Summary of Cultural Events 11th March 2018

Quite easy to summarise the last fortnight of cultural events: there were none! The snow spoiled plans to go and watch tango at Sadler’s Wells (but I managed to change the booking for this coming week). The International Women’s Day event organised by the University of London got postponed because of the UCU strikes. I’ve felt pretty run down and tired this week (also fed up with those everlasting financial disagreements with the ex), so I caught the bug that had been doing the rounds at the office, so I’ve cancelled plans for this weekend.

However, I did go to watch Lady Bird at the cinema just before the Oscars. While it was not the greatest film of all time (but then, how many of them are?), it was a rather delightful coming of age story from a girl’s perspective (we’ve watched so many from a young man’s perspective), with a lot of relatable humour, nuanced observation and characters we all remember from high school (the spoilt popular girl, the elusive poseur, the just-a-shade-too-encouraging married teacher etc.) and a fraught mother/daughter relationship which reminded me a little too much of mine.  I even wrote a thread about that on Twitter (and I normally never do threads – or at least not more than 2-3 tweets at a time). Maybe I was overthinking it because of the lack of other cultural events.

I did get quite a batch of books to add to my March reading plans though. While searching for something else at the library, I found Ödön von Horváth’s Tales of the Vienna Woods in both German and English and thought I would do one of my ‘closely observed translation study’ of it. Horváth was a true child of the Austro-Hungarian empire and learnt German only in his teens.

If you ask me what is my native country, I answer: I was born in Fiume, grew up in Belgrade, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna and Munich, and I have a Hungarian passport, but I have no fatherland. I am a very typical mix of old Austria–Hungary: at once Magyar, Croatian, German and Czech; my country is Hungary; my mother tongue is German.

Perhaps I can relate to him just a little… For the rest of his brief life, he would write in German – mainly plays, but also essays and novels. He was a keen observer of the absurdities of life and the rise of totalitarianism through indifference and the subjugation of popular culture, especially in the 1930s Germany and Austria. He fled to Paris after the Anschluss of Austria in 1938 and died that same year in a freak accident on the Champs-Elysées. Tales of the Vienna Woods was not only required reading at school, but I also happened to live on the outskirts of town, just about where those woods began, so it felt like he was writing for me. His work is full of quotable moments of flawed humanity:

Actually I’m quite different. But I so rarely have time to show it.

Based on Ann Morgan’s recommendation (it is she who read her way around the world in 2012), I also ordered Tiphaine Rivière’s Tiphaine Carnet de These, a humorous but realistic look at the life of a Ph.D. student. It is now available in English as well (translation by Francesca Barrie) and is a BD, which I really miss. There are comic books and manga available here in England, but it’s not quite the same.

Another local library find was Keigo Higashino’s Journey under the Midnight Sun, which looks seriously chunky, so I will probably have to renew it indefinitely. But you know I can never resist Japanese fiction!

Last but not least, I was sent an interesting crime novel from South Africa (another of my weaknesses), translated from Afrikaans. It is Karin Brynard’s Weeping Waters, translated by Maya Fowler and Isobel Dixon, and to be published by Europa Editions in April.


Weekly Summary of Cultural Events 25 Feb 2018

It hasn’t felt like a quiet week, with so much to catch up on after our short Irish holiday. However, there are only a few things to report on the cultural front.

I forgot to mention that we saw Black Panther while we were in Ireland and were wowed by the beautiful landscapes, costumes and actors and actresses. As an anti-monarchist, I found the macho posturing associated with becoming a king a bit silly, but was delighted that T’Challa was truly great because of all the women surrounding him. There is a ‘Which Black Panther character are you’ quiz doing the rounds at the moment and it didn’t surprise me that I came out as Nakia (although I was secretly hoping for Shuri). As an anthropologist, it was also fascinating to see how they tried to incorporate many different African traditions and cultures in the film, and show the rich diversity of the continent.

I saw another, very different film on Thursday at the Austrian Cultural Forum: Life Guidance by relatively young director Ruth Mader. It is a Black Mirror meets Wim Wenders kind of world, where capitalist consumption has reached its peak. The elite live in immaculate houses decorated mainly in white and beige, the men all wear impeccable suits, the women pastel or white, and everyone is in pursuit of excellence and self-improvement. It is the Communist utopia really (especially when the schoolchildren start singing about ‘fulfilling your full potential’), except it’s capitalist. But when the leading man, Alexander Dworsky, is quite content with his life and doesn’t want to strive to be even better, the private company (outsourced by the government) Life Guidance comes to call to ‘motivate’ him to fit in. This film has just the right level of sinister foreshadowing and is great in concept, but somewhat jerky in execution, with abrupt transitions from one scene to the next, which makes it hard for us to fully sympathise or understand.

