Kinga's Books

I'm willing to give anything a go but I could be very cruel to badly written books (regardless of the genre).


I am Kinga from goodreads -

Tessa Dare - A Week To Be Wicked

A Week to Be Wicked - Tessa Dare

First of all, I am really tired of all this ‘rake’ false advertising. Half of romance writers obviously don’t know what a real rake looks like (except maybe for the garden tool). Colin is a great guy but a total wannabe rake. He is a charmer at best. Minerva is an introvert bookish sort of heroine, but, refreshingly, she is not a quivering, stumbling, stuttering mess.

The premise is terribly convoluted and it involves dinosaurs (which is the second historical romance I read involving dinosaurs). But the point is that he and she embark on a crazy journey to Scotland pretending to have eloped. In the course of the journey Minerva learns how to let go and have a little fun and Colin learns that bookish girls have got it going on.

It was a lot of really far-fetched fun full of absolutely ludicrous adventures and hot sex. Basically it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Julia Quinn - Romancing Mr Bridgerton

Romancing Mr Bridgerton  - Julia Quinn

There is a perfect word to describe how I feel about Julia Quinn. It’s ‘meh’.  I don’t love her, I don’t hate her, I will read her, I will quickly forget her.


I’m not sure why that is because she is very popular and other people seem to find her books, and this particular one especially, amazing. But to me they are just too cute. Too sweet. I don’t want cute and sweet. I’m sure you’ve gathered that much from my reviews – I can tolerate cute and sweet only in really homoeopathic doses.


So what is Romancing Mr Bridgerton about? Well, she has loved him for ages, he barely notices her. Until he notices her and falls in love. And then they get married and live happily ever after. Also they make out in a carriage once which is something I have always wanted to do.


The most interesting part of this story was how Quinn handled the bruised ego of the hero which was bruised on the account of his beloved being more successful than him (and what’s worse - in the same field!). This, I feel, needs to be addressed more often in romance novels. Is it unsexy for the hero to be less successful than the heroine? Especially if they work in the same field? Would you want to read a romance novel where a hero takes in his stride that he would never be as good of a scientist/doctor/writer as the heroine? How about real life? Personally, I prefer not to date another fiction writer just in case. Bruised male egos is something I have very little time for.

Sherry Thomas - The Luckiest Lady in London

The Luckiest Lady in London - Sherry Thomas

Sherry Thomas delivers as usual. No surprises there.


Felix, our hero, had an unpleasant childhood, but rather than turning into a rake, like most of other bodice ripper heroes, he decides to do the opposite and become the Ideal Gentleman. Just perfect and suave and completely devoid of any emotions. If you look at it closely, you will realise it’s the most perverse concept. Felix betrays many psychopathic tendencies and normally I would warn Louisa not to get involved with anyone like that (even if Louisa herself needs to resort to manipulative tactics, so you could say they deserve each other), but as it is a romance novel, any damage to personalities can be undone.


Both Felix and Louisa had very clear and prudent life plans until they somehow got involved with each other and proceeded to ruin themselves. Thomas, being Thomas makes her characters go through a bit of hell first - there is angst and the hero and heroine punishing each other most cruelly. But all is well that ends well.

Elvira Navarro - La Ciudad En Invierno

La ciudad en invierno - Elvira Navarro

So beautifully disturbing, so disturbingly beautiful.  


A wisp of a book, but don’t be fooled. Most writers can’t do on 400 pages when Navarro did on mere 120. Essentially it’s a study of childhood and adolescence of a girl told in four vignettes. There is passive aggression, unacknowledged sexuality that gets out of control, cruelty, provocation. All of those things little girls hide under their freckles and pig-tails brilliantly told. Not recommended for fathers with young daughters. It’s the Anti-Lolita, a more realistic story of a girl who has the tools but doesn’t know how to use them yet.


I would have loved to read something like that when I was 12. Maybe I would have made some sense of this awkward experience of being a young girl.


I feel I should re-read this book because my less than perfect Spanish might have made miss some things, but even this, possibly limited, experience was worth five fat stars.


This book has not been translated to English but her other one ‘Happy City’ was, so go grab it! 

