Tag Archives: literature

Prague, Czech Republic Capital, Has It All

Prague Main

News Editor

Thanks to The Miami Herald, we learn some of the innermost thoughts of author Lisa Unger. An interview with her is conducted by Andrea Asuaje, who writes on music, fashion, and many other subjects for that paper. Titled “Dark imagination fuels her plots,” this dialogue illuminates Unger’s views. In search of an economical vacation, the author’s family tried out a home exchange, whose success she describes enthusiastically:

In our search for a place to go with our first home exchange, we wound up in Prague. It just turned out to be this amazing experience. I was so inspired by . . . the beauty of it. It’s an amazingly gorgeous place, but one that has a secret heart.

How does this tie in with a column devoted to literary travel? Glad you asked! As a result of that vacation trip, Unger was inspired to set her latest novel, Die For You, in Prague, premier city of the Czech Republic. Not long ago, we noted that this European capitol is one of the Top Ten Party Destinations according to Student Universe. One reason for this popularity is the annual music festival, called Respect, which draws musicians from all over the globe. And of course, as is proper to any old continental urban center, the outlying areas are rife with castles and other scenic delights.

Taking a closer look, we find that it’s also a good place to visit if your major is hospitality, naval technology, or Holocaust reparations. A venerable monastery has just been repurposed into a fine hotel, called the Augustine, in honor of the monks whose former home it was. The US Navy is in negotiations to open a center for technological research in the city, which also recently hosted an international conference devoted to figuring out how to recover Nazi loot and return the stolen property to its rightful owners.

“And,” I hear you ask, “has Kevin Dolgin ever written about Prague?” Of course he has. The travel essay of which we speak is “Kafka’s Erotic Dream: Prague, Czech Republic” and it’s one of the munificent number of similarly captivating pieces found in The Third Tower Up From the Road. He writes about the Charles Bridge (pictured above) and the Sex Machine Museum (not pictured; sorry) and, you’re not going to believe this, but he verifies the impression made by Prague upon suspense novelist Lisa Unger with these shivery words:

It’s a city with a lot of secrets…it’s no wonder Kafka built his tortuous worlds here, and it’s no wonder that the castle of his nightmares bore so many rooms.

Prague Castle

bridge photo courtesy of panorama , used under this Creative Commons license; castle photo courtesy of liber, used under this Creative Commons license

In Search of Madame Bovary: Normandy, France


News Editor

Wanderingeducators.com is just what it sounds like, a cyberplace for peripatetic pedagogues. Okay, enough of that. The thing is, Wandering Educators founder Jessie Voights has posted an interesting article there: “Book Review: A Journey into Flaubert’s Normandy.” And what a journey it is.

The book that Voights tells us about is a visually opulent and sublimely literate travel guide focusing on Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary. In photos both contemporary and archival, it covers Rouen (pictured here), where the great French novelist was born, and nearby Croisset, where he lived for many years. The book’s author is Susannah Patton, a longtime student of French literature and political science, foreign correspondent for Time Magazine, and writer on business topics for CIO Magazine. Francophile Patton is also a part-time resident of Normandy, the district inhabited by the spirit of Flaubert.

There’s a great interview with Patton in the article, but I’m not going to spoil it for you. Except for this one part where Patton says of Flaubert:

On the one hand he closed himself off from the world to write, yet his close friendships with fellow writers sustained him at times also. His life story is full of unexpected intrigue, passion and pathos.

There’s a reason why clichés become clichés. Because they happen over and over again. The frustrated wife. The unsatisfactory husband. The attractive stranger. As Werner Erhard pointed out, everybody’s life is a soap opera. And there’s a reason why the classics are the classics. Because they’re freakin’ great, that’s why. And Madame Bovary is definitely one of them.

Did you ever notice that the name even works as an English pun, of which Flaubert himself may or may not have been conscious? Bovary. Bovine. Ovary. But isn’t that exactly what Emma, the story’s protagonist, was trying to escape? The dreary fate of a cow-like, fleshly incubator of babies?

Flaubert, incidentally, was an ambitious traveler. He liked to hike around in Corsica, and went on a long journey to Greece and the Middle East. One of his hobbies was the collecting of examples for a proposed Dictionary or Encyclopedia of Human Stupidity. He was a connoisseur of cognitive dissonance, the ability of the human mind to hold two opposite ideas at the same time.

Anyway, I read Madame Bovary not long ago, and it blew me away. In the novel, we find one of the all-time primo quotations. Here it is, from Gustave Flaubert:

Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.

photo courtesy of Rob Lee, used under this Creative Commons license

Ken Silverstein Considers the Arabic Novel in Sudan


News Editor

In “Eloquent Phantom: Tayeb Salih’s search for an elusive present,” Ken Silverstein talks about a newly translated important classic work of fiction that takes place partly in Sudan, partly in London. Season of Migration to the North was written by one who sees everything through poet’s eyes. (Tayeb Salih died just a few months ago.) Silverstein also examines the Arabic novel as a genre, saying:

Written Arabic, fusha, stands at a remove from the quotidian worlds of family, street, and workplace, where a colloquial language is used …Almost all Arabic novels are written in fusha, which cannot but establish a certain distance between the elevated medium of description and the mundane events it describes-in other words, between style and content.

