LIVES IN BETWEEN

The somewhat different intercultural communication blog

Category: Book review

„The Little Virtues“ – Why you should read Natalia Ginzburg

the-little-virtuesI recently discovered Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg. Don’t get me wrong, I knew she existed, I even had some of her books on my Amazon wish list for months (or years?!). Then I came across this article on The New Yorker, which finally made me buy “The Little Virtues”. And I am so glad I did. Instant coup de coeur as the French would say. Her way of writing – plain yet so full of meaning and poetry – went straight to my heart.

The Little Virtues is a collection of short essays published in various magazines and newspapers between 1944 and 1962. Historically, this period covers Fascist Italy and World War II. Experiences of war and oppression, of having to flee in the middle of the night leave a mark in her writing. The topics are as relevant as ever.

In Son of Man she tells the story of war. Of what war does to people. “Those of us who have been fugitives will never be at peace. Once the experience of evil has been endured it is never forgotten”.

In Portrait of a Friend she describes her feelings when she visits her home town she no longer lives in (if you’ve been reading my other posts, you’ll see the red thread here).

“…when we go back, simply passing through the station and walking in the misty avenues is enough to make us feel we have come home; and the sadness with which the city fills us every time we return lies in this feeling that we are at home and, at the same time, that we have no reason to stay here; because here, in our own home, our own city, the city in which we spent our youth, so few things remain alive for us and we are oppressed by a throng of memories and shadows.”

To those of you who live in London, England: Eulogy and Lament is for you: A dry yet funny depiction of London as what Ginzburg perceives a colorless, melancholic city where “they all dress in the same way. The women you see in the streets all have the same beige or transparent plastic raincoats which look like shower-curtains or tablecloths in restaurants.”

Ginzburg also gives parenting advice in The Little Virtues, powerful reflections which I will certainly keep in mind for the day I have children.

And finally, my personal favorite, the story of a lifetime in fast-forward, Human Relationships. A beautifully written journey of a human lifetime, from childhood over adolescence to adulthood, examined through the relationships forged and lost along the way.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts about the writer, the book, the topic, or anything that comes to mind!

Americanah – Another book review

americanahI just finished reading this fabulous novel and couldn’t wait to recommend it to you here on my blog. It’s one of those page turners (the last time I experienced such a captivation – this is a confession – was with E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey), all the while maintaining a steady level of quality writing and clever observations about sensitive issues, such as race, discrimination and alienation.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, two young people in love, growing up in Nigeria during the military dictatorship. Both of them dream of leaving the country to study abroad in an idealized United States of America, and build a better future for themselves.

Narrated at times by Ifemelu and at times by Obinze, the book takes you on an insightful journey of people experiencing life as strangers in new environments, and then again as strangers when they return back home to Nigeria. Seen through the main characters’ eyes, the story is dotted with sharp observations about the peculiarities of societies and sub-cultures.

In the US, Ifemelu is confronted for the first time with the issue of race. In the UK, Obinze’s fate illustrates the motivations and dangers of illegal migration, and sheds light on a topic that couldn’t be more relevant in view of the current debate about the global “migration crisis”. At a dinner party in London he observes that guests “understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness.”

They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.

Having reflected and written a lot about culture shockreverse culture shock, and what it means to feel at home, here comes a book that makes you see and feel for yourself. As I so often say, sometimes a story is all it takes…

City of Thorns – A book review

City of Thorns coverThis week I’d like to share a fabulous book with you, which I have just finished reading over the past few weeks: Ben Rawlence’s City of Thorns (published by Portobello Books Ltd 2016).

A glimpse into the lives of 9 individuals who fled violence in Somalia and sought refuge in Dadaab, Kenya, the world’s largest refugee camp. Rawlence follows them over a period of several years and tells their stories: their daily struggles coping with poverty, hunger, disempowerment, insecurity; but also their joys, hopes and dreams. While for some residents of Dadaab the biggest hope is resettlement to a country like the United States, Canada or Australia, others simply want to be able to return back home some day, to a peaceful and stable Somalia.

“Everything spoke of transience. The inhabitants lived in their heads, in the future, elsewhere.”

In Dadaab, all of Rawlence’s protagonists have one thing in common: their lives are put on hold. “Life was only a process of waiting. […] Nothing had any permanence, there was no building anything, since both the people you loved or the people you hurt could soon be gone.”

This book is a must-read for everyone who ever wondered what life is like in a refugee camp. You’ll dive into a different reality, which exists at the fringes of our Western society. The topic of forced displacement and migration couldn’t be more relevant.

If you are still looking for an educational, captivating summer read, I can heartily recommend you this book…. And if you live in or around Geneva, give me a shout, and I am happy to lend it to you.

 

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