Marguerite Kaye - Rumours that Ruined a Lady

Rumours that Ruined a Lady (Mills & Boon Historical) - Marguerite Kaye

We meet Lady Caroline Rider when she is off her face on opium in some dodgy place, where she is found by a notorious rake, Sebastian Conway, Marquis of Ardhallow who had sworn to himself he would never have anything more to do with that blasted woman. So obviously things are off to a great start.


To be honest, I wouldn’t mind if their self-destructing tendencies, angst and misgivings lasted longer but that just tells you less about the book and more about some issues of mine which should probably be addressed during some extended therapy. I really don’t know why I wish the worst upon the characters. I promise I would never engage in this sort of toxic relationship in real life. I’m terribly sensible and unromantic in real life (again – issues, therapy).


But let’s leave my bizarre sadistic tendencies and focus on the book. It basically tells you what happens when you listen to your father and follow his advice. Yes, you guessed it: domestic violence, drugs and scandal.


Caroline is another of the Armstrong sisters who are trying to send their father to an early grave by running off with foreigners (you can read about their adventures in the previous books). All things considered, Caroline should be her father’s favourite daughter. First she marries whom her father chooses and then, when that doesn’t quite work out, she at least has the decency to fall for a titled English gentleman. Her father should be thankful, but seriously, there is no pleasing that man. I’m not quite sure if there is any Armstrong sister still left unwed but if there is, she should just stop trying to earn her father’s approval. And, as it turns out, her stupidest idea will work out better than whatever her father, renowned diplomat, has planned for her.


I must congratulate Marguerite Kaye on the pacing of ‘Rumours that Ruined a Lady’. It proved unputdownable and it’s probably my favourite book of hers so far. I was so engrossed in it that I was still reading it when we were hiking in Howth until my mother scolded me for reading rather than enjoying the views. But I kept on reading, because if there was one thing I learnt from this book is that you should never do what your parents tell you to do.

Charles Dickens - A Tale Of Two Cities

A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

When I’m reading a book, approximately half of me lives in this book. My perception of reality is tainted by the circumstances of the characters from that book. So when I was reading A Tale of Two Cities I was partly in London in 2013 and partly in Paris during the Reign of Terror.


One day I was sitting on the sofa and watching tv (which is something that happens very rarely) when an ad for a chocolate cereal bar came on. It featured a French chocolatier who was hiding two aristocrats in the basement during the French Revolution. A group of Patriots walked in looking for them. They would’ve left empty handed but one of the aristocrats couldn’t resist the temptation and took a noisy bite of the chocolate bar, and thus they were discovered. In the last shot we see a guillotine at work. I was dumbfounded. Did they just make fun of genocide to sell chocolate bars? Is it only shocking to me because I happen to be reading A Tale Of Two Cities? Is it that to everybody else genocide that’s older than 200 years is fair game? I mean, for an innocent exercise try to replace the protagonists of that ad with something more recent and see how that makes you feel.


Anyway, it’s probably just that Dickens is a great writer who makes me care about things that happened so long ago I shouldn’t really still feel emotional about them. ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was my very first Dickens and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Believe it or not, Dickens is not exactly a household name in Poland. He opens the book with:


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.


And then closes it with:


“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”


These are, I think, one of the best opening and closing sentences in literature and Dickens certainly knows how to make a good first and last impression, so that you can forgive him any shortcomings that happen in between. Because, quite honestly, there are a little too many words there. Dickens sometimes gets high on his own style and almost derails the narrative. It’s really a minor quibble, it’s generally hard to fault to Dickens, and I surely feel like a total asshat for even pointing these things out, but, yes, the only interesting female characters, who actually possess what could be called a personality, are the villains. The heroine, Lucie Manette, is a quivering, crying, angelic thing, beautiful and utterly bland. It’s no wonder she chooses Charles, a character equally boring, whereas any woman with at least an ounce of spunk in her would have chosen Sydney Carter. What a man Sydney Carter was! I find it genuinely surprising no historical romance writer has resurrected him yet and made him the hero of one of her books.


What else can I say about A Tale Of Two Cities? The set up takes forever but once the machine is set in motion you can hardly it put it down. Everything comes together in a breath-taking fashion. I would love to see it on stage and I’m gutted I missed it because of stupid flu.

