The People in the Trees  – ★★★★1/2
The People in the Trees is a debut novel of Hanya Yanagihara, a writer now best known for her second book A Little Life, a 2015 Man Booker Prize nominee. The People in the Trees is partly an anthropological travelogue, partly a jungle adventure mystery, and party a covert character study, having enough disturbing elements to make its readers feel uncomfortable and even indignant about the content. However, these do not make the book any less masterful. Beautifully-written, The People in the Trees reads for the most part like a memoir/diary detailing Dr Norton Perina’s travel to an isolated Micronesian island country in the 1950s to find and study a “lost tribe”. He did so alongside a talented anthropologist Dr Tallent (who is himself a mystery) and Tallent’s colleague Esme Duff. The mysteries Perina uncovers on the island are shockingly significant, revolutionising what is known about science/medicine and having to do with immortality. Yanagihara fuses pseudo-factual scientific writings with some fantastic elements to rather impressive results, and it all would have been rather delightful and pleasing if the content were not also so devastatingly horrific. The only thing that lets this ambitious book down is that Yanagihara cannot quite manage to strike a balance or make a smooth transition between the book passages that detail the implications of Perina’s island discovery and later elements which deal with Perina’s own character insights.
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The Magic Flute 
This opera (see this great production) was composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and is based on a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. The opera premiered in 1791, just two months before the composer’s demise. The story is about the adventure of Prince Tamino and bird-catcher Papageno in the kingdom of Sarastro, after the Queen of the Night persuaded Tamino to rescue her daughter Pamina. The Magic Flute was pretty much the product of its time, encompassing humanistic messages which stress the victory of reason and love over vulgarities and superstitions. Notoriously, Mozart is said to have incorporated some “secrets” of Freemasonry into his opera, especially those connected with the initiation process (such as a trial by four elements), see some explanation here. Indeed, the opera is all about mystical symbolism as it fuses family drama, “striving for social utopia” ideas, fantasy and humour. Exotic settings and elements, transformations and miracles also form part of this opera. Continue reading “Mozart’s Opera: The Magic Flute”
I started reading Agatha Christie’s detective novels when I was very young, and my passion for crime mysteries stems largely from my early literary acquaintance with the Queen of Crime. I believe that when you read Christie’s crime mysteries, you also pretty much read the best and certainly most influential murder/detective mysteries there are (apart from probably those of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe), and others either influenced Christie herself, see The Mystery of the Yellow Room , or are twisted imitations, see The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle . Below are my ten favourite books from Agatha Christie (as you can see I prefer Hercule Poirot mysteries over those of Miss Marple, and also enjoy “exotic location” mysteries).
I. And Then There Were None 
Obviously, And Then There Were None leads my list since this is Christie’s detective masterpiece. In it, eight people arrive to an isolated island invited for different reasons (some with job prospects in mind). They do not find their host on the island, and, it turned out that the cause of their arrival is more sinister as one by one they die from unnatural causes, with their deaths eerily in line with one nursery rhyme. Full of twists, with one big unbelievable reveal towards the end, this book is Christie at her best, and the cleverness and originality of the plot design is still unsurpassed, even though widely imitated.
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The Beautiful Mystery  – ★★★★
Louise Penny is an award-winning Canadian author and this is her eight Inspector Gamache detective mystery. The book is about a murder that happened in a mysterious 400 year old monastery somewhere in the northern Quebec. Twenty-three devoted-to-music monks are grieving for their murdered music director who was killed in the most merciless way. Inspector Gamache and his second-in-command Beauvoir are called to investigate and instantly become enchanted by the divine ancient chants of the eccentric and reclusive monks. But, who killed Frère Mathieu and for what purpose? Clues have been left behind, and, as the investigation slowly moves forward, Gamache realises that he has to first solve one ancient mystery of religious music before he gets to the identity of the murderer. It is so hard nowadays to find a quality detective novel and this book ticks almost all the boxes for me. In The Beautiful Mystery, there is one single eerie location setting, a focus on internal thinking/motivations of the characters, including their dynamics, and an unusual element, since the emphasis is also on mysterious ancient music. The Beautiful Mystery may suffer from having two narratives (a murder investigation and a previous case discussion), which run uncomfortably side by side, and the result is not altogether unpredictable. However, the book is still suspenseful (maybe too suspenseful), and the location and music described are just too beautiful and intriguing not to be impressed. In that way, an attempt to fuse beauty and darkness is the forte of this book. Continue reading “Review: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny”
Moth Smoke  – ★★★★1/2
Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist  is one of my favourite novels. Therefore, I had high expectations prior to reading Hamid’s debut book Moth Smoke . These expectations were met. In Moth Smoke, Darashikoh Shezad or Daru is a hash-smoking banker living in Lahore, Pakistan who rekindles his friendship with his childhood friend Ozi, who is now an influential and rich man living under the protection of his equally influential, but corrupt father. Daru also realises that he is attracted to Ozi’s wife Mumtaz, and, among his friends is also a shady character Murad Badshah, who sometimes acts as his drugs supplier. After Daru is fired from his job, his societal divide from influential and rich Ozi grows even further, and he finds himself on the dark path towards immorality and crime. Moth Smoke is a fascinating, eye-opening journey into Lahore’s criminal underbelly, which makes observations on the societal class divisions and east vs. west mentality conflicts. But, it is also so much more than that: it has an experimental structure and style (with at least four unreliable narrators); employs symbolism and fable-like story-telling; and becomes a book about the limits of morality, friendship and love, while also exploring the nature of guilt and the malleability of truth. Continue reading “Review: Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid”
Neil Sedaka (1939-), an American singer, composer and producer, is 80 years old today. He is a writer or co-writer of more than 500 songs, and was also a popular singer with some serious hits under his belt. In 1972, Sedaka co-wrote with Phil Cody a beautiful song Solitaire, and it was later famously performed by The Carpenters. The audio below is the performance by Mark Lanegan, an alternative rock artist who I consider to be rather underrated (see the greatest cover of the song Man in the Long Black Coat). Lanegan’s album Imitations  is composed of song covers that he heard when growing up at his parents’ home.
My readers probably already know that I love allegorical and symbolic paintings, and, thus, I could not resist to share and discuss a series of other ones – The Five Senses [1617-18] by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens. The inspiration behind them was probably a series of tapestries known as The Lady and the Unicorn [circa 1500], each depicting one of the five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch (as well as the mysterious “sixth sense”). Brueghel and Rubens’s The Five Senses now have their home in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
Since this painting is supposed to represent sight, it is all about art, and, in particular, paintings, which are appreciated through sight. In this painting, Venus, a Roman goddess, and Cupid, a little boy, are in a cabinet (room) of curiosities. Cupid is showing Venus one of the Christian paintings – The Healing of the Blind Man, which is about the miraculous sight recovery of a man. Among other objects in this room are antique busts and scientific instruments, such as a telescope, which can also only be used through having vision. Continue reading “Allegorical Art: The Five Senses”