Tag Archives: Belarus

The UnAmericans

Love Belarus

by Molly Antopol

So I am half way through this book of short stories and finding them fantastic. I half-heartedly suggested this to my bookclub but they weren’t too pushed and as I didn’t know if it would be any good I didn’t pursue it and suggested Sofi Oksanen’s ‘When the Doves Disappeared’ instead (and it went down well). I do wish we’d gone with it now. One story in particular impressed me. ‘My Grandmother tells me this Story’ and not just because it was set in Belarus.

You can read the full story here:

http://www.ecotonejournal.com/index.php/articles/details/my_grandmother_tells_me_this_story/

It’s about a Jewish kid hiding in the forests in Belarus during the second world war. It reminded me of ‘City of Thieves’ by David Benioff (where is the petition for that movie to be made, will it be after Game of Thrones is finished?) and also the movie Defiance, which I somehow managed never to hear about before this summer.

Keeping this short, as otherwise I won’t post.  I was in Hodges Figgis a few weeks ago and overheard a conversation between a couple about how she couldn’t buy any more books until she started reading all the ones she already had. And I though, hey, didn’t I have some resolution about that at some stage, should I start again?

So, I was making a new resolution about not buying new books (not even for my husband) but when I was buying some for my niece’s birthday present I saw that in Hodges Figgis they were selling books where 100% of the proceeds go to the Syrian Crisis Appeal. How could I say no?

The Day of the Imprisoned Writer

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This is a photo of the KGB in Minsk, Belarus. When I lived there 10 years ago I never took a photo of this building. My friends told me most likely somebody would come to take my film (yes, I hadn’t moved on to digital yet). I took this photo 3 years ago. Maybe I figured things were not so bad, or maybe the years away had made more more naive.

I was lucky enough to be part of the audience at this event for The Day of the Imprisoned Writer as part of the Dublin Book Festival:
http://www.dublinbookfestival.com/category/news/the-day-of-the-imprisoned-writer-martina-devlin-and-iryna-khalip-in-association-with-front-line-defenders-and-irish-pen/

It was recorded for RTE Arena so should be on the radio at some stage, though I’m not sure when. It will be well worth a listen.

The first story, read by Anne Enright, was this one:
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/21/she-tweeted-against-the-mexican-cartels-they-tweeted-her-murder.html

Although the ‘end’ of her story was told in the title it still hit me in the gut when it was read.

Iryna Khalip read a section of her book, detailing how her mother had to prove that she was physically and mentally capable of looking after to her grandson while Iryna was under arrest.

When I went to work in Belarus, part of my teaching contract stated that I could not get involved in Belarusian politics/protests and I could not discuss politics in the classroom either. My immediate thought on reading this was that I wanted to find a protest to join. Predictably, I didn’t. In the immediate years after leaving I regularly read the charter97.org website to follow what was going on in the country, though less so as the years have passed.

Many of the friends I got to know don’t live there any more; they live in America, Canada, Germany, Belgium, England, Austria and here in Ireland. With those who are left, I usually discuss ordinary life, not politics.

In Iryna’s words: “If you are obedient, if you are not interested in the political situation, if you stay away from the oppositional websites, if you stay away from opposition rallies, if you don’t speak about the political situation, then you can feel enough comfort.”
(http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/belarusian-journalist-iryna-khalip-details-dissident-life-1.2000122)

It is easiest to do nothing and live in relative ease, but it is not a way to live a whole life. We have to be grateful to the people like Iryna who are brave and continue reporting even when it is dangerous.

Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov

Edited by Robert Chandler

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I hate that some people may take from my recent blogs, Facebook posts, tweets etc. that I am anti-Russian. I hate what Putin has done and I hate the fact that plenty of Russians believe the propaganda of the fascism of the West, but there is really so much I love of Russia and its people and definitely its arts. I already mentioned my Belarusian friend, whom I met in Skerries when I was 14 and who took that trip to Crimea with me 10 years later. 10 years later she is living in Dublin with her Irish husband and I am godmother to one of her two sons.  She taught me the cyrillic letters and introduced me to Russian literature. I had head of War and Peace but it seemed like some huge tome that was meant to sit on a shelf and not be read. She told me they studied it in school. At the time I was studying Steinbeck’s novella ‘The Pearl’ and it didn’t seem to quite compare.

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I had always been a fan of fairy tales and enjoyed reading those from lands far away, including Russia. When choosing my college courses as a clueless 16 year old, I had selected some course relating to folk tales as my top non degree choice. That was never going to happen though, I was always going to end up doing a more ‘useful’ degree. (My practical self should thank the elders who persuaded me this way, my dreamy self regrets what might have been.) When I left Belarus, my Russian teacher and good friend was very enthusiastic, though perhaps a little over optimistic, about my progress. She wanted me to prepare for exams for teaching Russian as a foreign language. On the train to Crimea I had some books to read, a diary to write in and an exercise book for my Russian. I did continue going to classes in Dublin for a few years after I returned, but I am ashamed to say that I have forgotten most of it through lack of practice. (Like my French, like my Irish. I wish I could be one of those people who seem to be able to hold multiple languages in their head and juggle around. It is not for a lack of fantastic and generous teachers. Frau Harbison, who devoted her life to teaching German to the children of Skerries and helped me when I was going through a rough patch with my degree; Oksana, who taught me twice a week as paid for by my employers and three times a week out of the goodness of her heart and Lorena, who became a part time wedding planner and full time friend. We said ‘hasta luego’ last night and there were more than a few tears as the realisation set in.)  Oksana gave me some lovely copies of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy etc. when I left Minsk, but probably those I would be more likely to return to at this stage are the ‘skazki’, the fairy tales. Randomly I’m just remembering my attempt at translating the Children of Lir into Russian (deti Lira) back when I had my daily lessons.

One of my favourites growing up was The Firebird and I was happy to find that one here. I suppose it is probably one of the better known tales, since it has been transformed into a ballet by Stravinsky, though I haven’t managed to see that one yet, even though in my time in Minsk I tried to take in as many ballets as possible at the local, but well regarded Bolshoi theatre. Back in Dublin you see the same standards every year, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty. It drives my ballet teacher cousin crazy.

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Speaking of fairy tales, a few months ago I discovered an enchanted forest close to Jimena de la Frontera. As we had made the decision to move home we tried to make the most of the time we had left here and visit the places we hadn’t seen. We arrived on that March night in heavy rain and there were lots of snipes at each other. The next morning I was not surprised to discover that the hike I wanted to join was cancelled. If in Ireland we always waited for dry weather we’d never go hiking at all. The owner of the posada pointed me to a short route around the edge of the town. I noticed that a longer route followed the river and decided to try for that one. (The posada by the way was ‘rustic’ but enchanting and had a huge library which must have been owned by some late expat; it seems like it was stuck at a certain point of time. I wouldn’t say this was the best place I’ve stayed at in Spain, but I liked the quirkiness.)

