Monday, 29 February 2016

The year of the runaways, Sunjeev Sahota

Why do people leave their homes to come here to the west in the vague hope of getting a better future? How horrible must your life be when living here in terrible conditions and doing nasty jobs counts as having a better life?

Randeep, Avtar and Tochi all came to England for different reasons and in a different manner, they all hope to built a new future.

Randeep comes from a wealthy family, but when his father gets fired, his family looses all their privileges. Luckily there is Narinder, a pious Sikh-woman who offers to marry Randeep so he can come to England on a marriage license. After a year he can apply for his own papers and they can get divorced again.
There is no real marriage, Narinder has her own reasons for this marriage but a real relationship with Randeep is not one of them.

Avtar is a former neighbor of Randeep and he is in love with Randeep’s sister. His parents own a little shop, but they do not make enough money. Avtar has to make some pretty drastic decisions to pay for the studentsvisum that will allow him to go to England, but even then he is still deep in dept. Struggling to repay the depts makes sure he will not have time to study.  

Finding a job is not easy, especially since the boys are not really prepared for the new world. They end up in a house in Sheffield where thirteen of them sleep, while they work on a construction site during the day.

Tochi is even worse off than Randeep or Avtar. He belongs to the lowest caste. The caste system was abondened by law in 1931, but this does not stop the other Indians to treat these people with contempt. After something horrible happened, Tochi came to England illegally, hoping to leave his past behind. Only the other immigrants kept their mentality and he cannot escape the ideas and feelings about his background.

England is most certainly not as they imagined. There is hardly any work and they live in constant fear. They are also not a part of society. The boys are only looking for jobs to make money and forgetting any long-term goal they had in the misery of the constant struggle they live in.

The promised paradise never comes, at least not as they imagined. Some dreams do come true, but again not as they once hoped.

Sunjeev Sahoota was born in England, but his grandfather was an immigrant from India.
With The year of the runaways he wrote a novel that describes life in India without the usual romanticism. He portrays the alienation of the boys in England very well. The many Indian words, customs and the way the people interact gives it authenticity.

But for me the plus of this novel is not that is such an current topic, but that is gives you (more) understanding why so many people come over here.
Yes, many tell lies and there is corruption and fraud on a huge scale, but in some ways I cannot really blame them for trying, not when you realize how their situation at home is.

A very special novel that was on the short list for the Booker prize.

Published in 2015 

Friday, 26 February 2016

A little bit of everything, Februari 2016

Les revenants (2012)
What happens in a small town in France when people start coming back from the dead? One family is very happy their daughter has returned, but what is the story of the lonely little boy and why did old Mr. Costa kill himself? It seems a murderer has also returned and has picked up his old habit again. And why is the dam so important?

Les revenants (the returned) is a very good French series. Its eerie atmosphere is similar to Twin Peaks, and a lot of unexplainable things happen. There are eight episodes and after watching the first one, I was hooked. The last episode leaves many questions un-answered and that is why I am very happy there is a second series and even a third is being made in France.
It is really, really good.

Plants and more plants. 
I do love beautiful plants in my house, as I think I have mentioned before. I always had plants, but lately I decided I wanted more. Plants make a house cosier, and the atmosphere improves, making your house healthier to live in.
The only problem is that I do not have many windowsills in my house, so I need to be creative.

A few weeks ago I bought fifteen new plants, and I placed them not only on top of my bookcases, but also inside. And I put plants on the diningroom-table and the coffee-table.
It looks really good and it makes me happy whenever I look at them.
Beautiful orchids on the diningroom-table

Plants can also be placed on a bookshelf

No need for flowers with these beautiful reds and greens on my coffeetable

Monday, 22 February 2016

Nobody's boy, Hector Malot

My childhood version.
The Dutch title translates as:
Alone in the world
When I was little, my parents had a big blue book on their bookshelves with beautiful drawings. 

