Broken Glass Park, by Alina Bronsky


The heroine of this engrossing and thoroughly contemporary novel is seventeen-year-old Sascha Naimann. Sascha was born in Moscow, but now lives in Berlin with her two younger siblings and, until recently, her mother. She is precocious, independent, street-wise, and, since her stepfather murdered her mother several months ago, an orphan.

Unlike most of her companions, she doesn’t dream of escaping from the tough housing project where they live. Sascha’s dreams are different: she longs to write a novel about her beautiful but naïve mother and she wants to end the life of Vadim, the man who brutally murdered her. (from Goodreads)
It is a very interesting novel, and re-thinking about it now to write this made me like it even more? I guess because as it is mostly told from the point of view of Sascha, who’s not going through her best moment, it left me at first with the impresion of being chaotic and a bit all over the place, but I guess that makes more sense now…
I think one of the main themes through this story is Sascha’s learning process about how to handle and relate with men, of which this novel is quite abundant: a father, who she never met and wanted her to be aborted; Harry, her mother’s last partner and a true “fairy tale prince”; Vadim, her stepfather, who murdered her mother and Harry; her younger brother Anton, who’s clearly suffering PTSD and about whom she’s constantly worrying; Volker, the editor of a newspaper, who had met her mother and to whom Sascha develops a very strong crush on; Felix, Volker’s son, who develops an incipient friendship and a very strong crush on Sascha. And several other satellite characters, each of one of them embodying different types of masculinity.
As well, different ideas of femininity are introduced, the main being her mother, her younger sister Alyssa, their tutor and carer Maria, and her neighbor Angela.
This seems to be a novel that also revolves around the margins, where everything seems a bit blurred, and nothing is in its absolute. She lives in the suburbs, in what another character calls a ghetto, and others see as a unsafe area, on the margins of society. Even within her apartment building, her family is seen as disgraced and is partly ostracized, due to the double murder that stroke them, in the very same apartment they’re still habitating. As an immigrant, Sascha lives in a sort of limbo, in a sense of un-placement. She’s living in a foreign country, but surrounded from her compatriots, going constantly from the German culture to the Russian culture and back. Because she was able to adapt and can blend so easily into her host country, she’s regarded with distrust from both ends. And as a seventeen year old girl, she’s far from being a child, but not way near of being an adult (or at least of being considered one).
And all of this is happening while she’s also fantasizing (or rather planning?) about the different ways she could murder her stepfather.

Germinal, by Émile Zola

47935102._sy475_Etienne Lantier, an unemployed railway worker, is a clever but uneducated young man with a dangerous temper. Forced to take a back-breaking job at Le Voreux mine when he cannot get other work, he discovers that his fellow miners are ill, hungry, and in debt, unable to feed and clothe their families. When conditions in the mining community deteriorate even further, Lantier finds himself leading a strike that could mean starvation or salvation for all. (from Goodreads)
This book is the 13th in the Rougon-Macquart series, but the 16th in the author’s recommended reading order, which is the one I’ve been following. It’s worth noticing that each book could be easily read as a standalone and any detail worth mentioning from the previous ones is always entwinned within the text.
It was a while since my last immersion in the series. These are not easy books to find down here, and one must scavenge through second hand bookshops and online stores to find physical copies at a price I’d be able to afford, so it was a rather large hiatus (almost 2 years!). However, even though I had to stretch my mind a little to remember where Étienne standed in the Rougon-Macquart family tree, the author’s prose readily introduced me into the story and it was as if I had never left that world.
This as a heart wrenching story, as usual in this series, in which one is forced to witness the extreme pauperization of already extremely impoverished people, and their inane attempts to improve their living condition, meanwhile those who could change for good their lives are either unwilling to do so, unable to do it without ruin themselves, or completely oblivious to the situation. Considering that for many people the working conditions are still this terrible (or a different kind of terrible) today, made me want to go set fire to everything.
This ficticious story is well historically settled with the inclusion of the accession of the Socialist International and discussions on unionization, as well as vivid descriptions of the actual working and living condition of the miners of that time (some of the descriptions from the inside of the mines are very asphyxiating, and as someone who doesn’t suffer from claustrophobia, well… I almost felt it).
One of the things that strike me the most while reading is that this book seemed to be considerable more raunchy (for a 19th century novel) than the previous ones that I’ve read. Historically, this series has been catalogued as obscene and vulgar from its conception, and many editions and translations have been censored. Since my French isn’t strong enough to give the original material a try, and most of the books I’ve been reading are old editions, I’m never certain about the fidelity of the translation I’m reading [except for that time] compared to what Zola intended, or if it varies from one book to the other, taking in consideration that they are settled in different social strata, with extremely different customs. One more reason to improve my French, I guess…
Over all, I ended up giving it a 5/5 stars on Goodreads, because I enjoyed (or suffered?) the reading so much! And as it was going through it, I could see why, among all the titles in the series, this is the one that’s usally most brought up.

