snippets of life and literature

“Widowed, abandoned and aggrieved, my beloved Shekure fled with featherlike steps, and I stood as if stunned in the stillness of the house of the Hanged Jew, amid the aroma of almonds and dreams of marriage she’d left in her wake.”

– Pamuk’s alliterative prose, or signs of Göknar’s poetic translation? (from My Name is Red)

“To Christopher, Berlin meant Boys.”

Christopher and His Kind, by Christopher Isherwood

“I don’t want to be a tree, I want to be its meaning.”

My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk

“And people in their Sunday best
Stroll about, swaying over the gravel
Under this enormous sky
Which, from hills in the distance,
Stretches to distant hills.”

– Franz Kafka, introducing Description of a Struggle

“The novel begins in a railway station, a locomotive huffs, steam from a piston covers the opening of the chapter, a cloud of smoke hides part of the first paragraph. In the odor of the station…”

– Italo Calvino, the ‘other’ opening lines of If on a winter’s night a traveler

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice––they won’t hear you otherwise––”I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!””

– Italo Calvino, opening lines of If on a winter’s night a traveler

“All was confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had found out…”

– The less known, second line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

– thus begins Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

“I cannot tell my story without going a long way back. If it were possible I…”

– Hermann Hesse, opening lines of Demian

“What constitutes a real, live human being is more of a mystery than ever these days, and men – each one of whom is a valuable, unique experiment on the part of nature – are shot down wholesale. If, however, we were not something more than unique human beings and each man jack of us could really be dismissed from this world with a bullet, there would be no more point in relating stories at all. But every man is not only himself; he is also the unique, particular, always significant and remarkable point where the phenomena of the world intersect once and for all and never again.”

– Hermann Hesse, in the opening paragraphs of one of my most treasured books, Demian.

“I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a…”

– Jack Kerouac, opening line of On the Road (after years of postponing, I’m finally reading this one!)

“But sleep? On a night like this? What an idea! Just think how many thoughts a blanket smothers while one lies alone in bed, and how many unhappy dreams it keeps warm.”

– Franz Kafka, in Description of a Struggle

“'Oh well, memories,' said I. 'Yes, even remembering in itself is sad, yet how much more its object! Don't let yourself in for things like that, it's not for you and not for me. It only weakens one's present position without strengthening the former one––nothing is more obvious––quite apart from the fact that the former one doesn't need strengthening. Do you think I have no memories? Oh, ten for every one of yours. Now, for instance, I could remember sitting…”

– Franz Kafka, in Description of a Struggle (written in 1904-09, published in 1936)

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

– Gabriel García Márquez, opening sentence of Love in the Time of Cholera

Wilde’s affected aestheticism was for him merely an ingenious cloak to hide, while half revealing, what he could not let be seen openly … Here, as almost always, and often even without the artist’s knowing it, it is the secret of the depths of his flesh that prompts, inspires, and decides…

Wilde’s plays reveal, beside the surface witticisms, sparkling like false jewels, many oddly revelatory sentences of great psychological interest. And it is for them that Wilde wrote the whole play––let there be no doubt about it…

Try to let some understand what one has an interest in hiding from all. As for me, I have always preferred frankness. But Wilde made up his mind to make of falsehood a work of art. Nothing is more precious, more tempting, more flattering than to see in the work of art a falsehood and, reciprocally, to look upon falsehood as a work of art… This artistic hypocrisy was imposed on him… by the need of self-protection.

– André Gide, on Oscar Wilde, from The Journals of André Gide