Eliza Lloyd - The Timeless Earl

The Timeless Earl - Eliza Lloyd

The premise of this short story is rather peculiar. The hero, Lord Melvern, is a time-traveller who is very happy to be devoting his life to science, until one day his future son arrives to tell him to go back to his actual time, have sex with a certain Millicent Hargrove, so that he (the son) could be born.


The author is, of course, fully aware how triply paradoxical this premise is, but as the story is only 20-odd pages she doesn’t have the time to dwell on it or there would be not enough space left for the sexy bits. And honestly, as far as the premises of romantic novels go, this one is not the most far-fetched. There have been crazier reasons for hero having to seduce the heroine in just one night.


It’s hard to know from this short piece of writing whether Eliza Lloyd is any good at creating strong characters and creating good chemistry and tension between them. It’s just too short. Also the sex scenes didn’t do that much for me, because I didn’t have any emotional connection with the characters and I’m the kind that needs to wined and dined first (funnily enough, no such qualms in real life).


What I did learn from this book, though, is that Eliza Lloyd is a very skilled writer, she is eloquent, well-read and there was a lot of ‘I see what you did here’ moments, which is more than enough for me to keep the author on my radar and check out her other, full length books. 

Emma Elliot - A Thin, Dark Line

A Thin, Dark Line - Emma Elliot

Recently I have become pen-pals with a man in prison in Oregon, USA. When I told my friends about it, all of them (except for my sister who is a fearless woman) told me I was absolutely crazy to be doing this, because surely he will come after me once he gets out and he will kill me (for no particular reason other than the fact he knows my address). I was quite amazed by the fact that I was being called the crazy one and not those convinced that there was a big likelihood of me dying at the hands of an imprisoned man (who is not even doing time for very serious crimes, compared to the other inmates anyway), a man who is not going to be out until 2015 and after that won’t be allowed to leave the county, let alone travel across the globe to randomly murder me.


Honestly, if we were to worry about me, we should worry that I somehow convince myself I’m in love with the guy (he’s got great abs, reads books,  writes me very long letters and promises he’s been clean for the past 8 years) and decide to upend my life and move to Oregon to marry an ex-convict.


So when Jill chose this book for me (as a part of our ongoing book-dare project), I thought ‘touché!’ Essentially it is a story of a clumsy librarian who falls in love with a guy who has just got out of prison. Although I’d prefer to believe I’m nowhere near this weak, clumsy and clueless as the main character. Seriously, a note to romance writers – I know that the whole ‘she tripped and fell into his arms’ sort of thing sounds like such an exciting and romantic device, but please, you’re only allowed to use once per book, so choose wisely. Any more than that makes your heroine look like someone with serious neurological problems, or a psycho who is actually doing this shit on purpose.


Another thing – please keep the mundane to a minimum. I can’t keep reading a scene after scene of some random domestic bliss, people eating breakfast, children laughing, people eating cupcakes, people hugging, people eating dinners, people smiling at each other, all those people who are superfluous and unnecessary and what they do has nothing to do with the story line. There was way too much of that in this book and it served absolutely no purpose other than filling out the pages until we were ready for the climax. I feel this is one of the biggest problems of indie books – plotting and pacing. Of course, terrible writing is a problem as well (luckily not in this book) but while there is not much that can be done about terrible writing, a good editor should be able to help with the plotting and pacing (which is why we still need traditional publishers).


I also had a problem with how trusting the heroine was. I’m all about giving people the benefit of doubt, I’m a firm believer in second chances but if I was getting all cozy with a guy who did 15 years for murder and there were people dropping dead all around me from the moment he returned to town, I think I would be a tiny bit concerned. I think it would be perfectly healthy and reasonable to be concerned. But then we are talking about a woman who trips over her own feet at least twice a day. Also, she seemed to want to ‘get to the bottom’ of the mysterious story, yet whenever anyone who seemed to know more than her offered some information she literally did not want to hear it and asked them to leave. It was frustrating.


I was prepared to give this book two stars but then it suddenly picked itself up and the last 20% were quite entertaining. I think the author should look at that last part of the book and analyse it and make sure her next one is entirely like that.


I was also disappointed with the lack of sex – for God’s sake, the guy had been in prison for all of his adult life, throw him a bone, girlfriend! I hope we see more action in the next book which should be about Eloise’s sister whom we met as a jaded plastic surgeon, keen on one night stands, stealing motorcycles and riding them half naked in the middle of the night. A girl after my own heart.