I loved the story of the young orphan Remi who was sold by his mean stepfather when he was ten years old to a musician, Vitalis, who travelled around with Joli-Coeur the little monkey and the dogs Capi, Dolce and Zerbino. 

Nodoby’s boy is a beautiful story and I read it many times. Only later did I find out this was a world famous French classic, translated into many languages.

The story is probably known: Remi is an orphan and that is why he does not belong to anybody. But fortunately for him he does encounter many people who help him, sometimes for a short while, but often for a longer period of time. 

Vitalis is a good man, but during a cold winter’s night when they could not find shelter, he dies. Gardener Alcuin takes Remi into his family, but when a heavy storm destroys the glasshouses, father Alcuin has to go to prison and his family is split up. 

Remi is back on the streets, but luckily he meets Mattia, a boy he met before and who is really musical. Together they will travel through France to meet up with the members of the Alcuin family, but in the meantime Remi also learns more about his own family.

Of course, Nobody’s boy is a 19th century novel and there are too many coincidences, everybody knows eachother and in a city of millions you always find the one person you needed to see. And if you are really critical you could call the ending way too sentimental. But all this is of course not the point of the novel.
Remi, Capi and Joli-Coeur do a play,
while Vitalis does the music
Hector Malot wrote this book to point out the horrible living conditions of the poor in France. That is why Remi is travelling, so he could meet as many different people and their situations as possible. The poor farmers, the people who have to scrape from meal to meal, the travelling musicians, the people suffering under strict and unjust laws, the harsh conditions of the miners, the bitter poverty of the boys living on the streets of Paris and the way orphans were treated.

He did not write Nobody’s boy as a children’s book, but somehow it is seen as one. I read it many times as a child and a while ago I asked my parents if I could borrow it again. 

And again the story would not let go, and this time I also saw how much love Hector Malot used to write this book and how hard he tried to make the characters real. Remi is neither a selfish brat nor a sickly-sweet orphan, he is a real boy and as life-like as can be, and this is the case for most of the characters.
Remi and Mattia play at a wedding to make some money
As a child I had to cry every time Vitalis died, and I could not hold my tears this time as well. In just a few scenes Hector Malot manages to give us some idea of the background story of this man, who has such a good heart and who died in such tragic circumstances. I also adored the dog Capi again, and I really want a white poodle now, that I will name Capi J.

When Remi finds his family again and finds where he belongs, you will be relieved, all is well in the last chapter.
A beautiful classic!

Original French title: Sans famille
Published in 1878

Sunday, 21 February 2016

In memory of Umberto Eco

When I was fourteen years old, I read a book that made a huge impression on me, for the first time in my life I read a book that was both historical and philosophical and that was packed with knowledge about the Middle Ages. I read The name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

I always loved the Middle Ages, but I do believe it was also because of this book that I actually studied Medieval history when I was at university.

Umberto Eco studied Medieval philosophy and was a professor at the university of Bologna.
Yesterday the news came that this great writer died at the age of 84. He will be missed.
Umberto Eco 1932-2016
Captain Cook discovered Australia looking for Terra Incognita. Columbus thought he was finding India but discovered America. History is full of events that happened because of an imaginary tale.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Exhibitions I am looking forward to

We have some great museums here in The Netherlands and they have lined up some pretty amazing exhibitions for the coming months. I am looking forward to visiting a lot of them, or at least as many as I can! My goal is to visit at least one exhibition per month, and I do not think it will be a problem. The only problem I will probably have is how I fit all of these into my schedule!

