The Musician Trees – Jacques Stephen Alexis – Review

Risultati immagini per les arbres musiciens jacques stephen alexis
Cover of the french edition of the novel

The Musician Trees, by Jacques Stephen Alexis, is a novel set in Haiti, during the 1940s. It’s the author’s loving effort to show people what his homeland had to endure through the centuries, in terms of slavery, violence and exploitment. But it also tries to be an advise for haitians, indicating a path towards progress and justice.

Alexis had trust in his own people, ‘cause they were the first black independent state in the modern world. He could see the opportunities and resources of Haiti and its inhabitants, even though he was aware of how corruption and extreme poverty were ruining the society. In particular, there were two things that worried Alexis and made him make up his mind to side with the poor and tell the world what was happening in his country.

In fact, when the author wrote, Hispaniola was being exploited by american capitalists, who wanted to use the resources of the island, in order to produce rubber trees. But, to start these plantations, a lot of haitians were expropriated of their lands by the corrupted goverment: a solution that left people in extreme poverty. Of course, a part of them were supposed to work for the SHASA (that was the name of the capitalists’ american firm), but the salary was insufficient, and this business didn’t create any wealth for the common haitians.

In addition, another important theme tackled by Alexis is related to religion. The reader becomes a shocked witness of the interferences of the catholic church in the spiritual life of those who still believed in Vodou religion. This belief, which was brought in Haiti by the african slaves, survived for centuries and a lot of haitians still worshipped the ancient gods back then and they still do it today. Unfortunately, the church violently persecuted them. Barbaric acts like forced abjurations and the destruction by fire of the places of worship took place and they did not happen in the middle-age, but during the 1940s!!!

Jacques Stephen Alexis (1922 – 1961)

So, with The Musician Trees, Jacques Stephen Alexis wants to tell us about these things: exploitation, injustice and religious and political persecution. Nevertheless, there is also hope and the book is not only about the sorrow of a population. The author indicates a path for redemption: education, integrity, commitment and solidarity. They’re the values that can redeem states and people.

In the end, novels like this one, or like Masters of the Dew, by Alexis’ fellow countryman Jacques Roumain, make us aware of the many stories of our world and open our hearts and minds. The Musician Trees’ author was jailed, tortured and killed (by those who didn’t want any kind of improvement for Haiti). But he survives in his book – in what he wrote. We must learn FROM men like him and ABOUT men like him: because we mustn’t forget them.

– Giuseppe Circiello –

VERSIONE ITALIANA – LEGGI

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The History of Tibet – Laurent Deshayes – Review

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Cover of the italian edtion

This is an interesting historical essay about Tibet, also known as “the roof of the world”. You know, I think that reading about civilizations which are different and far from us – both in space and time – can make our minds open wide, thus to wipe away misconceptions.

For instance, many believe the commingling between political and religious power, which damaged entire societies and led to several religious wars and persecutions, is only linked to the three main monotheistic religions (Christianity and Islam, in particular). But that’s untrue. While reading this book, it becomes very clear how tibetans and buddhists had their share in making world’s story a bloody tale.

So we can really say that we humans are all the same, during any historical period and at any latitude. There have been more political byzantinisms, poisonings, conspiracies and homicides throughout the last centuries of the tibetan plateau than in Game of Thrones or in Borgia’s Rome. And all of this happened before England, France and Russia became interested with that part of the asian continent. Buddhist monks – who were theorically immune to the temptations of wealth and power – were always fighting; and those struggles were unbelievably frequent. Tibet’s rulers were ruthless: violent, cruel and bloody.  They didn’t always respect treaties and they also killed diplomats.

Paradoxically, tibetan elites only stopped fighting each other, after the the plateau was invaded by the Communist China. And it was a period of wars that led both sides to do bloody, violent, inhuman and unspeakable things. 

Of course, there are also beautiful things to say about the Tibet’s history and culture. It’s the land where Buddhism thrived. It shaped not only the souls, but also the landscape. The beautiful temples became soon an important characteristic of that land, with their incredible architectonic and historical value.

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Cover of the french edition

Human vicissitudes are bitter-sweet, we know it. For instance, Christianity has the peaceful example of Saint Francis, but it also has the Crusades. It’s a dualism that can be found in every religion and culture: there’s no perfection nor complete sainthood in the human world. Let us always remember it!

I enjoyed Laurent Deshayes’ style, he’s not difficult to read at all. Thanks to him, we can give a peek into a context which is so far from our usual perspective. And when we look at Tibet, when we look at its history, with its pro and contra, we just undestand that all men experience similar things; no matter where they are or where they come from.

In the end, there’s only one thing I found tough: the names. Tibetan language is very different from european languages and reading and remembering those strange names can be challenging. Apart from this, I really enjoyed this book. I advise you to read it, if an english translation exists. In any case, getting informed about this marvellous land’s history is something everyone should do.

