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Why should you read Anna Karenina?

Soon Netflix will release new TV series on “Anna Karenina” novel by Tolstoy, so it is perfect time to read this magnificent masterpiece. Fortunately, it is not Keira Knightley who is going to star as Karenina this time. Oh, well… Here are a few other reasons to read this book now:

  1. Mastery of human psychology – Leo Tolstoy knows about heroes more than they know about themselves. His prose is psychological and deep.
  2. Ethics and morale of Tolstoy – the novel is written to express Tolstoy’s evolving views on ethics, morale and meaning of life.
  3. Exploration of existential questions. Tolstoy explores the questions of love, death and spirituality. He demonstrates a true love of Levin and Kitty and fake passionate love between Karenina and Vronsky. True love according to Tolstoy is based on sacrifice and spirituality.
  4. Historical precision and life in 19th century Russia. The novel portrays the vanity of noble class life in Russia.
  5. Autobiographical elements. Levin is in fact an alter ego of Tolstoy; thus, we can learn more about the legendary writer by reading the novel.
  6. Stream of consciousness. Tolstoy is the first writer to use the so-called stream of consciousness writing method to depict complex thoughts and feelings of heroes.
  7. Beautiful language of the novel. The author uses stunning metaphors, epithets and symbolism.
  8. A perfect novel. Nabokov in his book “Lessons on Russian Literature” calls Tolstoy the first and best Russian writer of all time.

“Cream” by Haruki Murakami

I am doing a creative writing course and thinking now of an idea for a short story. Looking for inspiration, tips and writing style ideas I decided to re-read the short story “Cream” from the latest collection of stories by Haruki Murakami “First person singular”. It is my favourite story from this short story collection. My intention of reading the story for a second time was to read as a writer (not as a reader) and notice minor details and Murakami’s secrets of magic prose.

I guess, the reason that I like Murakami’s writing in the first place is that he assumes a smart reader, a reader who is knowledgeable and willing to go an extra step. The meanings of the story emerge on multiple layers, and we (readers) need to peel these layers in order to get to the juicy revelations.

I love the beautiful symbolism of the story. References to travel, trains, buses are not novel for Murakami and here again Murakami uses the metaphor of a road to represent the journey of life. Symbolic references to trains, roads and cars have been used by writers previously, for instance by Leo Tolstoy in “Anna Karenina” and by Vladimir Nabokov (in several of his works). The Japanese town Kobe symbolises the identity of the hero of the story. The hero travels to the top of the mountain in search of a concert hall. He asks:

“Why in the world am I here?” I asked myself, as I sat hunched over in my seat, cooling my flushed cheeks with my palms

Of course, we understand that the question symbolises a search for meaning of life. Here again, we can see a reference to the “Castle” by Kafka, where the mountain symbolises spiritual growth. Murakami is skilful in demonstrating how geography and landscape represent the inner feelings of the hero. The idea of loneliness is not novel for Murakami and once again it is presented beautifully.

Further development of the story confirms the idea of spiritual search. The hero sits on a bench in the park and listens to the Christian message from the loudspeaker of an invisible car:

“But all those who seek salvation in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins will have their sins forgiven by the Lord. They will escape the fires of Hell. Believe in God, for only those who believe in Him will reach salvation after death and receive eternal life.”

The loudspeaker seems to be answering the question posed by the hero of the story. The question was answered in an unexpected and somewhat magical way. In one of his interviews, Murakami outlined the importance of asking the right questions in life. This story shows that once you ask the right question, you will get an answer back in some unexpected way. The next hint is the conversation with the old man:

“Listen, you’ve got to imagine it with your own power. Use all the wisdom you have and picture it. A circle that has many centers but no circumference. If you put in such an intense effort that it’s as if you were sweating blood—that’s when it gradually becomes clear what the circle is”

This discussion relates to the search for meaning beyond our normal logic and reason. To find meaning, we have to open up, expand our thinking beyond conventional ideas. Spirituality is something that you can’t explain like circles that have many centres with no circumference. It is a constant process of searching for truth and answers within yourself. I appreciate the boldness of Murakami discussing the unexplainable or ephemeral. Usually, writers do not dare to talk about something that they cannot clearly explain and argue for.

The beauty of the story is that there could be multiple interpretations. How did you understand this story?

“Snow” by Orhan Pamuk

Orhan is a Nobel Prize winner in literature in 2006. Orhan Pamuk’s novel “Snow” is both challenging to read, melancholic and deep. I like reading difficult literature as it allows for some space to fill the gaps and requires you to think about the implicit meanings. The first challenge for me was to understand the historical context of Turkey. The novel relates to several historical events and key figures in Turkish history such as Ataturk. I must admit, I was not very familiar with the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, so I had to do my internet search to fully understand the context. The city where the main action takes place is called Kars located in northeast Turkey. This city has experienced major transformations during World War I previously part of Armenia, Kars was transferred to Turkey. I think this town was deliberately chosen to be the center place of the novel. It is a town where history is still visible in old Armenian and Soviet buildings.

