Books beyond seasons

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By Nora Vasconcelos

It’s almost the end of the year and as December approaches, I can’t be happier for all the great books I have had the chance to read in 2016. Some of them were new releases, some others were published some time ago; some were famous, some others, wonderful little gems which I’ve luckily come across.

There’s not really a particular order I’ve chosen to present them, it’s merely as they come to my mind. My biggest wish is that these books will bring to you as many delightful hours as they brought to me:

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. The magic of this book comes from combining a wonderful location with a very sweet love story and the fantastic presence of books all along the story as the ones that shape the life of all the main characters. If you like France, either because you’ve been there, or because you have the idea of this idyllic country, this is a perfect book for you as wonderful tender descriptions of Paris and the little towns along the main French rivers are presented here. The story will capture your mind from the first chapter when it takes the main characters to an unexpected but charming journey in which not only they will open up to share their deepest fears and dreams but also it will take you along for an introspective trip in which one main question hangs in the air: “what would I do if I found out decades later that I’ve been all wrong about love?”.

The Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier: I’ve got to read this book thanks to the kind recommendation of my good friend Andrew Hill. The story begins with an unexpected event that makes the main character decide to change his complete life at the age of 57. An inexplicable meeting and a unique book make him drop everything and go to the station to catch the night train to Lisbon. From there, his life will become something very different. Apart from falling in love with Lisbon, I found in this book some of the most wonderful quotes ever about life, books and traveling. This is my favorite one: “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”

A Strangeness in my Mind by Orhan Pamuk: Placed in Turkey, this book tells the story of a street vendor who sells a couple of traditional homemade products. The magic of this novel resides in how the story presents at the same time the changes that this country faces for many decades while the vendor grows up, from a little boy to an old man. Pamuk’s masterful way of writing offers the reader a majestic read in the simplest way, developing an easy-to-read novel based on a very complex topic.

The Phantom Ship by Frederick Marryat: Publish in 1839, this book can be read and enjoyed at any time as it takes the reader’s imagination to a fantastic journey in which the main character goes from ship to ship in order to break an old curse that affects him and his family. Even when some words have the feeling of old English, the skill of the author delivers a fast-paced, easy-to-read story that will absorb you from the beginning to the end. For ship lovers and people who love traveling to exotic lands and adventures, this is a perfect read.

The only street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino: This is not a work of fiction. It’s the result of an amazing work of investigative journalism combined with the delightful narrative of a New York Times correspondent who fell in love with the rhythm and lifestyle of a particular street in Paris, and out of her immense curiosity and skill as a journalist presents a series of interviews with the owners of the stores located along this street in the form of a delightful memoir/travelogue that makes the reader wish, chapter after chapter, to take the first plane to France and go straight from the airport to the Rue des Martyrs.

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Exotic and inspiring places for writers

Text and Photo by Nora Vasconcelos

Exotic by NVS

Just a few days ago, while traveling around some tropical islands, several thoughts came to my mind. First, looking at such exotic places with solid green colors and soft blues, the idea of Gauguin getting all fascinated by the Polynesia came to me in a very clear way, understanding all of a sudden, how the artist found this source of inspiration so great, as it was so different from his home town back in France.

Then I started thinking about how much the weather and the scenery influence writers and provoke them to produce pieces that they might not have written if they hadn’t gone through all these new experiences.

So, I remembered how Albert Camus wrote in his famous The Outsider, how the extreme heat was the cause of a violent act while in Algiers, which, the main character, Raymond Meursault, may not have committed otherwise.

I also thought of Beatrix Potter, famous for her lovely and colorful Peter Rabbit stories, as she spent a good deal of time writing, inspired either by her little pets and farm animals, as well as for the time she spent outdoors surrounded by the green British scenery.

Also inspired by his surroundings, Ernest Hemingway developed The Old Man and the Sea, one of his most famous stories in Cuba. It was a fisherman who lived there, the waves and the warm scenery, that made Hemingway came up with the story of old Santiago trying to succeeded with his last catch.

But cities also have a very big influence in writers, and I keep wondering how is it that some cities are (or seem to be) more inspirational than others?

Places like Dublin, Saint Petersburg and Prague seem to have a special magic that brings out most of the best and deep stories, like the ones written by the Czech author Jan Neruda, who, in his Tales of the Lesser Quarter, shows vivid descriptions of the local customs and what it was like to live in the 19th century Prague.

How this magic works is a question I haven’t actually find an answer for, but of one thing I’m sure, the most important thing for any writer or avid traveler (they usually combine) is to keep your eyes alert, your ears attentive and your heart wide open.

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Marie Antoinette, when life works against a princess destiny

Unexpected turns in life.
Unexpected turns in life.
While staying in an inn, Sena Jeter Naslund found a biography of Marie Antoinette. Then the idea of writing a novel based on the life and death of the French queen came to her mind. However, the author was really interested in showing a more humane side of Marie Antoinette as for the readers to have the opportunity to know a more complex character and not only the one that has often been known, as someone who was purely superficial.

To achieve that, Jeter spent a lot of time researching and reading several biographies of Marie Antoinette. Then she traveled to Europe and spend a good deal of time visiting the places that were important in the life of the queen who was born in Austria and then spent most of her life living in Versailles and Paris.

All this work allowed her to get to know Marie Antoinette, her life, her favorite things, her hobbies, her worries, her hopes and dreams, and how she went from being an enthusiastic girl who married the futuro king of France when they both were really young, and was eager to please the people of France, to being the queen of a country that was changing and that found on the destitution of the royal family a symbol of that change.

Jeter was able to reproduce in great detail all this in her novel Abundance, a novel of Marie Anotinette in which she shows how a girl who was born to being a princess and become a queen, had to face a life that she hadn’t expected, which ended later on at the guillotine.

As the book is written in first person, all the story is told by Marie Antoinette hereself which makes the reader feel really inside of the story.

As the end of the novel approches, it’s hard not to wonder how the author will manage to present the last minutes on Marie Antoinette’s life, as the story is told by herself.

In the end, Jeter works it out very gracefully, and the idea of having known Marie Antoinette as a person beyond the crown lingers for a long while.

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