Wednesday, December 13, 2017


One of my favourite pastimes is browsing around bookstores and pick up books randomly. Forest Dark was one of the books that I picked up when I visited  Kinokuniya a couple of months ago. 

There are books that I find one needs to be mindful and  immerse in the story with full attention to get the most out of them. Forest Dark written by Nicole Krauss  is such a fiction.The author expounds her thoughts in her narrations when she takes you on a journey meandering  through two main characters, Nicole, a novelist and Jules Epstein, a lawyer. It is an introspective journey of two protagonists who have fallen out of step with their respective lives.
Krauss describes Jules Epstein as someone who could not abide  the idea of being taken advantage of.
 'Belief, with its passive trust, required putting oneself in other hands, and as such it made one susceptible to the worst sort of insidiousness. Epstein saw it everywhere. ...'
Jules 'had believed in very little that he wouldn't see, and more than that, he'd had something against belief. Not just because of its grand potential for error. '

At 68,  in the wake of his parents’ deaths, Jules Epstein, once an ambitious and driven lawyer abruptly divorces his wife and starts relinquishing his possessions by giving away much of his art collection and money that he had spent a lifetime accumulating. He attends a dinner of American Jewish leaders with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority but he has reached a point where all the empty, obligatory talk about peace no longer means anything. He is getting tired  of it all – tired of the hot air and lip service. He departs New York for the Tel Aviv Hilton.

When his son Jonah, trying not to appear driven by self-interest, tried to dissuade him from further philanthropy, Epstein told him he was clearing a space to think. If Jonah had pointed out that his father had been a rigorous thinker all his life, Epstein might have explained that this was thought of an entirely different nature : a thinking that didn’t already know its own point. A thinking without hope of achievement. But Jonah – who had so many chips on his shoulder that one evening, on a private tour of the new Greek and Roman galleries at the Met, Epstein had stood before a second-century bust and seen his firstborn in it – had only answered him with injured silence. As with everything Epstein did, Jonah took his father’s deliberate draining of assets as an affront , and yet another reason to feel aggrieved.
The Substation Gallery, Singapore
Jules tells  Maya, his youngest daughter 'that he had begun to feel choked by all the things around him" and  that ' he felt an irrestible longing for lightness --it was quality, he realized only now,that had been alien to him all his life.' 

Meanwhile, Nicole, a famous novelist, at 39, is thrown off course by her failing marriage and her writer's block. Both Nicole and Jules happen to be two individuals who decide to head impulsively and compulsively to Tel Aviv Hilton that holds some significance in their early lives. In Israel, Jules encounters Rabbi Kausner who tries to convince him that he is a descendant of King David. Nicole meets Eliezer Friedman, a retired literature professor  and she is asked to write tbe real end of Kafka’s life. Krauss has included some interesting anecdotes   about Kafka. 

In Nicole's voice, 

Opening to the first page of Kafka’s Parables and Paradoxes,  I began to read :

 Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says, “ Go over,” he does not mean that we should cross to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it ; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us , something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least.

        I felt a little upswell of frustration. When I thought about Kafka at a distance from his books, I almost always forgot this feeling……….

Both Epstein and Nicole are fleeing from their current life.There is no link between the two individuals except that  they do not know what to expect when they decide to go back to Israel.  They are searching for something that cannot be explained.

Littered with Books, Singapore

Here is another snippet in Nicole's voice. 

'Yes , I decided, my father would have been the most obvious and cogent leader of the search party, whereas my mother, in her distress, would have been disorganized and largely useless. Surely my children would not yet have been told anything. As for my husband, I really had no idea how he would have responded to the news that I’d disappeared : it was very possible that he might have felt ambivalent, and perhaps even relieved at the prospect of being able to go through the rest of his life without me looking skeptically over at him.'    

I find the following passage from the  review written by Anna E. Clark  (click) quite aptly describes Forest Dark.

 Krauss’s novel propels its protagonists toward somethings that also manage to be nothings. Both Nicole and Epstein travel to Israel in an attempt to reconnect with their familial pasts; both stay in the Tel Aviv Hilton; both are briefly conscripted by mysterious men on Zionist missions; both get caught up in other artists’ creative projects. Yet, all these signs of plot flame up only to sputter out. Novels have trained us to imbue coincidences with significance, but Forest Dark creates them only to insist on their randomness.’

The prose by Nicole Krauss click is clever while the story is infused with humour and insightful narrations. Forest Dark is not an easy read. It is definitely a commendable read. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Sweet Tale

I must always have a book with me. Before iPhone, if I did not happen to have a book with me, I  was  inclined to grab whatever reading materials  that  were available at the store or place where  I was  and start reading them.