In one of the funniest scenes from the film, the businessmen referred to the Life Guidance agency are all learning arts and crafts to develop more holistic skills. As a corporate trainer, this had me in giggling fits.

If you are keen on German language films and other events, the Austrian Cultural Forum offers an excellent selection of free events – and has a little library in its chic Knightsbridge mansion.

A few book acquisitions this week too: Our friends at Alma Press were having a sale on, so I couldn’t resist and bought some much-‘needed’ volumes of Bulgakov: The Diaboliad and Other Stories and Diaries and Selected Letters. Then, since I seemed to be on a Russian binge, I also bought two by Turgenev: A Nest of the Gentry and Fathers and Sons. I was also sent an ARC of Our House by Louise Candlish, which I’ve already read, as it makes a psychologically tense and murderous mockery of divorce and our British obsession with property prices.

Coming up next month, there will be a Women of the World festival at London’s South Bank from March 7th to 11th, including debates, theatre, activism, speed mentoring, workshops and much more.  Meanwhile, the British Film Institute is continuing its in-depth Ingmar Bergman season throughout March. From the 21st of March to the 1st of April BFI Flare will show the best new and classic LGBTQ+ films from around the world. I’ve got my eye on God’s Own Country, a love story between an English farmer and a Romanian migrant worker, starring Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu.

It’s Been a Week and a Half!

Oh, I can pun with the best of them, can’t I? ‘Cos it’s been slightly longer than a week since my last summary, and also a very eventful week, ha ha!

The most important event was our trip to Ireland. I’ve only ever been to Dublin for business and have previously seen mainly the airport, St. Stephen’s Green and the inside of some banks. This time I visited a good friend of mine from school, who lives just outside Dublin, and she treated us like royalty. She took me and the kids on various day trips to places whose names I struggle to spell or remember: the port of Dún Laoghaire, Malahide Castle and gardens, Trinity College Library of course with the Book of Kells, the Wicklow mountains with their dark scrubland, Bray and Cabinteely, Dalkey and Howth. We were extremely lucky with the weather and the pictures tell the story much better than I could. You may well expect a Friday Fun post on this theme very soon! However, one highlight was seeing my friend’s children and mine discuss Irish history: as a footnote to British history or as a nation struggling to free itself. (Curriculum and biased interpretation in action!)

Before leaving for Ireland, we also went to see the Sondheim musical Assassins at the RADA with their final year students, a play about the best-known successful and unsuccessful assassination attempts against American presidents. Given the school shooting which followed shortly afterwards, the wit seems almost unbearably mordant in retrospect. If Sondheim is suggesting that the American dream is of ‘everyone having the right to be happy’, even if that happiness involves killing others, then yes, it becomes less funny.

Finally, on Monday 19th February, I found myself going ‘just a little bit viral’, as my boys would call it. WordPress have highlighted my feather haibun post as a Blog to Discover. So I have been getting far more than my usual share of visits and likes. Thank you to all for reading and sharing, here’s to hoping that you won’t be disappointed that my posts are usually far more prosaic. I also hope I will get to know some of you better!

Weekly Cultural Summary and February Events

I have been very busy at work this week, so no time for cultural events, other than to note that I posted copies of Asymptote January book club title to all of the UK and Canadian subscribers. Some of you have received them already, and we will be revealing the title next week. It took a little longer than usual to arrive, as it was shipped over from somewhere far, far away. I am very excited about this book, as I have to admit (to my shame) that I have not read anything translated from this language before.

The only other contribution I made this week was to ogle at Silent Witness on TV, which featured my workplace as a stand-in for the American Embassy. I believe they were filming those episodes when I went in for my job interview, so I was surprised that it was swarming with police and uniformed guards.

Senate House, London

There are, however, plenty of interesting events coming up in February that you might be interested in:

French Film Festival

Thank you to Emma from Book Around who made me aware of this. From 19th Jan to 19 Feb you can stream a selection of recent French films. 10 short films are free, 10 feature films are accessible via a small fee. With subtitles, naturellement!

Swiss Cabaret

A literary cabaret on Feb. 9th, featuring obvious Swiss writers such as Peter Stamm, Monique Schwitter, Nicolas Verdan and Pedro Lenz and others whose links to Switzerland might surprise you (as they did me): Alain de Botton, Deborah Levy and Xiaolu Guo. At the Tabernacle in Notting Hill.

