August Reading, Events and Book Haul

There I was thinking I hadn’t done all that much reading in August, because my #WITMonth contributions have been a miserly five. However, when I counted them all up, I realised I’ve read 16 books, 7 of them in translation (5 of them Brazilian, to fit in with my August in Brazil reading). 10 books were by women, and I even read two non-fiction books (Sylvia Plath’s diaries and The Secret Barrister’s rather terrifying descriptions of the shortcomings of the English legal system).

I have reviewed The Head of the Saint, Middle England, The End, Lost World, The Tortoise and the Hare, The Pine Islands and Clarice, so only about half of what I read. I still intend to review some of the above, but don’t hold your breath, as out of sight tends to be out of mind! I will not be reviewing Plan B or Guilty Not Guilty, which were quick fun reads but nothing to get worked up about, while Platform Seven is the kind of novel that started out very eerily and got my hopes up, but became a bit too much of a bog-standard thriller about a psychologically abusive relationship. Fatechanger is a YA novel about a Dickensian Boston of thieves and newspaper boys during the First World War and a time-travelling girl who has to pretend to be a boy in order to survive.

Next month I will be focusing on China – and I have a good haul of women writers, including Eileen Chang, Wei Hui, Xiaolu Guo and Yan Ge, so my #WITMonth is set to continue!

It’s been a good month of events as well: a powerful play about immigrants, a writing retreat at my house, a Russian film about life after the collapse of the Soviet Union, an exibition on writing at the British Library, a triumphant GCSE results day, a day trip to Oxford and, last but by no means least, an extremely inspiring conversation between Ali Smith and Nicola Barker, two of the most innovative and daring and poetic writers at work today.

With all of the back to school preparations, we’ve been going shopping and therefore ‘accidentally’ ending up in bookshops (my older son is nearly as addicted to them as I am – hurrah for him, but boo-hoo for my wallet). So this month has been the scene of another massacre of my book-buying ban (it hasn’t really been in place since April).

These two are actually for the boys: one is required for the GCSE (for younger son), the other was older son’s choice as he pursues his plans for world domination. They liked the tactile covers and wordcloud/ quotations on the front.

Speaking of beautiful editions, I just had to get these two favourite Murdochs in the new Vintage editions. Yes, I like stories about cult-like communities and dodgy patriarchal leaders.

Some politically prescient novels and another edition of To the Lighthouse. When I first came to the UK, I only had two medium-sized suitcases but I brought my battered editions of Virginia Woolf’s diaries (5 volumes), A Room of One’s Own and 5 of her novels. I left this particular one at my parents’ house and haven’t been able to find it since, so it was high time I got myself a new copy.

Last night’s haul from the London Review of Books bookshop. The Ali Smith and Nicola Barker ones are now signed, of course, while the very slim Korean novella was devoured in the train on the way home. I so hope I will get to see George Szirtes again to have him sign this book for me – a moving account of his mother and her journey into exile. Last but not least, Deborah Levy’s story of starting over as a middle-aged divorcee, mother and writer.

#WITMonth: Brazilian short stories

My final take on Brazilian women writers this month falls under the approximate label ‘short stories’, although one is a collection of short stories, one is a fragment of a novel and the third is an allegory.

Clarice Lispector is an old passion of mine, but I’ve read her novels rather than her short stories. This beautiful collection of the Complete Stories is published by Penguin Modern Classics (translated by Katrina Dodson and edited by Benjamin Moser, this was well received, before the whole scandal about Benjamin Moser erupted two weeks ago, when another Lispector translator Magdalena Edwards accused him of colonising both Dodson’s prose as well as her own). It is a massive volume, so of course I didn’t try to read all of it in one go, or even read the stories chronologically. I dipped in here and there, attracted by titles or trying to find narrators (usually women) at different stages of their life.

Although precisely, exquisitely observed, there is something as ancient as the hills about the stories, a sense of inevitability. In Obsession, a married woman who has an affair with a difficult, manipulative man called Daniel, leaves her husband, moves in with her lover, finds out love is not all it’s cracked up to be, but struggles to let go of her idealised notions of him and of love.

I never smiled, I had unlearned joy. Yet I wouldn’t have removed myself from his life even to be happy. I was not, nor was I unhappy. I had so incorporate myself into the situation that I no longer received stimuli and sensations that would allow me to modify it… He needed me! I repeated a thousand times afterward, feeling that I had received a beautiful, enormous gift, too large for my arms and for my desire.