Trinkets, by Kirsten Smith


Sixteen-year-old Moe’s Shoplifters Anonymous meetings are usually punctuated by the snores of an old man and the whining of the world’s unhappiest housewife. Until the day that Tabitha Foster and Elodie Shaw walk in. Tabitha has just about everything she wants: 

money, friends, popularity, a hot boyfriend who worships her…and clearly a yen for stealing. So does Elodie, who, despite her goodie-two-shoes attitude pretty much has “klepto” written across her forehead in indelible marker. But both of them are nothing compared to Moe, a bad girl with an even worse reputation.

Tabitha, Elodie, and Moe: a beauty queen, a wallflower, and a burnout-a more unlikely trio high school has rarely seen. And yet, when Tabitha challenges them to a steal-off, so begins a strange alliance linked by the thrill of stealing and the reasons that spawn it. (from Goodreads)

Even though the book was originally published in 2013, I was offered an ARC for this through Edición Anticipada. I guess they made a Spanish edition trying to climb on the hype generated by the Netflix adpatation (was there any hype at all? I wasn’t even aware of the series until I got the notification for this book).

The main characters are introduced to seem pretty stereotypical, (a rich, popular girl, a “bad girl”,  a wallflower), but any attempt in the writing (by giving their own point of view to each of them) to break those molds felt rather flat. Still, that narrative estructure made the story a bit more dynamic and the reading experience quite fluid.

All in all, it was ok. It isn’t presumptuous, but it isn’t overly inspired either. Quite forgettable but pleasant enough to read during a dull weekend.

Unlikely to me, I actually read this book in one sitting and went straight to Netflix, and binged the entire series also in one sitting (yes, it was a VERY dull Saturday). The story got a lot of updates in its adaptation. Even though the main “plotline” remained, it was this close to turn into a completely different story. There were some unfinished business left for a forseeable second season, unlike the book, that’s self-contained and auto-conclusive.

Delicacy, by David Foenkinos

11478669After her husband’s unexpected death, Natalie has erected a fortress around her emotions—and Markus, clumsy and unassuming, will never be her knightin shining armor. Yet slowly but surely, an offbeat romance begins between these two mismatched, complex souls, and contrary to everything Natalie knows of affection, her perfect suitor may turn out to be love’s most unlikely candidate—the fool, not the hero, who is finally able to reach her heart. (from Goodreads)

While looking for a good synopsis for this book, it was hard to find something that wasn’t overly sugarcoated. I felt that most of them lack, precisely, the delicacy that this story had through and through.
Reduced to its minimal expresion, it might be as cliché as any other romantic novel, but I found it was more than that, but in a very subtle and almost impalpable way.
Or maybe I’m just corny, I don’t know.
An added pleasure for me was finding little notes from the friend that gave me this book. Although she erased some of them, plenty remained, and was nice to follow her thoghts and compare them with mine. It was a pleasant surprise.
There’s a movie adaptation, and I’m looking forward to watch it.

Eat Him If You Like, by Jean Teulé

13559431Tuesday 16 August 1870, Alain de Money, makes his way to the village fair. He plans to buy a heifer for a needy neighbour and find a roofer to repair the roof of the barn of a poor acquaintance. He arrives at two o’clock. Two hours later, the crowd has gone crazy; they have lynched, tortured, burned and eaten him. How could such a horror be possible? (from Goodreads)

Yes. That happened (although the eating part was never proved).
When I read the back cover of this book I thought it was purely non-fictional. The fact that it was novelized, I believe, certainly reinforces the atrocity of the facts as it humanizes the main character, making it easier to empathize with his desperate situation. On the other hand, it also permits certain “poetic licence”, reimagining and creating dialogues and relations between characters, to reinforce certain gruesome aspects of the story, that may have never happened.
One way or another, it was far from being a pleasurable reading, and by this I don’t mean that it’s not a good work. It’s just hard to read, definitely not for those of weak stomach, heart, impressionable minds, etc
Interesting enough, it has some transcripts from the judicial process that followed the slaughter. And, for those interested in a more business-like and less personal rendition of the affair, the French Wikipedia article is very good (and I recommend the French one because is the most complete and extense).

The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson

38472788Eleven-year-old Gilly has been stuck in more foster families than she can remember, and she’s hated them all. She has a reputation for being brash, brilliant, and completely unmanageable, and that’s the way she likes it. So when she’s sent to live with the Trotters—by far the strangest family yet—she knows it’s only a temporary problem.
Gilly decides to put her sharp mind to work and get out of there fast. She’s determined to no longer be a foster kid. Before long she’s devised an elaborate scheme to get her real mother to come rescue her. Unfortunately, the plan doesn’t work out quite as she hoped it would… (from Goodreads)

A couple of years ago, my dad asked me what books he could gift to my little cousin, so I sent him a list of options, this book being one of them. I hadn’t read the book, but it seemed nice and was age apropiate. A couple of months back, my cousin told me very excitedly that there was a movie adaptation, ocation I seized to ask her to borrow the book, since I hadn’t read it.
Once I was at it, I did wonder if I’d recommended it if I’d read it first. I was a bit shocked by certain attitudes in Gilly, her fatphobic and racists thoughts, her general misbehaviour et al. I did corrected myself, in several ocations, reminding me that this was a neglected child, who had a less than optimal upbringing. But I did find a bit disheartening that, even though Gilly does improve her conduct and prejudices, at very few points is remarked that her previous attitude was disrespectful and hurtful.
Anyway… I was glad to realize that the movie adaptation was updated (the book was published in the 70s) for this day “sensitivities” and it may or may not have made me cry a bit, allegedly.

