Fo, Dario "My First Seven Years (plus a few more)"

Il Paese dei Mezaràt: I miei primi sette anni (e qualcuno in più) - 2004

I know this is not one of the books for which Dario Fo received his Nobel Prize because he wrote it seven years later.

However, you can see from this book how the writer Dario Fo developed from a small child into a Nobel Laureate. And he is not just a famous writer, he is also an actor and comedian. And just listening to his stories makes you believe that he is a very good one. He is the little boy who always makes everyone laugh, especially during the hard times of the war.

The title and the story of the book come from a quote by Bruno Bettelheim: "All I ask is that you give me the first seven years of the life of a man. It’s all there; you can keep the rest." Luckily for us, Dario Fo carries on a little longer for this, so we can also look into the Italian Resistance against Fascism.

Some of the stories are quite funny and the whole book is quite easy to read. I am interested in reading more of this author.

One quote that I really liked:
"When a farmer dies who knows the land and the story of the people working it, when a wise man dies, who knows how to read the moon and the sun, the wind and the flight of the birds, ... not just one man dies. It's a whole library that dies."

From the back cover:

"An extraordinary coming-of-age memoir by the Nobel-Prize-winning playwright.

My First Seven Years is Dario Fo's fantastic, enchanting memoir of his youth spent in Northern Italy on the shores of Lago Maggiore. As a child, Fo grew up in a picturesque village teeming with glass-blowers, smugglers and storytellers. Of his teenage years, Fo recounts the struggles of the Fascists and Partisans, the years of World War II, and his own tragicomic experience trying to desert the Fascist army.

In a series of colorful vignettes, Fo draws us into a remarkable early life filled with characters and anecdotes that would become the inspiration for his own creative genius."

Dario Fo "who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997.

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.

The Dark Flower by John Galsworthy

Originally reviewed by Edith LaGraziana
on Edith's Miscellany

Just like the body ages and changes with time, emotions don’t stay the same during a whole life. Therefore the experience of love can be very different depending on how old we are when it comes over us, be it like a coup de foudre or only gradually. However much we like the idea of eternal love, we have come to distinguish between three, four or even more seasons of love with good reason. The protagonist of The Dark Flower by John Galsworthy, the Nobel Prize laureate in literature of 1932, is a sculptor and unlike the average Englishman of his time who has learnt to appear calm and poised under all circumstances, he is full of emotions that he finds difficult to control and hide. Three times in the course of nearly thirty years he is swept away by passionate love to women who are forbidden to him because of the bonds of their or his own marriage

Saramago, José "Cain"

Caim - 2009

I love reading the novels of our Nobel Prize winners so couldn't resist starting this one, "Cain" by José Saramago. I read that this is the last book of this atheist about the bible. Hmm, sounded interesting.

And it was. The story starts with Adam and Eve and how they are thrown out of paradise ... well, we all know that story. Or do we? José Saramago finds a unique and satirical way of telling this story that is as old as mankind. We then see the first murder, Cain killing his brother Abel and then we see how Cain goes on living and meets all the biblical celebrities like Abraham, Moses, Noah, Lilith, Job, and cruises all the important locations, for example, he is in Lot, Babel, Jericho, Sodom and Gomorrah, at the most important times, in short, he is omnipresent.

What struck me most, the characters were very realistic, very real. The background was explained well and a lot of stories made sense. We learn here what happened to Adam and Eve after they left paradise and where they went.

Whether you believe in the bible or not, this is a highly interesting book, a very good starting point for deep discussions. It also helps understand a lot of the stories, even though it is just one point of view. But, it is the part usually not taught in religious education classes. I don't want to say anything is true in this book, it is not, it is an interpretation by an atheist. It still contributes to a better understanding. It is even funny at times.

The author has been criticized a lot for this novel and "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ", especially by the Catholic church. I think I need to quote another Nobel Prize winner here, Sir Winston Churchill who said "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."
I am very glad to have read this.

From the back cover: "After killing his brother Abel, Cain must wander forever. He witnesses Noah's ark, the destruction of the Tower of Babel, Moses and the golden calf. He is there in time to save Abraham from sacrificing Isaac when God's angel arrives late after a wing malfunction.
Written in the last years of Saramago's life, Cain wittily tackles many of the moral and logical non sequiturs created by a wilful, authoritarian God, forming part of Saramago's long argument with God and recalling his provocative novel 'The Gospel According to Jesus Christ'."

