents herself, determined to make Tach literally crawl at her feet and forces him to confess to an odious crime. The story is mostly told in the form of a dialogue. After listening to a few chapters, I already wasn’t sure I’d get to the end, because the one thing that could have made me stomach this noxious brew would have been some element of humour or satire, but I failed to detect a trace of it beyond what seemed promising in the book description. I knew going into the book this was Nothomb’s first novel, which was published when she was a mere twenty-five, but I’m sure that hadn’t I known that fact, I would still have found the novel sophomoric. That Tach is disagreeable is clear, but the female journalist’s hostility is what I found even more difficult to stomach, and I couldn’t help but think that many sequences seemed to come from Nothomb’s inner dialogue about why she felt she needed to complete this book. Of course, if I say DO NOT READ THIS BOOK, IT’S A COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME, you’re likely to rush to it so you can find that out for yourself. If you do, could you please tell me how it ends in case I’ve missed the point entirely?

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Chinoiseries

My mum sent me the above image link today, which I of course hurriedly followed up on. They have a beautiful selection of children’s and young adult illustrated books; their French byline translates to “Illustrated literature for children, or all those who have been children”. This publishing house based in France has a mandate to promote multiculturalism and as such, pairs Chinese texts and stories with French illustrators in the creation of their titles. I was pleased to discover that I had already picked up one of their books, a sublime affair illustrated by Agata Kawa, called Tigre le dévoué (The Devoted Tiger). You’ll find my short review and some image samples below. I’ve now reserved another one of their titles which I found at the library called Yin la jalouse (Jealous Yin), which will be an introduction for me to the work of illustrator Bobi + Bobi; click on the links to have a look at their sites, which are brimming with wonderful examples of their work. Continue reading

Benjamin Lacombe Presents:

Le carnet rouge by Benjamin Lacombe, illustrated by Agata Kawa ★★★★¾
Read for TIOLI: Read a book by a “hot” author & 11 in 11 Category #4: Visual Arts

Who better than Benjamin Lacombe himself to talk about the genesis of this book for which he put aside his paintbrushes and picked up a pen because he wanted to give illustrator Agata Kawa a project to showcase her personal style. He explains this on his blog (in French and English too!)—in his own words:

“I really wanted [this project] to be made for Agata so she could fully express her talent and love of nature, of the Arts & Crafts movement, patterns, etc. The original idea (Agata’s) was to work on the Arts & Crafts movement and its creator, the emblematic William Morris. So I made up a story which is a kind of imaginary (though well-documented) portrait of this pope of modern design.

[…] Indeed, rather than just piling up dates and facts, the point was to focus on what made William Morris an artist: his background, his love of nature and shapes. It’s a book about the mystery of drawing, of creation.”

Click on the images to view them larger (including cover)

All images © Agata Kawa

I should mention that I borrowed this book from the public library, but now see myself in the obligation to obtain my very own copy so I can pore over it at leisure whenever the mood strikes, as I am not only a newly minted fan of Agata Kawa’s thanks to Lacombe (you will have understood by now that I am a HUGE fan of this young man already), but have always held a fascination for the Arts & Crafts (also known as Art Nouveau), the Pre-Raphaëlite, and William Morris in particular.

This post from Lacombe’s blog features a good sampling of Agata Kawa’s range.

La belle au bois dormant by Tahar Ben Jelloun

“Once upon a time there were a king and queen who were very sad and discontent, for they could not conceive a child. They had tried everything, following the advice of several doctors and midwives and even a few sorcerers. One adviser went as far as suggesting to the king that he follow as special diet and eat at regular hours while holding the queen’s hand. But in vain. One day, the king and his wife went to the Mountain of Childhood, where they stayed for seven days and seven nights drinking the brackish and warm water of the Source of Life. They often felt nauseous and vomited their meals, but without complaining. When they returned to the palace, they made their prayers before entering the chamber of love…”

So begins the tale of Sleeping Beauty as retold by Tahar Ben Jelloun, born in Morocco and a respected French writer and poet who was awarded the Legion of Honour by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008. I have here given a rough translation of the first paragraph or this familiar fairy tale as retold in the original French, but with a Middle-Eastern flavour. Here, sleeping beauty is awakened not by the tall blonde green-eyed prince she imagined but by a short, skinny brown-haired one who must first deliver her from the snakes of the desert that are defending her door, and when Sleeping Beauty—here known as Jawhara—emerges from her hundred-year nap, her skin turns black as the night. After some time the prince must bring his beloved and their two small children back to the family palace where his mother, a cruel woman filled with prejudice, believes that all black people should be slaves. She tries to drown their children at sea and hires an ogre to cut out Jawhara’s liver which she intends to eat, but of course her plan is thwarted when the ogre, upon seeing Jawhara, is so charmed by the light emanating from her beautiful face that he comes up with a plan to defeat the evil queen instead…

A charming story, and an original retelling, and the book itself is a sheer pleasure to behold, with cover art and illustrations that add tremendous appeal to the overall experience. It was a Christmas gift from my mother who lives in France and whom I haven’t seen in six years now. I had perused the book before, but this was the first time I actually read the story, and because of the beauty of the book and the sentimental attachment I have to it, I can only say that I cannot find fault with it and was put under its spell.

Rocks have stories too

Le Rocher de Tanios (The Rock of Tanios) by Amin Maalouf
As our narrator informs us, the Rock of Tanios, which sits outside his village of Kfaryabda in the Lebanese mountains, was believed for two centuries to bring bad luck, since the local villager after whom it was named was last seen sitting on it before his mysterious disappearance in the year 1840. Tanios, born to Lamia, the beauty of the village, may or may not have been the son of the local Sheikh, and Tanios’ life, intimately linked to the fate of his village, was shaped by a series of momentous events, even as the mountain was being disputed between the Egyptian, Turkish, French and English powers. Maalouf is an outstanding raconteur and the pleasure I had of reading him in the original French language can’t be overstated. I read the excellent Baldassare’s Odyssey almost a decade ago while on a trip to France, and based on that book alone decided that Maalouf was one of my favourite writers of all time. My only regret when it comes to Tanios is that I didn’t read it when I first heard about it around 1993, when it won the prestigious French Goncourt prize, but I have every intention of catching up on lost time and reading everything by Maalouf I can get my hands on in near future, including Samarcande, which I already have in my possession.

For now, I’ve decided to continue the reading schedule I’ve adopted this year, which consists of alternating between great literary works and crime fiction books, which for now seems to provide me with just the right balance of intellectual stimulation and easy reading pleasure, though I must say that in Amin Maalouf’s case, both qualities are far from being mutually exclusive.

Makes sense to me (Quote of the Day)

We ought to always concede to others that they hold a parcel of truth instead of saying “All truth belongs to me, my country, my race, my religion.”
[ Amadou Hampâté Bâ, African Writer ]

Ce qu’il faudrait, c’est toujours concéder à son prochain qu’il a une parcelle de vérité et non pas de dire que toute la vérité est à moi, à mon pays, à ma race, à ma religion.
[ Amadou Hampâté Bâ, écrivain africain ]