Monday, 29 September 2014

The Zhivago affair, Petra Couvée and Peter Finn

It won’t have happened often that secret services were involved in the publication of a book, but that was the case when Doctor Zhivago by  Boris Pasternak was published.

Pasternak was one of the most famous authors in Russia. Stalin called writers the engineers of the soul and thought they had the special task of conveying communism and the love for the Revolution in their works. Writers who did not follow that line, were persecuted, especially during Stalin’s Great Terror.
Pasternak was not following the party line, but mostly he was left in peace.

In 1956 an Italian correspondent of Radio Moscow visited Pasternak. He had heard the rumors Pasternak had written a novel and he wanted to ask if an Italian publisher could publish it.  Giangiacomo Feltrinelli from Milano came from a rich family, but during WWII he became a communist. When he began his publishing house, he wanted to publish new and intellectual challenging books.

Pasternak did write a new novel, about a young doctor who fell in love with another woman during the Russian Revolution, but is was ignored by Russian publishers. The book never mentioned how wonderful the Revolution had been and communism was hardly mentioned. Doctor Zhivago was mostly about an individual, but Pasternak wrote it in a time and a state where individuals were not very important.

Boris Pasternak gave his manuscript to the Italian and agreed to have his work published by Feltrinelli. There would also be English translation.

In the meantime, the CIA also heard about the book and they were interested. They often used books to try to influence the public opinion in Russia and they thought Doctor Zhivago was very suited to their goal.
Very quickly an English translation was made, just in time for the World Exhibition in Brussels. From the pavilion of the Vatican the work was distributed amongst the Russian visitors, who took it back home to Russia. 

The Russian authorities were not pleased and the accused Pasternak of betraying his country, he was even threatened with deportation. His fellow-writers hastened to distance themselves from Pasternak and he was thrown out of the Writers league.
This campaign intensified when Pasternak received the Nobel prize for literature in 1957 and he finally had to refuse it, although it had made him very happy to have won.

His health deteriorated and in 1960 he died. No official statement was given by the authorities and his death was ignored. Notification of his funeral was passed around with notes at the trainstation and on lampposts etc. Thousands of people finally turned up to pay their respects to one of Russia’s greatest writers.
Only in the eighties it was safe to read Doctor Zhivago in Russia.

The Zhivago affair was written by the Dutch Petra Couvée, who teaches Dutch at the university of St. Petersburg, and Peter Finn, an American journalist. Both published articles about Doctor Zhivago before and decided to work together and combine their research for this book.
The Zhivago affair is a very interesting and readable book, full of details, about a fascinating piece of history. And it also gives a very good portrait of Boris Pasternak. 

Published in 2014

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Quote: Mason Cooley

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.
Mason Cooley (1927-2002)

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Limoncello and linen water, Tessa Kiros

A few weeks ago I wrote about an Italian cookbook that was quite basic (Bill’s Italian life). The focus in that book was on the recipes, with some good photographs of the dishes, and a few photographs and anecdotes about atmosphere.

The book I write about today, Limoncello and linen water by Tessa Kiros, is the complete opposite of that book, it is packed full of atmosphere with photographs of old linen cupboards, antique silverware and pots and bottles with pickled vegetables.

Limoncello and linen water is an ode to the Italian women who passed their knowledge of cooking and housekeeping on to their daughters, so each generation could enjoy homemade bread and delicious pasta’s.

Homemade oil and vinegar, pickled vegetables, bread, delicious snacks, pasta, vegetables, great deserts and many more recipes can be found in this book. The recipes are in general easy to make, thanks to the clear instructions. Each recipe begins with tips to make the dish even tastier or the preparation easier. I really like the fact each recipe has a photograph of the complete dish, so you know what you are aiming for!

I do think Limoncello and linen water is more a book for women, the photographs, the whole look and feel of the book (pink velvet ribbon) shouts feminine. But the most important thing are still the recipes, and they are great as well.

