When I got a proof copy of Karl Ove Knausgård’s new book Autumn, I had no idea what to expect. Non-fiction, especially encyclopedias, can be quite strenuous to read sometimes, but I just took the plunge and wasn’t disappointed.
Autumn is the first of four books that form the Seasons quartet. In this encyclopedia, written for his unborn daughter and for himself, Knausgård takes up ordinary topics that everyone might encounter in life and describes them in short, personal pieces.
The encyclopedia entries make us aware of the things we take for granted and teach us to take a closer look at the world around us. One of my favorite chapters is the chapter on vomit. It is just wonderful to see how Knausgård can find beauty in something that many find revolting and that he is able to persuade you to see that beauty as well.
Not everyone might share Knausgård’s sense of humor, but some of his pieces are simply hilarious and laughing-out-loud funny, while others make you cringe like the chapters on adders or frogs. This emotional rollercoaster and the inclusion of personal experiences make Autumn an entertaining read.
Long time no see. I’m quite busy with my thesis these days, which actually is a good thing, but it doesn’t leave much energy for blogging. I’m still reading though and I’m feeling very bad about not sharing my thoughts with you.
In Austria, it’s very hot right now and so I thought I might as well publish this review of Debora Levy’sHot Milk* that I’ve written two months ago (oops). It’s the perfect read for a hot day!
Sofia’s mother Rose has trouble walking. The two of them travel to the Spanish coastal town Almería to see the famous Dr Gomez who is supposed to find out what is wrong with her.
During their stay, twenty-five-year-old Sofia has lots of time to reflect on her life. One day, she meets a German woman called Ingrid, who is strong and bold, both qualities that Sofia doesn’t see in herself.
Hot Milk is a novel that feels like the landscape it is set in – quiet and unagitated. Deborah Levy knows how to make her readers burn in the Andalusian sun just like her protagonist Sofia. You can feel her cracked lips, the medusas’ stings and the gnawing despair. This sizzling scene is mainly loosened up by Ingrid and quirky Dr Gomez who in their own ways help Sofia to find out who she is and what she is capable of.
This novel is all about coming to terms with oneself, the past, the present and the future. It depicts one of those moments in our lives when we don’t know what our next step will be, one of those moments when we’re just treading water. Hot Milk is a quiet read that will give you a look deep inside Sofia’s soul, and even months after reading, its strange atmosphere still lingers.
Today I have a guest blogger on All That Magic and it’s my mom 😀 She usually blogs on Leise Sohlen, so if you speak German, you might as well have a look at her blog.
Kyung-sook Shin Please Look After Mother
My daughter gave me this precious book for my birthday. I am very thankful for it.
An elderly couple are on their way from the countryside to visit their children in Seoul. So-nyo, 69-years old, isn’t quick enough to jump into a metro wagon – only her husband makes it inside. From this moment of separation, So-nyo is missing.
The whole family starts a search that lasts for months. With every modern tool they try to find their mother. During this time, every family member becomes part of the novel. So-nyo’s daughters, her very beloved son, her husband and auntie think about So-nyo, her live, her habits, and her love in first-person narrative. Also missing So-nyo gets a voice – she looks back at her life and you get a glimpse into her situation as a missing person.
The novel is set in contemporary Korea. Kyung-sook Shin, an Asian literary prize winner, manages to achieve insight into poor Korea, the countryside, and the hardworking people who try to find a better way of life for their children.
When teenage So-nyo and her husband got married, he was a stranger to her. Living in a very poor situation, she gave birth to her children at home, she was a very diligent person, who could build something out of nothing. She saw to it that all her children could attend school, university, and leave home to live in the world, which was very strange for their mother. So-nyo never had support from her husband, she was an invisible person, even to her family, up until the day she went missing.
Although the story is set in a different cultural context than ours, the relationship between a child and their mother is basically the same around the world. During So-nyo’s absence, long-kept secrets and private sorrows begin to surface, the family gets a chance to reunite and tighten their bonds and finally they realize that So-nyo is more than just a mother – that she’s a person.
This novel is very touching, because even though our own history with our mom is different, the feelings of a child towards their mom will always be the same. Reading Please Look After Mother will make you reflect on your own relationship with your mother.
If you’re still looking for a little something the Easter Bunny could hide in its basket, you might be interested in Julian Kutos’ new Italian cookbook “Simply Pasta, Pizza & Co. Einfach italienisch genießen”. As you can probably guess by the title, the book is written in German and hasn’t been translated into English yet, but who knows?