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According to the map at some point there was a bridge across the river but I never came across it. ‘Marked’ walks are a bit like that in Spain, you follow a few spruced up signs, begin to believe the trails are as well organised as Switzerland…… and then you’re on your own. I did pass an area where I saw some blocks under the water and I wondered if that was it. In any other season there might be less water and it could be easy to cross but it wasn’t a goer at that time. I didn’t want to get to the other side and find I was wrong.

So I continued on, following what must have been sheep’s paths, getting further from civilisation and closer to the monster’s lair or the hidden prince’s palace.

It was nice to be somewhere different and all alone. Around Casares there are so many houses blighting the landscape. I’m sure they could not all have had the proper permits. You are never this alone.

As I moved on searching for the elusive bridge I had to hope I could follow the gingerbread crumbs back. I felt like that guy in ‘My Side of the Mountain’. I could just start living in a tree and make my life here. Does anybody write children’s novels like that (or, say, ‘The House at World’s End’) any more or do they all have to be super realistic and basically child services would be called in?

So the book itself. Despite my intention to replace A Clash of Kings with The Count of Monte Cristo, this became my go to car book. As the stories are short it probably made more sense.

It’s interesting that some versions of the tales have been from the same base story and yet are so different. I used to be so angry with Disney for not sticking to the ‘real’ story, though I was comparing to the Grimm Brothers who apparently collated different versions and streamlined them into one.

There really is an emphasis on the threes. The three sisters, a common theme in Russian fairytales and literature.Three daughters, three sons, three chicks, three tsaroviches. Well in my family there are three daughters and three sons, so a perfect fit for a fairytale. Unfortunately that would never work out well for me, as I am the eldest sister.

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While out walking near Gaucin in April I had an idea for a children’s book following on from my quest near Jimena. Well, another for the backburner. Someday I’d better start writing, not just talking or blogging about it. Spring is a beautiful time of year. The rain seems to have stopped (though, it always keeps sneaking back…well into June). The sky is blue but everything is still green or verdant, is it? Is that the word you use when green just will not do? Ah Gaucin, the hiding place of Carmen, that most famous of gypsies.

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On the way back we slowed down yet again to glance at the monstrosity of a palace that seems to have got past all planning laws. I wonder what fairy tale character is most likely to be hiding there. We stopped at the Genal river and dipped our feet. It wasn’t quite swimming weather yet.

The book’s introduction explains some of the influences of the magic tales on Russian traditions, such as Mishka the bear and Myshka the mouse, where a girl has to play blind man’s buff with a bear but a mouse helps her by taking her place. Even in today’s weddings the groom often has to search for his bride. By the way, I love the tradition of games at Russian (maybe all Slavic?) weddings. I thought about having some at ours, but it would have been too complicated to organise when guests aren’t used to it. Though I have to say, at this stage so many Irish people have been to Polish weddings and everybody seems to have a good time, maybe it might take off in the future?

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Mayday brought us a fairytale fog. A few years back the government in Gibraltar decided to break the tradition of the UK where you got the first Monday and give us the 1st instead. That’s great, I love bank holidays and all, but when it’s a Thursday and you just have so much to do at work you feel like maybe you aren’t going to enjoy it.

There was some walk going from Casares that I thought I might join. Sometimes when I’m, not sure if I want to do something I leave it to the last minute, maybe even beyond and if it’s still possible I feel like that’s a sign. Sometimes this works perfectly, sometimes I realise too late that I really wanted to do that thing (see Devotchka concert Dublin 2008….. what do you mean it’s sold out?)

So the way our house is built you can easily have no idea what the weather is like outside. It stays cold and dark until summer when you realise it isn’t cold anymore. I was dithering over breakfast, wondering what do, then I caught a glimpse of the fog outside, raced upstairs and saw that once again the fog was everywhere. I was so worried I’d miss it that I grabbed my camera (finally replaced the one stolen last year, yay!) and my bag and headed out. After taking a few around the town I realised I had missed the opportunity of going on the walk and didn’t mind too much, I was thinking of heading to the edge of town to try and get some good shots and then I realised there was only one place for it, so hiked up to the refugio and the amazing mirador.

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While I can tolerate insects as well as most (they’re obviously a very important part of the biosphere etc. etc. ) I just hate cockroaches and there were some humongous looking cockroach type creatures up there. I suppose In fairytale world the cockroach would offer me a wish in order to save his life and then would turn out to be a prince in disguise..

So I was back at the refugio to write. It is a very fairytale like setting itself, if more the woodcutter’s abode than the palace. I just had to stop every 5 minutes of so and take some more photos of the fog.

If you are kind and brave people (or various animals) will come together to help you. Look, we all know life isn’t like a fairytale, but sometimes there are lessons you can learn and if you are good to people I truly believe that they will mostly be good back.Of course in fairytales you will always get your just rewards, whereas in real life you may not be so lucky.

One of the tales is called ‘The Frog Princess’ We are well aware of the Frog Prince and as far as I knew the frog princess was just a fantastic Divine Comedy song. This was one of the many examples of a prince or princess trapped in the body of an animal until their true love sets them free.

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As enjoyable as the stories were sometimes the stories of the writers/collectors were more interesting. From Ivan Aleksandrovich Khudyakov, who was convicted of complicity in a plot to assassinate Tsar Alexander II and while in exile in Siberia complied a Yakut-Russian dictionary to Nadezhda Teffi, the Russian émigré in Paris.

While I enjoyed reading the fairytales a few at a time, there is no denying that they can get quite samey and that you can become immune to people getting killed at the drop of a hat (a bit like Game of Thrones, eh?) and also falling in love at first sight with little or no emotional resonance.

So the stories of Teffi came as some respite, in particular ‘The Dog’. It is only in the very vaguest sense a fairytale and has emotional resonance in spades.

