12

Akylina’s Most Memorable Books of 2019

Here we are in the very last day of 2019, yet another year that flew by in the blink of an eye. I did manage to read more this year (68 books) compared to 2018 (52 books), and although I read some really great books, I can’t really say I have many new favourites. This is why, instead of a Best of 2019 list, I come to you with my most memorable reads of the year. Although not all of these books were 5-star reads for me, they are all books I still remember vividly and fondly today.

So, without further ado, let’s look at some of the books that made my 2019 a little brighter:

Masks by Enchi Fumiko 25304404

Perhaps one of the most memorable books of 2019 was the very first book I read, Masks by Enchi Fumiko, translated from Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter. A tale of deception, revenge and punishment like nothing you have read before, Masks is an excellent showcase of the narrative capabilities of Japanese female writers of the 1950s, who are significantly less talked about compared to the men writing in the same period.

 

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

When any form of media is suddenly widely popular and talked about, I’m always very skeptical about it, as I don’t always tend to agree with those popular opinions. Eleanor Oliphant, however, proved to be the bright exception to my own rule. I started reading it having absolutely no expectations, just wanting a light read for my daily commute, and I ended up becoming so attached to Eleanor and her story that I devoured it before realising it.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov 29777060._SY475_

One of the most revered classics of Russian literature, Bulgakov’s masterpiece had been on my TBR list for a very long time. Numbering more than 500 pages, The Master and Margarita is a satirical and at times comical and, of course, controversial novel that takes place in Soviet Moscow. It was written during Stalin’s reign, but was published much, much later due to the severe censorship of the time (which, of course, is mentioned and criticised in the novel as well). Employing magical realism and a series of absurd events, Bulgakov weaves a tale that will remain in reader’s minds and hearts for a long time.

39980637._SY475_Sōseki: Modern Japan’s Greatest Novelist by John Nathan

Natsume Soseki was undoubtedly one of Japan’s biggest literary figures and John Nathan has done a really impressive job compiling his life and accomplishments in this tome. Soseki’s life story is truly fascinating to read, even though his character was not as praise-worthy as his literary production and contribution was. Nonetheless, no one can deny his massive role in shaping modern Japanese literature and the author of this book has done a wonderful job letting us in on some of his genius.

 

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin 30039170._SY475_

I find Shirley Jackson one of the most intriguing modern authors and I always crave her writing, although I haven’t really read that much yet. A Rather Haunted Life recounts every detail of the author’s life (and I do mean every detail), from her childhood and college years to her married life and unfortunate death. I developed a massive dislike towards her husband, Stanley, since cheating is a behaviour I cannot tolerate, but overall it was very enjoyable reading (or rather listening, as I had this as an audiobook) about Shirley’s life and literary adventures.

 

43706056._SY475_The Five Wonders of Danube by Zoran Živković

Živković is one of the biggest literary figures of Serbia, so I was very excited to finally get to read some of his work. The Five Wonders of Danube is a whimsical and quite original homage to art of every kind and the artistic creation. The book consists of five parts, each one describing a separate incident/”wonder” that takes places in a different bridge of the Danube River, and all connecting somehow at the end. It was translated from Serbian by Alice Copple-Tošić and it was an excellent introduction to this great author’s work. I plan on posting a full review of it in January, so stay tuned if you want to hear more details about it.

Ο Κίτρινος Φάκελος [The Yellow Folder] by M. Karagatsis 6938031

Karagatsis is one of my favourite Greek authors and I’ll always lament the absence of his works in English translation. The Yellow Folder (my translation, as there’s no official one) is an excellent character study with drops of mystery and the consequences of attempting to control people’s lives and play with them just to see what happens. Chilling, unforgettable and utterly enjoyable, this novel is a treasure trove of literary allusions, musings on life and rich character study of the kind only Karagatsis can deliver.

18114976Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo by Miyabe Miyuki

Apart from Miyabe’s evocative writing, Apparitions is perhaps one of the best translations I’ve ever read from Japanese, as it truly read like a work originally written in English, without any phrase or passage of awkward phrasing, all thanks to the magic pen of Daniel Huddleston. Apparitions contains several short stories, all set in the Edo (former name of Tokyo) period of feudal Japan. Miyabe’s Old Edo is rife with vengeful spirits and malevolent ghosts, creating a thoroughly creepy and chilling atmosphere, but one which the reader truly cannot get enough of.

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yū Miri Print

I don’t think I can call Tokyo Ueno Station a favourite book, mostly because it’s theme and plot are so harrowing and heartbreaking that just thinking about it even months after having read it just makes my heart ache. However, I do believe it’s an extremely important read, simply because sometimes we get too caught up in our lives and problems and don’t become aware of the people who might be suffering right next to us. On the eve of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, after having lost his family, our protagonist finds himself homeless at Ueno Park near the station and he starts remembering bits and pieces of his life. His son was born at the same day as the Emperor’s son, and yet his fate ended up being entirely different. Tokyo Ueno Station is nothing short of a punch in the gut, as it exposes the ugliest side of life and the inevitability that chases around people who are not privileged. It was translated from Japanese by Morgan Giles.

These are some of the most memorable books I read in 2019. For 2020, I’m hoping to read a little more broadly, read some new to me authors and read literature from countries I haven’t yet read.

Have you read any of these books? What were your most memorable reads of 2019? What are your 2020 reading goals?

