Endgame by Samuel Beckett

Reviewed by Edith LaGraziana

The Purgatory of
Life Before Death

So far my experience with what is called the Theatre of the Absurd has been very limited and not particularly enchanting. Therefore it was daring of me to pick of all things a play by the 1969 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015 on Books and Chocolate for which I signed up with my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany. I must admit that reading his famous Endgame from 1957 hasn’t been a mere pleasure for me. As a matter of fact, absurdity not only confuses me as much as ever, but it also annoys me terribly although in general I like the symbolic and thought-provoking.

Quite expectedly, the play left me at a loss at first. Not being a chess player, I didn’t even grasp the title’s reference to the final moves of a game that in fact is already decided. For the rest, the story took a while to sink in and to allow me to see some of its hidden meaning. The scene, as the author meant it to be, is scarce and bleak from beginning to end consisting only of an almost empty room with two windows on the back wall that are so high up that it requires a ladder to look out. In an in-depth analysis of the play I read that it’s an assertion to the human skull, but reading the book it didn’t occur to me although it might be rather obvious when seen on stage. In the room there are two ashbins and, on a chair in its exact centre, sits Hamm as if he were just a piece of furniture, not one of the protagonists. Apart from Hamm only three characters ever appear on stage, namely the other protagonist called Cloy and Hamm’s ancient parents Nagg and Nell “living” each in an ashbin where they sleep and nibble a biscuit occasionally. The world of all four is one without hope nor meaning. All they ever “do” is wait for death to bring them the long yearned for salvation. The play focuses on the relationship of Hamm and Cloy which is one of mutual dependence. Blind and paralysed Hamm clearly represents the thinking and inventive mind that is helpless without the five senses and muscle control of which Cloy is an allegory since he is the one who can perceive the outside world and move about in it. Nonetheless, Cloy depends on Hamm because without his key he has no access to food and is doomed to starve. Nagg and Nell, on the other hand, stand for the memory of the past that many of us tend to treat like rubbish. Their role in the play is secondary, though, because they only appear when Hamm calls for them.

There isn’t much of a real plot in Endgame because the play revolves around the characters whose actions are often repetitive and – absurd. Surely, it’s a play that needs to be read and seen on stage, but I’m not much of a theatre-goer. Writing this review, however, helped me to understand the idea behind the play and to appreciate its complex symbolism. It’s clearly a work of genius… and therefore not easily accessible.

Original post on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion:

#Win Herta Müller's The Fox Was Ever the Hunter #Giveaway (open WW!) @ReadNobels

The first ever Read the Nobels 2016 Reading Challenge is ongoing and you can join in any time of the year! Just read one book written by a Nobel Prize for Literature laureate in 2016. Ready? Sign up HERE.

This week, 4 copies of a new book by 2009 Nobel Prize Laureate, Herta Müller is up for grabs, courtesy of the publisher. 

Your next Nobel read could be a freebie if you win The Fox Was Ever the Hunter (2 paperback copies - US only, 2 ebooks - International).

Here's a little more about the book:

About The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Müller*: An early masterpiece by Herta Müller now translated into English for the first time by Philip Boehm. This striking novel centers on four friends in Romania during the last months of the totalitarian Ceausescu regime. One of the group works for the secret police and is reporting on the others—but which one is it? Combining an array of intense images, Müller shows us how the terror and paranoia of surveillance can permeate even the most mundane details of daily life.


The way of the apple worm

The ant is carrying a dead fly three times its size. The ant can’t see the way ahead, it flips the fly around and crawls back. Adina doesn’t want to block the ant’s path so she pulls in her elbow. A clump of tar next to her knee glistens as it seethes in the sun. Adina dabs at the tar with her finger, raising a thin thread that stiffens in the air before it snaps.

The ant has the head of a pin, the sun can’t find any place to burn. The sun stings. The ant loses its way. It crawls but is not alive, the human eye does not consider it an animal. The spike heads of the grasses on the outskirts of town crawl the same way. The fly is alive because it’s three times the size of the ant and because it’s being carried, the human eye does consider the fly an animal.