The main hero of the novel is Ka – a Turkish expat living in Germany. He is a poet and came to Kars to write about an increasing number of girls’ suicides happening in Kars. He spends three days in Kars, yet the time seems to be very slow in the novel and it feels like he’s been there much longer. Ka’s challenge is to find his identity: he feels that he is not German yet, but he is also considered a foreigner in Turkey. Ka grew up in an intelligentsia family in Istanbul and seems to embrace pro-western views and lifestyles. As he spends his time in Kars, Ka seems to rethink his identity.

The narrative of the story is reminiscent of “The Castle” by Kafka with references to spiritual search and spiritual awakening. When Ka walks in Kars and meditatively observes the fall of snowflakes, these moments in the book are so beautiful and deep and remind me of importance of finding meaning in simple things around us instead of searching for external pleasures. The dialogues in the story revolve around issues of faith versus secularism and east versus west. What is unique about this novel, though, is that arguments of both sides are well presented. We learn more about misperceptions of each side and the absurdity of dividing people into eastern and western. The idea of pride of headscarf girls is so deep and fundamental. I am not sure if we in the West really understand the Turkish notion of pride. Pamuk talks about topics that are taboo in modern culture and I love this.

It is also interesting how Pamuk describes the creative process of poem writing. It is sporadic, illogical and almost transcendental.

Book review: “Blind willow, sleeping woman” by Haruki Murakami

To put it in the simplest possible terms, I find writing novels a challenge, writing short stories a joy. Haruki Murakami

Murakami readers are typically divided into 2 camps: those who love Murakami and those who do not understand Murakami. I belong to the first camp and I’ve been reading his novels for more than a decade. In the COVID-19 times, it is a good idea to come back to the amazing work of Murakami. Since I’ve already read most of his work, it was a challenge to find a book I haven’t read yet. So, this time it is “Blind willow, sleeping woman” – a collection of 26 short stories. I was reading one story before going to bed and every day I had a great sleep. Most of you already know that Murakami is not a mainstream writer, his books are mysterious, haunting, melancholic and thought provoking.

What is the connection between the stories in the book? For me, it is a lot about feeling, the strange enlightenment that the world is different from what it seems. While reading Murakami, it is important to relax and switch off your logical mind. Otherwise, your mind will be constantly telling you that the book doesn’t make sense. Your mind constantly demands logical arguments, clear story endings and solid plots. When you switch off your common sense, reading Murakami becomes a journey to the new realities. I certainly enjoy this feeling when my common sense world is being turned upside down (How about a talking monkey or the Ice Man?).

I must admit, that I love Murakami novels more than his short stories. Yet, this beautiful book has done its job. I feel that the world is way more interesting and colourful than it seems (it is so hard to stay at home all the time due to COVID lockdown). Murakami’s stories are great at leaving space for imagination and creativity. I especially like the surrealist details. What was so unique about the bus in “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”? “What was the present in the “Birthday girl” story? What has happened to the man in “Where I’m likely to find it?” What is the business of “Dabchik?” Why did Miss Matsunaka kill herself in “The Shinagawa Monkey?”

Once again Murakami helps me to come back home. Murakami reading is a form of meditation. It is so weird, I am not Japanese but these stories seem so familiar to me. Maybe because we both like Dostoyevsky and Kafka?

My 3 favorite short story writers and why I love them

Julio Cortázar, – Julio Cortázar is an Argentine novelist representing magical realism and surrealism styles of fiction. I read my first Cortázar’s short story for my class of the Spanish language literature almost a decade ago and I still remember how fascinated I was then with this author. We had a discussion in class about our interpretation of the story and almost all the students understood the short story differently. This is why I love Cortazar: his stories are open to the reader’s imagination and interpretation. Reality is not solid in Cortázar’s writing, it is always controversial, multifaceted and surreal. Cortázar’s writing shows the absurdity and nonsense of our lives and bizarre personalities. Cortázar’s stories do not deliver concrete conclusions instead they make you think about existential issues. What is the meaning of life? What is love?

Anton Chekhov – Anton Chekhov is a 19th-century Russian writer famous for short stories and plays. Chekhov’s writing is eloquent and ironic. Chekhov’s characters are inconsistent, controversial and lively. Chekhov’s stories make you laugh, cry, worry and contemplate. Chekhov’s stories will never lose relevance because they touch upon deep layers of human consciousness. His style and language are so Russian and authentic. When I miss Russia, I tend to read a short story of Chekhov as a way to remind myself of the culture, language and traditions. Chekhov’s use of idioms, colloquial terms, and metaphors is simply stunning.

Haruki Murakami – Haruki Murakami is a contemporary Japanese writer representing magical realism and the surrealism style of fiction. His short stories are always about the inner lives of characters. It is almost as if the whole story is about consciousness and self-reflexivity of the main hero. Haruki Murakami always manages to present somewhat whimsy introverted main heroes. I love Murakami’s stories because they make me feel that I am not alone in my self-reflexivity and non-mainstream conception of the world. Surprisingly, I frequently relate to some of the characters in Murakami’s stories and these stories make me question my beliefs and habits. Murakami novels show that he is a great listener and observer of the world around him. His stories always leave a piece of tasty cake to the reader to contemplate and figure out. What is the birthday wish of a woman in the “Birthday girl” story? Is it to become happy or to find meaning in life? What do you think?

