Fyodor Dostoevsky, The House of the Dead (1861), 357p.
Ivan Turgenev, First Love (1860), 107p (1980).
Mikhail Bulgakov, Morphine (1926), 55p
Bulgakov’s Morphine is a simple short story that uses his experience as a doctor and morphine addict in simple diary form. The most beautiful aspect of Morphine is the evidence of what a great short story requires, a genuine heartfelt compassion, the experience of real life, maybe the auto-biographical element sets the quality of any short story apart from a fantasy story. I’m a big fan of fictionalized auto-biographical material, Morphine proves why. The story reads easily in a day, without losing attention, as if it was written in equal amount of time.
Elena Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment (2002), 188p
With the popularization of the literary markets, apparently an inevitable consequence of following a purist American theology of Capitalism, eliminating all public investments to balance the public good out of the equation of interest, it can be difficult to find elevating literary writers these days. I have almost completely stopped sifting through the may top ten lists, awards and nominations like the homeopathic New York Times best seller list, such a Mayan veil and scam of literature was never invented before, or the New Yorker with its blase short stories that fail to shock any man with a real taste for life. How can one take the American literary landscape every serious again, it’s worth a novel full of labyrinths.
But Elena Ferrante, if for a moment we consider this her real name, has the true spirit of an author, she feels enough has been done to a book once it has been written, once she has poured her confessions to paper and added an artificial construct to make it credible. Once in print, only the reader can add meaning to a story. I believe strongly that only out of such absence of vanity, out of such love for the imagination that reality is shunned, and certainly the false desire to be in the public spotlight, can bring forth any literature close to being worth reading.
One can place some remarks to the almost fantastical scene of the protagonist taking the ‘key’ into her mouth in order to ‘unlock’ the ‘door’. This is almost a childish mistake of heavy symbolism in a too easily recognizable form, but apart from this scene that sadly lasts for pages, the book remains true to credible fiction, and though she perhaps could dig deeper into her self and add more revealing reflections of her human soul, the book carries a reflective burden with it. Another point of criticism is that women tend to identify with being victimized too easily, and this book is no relief from it, not a very emancipated protagonist perhaps. It’s not how Marguerite Duras would have witnessed the story.
But nevertheless, Ferrante delivers a true novel of the human soul, and The Days of Abandonment is a mirror to many.
The New Yorker, Women on the Verge, The fiction of Elena Ferrante, by James Wood (21 January 2013)
Keith Devlin, The Man of Numbers (2011) is a largely historical biography about Leonardo Bigollo (~1170 – ~1250 CE), better known in his own time as Leonardo Pisano or in our time as Leonardo Fibonacci.
Fibonacci is best known for the sequence of Fibonacci numbers (1,2,3,5,8,13,21… etc), whose limit of ratios we know as the Divino Proportion coined by Luca Pacioli (1445-1517), the Golden Ratio coined by Martin Ohm (1792-1811), or as it is called in Euclid’s Elements, the extreme and mean ratio. Fibonacci numbers are only one of several mathematical puzzles posed in his Liber Abaci (1202), the Book of Calculation, a teaching book for mercantile administration, in which Leonardo describes the basics of the Hindu-Arab counting system, at the time largely unknown in Europe, where the Roman and medieval systems were still dominant. Devlin argues that the Liber Abaci caused a mathematical revolution that facilitated the mercantile boom of the Renaissance.
The book by Devlin is a little light on facts and mathematics, though none are absent, maybe because there are only few historic facts known about Leonardo, and because most of the math in our time sounds like very basic modern mathematics described in very cryptically described textual puzzles. If you really want to know everything about Fibonacci’s influence, you should read the translation of the Liber Abacci. If you really want to know everything about the mercantile revolution, you should read perhaps about Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464), or about the scientific revolution, you should read perhaps about Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).
A slim figure in an hotel uniform greets me, even among the aligned Indians waiting with name cards held up at the exit of the arrival hall, he looks remarkably slender. His cheekbones, his carved out, dark eyes, his black eyebrows that cover his stare, and his full mustache characterize his bony face. During the drive from the airport to the hotel, I mainly look at the strip of mirrored eyes, as he proudly tells the story of his love marriage. After five years, their child compelled his wife’s family to reconcile and compromise, but it was a long story he proudly tells.
Akhtar gives a surface level overview of immigration specific psycho-analytical therapy. The core of Identity problems for immigrants lies in the cultural and social separation and individuation process, that causes responses of loss and idealization, depending if the immigration occurred voluntary or was forced. The psychological response should be one of rapprochement.
Akhtar in general does a very nice job in sketching the main issues in immigration psychology. He oversteps his own rule of cultural neutrality only where he feels compelled to distinguish between western and eastern culture. Notibly, Akhtar is of eastern descend, so it’s no surprise he characterizes the eastern psyche as a mind of heart and love, while describing the western mind as the mind of time and money. This distinction is not only obviously placing Akhtar in the position of patient instead of analyst, but is also so blatant that it instantly makes one doubt his analytical capacity. In the end, I choose to oversee this pillar of his therapeutical theory, because the rest of his book is fairly solid, although not particularly shocking in insight.
His insertions of his own poetry are a little bit unprofessional, but that too I can oversee and find in a childish way entertaining, though by all means, they have no place in an academic publication, and I would have to disqualify the book as being a non-scientific work for those last two criticisms. Still, it will offer any immigrant a few basic insights into the psychology of immigration, and is an entertaining work.
The Golovlyov Family – Mikhail Shchedrin (1880) 334p.
Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Discontent (1930), 104p.
Nikolas Kazantzakis, The Rock Garden (1963), 251p.