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Coincidentally while writing this I came across a review of a newly published book on the works of Teffi (Subtly Worded, and Other Stories). Once I get home I’m going to seek it out. I’m beginning to realise that this ‘no book-buying lark’ is not going to work very well. On the one hand I feel I should be reading a larger portion of the books I already own, but on the other hand I know that whether I end up reading them or not my buying interesting oddball books will result in publishers continuing to publish interesting oddball books. And if I buy them in a bookshop as opposed to online I am, in my small way, keeping bookshops afloat. Sometimes independent, sometimes chains. I like independent bookshops but I like some chains too and I don’t think it’s evil to give business to a well-run bookshop like Waterstones (also have I mentioned Hodges Figgis is my favourite bookshop? Maybe once? Oh ok then…..) or Easons. Also I feel it’s payback for all the books I read for free in those shops while I was in college. Anyway loads of people are talking about unread books at the moment. Apparently it’s perfectly normal to have half of your books unread. There’s no shame in it.

I know I wasn’t finished on the subject of this book, but I think I will finish up anyway. Teffi was a high point. Russia/Ukraine has hit the headlines again and probably if you google Russian fairytales at the moment you will be more likely to read some wildly outrageous accusations about the perpetrators of MH17 than classic bedtime stories. I don’t feel like burying myself in the more traditional ones right now.

Fangirl

by Rainbow Rowell

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One book that I’ve found easy to lend to anybody (ok, let’s be honest, any girl, but not that that’s a bad thing) in the last few years has been ‘Attachments’ by Rainbow Rowell. It’s hard to explain what I liked so much about it, but it worked. The dialogue was zippy, It made me feel nostalgic for the late 90s, when email was still the best way to communicate and people wrote essays to each other. I don’t know the last time I wrote an essay length email that wasn’t work related. Well, I wrote superlong group emails from South America but I don’t really count those. When email was in vogue everybody complained that they were taking the place of letters. Now social networks and chats have taken the place of emails. You know that if Attachments took place in the present day it would be on a work based communicator. ‘This application is NOT to be used for personal communication!’ And it wouldn’t work as well.

Last month I went looking for a book as a present for a friend’s birthday. As she is a new mother I figured I’d try to look for something light but easy to read, snappy. I’ve complained about the lack of decent bookshops in Gibraltar before. I came across one I hadn’t noticed before and hoped there was some promise, but unfortunately it was hopeless. So I went to Casemates and the small selection of books upstairs. There I saw about 5 copies of Fangirl. Which made me happy, but since the girl whose birthday it was doesn’t even have a facebook account I thought reading a book about somebody who writes fanfiction might seem a bit weird to her. Or at least I’d prefer to read it first before giving it to her and there wasn’t time for that. If I’d seen a copy of Attachments I’d have snapped it up without hesitation. Also I really wanted to read this myself. I really wanted to read it myself. That was the main reason and I couldn’t justify buying two copies or contemplate buying it without the possibility of reading it straight away. So in the end I broke my bookbuying rule and bought a copy for myself and ‘Finding Colin Firth’ for my friend.

I’ve been disappointed by following the ‘this was written by the same author, therefore should be good’ train before, but this thankfully wasn’t one of them. I finished it in a day. Sometimes I wish I took longer with books I’m enjoying rather than just speeding through them, but I can always go back and reread, either in full of in part. I’ve done that a few times with Attachments which I still think I like better, but even so.

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Cath is a shy 18 year old about to start college, the same college as her twin sister Wren. She assumes that they will be sharing a room, but Wren thinks it’s time for them to break the cord. Cath has always found solace in writing fan fiction online and finds it easier to stay in her room updating her ‘Simon Snow’ novel rather than making friends or even talking to her roommate.

As I commuted to university in the first two years I didn’t have some of the immediate issues of Cath. I didn’t live in dorms and have to be away from my parents. I wasn’t really worried about college at all. I was 17 years old, happy to be finished secondary school and looking to embark on all the adventures that college would provide ‘Anne of the Island’ style. I did enjoy college, well except for my final year, but I think I expected too much. All through secondary school I was looking forward to college. Nothing could live up to that build up. Also, having to run for the last train/bus any time I was out did not help the ‘college experience’. It’s not an issue for somebody more sociable as there are always plenty of couches to be slept on, but sometimes asking seems too much. I don’t think I can ever be a completely spontaneous person, but even the ‘planned spontaneity’  I’ve developed over the years was not yet born.

 

At times I’ve been in an internet bubble so I felt an affinity with Cath, even if I’ve never read or written fan fiction. I do get how you can be invested in the lives of fictional characters and become unhappy with the direction an author takes so much so that you want to take matters into your own hands. It just isn’t something I’ve done, at least except in my head.

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Is it really bad to say that I skipped the fan fic excerpts in this book? Well not so much skipped as skimmed. I did note at some stage that her descriptions were obviously being influenced by what is going on in her life, but I just wasn’t very interested in the fan fiction except as a plot device. Simon Snow was obviously based on Harry Potter and while I’m sure I’ll read the last two books eventually I haven’t got round to it yet. I did see all the films except the last one, I think I just lost interest in the end. My Viennese roommate introduced me to the books back in 2002, as I’d heard of them but wasn’t caught up in the hype. I read all four that Spring, then only had a year to wait for the next one, which I read every waking non working moment, even on my walk from Cabra to Grand Canal Dock and back. I don’t think there was any particular reason why I didn’t read the next one. I can see that it came out the summer I bought my house, just before I went on my Russian adventure. At the time I felt I couldn’t afford the holiday but I’d already bought the flights so decided I’d just do it on the cheap. And maybe this meant not buying full price books, especially when somebody else was bound to have a copy to lend later on. I can never understand people paying full price for Dan Brown or 50 Shades of Grey when they will turn up en masse in a second hand bookshop a few months later.

So maybe I’ve missed something there, but when I was reading the ‘Simon Snow’ excerpts I wanted more description of what was going on between Cath and her ‘boyfriend’ and looked forward to the interjection every few paragraphs.

But really that was only a minor point.

I suppose this might be just an Irish/American cultural difference, but I can’t imagine anybody in their late teens/early twenties calling somebody their boyfriend if they don’t even kiss each other. I get that Cath is fragile and does not even feel ready and has some issues she needs to work through, but it just seems weird for me to describe somebody as her boyfriend or that she’s dating  somebody for months without anything more than a kiss on the cheek.

Also while reading the Simon Snow sections I found it difficult to immerse myself when the Hogwarts equivalent is called Watford. I’ve never been there but in my mind Watford is a very nondescript, possibly industrial suburb of London and the base of a company I used to work for. I could be wrong but I always see it as being similar to Slough, where ‘The Office’ was based.      

