15-08-14

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Americanah.

They were living together anyway, and he was not unhappy, and he imagined that she would, with time, gain a certain heft. She had not after four years, except physically, in a way that he thought made her look even more beautiful, fresher, with fuller hips and breasts, like a well-watered houseplant.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah, 2013

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I am neither African nor American, and I am not Black, and so this book, about a Nigerian boy and girl falling in love, emigrating to the USA (she, succesfully, legal) and the UK (he, unsuccesfully, illegal) and later returning to Nigeria, demanded from me some imagination and attention. After all, I've never been to either of these countries and I don't really know what it is to be discrimated. But I never made it to Narnia either, and shouldn't every good book give you the feeling that you start to know and understand new places? I think so. The book also delivers some very interesting ideas about racism in the USA, mainly in the fictional blog Raceteenth or Curious Observations by a Non-American Black on the subject of Blackness in America. It's all written with enthusiasm and talent, and with great compassion and understanding. This alone makes the book for me a must-read because it lets us understand these things better. There is however also a second layer to it, maybe even more important in the eyes of the author and many readers, because it is also the story of a Great Love, between two teenagers, Ifemelu (the girl) and Obinze (the boy), who after a long separation and grave misunderstandings meet each other again. 

It is a very well written book, and I loved it, but I must admit, and this is purely personal, it left me also behind with a bitter feeling. I felt the greatest pity for the victims of this Great Love, the try-outs in between, the unlucky ones who had the poor judgment to fall in love with one of them, believing they had found the love of their lives, only to find out that they would allways come second and that sooner or later they would be dumped, for a lack of completeness and fulfillment they could never deliver. I admire the idea of a Great Romantic Love, but if you are one of its unlucky victims this Love ruins your life when you realise that you can never replace the Real One. A long, long time ago I found myself in this situation and it makes you angry, hurt, soiled and very sad. It is a very personal and deep feeling of rejection, being refused not because of what you are but because of who you are not. You are good to make love with but not good enough to love. You haven't done anything wrong, you don't understand but there is a finality in the other one's decision that leaves you defenseless and naked. I still carry the marks.

But as I said, a great novel, beautifully written, and I advise everyone to read it. I learned a lot about racism and about being black in America and in Nigeria, and how this is not the same. I looked into the soul of the girl that left me a long time ago and commiserated with her victims (most of them end up happy by the way, like me, but still remain scarred). A very good book, a fascinating read and bubbly with life in a quite special way.

I read it in Canada, mainly in National Parks in the evenings, in the company of the loves of my live, and one evening in the company of a bottle of Alive, a wonderful organic white wine by the Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Okanagan. This wine is honest, fruity, interesting and a pure joy to drink and it fitted the book extremely well.    

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20-04-14

Harry Our King

Without the brilliant Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (look here http://bottlesandbooks.skynetblogs.be/archive/2013/02/16/... for my comments on them) this CD would probably not exist. And if I would not have read the books I would probably not have bought it. But Hilary Mantel created such a vivid picture of Henry VIII that this cd looked to me as a unique opportunity to hear his "voice" and to hear the music he listened too, and I couldn't resist.

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Henry VIII, or King Harry, was the perfect example of the Renaissance Prince. He hunted, he played (and wrote) music, he was extremely interested in theology and even wrote a book about it himself, was interested in science, wrestled, looked good, had his friends amongst the nobles, but chose ordinary people like Cromwell as advisor, loved art, held masquerades and balls (when he was young) and was extremely aware of his title and his rights but loved contacts with ordinary people. In our 21st century eyes he was also a ruthless man, an irresponsible spendthrift and a bad general, but certainly in the first decades of his life he was also loved and cherished by many of his people and was quite popular.

It is certain he loved music very much. He employed 25 singers and instrumentalists in The King's Musick, mainly playing secular music, and 44 in the Chapel Royal, for liturgical music. He played some instruments well, wrote some songs  like Pastime with Good Company or Helas Madame, and invited musicians from all over the world to England. Some were Dutch, like the van Wilder's, some came from Venice or Milan, and some were Sephardic jews, expelled by the Inquisition from Spain and Portugal. When he died he possessed "19 viols, 20 regals, 14 virginals, 2 clavichords, 26 lutes, 7 citterns, 5 cornamuses, 15 shawns, 10 sackbuts, 65 flutes and 154 recorders."

The cd contains songs by Henry himself, but also music written by contemporaries like the classic England be Glad, a propaganda song for his French Wars, or Blow thy Horn, Hunter, written for him William Cornysh. The song that touched me the most was Green Groweth the Holly, a song for Christmas that Henry wrote himself and very probably performed for his intimate cercle, as he was also a man who loved friends and family life. For me this music made him even more alive, and it fuelled my imagination even more. if you love Hilary Mantel's books you should listen to it, and you will understand what I mean.

The Capella de la Torre gathers together musicians who specialised in historical music and its performance. In medieval times ensembles of musicians playing wind instruments often performed from balconies or towers and in Spain you find many Torres de los Ministriles that survived. This is a beautiful cd, a mix of history and music, and it gave me great joy.

England be glad !

Pluck up thy lustry heart !

Help now thy king and take his part

Against the French men in the field to fight

In the quarrel of the church and in the right

With spears and shields on goodly horses light

Bows and arrows to put the all to fight. Help now thy King !

 

For more information bout the ensemble, see www.capella-de-la-torre.de

22-03-14

Colm Toibin: The Testament of Mary.

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What an odd little book is this !! 104 pages, Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013, and about Mary, the Mother of God, not the most exciting subject these days. But is it about the Mother of God, or is it about the mother of Jesus ? This certainly is the most interesting aspect of the book: did Mary know or realize what was happening ? Or was she just a mother, afraid and perplexed by her sibling ? The book describes her thoughts and feelings, a few years after the death of Christ, with his disciples writing down what happened. She does not like them, she doesn't share their feelings, and that is both an interesting idea and a provocative idea, as they make up stories to make everything sound better.

I have read it twice now, and still don't know what to think of it. You have to be a Catholic to understand it, I think, and it seems like an attack on the Church, but it is so stunningly beautiful that I really wonder what the author meant. To be provocative ? Maybe it is, in Ireland, where Catholics are still a bit more Catholic than in Belgium, but on the other hand, if it all happened, it very probably was a bit like this. To found a religion you need fanatics and people who are a bit unstable and probably some of the key players were not really aware of the importance of what happened.

The love of Mary for her son is absolutely touching, but there are other small things in the book that make her very human. Two things I really loved: her visit to the temple of Artemis and the discussion about the chair. In the first she is taken by a neighbour to the Temple of Artemis, a Roman Goddess, and she buys a religious souvenir, a small statue. At night she finds consolation in talking to it and it makes her so human, because personal religion often is about consolation. Another mother, 1000 or 2000 years later, will probably do exactly the same with a statue of Mary (and so an odd circle is formed when today's personification of consolation seeks it with an ancient one, and you understand they are both in the end the same thing). In one part of the book one of the disciples of Christ wants to use the chair of her dead husband. When she says that the one who used this chair will never return and that she does not want anyone else to use it, they misunderstand her, saying that He will return. When one of them takes it to sit in it, she suddenly reacts very threateningly and you see that Mary was also a wife, and one that missed her husband.

It is a book of a wonderful intensity, with beautiful prose, and I will probably reread it again and again, enjoying the beauty and the purity of its language. In that it reminds me a bit of the works of Timmermans, the Belgian writer, who wrote the most touching books about religious themes that are now outdated but whose language is so beautiful it is timeless. I wonder how long this one will follow me, and I think I'm going to put it next to the two Timmermans.   

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