Nobel Prize in Literature Winners I’ve Read

The American poet Louise Glück has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in this bizarre 2020. I’ve never read her work, so I don’t have an opinion on how deserved the recognition is. There are other Nobel Prize Winners whose books I’ve read, though. Some I liked immensely, a couple I have almost no recollection of, and others I just didn’t enjoy at all. Literature is not objective after all and we all have opinions.

 

Svetlana Alexievich

The Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015 “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”, as the Swedish Academy put it. I’ve only read one book by her, so far. I had high hopes for Chernobyl Prayer, but my expectations weren’t met. This non-fiction book about the nuclear disaster that took place in 1986 in Ukraine and highly affected Belarus is a collection of testimonies, some of which are invaluable. Alexievich interviewed former workers of the power plant, doctors, scientists, soldiers and displaced people. Although it raises interesting questions, overall it lacks context and editing to make the testimonies more engaging.

 

Mario Vargas Llosa

In 2010, the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat”. Many years ago, I read the novel The Way to Paradise, which I don’t remember much about to be honest. I’m not even sure whether I enjoyed it or not anymore. It focuses on the painter Paul Gauguin and the feminist Flora Tristan, who was his grandmother. Continue reading

So Different and So Similar Pairs of Books

Two books can have significant elements in common and still tell different stories. Characters may face similar situations, but their individual choices take the plots in completely different directions. The themes of two novels may be similar, but the action, the characters and the writing style ensure that they are ultimately distinctive and readers are still experiencing a fresh story.

I’ve read (at least) four pairs of books that are both different and similar for various reasons.

 

História do Cerco de Lisboa (The History of the Siege of Lisbon) by José Saramago + The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

These two novels have in common being my least favourites, so far, by José Saramago and Daphne du Maurier, two authors I adore. This is not the reason why I chose them to be part of this post. Both of them are also set in two different time periods, which are connected by a man. The tribulations that the characters face, however, are completely different. Continue reading

Favourite Opening Lines

By the time that we finish reading most books, the opening lines have already vanished from our memory. A selected few, however, linger on, long after we close the books and start new ones. They remain forever imprinted in our mind. My favourites are long and short, summarise the premise of the book or just leave readers wondering. There’s not a specific characteristic that distinguishes all of them.

 

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Continue reading

Books I Almost Loved

Very rarely do I rate books with five stars. For that to happen, a book has to be perfect in every regard in my opinion. I can’t even have a minor complaint. As I decided early on not to use half stars on my ratings, I always award four stars to books that weren’t flawless but that I almost loved. Only by reading the review can my high esteem for such books be fully perceived. The following eight books fall under that category.

 

Circe by Madeline Miller

This retelling of an Ancient Greek myth resembles a fictional memoir. Circe, the daughter of Helios (the god of sun) and Perse (a nymph), was sentenced to exile as a punishment for using witchcraft against her own kind. Throughout the book, Madeline Miller delves into the meaning of love and the fear of losing a dear one. The prose is gripping and the characters feel truly real, thanks to a tangible portrayal of emotions, particularly those of Circe. However, the book loses a bit of its enchantment when Circe tells stories about Odysseus.

 

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

The first book in The Farseer Trilogy is not only a story of court intrigue and lust for power, but also a true interpretation of human emotions. When he was 6 years old, Fitz was left by his grandfather at the castle of the town where they lived in, because he was the bastard son of the Crown Prince, Chivalry. Some years later, he started being trained as an assassin in secret. The detailed and absorbing writing style is one of the highlights of this fantasy book. Unfortunately, the last chapter is not as thorough and some events are just briefly mentioned. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – February 2020

March has already begun, but this post is still about February. During the shortest month of the year, I spent some of my free time reading books, watching TV series, listening to music and perusing through amazing blogs. And the time has come to share with you my favourites!

My favourite book from the ones that I read in February was Ensaio sobre a Lucidez (Seeing in the English translation) by José Saramago. It is an allegory that explores the complexities of democracy through an engaging prose. In the capital of an unnamed country, 83% of voters decided to vote blank in the local elections. As a result, the government isolated the city, whilst trying to uncover a reason behind the “epidemic” of the blank vote. While many of the characters are purely symbols, others feel like real human beings.

I had been waiting for the release of the second season of My Brilliant Friend for a while. Not only wasn’t I disappointed, I also enjoyed it more than the first one. As in the books by Elena Ferrante (I’ve only read the first two so far), the story of the friendship between Elena and Lila is gripping. The acting is also flawless. The only aspect that I’m not a huge fan of is the voice-over narration, which, nevertheless, annoyed me far less than in the first season. It helps the adaptation to be faithful to the books, but it’s something that I don’t tend to like on TV. Continue reading

‘Ensaio sobre a Lucidez’ (‘Seeing’) by José Saramago

My rating: 4 stars

Various books by José Saramago can be categorised as allegories. Ensaio sobre a Lucidez (Seeing in the English translation) is certainly one of those. It delves into the complexities of democracy, how people need to find a way to express their dissatisfaction and how even democratically elected governments don’t always treat citizens with the respect they deserve. Set in the same location as Blindness, it pulls readers in thanks to an engaging prose, even if some of the characters are not fully fleshed out.