“Role of literature at the time of social crisis” – Melbourne Writers Festival 2020

Last week I have attended several insightful online sessions at the Melbourne Writers Festival. One of the sessions focused on the role of literature at the time of social crisis, climate change and the roles of literature in the education system in Australia. From this session I have learned that the literature serves an important role in society, it helps us to negotiate and understand societal problems and understand stories of “the other”. For kids, literature serves as a way to understand their identity and their country.

Australian literary landscape includes colonial writings, yet other less prominent streams focus on indigenous writings and writings of recent immigrants. In secondary schools, for example, Australian literature remains a fragile and fragmented area. It is only recently (since 2007) that the Australian literature was mandated within curriculum in schools. Australian schools place way more focus on the world literature as opposed to the Australian literature. This tendency could be explained by the dominant legacies of colonialism and historical traditions.

Literary education within Australian schools is also influenced by the political matters. The neo-liberal government places strong focus on the exams and students scores. It is the content of these exams that drives the curriculum choices and sharpens students’ focus. While teachers get increasingly high workloads and administrative burdens, they should be the cheerleaders of the Australian literature. Australian teachers should balance the need for global education and local knowledge.

After all, our training and education determine how we read and understand books. “You don’t read a text, but a text reads you”. Indeed, I notice myself that my international background shapes my interpretations of Australian books. It is very surprising that Australian schools don’t include much of Australian literature (I haven’t studied myself in Australia). I have to still familiarize myself with Australian literary landscape. My next blog posts will outline this interesting journey.


Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Habit 7 recognizes that you are your greatest asset. Thus, it is important to constantly invest in yourself and renew your dimensions- physical, spiritual, mental and emotional. As we work in modern corporations, we get exhausted, overworked and emotionally drained. Unfortunately, many organizations do not invest in their employee wellbeing. In fact, some organizations consider…

Why should you read Anna Karenina?

Soon Netflix will release new TV series on “Anna Karenina” novel by Tolstoy, so it is perfect time to read this magnificent masterpiece. Fortunately, it is not Keira Knightley who is going to star as Karenina this time. Oh, well… Here are a few other reasons to read this book now: Mastery of human psychology…

“Journey into Dreamtime” by Munya Andrews

“The truth is that we are more connected than we realise – that we are not alone in this world, but part of one big family.” This is a fairly short and comprehensive presentation of Australian Aboriginal culture. It is well written and beautifully argued. Munya has clearly succeeded in presenting Aboriginal values and ideals…

13 facts we don’t know about “Master and Margarita” and Bulgakov

I have just listened to a series of podcasts about “Master and Margarita” on the Russian online resource “Arzamas”. The podcasts are conducted by Marietta Chudakova, Soviet literary critic and historian. I will leave the link to the podcasts below (unfortunately, podcasts are only available in Russian). I have learned so much in these podcasts about the historical context of the novel, publication challenges and Bulgakov’s background.

  1. The novel was initially published in 1966 and was considered very extravagant for the times
  2. The novel was motivated by Goethe’s “Faust”
  3. The author wrote 6 different versions of the novel and the first version’s title was “Consultant’s hoof” (“Копыто консультанта”)
  4. The first versions of the manuscript didn’t have characters of Master and Margarita
  5. Bulgakov was one of the few writers (who did not emigrate) not supportive of the Soviet power and the Russian revolution. He wanted to write about the “Big terror” and Stalinism but could not openly criticise Soviet power and Stalin.
  6. Master is an alter ego of Bulgakov
  7. Bulgakov burnt one of the versions of the novel
  8. Woland is an alter ego of Stalin
  9. Bulgakov was born and raised in a religious family and thus the theme of religion and spirituality are prominent in his novel
  10. Bulgakov wrote a letter to the Soviet government asking for permission to leave the country
  11. Margarita’s character was possibly inspired by the wife of Bulgakov, Elena
  12. Bulgakov didn’t want to have kids because he was sick
  13. Bulgakov didn’t believe that his novel will ever be published (due to strict Soviet censorship)

Arzamas podcasts:

Book’d Out

Book Reviews and News

invisible borders

the eye of the outsider

Mundo Relatos

Narrativa, análisis literarios e informes de lectura cero

Words And Peace

Book reviews and good books for you to read

Buddhism in Daily Life

Buddhist meditation applied to our everyday lives...

Pages and Coffee Cups

{living life, one cup of coffee at a time}



A Useful Fiction

Just another site

The Thesis Whisperer

Just like the horse whisperer - but with more pages

Whispering Gums

Books, reading and more ... with an Australian focus ... written on Ngunnawal Country

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

For lovers of Australian and New Zealand literary fiction; Ambassador for Australian literature