February’s books |

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Nikos Kazantzakis

The Last Temptation

The great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) considered the modern sequel to Odyssey of Homer, an epic of 33,333 verses, as his most important work. Abroad, however, two novels brought him notoriety: Life and Wanderings of Alexis Zorbás (Editions 70) and The Last Temptation, now reissued. The author writes: “This book is not a biography, it is the confession of the man who fights”. And he describes this conflict as “the ceaseless and merciless struggle between the spirit and the flesh.” Kazantzakis gives us a Christ tormented by doubt, fear and desire, divided between the desires for a normal existence, with the pleasures of family life and conjugal relationships, and the divine call that leads him to the path of suffering and renunciation . A young carpenter, he is hated in his village for building the crosses with which the Romans crucify Jews who rebel against his rule. Alone, he leaves for the desert trying to escape an inescapable destiny. This profound and remarkable work earned the author excommunication from the Greek Orthodox Church and was inscribed in the Index of the Catholic Church. At the time of his death, he was buried in the walls of Heraklion (on the island of Crete, where he was born), as the Orthodox Church did not authorize his burial in a cemetery. His epitaph reads: “I hope for nothing, I fear nothing. I am free.” Editions 70

João de Melo

Long Long Verses

“I am given to prose, not to muses”, confesses the writer João de Melo. Still, Long Long Verses marks João de Melo’s return to poetry, four decades after the publication of his first and, to date, only book of poems: Earth Navigation (1980). The collection, divided into five parts, brings together poems extolling time and life, reflections on anguish and metaphysics, a sentimental travel itinerary and an inevitable passionate revisitation of the much-loved islands of the Azores (“The mother island with the beloved / gets confused / loaded with incense and laurel”). We are faced with a “meditated poetics on writing and literature, the ephemerality of being, the spirituality of faith and the loss of God”. In the end, the “Last Elegies” present some tragic poems about collective daily life, one of them in prose, Poem at the Gates of Baghdad, which reports on the constant horrors of wars. In a beautiful sonnet about “poetic art” itself (Absinthe Sonnet) reads: “The poet in me was frustrated, the voice that disdains / thickly the song and drinks the verse with its absinthe. / I am left with the sand, the rut, the root of island creation. / And sing the burning fire, even if it is already extinguished.” Don Quixote

Ernest Hemingway

Fiesta – The Sun Always Rises

“All my life I have looked at words as if I were seeing them for the first time.” Ernest Hemingway (1899/1961) probably changed the way writers use words more than any other 20th century novelist. Deeply imitated, his prose remains, however, unmistakable. It is based on substantive, economical and concise writing, of apparent simplicity but of great experimental subtlety, endowed with a poetic musicality of percussed rhythms, capable of capturing the diverse changes of colloquial language. His work, a long fictional autobiography, punctuated by descriptions of extraordinary evocative and enchanting power, reflects in a heroic way the intimate experience of defeat, the fleetingness of happiness and the certainty of death. The romance Fiesta – The Sun Always Rises, one of the author’s masterpieces, tells the story of an American, emasculated in World War I, who lives in Paris with an international group of expatriates. An exuberant but aimless group, torn from the normal meaning of life by the traumatic experience of war. This was precisely the book that made the “lost generation” famous, a term coined by Gertrude Stein in conversation with Hemingway. The work evolves without apparent purpose in a circular movement that evokes the perpetual birth of the sun referred to in the title, in a quote from Ecclesiastes. Books from Brazil

Marguerite Duras

Hiroshima, My Love

The life and work of Marguerite Duras (1914-1996) are closely linked to the main events of the 20th century: the dissolution of colonialism, the Nazi genocide, the creation of the Eastern Bloc, the sexual revolution and the predominance of cinema. Desire occupies the center of her reflection on the failure of personal and political relationships, first in literature, then in the cinema that she later embraced. Hiroshima, My Love, a film directed by Alain Resnais with a very literary script by Marguerite Duras (which is now published) shook, in 1959, all the aesthetic rules that governed cinema. The work intersects the passionate adventure between a young French woman and a Japanese architect with an intense anti-nuclear request. Hiroshima, covered by ash and “atomic death”, is “the common ground where the universal data of eroticism, love and unhappiness” bring these two beings together. The lovers verbalize their physical passion with unusual audacity: “How could I have imagined that you were made to measure like my own body? (…) Devour me. Devour me to ugliness.” Conceived as a broad lyrical poem, at the antipodes of usual realism, made up of complex memories and juxtapositions, elliptical and non-linear, the film came to claim a new cinema viewer. Quetzal

