review: fragments of sappho

05 January 2015


book info:
on sale: now
copy from: library
pages: 402
review written: 5.1.15
originally published: 2002

title: If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho
author: Sappho/Anne Carson

A bilingual edition of the work of the Greek poet Sappho, in a new translation by Anne Carson. Sappho lived on the island of Lesbos from about 630 B.C. She was a musical genius who devoted her life to composing and performing songs. Of the nine books of lyrics Sappho is said to have composed, none of the music is extant and only one poem has survived complete. All the rest are fragments. In If Not, Winter Carson presents all of Sappho's fragments in GReek and in English. Brackets and space give the reader a sense of what is absent as well as what is present on the papyrus. Carson's translation illuminates Sappho's reflections on love, desire, marriage, exile, cushions, bees, old age, shame, time, chickpeas and many other aspects of the human situation.
summary from: book jacket

My thoughts:
Sappho in an ancient Greek poetess, aristocrat, lyricist (she wrote poems to be accompanied by the lyre), wife and mother. Her love songs were often addressed to women which was not considered blasphemy as homosexuality was accepted in Greece. Fun fact: the words "lesbian" and "sapphic" both come from Sappho. Another cool fact: she was one of the first poets to write in the first person. A majority of her poems have been lost and only fragments have been discovered. Anne Carson translated the original Greek text into English substituting brackets for missing text. I wandered over to the non-fiction section of my library out of curiosity because the Dewey Decimal system always intimidated me. However, I'm glad I went there because I found this gem. The title is a fragment from one of the poems, and the gold-tinted scraps to the left of the book cover are the surviving papyrus fragments from the Bibliothque Nationale de France in Paris. The beautiful cover, the minimalist text font, the presentation of the lyrics, and the actual content come together perfectly in this lovely volume.
My first thought was "This is annoying" because there's sometimes a single word on a page and I was constantly turning pages. Later, I began to appreciate the layout. It was surreal reading what little survived of Sappho's work. I imagined the possibilities of what could've been written, what had once existed, and what would forever be lost to us. Here in these pages existed a part of Sappho. Her use of first person, which was novel, made me feel as if I were reading her private diary. Many of the themes she wrote about were human, personal, and deep. Her thoughts are sensitive and sweet. I've never read poems as delicate as Sappho's, even from other female poets such as Dickinson. These are not poems of the grand scheme of things, nor are they poems of the gods or their creations. These are human lyrics.
 For example, this was all that was written on page 279

137:

I want to say something but shame
prevents me

yet if you had a desire for good or beautiful things
and your tongue were not concocting some evil to say,
shame would not hold down your eyes
but rather you would speak about what is just


 To read the words of a woman who lived in Ancient Greece, to read this small fragment of a time long ago, is truly a remarkable and often under-appreciated gift.  Another one of my favourites:

121

but if you love us
      choose a younger bed
      for I cannot bear
                   to live with you when I am the older one

 These small fragments speak such grand volumes that it's difficult to fathom how much an entire poem could deliver. What I loved most about Sappho's poems were actually her love poems "Most commonly the target of her affections was female, often one of the many women sent to her for education in the arts. She nurtured these women, wrote poems of love and adoration to them, and when they eventually left the island to be married, she composed their wedding songs." The grace and care and deep affection in Sappho's words, although full of pain and sorrow, revealed to me the true beauty of love. Her love poems are different than those of men writing to women they fancy. She writes truly as a woman who loves another woman, and I think there's a subtly that a man can never achieve when writing about the opposite gender that Sappho writes remarkably. One poem, on page 185, strikes me.

94

I simply want to be dead.
Weeping she left me

with many tears and said this:
Oh how badly things have turned out for us.
Sappho, I swear, against my will I leave you.

And I answered her:
Rejoice, go and
remember me. For you know how we cherished you.

But if not, I want
to remind you
    ] and beautiful times we had.

