Madame Bovary

My list of to-reads is rather long and consists of world classics mostly. As much as I appreciate contemporary literature, I have decided to prioritize reading classics. I am slowly progressing on the endless list of wonderful books that are out there. My goal is to read a classic each month. This sounds like a piece-of-cake goal, but when you have a family to take care of and a demanding full-time job, it turns out to be rather ambitious.

The choice of this month, which I have been looking forward to reading for some time, is Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. I picked it up at a bookstore at a London airport and started reading it on the plane to Copenhagen. I could not drop the book again. Only a domestic accident due to a broken water pipe in the house kept me from finishing the book in one day. With carpenters, painters and other handymen around, working to fix the damage done by the water, it was somewhat difficult to concentrate on Madame Bovary’s romantic escapades.

Although written almost two centuries ago, Madame Bovary is still utterly relevant and resonates with us. The female pursuit of excitement in romantic experiences and material objects, the tension between the male and female sexes are the themes of many modern sex and shopping novels. The tragic heroine and the main character of the novel, Emma Bovary, is desperately seeking fulfillment in retail therapy and adultery, indulges in luxury to escape her unhappy marriage to the dull country doctor Charles Bovary. Her reckless appetite for passion and excitement lead her and her family to a devastating end.

Emma’s character flaws may compel us to dislike her, nevertheless we must remember that she is the product of the society she was part of, where women had no power. She was brought up to believe in romantic dreams. She is part of a 19th century French petit -bourgeois world, living a stifling provincial life, but her tastes and desires aspire for something bigger.

While reading, I was equally fascinated and revolted by Emma. Fascinated, because she has the courage to go against the norms of the society and to pursue her dreams.  She is brave and very passionate. She has good taste in material things.

Revolted because she is very manipulative, passive-aggressive and unkind to her family. She does not live up to the female ideal of a charming and devoted wife and a loving, compassionate mother. She does so, only on the surface, beneath she is extremely deceptive.

In a more modern context, I believe there is an Emma Bovary in every married man and woman. Don’t we all, time to time, yearn for excitement and change, or a little romantic adventure? We are only held accountable by our own personal sense of morality. The modern woman has the choice and means to remove herself from an unhappy marriage and search for happiness elsewhere. This was, unfortunately, not an option for Emma Bovary.

I recommend this book highly. Take a glass of wine, find a comfortable spot and let Madame Bovary seduce you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road

I‘ve just finished reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac, which I had bought, when in San Francisco this summer. I wanted to bring something back, which was San Franciscan and truly American. Something iconic. Jack Kerouac is known as the author, who created the term Beat Generation. On the Road is considered a classic, a must for anyone with a genuine interest in literature. The novel evolves mainly around two themes: The pursuit of desires and friendship.

I enjoyed following the protagonist Sal Paradise through his adventurous journeys zigzagging between the East and West Coasts, and his amazing depictions of the heart and soul of the American (and Mexican) land. It is the essence of the book that the characters live by the moment and are driven by their spontaneous desires or kicks. For them, what matters is now, and they do not worry about tomorrow, before it is tomorrow.

Sal, who is an aspiring writer, is an amiable person, though he is a completely different type than I am. But aren’t we all, one way or another, in pursuit of our own kicks? Don’t we all follow our desires to a certain degree? We want love, money, power, prestige, security, beauty, adventure…  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in achieving our goals that we forget the present moment.  In this particular novel, the pursuit for kicks takes an extreme form, where the characters seem reckless and self-destructive.

I am not going to dispute the Iiterary value of this novel. Though, I do confess that I struggled reading it. I did not choose this book because I expected to be able to identify myself with the characters. Nevertheless, I felt quite frustrated with their recklessness. They are not really likeable, either.  Especially Dean Moriarty, Sal’s closest friend, frankly, is a conman, a womanizer and a drug addict. Ultimately he betrayed his friend Sal, when he most needed help, while they were travelling in Mexico.

Regardless, I did enjoy Kerouac’s use of the language, the vivacious descriptions of his travels and the insights he has given me into a generation called Beat.

A Christmas Carol

My son, who is a six grader, has an English assignment for the Christmas holidays: Reading Charles Dickens’ famous novella A Christmas Carol.  This has given me a good excuse to read Charles Dickens again, the creator of some of my favorite childhood characters: Pip, David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.

Now that Christmas is only a few days away, reading A Christmas Carol with my son gives me an opportunity to reflect upon this tradition and the role it plays in my life.

Being born and raised in the non-Christian part of the world, Christmas has not really been a part of my childhood. Except for a one-year stay in New York, when I was six years old, I was not really exposed to this tradition. What I knew about Christmas, I had gained through films and cartoons, I watched and the books I read. It was in my early teens, when my family moved to Copenhagen, I had my first real Christmas experience.

My family participated in the Christmas parties and celebrations we were invited by school, work, our Danish friends and neighbors, but we did not celebrate it at our home. And the Christmas day was just another holiday for us. Being in an international community and studying in an international school, I did not feel, there was anything strange about not celebrating Christmas; I knew quite a few who did not. I remember, once at school, we were asked to talk to a couple of Danish students, who were writing a project about different Christmas traditions. They wanted to know, how we celebrated Christmas in our home country. I told them, of course, that we did not celebrate it in Turkey. The Danish students looked at me with incredulous eyes with pity in them, as if to say, How is that possible? Poor you. I remember clearly the embarrassment, I felt on that day. That was in 1989.

Since then, I have celebrated Christmas the authentic “Danish way” many times and am very enthusiastic about it, too. Even my family and friends lovingly tease me about my engagement. What I like most about Christmas is that it brings people together. As Danes say, Christmas is the Celebration of Hearts. I admit, I do sometimes feel the same way as grumpy old Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Christmas? Humbug! Spending tons of money on things, we do not need; eating and drinking far more than our bodies can bear; slaughtering trees and throwing them away a few days later.

Though, I don’t think I need a ghost to convince me that despite all that, Christmas brings a lot of joy, especially to children. Seeing the glee in my sons’ eyes on Christmas Eve is enough for me.

I will continue enjoying this great tradition, hopefully, many years to come.

 

Merry Christmas!