Clara is blinded by the blazing pumpkin of the sun and doesn’t see the fly. She sits with her legs apart and rests her hands between her knees. Pubic hair shows where her swimsuit cuts into her thighs. Below her pubic hair is a pair of scissors, a spool of white thread, sunglasses and a thimble. Clara is sewing a summer blouse for herself. The needle dives, the thread advances, the needle pricks her finger and Clara licks the blood and spits out a shorthand curse involving ice and thread: your mother on the ice. A curse implying unspeakable things done to the mother of the needle. When Clara curses, everything has a mother.

Find out more about Herta Müller:

Herta Müller is the 2009 Nobel Prize Laureate. Check out her The Passport which was featured in a previous post.

Other books by Herta Müller :
Author photo - Ave Maria Mõistlik (File:Müller, Herta.IMG 9379.JPG) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

* Affiliate link

Download your May #ReadNobels wallpaper. It's Yasunari Kawabata!

It's May ... and time to freshen up your desktops with this month's Read the Nobels freebie calendar! These calendar wallpapers are a fun monthly project I cooked up for myself and is a sneaky way of promoting the Read the Nobels Reading Challenge for 2016. I select an author who has won the Nobel Prize Literature, a book cover, and a quote.

About Yasunari Kawabata

Yasunari Kawabata (born 14 June, 1899; died 16 April,
1972), pictured in a 1938 photograph, at his home
in Kamakura. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Yasunari Kawabata is the first Japanese to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968 "for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind."

Here are some facts that struck me as I was reading his biography on NobelPrize.org:
  • A graduate of the Tokyo Imperial University, he was one of the founders of Bungei Jidai, a publication of a new movement in modern Japanese literature. 
  • Debut work? A well-known short story in Japan entitled Izu Dancer (1927). 
  • His novel Snow Country* (1937), a tale of  a love affair between a Tokyo dilettante and a provincial geisha, secured his position as one of the leading authors in Japan. 
  • Other notable works include Thousand Cranes* and The Sound of the Mountain* (1949), The Lake* (1955), The Sleeping Beauty (1960) and The Old Capital* (1962).

More links about Yasunari Kawabata:

Go ahead and download!

Right click image, download, and set as your desktop wallpaper. Voila! #ReadNobels makes an appearance on your computer! (Note: Wallpaper for personal use only.)

* Affiliate links

Past wallpapers:

Get some Nobel Prize winning literature in your reading lists! All it takes is one book for the entire year. Click to join the challenge RIGHT HERE!

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez

Cross posted on Guiltless Reading.

A demon of a writer, that's Gabo.

About Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García MárquezOn her twelfth birthday, Sierva Maria, the only child of a decaying noble family in an eighteenth-century South American seaport, is bitten by a rabid dog. Believed to be possessed, she is brought to a convent for observation. And into her cell stumbles Father Cayetano Delaura, who has already dreamed about a girl with hair trailing after her like a bridal train. As he tends to her with holy water and sacramental oils, Delaura feels something shocking begin to occur. He has fallen in love, and it is not long until Sierva Maria joins him in his fevered misery.

Unsettling and indelible, Of Love and Other Demons is an evocative, majestic tale of the most universal experiences known to woman and man.

My two cents

I first read this in 2004 and fell in love with it immediately because of Marquez's gorgeous language and a love story steeped in the religion and superstition of 18th century Colombia. I dug up my old copy so I could reread it for the Read the Nobels 2016.

But you already know I wax poetic over Marquez having read a number of his books. I already know that I can never write a review that does this book justice. I have been agonizing over this review for far too long that I know if I don't just write it, I will never hit publish. So here goes ...

The inspiration

I always find it fascinating to learn where authors derive inspiration for their stories. Inspiration alone makes me wonder about Gabo who opens his book with two and a half pages explaining just that: in 1949, cub reporter Marquez in search of a news story visited the historic Convent of Santa Clara in Colombia where burial crypts were being removed to give way to a five-star hotel (you can see the proof here of what replaced the convent).

Marquez witnesses the wholly unsentimental exhuming of bishops and abbesses buried there for hundreds of years. Until they come upon a crypt of a young girl whose copper hair fairly bursted out of the crypt ... all 22+ meters of it! Hair grows even in death and based on scientific calculations, the young girl had been dead for over 200 years.