Van Gogh museum, Amsterdam
Prostitution in 19th century Paris
This is an exhibition I actually stood in line for when I was in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris last October. But I had a bit of a headache at that moment and decided to step out of the line. But it seems that I will get another chance, since this exhibition about prostitution in Paris in the 19th century will be in Amsterdam from next week.
Painters like Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet and Van Gogh painted the prostitutes, but there was also the harsh reality of the brothel or the prison for these women.
19 Februyary to 19 July 2016

Hermitage Amsterdam
Catharine the Great
Catharine the Great of Russia was one of those empresses who speak to our imagination. She ruled Russia with a firm hand, reformed many things, had lovers and wrote with Voltaire and Diderot. She was also very interested in art and collected many paintings, statues and other objects.
In the Hermitage in Amsterdam there will be a huge exhibition of the many pieces of art in Catherine’s collection.
Spring 2016 

Catharijneconvent, Utrecht
Saint Francis
Francis is one of the most popular saints in the Catholic Church. Who was this man from Assisi, how did he live, what was his influence and what did he achieve?
In one of the most beautiful and religious museums in the Netherlands there will be an exhibition about this very special man and his life.
5 March 2016 to 5 June 2016

Singer Museum in Laren
French Modernists
In this small but great museum there can bes een an exhibition with Works from Derain, Bonnard, Marinot, Matisse and Dufy, to give you a good idea of the French modernist art movement. This exhibition was done in collaboration with the Musée d’Art Moderne in Troyes.
22 April 2016 to 28 Augustus 2016
Museum de Fundatie, Zwolle
Wild men in De fundatie
The German expressionists of the first half of the twentieth century who collaborated in the Brücke and Der blauwe Reiter wanted to invent a new form of art.
They wanted to show their feelings, in bold colours and strong abstract figures.
In this exhibition the focus will be on the movement as a whole, rather than on a period or a single artist, to give you a good overview of the movement and their influence on the art world.

In Groningen in the Groninger Museum there is the second half of this exhibition, with works from the German neo-expressionists from the eighties.

Zwolle: 30 April to 18 September

Monday, 15 February 2016

It's what I do, Lynsey Addario

This is the Dutch cover, but
it is the same as the English version
The reason we know what is happening far away from here or on the frontline, is because there are very brave men and women who do their jobs in these places.

When you are in a warzone, you must be able to go against your instincts. Most of us will want to run away when a bomb goes off, a war-photographer will run towards it and will start making photo’s.

Lynsey Addario never thought she would become one of the most respected war-photographers in the world, when her father gave her her first camera when she was thirteen.

She grew up in Connecticut and had an unusual and eccentric childhood. Photographing was a huge hobby, but it soon became more. She also thought about travelling and how she could combine the two.

She learned the ins and outs of photographing in South America and returned to the US where went to work as a freelance-photographer, but this was just the beginning.

Lynsey Addario is a woman who is driven by her calling to report the news. Not as an adrenaline-junkie or in a need to score the best photo, but she wants to show what war means for the civilians in that area, how they are affected by it.

Lynsey Addario made photographs in Afghanistan, was there when the invasion of Iraq took place, made photographs in Dafur, south-Sudan, Libia, Gaza and many other places.

She worked as an embedded journalist, but also went into conflict zones on her own or with a couple of colleagues.

She did both news items as long reportages and her photo’s were for example published in The New York Times and National Geographic. Her hard work and beautiful pictures earned her many prizes and the respect of her colleagues.

Every now and then you read a book that is so fascinating and interesting that it is impossible to put it down.
I saw It’s what I do in the bookshop and when I read what it is about I decided to buy it immediately. This was a good decision!

It’s what I do does only give a very personal account of the conflicts that have broken out around the world in the past years, it also tells us what war-journalism is like. One moment you are in a hotel with your other colleagues waiting until something happens, the next day you walk around in a bullit-proofvest, making photo’s of the victims of a bomb or you hear a colleague has been killed.

Lynsey Addario shows how difficult her work can be, how much preparation is needed and how much danger there is sometimes. But she also shares the joy a journalist can feel when a photo they made  is published on the front page and perhaps has the power to influence public opinion.

At the same time it is also a very personal story; how can you justify to your family what you do, how do you deal with the risks and how do you find somebody to love who understands what you do?