“Simply Pasta, Pizza & Co” is divided into four main chapters; Grundrezepte (Basic Recipes), Aperitivo, Pasta, and Pizza & Co, but where this book really shines are the concise and very helpful introductory chapters. They guide you from the very basics like ingredients or cooking equipment, to things like the five basic tastes and perfect cutting techniques. I think it’s needless to say that this cookbook also includes notes on how to use the cookbook, important terms, a glossary, suggested menus, an index and even a list of suppliers.
Of course I also did some cooking. Every recipe is accompanied by at least one large picture, and vegetarian and vegan recipes are easily distinguishable by special symbols at the top of the page.
I made four different dishes from this cookbook: Frittata, Bruschetta Tradizionale, Cannelloni ai Funghi, and Pizza.
The Frittata was easy and fast to make. I had most of the ingredients at home. I just exchanged the mozzarella di bufala the recipe called for for regular mozzarella. My boyfriend really liked the frittata, while I peeled off all the mozzarella, because I didn’t like the consistency and the taste together with the rest of the frittata. Maybe it would have been better to use buffalo mozzarella after all.
The Bruschetta was the recipe I had to modify the most. I still had loads of very soft Datterino tomatoes at home but no baguette. So I just used the rye bread I had at hand and made bruschetta just for me. It tasted good, maybe a little sweet, but that might have been my overripe tomatoes.
A meal my whole family liked but took me ages to make, were the Cannelloni ai funghi. The book says it should take about 65 min to prepare and cook them and I still ended up needing 50 min more.
Nevertheless, the cannelloni tasted wonderful. I had to use button mushrooms instead of chanterelle mushrooms due to the season but the filling was lovely. The only thing that might be problematic for some is the amount of food. It wouldn’t have been enough for four adults. We were three, we weren’t that hungry that day and there wasn’t much left.
A review of this Italian cookbook probably wouldn’t be complete without trying the Pizza Dough recipe. Making the dough isn’t hard. The dough shouldn’t be too wet and not too dry 😉 . I made pizza twice: Once on the same day after letting the dough rest for a few hours, and once after letting it rest in a cool room for five days. Both times, the dough was great to work with. It was easy to roll out and made wonderful thin crisp pizzas just the way I like them.
With “Simply Pasta, Pizza & Co.” Julian Kutos wrote an Italian cookbook that features Italian classics as well as a more modern take on Italian cuisine. Because of the easy-to-follow instructions and the great introductory chapters, the book would make a great gift for novice cooks. The only thing I really missed was a chapter on desserts. 🙂
For Christmas I got a book that had been on my wish list since I first heard about its upcoming publication: Eowyn Ivey’s latest novel To the Bright Edge of the World. I’m glad that I finally got a chance to read it.
Alaska, 1885. Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester and his handful of men are on their way to try the impossible. They want to scout the newly acquired territory with large uncharted parts that lay beyond the Wolverine River.
At the same time Allen’s wife Sophie has to sit tight at Vancouver Barracks in Oregon, where she is torn between disappointment at not being able to accompany her husband to Alaska, and the anticipation of the upcoming birth of their first child.
To the Bright Edge of the World is an Epistolary Novel that is largely told using Allen and Sophie’s diary entries. The frame story is set in the present, where Allen’s great-nephew Walter from Montana and Josh, a museum curator from Alaska, exchange letters about Sophie’s and Allen’s legacy. While their correspondence complements the plot at first, it gets a bit too much near the end of the novel.
It took me quite some time to warm up to Bright Edge to be honest, but when I did, I was hooked and didn’t want to go to sleep. I wanted to know more about the characters’ fate, wanted to see how clever Sophie dealt with the boring life at the barracks, wanted to accompany Allen and his men through snow and ice in Alaska spring, marveling at the breathtaking and solitary landscape. So every time I opened the book I almost felt like Josh the museum curator.
With To the Bright Edge of the World Eowyn Ivey has created an epistolary novel that reads so convincingly that I almost believed the journal entries and letters to be real. Even though it is inspired by Lieutenant Henry T. Allen’s journey into Alaska, I had to remind myself more than once that this book is a work of fiction and that the magical elements in the story are too good to be true. So if you’re up for an adventure and love the North as much as I do you’re in for a treat.
