Monday, October 25, 2010

Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window

I had wanted to read this for years. Last night I finished the book and I think it was cute and very moving. [I started to read Totto-Chan's Children: A Goodwill Journey to the Children of the World, and in the prologue there was a story about a bomb hidden in a child's doll, which made me cry.]

Tetsuko Kuroyanagi is a famous talk show host in Japan. In this book, she wrote about her days in Tomoe school, Tokyo, in early 1940's. After expelled from a public school because of her naughtiness, Tetsuko - nicknamed Totto-chan, was brought by her mother to Tomoe, where Totto-chan was received by the kind headmaster. With his unconventional way to teach, the headmaster taught Totto-chan that she was a good girl. The headmaster loved children, so he was able to understand them. He loved the pupils and they loved him. Sadly the school was bombed in 1945.

I think this book should be read by children and those who care about children and their education. If school is not merely a place where children are fed with lessons, but a place where they can learn about life, perhaps this world would be a better place.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

This is one of the books which really worth the money. I read this in 3 days, which is very fast for me.

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist teams up with a hacker named Lisbeth Salander to solve a 40 year old mystery of a missing girl. Harriet Vanger was missing in 1966 when she was 16 and since then her grandfather, ex-CEO of Vanger Enterprises, has been searching for her. In his last attempt, he persuades Blomkvist to solve the mystery for him.  

The book was hard to put down - but I had to because I had to sleep if I wanted to be able to wake up in the morning and able to work. I really wanted to finish it asap so I could know Harriet's fate. My thanks also to whoever wrote on the back sleeve (my copy is from Quercus), because the information given was enough to tell what the story was about without giving too much. The plot is well-written and the conclusion is satisfactory. This is the first book of Millennium Trilogy and I am looking forward to reading the next two. They are on the way.

Unfortunately, the writer Stieg Larsson died in 2004 and he never saw the success of his work.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Les héritières (2008)

Les héritières is shown on TV as a 2-part miniseries and I must say I enjoyed the intrigues very much. Set in 1945, Ottavio Della Rocca (Jacques Weber) is a powerful landlord and mayor in Corsica. He is a widower with 3 beautiful daughters: Vanina, Antonia, and Flavia. Antonia has married a local playboy and has 3 daughters, while Flavia is married and childless. Ottavio loves Vanina much better than the other 2, which will trigger jealousy and anger in the heart of Antonia and Flavia.

Ottavio has promised Vanina to Barthélémy, the son of Caponi, a Communist and his former tenant; but Vanina, helped by Barthélémy himself, runs to Marseille to marry her lover, a jazz musician. Ottavio is angry and disinherits Vanina. He divides the land between Antonia and Flavia, who will sell the land to revenge against their father and persuade the townspeople to elect Caponi as the new mayor; because all this time their father has treated them like dirt. Antonia's husband also kills Vanina's lover. Plus, there is a stranger, named Masimo, who returns from Indochina to revenge against Della Rocca family and Caponi.

Ottavio wants a grandson, who someday will inherit the whole land. When the grandson is finally born, there is no more land. "As you sow, so shall you reap." We must be careful of what we do, because in the future no one can escape karma. I think if Ottavio loved his 3 daughters equally, none of this would have had happened. [But of course we would have missed an enjoyable soap-opera.]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Trumpet of The Swan

In mid-eighties, I read Charlotte's Web by E.B. White and liked it very much. The illustrations by Garth Williams, which showed a spider web with the writing "Some Pig" (and later "Terrific") amazed me. The book was from my school library and when I wanted to have one for my own, I could not find it anywhere.

In late 90's it was not difficult anymore to buy things from other countries. I got my copy of Charlotte's Web several years ago. Only yesterday I read this other work by E.B. White, The Trumpet of The Swan. Like Charlotte's Web (and Little Stuart), this is also a wonderful story.

Louis, a trumpeter swan, is born dumb. He goes to see his friend Sam Beaver and asks him to take him to school so he can learn to write. However, it is not useful to communicate with other swans, because they never learn to read. It's moving and funny at once when Louis tries to tell Serena, a female trumpeter swan, that he is in love with her; because Serena cannot read the words "I love you." Louis's father steals a trumpet for his son, so with this trumpet Louis can communicate with other swans. Louis then masters the trumpet and works as a musician to pay for the trumpet and restore his father's honour.