Most of the early stories are about the relationship between men and women, and at least have a semblance of a structured narrative. A young girl discovers something about male double standards in the very short story Jimmy and I, but decides not to worry about it and enjoy her life instead. In Interrupted Story a girl is attracted to a sad, self-destructive type of man and wants to rescue him… but life smacks her in the face. In Happy Birthday a family gathers around the eighty-nine-year-old matriarch, who is silently disappointed in them all, but also reminds them uncomfortably of their own mortality.

Other stories are more wilfully experimental. Horses as metaphors romp through the pages of Dry Sketch of Horses, representing ‘what is best in the human being’, still and statuesque during the day, released from burdens at night. Mysterious rituals and revels with a charismatic androgynous divine creature give way to disillusionment the next day in Where Were You at Night’. The Smallest Woman in the World is an extraordinary story of colonialism and racism (and an indictment of anthropology when it studies ‘exotic cultures’ like butterflies pinned to a table). Marcle Pretre, hunter and man of the world, comes upon a tribe of tiny pygmies in Central Congo, including the fully-grown, 18 inch pregnant woman ‘dark as a monkey’, whom he chooses to call Little Flower. She becomes a bit of a media sensation when her picture appears in the newspapers, but she remains unknowable and confuses the explorer with her laughter, her very different definition of love and her joy at not being devoured, that most perfect of feelings, the secret goal of an entire life.

Love this picture of Lispector in Bern in 1946-47

Lispector seldom gives instructions on how to read her stories. They lurch like a runaway tram between realism and the fantastical, between universal and very detailed, very particular observation. Like with Shirley Jackson, there is always something slightly off about the stories, something lurking in their depths. Nothing is as straightforward as it might appear.

The extract from the novel Perhaps an Animal by Natalia Borges Polesso (transl. Sophie Lewis) is in a way a reprise of the Lispector story Jimmy and I, with its conclusion that it’s best to live like an animal, content in what you get every day and not daring to want too much. A poor girl who has come to Sao Paolo to work but is struggling to make ends meet and resorts to eating food out of bins. She encounters a boy who wants to become a woman, who tells her earnestly:

There’re times it’s good to be an animal. I think we hang on to this idea that humans and humanity are always the best thing to be. What we’re really talking about is kindness – except it’s not always like that. Humanity is far from being a good thing. Look around. If everyone was an animal, at least no one would feel guilty, No one would be bearing grudges, no one would be judging.

Both stories are from this rather lovely volume I bought at the Hay Festival last year.

If Polesso seems to have affinity with the more realistic side of Lispector’s fiction, Mariana Torres’ Roots (transl. Lisa Dillman) hearkens more to the surreal Lispector. This is a charming, sad little allegory about displacement. The narrator was ‘born in Brazil because everything grows in that soil’. The day she is born her father plants the seeds of an apple he was eating and a tree grows in the same rhythm as the roots on the soles of the girl’s feet. When the family moves to Rio, they prune and take the tree with them; both it and the girl acclimatize to life in the city, but her body becomes covered with shoots and she can no longer go to school. So the family decides to move to the other side of the world (somewhere in Europe), again with the tree in tow. In the new city where nothing grows, where ‘the earth is brown, hard and dry, it’s impossible to plant anything’, the girl learns to fake it but ‘the truth is that at night the scars on the soles of my feet burned’.

#WITMonth: Brazilian Literature – Patricia Melo

Patricia Melo has been on my radar as a crime fiction writer for quite a few years now, but it’s not always easy to get hold of her books, even though she has been translated into English to what the publishers call ‘rave reviews’. (She has been published by Bloomsbury and Bitter Lemon Press, incidentally.)

Lost World, translated by Clifford E. Landers, is not strictly speaking crime fiction, but more of a noir road trip. Which, as I’m beginning to find out, is a recurring motif in Brazilian novels. I’ve also reviewed Perfect Days by Raphael Montes, and The House in Smyrna by Tatiana Salem Levy, and there too we have the mingling of past and present, a search for someone or something, a running away from or running towards… and ultimately finding one’s self, even if that self is not very nice at all.