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At first when I read about Cath’s reluctance to go to the dining hall I felt it was a bit silly, I never had any issues going to the dining hall on my own in college. But then I did remember the time before starting my job at the Posthotel in Mittenwald the summer after 1st year. I didn’t eat anything before my first morning as I’d only brought Swiss Francs to get the train from Zurich and my Deutschmarks were in traveller’s cheques; not much use at the weekend. I was never so happy as when we stopped working one hour in , in order to have breakfast. My meals were included but I didn’t know the times and was too shy to ask. So I suppose I can’t really comment.

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Love Library: Well we didn’t have a library called that but the Lecky Library was called Club Lecky, because it was often a bit of a meeting point and people were not too concerned about noise levels. If you wanted serious study you went somewhere else. But I guess the real ‘Love Library’ would be the stacks, or it seems like it should be. I went there to read novels which were not needed by anybody but had been received because of the copyright and were held there temporarily before being moved offsite.

My own favourite library was the beautiful 1937 reading room, now renamed the ‘postgraduate reading room’, not for lowly undergrads any more!

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Cath receives a call from her high school boyfriend Abel and knows it means news. I don’t know why, but I never really got into the habit of just calling people for a chat. I think that might be one reason why I’m not very good at the long distance friendship thing. I don’t Skype people often enough. The invention of the text message came as a blessing to me. So I tend to assume that when somebody calls out of the blue, not a prearranged Skype session, that something big has happened. Somebody has got engaged, pregnant……or died.

Regarding writing on a laptop or writing longhand. It’s great to have Word to be able to organise your thoughts and what you have written before but I’m not able to bang out my thoughts and keep going. As Dave Gorman said in his googlewhack adventure, it’s really difficult to concentrate on writing when you have access to three billion pages of the internet.

So even though it takes longer, I prefer to write out my thoughts in some internet free zone and type them up when I got the chance.

Plus, how can you trust technology? Sure, I could lose my notebook, or it could burn, but in the same way, maybe one day my computer will crash, WordPress will decide to delete this site, gmail will fall to the wayside, hey I’ve had an excite/campus/oxygen account in the past. All gone! Or you save something on a format such as a floppy disk or a CD and then realise that you have no way to access these any more.

In a similar way with a Kindle you don’t own your books, you can’t lend to any friends. And I have hardly printed any photos since I went digital at the late time of 2007. a lot of my photos are stored on my bust up laptop. I really hope some genius can access them somehow.

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‘To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one’. I’d say that was true of me growing up, it’s just that it was not fantasy worlds I wanted to live in, but Prince Edward Island or the prairie, not quite fictional, but the world of the books. Cath tells her creative writing professor that she would find it two difficult to write her own fantasy world from scratch.

‘Most writers don’t. We write about the worlds we already know’

I mentioned previously that I admired the writer of Game of Thrones for the universe he has created but I wouldn’t ever have the desire to create anything of the sort myself. Some great writers manage to write about things that are so distant to them and some are great even while they only write the familiar. Personally I always find it strange when a foreigner writes a book set in Ireland or with an Irish lead character, something is always off. Unless that writer has lived a long time in Ireland. For the same reason (and talking hypothetically here) while I’d like to send my hypothetical characters to Belarus for example, I don’t think I could ever write a Belarusian except as a supporting character. I have plenty of friends there but I only spent a year in Minsk and could never dream of being really able to get inside the soul of a Belarusian. One friend was a little bit insulted by what I’d written in the ‘Egg in my Soup’ post. I can only imagine the outrage if I tried to pawn off….but then again I did have an idea at some stage, set in Crimea, with no Irish people….but it was a children’s book and I think children are still not as clearly shaped by their nation.  Also I was planning my (hypothetical) research trip there, this doesn’t seem very likely now. Well we’ll see, I may change my mind some time and regret posting this.

I’ve just been to a talk by Javier Cercas, now if ever there is somebody who can use what he knows as a starting point and twist it in directions most wouldn’t consider, where you try to figure out at what point fact morphs into fiction.

So I won’t go any further into the plot because I’d rather leave it to any of you to enjoy for yourselves.

In case I haven’t made it clear I was so happy to be reading about characters you usually don’t come across in books except as sidekicks? I’d happily recommend this one to anyone even if they are as far from these types as I can imagine. If people like to read they’ll read good books none of that matters.

I think my favourite scene is the ‘are you rooting for me’ one. Perfect rom com movieness.

I loved reading this now, but I think I would have loved to read this or something similar as a teenager starting out in adult life, it might have helped a little with the message I’m still learning in my mid-30s. It’s ok to be yourself. You don’t have to fit into the norm. That doesn’t mean that who you are stays in one place and you really do have to move outside your comfort zone regularly if you want to grow, but don’t aim to just be society’s norm.

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Postscript

So since writing the above we were talking about our forthcoming move back to Dublin and all the things we would have to take and some things we might leave. I mentioned my old laptop and that I’d like to get somebody to look at it and see if they could salvage all the old photos on it.

Guilty looks.

‘Ummm, I think I dumped that last year.’

WHAT!!!!!!???

Words were exchanged, to say the least. All our South America photos! Just gone!

Thank God for picasa and facebook; at least I have some decent middling quality versions. I know you’re supposed to backup but….ok, I didn’t. So yeah, I’m an internet addict with old fashioned technophobia. I’ll have to be more careful in the future. And maybe it’s about time I started printing photos regularly. And maybe it’s about time I invest in a physical wedding album.

A Clash of Kings

 

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By George RR Martin

It may be no surprise to learn that fantasy is not a favourite genre of mine. I don’t have any particular problem with it, I could just never get into it, to the extent as so many other people. I read The Lord of the Rings one month before the films came out, back in 2001 when I was living in Vienna. I knew I was going to watch the films so I had to read the books. I’d tried and failed before. One helpful tip: skip the songs!

Living away from Anglo/American/Irish TV you lose track of what the hyped series are. Occasionally you see mentions on Facebook and you read articles about different series or see what is winning awards but you do lose touch. We did try to watch Spanish TV for a while but the connection stopped working and we weren’t really that bothered to look into it. Plus the colour on the TV started going and everything looked green. I was sad to hear about the demise of Television Without Pity, which was great for reading up on series and figuring out if they’re worth the effort. I guess one way or another I’ve been using it for almost 14 years.

You end up depending on word of mouth. One friend in Gibraltar really gushed about Game of Thrones. But she also couldn’t get into ‘Arrested Development’ (the original, not the latest season) so we weren’t sure if we could trust her recommendation.

One day on imdb I noticed that the screenwriter was David Benioff and that intrigued me. One of my favourite books of recent years was ‘City of Thieves’ and I’m really amazed they haven’t made that into a movie yet. It doesn’t sound particularly promising: two boys are tasked with finding a dozen eggs during the siege of Leningrad, but just read it – it leaps off the page. Every now and then I google it ‘city of thieves movie’ but nothing much seems to be happening.