I carry books in my car. When my children were growing up, in between errands and children’s tuitions, music lessons and school pick ups, I tried to snatch some minutes just to read the fiction that I happened to be reading at the time. After a day’s work and the in-between errands, when I was  tired and unable to string sentences together, I would usually read  something that  I could dive in and out of.
Those  books that I used to devour  had to be  quick reads, one of those novels where the plot is fast moving as I only had a few moments between parking  and the children getting into the car.

I enjoy chick-lits as they are playful and delightful.

I do not read books about empowering women or how to be a leader or get rich. When I was into baking and dreamt about becoming a food critic, I read memoirs by  Ruth Reichl such as Garlic and Sapphire, Comfort Me with Apple  and as  a  Francophile, I enjoy reading autobiographies  such as My Life in France  written by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme, Merde Actually by Stephen Clarke,   A Year in Provence, a memoir written by Peter Mayle, Almost French by Sarah Turnbull  and many fun and  good reads written by prolific writers. 
These days  I have the luxury of reading books that are amongst literary prize contenders, short list or long list or the reads that are seemingly worthy of discussion at a book club though I have never belonged to one , but not limited to chick-lits or beach reads that do not tax my work and chores -weary minds.

A month ago, I picked up a book by Cecelia Ahern whose fictions I have never read. After reading One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern,  I find that I no longer enjoy so much sweet tales with happy endings though the book is a page turner.  

In One Hundred Names, Kitty is a journalist who spent the past few years chasing the big scoops regardless of  the consequences. Then she made a terrible mistake for the television show Thirty Minutes  she worked on the previous year and ended herself in a scandal. Kitty is grateful that Etcetera, the magazine founded and edited by her mentor, Constance continues to employ her. Constance has passed on and Kitty has been given one final chance to write the assignment that might  save her career. She has to write a tribute  piece based on one hundred names provided by Constance. Kitty meets some extraordinary people as she contacts the people on the list.

The story begins with the following paragraph:

She was nicknamed The Graveyard. Any secret, any piece of confidential information, personal or otherwise, that went in never, ever came back out. You knew you were safe; you knew you would never be judged on, if you were it would be silently, so you’d never know. She was perfectly named with a birth name that meant consistency and fortitude, and she was appropriately nicknamed; she was solid, permanent and steady, stoic but oddly comforting. Which is why visiting her in this place was all the more agonising. And it was agonising, not just mentally challenging; Kitty felt a physical pain in her chest more specifically in her heart, that began with the thought of having to go, grew with the reality of actually being there, and then worsened with the knowledge that it wasn’t a dream, it wasn’t a false alarm, this was life in its rawest form. A life that had been challenged, and would subsequently be lost, to death.'

One Hundred Names is a sweet tale. One  of the central themes of the novel resonates with me . If you were to randomly pick one hundred names from a phone directory, you will find one hundred stories simply because everybody, every single person , has a story to tell.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Magic of Words

23rd of November is the International Day of Words, the date  the Museum of the Word (Museo de la Palabra)  opened. To celebrate the anniversary of the word as a bond to humankind, there is a 100-word flash fiction competition click organised by the Cesar Egido Serrano Foundation. click

Words make one ponder. Words also make one wonder. Often the less is said the better if words will only cause hurt as one may forgive but not forget the harsh words made by another.

Words are like double-edged swords, with the right phrases, used with the right tone and intention, they can persuade, pacify and even inspire, with the wrong tone, they can condescend, sound righteous and unkind. A comment or criticism can be constructive or destructive. It is a matter of words. 

I am a bookworm. When I walk into a bookstore, the sight of the books stacked on the bookshelves comforts me. I go to a bookstore not knowing what I am seeking but there will always be something that catches my interest and it does not take long for me to pick up a good read. Words are powerful and I am often thrilled by beautiful writings by words wizards whose voices simply captivate and one must apply the mind to read them.

What we say may or may not be what we think or what we mean, thus we must watch what we say and how we say things. One must choose one’s words wisely before one expresses one’s thoughts, otherwise, it may cause misunderstandings.

I only wish that the love of language could be taught. Words describe and transcend all that define us, our beliefs, our insecurities, our hypocrisies, our truths and the ordinary events that shape our lives. Poignant writings touch our hearts, humour, tickle and make us see the lighter side of life while thought-provoking passages find its way to stir our conscience.

When I stumble upon good writings, I fervently hope that more people do read them. And I truly believe that it is through reading that one cultivates empathy and a  better understanding of humankind.

Word on the Water click