Honoré de Balzac

Eugénie Grandet

Honoré de Balzac (1799/1850) conceived a monumental work with nearly a hundred volumes. Almost all of it forms a set that he gave the title of The Human Comedy, through which he creates an extraordinary portrait of French society in the first half of the 20th century. XIX. A powerful visionary, endowed with an unusual imagination and sense of observation, he focuses on the problems of passion and the seizure of power by the moneyed bourgeoisie. Eugénie Grandet was written in 1833 as part of the colossal project The Human Comedy and is considered the founding work of the Balzacian novel. Eugénie lives with her parents in Saumur, on the banks of the Loire River, the daughter of a rich and miserly wine grower. The young woman’s hand is competed for by the most important families in the region, but she falls in love with her elegant, indolent and ruined cousin. The book tells the story of an unrequited love within a materialistic society. Brilliant description of customs, protagonists and spaces of provincial life, it promotes a deep reflection on petit-bourgeois futility, the power that money exerts over people’s lives and characters, romantic frustration and human nature. Water Clock

Simon Schama

Foreign Bodies – Pandemics, vaccines and the health of nations

Foreign Bodies recalls the dark times when smallpox attacked London, cholera reached Paris and the plague reached India in the 18th and 19th centuries. It also reminds us that in the history of pandemics, blame for new outbreaks of infection is often attributed to “other strangers”. In the Victorian period, cholera was referred to as the “yellow peril”; Donald Trump referred to the coronavirus as “Kung-Flu” or “Chinese virus”. One of the groups historically most affected by such slanders has been the Jews. Since the 14th century, among many other cases, people have been blamed for the Black Death. Perhaps, for this reason, they dedicated themselves to the study of microbiology and vaccinology. Sir Simon Schama, born in London in 1945, university professor of Art History and History at Columbia University in New York, dedicates his attention to two of them: Élie Metchnikoff, pioneer in the study of immunology, and his pupil Waldemar Haffkine, an angry Jewish student from Odessa who became a microbiologist at the Pasteur Institute. Praised in England as “the savior of humanity” for having vaccinated millions of people against cholera and bubonic plague in British India, despite being belittled by the medical authorities of the Raj. Foreign Bodies, it crosses the borders between East and West, Asia and Europe, the worlds of rich and poor, of politics and science. The book reaffirms the author’s belief in the inseparability of human beings, stating that, as we face together the challenges of our time, “there are no strangers, but only family.” Themes and Debates

Joseph Roth

Hotel Savoy

Joseph Roth (1894-1939) was born in Brody, a city dominated by Jewish culture at the edge of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (present-day Ukraine). In 1920 he dedicated himself to journalism in Berlin and became one of the great chroniclers of the Weimar Republic. He witnessed the crisis in the old Prussian capital and the advent of Nazism, expressing in his work of fiction a growing nostalgia for the life and values ​​of the former Austrian Empire. A theme becomes recurrent in his work from the 1920s onwards: the characters are survivors, soldiers like him who return from the First World Cup to face the fact that there is no longer a place to return. Characters imbued with a profound sense of rootlessness. Hotel Savoy is no exception: a young Viennese Jew, a prisoner of war in a Siberian camp, returns home at the end of the war. On the way, at one of the stops, he stays at the Hotel Savoy, microcosms of the world: “on the lower floors, the rich live in large and beautiful rooms (…) and on the upper floors the poor devils who don’t have the money to pay the bedrooms”. It is from an upper floor that the protagonist witnesses the chaos, social inequality and economic ruin that the First World War caused and the apocalyptic outcome that lies ahead. Sun Quixote

The article is in Portuguese

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