"Mass-houses, churches, mixt together;

Streets unpleasant in all weather.

The church, the four courts, and hell contiguous;

Castle, College green, and custom-house gibbous.


Few things here are to tempt ye:

Tawdry outsides, pockets empty:

Five theatres, little trade, and jobbing arts,

Brandy, and snuff-shops, post-chaises, and carts.


Warrants, bailiffs, bills unpaid;

Masters of their servants afraid;

Rogues that daily rob and cut men;

Patriots, gamesters, and footmen.


Lawyers, Revenue-officers, priests, physicians;

Beggars of all ranks, age and conditions,

Worth scarce shews itself upon the ground;

Villainy both with applause and profit crown’d.


Women lazy, drunken, loose;

Men in labour slow, of wine profuse:

Many a scheme that the public must rue it:

This is Dublin, if you knew it."


Greetings from Dublin - the loveliest place I've ever been to. I think I will move here come spring. 

Meanwhile there will be no new reviews until next week. I'm in love.

Joanna Chmielewska - Klin

Klin - Joanna Chmielewska

Joanna Chmielewska (real name: Irena Kühn née Becker) was one of the most important writers of my adolescence and I was really sad when I heard of her sudden death earlier this month.


In Poland Joanna Chmielewska was more of an institution than a regular writer, with over 60 books published, million copies sold and translated into various languages (but not to English!).  Her Russian publisher (she is tremendously popular in Russia – having sold some 10 million copies there) coined a phrase ‘ironic detective stories’ to describe her works and it was so perfect it is now used everywhere, including her Wikipedia page.


Even though Chmielewska is officially a crime writer, it is really humour and social observation which are the main ingredients of her books. I’d say here is the priority list: humour, crime, romance. Make no mistake though, the romance is almost always ironic as well. And it doesn’t always end happily.


She wrote almost a book a year since mid-sixties right until her death (interestingly during the political turmoil of the 80’s she only published books for teenagers), so even though some might argue their literary value, no one can argue their value as a chronicle of everyday Polish life of the last 50 fifty years.


I would say Chmielewska was my first creative writing teacher. If you look at my early attempts of writing, it becomes obvious how hard I was trying to emulate her.  And any minimal traces of humour you can see in my writing I owe entirely to her.


I decided to read all Chmielewskas book in chronological order, because I think it will be an interesting exercise to see how Poland changed over the years and how Chmielewska’s own writing did.


‘Klin’ is Chmielewska’s debut novel, which was later turned into a movie with a star cast (which you can watch here if your Polish is not good enough to read a book but enough to watch a film - Upon rereading it now I was surprised how sassy and brave it was (inviting a strange man to your house in the middle of the night because they sounded nice on the phone?).  And although Chmielewska would never include any sexually graphic scenes, it’s pretty obvious the main character had sex with that strange man (and potentially a criminal) on the second date – and that’s really not even a date, he just shows up at her house in the middle of the night. I’m pretty sure I missed all that when I first read this book when I was 14 – I was way too innocent then to read between the lines.


The title of this book could be translated to ‘The Antidote’ or, more contemporarily ‘The Rebound’. Our main character Joanna is in love with a certain Janusz and she is waiting for his call which is not coming. Due to a faulty line her conversation with a friend is interrupted by a stranger with a very sensual voice (I remember how often it happened back in the day, you would have a conversation with someone and all of a sudden there was a threesome, or even a foursome). Joanna decides that this man would be her rebound and vows to be immoral, as she’d "rather be immoral than unhappy". However, the man (whose name is also Janusz, and that’s not even the last Janusz to appear in the book and confuse the hell out of the reader) comes with a baggage of some mysterious criminal activity. What follows is a typical comedy of errors which involve phones, dogs and radios. Even though, the crime storyline seems rather confusing, and might not fully make sense (I did read it when I had flu, so take that into account), it’s still an absolutely delightful read.


