I haven’t left it too long between pairs of Penguins this time, possibly because I was particularly keen on reading one of them, and possibly because I felt the need of something brief after a fascinating but dense doorstop of a Russian book. So without further ado:

Penguin Modern 15 – Daydream and Drunkenness of a Young Lady by Clarice Lispector

Lispector needs no introduction, I’m sure, to readers of the Ramblings. I’ve written about her before here, and although I’ve only read the one work by this celebrated Brazilian author, it was memorable and stunning and I’ve always meant to read more. So this Penguin Modern, with three short pieces, was an ideal way to ease back into Lispector’s work.

Rio de Janeiro – Estátua da escritora Clarice Lispector e seu cão Ulisses no Leme. (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil) via Wikimedia Commons

The book contains three stories – the title one, “Love” and “Family Ties“. All concern women’s lives, all are beautifully written, and all are utterly memorable. The first story is that of a young lady who indeed daydreams and gets drunk. Her husband and children almost seem incidental; instead she lives in a haze, detached and somewhat alienated from her family, only really moved by a glamorous rival when she’s out drinking with her husband and a business client. “Love” tells of Ana, another married woman with children; stuck in a passive, content routine, an unusual chance encounter on a tram shakes her out of her complacency and threatens her everyday existence.

She had pacified life so well, taken such care for it not to explode. She had kept it all in serene comprehension, separated each person from the rest, clothes were clearly made to be worn and you could choose the evening movie from the newspaper – everything wrought in such a way that one day followed another. And a blind man chewing gum was shattering it all to pieces. And through this compassion there appeared to Ana a life full of sweet nausea, rising to her mouth.

Family Ties” in particular is a triumph; the central female character, Catarina, is seen in relation to her mother, her husband and her son, all of whom have different views of her and depend on her in different ways. Once again a seemingly happy existence is not what it seems, and Lispector dissects human relationships with frightening precision, laying bare in a few sentences the tenuous nature of love and life.

There was no escape… And there was no way not to look at it. What was she ashamed of? That it was no longer compassion, it wasn’t just compassion: her heart had filled with the worst desire to live.

This was a stunning addition to the Penguin Moderns series; Lispector is such a wonderful writer, and each hypnotic story lingered in the mind after. The language is often gorgeous, and I’m left wondering why I’ve left it so long to go back to Lispector’s work. After all, I think I might well have her complete stories lurking somewhere… 🙂

Penguin Modern 16 – An Advertisement for Toothpaste by Ryszard Kapuscinski

In complete contrast to book 15, Penguin Modern 16 is a collection of short journalistic pieces by Polish author Ryszard Kapuscinski, who was known also for poetry and photography. The four pieces collected in this book are all set in post-War Poland, a country that seems as far away and exotic as any distant regime.

By Mariusz Kubik, http://www.mariuszkubik.pl (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The title story sees the author visiting a small village dance, where future marriages will be decided; “Danka” tells of temptation and a clash between modernity and old-style religion; “The Taking of Ezbieta” is a striking piece which relates the effect on the parents when their only daughter is seduced into taking the veil; and in the final story, “The Stiff“, Kapuscinski joins a group taking the coffin of a miner back to his family.

That woman and that man did not have much of a life, although they gave it their lungs and their heart. After that, they tried to fight. But when solitary people try to fight for their cause, it is only at that moment when they naively forget that right must yield to might. In the end, that moment always passes. And what’s left is what’s left.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this particular PM, but I don’t think I anticipated such striking, evocative and memorable pieces. The post-War Poland which Kapuscinski captures is indeed a strange place, struggling to move into modernity but hampered by the superstitions and beliefs of the past. Some of the conditions seem incredibly primitive for the 20th century, as if the little villages and towns had been missed by progress and lost in time. Kapuscinski’s writing is clever and at times sharp; his anger, for example, at the grievous hurt done to her parents by Elzbieta and the nuns is not far below the surface. Another excellent addition to this collection and another author I want to explore more of!

*****

I was really impressed with this pair of PMs and made an interesting discovery when I was looking up Kapuscinski online; one of the titles of his books sounded familiar, and when I went and had a dig in the stacks, I did indeed own it – a gift from youngest child some Christmases ago!

It sounds absolutely fascinating, and chimes in a little with my mindset at the moment. So hopefully that one will be coming off the stacks soon too! 🙂

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