A few weeks ago I got to read an ARC of Mohsin Hamid‘s latest novel Exit West.
Nadia and Saeed live in a city at the brink of war. When the militants take over the city it is time for the two of them to leave. They have heard of the black doors leading to places all around the world and so they decide to use one of those doors to make their escape.
With the refugee crisis, Mohsin Hamid chose a current theme for Exit West. We get to experience the crisis from the perspective of those directly affected – the refugees themselves. This way, we can see that the foreigners coming to our countries, looking for safety, are just humans like us, that they often come from a background similar to ours, and that war or displacement can change them for the better or for worse.
The novel also shows what people, what our own neighbors, are capable of if they are scared of the unknown, and what the world could come to if we give in to our fears.
Exit West is a quick and fluid read up until the middle of the book where Nadia and Saeed end up in London. Their stay there drags on quite a bit. What I really enjoyed were those few short glimpses at other people’s lives during the crisis that are interspersed into the main plot.
Mohsin Hamid wrote a short book packed with information and themes. Exit West is a novel that couldn’t be closer to reality and still there is a pinch of magical realism to illustrate that the whole world is on the move. It’s one of those books that should be a compulsory read for those who lack empathy and humanity.
If you know me, you’ll know that I love food and cooking. I also love collecting cookbooks, something I must have inherited from my dad. Luckily enough, I recently got my hands on a copy of Annabelle Schachmes’ Jewish cookbook “Die Jüdische Küche”. It was originally published in 2015 by Gründ cuisine under the title “La Cuisine juive“.
With “Die Jüdische Küche”, Annabelle Schachmes tried to create a collection of Jewish dishes from all over the world. To find the recipes, she traveled to different continents and brought back gems from Russia, Tunisia, Israel, the USA and various other countries.
The book is divided into eight sections: “spices, pickle & condiments”; “appetizers”; “main courses”; “sides”; “soups”; “street food & New York delis”; “breads & pastries” and “desserts”. Usually these chapters are there to help you find recipes, in this book they only confuse. Everything is okay up until we reach the “soups” section which is not where I would look for it at all. It’s in the middle of the book while it should be somewhere near the beginning. I also don’t get why “street food & New York delis” is so far away from the main dishes. The placing of “breads & pastries” as well as “desserts” is perfect but what I don’t get is why “desserts” is full of pastries again with some lemonade recipes sprinkled in between. The whole thing is quite chaotic.
Among over 160 recipes you will find favorites like falafel, hummus or challah as well as lots of dishes you’ve never heard before. Many recipes are accompanied by a description or even a photo but some aren’t and it is really hard to guess what cholent or loubia are supposed to be if all you’ve got is a recipe. “Die Jüdische Küche” is a beautifully illustrated cookbook full of photographs of markets and people in the streets but wouldn’t it be better to cut back on those photos and accompany every recipe by a picture instead?
While all this sounds harsh, you can’t judge a cookbook without doing some cooking. For Valentine’s Day, I chose to cook falafel and bake challah.
I didn’t make a falafel sandwich as it is suggested in the book, but chose to serve the falafel with cucumber salad and sour cream. The recipe lets you choose between frying or baking the falafel, so I did the latter. I was a bit confused because the ingredients didn’t specify if the weight for the canned chickpeas meant the drained weight or not. In another recipe that was stated and here it wasn’t. Anyways, the falafel turned out great, maybe a bit on the dry side, but they tasted heavenly and they were assembled in no time. This will become a go-to recipe in my home for sure.
I chose to pimp the challah recipe by making cinnamon challah. I did the dough just like the recipe stated and before I braided it, I brushed it with melted butter and dusted it with cinnamon and sugar. The challah was just as yummy as the falafel. So recipe-wise, “Die Jüdische Küche” is a great book.
Annabelle Schachmes collected Jewish recipes from all over the world. She took the recipes and her photos and had them bound into a book. What she forgot is that there are people who will want to use this book as a cookbook. There isn’t an introductory chapter telling us about the ingredients and the measurements used, or about possible substitutions – something you’ll find in every good cookbook. I also miss the possibility to see the geographical origin of a recipe at a glance. This would have been so easy to accomplish. And then there is the big question that hasn’t been asked or answered: What is Jewish cuisine? Why are all these recipes considered Jewish and not German, Eastern European, or Tunisian? We’ll never know.
If you are an experienced cook who wants an extensive collection of good Jewish recipes and lots of beautiful pictures of people and markets, then go for this book, but remember: “Die Jüdische Küche” is just a collection of recipes and not much more.