Finally, but that is certainly not the least thing, this book gives you a whole new respect for the many brave men and women who do their jobs in difficult and often dangerous circumstances and who see bringing the news as their calling, even if it will cost them their lives.

It’s what I do is a very special and utterly interesting and fascinating book, the many beautiful photo’s Lynsey Addario made, make it even better.  
I loved this book and I think it will be in my top=3 of this year.

Original title: It’s what I do. A photographers life of love and war
Published in 2015

Friday, 12 February 2016

Urban Jungle Bloggers, Jungle animals

I really like plants and in my mind a house should have these three things to make it a home: books, cats and plants.
I wanted more plants in my house and last week I bought quite a few, fifteen in total! It looks amazing and I feel very happy when I look at them.

When I was looking on the internet for inspiration, I found the Urban Jungle Bloggers HERE. This is an initiative by Judith from and Igor from Happy Interior Blog. He is German and she is Dutch and they met in Paris and bonded over their love for plants.

They started the Urban Jungle Bloggers, and not only is this a blog filled with inspiration and good information, they also have a theme each month. This month is was Jungle Animals. Of course you can become very creative with a theme like this, but when you have a tiger in your living room, it would be silly not to use her!

Silvia liked to pretend she is not interested in these new plants. Only seconds before the photographs she was sniffing the plants and getting to know them, but the moment I wanted to take a photograph, she prentended there was something much more interesting outside.

Later she found that a plant like this is good for giving some camouflage. You can pretend you are not there and perhaps if you do not see them, they will not see you.

Sometimes she can become too friendly with plants, this poor thing has lost a lot of its leaves because Silvia liked to bite them.
This was my first post for the Urban Jungle Bloggers, but I do not think it will be my last!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Monday, 8 February 2016

The elegance of the hedgehog, Muriel Barbery

Renée Michel and Paloma Josse live in an apartmentbuilding in Paris. Paloma is twelve years old and is a very intelligent and sharp child. She sees how hypocritical her parents are and she is determined not to end up like that. Her solution is that she will kill herself on her thirteenth birthday.

Renée Michel is the caretaker of the building. A common woman who takes out the garbage and cleans the staircases. Most of the rich inhabitants only speak to her when she needs to do something for them, but none of them realize that this plain woman knows more about literature, art, philosophy and music than all of them combined. 

Renée goes to extremes to hide her true self, just like Paloma cannot show her ideas and her intelligence to her family because they would not understand her.

Only when there is a newcomer in the building, the Japanese Mr. Ozu, they recognize in eachother kindred spirits and an unlikely but close friendship is formed.

Some books will take some time to get into. The first pages are difficult to read and after a while you ask yourself why put yourself through this. That became clear very soon; I was fascinated by the hidden lives of Renée and Paloma and I wanted to see what would happen.

But why did I struggle so much in the beginning? For me this was the language and the way it was written. I like beautiful flowing sentences and poetic descriptions (I like Philippe Claudel for a reason!), but in the first chapters there was only a very forced way of writing, with ugly sentences and weird constructions, that did not help the many philosophical ideas that came up.

Somehow, somewhere this feeling of a struggle changed. I cannot say if the writing changed or if I just got used to it, but the fact remains that I began to love The elegance of the hedgehog. Finally I found on those pages the beauty I was looking for.

And now I think about it, this is typical for the book. With both characters you also need to take your time to get to know them, it is a struggle to see behind their masks.

Renée Michel hides from her surroundings. She tries very hard to be the archetypical concierge and give no clues that perhaps she is not what she looks. She has several reasons for this behavior, a part of it stems from her youth when she learned that mingling with the rich and the people who are above her socially will only end up with humiliation and betrayal.

