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
  • 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!

Download @ReadNobels wallpaper for April and discover Selma Lagerlöf!

  • Wednesday, March 30, 2016

It's time for this month's Read the Nobels freebie calendar! These calendar wallpapers are a fun monthly project is a sneaky way of promoting the Read the Nobels Reading Challenge for 2016. Every month, an author who has won the Nobel Prize Literature, a book cover, and a quote is featured.

Past wallpapers:

About Selma Lagerlöf

Photo from
This is the first time I have encountered Selma Lagerlöf. She is the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1909. According to, the prize was awarded to her "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings."

Lagerlöf is from Sweden and is well-known for her stories about peasant life. Her children's book The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, featured in this month's wallpaper, highlights the geography, folklore, and the natural beauty of Swedish countryside through the adventures of a mischievous 14-year-old -- magically shrunk -- on the back of a goose!

Curious about the story? I found The Wonderful Adventures of Nils on the University of Pennsylvania's online library HERE, with lovely illustrations included.

Go ahead and download!

Right click image, download, and set as your desktop wallpaper. Voila! #ReadNobels makes an appearance on your computer!

Cover image The Wonderful Adventures of Nils published 1906/07 and English 1913. By Selma Lagerlöf, art by Mary Hamilton Frye - [Public domain], via Wikipedia

(Note: Wallpaper for personal use only.)

* Affiliate links

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!

Skylight by Jose Saramago

Reviewed by Gillian Castellino

It is rare for an author's first novel to be published after his death, but that is exactly what happened with Jose de Sousa Saramago's novel Claraboia (or Skylight). Written in the 1950s, it was sent to a publisher who never acknowledged it, a fact which caused it's author to stop writing fiction until 1977. He did finally receive a response some 36 years after he sent it, which was also some 60 years after it was first written! By then, Saramago had already received the Nobel Prize for Literature and had also decided not to have the book published during his lifetime. Given the background, it is just as well that it was printed posthumously.

Translated into English by Margaret Jull Costa, the book is dedicated to the memory of Jeronimo Hilario, the author's grandfather, a landless peasant from Azinhaga, Portugal, whom the Nobel laureate described as "the wisest man I ever knew". 'Saramago' (which means 'wild radish' in Portuguese) is not the family name, but an insulting nickname given to his father and recorded on Jose's birth certificate by a village clerk, perhaps in error, possibly in a drunken haze, or may be as a prank. That, became his legal surname and not his actual patronymic 'de Souza'.

Skylight was first submitted for publication in 1953, when Saramago was 31 years old. In her preface to the novel, his wife Pilar del Rio - an acclaimed writer in her own right, explained that Skylight is a gateway into Saramago's later work. A map of what was to come.

Set in a shabby, working-class apartment building in Lisbon, in the 1940s, at a time when the dictator Salazar ruled Portugal, it is not a political novel, but one about "characters". There are 18 in all (ten of whom are women) and collectively they occupy six flats. In the male characters we find prototypes of those who populate Saramago's later novels, but his female characters are strongly nuanced as well.

The strongest character, opens the book. He is a "philosophical cobbler" in his eighties who is married to Mariana who in turn is "so fat as to be comical, so kind as to make one weep". The couple take in a young man, 28-year old Abel Nogueira, as a boarder and the two men, despite their age difference, bond over games of droughts and discussions on the meaning of life. These become a pretext for Saramago to present some scathing insights to the reader:

"Peace ... comes from dulling one's mind, which was what most people did... We all receive our daily dose of morphine that dulls our thoughts. Habits, vices, repeated words, hackneyed gestures, boring friends and enemies we don't even really hate, these are all things that dull our minds... The morphine of habit, the morphine of monotony."

"We won't become what we are meant to be in life by listening to other people's word or advice. We have to feel in our own flesh the wound that will make us into proper men. Then, it's up to us to act...'

The next next set of characters to appear in the book are four women, two elderly sisters Amelia and Candida and the latter's adult daughters Isaura and Adriana, who resembled "a sack of potatoes tied up in the middle". All four women have clearly known more prosperous times. While they grapple with the privations imposed by poverty, together they draw sustenance from a classical musical program over the radio, mealtimes spent together and shared confidences. As we become acquainted with their story, we become aware of a "a painful silence, the inquisitorial silence of the past observing us and the ironic silence of the future that awaits us." Repressed sexuality precipitates a sad and scarring lesbian encounter between the sisters, leading to secrets that settle heavily over the group.

Next, we are introduced to the diabetic Justina, her brutish husband Caetano and their dead daughter Mathilde. A story of hatred, misunderstanding, lust, different manifestations of psychological ugliness including marital rape and its consequences. Saramago has been criticized for his depiction of rape, especially the female perspective, which does not ring true.

The only 'single' in the building, Lidia, teetering on the brink of middle age, is the mistress of a much older businessman Paulino Morais who is already on the look-out for a younger replacement. There is a third player - Lidia's mother who shows up regularly for a hand-out. When Paulino finally replaces Lidia, she sheds "Just two tears. Because that's all life is worth." Then she pragmatically picks up her life - venturing out into the night in search of her next conquest.

Another family group comes next. They are Anselmo, an armchair football enthusiast, his wife Rosalia and their nineteen-year-old daughter Maria Claudia (also known as Claudinha). Pretty, self obsessed and inexperienced, Claudinha is encouraged by her parents to boost the family income by working for Paulino Morais - a move initially encouraged by Lidia who wants to win the goodwill of her neighbours. When it is almost too late, Claudinha realises that her employer sees her as a potential new mistress. She is now faced with a quandary - to back out and risk unemployment and destitution or to capitulate and risk her good name and integrity.

The last family group in this parade of characters are Emilio, a salesman, who is in a loveless marriage with his Spanish wife Carmen. Both are tied together by their trusting little son Henriquinho. Frustrated and abusive, both Emilio and Carmen wish desperately to be released from their marriage. Then Carmen and Henriquinho take a trip to Spain and Emilio gets a taste of the freedom he craved. It's uncertain how their story will end.

Though written in conventional style and language, Skylight underlines the compromises and inanities that are part and parcel of everyday life. Saramago's ending - the closing dialog between Silvestre and Abel is clear about the fact that "anything that is not built on love, will generate hate". The brand of love recommended is "lucid love" as opposed to the other unnamed but clearly drawn examples of love illustrated within the novel. Then comes the final line - "The day when we can build on love has still not arrived." Make of that what you will.

Original post on Healing Scribbles.

© Read the NobelsMaira Gall