Happy New Year to everyone, and I hope 2020 brings you health, joy and lots of bookish delights! 🙂

9

A Homage to Greek Literature

A few months ago, I came to a dreadful realisation while I was browsing my bookshelves: the number of Greek literary pieces that I have read thus far is painfully lower than any English/American or Japanese ones. So, being in a slightly nationalistic mood, I decided to start mending this situation and indulge myself in some of the great literature my home country has to offer.

Do not let the title fool you, though. I will briefly talk about the 9 Greek books I managed to read this year so far, without it meaning these are the best among all Greek literary works. It is just a selection of 3 novels, 2 short story collections, 2 poetry collections, 1 play and 1 essay, randomly picked up from my shelves. I should also mention that, as far as I am informed, some of these works have not been translated to English (or any other language I guess), but I still thought spreading the word about them could probably benefit some people.

A quick disclaimer before I begin. The translations of the titles of all the untranslated books I present here are my own. By no means does it mean that these are official (or even entirely correct) translations of the titles.

I will begin with the novels first:

The Demon by George Theotokas

First and foremost, the title can refer to both a ‘flair’ someone may have towards something and a ‘demon’, as in the supernatural creature that supposedly exists to create trouble in our lives (I’m pretty sure the title would give any translator a major headache as to how it should be rendered as). Having said that, I immensely enjoyed this novel. It’s a first person narration of a boy living his teenage and early adulthood years in a Greek island, Chios, where he meets the family of one of his closest friends and falls in love with his sister. Everyone in this family seems to have a flair for something (the father is a distinguished mathematician and the sister adores the works of Shakespeare and aspires to become a stage actress) but they also act strange (as if they are possessed) and a lot of trouble ensues. The novel is written in beautiful language and the descriptions of both places and the characters’ feelings are glorious. It tackles themes such as dreams, death, family relations and friendship and it leaves you wondering whether this ‘demon’ that possesses all of us is truly responsible for everything that happens.

Hatred by Vagelis Giannisis 20822816

Now, this is what I call great crime fiction. The author is Greek, but he lives in Sweden and so his novel gives off a very ‘Scandinavian’ aura. The premise is quite familiar to all crime fiction readers: a police detective has undertaken the task of cracking the case of a serial killer who has gone berserk. It sounds simple and like something that has been done so many times before, but it is worth every single minute you invest reading it. I loved the plot, I loved the twists and, most importantly, I loved the writing.

Ecstasis by Menelaos Lountemis

Another beautifully written piece of literature. The plot is quite simple and at times it resembles more a philosophical or biographical text rather than a novel. The story starts with the chance encounter of the protagonist with a writer. The protagonist invites the man to his house where they eat their meals and spend their time talking and analysing a plethora of different topics concerning life. A great and fairly short book.

Next are the short story collections:

It’s Time for Chocolate by Loty Petrovits-Androutsopoulou

This is a collection of short stories written for children, but these are some of the most beautiful and moving stories I have ever read. They take place at around the time of World War II in Athens, in the neighbourhood where the author grew up. She has taken some of her own memories from the time of the war and how she experienced everything through the eyes of a child and transformed them into stories. The title is very cleverly explained in one of the stories – since chocolate was very rare to find during the war, whenever the author and her friends were treated to some they were ecstatic. Thus, eating chocolate became their happy moment, and whenever in their later lives they felt the need to feel happy again, it simply meant that ‘it was time for chocolate’.

Black Pearls by Fotis Thalassinos

I really liked the ideas behind those short stories, but I felt that their execution on paper was not as successful. The language was nice in general, even though at times it seemed that the author was trying too hard to sound lyrical and poetic, which resulted in a prose that seemed forced. I wouldn’t say that these stories are like pearls, as the title suggests, but they surely are something different from the greek literature that I usually encounter.

Continuing with the two poetry collections:

The Time In-between by Mira Nileou

 I stumbled upon this marvellous poetry collection on a used bookstand in the centre of Athens. It was a very slim and very cheap book with an interesting-sounding title, from an author I had never heard of before (and about whom I have still not found absolutely any information), so I simply had to purchase it. I haven’t read much poetry in general, but I can tell when a gem lands on my hands. This book definitely belongs in that category. All the poems were marvellously written in the most lyrical manner. Needless to say, it became an instant favourite of mine.

Emotions Mean the World by Marika Lamprou

Another great poetry collection which I read at the beginning of summer, but which also, in retrospect, didn’t leave me a very lasting impression.

The play I read was:

Plutus by Aristophanes

I tried to read this in the original language, but I failed miserably, so I reverted back to my modern Greek translation. I really enjoyed reading this play. I hadn’t read an entire play of Aristophanes so far, just bits and pieces here and there, and I feel so satisfied that I finally read this in its entirety. The satire was sublime and the allegories so excitingly brilliant. This might actually be the first book on my list that has been translated to other languages.

And, last but certainly not least, the essay:

The Saviors of God (Ascetics) by Nikos Kazantzakis

 Probably one of the most well-known modern classic Greek authors, Kazantzakis’ works have been widely translated. His name might ring a bell to some of you, even. This book is in essay form and he discusses and analyzes various philosophical and existential problems among other topics. His writing style is superb and reading this book has wet my appetite for more of his magnificent writing.

I hope you enjoyed this post. I also hope the fact that I included mostly books that haven’t been translated in English yet didn’t upset you much.