Book Review: Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

Book Review: Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

If you are not familiar with a wonderful Dutch historian, Rutger Bregman, I would highly recommend you to watch his 2017 TED Presentation: ‘Poverty Isn’t a Lack of Character, It’ s a Lack of Cash.’ Also, I would encourage you to watch his now viral talk at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos where he criticised the event and its participants for its focus on philanthropy rather than tax avoidance. Both talks are available to watch on YouTube.

“This is my first time at Davos, and I find it quite a bewildering experience, to be honest. I mean, 1500 private jets have flown in here to hear Sir David Attenborough speak about, you know, how we’re wrecking the plant. I mean, I hear people talking about the language of participation and justice and equality and transparency, but then, I mean, almost no one raises the real issue of tax avoidance, right? And of the rich just no paying their fair share. I mean, it feels like I’m at a firefighters’ conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water, right?”

I previously read Utopia For Realists by Rutger Bregman which was such an insightful, well-researched and interesting book. The idea of the society being in a need of dreams rather than nightmares has deeply resonated with me

In Humankind, Bregman takes a multidisciplinary approach to the history of the humankind using modern findings across from biology, economics, anthropology, history, archaeology, and psychology to demonstrate that human nature is fundamentally good. In my view, this book should be widely read and have its own spot on the bookshelves of every household.

Bregman offers a compelling theory of New Realism backed up by the abundance of scientific research from various disciplines. Modern capitalism, democracy, and the rule of law operate on the premise that people are selfish. Based on the modern research the current political, economic, and social institutions function based on the mistaken model of human nature. Bregman asks if we can design new institutions which will operate on a different, more positive view of human nature. What if our schools, businesses states expect the best of us instead of presuming the worst?

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Book Review: Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

Book Review: Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

Whereabouts was originally written in Italian by the Bengali-American writer, Jhumpa Lahiri who also translated the book herself.  

“Solitude: it’s become my trade. (…) It’s a condition I try to perfect”.  

Written in forty-six short vignettes, Whereabouts portrays daily wanderings and inner workings of the narrator’s mind who is a solitary unnamed woman in her mid -40s working as a teacher and living in the unnamed city in Italy. 

Whereabouts is an exploration of urban solitude, alienation, loneliness, growing old, with the narrator’s beautiful ruminations and perceptive thoughts infused with a profound sense of nostalgia veiled in gentle melancholy, on the meaning of living a solitary life, inspired by the locations of daily errands. Reading Whereabouts one feels not merely like an observer of the narrator’s life, but also as if one were an integral part of her life 

Over the period of one year, we follow unnamed woman as she wanders outward from her home experiencing snapshots of daily life: going to the shop, antique fair, swimming pool, the stationery shop, the beautician’s, visiting her mother, sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s, buying a ticket just for one to see theatre spectacle, travelling by train.  Reader gets a glimpse into the narrator’s childhood and family life, in particular the relationship with her parents, her late father, and her mother for whom the passage of time and solitude triggers a great deal of sadness.  

The narrator is a very sensitive and astute observer of other people’s words, emotions, and gestures. She often reflects on how we cross our paths with others on our daily errands, often without exchanging any words, often just having the presence of other person as a reference point.  The narrator often thinks about people who currently frequent or might have frequented the same places that she does. 

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Introduction to the Prose of Anna Langfus

Introduction to the Prose of Anna Langfus

I would like to share with you a lit bit about one of my favourite writers who is almost unknown these days to the anglophone audience. I hope that some of my French followers might have read some of the books by this remarkable author of a profound sensitivity.  

Her name was Anna Langfus (1920 – 1966) who was a Polish – French writer of Jewish heritage. She was a Holocaust survivor; she escaped the Lublin Ghetto and then the Warsaw Ghetto. Her first husband, Jakub Rajs, her parents, and closed member of her family perished during WWII. After WWII ended, she moved back to her hometown, Lublin in Poland but she found herself devastatingly alone there as none of her family members survived. Anna moved to France as a refugee in 1946 where she worked as a math teacher at the Jewish orphanage. In her attempt to rebuild her life, she married her second husband, Aron Langfus in 1948 and settled down in Sarcelles, one of the suburbs of Paris.  

Anna started writing in the 1950s and she used French language which was her second acquired language as a form of expression which is remarkable. She died in 1966 at the age of only forty six due to her heart condition. 

Today, in Sarcelles, where Anna lived, there is a public library named after her name. 

During her short life she published three novels in French and some short plays. All of her work deals with the time after the Holocaust and focuses on the ones who survived and tried to learn to live again in the aftermath

Anna Langfus was one of the first writers who mentioned these issues in literature similarly to Elie Wiesel or Primo Levi.  