Anyway I thought ‘well, this could be worth checking out. My husband likes his fantasy series well enough but he didn’t seem to have any on the go at that moment so I ordered the first DVD and book on Amazon.
When ‘Friends’ video boxsets were first sold, I remember thinking ‘who would pay for something they could watch on TV for free?’ and considering the never-ending Friends reruns I thinks this is still valid. However the growing pile of boxsets in the corner of our sitting room shows how wrong I was. When I returned to Vienna in the Spring of 2002 I was super-addicted to 24 and a few other shows and I actually left a taping schedule with my little sister. Oh the shame. I think I even sent her a text message reminder the first week or two. When I returned I asked around to see if anybody had tapes, then finally caved and bought  the boxset. On video. Neither my parents nor my brother, who I was living with at the time, owned a DVD player. As you can see, we’re not really early adopters. This might be one of the reasons I’m so attached to my real books.

It was the year in Belarus sans TV that tamed my TV addiction. I still enjoy it immensely as those piles of boxsets prove, but at least I’m not slave to the schedules. My husband enjoyed the Song of Ice and Fire books and continued to buy them. There was some disappointment when he thought there was still one more to go, but while book 5 was often split in 2 he had actually read the full thing in one volume. We watched all three series. I read Book 1 over the holidays and found it enjoyable but felt like I was watching the TV series over again. I would have continued with Book 2 but it had disappeared.  Over Christmas I found it at his parents’ house, where it seems it had been since May, judging by the Boarding pass being used as a bookmark. It doesn’t matter how many official bookmarks you buy, you always end up using random objects for bookmarks, reminding you of when it was you (or somebody else) last picked up the book. I love discovering these in older books. The best treasure trove was my mother’s Complete Works of Shakespeare from her time at UCD. A ticket for some party. (30!. 8 til late!) A note from a friend who had passed by her desk in the library. A funny postcard. You don’t get those in a kindle.

I used to be very careful with my books, no earmarks or creases. And yet a book needs to live. The fact that it is no longer as it was in the shop is a good sign. I love that too, in second hand books, where you see the name and the date and try to imagine the lives it has touched. I should really start signing mine.

So Game of Thrones is back on TV and all the publicity is in full swing. There is a certain amount of pride because a large part is filmed in Ireland and there are also plenty of Irish actors. I have to admire the author for the universe he has created, but would it be really bad to compare the writing with something like chicklit? It passes time, but doesn’t really touch you. I mean I suppose there is some fun in the idea that literally anybody could die, but after a while you stop feeling affinity for the characters as you think, why should I care for this one, most likely they’ll be dead next chapter. But how and ever, I’m really looking forward to watching this series. And I guess at some stage I’ll keep reading the books too, though I’ll take a break before starting the next one.

 

The Dogs and the Wolves

by Irene Nemirovsky

Bear with me…I’ll talk about the book eventually. I’ve not been very good with this lately. I have been reading, just not jotting down my thoughts and then even when I have I’ve been too lazy to type them up. I’m not really too surprised. Too easily distracted. Too worried about a number of things. Too easy to just switch off and watch TV. And also the need to follow the news in Ukraine. It is so heartbreaking and really just reminds me how lucky I am and how much I take for granted.

Is it bad to admit that you are touched more by happenings in places you can relate to? I think it’s just human, though maybe that’s just my excuse. I know if I read anything about Ethiopia it will touch me in a way that it wouldn’t have before our honeymoon. (By the way, that plane hijacked by the copilot, that was the route we flew back. So it did freak me out a little more than aviation stories usually do.) Having been to Venezuela I am affected by the current stories. I remember way back when, seeing the film ‘The Revolution will not be Televised’ and I was impressed by Chavez. After being there, well, I don’t think he was a monster, but at the end of the day, democracy and freedom of speech are so important. There are good and bad people in politics and then there are people who think they know best and however well-intentioned they may be they can be the most dangerous.

And then there is Ukraine. I do have a long interest in Ukraine. My dad worked there for some time in the 90s and of course, as I mentioned before, I went to Crimea and Kyiv back in 2004. I met one of my Dad’s coworkers and she showed me and my friend around. We had been thinking of just staying the day and taking a night train north but she insisted that we stay the night. She showed off her city. It’s a beautiful city and I’m sure we’d have been impressed in any case but when you have such an enthusiastic tour guide it’s hard not to fall in love with the place. My friend and I then met up with a guy we’d met on the train (another Before Sunrise-esque story) and he suggested we should meet the following summer in Russia and do a tour of the Golden Ring cities. All three of us. Russian guy, Belarusian girl….and Irish girl. Well it wasn’t quite like that, but funnily enough it did inspire me to go to Russia the following summer. I made it as far as Kazan but did not meet the native of Togliatti. At random occasions I do get a text message though and it brings a smile to my face.

Apart from Tania and her family I can’t say that I know too many Ukrainians. (Oh, a coworker in Dublin too…). I do remember being impressed by a pleasantly drunk guy when I was in Crimea, being impressed by his pride as a Ukrainian. I mean I’m not talking about nationalistic fervour, just pride. (Of course that guy wasn’t actually from Crimea, just on holidays there.) I guess if I’m being honest it’s not something I felt very often from my Belarusian friends, it often felt apologetic somehow and I suppose that might be part of the reason why I have such a strong interest in the goings on in Ukraine, it just seems too farfetched to expect something similar in Belarus. And as an Irish person I always feel something for the ‘small country with big neighbour’ I suppose.

It’s become quite popular lately to be self-deprecating when it comes to Ireland, to shoot down what we have done, anything our politicians say or do, even to say, ‘well we’d have been much better off if we’d stayed in the United Kingdom’. I just have to disagree. Yes, a lot of mistakes have been made, but that does not mean we have to throw in the towel. Also, since nonresidents don’t have the vote my interest in getting to know who is who in Irish politics has waned, but in any case I would not like to be a politician nowadays. There seems to be so much hate and so many ways to hear about it. Not that I’d ever have been good at being a politician. Too sensitive. God, things were so much easier when I was twelve and knew everything.

It’s so strange to see a beautiful city I’ve walked through being the centre of pretty much a war. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before and that’s probably why it affects me so much. My dad told me a story of how when he was in Beirut he nearly visited Syria for a weekend but at the last minute he was advised not to. I haven’t yet been to Beirut but I feel a small connection now when something happens there just because my dad  spent so much time there and his enthusiasm about the place remains, even if it is mostly shown through family gatherings at The Cedar Tree in Dublin. And when I was in Minsk Byblos was one of my more regular treats, so of course I brought them there.