Night Flight, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

45017590Under the pressure of his boss, the intransigent Riviere, the airmail pilot Fabien attempts a perilous flight during a heavy night-time thunderstorm in Argentina. As conditions get worse and the radio communication with Fabien becomes increasingly difficult, Riviere begins to question his uncompromising methods, and his distress turns to guilt when the pilot’s wife comes to find him in search of answers. Based on Saint-Exupery’s own experiences as a commercial pilot, Night Flight is a haunting and lyrical examination of duty, destiny and the individual, as well as an authentic and tragic portrayal of the intrepid early days of human air travel. (from Goodreads)

This story was based in Saint-Exupéry’s experience as director of Aeroposta Argentina, an early pioneering airline established in the late 1920s, and a subsidiary of the French airmail carrier Aéropostale.
The nouvelle narrates the events of one night, while in Buenos Aires is awaited the arrival of three flight coming from Chile, Paraguay and Patagonia. While the northern route is quiet and clear, the flight coming from the Andes had a strong storm at its back, and the southern one fell straight into it.
These pioneering nocturnal flights might be entirely endangered if something goes wrong, an the presure is as much in director, as in the inspectors and the pilots, for the excellency in the service above all, to prove everyone that this is possible.
It’s hard to wrap my mind around these early moments of commercial aviation, before the second world war. It seems both so far away (almost 100 years) and yet very recent. It was an activity both risky and exciting, and the pilots seemed to be very aware at all times that they were making history.

The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

85618The five Lisbon sisters are brought up in a strict household, and when the youngest kills herself, the oppression of the remaining sisters intensifies. As Therese, Mary, Bonnie and Lux are pulled deeper into isolation by their domineering mother, a group of neighborhood boys become obsessed with liberating the sisters. But what the boys don’t know is, the Lisbon girls are beyond saving. (from Goodreads)

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while, at least since I had watched the movie adaptation, if not before.
Even though it’s been several years since then (curiously, despite that I liked it very much, I didn’t re-watched it, not even once), it left a vivid impression in my mind, not as much that I was able to remember every event in the story, but several scattered plot points and, above all, a vivid visual aesthetic that exuded a deep feeling of nostalgia.
It was very pleasant to realize that that feeling of nostalgia was very present along the entire book, and that the movie (or what I remember of it) was a great job of adaptation.
I do wonder if I’m just acommodating my memories to fit, so I hope to rewatch the movie soon, to have a more exact opinion, not just based on evocations.

Pequeños delitos abominables, by Esther Tusquets

13411570[Small abominable crimes]

This book is a compendium of little petty attitudes, selfish actions, and related “crimes”, basically a very abarcative list of things certain people do having absolutely no regard for other people. Like having a loud cellphone conversation on a public space (i.e.:, trains, restaurants, waiting rooms), being always late, general lack of empathy, beign unable to accept a favor or a present, useless and endless work meetings, parent/teachers meetings,  always having a bigger and better anecdote then the one you’re listening to, etc etc etc. The list is too long. Of some things I declare myself guilty, with others, I’ve been in the receiving end and I agree with the author, and there were even some I don’t consider relevant at all.
I honestly thought this book would be more entertaining, but  more often than not I found myself just bored of reading a peroration of complaints. Coincidentally, “Complaining too much” wasn’t part of the list. I guess this is book to read little by little, one item of the list at a time, instead of reading for long periods… But I just wanted to get over with it .
Who’s fault is it, then?

El amor y la mujer nueva, by Aleksandra Kollontai

38108551[Love and the new woman]

Aleksandra Kollontai was a Marxist revolutionary. After the Russian Revolution, she was the most prominent woman in the Soviet administration. She was a champion of women’s liberation, but she firmly believed that it “could take place only as the result of the victory of a new social order and a different economic system”, and has thus been regarded as a key figure in Marxist feminism. She believed that true socialism could not be achieved without a radical change in attitudes to sexuality, so that it might be freed from the oppressive norms that she saw as a continuation of bourgeois ideas about property. Kollontai believed that, like the state, the family unit would wither away once the second stage of communism became a reality. She viewed marriage and traditional families as legacies of the oppressive, property-rights-based, egoist past. Under Communism, both men and women would work for, and be supported by, society, not their families. Similarly, their children would be wards of, and reared basically by society.

This book gathers some of her writings where she exposed all these ideals. In many ways, her words are incredibly current, and I honestly can’t believe we still have to fight for these things.
I found her thesis about how the concept of family we have today correlates to an entire economic system, and how it’s been imbued into society as something completely “natural”, very interesting.
Even though I don’t fully agree with all of her ideas, there’s a lot to take and learn from her lifework.