Reconsidering the Raj

Programme of monthly lectures organised by the Institute of Historical Research at Senate House, London – through until April. While you’re there, you might also want to have a look at the Queer between the Covers exhibition at the Senate House library .

Imagine Children’s Festival at the South Bank

Focus on Storytelling with guests Jacqueline Wilson, Francesca Simon, Harry Hill and many more, Kids Takeover (programming, organising ticket sales, intercom announcements etc.), Super Hero parties and many free events. WED 7 FEB – SUN 18 FEB

Julian Barnes in conversation with Hermione Lee

On the eve of the publication of his latest book The Only Story, Wednesday 21st February 19:00 at The Royal Institution. Very tempted to go, as I love both of them.

So, after a very long January, February beckons at last (perhaps even with some bulbs in the garden coming to life). What are you looking forward to this coming month?

Weekly Cultural Wrap-Up

Instead of just doing a reading and book buying wrap up of the week, I thought it might be fun to do a summary of all the cultural highlights. Which I have been fortunate enough to have plenty of, now that I am living near and working in London. So this will include any films, theatre, opera or ballet, book launches, talks or other events which I might have attended, as well as anything I might be aware of which is coming up for the following week, which might be of interest to others in the area. There’s got to be an upside to the downside of commuting (one day this week was particularly hellish, with my total commute taking over 4 hours – instead of 2.5 – in horrible conditions).

On Tuesday I got to see the witty, forthright and beautiful Leïla Slimani in action (and speaking English, much to my surprise!) at a Q&A and book signing at Waterstone’s Gower Street. With her journalistic background and feminist activist credentials, she had lots of opinions about current affairs and the #MeToo movement, but two things she said about her book Chanson Douce (translated as Lullaby in the UK and The Perfect Nanny in the US) particularly resonated with me: 1) how quick readers were to blame the mother Myriam for leaving her children with a stranger to go out and work when she didn’t need to, simply for her personal fulfilment and to go out for dinner with her husband; 2) how differently reviewers reacted to her book in France and in the UK/US. In France they commented mainly on her style and the narrative choices she made, while in the Anglo-Saxon community it is marketed as a thriller and is mainly about plot and unlikable characters. French literature is of course littered with unlikable characters, but so is classic English and American literature, so I don’t understand what this current emphasis is on sympathising with your protagonists. Besides, you can empathise and feel sorry for both Myriam and Louise (the nanny) in the book.

On Friday I saw a ballet double bill at the Coliseum. Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, a very modern tale of depression and suicide (gorgeous Ivan Vasiliev as the young man and the wonderful, ever-young Tamara Rojo as the woman), followed by the very different, classical romantic ballet of La Sylphide, full of men in kilts and the long white tutus of the ghostly sylphides. It was delightful to see the Sylphide played by a junior soloist of the company, the very young, incredibly light and graceful Japanese dancer, Rina Kanehara. Afterwards, we had a wander around the West End to admire the light installations of the Lumiere Festival – although London proved it was not quite the 24 hour city it prides itself on being, with the lights switching off promptly at 22:30!

Westminster Abbey illuminated by French digital artist Patrice Warrener, courtesy of Creative Boom website.

This week I’ve been reading the biography of Shirley Jackson, which has prompted some more purchases of her lesser-known novels Hangsaman and The Sundial. Of course I had to buy the English translation of Slimani’s novel to get it signed by her and I’ve already read it (review will be coming up shortly). And, since I never escape unscathed from a bookshop, I also stumbled across one of those photo-rich trilingual Taschen Bibliotheca Universalis editions about the filming of The Man Who Fell to Earth. As the bookseller said, ‘You can’t go wrong with Bowie.’

In other reading: just finished Hell Bay by Kate Rhodes, set on the Isles of Scilly (review coming up on Crime Fiction Lover) and am currently reading Nadia Dalbuono’s The Extremist set in Rome (review coming up on Shiny New Books). I’m reading Marie Darrieussecq in both English and French and will be posting a review of her disappearing husband book, as well as Hawksmoor on this blog very soon.

On TV, I’ve only watched the mistitled Big Cats documentary (because it refers quite a bit to wildcats which are smaller than my own moggy – who was watching just as carefully as me and probably taking hunting lessons) and my beloved Engrenages series.