– Giuseppe Circiello –

VERSIONE ITALIANA

Istanbul Istanbul – Burhan Sönmez – Review

istanbul istanbul - burhan sonmezWith Istanbul Istanbul, by Burhan Sönmez, I discovered a talented author, who can make poetry and love exude from every sentence and every “image” of his novel. Of course, it could seem a too easy task, when you tell about Turkey and its contraddictions and landscapes, both natural and human, because the material offered by such a context is by itself a prime quality one. But writers need good skills to exploit such things in the best way they can. And I can say that Sönmez – a lawyer, born in Ankara,  who advocates for human rights – is a gifted man.

Imprisoned in the basement of a turkish jail, the main characters of this story try to endure tortures and hardship by telling each other tales: borrowing the literary device that Giovanni Boccaccio used in his reknown Decameron. But – here – the events that led these characters into their prison are mixed and intertwined to the stories they tell.

In a little and narrow prison cell, which almost seems a dark and cold painting of desperation, the brutality of imprisonment and torture emphasizes the protagonists’ humaneness. The reader becomes the witness of their love, pity e compassion in the strictest sense of the word (“to suffer together“); because sorrow is something common to every human being – and the only possible consequence of this truth is unity.

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Burhan Sönmez

Burhan Sönmez characterizes the actors of this novel in a convincing and poignant way. He underlines the contraddiction between the strength and simplicity of their in love souls (love for a cause, love for a son, love for woman or a city), trapped in the city’s underground, and the soul of the upper Istanbul, which struggles in an eternal fight between past and future, always avoiding a deep reflection about itself and its potentialities. So, instead of being a bridge uniting world’s West and East, the city becomes the place of distances, the theatre where two ways of life clash.

Istanbul Istanbul, by Burhan Sönmez, has been one of the few books that I didn’t want to finish, ‘cause I dreaded the doom of the characters. I like everything about this book. And this is a rare statement, coming from me. I really thank the friend who advised me to read it and I advise everyone to read it too.

– Giuseppe Circiello –

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The Radetzky March – Joseph Roth – Review

Risultati immagini per radetzky march joseph rothEven though I believe that this novel by Joseph Roth isn’t flawless, I have to admit that it kept me awake at night! I was caught by the story and I was very curious about it, so I couldn’t stop reading! You know, it dealt with a story set in the Hapsburg Empire! And such a thing is not that common! It can really intrigue the historical-novels lovers.

The Radetzky March tells us about the vicissitudes of a slovenian family: the Trottas. They became barons, thanks to the heroic grandfather of the main character, who saved the emperor’s life, during the Battle of Solferino. This event is the pretext the author uses to describe us the unavoidable ruin and decay of that particular non-national state, whose reason to exist was long lost. It’s all set between the eve and the first phases of the Great War (WWI).

Roth shows us how obsolete were – at the beginning of 20th century – the values and the ideas, that were proper of the previous centuries. I mean, when reality started to change at an unprecented speed, those who ran the old apparatus of Austria-Hungary found themselves helpless and unable to renovate and to adjust their policies to the requests of a challenging new reality (we must not forget that nationalisms were exploding all over the world, making the previous political and social order changed).

In The Radetzky March, the author links the break-up of the prewar order to the moral and existential decay of the higher classes. In fact, the main characters found themselves confused, because the things they learned to live became useless. That’s why some tried to anesthetize themselves with alcohol and lust and some chose not to see what was happening and to be blind. Austro-hungarian aristocracy and leadership were unable to face reality and adapt to the events.

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Joseph Roth (1894 -1939)

Now, I admit I tried to read this book several times. And – several times – I gave up. That’s because Roth’s style can be challenging. There are parts that are too descriptive: and they can be very boring. Nevertheless, I’m happy to have finally finished reading this novel. I found it satisfying and interesting, even though – I must say it – the way women are depicted by the author is quite irritating. I mean, the only women who appear in these pages are women of loose morals, nuns or they may even be absent or dead women, who are being remembered. Why is it? There’s not a single woman alive, who is a decent woman or that is not sexualized. I asked myself if this is some kind of latent mysogyny by the author or if it’s a way to underline the decay of a century and of a world. But I guess I should read something more by Roth, to understand his ideas on women. Maybe one book’s not enough.

However, apart this one spot, as I said before, The Radetzky March is a book that I advise you to read. It will give the reader a good glimpse of a collapsing giant empire.

– Giuseppe Circiello –

VERSIONE ITALIANA

 

Thus Spake Zarathustra – Friedrich Nietzsche – Review

Thus Spake Zarathustra - Friedrich NietzscheWhen I approached this book by Friedrich Nietzsche, the first question I asked myself was “Why did he choose Zarathustra? Why him and not Jesus, Moses, Mohammed or some other prophet?” Well, the answer is simple. Zarathustra Spitama was the first, among a long series of prophets, who spread faith in one single God. He was the first spreading a certain religious moral about Good and Evil, in order to tell people how to behave. And this was clearly a sort of unforgivable original sin for Nietzsche. He couldn’t forgive the moment the ancient prophet started to sow the concepts that evolved in what is our metaphysical conceptions. So, the german philosopher thought it was a strong symbolical device, making Zarathustra destroy what he created: the idea, the belief in a single God, which gives mankind rewards or punishments.

