To be honest, I should have published these two reviews last week, but I didn’t have enough time to write them. So let’s start with the first one.
How Literature Can Change Your Life by Dimitris Stefanakis
Greek Title: Πώς η Λογοτεχνία Σού Αλλάζει Τη Ζωή
Author: Dimitris Stefanakis
Summary (in Greek):
“Αν επιμένουμε ακόμα να διαβάζουμε λογοτεχνία στη ζωή μας, είναι γιατί πιστεύουμε σε αυτό που μας προσφέρει. Δεν θα καταφέρουμε ποτέ να αλλάξουμε τον κόσμο με την ποίηση και τα μυθιστορήματα, αξίζει όμως τον κόπο να δοκιμάσουμε την ευεργετική επίδρασή τους στη ζωή και στον χαρακτήρα μας.
Αν με ρωτούσε κανείς πώς η λογοτεχνία μπορεί να αλλάξει τη ζωή μου, θα απαντούσα κυρίως πως η λογοτεχνία σου μαθαίνει τρόπους. Σε κάνει λιγότερο σίγουρο για τον εαυτό σου, λιγότερο μελοδραματικό και κραυγαλέο, λιγότερο αφελή και ευκολόπιστο αλλά και πιο ευγενή στη γλώσσα, πιο διορατικό στις ανθρώπινες σχέσει.
Στη ζωή τα πράγματα δεν είναι πάντα όπως φαίνονται κι η λογοτεχνία θα είναι πάντα εδώ για να μας το θυμίζει.”
Summary (in English, translated by me):
“The fact that we are still reading literature today means that we believing in what it has to offer. We cannot change the world through poems and novels, it is still worth it to try their beneficial effect on our lives and our characters. If someone were to ask me how literature can change their lives, I would answer them that most importantly literature teaches you better manners. It makes one less sure of oneself, less melodramatic and rude, less naive and gullible, but also more polite and more insightful on human relationships.”
This is a newly published book and it hasn’t yet been translated in English. I do not know if it is going to be translated, but I want to talk to you about it anyway. Who knows? Maybe a publisher will see this review and decide that it is an interesting book that is worth translating. (Because confidence is all it takes for publishers to notice you, am I right? Like Cait @paperfury would say: Fake it ’till you make it!)
Anyway, I’ve talked a bit about how I met Dimitris Stefanakis in a previous post. But now that I have actually read the book, let me tell a few more things about it.
Firstly, this is a collection of short essays. Some are a bit longer than others, but all of then are quite short. In each essay Mr. Stefanakis discusses Literature from a different aspect (i.e. reading books, critiquing (is that a word? I hope that it is!), classic literature, feminism, etc.) There’s a little bit of something for every type of reader.
Personally, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was the first time that I actually had to use bookmarks and make notes on the book (very lightly and in pencil, so that I can go on and erase them later), because I had so many thoughts on what the author has written. In fact, the entire book is now full of these little paper tabs.
There are many parts in the book where the author has managed to perfectly articulate what I have been thinking for a long time and could not explain. In some cases I agree with him 100% and in other cases I disagree with him. But this is perfectly normal. No one can agree 100% with everything another person is saying. What I liked was that even the parts that I disagreed with, were written in a way that made me stop and contemplate the author’s argument. Like Dimitris Stefanakis would have said; there is no point in reading a book to confirm your own opinions. On the contrary, books should make one less sure of themselves less confident in the perfection of their views. And this doubt can only be planted into someone’s mind through well-balanced and nicely articulated arguments. I don’t know about you, but I prefer reading about books that offer me subjects to debate on with other people than books that convince me of anything. Maybe that is why I do not like religious non-fiction; the writing is too confident the arguments are (too) absolute.
Generally, I really liked this book. It is definitely one of those books that make you think and I believe that it could easily be considered a classic in a few years. After all, the subject discussed is timeless.
About the author:
Dimitris Stefanakis is a fiction writer and translator.In 2011 his novel Days of Alexandria (Greek: Μέρες Αλεξάνδρειας) was awarded the French “Prix Méditerranée étranger” and the “International Cavafy Award for prose”. He has translated contemporary literature (Saul Bellow, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, E.M. Forster, Joseph Brodsky) into Greek.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Title: Burial Rites
Author: Hannah Kent
Summary (from Goodreads):
A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.
Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.
Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.
Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?
This book was part of my Read the Globe Challenge for March. This month’s theme was Oceanian authors.
Even though I have seen Burial Rites in many book hauls, I haven’t read seen reviews about it.
Personally, I loved it. The reader learns the story through a combination of letters sent back and forth, poetry, narrations of what is happening in the present, and recountings of past events. I was captivated by the story. I needed to know what had really happened. Did Agnes actually commit the murder she has been accused of? And if she did, then why did she do it?
Also, it was so interesting to see how people in Iceland used to live. I had never read a book set in Iceland before.
Now, when it comes to negatives, I have to say that there were words that I had never seen before that I wasn’t able to find translations for. Moreover, most of the characters names were ones that I hadn’t heard of before and were hard to read, if you didn’t have some idea of what they should sound like. (I probably mispronounced most of them. Sorry, imaginary people!) To be honest, though, I didn’t really mind.
Something else that people might have to say about the book, is that it is very dark and gloomy and depressing. That is true, but it is also something that everyone should have expected if they had read the summary. I mean, the protagonist of the book has been sentenced to death, what did you expect? A comedy, perhaps? Anyway, I knew that it was going to be a very dark book, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great story.
I think what I loved the most about Burial Rites was that the characters were very realistic. In real life all people have flaws and virtues, and that was true for the characters in the book as well. This made me feel like they could have been real people and made the story more convincing. The whole book didn’t seem like something the author took out of her head and threw it on a piece of paper, but like a real-life event; like something that did indeed happen.
Lastly, I want to talk about the ending. If I want to be honest, then I have to admit that it wasn’t the ending I would have chosen were I the one writing this story. But, it was a satisfying ending. I don’t want to say more about it, because I don’t want to spoil anyone.
About the author:
Hannah Kent won the 2011 Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award for her manuscript, Burial Rites, and is currently mentored by Geraldine Brooks. She is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and teaches Creative Writing and English at Flinders University, where she is also completing her PhD.
In 2011 she was a judge of Melbourne University/The Australian Centre’s Peter Blazey Fellowship for Life Writing. Her creative and critical writing has appeared in The Big Issue, Australian Book Review, The Wheeler Centre, Kill Your Darlings and Voiceworks, amongst others.
So, these were my reviews for today. I hope you had fun reading them and that I didn’t bore you to death. Also, did you notice my new rating method? I’m talking about the cupcakes floating around the page at the end of each review of course. For so long I have been spending hours upon hours searching for a way to add star ratings to my reviews. But star ratings are soooooo last decade, don’t you think? My cupcakes look much much much better. Yum!
Now it’s your turn…
Have you read either of these books? (Although you’re most likely to have read the latter than the former.) Would you like to read them? Have you reviewed Burial Rites? (If yes, then feel free to leave me a link to your review.) Have you read any other book by either of these authors? What’s the latest book you read and did you like it?
BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION OF ALL IS: What did you think of my cupcake ratings?
Tell me all about it in the comments below…