Maiquel is a retired contract killer. He’s been on the run and living under the radar for ten years, and managing to chug along relatively comfortably, because, according to him…

In Brazil… there’s no shame in having an arrest warrant out against you. It’s all the same, poor, rich, white, the hotshots, I mean cabinet members, council me, bigwigs, everybody’s got one. Brazilians are like that, real scumbags. It’s part of our culture to steal, to play dirty. It’s like being a hold-up victim: sooner or later everybody is.

He briefly shows up for his Aunt Rosa’s funeral, who leaves him her house and money, and realises that she was his last living relative… except for his daughter. His former girlfriend Erica ran off with his baby daughter more than ten years ago and he becomes determined to find her. With his aunt’s money he can now afford to pay a private detective to try and trace them.

His mission of revenge is not as simple as it sounds. Erica ran away with an evangelical preacher and has by now become quite a prominent figure in the church herself. They have guards, loyal servants, several homes and the ability to disappear suddenly over the border to Bolivia. Maiquel chases after them in an often hilarious but more frequently violent cat-and-mouse game. Along the way, we see him casually ‘dispose’ of people, treat women appallingly, behave erratically, but we also witness him getting beaten up, and rescuing and looking after an ugly dog in quite a touching manner. Melo keeps her main character deliberately ambiguous. Often infuriating and making stupid, rash decisions, he nevertheless sometimes has the air of a lost child, confused by the world around him and making cynical jokes as a coping mechanism.

This starts making sense when we discover more about his earlier life:

The first thing my father taught me was that I was invisible. And the second was that I was worthless. And that nothing mattered. He taught me in his own way, without saying a word, just with his eyes, while everything around us rotted. A can of worms. I learned fast.

He reluctantly allows himself to be helped in his quest not just by his private investigators and their friends and families, but also by a string of lonely women, which makes Maiquel meditate about love in the short, incomplete sentences that the author uses when she tries to convey his inability to articulate things.

And soon she’d disappear. Like all the other women… I’d never see Lucia again. Deep down, it doesn’t matter what you do, no one is left. Everything ends. They end it for you. They put things in the way. Life itself Or nothing. It just doesn’t work. You yourself try to destroy it. Because the hard thing isn’t loving. It’s seiing it through. Moving ahead. Living together, every day.

I should add that Maiquel does not always express himself like that. There are times when he is remarkably fluent, with wry humour, and his train of thought is mirrored in long sentences. Still, I think that Melo is trying to mimic his uneducated, unfiltered but nevertheless interesting take on life. This is a psychological journey for him as well. We watch him emerge from the chrysalis and at times it’s a painful process, which he doesn’t quite know how to describe.

So he is certainly not quite such a fast learner as he claims he was in his childhood, especially when it comes to the lesson that the past is the past and cannot be undone. That he has missed his opportunities and his ‘lost world’ or ‘lost family’ are nothing but an illusion.

I’d just like to point out the difference between the English and Portuguese language covers. The English cover has nothing to do with the story, and seems to be simply cashing in on readers’ impressions of Brazil (the beach, the skyscrapers, the poor children). The Brazilian edition at least shows you the protagonist is a grown-up man with a gun… but paused, waiting, blurry, losing himself at the edges.

In conclusion, this is a gritty and often graphic read, a condemning portrait of present-day Brazil, with a sad throb running all the way through it. Not as good as other books by Melo that I’ve read, so I wouldn’t perhaps recommend starting here. Perhaps try Inferno, heartbreaking because the main protagonist is a little boy.

#WITMonth: The Pine Islands

Marion Poschmann: The Pine Islands, transl. Jen Calleja

On paper, this book seemed to have all the right ingredients to be much loved by me. A man – washed-up part-time researcher on beards Gilbert Silvester – has a midlife crisis, suspects his wife is cheating on him and decides to go to Japan to find himself. He embarks upon a road trip (a train trip) with a suicidal Japanese sidekick, following in the footsteps of haiku master Basho Matsuo and his travelogue Narrow Road to the Deep North. In actual fact, I thought this was a mongrel that was neither one clear thing nor another, and had no vivacity or charm of its own to make up for that.

It started off reasonably promisingly with the well-trodden but still potentially gripping ‘confused in Tokyo’ stance:

How had he ended up in this city without the slightest effort? What did he want to do here? … He was, he suddenly put it to himself, very far from everything that had ever been familiar to him. He had taken himself off into the unknown, into this most unfamiliar of environments, and the eerie feeling he was experiencing stemmed from the fact that this environment didn’t seem eerie in the slightest, simply functional, somewhat pretentious and somewhat sterile.