Today, I’m going to tell you about an audio book that has been on my shelf for quite a while. It’s BBC’s Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Sherlock Holmes’ Rediscovered Railway Mysteries by John Taylor.
The audio book features four short stories -“An Inscrutable Masquerade”, “The Conundrum of Coach 13”, “The Trinity Vicarage Larceny” and “The 10.59 Assassin”- inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Each story is approximately 30 minutes long and is read by actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
When I started listening to the first story, I noticed right away that the British accents Cumberbatch uses to narrate the stories take some getting used to. He voices each character differently which makes them easy to distinguish, but some of them a bit hard to understand. Fortunately, I soon adapted to Cumberbatch’s reading style. Sometimes however, he tends to overdo his voice acting, like when he tries to imitate a woman’s voice, which turns out to be rather comical.
As some of you might know, I usually don’t read crime fiction, but these four whodunnit stories aren’t scary at all, so I was okay listening to them. Unfortunately, most of the stories aren’t really that engaging. I only really liked “The 10.59 Assassin” which is very clever and held my attention throughout.
In my opinion, Sherlock Holmes’ Rediscovered Railway Mysteries could be good company on a two-hour train ride. You should, however, listen carefully or else you’ll miss important details. Even coloring my Grumpy Cat Hates Coloring book turned out to be a bit too distracting at times. 😉
Okay, I get it, it might be a bit too late for that. But hey, it’s less than 49 weeks until Christmas, so you might as well start your preparations. 😉
Today I got two books for you. I read Matt Haig’sA Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas in one go and thought it would be appropriate to just review them together.
Nikolas and his father Joel live in a humble cottage in Finland when one day Joel joins an expedition to find elves in the Far North. When he doesn’t return after more than three months, Nikolas gets worried and follows him on a dangerous journey that will change his life forever.
It’s Christmas Eve when catastrophe strikes and Elfhelm and Santa’s sleigh are destroyed by trolls. There is no choice than to cancel Christmas. At the same time Amelia, the girl who once had enough hope to create the magic necessary for Father Christmas to travel around the world, loses all hope when she is locked up at a horrible workhouse. Will there still be enough hope left for Father Christmas to deliver toys next year?
If you aren’t drawn to these novels by their beautiful covers with illustrations by Chris Mould – which can also be found throughout the books – I can’t help you, but you might want to know that I think Matt Haig has written another Christmas essential with A Boy Called Christmas in particular.
This story of a small boy setting out to find his father touched my heart. It teaches us a lot about bravery, friendship and forgiveness. Throughout his journey Nikolas also learns one very important thing: that family isn’t necessarily about the blood you share.
The Girl Who Saved Christmas, which is set in London and Elfhelm, deals with similar themes than its predecessor A Boy Called Christmas. Under desperate conditions, young Amelia has to learn to believe and trust again. Her perseverance has shielded her from becoming one of the many robotic faces at the workhouse that has become her home. Unfortunately, the second narrative thread revolving around the preparations for Christmas in Elfhelm pales in comparison to Amelia’s story. It is a nice background story but nothing memorable.
With A Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas, Matt Haig shows that he is a versatile author who can write more than fiction and non-fiction for adults. These two novels have the potential to become Christmas classics that will enchant children and adults alike.
We’ve got lots of snow over here right now, which is the perfect weather for Rachel Joyce’s short story collection A Snow Garden & other stories.
A Snow Garden features a woman having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit, two parents deconstructing their marriage on Christmas Eve, as well as a young woman giving birth at a crowded airport. There is a chance encounter at a Boxing Day Ball, two little boys spending the Christmas holidays with their divorced father, a superstar coming home for a belated Christmas party and an elderly father asking his son to plant trees on New Year’s Eve.
In seven loosely connected short stories, Rachel Joyce reintroduces well-known characters as well as new ones and shows us how they experience the time between Christmas and the New Year. Each story deals with interpersonal relationships on different levels and they all teach us that the time we spend with our loved ones is precious.
I guess which stories we find more memorable than others depends on our own experience in life. My personal favorites were the last two – “A Snow Garden” and “Trees”. Rachel Joyce did a great job depicting the difficult father-son relationships in these stories.
Overall, A Snow Garden & other stories is quick read for a cold, snowy winter weekend. I enjoyed this book much more than Perfect and Queenie.