On a day of local elections, rain was heavily pouring down in the capital of an unnamed country. As no one was appearing to cast their votes, the people responsible for the polling station number 14 decided to call the ministry. They were informed that the same was happening at the majority of all the other polling stations in the city. When the rain started to stop, they became confident that voters would finally appear. And they were right. After four o’clock in the afternoon, there were long queues to vote. It was almost as if everyone had decided to vote at the same time.

Although abstention wasn’t as high as first feared, the counting of the votes revealed that more than 70% of the people in the capital had voted blank. For that reason, the government decided to repeat the election a week after. When the day came, long queues quickly formed. In order to understand if voters were planning something, spies were deployed to the polling stations. The votes were counted – 83% voted blank! Continue reading

Book Haul – January 2020

My first book haul of 2020 consists mainly of books that I either have been wanting to read for a couple of years or that are the last instalments of certain series. There is no common theme or genre between the five of them. As I plan to read them all in the following months, you won’t have to wait long to know my opinions about them.

 

Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan

The last book in The Memoirs of Lady Trent series focuses on Isabella’s most famous adventure, which is partially set in the tallest peak in the world. It will surely share some similarities with the other books in the series. I’m expecting it to continue to delve into social and scientific problems, while painting an anthropological picture of the world it’s set in.

 

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The main character in this short book refuses to be subdued by married life. When it was first published in 1899, The Awakening was considered to be sordid and immoral. I’m not expecting to find it so in the 21st century. But I’m eager to discover what shocked people so much back then. Continue reading

Favourite Books by My Most-Owned Authors

In past years, I wrote a blog post listing all the books that I had on my shelves by my most-owned and read authors. The plan was to publish such a post every year, in order to evaluate if there were any changes. As the differences weren’t that significant from one year to the next, I discarded the idea of doing it annually.

My shelves look slightly different now, since I’ve unhauled not only many books from my childhood, but also more recent ones that I didn’t enjoy that much. However, instead of just listing the titles of the books that I read by my most-owned authors, this time I decided to reveal my favourite book by each of the most prevalent writers on my shelves. The list below features seven authors. Four of them I read and own six books by, the others more than that.

 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

I read and own eight books by J.K. Rowling. A number that increases to nine when adding the work that she wrote under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. My favourite is still Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In the third book in the series, Harry, Hermione and Ron investigate Sirius Black, whom they believe is an ally of Voldemort. It also explores Harry’s family history. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – July 2019

The July instalment of my monthly favourites may be a bit later than usual, but I do have a few sources of joy to share with you. These include two books (they are both worthy of a mention), two specific episodes of two very different TV series, a documentary and music from a band that I hadn’t listened to in ages.

Last month, for the first time in probably two decades, I finished rereading a book. O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis in the English translation) is one of the books that I wanted to reread, since I remembered it as an old favourite. And I’m so glad that I loved it as much as the first time! It is a fantastic example of intertextuality, as Ricardo Reis, one of Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms, is turned into a real person. After 16 years living in Brazil, he returns to Portugal at the end of 1935. In Lisbon, he interacts mainly with three people: Lídia, a chambermaid at the hotel he is staying in; Marcenda, a young woman whose left hand is paralysed; and his deceased friend Fernando Pessoa. Although not much happens in terms of plot, this is still an engrossing and mesmerising work of literature, which also delves into the fascist regime in Portugal.

Another book that I also highly enjoyed reading in July was Circe by Madeline Miller, a retelling of an Ancient Greek myth. Circe is the daughter of Helios, god of sun, and the nymph Perse. She was sentenced to exile on a deserted island for using witchcraft against her own kind. Her emotions throughout the novel, which reads much like a fictional memoir, are palpable. It focuses on what she learnt during her life and explores the meaning of love and the fear of losing someone. The prose is almost always gripping. Continue reading

José Saramago: The Gifted and Uncompromising Portuguese Nobel

The Portuguese author José Saramago was a man of strong convictions. He didn’t shy away from bluntly expressing his views, often causing controversy. But his work and talent shined brighter than any outcry, ideological difference or political disagreement. He published his first novel, Terra do Pecado, in 1947, and until 1966 it remained his only book. Born on 16 November 1922 in the village of Azinhaga, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998, being the only Portuguese writer to have had that honour so far.

When he wasn’t yet two years old, his parents moved to Lisbon, where he grew up. For economic reasons, he had to do a vocational course at a secondary technical school, and his first job was as a car mechanic. It was in a public library that he continued to learn and to cultivate his love for reading. Later, he also worked as a translator and a journalist. He died on 18 June 2010 on the island of Lanzarote (Spain), and his ashes were laid to rest beneath an olive tree near the river Tagus in Lisbon.

He wrote novels, non-fiction, short stories, poetry and plays. His novels challenge genre boundaries, as they mix elements from magical realism, historical and literary fiction. Many are allegories about the human condition and delve into a variety of social and moral issues through stimulating and funny considerations. His characters and narrators lose themselves in their thoughts. Their asides replicate, in a way, how we communicate orally. Continue reading