Last, but not least, the Winter Issue of Asymptote Journal is out, and it is an anniversary edition, as Asymptote celebrates its 7th birthday. Yes, it first launched in January 2011, before I even became absorbed by writing or moved to France. For this special edition, there are some big names (Ismail Kadare and Daniel Mendelsohn), as well as many new voices and languages, including translations from Montenegrin, Mè’phàà and Amharic. For those of you who like short samplers, there is also a special feature on international microfiction or flash fiction.

Coming up: I would really like to attend (but can’t) the Gower Street Waterstone’s Forgotten Fiction Book Club this coming Tuesday, which will be discussing one of the defining books of my adolescence:  Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier. Two art events to catch this coming week (for those who can make it): last week of the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican and the Hayward Gallery at the South Bank finally reopens after refurbishment with a photography retrospective of the work of Andreas Gursky.

This Week Is For Living

What a tumultuous week it’s been! I’ve been somewhat paralyzed, like a deer in the headlights, unable to quite tear myself from the news and ranting about it to uncomprehending children…

This coming week will be different. For one thing, I will be posting less on the blog, you’ll be relieved to hear. ‘Why, oh why deprive us of your phenomenal reviews and musings, Marina?’ I hear you say (no snickering at the back, I can see you!). Well, because this will be a week of waving bye-bye to old housemates, living hard and trying out new things! Oh, and also because I am not organised enough to write posts and schedule them well in advance.

So what are the specifics? Aside from vet’s and dentist’s appointments, the usual job hunting malarkey and tax self-assessment (those are the less fun parts of the week), I will also be trying out several new physical activities, courtesy of the Fit for Life Week being organised in my local area. I will explore Tai Chi (I tried it a decade or so ago and loved it), a Ramblers’ walk, table tennis and running. So I’ll be reconnecting with all of the things I loved in my youth (other than skiing), because I hate going to the gym and am too uncoordinated for aerobics and zumba classes. Everybody always tells you how important physical exercise is when you are suffering from SAD or depression, but it can be so difficult to motivate yourself to do it regularly. Especially when you don’t have much time or would rather be writing instead.

They never show you the reality of running in the run on muddy paths, do they?
They never show you the reality of running in the run on muddy paths, do they?

On Wednesday I’ll be going to London to see Eugen Chirovici in discussion with Joe Haddow at Goldsboro Books. I’m really eager to read his book, the first that this Romanian author has written in English. What I didn’t know was that he was based in Reading while writing it, so quite close to where I live now.  At the time, however, I was in Geneva, so any dreams of creating our own two-person dynamic writing duo would have come to naught. And, as luck would have it, he is now based in Brussels.

Chirovici’s book has been translated into French and he’s been invited to my favourite crime festival, Quais du Polar, which will take place between 31st March – 2nd April this year in Lyon. I am trying to make up my mind whether I can afford to attend. Or if I can afford NOT to attend, as the line-up of crime-writing talent is magnificent, as usual: Ragnar Jonasson, Val McDermid, Clare Mackintosh, Arnaldur Indridason, David Vann, David Young, Sebastian Fitzek, Qiu Xialong, Zygmunt Miłoszewski , to name but a few of the international contingent.

From Quais du Polar website.
From Quais du Polar website.

On Thursday I’ll be traipsing to London once more to watch Amadeus at the National Theatre. One of my favourite plays and films of all time, and I’ve heard Lucian Msamati makes a compelling Salieri. If you can’t get tickets or go to London to see it, there will be a live broadcast on the 2nd of February. I’m tempted to see it again with my older son, the theatre buff. Or perhaps I should show him the film instead.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal History Archive/REX (4421088a) From 'Amadeus' a 1984 period drama film starring F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce and Elizabeth Berridge. VARIOUS
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal History Archive/REX (4421088a) From

Finally, it will be the first weekend that the boys will be spending at their father’s house after he moved out this past weekend. I’m not quite sure how empty the house will feel without them, but I do know that I won’t be going with them to the cinema to watch Sing. I would have liked to watch Hidden Figures, but, sadly, our local cinema focuses on latest blockbusters rather than smaller or independent or foreign language films. I might aim instead for Silence (based on Endo Shusaku’s novel) or T2 Trainspotting, although both of them sound dark rather than uplifting.

Any cultural events you are looking forward to this coming week or month? Let me know, especially if you are planning to come to London at any point. Perhaps we can meet up, if you still crave the sublimity of my book reviews or wish to hear me recite my poems out loud! I promise not to rant about politics.