Chloe Aridjis - Asunder

Asunder - Chloe Aridjis

There is a brilliant review of this book on amazon. It says:


“There are silly mistakes when talking about the gallery :
There is no gallery 88
There is no gallery 67
Human Resources haven’t been based in the Gallery building for the last 10 years.
Human Resources have nothing to do with picture movements and informing staff”


Other than that, the reviewer deems the book ‘enjoyable’.  The reason this review is brilliant is that it is almost metaliterary – it feels like it’s a review written by one of the characters stepping out of the pages of Asunder to voice their complaints. It could’ve even been Marie - Asunder’s narrator who is a guard at the National Gallery in London or one of the other characters who populate this seemingly quiet and introspective novel.


But don’t be fooled, because there is suppressed violence almost on every page, just underneath the surface. In fact, the characters just like the prose itself threaten to explode and rip the book apart, and yet the novel manages to restrain itself. There is also this unacknowledged sexuality in it that creeps around the edges and also poses a danger to the delicate balance.


Everything in ‘Asunder’ seems fragile – from the peace in the galleries, to Marie’s little art project (creating crumbling sculpture landscapes with moths) and even Marie’s friendship with Daniel needs to stay within clearly defined boundaries so as not collapse.


The patron saint of the novel is Mary Richardson – a frail looking, petite woman, who nonetheless was a militant suffragette and one day she walked into the National Gallery and slashed Rokeby Venus  with a chopper before anyone could stop her (and one who should’ve stopped her was Marie’s great grandfather who was a guard in that room at that time). This event serves as a leitmotif for the book as much as such a book can have a leitmotif, because as a reviewer in Publishers Weekly rightly pointed out 'Asunder' can’t be reduced to a single theme.



What I love about Aridjis and her books is how hypnotic her prose is, how lyrical and how interested in all those sensations no other writers concern themselves with. Chloe Aridjis matches my literary DNA – for each of her guanine there is my cytosine, for her adenine there is my thymine.


 Read this book if you want to know all my secrets. And here is one to get you started:


“At night I prefer to take the bus home though it often means transferring. To descend into the brightness of the Tube cancels out the day’s end too brusquely, while buses do the opposite by carrying you through the pensive streets.”

Favourite Literary Podcasts

Last week I was down with a horrible flu. I lay in bed for days and couldn't even read really.


I wanted to be read to instead because listening uses less brain power and I had very little of it to spare. This flu experience, while of course dreadful, had one positive effect, that is to remind me to check on my favourite literary podcasts and now that I'm well again I can share them with you. There are only two actually.


The first is The New Yorker Book Podcast called Page-Turner, where a famous writer reads a story by another famous writer and tells us why they chose that story and what is so special about it. It's a great to discover some forgotten writers and also learn what makes some the famous writers tick. The last episode which I listened to features Jonatham Lethem (who has a very soothing voice, let me tell you) reading V.S. Pritchett - a writer I'd never heard of before but now, of course, I have his Complete Collected Stories added to my never-ending to-read pile.


Find Page-Turner here:


The other podcast is called 'Selected Shorts' and is produced by PRI ( In this one we have famous people reading storie in front an audience. All of it is recorded live and then delivered to your podcast player. There is less of a commentary afterwards (compared to the New Yorker) but the stories are very entertaining and each episode has a 'theme'. Unlike Page Turner, which is updated monthly, this is updated weekly, but sadly only the last five episodes are available (I think? Maybe I'm missing something?). Here they are :


Have you got any favourite literary podcasts with short stories, reviews or book discussion? Maybe even video podcasts or youtube channels? I would love some recommendations for all literary audio or video in English, Polish or Spanish.


Also, before I go, I'd like to mention one more thing, which is totally off-topic, but it's my party, I can be as off-topic as I want. I have recently (that is today) discovered a good website to buy books which is NOT owned by Amazon. They have a good selection and they are reasonably priced and what's more important they deliver worldwide for free, so they are basically like Book Depository, but not owned by Amazon (yet anyway, because I'm waiting for Amazon to announce that together with Google they have just bought the internet and we all come with package). Anyway, here is the address:


I'll come clean and say that I found them thanks to a post on booklikes by a Bulgarian girl, and I'm afraid, because I was checking booklikes sneakily while at work, I can't for the life of me find her now. Hey, if you are reading this, come forward and take the credit. :-)


PS. Aren't New Yorker covers the most beautiful things in the world? I'd like to have every issue of New Yorker at home so that I can just look at them and roll around in them. And maybe even read them, too.