This confusion does not last long and does not stop Gilbert from becoming what the Germans call a Besserwisser (who knows everything better than you), an expert in Japanese culture, who presumes to lecture his travel companion, the improbably named Yosa Tamagotchi. Never mind the fact that Yosa is a native of Japan but barely speaks any English and therefore does not have much of a chance to explain himself.

Although Gilbert claims to be watching over Yosa to prevent him committing suicide, he actually takes him on a whistlestop tour of popular suicide spots and is equally obsessed with reaching Matsushima Bay, that scenic spot full of pine-tree clad islands, which seems to be catnip to suicidal Japanese. He even loses Yosa along the way, because he is too absorbed and smug about the haikus he produces at each stop in the journey, in imitation of Basho. Of course, he now counts himself among those who have imbibed all the subtlety of Japanese culture.

The traveller to Matsushima were lunatics, moon-stuck, eccentric. They composed their own sacred legends, everything was worthless to them apart from poetry, and for them poetry stood for the spirit’s path to nothingness. They were extremists, ascetics, mad for a certain kind of beauty, the fleeting beauty of blossom, the ambiguous beauty of moonlight, the hazy beauty of the secluded landscape.

The Pine Islands at Matsushima.

I tried to be generous and think of this book as a philosophical and metaphorical journey. Could the young, diffident Japanese man with the barely there beard be his Doppelgänger? A loser in Japanese society, Yosa is the perfect foil to Gilbert, who is pretty much a loser in his own society (and certainly when compared to his professionally far more successful, no-nonsense wife). By finding someone weaker than himself, someone he can hector and lecture to his heart’s content, Gilbert manages to recover from his midlife crisis. I’m not sure his wife was too impressed with the letters he sent her, though.

There are some lyrical passages and poetic descriptions, but do we really need a longish paragraph listing all of the different types of pine trees? What irked me above all was that the insight into Japanese society feels superficial, like the main protagonist has swallowed the guidebook and then regurgitated it. But that might be the author, who appears to pick on the most obvious Orientalist othering type of observations, while claiming a deeper understanding. If this was intended to be a parody of Eat Pray Love with a middle-aged male protagonist (which would have been a promising premise), then it’s just not funny enough.

I don’t think reading it in German would have made much of a difference – the translator seems to have done her best. So a bit of a disappointment and somewhat surprising that it made it onto the shortlist of the International Booker Prize.

#WITMonth: Fernanda Torres

My foray into Brazilian women writers continues apace with an author who has been recommended by many other Latin American authors (at the Hay Festival panels, for instance). Fernanda Torres is an actress, scriptwriter and novelist. Her debut novel The End is a witty depiction of beach bum culture and machismo, and it has been translated by Alison Entrekin for Restless Books in the US. However, as far as I can tell, it hasn’t reached this side of the Atlantic.

Ciro, Neto, Alvaro, Silvio and Ribeiro are five aging Carioca friends, who have either grown up together or got to know each other at university. The book has an interesting structure: we enter the minds of each one of the five in reverse chronological order of their death. We see them old and decrepit, hear their regrets, witness their deaths… and then get to see and hear what their wives, their sons and daughters, their friends their doctors and their priest thought of them. We get a flashback into their lives and their friendship, their marriages, their divorces, their affairs, their triumphs, regrets and disappointments. We see many of the same events, the parties, the seductions, the quarrels, the missed opportunities through five different pairs of eyes – and quite often from the point of view of their long-suffering wives.

For these are clearly men of the older generation, who expect to get away with anything. Ciro is the charismatic Don Juan, emulated by all, but is the first to die. Neto is the only one of them who tries to be faithful to his beloved wife Celia (and she tries to remove him from his circle of friends) – but is left a widower and doesn’t quite know what to do with himself after that. Ribeiro spent his whole life on the beach, proud of his good looks, terrified of aging. Now he’s resorted to giving volleyball lessons to old ladies and stuffing himself with Viagra. Silvio is addicted to sex orgies and drugs and cannot stop himself from carrying on with his friend’s girlfriend, even though he is married. Alvaro is the one who survives them all and he has become a grumpy old man. Modern life and habits only annoy him.