It is also the fear of somebody who knows a lot, but is not sure of that knowledge. As an autodidact you only know what you taught yourself, but you are never sure if you did not miss crucial information.
So, it seems for her that it is better to look like a plain woman with no education and only enjoy Tolstoy, Vermeer and Mozart in the safety or your own home. 
Muriel Barbery
Paloma is a precocious child who does not really see that looking down on people is not the best way to bring out their good behavior. But I can forgive her for that, because she is only twelve years old. And she is a very unhappy child who does not get from her parents what she needs. She has to figure out the way to adulthood all by herself, and that is hard enough as it is, but if you are so different from the people around you in the way you think and see things, it becomes an almost impossible task. 

It is no wonder that Paloma seeks a rather melodramatic way out, and she does not have enough life-experience to see that it is indeed melodramatic.

It is an outsider, somebody who is not brought up in the same cultural stereotypes and therefore can see through them, who sees the core of Paloma and Renée.

I loved the way the visits of Renée to the apartment of mr. Ozu were described, slowly she comes out of her shell and enjoys the company and the friendship that is offered to her.

I also loved the many philosophical idea that come up in this novel. Muriel Barbery is a philosopher, and she managed to make a beautiful mix that centers on the ideas of why we need beauty and why we need art.
For some people this may be too much, but I found it made the story even more special and also made you think about the book for a long time.

In many reviews I read that people did not like the end, but I thought it was fitting and beautiful. I could not hold back a few tears, I must confess.

The elegance of the hedgehog is a very special and beautiful book. It is not a book to read in a hurry, but a book to take your time with. You have to get past the spines before you get to the elegance and the beauty.

Original French title: L’élégance du hérisson
Published in 2006

Monday, 1 February 2016

Crippen, John Boyne

Cora Crippen had gone away, without saying goodbye to anybody. Her husband, dr. Crippen, told her friends that she went back to the States to look after an ill familymember, but died there suddenly. A tragedy for the widower.

Only shortly after her friends saw Crippen at the theater, with another woman who was wearing Cora’s jewels. They thought this was dubious, so they went to Scotland Yard.

An inspector went to Crippen to inquire what had happened, but believed the story Crippen told. At that moment, they did not suspect anything. Only when a panicked Crippen fled the country, the police knew something was wrong. They searched the house and found a dismembered body in the cellar. Crippen was a murderer.

However, the chances of catching him were pretty slim, since they had no idea where he or his mistress Ethel LeNeve were.
Then there was a telegram from the SS Montrose, a ship destined for Canada that said they had a suspicious couple on board, a Mr. Robinson and his son, only the boy seemed to be a woman in man’s clothes.

An inspector took a faster boat to Canada and managed to arrest Crippen the moment he set foot on Canada.

Back in London the process only lasted a couple of days. Crippen was found guilty and was hanged, LeNeve was acquitted and left for America where she died in the sixties.
Crippen and LeNeve during the process
The Crippen murder is one of the most famous English murder cases. It is also the first case where the suscpect was arrested with the help of modern communication.

John Boyne used this to write an excellent historical novel.  

The marriage between Cora and Hawley was not very good. He was a frustrated man. He wanted to become a doctor, but his puritan mother refused him to go to college. He took a few written courses and was very miffed about the fact that he was not allowed to call himself ‘doctor’.

The couple came from America to London in the hope to revive their careers, but it was no use. In London Crippen also could not practice as a doctor and Cora wanted to become a famous singer, but she had not talent.

Meeting Ethel LeNeve was a wonder for him, finally a woman who thought he was marvelous and who wanted to take care of him, instead of his wife who made his life hell.

Despite messing with the facts a little bit, John Boyne wrote a very good book. In Crippen you alternate between times and scenes, showing us the people on the SS Montrose hoping to get away with it, and what happened in the past.
Hawley Crippen
John Boyne even manages to make Hawley Harvey Crippen somewhat sympathetic, his wife Cora was a harpy who even took to physical violence to get what she wanted.

You begin to understand Crippen and when Boyne even comes with an alternative version of the well-known facts (not very believable, but fun to think about), you have a book that may take you a moment to get into, but in the end is difficult to put down.

Published in 2004
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