The rational consequence of this way of thinking is that – if God does not exist – men should reconsider their values and their actions, avoiding the Good and Evil dualism and their dialectic. But, most of all, if there’s no metaphysical world, then human action is linked to the Earth: the only known reality. Consequently, all the values borrowed – mainly – from christianity are invalid, because they become useless burdens for our human nature.

Nietzsche’s superior mankind must be the creator of itself, pursuing its own pleasure, accepting what is unavoidable and sending away everything which causes unnecessary sorrow. This is the only way, for the philosopher, to give and find a meaning to our life experience – even if God does not exist.

All of this happens in a cyclical time, which perfectly repeats and repeats itself. Eveything already existed and will exist, just in the way we’re now experiencing it. It’s the famous concept named “Eternal Recurrence of the Same. Depending on your opinion, it may be a neverending nightmare, or a magnification of mankind, where each story, each single choice, is perpetually repeated. This makes us all like God: immutable and eternal.

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Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

That’s what Nietzsche tells us in Thus spake Zarathustra. Although it does not “seduce” me and I cannot agree with him, I have to admit it’s a charming and original theory. But, personally, even if I might agree that we can’t say if God is real or not, I think that Good and Evil are exactly like we always have thought them to be. In particular, if we speak about compassion – which is a feeling that the german philosopher strongly condamns. And I can’t agree with that. I think we need bounds, because even if we are rational creatures, we make mistakes.

 

Mankind is natural phenomenon. But even if we are part of nature, we are not like all the other creatures. We live on a total different level and we have to preserve ourselves. So, I think it’s risky what we read in some parts of this book. Friedrich Nietzsche puts people in different categories, judging their action and presuming to know what they think and what they feel. But man and reality are more complex than easy nomenclatures: you cannot divide humanity in plebs and supermen. We are equal and nobody is entitled to take the upper hand against someone.

This said, the book is interesting, even though it’s not an easy reading. Beautiful and suggestive parts alternates themselves with boring and intricate ones. But – in the end – when you finish Thus Spake Zarathustra, you are satisfied and you gain new ideas to think through.

– Giuseppe Circiello –

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The Diary of a Sentimental Killer – Luis Sepùlveda – Review

The diary of a sentimental killer - sepulvedaI have just few words to describe this book: it’s useless. I’m sorry when I have to say such things, because I don’t like attacking writers’ works, but I also have to say that it’s rare – to me – despising something I read. I really wonder why The Diary of a Sentimental Killer, by Luis Sepùlveda, is considered one of the great classics of 1900s (in Italy this book is part of a series of books, named “The Great Classics of 1900s”). It doesn’t deserve it. And I think this author wrote more interesting and beautiful novels, like The Story of A Seagull and The Cat Who Taught Her To Fly

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The chilean writer and journalist Luis Sepùlveda

I do believe that there’s more weight in absence of gravity than among this novel’s pages (pages which wasted so many trees – unfortunately). I won’t even waste time writing something about the trivial and predictable plot. I only say that I don’t believe this short novel is due to any kind of artistic need. Well, I won’t accuse Sepùlveda of having written this story just to gain some money, but I have to be frank: these pages are full of flatness. I really hope you’ll never try the unlucky experience of reading The diary of a sentimental killer. You’d only lose time. There are better things (even by this author).

 

– Giuseppe Circiello –

VERSIONE ITALIANA – LEGGI

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera – Review

Risultati immagini per the unbearable lightness of beingThe Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera, is a book I only appreciated, during its ending. So, I have to say, I didn’t like it, apart from those last pages, where the author makes his characters find some serenity in a calm routine, which – let’s be frank – can be somewhat reassuring for a human being. But the pages I refer to are just the last fifty ones. The other one hundred and fifty are – it’s appropriate to say it – unbearable. And I do not have good words for them.

While I was reading this supposed masterpiece, I found myself saying “how boring!” several times. I mean, you may have all the philosophical intents you want, but if you write a novel, then you have to try to create a satisfying  reading experience. Each line was a protract agony in the world of boredom.

It’s true that Kundera starts his work telling us about the Nietzsche’s “eternal return”, but I’m afraid he took it too seriously! The Unbearable Lightness of Being always repeats the same mechanisms to such a degree that I can’t endure it. I understood the main male character always looks for new sexual relationships, but it’s not the case to so redundant. You told us, Milan! We got it! The storytelling will benefit, if you cut some repetitions.

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A photograph of Milan Kundera, czech writer

It seems one of those books, who are written to seduce the reader with some kind of alternative charm – maybe those who like to mix philosophic thoughts with sexual intercourses. But in the end, personally, I think there is just little substance here. I can’t explain to myself why a lot of people likes it. Anyway, Latins used to say De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est, You Can’t Discuss About Tastes… (or Distastes?).

I only found interesting the context in which the novel is set: Czechoslovakia, during the years before and after The Prague Spring. You have a good example, while reading, of what control, suspect and censorship really mean. Apart from this, though, this novel isn’t worth its fame.

– Giuseppe Circiello –

VERSIONE ITALIANA – LEGGI