I don’t separate my trash, I don’t recycle, I throw cigarette butts in the toilet, I use aerosols, I take long hot showers, and I brush my teeth with the water running. Screw mankind. I won’t be around to see what happens. I haven’t voted in theirteen years, I’m not responsible for the tragedy around me.

Alvaro is impotent: both literally and metaphorically. And of course he blames others for his predicament. His is the first story and in many respects his monologues are the funniest. We’ve all met Alvaros like that.

It was women who made me lose interest. Nagging, snivelling, needy. Women love to blame their own unhappiness on the next person. I never let them drag me in. The minute they get one sign of life from you, they shoot off a three-page monologue in your ear. Boy, can they talk, they never get sick of yakety-yakking… I don’t like women. Truth be told, I don’t like anyone. I did like Neto, Ciro, Silvio, and Ribeiro, though. Men don’t talk. We each say something idiotic, we laugh, we drink, and there you have it: a great night.

Men’s friendships seem puzzling to me at times. I have male friends who are excellent friends and who can talk about anything, including their feelings. But very often I look at the friendships based on drinking beer, playing video games and watching football matches, while avoiding anything but the most superficial exchange of information regarding their personal lives and I wonder. Replace beer with cachaca and qualudes, video games with beach life – and you have that mysterious default of life itself, shared experience, growing old together even if you don’t have much in common, which Fernanda Torres manages to capture with what feels me to like great authenticity.

There are plenty of laughable, cringe-worthy moments to divert readers. But, as we get to see the other perspectives, the satire acquires additional layers of depth and the comedy turns into tragicomedy. Are all of these men losers who deserve their come-uppance, or are all of our lives full of mistakes and bad choices?

The famous wave pattern of Copacabana beach, about which Alvaro says: ‘Stupid mosaics. They’re everywhere. Pour some concrete over the top and send on the steamrollers!’

A book soaked in the atmosphere of Rio and Copacabana beach (which appears in the very first paragraph), yet with universally recognisable ideas of masculinity and looking back at life with regret.

#WITMonth: Socorro Acioli

I’m sticking predominantly to Brazilian women writers this month, as the Women in Translation Month coincides with my Brazilians in August. The first of the authors is new to me. Socorro Acioli writes mainly children’s (or YA) literature, and this book The Head of the Saint, translated by Daniel Hahn, illustrated by Alexis Snell and published by Hot Key Books, seems to be targeted at the YA market. This does surprise me somewhat – although I know YA readers can be quite sophisticated, the subject matter here (all about poverty and corruption, religion as the opium of the masses, marriage and gender expectations) does not seem to hold much appeal for that kind of audience. It’s the first of Acioli’s books to be translated into English, and the reason that they were brave enough to do it has perhaps something to do with the fact that she developed the story for it while attending a writers workshop hosted by Gabriel Garcia Marquez some years ago.

Samuel is a young orphan, with ‘a thin, hungry body, almost a shadow’. He has been walking for days, ten hours a day, barefoot, nearly starving, because he has promised his recently deceased mother to go the town she originally came from, find his grandmother and father, and light a candle at the feet of the town’s patron saint. [There is a fashion in Brazil for giant statues on hills outside towns, like the statue of Christ in Rio.]

This is St Francis rather than St Anthony, and in a different location, but it gives you an idea of what we are talking about.

The problem is that when he reaches the god-forsaken town of Candeia, his grandmother chases him away, the giant statue of St Anthony has lost its head and the town appears all but abandoned, because the saint is believed to be cursed.

Samuel finds shelter from a thunderstorm in the head of the saint, which has rolled down to the bottom of the hill (although we will soon find out, in a very funny story, that it had not ‘fallen off’ but was a construction error and never made it to the top of the statue in the first place). He is bitten by dogs and unable to move for a while, so he believes he is starting to hallucinate when he hears voices singing and praying.

It turns out that a small group of women do still believe that St Anthony can help them to find their true love and get married. Samuel and a boy from town whom he befriends, Francisco, set out to make those prayers come true. Lo and behold, they get more and more requests, the saint’s reputation is transformed and Candeia starts to come alive again. This continues even when it’s discovered that Samuel was the person behind the ‘miracles’ (although some of the miracles are never fully explained, they just seem to happen as people start feeling more positive about things).