If fact wasn't strange enough, Marquez makes an uncanny connection with a legend he heard in his boyhood: a marquise with coppery hair that trailed behind her, venerated by many for the miracles she performed, who died of rabies. Talk about serendipity! And I am always in awe of how Marquez is able to weave something beautiful, with his brand of magical realism!

The story

Surprisingly the plot is extremely simple. Set in the 1740s in the remote South American port town called Cartagena de Indias, twelve-year-old Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles, is bitten by a rabid dog. The only daughter of a moneyed, prestigious yet decaying family, is sadly unloved and brought up by the black slaves that served them. She grows up as an oddity, obviously white in appearance but with the language, customs and superstitions of the blacks. 

News around the town is the rabid dog is dead and those who were bitten were suffering or dead. Although Sierva María's bite wound is insignificant and she exhibits no symptoms of rabies, the news travels far and wide. Her father, attacked by his conscience, only wants to quell rumours and he seeks out doctors to cure her. When regular doctors fail, quack doctors render painful treatments, resulting in Sierva María's violently resistance. Combined with her black behaviour, she is believed to possessed and then the news reaches the Bishop.

Sierva María is brought by her father to the convent of Santa Clara and the Bishop's protégé Father Cayetano Delaura is tasked to perform the rites of exorcism. Face to face with Sierva María, he is unprepared to fall in love, the "most terrible demon of them all." This love story plays itself out in all glory and all its tragedy.

The powers of love and passion

The themes of love and passion are replete, as is its unbidden powers for good and also the ability to destroy. The main love story is that of Sierva María and Father Cayetano Delaura, a forbidden love between a priest and a teenager believed to be possessed. However, there are more love stories that play themselves out, also unusual and tragic.

There is the sad union of Sierva María's parents, Don Ygnacio de Alfaro y Dueñas and his rapacious second wife Bernarda Cabrera -- a marriage borne not out of love but of trickery and deceit. His first wife who died early meanwhile was a marriage borne out of the desire to observe propriety and ensure stability of wealth. Don Ygnacio felt he had no choice but to spurn his true love but ended up living a life devoid of love all this life.

Bernarda meanwhile is a larger-than-life character (probably my favourite in this book) who schemes to win Don Ygnacio through her sexuality. But it is her unquenchable sexual appetite that is also her downfall, destroying her beautiful body and practically selling her soul to an equally rapacious slave.

Colonization and the Church

What stands out to me is this book's milieu. It is a time where the Catholic Church ruled supreme and everyone followed unquestioning, or risk the so-called fires of hell. Traditional cultures were usurped as countries were colonized by the Catholic Church. Traditional African cultures like Yoruban, Congolese and Mandingo had belief systems that were at odds with or were misunderstood, and by default anything that ran counter to Catholic Church belief was believed to be heretic, demonic. This was exacerbated by the fact that scientific thought was also believed to be heretic and superstition became yet another layer of ignorance for the common person.

Sierva María was the poor victim of cruelty borne out of this ignorance. Despite no symptoms of rabies, her unusual behaviours had their explanation in being raised by Dominga de Adviento, the formidable black woman who taught Sierva María to live as black. At one point Bernarda remarks that "The only thing white about that child is her skin" and sadly Sierva María lived in both cultures but never really fit in either.

The people who did understand Sierva María's true situation -- Abenuncio, and later on another priest -- were in the minority and whose voices did not hold sway in the wake of the powers-that-be of the formidable Bishop and the convent's ignorant Abbess.

Characters to empathize with

Do you know how some books leave you cold because the characters are so unlikeable or you simply develop no connection with? I have read the multiple times and I am entranced by how multi-dimensional and oftentimes how complicated these characters are. I felt Sierva María's frustration and annoyance at those "ridiculous white people." I understood why Delaura sought penance for succumbing to his love for Sierva María. I felt as conflicted as Don Ygnacio to save his daughter's soul while sending her to certain death. What surprises me each time, though, is how much I gravitate towards Bernarda, who is probably among the most cruel, grotesque characters. I have a soft spot for her because of her intelligence (even though she is a brilliant scammer) and her desire, even desperation, to give to the one she loves.


One of my favourite books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, its simple plot and easy to read language belies that fact that this forbidden love story is only a facade for a profound look at the effects of colonization on traditional cultures. I highly recommend this read!


© Read the NobelsMaira Gall