The rest continues for another 2 stanzas, but I'll leave that for you to read later! Overall, I think this was a beautifully arranged translation of a remarkable collection of fragmented poems. Sappho has become one of my new favourite poets, on par with my love of e. e. cummings. I don't quite know how to review poetry, so I apologise if this review was lacking but the book itself certainly wasn't. This is an elegant volume that I recommend for those looking for a quick and but insightful, thought-provoking read. I give this book five out of six umbrellas!



review: the age of reason

03 January 2015

August Strindberg (Swedish, 1849-1912), Storm Landscape, October 1894. Paper-panel, 32 x 23.5 cm

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: bff
pages: 397
review written: 1.1.2015
originally published: 1945

title: The Age of Reason
author: Jean-Paul Sartre
The first novel of Sartre's monumental Roads to Freedom series, The Age of Reason is set in 1938 and tells of Mathieu, a French professor of philosophy who is obsessed with the idea of freedom. As the shadows of the Second World War draw closer -- even as his personal life is complicated by his mistress's pregnancy -- his search for a way to remain free becomes more and more intense.
(summary: goodreads)

My thoughts:
The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre is an existential fiction novel published during the existential, post-war movement in France. Existentialism is a philosophy that highlights the importance of individualism and free will. Existentialism is a vast philosophy of which there are many facets. One might hear of an "existential crisis" or a crisis of a major issue all people must face such as loss or relationships. In this book, Sartre explores both individualism and that I received from my best friend for my eighteenth birthday this past September. The title is a line from a dialogue within the book. You'll have an "aha!" moment when you read it because finding the title of a book within the story always produces that sort of reaction. Existentialism is in essence the enemy of rationality or reason and existentialism is the philosophy that Sartre "founded". The book cover is not exactly beautiful, but in my opinion does a nice job of representing the book. The white and muted green colours, the light, free-floating dots that etch the author's name, and the very small, lower-cased title towards the top of the cover all represent aspects of the book. The story was muted, the concept of freedom (the dots on the cover)  were proven throughout the story, and the lower case title emphasises the existential notion that an act is more important than the word.
In The Age of Reason, Sartre explores the lives of Mathieu, his mistress Marcelle, his friends, his young crush, and the other people in his life The main storyline follows Mathieu's quest to gain his freedom, which requires a sum of money that he does not posses and that he must find in a a couple of days. As I read the book, I thought I hated it. The only reason I kept reading was to have the satisfaction of finishing a book (something I haven't done for a while). However, upon finishing, I realised I actually liked it. It's this paradoxical quality that makes me interested in Sartre. After I read his first novel, Nausea, I felt a similar sensation.
As I read, I noticed that Mathieu was liked by everyone. Even the people that seemed to not like him actually liked him. Yet, when Mathieu was the narrator, that level of respect towards himself was diminished. I related to that sort of self-loathing, although "loathing" is too strong a word. Although people around me might like me, I'm partially blind to what there is about me that there is to like. Apart from all the parts of the book I disliked, or simply couldn't understand, this was one aspect I enjoyed.
I liked how different and how similar all the characters were in relation to each other. To achieve that sort of complex and sublime relationship scheme is, as I might say from my experience as a noob amateur writer, incredibly difficult. I often rant that characters and how well they're written are what make a book memorable. The characters in this novel were well-written, but I hated them all. Perhaps it was because they weren't the noble ideal or the hero-type, but accurate portrayal of humans. I disliked the characters because they were not like me, although I don't claim to be the "noble ideal."
The plot was definitely original, compared to what I've read. I liked how Sartre managed to mix the sub-plots of the sub-characters to Mathieu's. Each character was significant and each character played a role, even the waiter or bartender. In many books, those characters are often ephemeral, but in this book, they're presence is repeated.
Unlike Nausea, which focused on a single man and his individuality, The Age of Reason explores the intricate nature of relationships and how they conflict with the notion of individuality. I found it a refreshing read. It didn't affect me like Nausea did, nor did it impress me beyond belief, so I've given it a rating of three out of six umbrellas. It's a lovely read for those who like philosophical fiction, thought provoking books, or simply those who desire something different.
Similar reads:

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre



2015

01 January 2015

Happy New Year!
I hope each and every one of you has a prosperous, successful and happy happy new year <3 div="">

   I've not forgotten about this website at all. On the contrary, I've been dying to write reviews. It's my senior year of high school, I'm taking all my courses at a nearby university, I'm applying to colleges and writing the required essays and filling out the required paperwork and all in all, there's just been very little time to read. 
  Good news! My resolution includes reading more books. My goal is one review a month, AT LEAST, and 12 books this year which is such a low standard but something I can easily fulfil. I'm sorry I've been so absent this past year but I feel like 2015 is going to be my year, and hopefully yours too. I've got reviews lined up and a few surprises to start the year off great. Thank you so much for sticking with me all these years and for not giving up on me. I've only lost a couple of followers which is a lot less than I had expected. You guys are actually the best!

Cheers!
-Kirthi

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