Anna won the Swiss 1961 Prix de Charles Veillon for the best novel written in French, Le Sel et le Soufre followed by the 1962 Prix Goncourt, the highest French literary award for Les Bagages de Sable translated into English as The Lost Shore. At that time, she was the fourth woman to win this prestigious Goncourt award for the book written in French (taking into consideration that the Prix Goncourt has been awarded since 1903).

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Book Review: Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley

Book Review: Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley

Hot Stew is the second novel by Fiona Mozley whose debut novel, Elmet was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize.

Hot Stew is a wonderful ode to London’s Soho providing a sharp social analysis of life in a modern metropolis. The book tackles the issues of gentrification, social class, stigmatisation, poverty, privilege, London’s housing crisis, the meaning of home, the relation between one’s identity and the place as well as the feeling of alienation and displacement.  

Readers are introduced to the plethora of various characters representing complex and diverse society as well as to the rich and vibrant history of London’s Soho.

Soho is centrally located, former RLD (red light district) of London. Roughly form the 18th century until the 1980s it was considered a hot spot of the UK’s underworld. it was a centre of London’s erotic industry, with many sexually oriented businesses, often associated with exploitation, trafficking, drugs, and notorious crime scene. However, it is also worth noting that for many decades Soho has been a welcoming place offering home to the immigrants, outcasts, and those living on the peripheries of the society. 

Hot Stew evokes a very strong sense of place, with many references to the real places one can locate in this central London district. Soho is portrayed as a separate character, playing an integral role in the lives of all the characters and as a place with its own complex and nuanced personality Soho is a place of greed, viciousness, and ugliness but also of compassion, community spirit, long-term friendships, sometimes happiness covered in a veil of permanent nostalgia. Soho and its residents have created a sort of symbiotic relationship – they are separate organisms containing each other. One cannot exist without the other.

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Book Review: The Photographer at Sixteen by George Szirtes

Book Review: The Photographer at Sixteen by George Szirtes

“Displacement hits you later than you expect, just when you think you have settled down and become part of the world all over again. That is when it begins to ache, when a certain inarticulable desolation creeps in. Your body is not where your body ought to be (…). It is as if you had ghosted in but left your soul behind.”

“Life, as learned, was composed of relatively brief episodes, each seeming an eternity at the time, none of them suggesting stability, let alone permanence.”

The Photographer at Sixteen by George Szirtes is an exceptional memoir.  It constitutes an exploration of Szirtes’s Romania-born Hungarian – Jewish mother’s life.  The book also provides a compelling commentary on Europe’s darkest chapters from the 20th century and its consequences on a singular life.  

This memoir is a beautifully written, profoundly moving and extremely thoughtful portrait of one woman living through the tumultuous times of the European history. The narrative is a mixture of delicate, sharp prose intertwined with Szirtes’s poetry. Throughout the book, tape recordings photos, letters, and historic facts are used to (re-) construct the life of Szirtes’s mother, Magda (Magdalena).

There is also an exploration of the multifaceted identity – a complex idea especially for the ones, like Magda who lived in Central and Eastern Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Magda was ethnic Hungarian, yet Romanian by birth, born to secular Jewish parents. Magda’s identity was partially created by the political and frequent border changes. As her identity and status kept changing throughout her life, it left indelible marks on her feeling of belonging, loss and lack of security.

The book traces Magda’s life backwards; this form has been inspired by Anthony Hecht’s poem ‘The Venetian Vespers’ in which the poet imagines snippets of life backwards.

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Book Review: El Excluido [‘The Excluded’] by David San Jose Martinez

Book Review: El Excluido [‘The Excluded’] by David San Jose Martinez

El Excluido’ [‘The Excluded’] by the great Spanish writer, David San Jose Martinez.

This book is a wonderful literary achievement, beautifully written with a very rich language, a veil of nostalgia and profound emotional sensitivity. It is a novel but its form – the collection of vignettes, somewhat separated, somewhat connected, is very innovative.

El Excluido is a nuanced character study, exploring the complexity of multilayered relationships, human nature and all the emotions accompanying people while they navigate the alleys of love, friendships and deeper mutual understanding. We witness the protagonists dealing with overwhelming feelings of loss, self-worth, self-doubt, anguish, emptiness, selfishness, jealousy, affection, finding one’s place in the world among others. El Excluido also constitutes the meditation on the identity and its importance on how we relate ourselves to others and how it affects our behaviour.

El Excluido is a demanding and ambitious book that requires a full attention on the reader’s part. In return, the reader can experience a magnificent, compelling and delightful literary feast.