The illustrations by Fred Marcellino is beautiful and helps a lot to imagine Louis's adventures. I only regret because I have mistaken and bought the b/w version while there is a colour version.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Corsican Brothers

The Corsican Brothers seems like a true story as the writer, Alexandre Dumas, unusually placed himself as the first person. Set in 1841, 36 1/2 years old Dumas traveled through Corsica - which is famous as the land of vendetta. In the town of Sullacaro, he stayed in the house of de Franchi, which belongs to a widow with her two twin sons: Lucien and Louis, both 21 years old. Born attached at the chest, the bond between them is so strong that each can suffer if the other suffers, even though they are miles away. 

Lucien is the hunter, the one who is very competent in using weapons, and he lives in peace with his mother in Sullacaro. Louis is the book-worm and is studying in Paris to become a lawyer. It's the weaker brother who never touches a weapon who is in troubles because of his love for a woman, which will lead him to a fatal duel. 

The supranatural ability in the family of de Franchi interested the writer immensely, and one thing we can learn: even though the living can lie, the dead cannot. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Complete Father Brown Stories

I always enjoy reading detective stories and only a few months ago I heard about Father Brown, an English detective created by G.K. Chesterton in 1911. This book happens to contain the complete collection: The Innocence of Father Brown, The Wisdom of Father Brown, The Incredulity of Father Brown, The Secret of Father Brown, The Scandal of Father Brown, and last: The Donnington Affair, which appeared in Premier magazine in two parts.

Unlike the arrogant Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown is mild-mannered and doesn't attract attention. He is short and often carries a large, shabby umbrella. A Roman Catholic priest, he knows a lot about psychology and people's mind. Perhaps criminals come to him for absolution and tell him how they work. Even police inspectors comes to ask his advice to solve cases. Not much about Father Brown's daily life, like how he takes care of his flocks, but when they are in trouble, he will come and help them. One of the characters that often pops out is Flambeau, ex-French criminal who is caught by Father Brown in the first story (The Blue Cross), and later becomes a private detective and his good friend.

If I have to choose between Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown, I still prefer Sherlock Holmes because his adventures are more dangerous - and I like very much The Adventure of The Dancing Men. Father Brown is more like Miss Marple with her rural surrounding - and they both are amiable and have no enemies.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Impasse des Deux Anges (1948)

Simone Signoret plays Marianne, a stage-girl who is about to quit her job because she is marrying Antoine de Fontaines (Marcel Herrand), an aristocrat. Antoine gives her a beautiful necklace, which once belonged to one of Louis XIV's ladies. A group of criminals hears about this very expensive gift and makes a plan to steal the necklace. Jean (Paul Meurisse) is given the task to pretend that he is one of the guests - Marianne is holding a party at her house the night before the wedding - and steal the necklace. The plan is going well, but Jean meets Marianne and realizes that she once was called Anne-Marie.

7 years ago, Jean and Anne-Marie were sweethearts, but Jean was arrested for stealing and jailed for 5 years. Marianne thinks that Jean is coming to see her, so she sneaks out and goes with him for a walk, remembering their happy times together. They arrive at Impasse des Deux Anges, where they were most happy, but now the place is a ruin (and a dead end) - perhaps like their relationship now. 7 years is a long time and all this time Marianne doesn't know that her Jean is a thief. Now he is even a better thief. The abyss between them is now too wide, and when Marianne has to choose between Jean and Antoine, it's not a difficult matter.

Jean himself becomes a different man after meeting Marianne. He is supposed to hand the necklace to his friends who are waiting at the gate, but he doesn't give it to them and all night crooks are following them both. After spending the night with Marianne, Jean realizes how he has been wrong. Anne-Marie loved good things, but if Jean had to steal to get them, she preferred not to have them, as to be with Jean was more precious.

The movie is beautiful and poetic although I felt it was slow at some parts (perhaps because I wanted to do something else): i.e. the scene with a poor young girl, also called Anne-Marie, where Marianne tries to tell her that once she was poor also; and the scene with a man who takes Jean's gun and threatens them.