Jolanta Muszyńska, Aneta Osiak, Dorota Wojtera - Obraz codzienności w prasie stanu wojennego: Gdańska, Kraków, Warszawa

Obraz codzienności w prasie stanu wojennego - Jolanta Muszyńska, Aneta Osiak, Dorota Wojtera

Yet another book I read for my never ending research on Polish communism, in particular the Martial Law period. This one is titled: The Image of Everyday Life in Press during the Martial Law. It was written by three young historians and I believe it was originally their Master degree dissertation. Unfortunately, it does read like a dissertation. There is a footnote for every piece of information included and the style is very clunky. Occasionally it gets worse and sounds like an essay written for extra credit by someone in Junior High.


Yet, from my point of view – that is a writer who is researching the era, it was extremely valuable. The authors have gathered every bit of info imaginable. I now know the prices for everything (both ‘official’ and ‘black market’ ones), the average salaries, products rations, cinema and theatre listings, even TV Programme. They even talked about the weather. This is all extremely helpful but unbelievably boring to a regular reader because it is served with no interesting commentary and no genuinely original conclusions.


It didn’t enrich my understanding of the era but thanks to this book, my novel will be hopefully as error-free as possible.


Now, this would have been the review I would post on Goodreads, if it weren’t for their recent antics regarding deleting people reviews, censorship and general asshattery, so instead I’m posting this:


Review compliant with the new Goodreads TOS


“This book is irrelevant to Goodreads because you can’t buy it on Amazon. Also it talks about oppression, censorship etc. and no one really likes reading about that because it’s boring. Yet, let me tell you anyway.


The title of this book is ‘The Image of Everyday Life in Press during the Martial Law’, which is a little bit ridiculous because what could be read in Press those days when it was so heavily censored? Well, you had to read between the lines.


The Martial Law was one of the darkest periods of recent Polish history. In December 1981 General Jaruzelski decided he had enough of strikes, protests and demonstrations and introduced the so called ‘Martial Law’. Back then Poland was, funnily enough, called the People’s Republic of Poland but it didn’t really care about its people. It didn’t have to answer to its people. Poland was then only a satellite to USSR and it only had to answer to Moscow Kremlin. Nowadays Jaruzelski claims he did what he had to because the USSR was pressuring him and threatening with military action. But unless Russia opens up their archives we will never know if Jaruzelski was just over-zelaous in oppressing his country or whether he was just following orders from the USSR.


Martial Law started before anyone knew what was happening. Overnight they thousands of people arrested people, turned off the phones and closed the borders. And then they announced there would be new laws. New laws, which were arbitrary and often frankly puzzling. Sometimes you wouldn’t know about things that were banned until you got in trouble. It was almost as if they were making them up as they went on. There was a curfew (at different times in different cities), ban on travelling outside your town, ban on public assembly, there was even a ban on most water sports (and no one knew why that was). Once the phones were turned back on, all the conversations were monitored, and you could be arrested or even forced out of the country if you were caught saying something the government didn’t like.


So what did people do? How could they rebel against the oppression when the other side had tanks, tear gas, riot teams and a whole of USSR? And yet they did. When the 8 o’clock news came on (censored and full of propaganda), they left their houses and went for walks. They would greet all their neighbours and keep walking, just so they are not accused of public assembly. The government’s response was to push the curfew, so that everyone had to stay at home for the evening news. The people would wear the Solidarity Movement symbols but those were soon banned (together with all other political symbols), so people started pinning ‘resistors’ to their jackets. A resistor is just an electrical component, it cannot possibly be described as a political symbol. It’s just a piece of metal, and yet there it was. A tiny little sign of resistance.


The cultural events were banned and there was a strict censorship. But what’s a censorship to people who had been dealing with communism for forty years? They knew how to play that game. They knew how to write about what they wanted to write about, pretending they were writing about, say, Spanish Inquisition, but it really was about the here and now. And their audience knew that and they winked at the artist, and the artist winked back at them. And even the government knew it but they couldn’t do anything, unless they admitted they were in fact acting like Spanish Inquisition. Some say that Polish artists have never been as creative as in those days. That the opposition had liberated a certain energy in them, some sense of a true mission.