When I was working in Vienna for the first time I didn’t really know anybody. I walked into Café Griensteidl and an American held the door open for me so we ended up sitting together. It was a few months after September 11th and he told me that he had been to Afghanistan the previous year for a WHO inspection. At the time all the talk was of ‘the war on terror’. ‘But,’ he protested, ‘there’s nothing there! There’s really nothing there!’

I feel bad when I see what’s happening in Syria, but, and I feel ashamed for saying this, I have no connection. I don’t think I’ve met anybody from there, anybody who’s been there or connected to what’s happening there. I don’t think I am alone in this. I mean I don’t think there should be some fight over what atrocity gets the most airtime, but if you were to look at numbers and statistics I should feel more.

I wonder is this one of the greatest arguments for art, whether literature, film, theatre, painting or anything else. When I met the WHO officer I felt a tiny connection with events in Afghanistan. When I read Khaled Hosseini’s novels they really tore me up inside in a way that straight up journalism rarely can. Though there’s always a time lag…

Irene Nemirovsky knew this. I don’t think there can be too many people out there who don’t know her story. Ukrainian Jew flees the Russian revolution for France, becomes successful author, begins writing epic but is transported to Auschwitz, where she dies. The first two volumes of her epic were found in a suitcase decades later and  published to great acclaim. Suite Francaise is a masterpiece and I hope the forthcoming film does it justice. ‘The Dogs and the Wolves’ was her last published novel in 1940, as after that there was a ban on publication of Jewish books.

Some articles call Nemirovsky a self-hating Jew. It is true that she converted to Catholicism shortly before the war, but I don’t think that means she hated Jews. Or if she wrote about them in a certain way I don’t think that is any different than an Irish person writing negative things about Ireland or its people, something we are very good at doing. I haven’t read David Golder and I understand that the central character is not particularly sympathetic, so maybe I am missing something but from reading this book I wouldn’t make that assumption. Perhaps this novel was trying to correct that somewhat. It’s a pity that it’s not up there with her finest work. Ada frustrated me. She could have been a strong female protagonist but it was as if she decided aged 10 that she liked one guy and the rest of her life was all about trying to get him. I found her relationship with Ben much more interesting. Ok, let’s leave aside the fact that  they are first cousins; some of literature’s great couples have been first cousins and while it just seems icky if I read it in a modern day book, this one is set long enough ago for it to be given a pass.

To summarise; Ada and Ben grow up together in an unnamed Ukrainian city, though it’s most likely Kiev. Harry is a distant cousin living in the rich part of the city. Ben and Ada meet him the day they call at his house for help after trying to escape a pogrom in their ghetto. Ada for some reason falls in love with Harry, though  maybe she fell in love with him first when she was 7 and her cousin Lilla showed her where their rich relatives lived.. Both families, for different reasons, move to Paris. Ben and Ada marry, though for practical reasons on Ada’s part, not for love. She meets Harry again and trouble ensures.

Ben is not entirely favourably written, but comes across as a much stronger character than Harry. Ben has come from nothing and is scraping and planning his way up in the world and doesn’t care what he needs to do. Harry has been handed everything on a plate.

Money is important. Well, money is always important, but the clichéd Jew is always thinking about money. As Nemirovsky writes: ‘Everyone thought money a good thing, but to a Jew it was a necessity, like air or water. How could they live without money?’ In a world where Jews are always outsiders, money is the only way in. Harry’s family have it and are determined to hold onto it. Ada’s father and later Ben see it as the only way to get in and devote themselves to making more.

Ada’s well-travelled grandfather did not seem to know this need and yet is well aware of it. In his spare time he writes a book ‘The character and defence of Shylock’.

 

I’ve been rereading to remind myself, as I’ve read some others in the meantime. Everything Ben related is passionate; you want to shake Ada out of her stupor. What has she seen in Harry at all? For Harry, the most I felt was the scene when he returns to his mother after his French girlfriends’ parents have rejected him. It reminded me of a scene from ‘North and South’, a book I love.

This book is so well written, some of the characters are so well drawn and yet is just does not come together as well as her other novels. But maybe that’s something that’s real and true. In real life people often see something they don’t have and decide that it is the thing they most want even when the thing they need is right in front of them.

I’ll try to type this up before it becomes too dated. Events have moved on in Ukraine . The focus is now on Crimea. Crimea was gifted to Ukraine in 1954 but has a majority Russian population, so to some it would be simplest to hand it back. And yet there is a sad history there of the native Tatars who were deported en masse to far away corners of the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Many of them have returned since the breakup of the Soviet Union and don’t want to go ‘back’. Let’s see how it all turns out, but hopefully it will end peacefully.

There’s an Egg in my Soup

By Tom Galvin

Queues for groceries, unfathomable bus timetables, inexplicable traditions and truly bizarre soup – this is Poland in the mid-1990s, where Tom Galvin innocently went as a trainee teacher. Without a word of Polish, he is plunged into a strange and rapidly changing culture, as the country shakes off its troubled and complex past and faces the challenges of being a part of modern Europe. He spent five years dealing with long and freezing winters, lack of good food, loneliness and hardship, as he discovered the misery as well as the joy of Polish life, even meeting and marrying his wife!

O’Brien synopsis

I do have three other books that I’ve read between ‘the Quiet Man’ and this one but I thought I’d probably get this one written up more quickly. This was a very quick and easy read. It’s never going to be listed as a ‘great’ of travel literature, or whatever that genre is where a person moves to a new place and tries to figure it all out. It feels a little bit as if nobody read it between first draft and publishing (so a bit like this blog then…) It’s often written as if being spoken, which I know I do here too, but it feels wrong somehow and kind of irritated me (and I suppose I have that effect too, so maybe should just stop criticizing).

Leaving all that aside, I was the perfect audience for this book;  reading it brought back fond memories of my time in Belarus Yes, this is another example of a book set in Eastern Europe. I bought this a few years ago as a present for my mam or dad, I can’t even remember which anymore and I’m sure neither of them read it. I do have a bad habit of that, buying books as presents for others when I want to read them myself. I used this loophole over Christmas. I’m sure some of the beneficiaries will end up reading this eventually. I apologise, but really – you knew it already!

Here I was going to list out the presents bought and received, but this post is one of the longer ones so I’ll include in the post for one of those other three books.