There is more to the story: Samuel finding out about his family background, and his quest to find the mysterious voice who fills his ears with a dream-like song in a language he doesn’t fully understand. There are funny moments – the origin of the name Madeinusa, for example – and poignant ones: families abandoned, men cheating, corrupt mayors, hired men to beat up people. Yet through it all, Samuel holds steadfast to the promise he made to his dying mother.

The book is described as ‘charming and heart-warming’, and it does have some similarities with Jorge Amado’s depiction of life – cheerful and energetic, despite the deep social inequalities. There is also something of the practical, straight-talking characters from Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series there. But, as with nearly all Brazilian literature I’ve encountered, magic and dreams and surreal situations are only a heartbeat away.

Nominations for #WIT Top 100

Women in Translation Month is coming up very soon, and for this year, the founder and host of #WITMonth Meytal at Biblibio has decided to curate a list of the top 100 women in translation. You are all invited to take part, if you follow some basic rules:

I’ve selected ten books that instantly came to mind, without me having to go through my bookshelves in detail. I could have chosen so many more, but these are ones that have really changed my world, shaken my foundations, taught me what it means to be a woman and an artist and other such fundamental things. And, instead of telling you what the book is ‘about’, I will just give you a 3 word (or thereabouts) summary and a quote from each.

Looking at the list, I guess none of them are really cheerful, happy books, are they?

Simone de Beauvoir: Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter) – bourgeois turns bohemian

 I had wanted myself to be boundless, and I had become as shapeless as the infinite. The paradox was that I became aware of this deficiency at the very moment when I discovered my individuality; my universal aspiration had seemed to me until then to exist in its own right; but now it had become a character trait: ‘Simone is interested in everything.’ I found myself limited by my refusal to be limited.

Jenny Erpenbeck: Gehen, Ging, Gegangen (Go, Went, Gone) – meeting, connecting, empathy

Have the people living here under untroubled circumstances and at so great a distance from the wars of others been afflicted with a poverty of experience, a sort of emotional anemia? Must living in peace – so fervently wished for throughout human history and yet enjoyed in only a few parts of the world – inevitably result in refusing to share it with those seeking refuge, defending it instead so aggressively that it almost looks like war?

Veronique Olmi: Bord de mer (Beside the Sea) – depressed mother, heartbreak

You force yourself to live as best you can, but everything keeps fading away. You wake up in the morning but that morning no longer exists, just like the evening preceding it, forgotten by everyone. You inch forward on a cliff edge, I’ve known that for a while. One step forward. One step in the abyss. Then you start over again. To go where? No one knows. No one cares.

Ingeborg Bachmann: Malina – victim of imagination or men?

Some people live and some people contemplate others living. I am amongst those who contemplate. And you?

Murasaki Shikibu: Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji) – shining prince ages

You that in far-off countries of the sky can dwell secure, look back upon me here; for I am weary of this frail world’s decay.

Yosano Akiko: Midaregami (Tangled Hair) – poetry of female desire

A star who once

Within night’s velvet whispered

All the words of love

Is now a mortal in the world below —

Look on this untamed hair!

Clarice Lispector: Complete Short Stories – capricious, scintillating, sad

Mama, before she got married… was a firecracker, a tempestuous redhead, with thoughts of her own about liberty and equality for women. But then along came Papa, very serious and tall, with thoughts of his own too, about… liberty and equality for women. The trouble was in the coinciding subject matter.

Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu: Drumul acuns (The Hidden Way) – social critique of inter-war Romania

The snobbery of Papadat-Bengescu’s protagonists is a defining trait of the Romanian bourgeoisie, of humble and precarious origin, without any aristocratic ancestry, and therefore keen to integrate into top-tier society at any price, either by falsifying their family history or by making unjustifiable moral compromises.

Critique from Autorii.com

Gabriela Adamesteanu: Dimineata pierduta (Lost Morning) – political family saga

How little of what lies within us we are able to convey through words! And how few of those words are received by others. And yet we keep on talking, firm in the belief that the sun of rationality will light up our souls… Otherwise, what would our lives be like if we view conversations as being as complicated as blood transfusions? It’s only when we’re at our lowest ebb that we are haunted by this suspicion, but we cast this suspicion aside as soon as we possibly can.

Marina Tsvetaeva: In the Inmost Hour of the Soul (or any other of her poetry) – quirky, passionate, ruthless

I have no need of holes

for ears, nor prophetic eyes:

to your mad world there is

one answer: to refuse!