During Martial Law lots of Polish people emigrated, not because they wanted to, they loved Poland but they just could function in that reality, some people were forced to emigrate, they got a one way ticket and were banned from returning. Many stayed and fought. Some openly and bravely (in sure way to get them in trouble), some in a more quiet and symbolic way. Others did nothing, they just tried to go about their lives and navigate somehow this new reality. Yet, some said it didn’t affect them, they said you wouldn’t have anything to worry about if you were a law-abiding citizen. They even sent letters to newspapers thanking the government for bringing peace and order and shutting down the troublemakers. Some say it was the government themselves sending those letters.


Did any of those little rebellious acts work? Many people said: why bother, why bother wearing a metal resistor in your jacket? How are you going to win against the USSR and their army with a resistor in your jacket. Don’t fool yourself, you’re not running against the Polish government, the Polish government has no say in what is happening in Poland, because Poland is fully owned by the USSR. You can’t win, you can’t beat the USSR. I guess, if you stopped and thought about it, you would realise it was true, which is why you didn’t stop to think about it. You just kept on with the resistor in your jacket. And a few years later, what do you know… the Solidarity movement which started in Poland spread to other countries and the Iron Curtain crumbled. And maybe the Soviet Block was doomed to fail, maybe it was all the geopolitical and economic factors, but who can say it wasn’t the resistor in your jacket?"


Patricio Pron - My Fathers' Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain

My Fathers' Ghost is Climbing in the Rain - Patricio Pron

Recently, thanks to Battersea Spanish Bookclub ( I have been motivated to start reading in Spanish again. I don’t want the language to evaporate entirely from my head - after all I spent five years studying it. What a waste that would be.


Therefore I read this book in Spanish, but you can also read it in English and people I trust told me that the translation is pretty good.


It’s an odd one, this book. I am not sure what it wants to be when it grows up. It seems that Patricio Pron wants to add another voice to the discussion of ‘Los Desaparecidos’ and recent Argentinian history. It seems he also wants to pay homage to Argentinian literature or maybe just rebel against it? I honestly don’t know.


The book starts off brilliantly with chapters talking about the Argentinian narrator’s stay in Berlin. They are full of hazy half-memories, things that happened or didn’t happen. There is a certain familiar mood of disconnection with reality – a very similar to the kind you will find in Aridjis’ Book Of Clouds which features a Mexican woman in Berlin. Just what makes those Latin American types lose the plot like that when in Berlin? Is it the cleanliness and orderliness of the city which seemed to have swept its history under the rug?


I really enjoyed this first part – I think it brilliantly portrays this particular kind of uprootedness that I often experience in London. After that, however, the book goes off the rails. The main narrator goes back to Argentina to see his dying father. Half unwillingly he unearths secrets from his parents’ past and confronts his own childhood memories which he had suppressed until now. In theory this should have been brilliant but Pron, in a very self-indulgent, almost-arrogant way (that, I think, only very young authors are prone to use) tries to be experimental but ends being boring. The endless clippings from a local newspaper, badly written, and badly punctuated lose novelty factor early on and end up simply tedious. The readers lose interest in the story of the disappearance and murder of Alberto Burdisso, a rather rather banal story after all (as much as murder can be banal, of course), because the only interesting thing about it is why this story is relevant to the narrator or his father. I heard Pron saying in an interview that when he started writing this book he didn’t know what he was doing and to me it seems he never quite found out.


The final part of the book lacks a certain umph, something to make you go ‘aaaah’ or ‘ooooh’ and compensate for numb state the middle part left you with. Nonetheless, even though Pron lets himself down in many parts, he every now and then produces a paragraph of astonishing beauty and perceptiveness and for that I would think ‘My Fathers' Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain’  is still worth reading. Also Granta has put Pron in their list of 50 Young Spanish Novelists to watch or some such. So I’ll be watching him.

Primo Levi - The Periodic Table

The Periodic Table (Penguin Modern Classics) - Primo Levi, Raymond Rosenthal

Chemistry as a metaphor for life. Blurb writers love phrases like that. They are short, succinct and intriguing. But how hard is it to write something that would deliver on such a promise?
I had never read anything quite like ‘The Periodic Table’. It more than delivered – it exceeded my expectations. The book is a beautiful marriage of life and science, perfectly accessible to a regular reader. The truth is that anything can be fascinating provided it’s explained by a person truly passionate about the subject (and it doesn’t hurt if they are also mind-blowingly good writers like Primo Levi).