When I first saw this book however many years ago I knew before reading the undertitle that it was set in Poland. I’d gatecrashed part of my friend’s interrailing adventure back in 2006 and visited Krakow and Zakopane. On our arrival in Zakopane, we wandered up to the town, passed a man walking down the street with a lamb wrapped around his neck and ate zurek, the soup with the egg in it. I loved it and wanted to make it myself, but when I read the recipes and discovered that you had to leave something fermenting for a few days I dismissed the idea.

As it happens, the town where Tom Galvin taught English was called Minsk. I also taught English in Minsk, but it was Minsk, capital of Belarus, not Mińsk Mazowiecki, in Eastern Poland.

I could easily turn this post into a memoir of my time in Minsk (only one year to Tom’s five) but I’m going to try and keep it snappy and point out some of the times when I went ‘I totally get that!’ though bear in mind I went to Minsk 9 years later than when Tom first arrived in Poland. 2003, a whole 10 years ago!

He does his best to convince me that I have made a big mistake.’ I had a friend in Belarus from age 14. She came over to Ireland as a Chernobyl child. We became penpals. We wrote letters, sometimes more frequently than others. We went to university. We continued writing letters. She was over in Ireland as a translator that summer and I told her I planned to leave my job to teach English. ‘But…you have a good job!’ A few months later I had to dig around to find a phone number and tell her I was coming o Minsk. ‘Are you sure? I don’t know if you will like it here’. My mind was made up though and we finally made the switch to email in the weeks before I arrived.

The Grocery store. The ‘produkti’ stores with the counters. I hated those shops where you had to go and queue at each counter, ask for each thing separately, go to the cashier and pay, then return to and pick up your goods. These are a nightmare for those who don’t have a great command of the language. When I was in Minsk there were two ‘supermarkets’ where I knew I was safe, could pick up most things myself and keep the pointing and miming to a minimum. The last time I was there was in 2011. I could not believe the size of the European supermarket I visited.

Teaching articles to students who have no concept of the idea. ‘Cat walks down street’ indeed! Also, while learning Russian I thought, this is great. I don’t have to suffer through the equivalent of the German ‘der, die, das, des, dem etc.’ but believe me, Russian makes up for this in many ways. Word endings. I’ll say no more.

The corridor that only a few weeks ago had reminded me of “The Shining”’. This must me a common comparison across Eastern Europe, but I also had that shivery feeling in Poland. That time in Zakopane – it was after dark when we arrived. It was a last minute change of plans so nothing was booked. In that pre smart phone era I’d simply texted my sister and asked her to send me some names. We ended up paying €4 each to stay in some army barrack style hostel that we compared to The Shining. I’m sure the hostels in Zakopane now probably all have bright colours and young Australian workers.

‘For some reason you were only ever given a fork’. I’d totally forgotten that. I rarely cooked in Minsk, stocked up with cheese, kolbasa and bread at home and ate at the school canteens for a euro or so. Knives were not very commonplace.

Feeling like a fraud. I studied Business and German at university. My TEFL training took place over 4 weekends at a school in Dublin. I’m not sure if it even exists any more. Apparently somebody else going for the job had 5 years’ experience. I got it because of my certificate. Oh, and apparently also because I sent a photo with my CV and I was all happy and smiley. On such snap decisions our lives are changed.

Weight loss: Well I don’t think I ate less, but I lost two stone over the course of the year. One colleague claimed it was because the food was not as processed as at home. She had been to Cork for a month and had put on a stone. No diet has ever worked so well for me as a trip to Belarus.

In 2003 only 66 of the country’s 3,300 red meat plants were passed and given permits to export their produce within the rest of Europe.’ Ummm, horsemeat anybody? Also I don’t think steak tatar is common in Belarus, at least I didn’t come across it. When we told our neighbour that we were planning on going to Ethiopia for our honeymoon he almost gleefully commented ‘better watch out for the tapeworm in the raw meat!’ Ugh, I’m not a vegetarian and I don’t like turning down food just because it’s not something I’d normally eat, but I was glad when nobody offered us their raw meat speciality.

My hair freezes on the way to school.’ Yup, if you don’t blowdry your hair make sure you have a good hat!

‘Each date necessitates a flower for the girl.’ I have never been given as many flowers as I got when I was in Belarus. Flowers for every occasion and none. I loved it! I try to drop hints to my husband, but I guess flower buying is not the norm for Irish guys unless it’s Valentine’s Day or they’ve done something wrong.

‘Nobody travels to Bielorussia. There is nothing to see there.’ I won’t even dignify this with a comment.

The hospitality of strangers. I did find the Belarusians to be among the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. It is something they are proud of and I hope something that they don’t lose. I always find it strange how many people find Eastern Europeans cold and unfriendly. Maybe when you first meet them…and of course not everybody is the same, but us Irish can sometimes be friendly and hospitable on the surface but we don’t go out of our way. Oh that sounds really bad too, but basically I always get the impression that an invitation is never given halfheartedly, the way it sometimes is in our case.

Videos in English….ah the Saturday (or was it Sunday….my memory is failing me) markets in Minsk with the pirate videos including a small selection in English. Amazingly I bought ‘Intermission’ there.

Ryszard Kapuscinski – I really like what I’ve read of his and need to dig out ‘The Emperor’. I have to say though, while I always like to read books written by authors of countries I’ve visited I don’t think I’ve actually read any Belarusian books. People! Give me some ideas!

The British Council Library. There wasn’t a British Council in Minsk, but there had been and their library was still there. It saw a lot of me; it was a great refuge, really a lifesaver.

‘Premature band of gold’. On my first day in class the students asked me how old I was. When they found out that I was 23 the very next question was ‘are you married?’ So many people did get married (at least for the first time) at a very young age. My 21 year old friend told me that people thought she was odd because she wasn’t married. She eventually married an Irishman at the grand old age of 26. It does seem to be changing though.

I could go on, there are so many things that I remembered while reading this book and it was like a trip down memory lane. In case it isn’t clear, I loved my year in Belarus. It changed my life.

 

The Quiet Man

by Maurice Walsh

In the 1930s, Irish novelist Maurice Walsh placed the moors and mountains of Ireland firmly on the literary map with this celebrated collection of stories. Since then, readers have continued to be charmed by these accounts of the simple and common activities of the characters in 1920s rural Ireland. The lives of Hugh Forbes, Paddy Bawn Enright, Archibald MacDonald, Joan Hyland, and Nuala Kierley intermingle as the themes of nationalism, human dignity, honor, and love are given full play. Made famous by John Ford’s Oscar-winning film The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, these remain humorous and poignant tales set against a backdrop of intrigue and Irish civil unrest.

Appletree Press description.