In short, a book to enjoy, even if you do not cook even one dish from it J

Published in 2012

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Guerilla gardening in Weesp

'Guerilla gardening' is the term that I saw used by Alex Mitchell in her book The rurbanite. It means that people in cities try to make their environment as green as possible, building little green spots and 'gardens' everywhere they can. I once did a post about guerilla gardening in Amsterdam Here, but when I was in Weesp I noticed the Weespenaren (the inhabitants of Weesp) also know their way around some guerilla gardening, with amazing results!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Quote: Sophia Loren

Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.
Sophia Loren (Italian actress 1934-)

Friday, 19 September 2014

Una giornata particolare (1977)

It  is the day Mussolini and Hitler had their first official meeting in Rome. Antonia, played by Sophia Loren, sees her husband and six children off to go into town to enjoy the celebrations. When they are gone she has to do her normal chores. Only when the parrot escapes and flies to the neighbor, she comes into contact with the neighbor.

During the day Antonia and Gabriele meet a couple of times and talk to each other and get to know each other. Antonia is a good fascist housewife, although she is disappointed in her husband who cheats on her. Gabriele is a homosexual who fears for his life, since the fascists are not tolerant of homosexuals.

Una giornata particolare (a special day) is one of the most beautiful films Sophia Loren ever made. Marcello Mastroianni is also very good as Gabriele.

It is a films set only in the flat, and it does not have grand scenes or special effects. You know what happens in the city because you can hear the speeches made by Hitler and Mussolini on the radio in the background, but that is all. The film is just about two people with their fears and feelings who get to know each other, with some understanding an genuine liking as a result.

The end is sad as you can see Gabriele is taken away and we know it will probably end badly for him. For Antonia live will goes on as before, with her cheating husband and perphaps even more children. But at least she had this one special day.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Sophia Loren

Coming Saturday September 20th, it is eighty years ago Sophia Loren, one of the most iconic Italian movie stars and divas, was born.

Little Sophia did not have an easy start in life. She was born as Sofia Villani Scicolone in a hospital in Rome, but the first days of her life she was known as ‘baby nr. 19’. Her parents were not married and the rules said the baby would have to be placed in an orphanage. A few days after the birth, her father came to the hospital and acknowledged her. Baby 19 was named Sofia, after her father’s mother.

Poverty and illness force her mother to go back to her hometown of Pozzuoli, near Naples, where her family and a wet-nurse could look after the child.

During her childhood other children bully Sofia because her mother is not married. She is also considered an ugly child, with a big nose and a weird mouth. But when she hits puberty, this changes, her body becomes curvaceous and her face grows into her nose and mouth, Sofia is a beauty now.

This is also just after WWII when American films could be seen all over Europe. Sofia loved these movies and her mother sees an opportunity. First she enters Sofia into a beauty contest (which she wins) and then she takes Sofia to Rome to get a part in a movie.

Sophia and Carlo
She gets some small roles, mostly as an extra, but at a certain point she is noticed bt Carlo Ponti, the driving force behind Gina Lollobrigida and he sees potential in Sofia. He changes her name to Sophia Loren, because it sounds more English and is easier to pronounce. He also lets her take lessons in English and makes sure she gets some good parts. Sophia becomes a star in Italy during the fifties.
She is also ready to take the step to Hollywood, where she plays in a movie with Cary Grant (who even asked her to marry him) and Frank Sinatra. This movie is a huge success. Slowly she also gets parts that do not only rely upon her curves, but on her acting and in 1960 she even gets an Oscar for the movie La ciociara, where she plays a mother during WWII, who has to protect her child against horrible events.

In the meantime Sophia and Carlo had fallen in love and they got married in Mexico. The problem was the Italian law did not recognize the divorce from his first wife, so they had to get a divorce and later remarried again in Paris. Together they had two sons.

Sophia Loren made some beautiful movies, many of them are considered classics. One of the best, I think, is Una giornata particolare, and I will write about that later this week.

Do you want to read more? That is possible, as many magazines did articles about Sophia Loren in the past months and probably coming weeks and months.

She herself wrote a cookbook and this week her autobiography Yesterday, today and tomorrow, my life will be published. That will be available in English translation in December 2014

Monday, 15 September 2014

The shadow lines, Amitav Ghosh

The main character of this story lives as a little boy with his parents and grandmother in Calcutta. The boy is in love with his niece Ila, but she is in love with an English boy. His nephew Tridib is in love with the sister of the English boy. The main character, whose name we never hear, tells about their life in Calcutta and how Tridib tells him stories about his time in Engeland. These stories are so vivid that the boy is able to recognize everything when he comes to London himself to study, much later. In that time he also finds out what really happened on that terrible day in 1964, when something happened during a riot that would change the family.

