Archive for Prague

remembering Prague Spring, 1968

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2022 by xi'an

In 1968, I was quite young (!), but I do remember vividly the invasion and repression of Czechoslovakia by troops of the Soviet Union and its satellite states. Maybe because the French public radio [our main source of information then] was quite vocal about it, maybe because my parents were early subscribers of a progressive, anti-colonialist, third-Worldist, Catholic newspaper named Croissance des Jeunes Nations, which I read as well and which mostly covered liberation movements in the Third World, but also the resistance of Czechoslovak people against Soviet tanks… Today these tanks are back, now in Kyiv streets. (With the difference that the China of 1968 denounced in the strongest terms the Soviet invasion.) While the Iron Curtain prevented most inhabitants to flee the country, the death toll was relatively limited, with 108 registered victims. After a few days into the Russian invasion, the toll is already much higher and the increasing bombing of Ukrainian cities is going to see it rise faster and faster. Support Ukraine!

feu rouge

Posted in pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2020 by xi'an


the secret Commonwealth [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2020 by xi'an

Now that I have read The secret Commonwealth over the X break, I cannot but wait eagerly for the third volume! The book is indeed quite good, much in the spirit of the first ones in His dark materials than of the previous La belle sauvage. When La belle sauvage was at its core an oniric and symbolic tale floating on the Thames, with some events on the side, The secret Commonwealth on the opposite is much more centred on adventures and quests and a real story (or rather make it three!) and a growing threat, with side philosophical musings. Quite the opposite of the first book, in short. Even the time localisation is reverted. While La belle sauvage was taking place ten years before His dark materials, making Lyra a very young baby, this book takes place ten years later with Lyra a young adult, growing very quickly in maturity through the pages of the book. The two are so incredibly different that they could have almost be written by different authors… The secret Commonwealth is also much more cosmopolitan than its older sibling as both Lyra and Pan leave Oxford, then England to travel through Europe and Middle East towards a most dangerous destination. The central theme of the book is whether or not Reason or Rationalism should guide one’s life. Given the magical realism of the novel, where the soul of each character is expressed as a companion expressed as a particular animal, a marten called Pan (short for Pantalaimon) for Lyra, it is somewhat an easy (easier than in our own World!) plot line to dismiss rationalist thinkers pretending they do no exist. And to paint the philosophers following this route as either shallow and more interested in rethorics (than philosophy) or fake and deluded. Since Lyra reading these authors is the reason for a widening split between her and Pan, I did not find this part the best in the plot, even though it seemed inevitable. But the resulting quest and the “chance” meetings of both central characters are gripping and well-written, as well as deeply poignant. All characters build some depth, esp. compared with La belle sauvage where they were mostly caricatures. As it is very rare that the second volume in a series brings so much pleasure and improvements, I strongly recommend it (even as a start, skipping La belle sauvage !)

Prague fatale [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2019 by xi'an

Another Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novel I order after reading [and taking place after] Prussian Blue, again with a double entendre title and plenty of smart lines representative of berliner Witz and Schnauze. But much darker than Prussian Blue, as the main character, Bernie Gunther, is getting more morally ambivalent, as a member of the SS, having participated in the mass murders of the Einsatzgruppen on the Eastern Front before his return to Berlin as a member of the intelligence branch of the SS. Under direct orders of Reinhard Heydrich, whose role in the novel is almost as central as Gunther’s. It is thus harder to relate to this anti-hero, and his constant disparagement of Nazis, when he is at the same time a significant if minor part of the Nazi State. It is also unplesant that most characters in the novel are mass murderers, to end up being executed after the war, as described in a post-note. Still, the story has strength in both the murder inquiry itself (until it fizzles out) and the immersion in 1942 Germany and Tchecoslovakia, a strength served by the historical assassination of Heydrich in May 1942. An immersion I do not wish to repeat in a near future, though…

As a side story, I bought this used book for £0.05 on Amazon and received a copy that looked as if it has been stolen from a library from East Renfrewshire, south of Glasgow, as it still had a plastic cover, the barcodes and the list of dates it had been borrowed. I thus called the central offices of the East Renfrewshire libraries to enquire whether or not the book had been stolen, and was told this was not the case, the book being part of a bulk sale of used books by the library to second hand sellers. And that I could enjoy reading the book at my own pace! (As a second order side story, East Renfrewshire is the place in Scotland where Rudolph Hess landed when trying to negociate on his own a peace treaty with Great-Britain in 1942.)

Children of Earth and Sky [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2017 by xi'an

While in Dublin last weekend, I found myself without a book to read and walking by and in a nice bookstore on Grafton Street, I discovered that Guy Gavriel Kay had published a book recently! Now, this was a terrific surprise as his Song for Arbonne was and remains one of my favourite books.

There are similarities in those two books in that they are both inspired by Mediterranean cultures and history, A Song for Arbonne being based upon the Late Medieval cour(t)s of Love in Occitany, while Children of Earth and Sky borrows to the century long feud between Venezia and the Ottoman empire, with Croatia stuck in-between. As acknowledged by the author, this novel stemmed from a visit to Croatia and the suggestion to tell the story of local bandits turned into heroes for fighting the Ottomans. Although I found unravelling the numerous borrowings from history and geography a wee bit tiresome, this is a quite enjoyable pseudo-historical novel. Except the plot is too predictable in having all its main characters crossing one another path with clockwise regularity. And all main women character eventually escaping the fate set upon them by highly patriarchal societies.  A Song for Arbonne had more of a tension and urgency, or maybe made me care more for its central characters.

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