Exemplary Stories

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By Miguel de Cervantes.

There are some fantastic stories here. How I wish Cervantes had had time to write another Quixote. Ah well, i’ll have to just re-read it.

“He answered that of the infinite number of poets in existence, the good ones were so few that they hardly counted, and so being unworthy of consideration, he did not hold them in any esteem; but that he admired and revered the art of poetry, because it contained within it all the other sciences put together. It makes use of all of them, and they all adorn it, so that it gives lustre and fame to their wonderful works, and brings great profit, delight and wonder to all the world.”

 

 

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The Master and Margarita

 

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By Mikhail Bulgakov

This was a re-read as I was travelling to Moscow and wanted to see the city with Bulgakov’s eye. Patriarch Pond was pleasant and I waited for Woland there but there was no stall selling warm apricot juice, and no malevolent cat nearby. A magnificent novel. I think I enjoyed it most on this, the third, read.

“With a groan Ivan looked ahead and saw the hated stranger. He had already reached the exit leading on to Patriarch’s Street and he was no longer alone. The weird choirmaster had managed to join him. But that was not all. The third member of the company was a cat the size of a pig, black as soot and with luxuriant cavalry officers’ whiskers. The threesome was walking towards Patriarch’s Street, the cat trotting along on its hind legs.”

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The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories

 

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By Nikolai Leskov.

This is quite an amazing compendium of his stories – only recently published. I liked the ebook so much I decided to purchase the hardcover. Leskov has very definitely been overlooked in the west and perhaps Russia too. There’s so much in his stories and you are transported but not just in a purely sensual way – the intellect is at work here also.

Some quotes:

‘Reading is an occupation far too serious and far too important in its consequences for young people’s tastes not to be guided in its selection.

 

Machines have evened out the inequality of talents and gifts, and genius does not strive against assiduousness and precision. While favouring the increase of earnings, machines do not favour artistic boldness, which sometimes went beyond all measure, inspiring popular fantasy to compose fabulous legends similar to this one. Workers, of course, know how to value the advantages provided by the practical application of mechanical science, but they remember the old times with pride and love. It is their epos, and, what’s more, with ‘a man’s soul inside’.

 

The dog dreams of bread, of fish the fisherman. Theocritus (Idyll)

 

That I couldn’t bear, and, in the words of the late poet Tolstoy, ‘having begun like a god, I ended like a swine’.

 

 

 

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Quiet Flows the Don

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By Mikhail Sholokhov.

I can’t recommend this book enough. A timeless story and detailed interesting characters in four separate volumes that took 15 years to complete. Read this rather than War and Peace. I finished this a year ago and I still think about it regularly.

“And over the village slipped the days, passing into the nights; the weeks flowed by, the months crept on, the wind howled, and, glassified with an autumnal, translucent, greenish-azure, the Don flowed tranquilly down to the sea.”

 

 

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The Jean Christophe Cycle

By Romain Rolland.

Comprising ten novels:

L’Aube (“Dawn”, 1904)
Le Matin (“Morning”, 1904)
L’Adolescent (“Youth”, 1904)
La Révolte (“Revolt”, 1905)
La Foire sur la place (“The Marketplace”, 1908)
Antoinette (1908)
Dans la maison (“The House”, 1908)
Les Amies (“Love and Friendship”, 1910)
Le Buisson ardent (“The Burning Bush”, 1911)
La Nouvelle Journée (“The New Dawn”, 1912)

This is a very impressive work. It feels slightly dated – though this could be the translation. I don’t understand how Rolland could have been marginalised as much as he has, being a Novel Prize winner. Perhaps because his preoccupations with pre-WW1 Europe have been forgotten to an extent. There’s a great amount here about creativity and art – the novel(s) are really an excuse for his musings on these.

 

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Cousin Bette

By Honoré de Balzac.

One of Balzac’s greatest novels, and, an uncomfortable read. There’s so much intrigue here. Balzac is cutting with his perspicaciousness and the subtle and not-so-subtle lampooning of individuals and the aspects of the Human Comedy that they embody. As always – fantastic witticisms:

“Money never misses the slightest occasion to demonstrate its stupidity. Paris would by now contain ten times the treasures of Venice if our retired businessmen had had the instinct for fine things that distinguishes the Italians.”

 

“She struck a pose in a fashion that was enough to lay Crevel wide open, as Rabelais put it, from his brain to his heels.”

At novel end, you breathe a sigh of relief. The characters have been through the ringer and the reader feels the same. But, masterfully done. Balzac was fired up and had things to say here. A final quote:

“‘You remind me, Papa Lumignon,’ said Stidmann, ‘of the bookseller who used to say, before the Revolution: “Ah! if I could only keep Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau properly short of cash, in my garret, with their breeches locked up, what good little books they would write for me and I should make my fortune!” If fine works of art could be turned out like nails, commissionaires would be making them…”

 

 

 

 

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