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Thursday, August 18

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan or my kind of gal

Marina Keegan had just graduated from Yale when she was killed in a car accident. She was 22. Her collection of nine stories and nine essays became an instant success. It had to do with her being young, pretty, maybe having an introduction to the book written by her professor. It had to do with the reading world being sad that such a sensitive, profound, promising writer ceased to exist before having a chance to grow into a mature tamer of words. Tragedies of this kind strike the world in any field, age range and family. Why should this particular book be any different?

It is the message, the honesty, the language and the fabric of her writing that get stuck with the reader. It is probably a youth manifesto for all the 22 year olds feeling at a loss and at the same time, on top of the world -such an intoxicating contradictory feeling replenishing the hearts and minds of young men and women and other readers emerging in her writing. Still, the loneliness of nights spent in front of computers, roaming streets or staying awake, tired and lost, might ring a bell to many others past their college years. After all, we do live in an age of misanthropy, estrangement, isolation, constantly trying to redefine and challenge stereotypes and gender patterns, in an attempt to reconcile with ourselves and the outer world. 

We do not have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that's what I want in life. 

It is touching how such a young person could be pointing to the meaningful questions and striving to find balance in her existence. In her writing, she did it by depicting and analyzing the small things, the insignificant details and the way she made sense of the world. The big questions and the right answers were sieved through the mind, sensitivity and courage of Marina. I found especially interesting the way she talked about all these Yale graduates full of ideals and big dreams that ended up chasing big checks on Wall Street. Where do we lose our innocence and how do we preserve our inner passions? It is saddening to have such a young woman point to the harsh truths we seek to elude daily. How do we juggle with the priorities, the responsibilities, the love and the reason and still find kindness, first, towards ourselves and then, to those around us? 

I am always moved by such kindness. Especially the reflexive, genuine tender-heartedness of strangers- a mere display of the desire of human connection that goes beyond race, religion, gender, and ethnicity. For Marina, we are all an abundance of people, all in this together. Too short and never too late are another important aspects of her writing. Life comes out as too short to waste energies and wither over trivial matters and it is never too late to make amends and start fresh. Such over used, langue du bois that pushes us farther from the essentials and such an easy way to discard people and chances. Still, inherent to human nature and to the vulnerability we choose to cover from intrusive eyes and minds. 

It is quite hard not to lose the sense of possibility. Most of the times, it just lies there buried under piles of comfort and adjustable pieces of truth we tell ourselves. We stand prisoners to our anatomy and biased views, trapped inside glass houses. We fear the thickness of the walls when in fact, our chains are gossamer and our eyes are blinded by too much light. Outer light when in fact, we need to tunnel out our inside sparkle. 

Tuesday, July 26

Stranger things binging and chocolate revival

When in-between worlds and milestones, binging on Netflix goodies and rediscovering chocolate is way too good to be true. And yet, I have proudly done it: watched the first season of Stranger Things and ate Romanian pecan and ginger chocolate. 

The series is a mixture of fond 1980s film and book memories, a dazzling cocktail of Spielberg, Stephen King, and Carpenter, back when we shared low expectations and tons of enthusiasm. It is indeed a kind of nostalgia approach meant to manipulate and conquer, yet it stands the kind of guilty pleasure you indulge into without any shred of remorse. It is appealing and challenging, a display of good acting, unexpected talent and excellent storyline. Without spoiling much of its ambiguous, yet twisty plot, I'll tell you it feels great to be surprised every now and then by some sci-fi and horror series.

The chocolate is a discovery of mine while taking the less trodden paths in a beloved city, searching for good coffee and getting in exchange great flavors. The bar is called PaulaAna, pecan nuts and ginger with a shred of bourbon vanilla and 34% cacao. In case you have not tried pecan nuts, you have missed on some balanced kind of nut that goes perfectly with candied ginger. They fill the bar in generous chunks and again, seem to get vanish in no time, lingering against the roof of your mouth and at the back of your mind. It brought back to mind old chocolate days and I shuddered at the thought of such addiction mercilessly replaced by coffee drinking. But I choose to believe chocolate is like old love, out of sight, forgotten to taste buds, yet hardly unremembered. Until new love settles in, right?

The lovely book of choice, meant to balance things and harden the spirit, is The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, a journey into the great minds of artists who have come to terms with their estrangement from the world or chosen to filter it through their own sensitivity. We stand alone, occasionally colliding with ourselves and the ones around, the perfect gregarious recluses we afford to embrace. 

Saturday, July 2

The God of Small Things or how History breaks Love

Some of us like to swear on their beliefs and allow intransigence to define their actions. The truth likes the muddled path, thriving in its various shades. Books are meant to essentially challenge our comfort and deliver us from preconceived ideas, bringing us closer to our own vulnerability. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is about the thick layer of humanity we seek after in every human being. We are permanently striving to make sense of the behavior of those around us and the book is but an example of the way history itself influences minor decisions and choices. Caught in between our own natures and the pulsating world around us, the truth shrinks to the needs and whims of outer forces. 

The book is about a pair of seven-year-old twins, Estha and Rahel, living with their divorced mother, Ammu, their uncle Chako, their grandmother and their great-aunt in Ayemenem, Kerala. The family run a pickle business and belong to the Syrian Christian caste. All characters in the book are denied happiness and briefly get a taste at life's mysteries and small treasures before tragedy strikes them all and their fates are sealed. Chako's ex-wife Margaret comes for a visit to India bringing their young daughter, Sophie Mol. The little girl's death condemns the twins and throws them at the mercy of the other family members who play them according to their interests. They end up separated and grow apart to indefinite outcomes.  

The story tells itself like a river flows -rapidly at peak tense moments, slowly like the touch of a lover as it basks its banks in layered narrative. Language is the defining aspect of it, with rhythmical comparisons and dainty tales, striking a frail, yet vivid, balance between past and present, casting a long shadow on the future, revealing enough to tease the senses and question the mind. The book depicts a raw India, torn by caste fights and challenged by Communism, a mixture of heathen and sacred, a spellbound land of spiritual trials shadowed by child abuse, violence, corporation greed, tourism, humiliation and corruption. 

There is also some damned love story between a disgraced woman and an inferior man. Their organic connection, the way their eyes speak and their senses riot, is beyond the boundaries set by History and Humanity alike. It is ancestral and sensuous, infused with breathtaking pain and beauty. And much to its ill-fated course, it renders an acute complexity, mainly due to the writer's clarity of style. Also, the book brings forward some memorable characters such as the blind Mammachi, a violin-playing grandma who runs the family business after the death of her abusive husband. Baby Kochamma, the great-aunt, is prisoner to her own unrequited love for a Catholic priest to whom she bestowed her entire life. The love she did not receive, slowly deprived her of any other shred of love she could have given to another human being.  

The style is at times ostentatious and precious, a challenge for an unprepared, yet curious, reader who will find himself/herself taken aback by the organic throbbing of language that has a way of accommodating the veins of any reader. Alongside all other merits, you are bound to stay with the richness of the book and the perils of over-loving at the mercy of History. Such concept might be unfamiliar to a reader born under felicitous times, yet there are still many parts of the world where love is shaped by the constraints of class, caste, territory, religion, racism, and history.