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Book Review: In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

Book Review: In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

“Why do I write? To investigate the mystery of existence. (…) To get closer to everything that is outside of me. (…)Writing is my only way of absorbing (…) life.” 

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri   constitutes an astonishingly beautiful discourse exploring the subjects of identity, the meaning of exile, belonging, cultural displacement, alienation, mixed and ‘third’ culture background, as well as learning a foreign language, and quest for a place called ‘home’ and the language called ‘mother tongue’.  

We witness the author’s anxieties, her self-imposed linguistic odyssey into the depths of Italian language in order to reshape her own personal identity.  

It is a kind of a confessional memoir but with a very few details about Lahiri personal life. It is important to mention that In Other Words was originally written in Italian, Lahiri’s third language which she learnt as an adult. The book was also translated into English by another writer and not Lahiri herself.  

Undeniably, In Other Words is a beautiful ode to Italy, its culture as well as  language and to self-discipline of acquiring a new language.  

By reading In Other Words, we have a privilege of observing an inquiring mind and a sensitive soul of a wonderful writer during her creative process.  

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Book Review: Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga

Book Review: Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga

“Nothing in Rwanda was left in me but a wound that could never be healed.” 

“Humiliated, afraid, waiting day after day for what was to come, what we didn’t have a word for: genocide. And I alone preserve the memory of it. And that’s why I am writing this.”  

“Where are they? Somewhere deep in the anonymous crowd of the genocide’s victim. A million of them, their lives stolen, their names lost. What is the point of counting up our dead again and again? From the thousand hills of Rwanda, a million shades answer my call.” 

This book is a remarkable homage to her murdered family during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and is dedicated to “everyone [who] died at Nyamata in the genocide” .

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Book Review: Medallions by Zofia Nalkowska

Book Review: Medallions by Zofia Nalkowska

Medallions by a Polish novelist and essayist, Zofia Nalkowska (1884 – 1954) 

Medallions is considered the masterpiece in the world Holocaust literature, deeply influences by Nalkowska’s experience as a member of the Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes which was established in 1945. During that time, she visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka and many other sites of mass killing and extermination. She conducted many interviews, listened to survivors’ and eyewitnesses’ testimonies recorded just a few months after the end of the war in 1945. Nalkowska was profoundly affected by her work as a member of the Commission. 

Medallions consists of eight short reportages in which survivors, eyewitnesses speak for themselves. There is no mythologisation of the victims: they are neither the heroes, nor the martyrs.  In her writing, Nalkowska managed to preserve a deeply personal character of individual experiences. Nalkowska’s style is concise, somewhat laconic, almost economical. The most striking aspect of her reportages is the description of silences where the words are simply too weak to relate the experiences of the protagonists. She records the survivors’ intonations, gestures, postures, emotions of shame, fear, shock as they struggle to relate the atrocities they witnessed.  Nalkowska is aware that much of their experiences is left unspoken as there are no words to describe it. 

Medallions is not merely a record of one of the darkest chapters in the human history; it is also an incomparable portrayal of the human suffering as nothing else that I have read before.  

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Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”

“Time only blunts the pain of loss. It doesn’t erase it.”

“I took one of my hands in the other, tried to imagine what it would feel like if it was another person’s hand holding mine.”

– Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine constitutes a meditation about isolation and loneliness among young people in the modern world. Gail Honeyman said somewhere that what inspired her to write this book was reading an article about the experience of one young woman who said that she did not speak to anyone from the time she left work on Friday evening until she was back at work on Monday morning.

For me, the story of Eleanor is very realistic especially after living and working in London for so long. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine portrays a life of a young woman working in Glasgow ; and, it is rather a grim portrayal of the mundanity of everyday life.

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Book Review: The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain

Book Review: The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain

“Marcel Proust, Iike all writers of genius, had succeeded – and he more than any other – in this transmutation which is the very essence of literature: a spirit and soul embodied in a rectangle of bound paper, living on after them.”

“The Readers’ Room” by Antoine Laurain


This little mystery book serves as a vehicle to escape the current reality of uncertainty. It is a beautiful and overwhelmingly charming piece of writing combining mystery, murder, love, intrigue and ode to literature and writers.

There is this profound tenderness to Laurain’s writing which allows the reader to plunge into the reality of wonder and nostalgia.

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Book Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

Book Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

“𝑺𝒐𝒎𝒆𝒕𝒊𝒎𝒆𝒔 𝒘𝒆 𝒄𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒕𝒆 𝒔𝒖𝒄𝒉 𝒑𝒐𝒘𝒆𝒓𝒇𝒖𝒍 𝒊𝒍𝒍𝒖𝒔𝒊𝒐𝒏𝒔, 𝒔𝒐 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒘𝒆 𝒅𝒐 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒈𝒆𝒕 𝒍𝒐𝒔𝒕 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒅𝒂𝒓𝒌𝒏𝒆𝒔𝒔.”