It’s now time to dip into the true ‘unread bookshelf’. It’s funny how writing a blog affects your reading habits. I was looking at the options presented to me and thought ‘No, no, no, you can’t choose yet another book set in central or Eastern Europe. Das Volk will not appreciate it’. So I looked and looked and settled upon ‘The Quiet Man’.

Yes, you’ve all heard of the film and I imagine in this day and age that could put off more people than it would encourage. The book I am reading was published in 1964 and has the tagline ‘The Book of the Film’. Nowadays these are usually hastily written movie tie-ins. I once fell for that when I bought the book of ‘A Walk in the Clouds’. Yes, it is a cheesy Keanu Reeves film, but I liked it. When I googled it I came across the book and ordered it. Lo and behold it was a ‘book of the film’ written after the fact and mirroring every scene exactly. This book, however, was originally published in 1935, long before the film.

I thought I could wax lyrical about how this was on my grandparents’ shelf in Mount Prospect Avenue. There were some books I read when visiting my grandparents as a young girl. I remember sneakily reading a few chapters of ‘Light a Penny Candle’ by Maeve Binchy, even though my mother felt it was too grown up for me. After my grandfather went to hospital and I stayed every now and again with my grandmother I used to always choose something. Inevitably it would be some potboiler from years before. I like reading these old popular books. You don’t find them in bookshops, because they are not classics, but they sold at the time and were popular for a reason.

After my grandparents died I took some of their books (and some I had ‘borrowed’ through the years became mine by default.) One of the books was a ‘teach yourself Russian’ type book from the 60s. I hadn’t known that my grandfather had been in interested in learning Russian. My own interest stemmed partly from work trips my father made to Russia just before the end of the Soviet Union and later trips to Ukraine and Lithuania. The Russian dictionary I’d bought him once as a present got put to firm use when I went to Belarus. It was only when I returned for Christmas that my grandfather said a phrase to me in Russian….what was it…something simple, perhaps ‘kak dela?’ and I learned that these were the remnants of his self taught Russian in the 60s. It was the height of the cold war. In hindsight we look back and know the aftermath, but at the time my grandfather thought it might at some stage be a useful language. It was one of those silly but heart-warming facts. My grandfather, my father and myself, we had all attempted to learn Russian in our own way and for different reasons.

And there I go, taking over this post with Russia even though the subject is a most un- ‘Eastern European’ of books. Anyway, it’s all a lie. This didn’t come from my grandparents’ bookshelf. I had all of these warm fuzzy feelings to share and then I opened the cover and saw ‘€4’ written in pencil. So I must have picked it up second hand somewhere. Most likely the Temple Bar market. €4seems quite expensive for a book like this second hand, a book that cost a fraction of the price originally and probably came from somebody’s grandparents’ shelf. But on the other hand, I like the Temple Bar second hand market and the random books you find there so maybe buying this is my contribution to keeping it going.

The amount I have not written about this book, you would think I was trying to avoid writing about it. On the contrary, I had written most of the above while I was still in the early stages of reading.

‘The Quiet Man’ was originally published as ‘Green Rushes’, an interwoven selection of short stories told in chronological order. The Prologue sets the stage and summarises some of the events in advance, without telling too much. I approached this book with trepidation and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed each of the stories and rooted for the characters. The book is very much of its time. I don’t think it would be possible for anybody these days to write in the same style or language used by this author. If they did it would really irritate me and I would feel that it was being schlepped on. Perhaps in that era this was also the case, but that is not how I read it. It really makes me sad that Hiberno-English is disappearing. Yes, in Ireland we speak with (to some) impenetrable accents and we have plenty of sayings that are unique to this country, but many of them are dying out. We all watch US and UK TV and increases globalisation means that patterns of speech are becoming homogenous. Some turns of phrase used in this book could not be used by me except as pastiche. But some simple phrases…. for example I insist on sticking to ‘amn’t I?’ instead of ‘aren’t I?’ Word tells me it’s wrong. Or another I noticed in this book: saying ‘He used do …’ instead of ‘he used TO do …’.

The basis of the film ‘The Quiet Man’ is the third of the five stories; though as I have mentioned, the stories are all linked and the quiet man himself, Paddy, pops up in them all.

I finished this book on the plane on the flight home, my first trio home in over 6 months. I know that is not much to a lot of people, but it is to me. I didn’t start writing this up on the plane as the turbulence was a bit much and it was easier to move on to the next book. Originally I wasn’t going to bring a spare book with me, as there would be plenty of unread books on my parents’ shelves, many of them technically mine. However then I thought: ‘I’m going to finish this book, I need a spare’. And as I was going to be flying I thought ‘ok, I’ll bring something light’, but then I thought ‘I might not like that one, I’ll take another slim volume just in case.’ Tomorrow I’ll go into Dublin for some final Christmas shopping. I don’t think I’ll take either of these books with me to be honest, I’m sure I’ll find something else here tonight when I look. I’m listening to Bach’s Christmas oratorio while my father has fallen asleep on the sofa. We had some of the Tio Pepe sherry we purchased in Jerez and then some Rioja, a last minute purchase at Malaga airport.

Ok, it is now Christmas Day and since writing the above I’ve finished two other books, so I’m falling behind. I’m going to try and rush and finish writing about this one and move one.

The emigration to America is very evident in this collection. Three of the main characters are Irish American. This Christmas the media is full of stories about returning emigrants from Australia, Canada and closer to home. The stories from the US are more about illegal immigrants who cannot return. I don’t think too many go any more to the US; it is not the utopia of earlier years, the ‘America’ of Hotel Savoy.

It was funny, on reading this, how I felt the familiarity set in once I got to the fifth section, which is set in Dublin. For most of the book there was a sense of distance, which I put down to time, but then when I started reading the Dublin section I realised that it was more of the old country/Dublin divide. Dublin and the areas immediately surrounding it, the Pale, has always been accused of being less than Irish, even being West British. Of course I always hated this accusation growing up, but there can be no doubt that growing up in Dublin is different than growing up elsewhere in Ireland. However, I think you can argue that this is the case in most countries. The capital city is always a bit different and to visit the country properly you have to see more than just that. Of course, I’m not actually from the city of Dublin, but even so!

I have to wrap this one up; it’s the 30th, Christmas holidays are over and I have three more books to write about. I feel I am failing with this blogging business after less than a month of trying. I find I have so many thoughts racing around my head, but I am not quick enough to write them down on paper or I don’t have the time to organise them properly. I’m going to try not to give up though. To summarise on this one – a pleasant surprise, if you come across it you should read it!