You might know Primo Levi as an Auschwitz survivor and you might worry that ‘The Periodic Table’ would be too dark of a read. But it is not ‘If This is A Man’. Holocaust is still lurking around shadowy corners of this book and it is quite obvious that Primo Levi would be a different kind of writer if it weren’t for that trauma (some might even ask if he would be a writer at all) but this collection of anecdotes, recollections, allegory and glimpses is, I would venture to say, an ultimately almost positive (if not downright optimistic) work.

The very first story might be a little odd and discouraging but either soldier on or skip it altogether – it’s not really representative of the rest of the book. I found reading about the intricacies of a Piedmont dialect with its borrowings from Hebrew rather fascinating. I am interested in the process in which words change their meaning entirely (not unlike they did in cockney rhyming slang) but I can appreciate that such linguistic elaborations are not to everyone’s taste.

Further chapters – each named after a different chemical element document Levi’s life as a chemist and they are often funny, tender and bitter-sweet. They are intersected with fictional short stories which read like fairy tales and where chemical elements take on almost mythical qualities.
The most striking story is the penultimate one in which Levi comes across a German who oversaw his work in the laboratory in Auschwitz. Like a true scientist Levi wants to rationalise and understand his feelings. He wants to know what it is he expects from the encounter. His struggle to organise the swarm of emotions is probably the most touching part of the book.

‘The Periodic Table’ is not a science book, whoever calls it that has no idea what they are talking about. It’s a book about the love for science. It’s about what every scientist wants us to believe – that their subject is not some obscure knowledge of interest to few, but it’s life and reality that makes us breathe, move and think. The last story in the collection spells it out for you in case you missed the more subtle hints in the previous chapters. I liked it a lot because it reminded of the times when, as a little girl, I fantasised about the history of atoms in my body – where they had been before me. I imagined them as a part of dinosaurs, king and queens, old houses, wild horses… The story is Levi’s crown argument for his thesis that it is only through matter (not sprit) we can know the universe. (And this is a thesis I can easily believe in – it appeals to me. I am not what you call ‘spritual’).

If you made it this far in my review, I will reward you with a link to an excellent interview with Primo Levi in the Paris Review of Books:

John Steinbeck - The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck, Robert DeMott

Dear John,
There is no doubt in my mind that you are an excellent writer. And I am sure you know this. There is the Pulitzer and there is the Nobel. There are hundreds of editions worldwide and swarms of five star reviews.

“The Grapes of Wrath” is a book of great weight (literally and metaphorically). It’s epic and as timeless as the history which repeats itself with a stubborn regularity. There have always been changes and there have always been people left behind, people who found themselves outside the whatever brave new world which had no place for them. And there have always been people who didn’t want to know about them, who didn’t want to hear about them. John, I know you wrote this book for them, so that no one could feign ignorance. And I get it, John, your heart is in the right place.

You did all the right things. Those ever so gentle shifts in the patriarchal society? Brilliant. You know how to warm my feminist heart with the portrayal of Ma who takes the reins over from Pa. Although, are you trying to say it’s a good thing that women take over when the world has gone to dogs or that it is another symptom of the world going to dogs? I don’t know. Never mind. According to new goodreads review guidelines I can’t judge you as a person, so let’s leave it. Let’s talk about your writing. A chapter about a turtle crossing a road? How did you pull that off? It should be proverbially boring and yet, I read it with a bated breath. Will the turtle make it to the other side of the road? Or that last final scene? Worth the seven hundred pages it takes to get to it.
I grew to love the Joads, John, even though I know they’re just pawns in your game. But again, I forgive you because your intentions are good. You’re not calculating. You really do feel for all the Joads of the world and you want the world to feel it, too. You want us all to spare a thought for all the dispossessed of the world, those who loved earth and were one with it but they were forced to quit and abandon their land, to break that sacred bond and were replaced by soulless tractors and faceless banks and corporations.

You’re preaching to the choir, John. My heart is in the right place, too.

But you know what, John? And please, don’t take it the wrong way, I did love your book, but you weren’t subtle. I like my men subtle.