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is beautifully written, but it should be mainly read for its subject matter. Christy Lefteri portrays the journey of Syrian refugees in a realistic, emphatic, and respectful manner.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo tells a story of Nuri, a beekeeper from a beautiful ancient Syrian city of Aleppo and his wife, Afra, who worked as an artist. Before the war, they led a peaceful family life surrounded by their loved ones and friends. Then, suddenly everything changes; they lose their son, Sami due to the bomb blast in their garden; they witness beheadings, killings, tortures. Afra due to the blast and shock after losing her child becomes blind. They are forced to flee Syria to survive. We accompany Nuri and Afra as they travel through Turkey, Greece in order to reach the shores of England where Nuri’s cousin, Mustafa lives.

We observe the broken world that Nuri and Afra must pass through in order to find a new ‘home’.  The themes of human trafficking, emotional and physical abuse that refugees are subject to, severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder that most people fleeing war, conflict, ethnic cleansing experience, child trafficking, unaccompanied child refugees, uncertainty encountered in new countries, dealing with inhumanity of asylum application in the UK as portrayed in the book are explored here.

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Book Review: Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland

Book Review: Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland

My stress levels have been skyrocketing over the last weeks and months due to the current situation related to pandemic. For that reason I have been in need of reading something heartwarming, soul-healing, soul-soothing and gentle.

And, this little gem of a book, Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland brought me solace, so needed moments of joy and peace.

Stephanie Butland
wrote a book which should be prescribed as a medicine to heal one’s soul and to calm one’s heart.

It is an exquisite and profoundly touching storytelling, with many layers of depth and hidden meanings.

Lost For Words
is a tale about an introverted, quiet, withdrawn and sensitive woman, Loveday Cardew who prefers books to socialising with people. Loveday works as a bookseller in a second-hand bookshop, based in a magical town of York, which is the only place where she feels safe – it is her refuge from the surrounding world and the events from her pasts. It is clear from the beginning that she has some deep-rooted traumas. Loveday leads her life with as little human interactions as possible. With the arrival of a box filled with books, she is forced to face the events from her past and as the story progresses we learn more about Loveday’s family and childhood.

Through literature, Loveday connects with the inner self and the rest of the world. This is a tale about the importance of books and bookshops in one’s life.

Lost For Words is a very pleasant, gentle and delightful read. If you are an introvert, a bibliophile, I am sure that this book will become very dear to you.

Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland serves like a balm for a soul.

If you enjoy books such as 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman or The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, you will also fall in love with Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland.

Book Review: The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Book Review: The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

“At night, here in the library, the ghosts have voices. (…) But at night, when the library lamps are lit, the outside world disappears and nothing but the space of books remains in existence. ”

– The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel is one of the greatest ‘bookish’ books I have ever read.

The Library at Night is a meditation on the meaning of libraries and the process of reading; it constitutes a homage to libraries of any kind and to the freedom of thought.

Alberto Manguel takes us on a fascinating voyage through the libraries across the centuries and civilizations ranging from the ancient China, Rome, Egypt, Greece, the Aztecs, private libraries of Jorge Luis Borges, Dickens, Aby Warburg, the library of Alexandria, the British Library and many more.

The Library at Night is divided into fifteen chapters, with each one being an essay on a particular meaning of the library as understood by Manguel, ranging from the library seen as myth, oblivion, home, imagination, power, survival, identity

Each essay contains plethora of quotes, anecdotes, wealth of knowledge, magical stories, and yet each chapter overflows with warmth and charm. These comprehensive, meticulously researched essays allow the reader to learn a lot about libraries, its locations, cataloguing systems, including Dewey Decimal System.

Furthermore, The Library at Night offers many reflections on the nature of literature itself and what it means to be a reader.

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Book Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Book Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

This book offers beautiful writing and delights with a very sharp approach to the question of identity, “cultural power”, cultural clashed between the West and the East in a context of the dominance of one powerful country such as the United States (US) prior and after the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001.

The themes in the ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ are diverse and portrayed in a very nuanced manner. In one of the interviews, Mohsin Hamid said that the objective of this book  was to be like a mirror to the reader, to confuse the reader in order to show that the characters in this book are as complex, multidimensional, can be many things, with many identities as the people in our world.

There is no reference to religion, faith, or spirituality anywhere in the book. It is fair to say that the term: Fundamentalist’ often carries the meaning associated with religion but NOT here. ‘Fundamentalist’ refers to the business activity which will be explained in more detail later in the text.

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