Birth of Our Power

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By Victor Serge.

Great writing. And, by association a great translation. A well-formed novel and Serge then has the space to play and tease out philosophies and characters. This novel moves from Revolutionary Barcelona in 1917 to Petersburg and the journey in between. There’s still quite a lot of Serge for me to read. Excellent.

“Will you have some coffee? One should always appreciate coffee in troubled times. Humanity is wailing and suffering: let us sip the delectable mocha slowly; mine will be the egoist’s cup, yours whatever you wish; but it will leave the same bittersweet taste in our mouths.”

 

“The art of living consists in thinking. There are a few good moments: that is when, book in hand, you can lie down in the grass for an hour …”

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New Grub Street

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By George Gissing.

I had never read Gissing before but he was referenced somewhere – it may have been Berger – and this was worthwhile. Very difficult to put down; you were transported into the atmosphere and poverty of Victorian literary London.

‘A man who comes to be hanged,’ pursued Jasper, impartially, ‘has the satisfaction of knowing that he has brought society to its last resource. He is a man of such fatal importance that nothing will serve against him but the supreme effort of law. In a way, you know, that is success.’

 

Reardon had never been to Brighton, and of his own accord never would have gone; he was prejudiced against the place because its name has become suggestive of fashionable imbecility and the snobbishness which tries to model itself thereon; he knew that the town was a mere portion of London transferred to the sea-shore, and as he loved the strand and the breakers for their own sake, to think of them in such connection could be nothing but a trial of his temper.

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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 Adolescent

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By Fyodor Dostoevsky.

The last of Dostoevsky’s novels that I had not read. For large parts of it I didn’t enjoy it. Sometimes the exposition seemed a little ham-fisted. And, I didn’t really care about any of the characters too much, I wasn’t too interested in what was going to happen to them. Still, at the close of the novel I was glad I had read it. It lacked something that his great works have.

I don’t know, but I like it better when books are scattered about in disorder, when studies are at least not turned into a sacred rite.

 

life is all wanderings and perplexities, and suddenly—the resolution, on such-and-such a day, at five o’clock in the afternoon! It’s even offensive, isn’t it?

 

 

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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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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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