The characters in this book are connected through lines, some of them visible, but sometimes not.
Love, memories, feeling like a stranger, family ties and family secrets are the threads that make this story, both in India and in England.

Politics play a role in the background, because the story is set in the years after the independence of India and the partition that followed. The unrest of the sixties and the riots in those years also leave their mark on the family.

The family life in Calcutta is written very vividly and I never read a book before that showed me how London can be exotic to people who are not from Western Europe. The differences between East and West, India and England are very well written.

This was the first book I read by Amitav Ghosh, but it won’t be the last one. I already have Sea of poppies here, and I am very curious to read more books by this great Indian author.

Published in 1988

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Quote: Sophia Loren

Sex appeal is fifty percent what you've got and fifty percent what people think you've got.

Sophia Loren (Italian actress, 1934-)

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Franchise affair, Josephine Tey

Marion Sharpe and her mother live in the manor called The Franchise, near the little town of Milford. They only moved there and they keep themselves to themselves. The townspeople do not know what to make of these eccentric and non-conformist ladies.

Betty Kane, a schoolgirl, comes home after she went missing. She is black and blue and claims two women in a large house kidnapped her and held her prisoner in their house near Milford. The women wanted to force her to do domestic chores for them and whipped her when she refused. The girl can give several details about the interior of the house.

While a trial is being prepared, the public opinion in Milford already turns against the ladies Sharpe. Shops refuse to service them, their house is being vandalized and eventually it is set on fire.

Robert Blair is a solicitor with a good reputation in Milford, like his father before him. Despite himself he is caught up in the case, but when he gets to know the ladies Sharpe and the case, he is determined to prove Betty Kane is a liar.

The inspiration for this story comes from a famous case from the eighteen-fifties, when a servant girl claimed to have been kidnapped and held prisoner by two women.

The Franchise affair is written in 1948 and it is one of the first detectives where character descriptions and psychology play an important role. That, and how well the story is built, make sure it is still worthwhile to read. It is not dated in the least. It is clear from the beginning the Sharpes are innocent, but how that can be proved is well written. The climax is the courtroom scene, and that is excellent.
In short, a classic detective I can recommend to anyone.

Published in 1948

Monday, 8 September 2014

The old town of Weesp

A few weeks ago I visited the town of Weesp, that is conveniently situated between Amsterdam and Almere, where I live. For me it was just 10 minutes by train.
The town is quite old and is absolutely lovely. What helped that the weather was lovely as well, so my photographs look so much better!


Sunday, 7 September 2014

Quote: Anton Chekhov

Medicine is my lawfull wife and literature is my mistress. When I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other.
Anton Chekhov (Russian author, 1860-1904)

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Bill's Italian food

Bill Granger is an Australian cook who owns several restaurants and who has written many cookbooks. I must admit I never heard of him and this book was my first acquaintance with him.

The Italian way of life and the way the Italians deal with food appeals to many people, and also to Bill Granger. It is all about respecting the ingredients, not too much fuss and of course; enjoyment.

Bill’s Italian food has 100 recipes with all the Italian basics you could want. There are not a lot of atmospheric anecdotes in this book, as in the cookbooks I absolutely love, the focus is mainly on the recipes. But perhaps that is because it is written by a man J. There are some very beautiful photographs here.

Focaccia, frittata’s, pasta’s, main meals and deserts can be found here and I already saw some recipes I am dying to try. The recipes are in general easy, quick and not very difficult, although I do wonder if some of the ingredients can be found outside of Italy, but perhaps I am mistaken.

My only problem was that the photographs of the meals are not always on the same page as the recipe, and that made it sometimes difficult to see which dish on the photograph went with which recipe.

But on the whole I think Bill’s Italian food is a great book full of recipes I would like to cook, and it is a good addition to my collection of Italian cookbooks.

Published in 2014
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