In Season of Migration to the North the protagonist, who has been away studying in Britain for years, is now home among the date palms beside the Nile in the boondocks of North Africa. He meets a man who plans to “liberate Africa with his penis.” This stranger is also a self-confessed murderer who soon disappears. The narrator tries to piece together the stranger’s story, to the point where it becomes an obsession. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is mixed up in this somehow, as are politics, race, and colonialism.

Investigative reporter Silverstein has written extensively about North Africa, and he has quite a lot to say about the Sudan-Darfur situation and the uproar over Sudan’s slave trade. He is fed up with political journalism everywhere. “The idea seems to be that we go out to report but when it comes time to write we turn off our brains and repeat the spin from both sides.” He is now the Washington Editor for Harper’s.

Sudan is mostly flat and dry, with jaggedy mountains and terrifying sandstorms, nomadic peoples, and endangered animal species. It appears to encompass about 40 different ethnic groups, and has been rated by the Failed States Index as the world’s second most politically unstable country.

SOURCE: “Eloquent Phantom: Tayeb Salih’s search for an elusive present” 06/10/09
photo courtesy of Radio Nederland Wereldomroep , used under this Creative Commons license

Literary Tourism: Jordison Visits Haworth

Haworth Parsonage

News Editor

Like many other lovers of English literature before him, Sam Jordison recently made the pilgrimage to West Yorkshire, England, to experience the ambiance of Haworth Parsonage, home of the incomparable Brontë sisters. Unlike many others, though, he has written about the experience for The Guardian‘s Books Blog.

In what Jordison calls “a curious form of literary tourism that seeks to find a concrete source for imaginary locations,” Jordison pokes around in not only the house itself, but the whole surrounding area, looking for traces of the landscape that helped Emily Bronte conjure up her unforgettable characters. He says,

Every other street and building bears their stamp: Heathcliff Mews, The Brontë Bridge, Brontë Cottage B&B…the apothecary where bad brother Branwell bought his laudanum. The Black Bull where he drank away his best years. The school where Charlotte taught. The church where their father preached. And, of course, The Parsonage where they all lived.

The Brontë kids, three girls and a boy, grew up next door to a graveyard, and not some picturesque abandoned one, but a cemetery in everyday use, complete with gaping freshly dug graves, funeral processions, weeping villagers, and polluted ground water. The Parsonage still contains, Jordison reports, such artifacts as paintings made by the doomed genius brother, the tiny little books the sisters crafted as children, and the sofa where Emily died.

Charlotte and Anne wrote some books, sure, but it was Emily who wrote Wuthering Heights, the greatest of all Gothic novels. This tale of demented and deathless love is all the more remarkable for the absence of explicit sex. Its power comes from the psychological nakedness of the characters. Compared to the evocative magic of Emily Brontë’s over-the-top romance, the current bodice-rippers are but a pale shadow.

Wuthering Heights has been filmed several times, with at least two of those movies shot in Haworth, as well as a TV series and a couple of movies about the Brontë family. Strangely, a version of Wuthering Heights, titled Abysmos de Pasion and with the ending changed, was even made by one of the world’s most esteemed directors, Luis Bunuel, during a period he spent in Mexico making B movies under an assumed name.

SOURCE: ” The Brontës are alive and unwell in Haworth ” 06/10/09
photo courtesy of jim.middleton123, used under this Creative Commons license

Arundhati Roy Puts Literature at “Heart of the World”

sri lanka

News Editor

Arundhati Roy, who won the prestigious Booker Prize for her novel The God of Small Things and was also awarded the Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize, went public recently with a plea for world awareness of the deplorable situation in Sri Lanka. In a Guardian piece titled “This is not a war on terror. It is a racist war on all Tamils,” she wrote:

Given the scale of what is happening in Sri Lanka, the silence is inexcusable. More so because of the Indian government’s long history of irresponsible dabbling in the conflict, first taking one side and then the other.

Elsewhere, however, a different opinion was aired. From New Delhi, Durga Velautham opined that Arundhati Roy “went berserk like a lone elephant in musk… she skates on slick and slimy grounds… admiring killer viper.” And so on and so forth. That’s politics for you.

Let’s look back, to a 2004 interview conducted by Terrence McNally, who has written a boatload of plays and won an almost as considerable boatload of awards for it. He questioned Roy on the role of the global citizen; the theatrical aspect of civil disobedience (she was given a symbolic one-day prison term for contempt of court); and why the personal and the political can’t be separated. And why writing is important. “Isn’t literature supposed to be placed at the heart of the world?”

Roy will be one of the featured speakers and participants at the 2009 London Literature Festival, an event worth getting on a plane for. This year, it runs from July 2 to July 16. Also on the program is astronaut Buzz Aldrin, making his only public appearance in the UK to mark the 40th anniversary of humankind’s arrival on the moon. Plus, there will also be a speaker with the rather alarming title of Director of Liberty, and it’s too bad we don’t have time to track down exactly what that office entails.

SOURCE: ” This is not a war on terror. It is a racist war on all Tamils ” 04/01/09
photo courtesy of mckaysavage , used under this Creative Commons license