The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

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By Vladimir Nabokov

Once again, a great novel. Perhaps maybe it is too aware of itself. And, I do have a dislike of writers writing about writing for the most part.

 

‘A dark country, a hellish place, gentlemen, and if there is anything of which I am certain in life it is that I shall never exchange the liberty of my exile for the vile parody of home …’

 

All is flesh and all is purity. But one thing is certain: I have been happy with you and now I am miserable with another. And so life will go on. I shall joke with the chaps at the office and enjoy my dinners (until I get dyspepsia), and read novels, and write verse, and keep an eye on the stocks – and generally behave as I have always behaved. But that does not mean that I shall be happy without you … Every small thing which will remind me of you.

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What Am I Doing Here?

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By Bruce Chatwin.

This was a great collection of articles. I read Utz years back and loved it – so this was a way of getting into Chatwin before starting the ‘novels’. There was much that was illuminating. A passionate traveller who could also write: a very cultured and interested person.

“We shall not lie on our backs at the Red Castle and watch the vultures wheeling over the valley where they killed the grandson of Genghiz. We will not read Babur’s memoirs in his garden at Istalif and see the blind man smelling his way around the rose bushes. Or sit in the Peace of Islam with the beggars of Gazar Gagh. We will not stand on the Buddha’s head at Bamiyan, upright in his niche like a whale in a dry-dock. We will not sleep in the nomad tent, or scale the Minaret of Jam. And we shall lose the tastes – the hot, coarse, bitter bread; the green tea flavoured with cardamoms; the grapes we cooled in the snow-melt; and the nuts and dried mulberries we munched for altitude sickness. Nor shall we get back the smell of the beanfields, the sweet, resinous smell of deodar wood burning, or the whiff of a snow leopard at 14,000 feet.”

 

 

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The Shadow of the Sun

By Ryszard Kapuściński.

This is a collection of essays on Africa – or perhaps essay is the wrong word – these could be seen as disconnected acts in the larger drama of Africa in change. Kapuściński veers between the descriptive narrative and musing – trying to find a meaning in the upheaval he documents. He covers the length and breadth of Africa in these pieces. This is an exceptional read. Here are some extracts:

“I arrived in Kumasi with no particular goal. Having one is generally deemed a good thing, the benefit of something to strive toward.This can also blind you, however: you see only your goal, and nothing else, while this something else—wider, deeper—may be considerably more interesting and important.”

 

“Our contemporary suspicion of and antipathy for the Other, the Stranger, goes back to the fear our tribal ancestors felt toward the Outsider, seeing him as the carrier of evil, the source of misfortune. Pain, fire, disease, drought, and hunger did not come from nowhere. Someone must have brought them, inflicted them, disseminated them. But who? Not my people, not those closest to me—they are good. Life is possible only among good people, and I am alive, after all. The guilty are therefore the Others, the Strangers.”

 

“History does not exist beyond that which they are able to recount here and now. The kind of history known in Europe as scholarly and objective can never arise here, because the African past has no documents or records, and each generation, listening to the version being transmitted to it, changed it and continues to change it, transforms it, modifies and embellishes it. But as a result, history, free of the weight of archives, of the constraints of dates and data, achieves here its purest, crystalline form—that of myth.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another Day of Life

By Ryszard Kapuściński.

Quite a brilliant book. Kapuściński writes really well and completely engages you with his narrative. I learn’t a lot reading this. Irrespective of mistakes Kapuściński may have made in his support for the ‘regime’ in Poland, his books are a window into a different world. This is a cohesive snapshot of Angola (and Africa) changing from colonial to self rule. He may play hard and fast with personal facts but this doesn’t detract from the work.

“Confusão is a situation created by people, but in the course of creating it they lose control and direction, becoming victims of confusão themselves.”

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Travels With Herodotus

By Ryszard Kapuściński.

This was an extremely enjoyable read. If you are looking for exactitude and factual journalism then maybe Kapuściński is not for you as his accounts are not to be trusted. He does make things larger than life in the same way as Cendrars and Celine (though both of these were dealing in personal reportage). Kapuściński does have a way with words and this travel with Kapuściński himself in the modern day juxtaposed with Herodotus’s Histories’ is very very entertaining. I read part of the Histories when years back but this book has inspired to pick it up again – I can see I didn’t understand it properly at the time.

The quote below could be seen as a sort of justification for his ‘magic’ journalism:

Herodotus is entangled in a rather insoluble dilemma: he devotes his life to preserving historic truth, to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time; at the same time, however, his main source of research is not firsthand experience, but history as it was recounted by others, as it appeared to them, therefore as it was selectively remembered and later more or less intentionally presented. In short, not primary history, but history as his interlocutors would have had it. There is no way around this divergence of purpose and means. We can try to minimize or mitigate it, but we will never approach the objective ideal. The subjective factor, its deforming presence, will remain impossible to strain out.

 

 

 

 

 

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23 Things They Dont Tell You About Capitalism

By Ha-Joon Chang.

This book had its moments and there were a few points that started me thinking; one being that the the unqualified good of low inflation at any cost isn’t necessary for economic growth. This is the dominant view which is espoused everywhere and maybe it isn’t so. The book could be thought of as a primmer for further reading. Some parts are detailed – but mostly it is a summary of dominant free market views with rebuttals. Not all the rebuttals are watertight and more detail could be given, but then the book would be something more than what it is; a work canvassing and changing conceptions that the free market mechanisms are somehow moral and self-regulating.

Here are some good quotes:

So, when free-market economists say that a certain regulation should not be introduced because it would restrict the ‘freedom’ of a certain market, they are merely expressing a political opinion that they reject the rights that are to be defended by the proposed law. Their ideological cloak is to pretend that their politics is not really political, but rather is an objective economic truth, while other people’s politics is political.

 

It helps us break away from the myth that our economy is exclusively populated by rational self-seekers interacting through the market mechanism. When we understand that the modern economy is populated by people with limited rationality and complex motives, who are organized in a complex way, combining markets, (public and private) bureaucracies and networks, we begin to understand that our economy cannot be run according to free-market economics.

 

 

 

 

 

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