José Saramago "who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

I bought this book several years ago and it has been standing on my TBR shelves ever since. I bought it because it is a classic and I want to read a classic from time to time. Furthermore, since I mostly read English classics, it felt refreshing to read a classic from another country. However, every time I felt like reading it, its pure size stopped me from actually picking it up. What a lucky day when I did!

Sometimes you start a book with not very high hopes. A classic is always a gamble. Will it still be as fresh as it was at the time of writing, or will it seem hopelessly old fashioned? Buddenbrooks feels as fresh as when it was written. You are stuck from page number 1!

The novel tells the story of four generations of a bourgeoisie family in Lübeck during the years 1835-1877. Mann's own family comes from this milieu so he was well aquatinted with it. We meet them at the peak of their success and follow the decline over the years.  Major political and military developments took place in Germany during this time; the Revolutions of 1848 and the Austro-Prussian War. They are the back drop to the story, but do not have a significant place in the novel.

The main characters are from the third generation; Thomas, Christian, Antonie (Tony) and Clara. Thomas is the one who shows interest in taking over the business. Christian is more interested in the theatre and a leisurely life. Tony is the most proud of the siblings, and although she falls in love with one man, she agrees to marry another one, to make her father proud of her and it is good for the business. It ends in divorce, as does her second marriage. However, she seems to glide on top of everything and her faith in the family never fails. Clara is the youngest sibling by several years, and her life takes a rather religious turn.

Mann manages to give us so many different characters following the family's rise and decline.  We feel what the family feels, enjoying the good times and suffer the bad times with them. The great thing with the novel is that we are very close to the family and see how they are changing as they grow up and mature.  Life's surprises change our characters and our own ability to change with the times decides whether we are going to be happy or not.

I am quite fascinated by family sagas. Sooner or later, successful families, tend to decline. The Buddenbrooks are on the hight of their success in the generation we get to follow, and inevitably, they are doomed to fall. The sub-title to the novel is Verfall einer Familie (Decline of a family) and this is the main theme of the book. Why did they decline? There are of course many answers to this rather complicated question. One reason, I think, is that the success of the company and the family overrides all other feelings and wishes, and in the end, when your mind is not with it, you can not keep it up. Times are changing and people with them. The generation after does not always see things as the older generation. Furthermore, it puts a lot of pressure on the heirs, here, especially the boys. It is almost like a royal family; you have to produce a male heir to have someone to take over the company. And what happens when everyone get girls? And, when the long longed for boy arrives, the pressure to be as your father wants you to be, is overwhelming and brings you down.

Thomas Mann received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929, mainly for this novel. Part of the Presentation Speech says:
The realistic novel - one could call it a modern prose epic influenced by historicism and science - has by and large been the creation of the English, the French, and the Russians; it is associated with the names of Dickens and Thackeray, Balzac and Flaubert, Gogol and Tolstoy. There was no comparable contribution from Germany for a long time; poetic creativity there chose other outlets. The nineteenth century had come to its end when a young writer, the twenty-seven-year-old son of a merchant from the old Hanse city of Lübeck, published his novel Buddenbrooks (1901). Twenty-seven years have passed since then, and it has become clear to all that Buddenbrooks is the masterpiece that fills the gap. Here is the first and as yet unsurpassed German realistic novel in the grand style which takes its undisputed and equal place in the European concert.
Buddenbrooks is a bourgeois novel, for the century it portrays was above all a bourgeois era. It depicts a society neither so great as to bewilder the observer, nor so small and narrow as to stifle him. This middle level favours an intelligent, thoughtful, and subtle analysis, and the creative power itself, the pleasure of epic narration, is shaped by calm, mature, and sophisticated reflection. We see a bourgeois civilization in all its nuances, we see the historical horizons, the changes of time, the changes of generations, the gradual transition from self-contained, powerful, and un-self-conscious characters to reflective types of a refined and weak sensibility. The presentation is lucid yet penetrates beneath the surface to hidden processes of life; it is powerful but never brutal, and touches lightly on delicate things; it is sad and serious but never depressing because it is permeated by a quiet, deep sense of humour that is iridescently reflected in the prism of ironic intelligence.
Even now, 116 years after its publication it is a wonderful, refreshing read. The language is beautiful, it flows over the pages, and you will never want it to end. The description of the many, various characters in the novel is one of the highlights. Through all the book, the story of the Buddenbrook family keeps you stuck to the pages, and when finished, it is like loosing your friends. I can easily say that this is one of my favourite books.


© Read the NobelsMaira Gall