Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tingo + Metamorphosis + Sette Racconti

Some more books reviews ...

1. "The Meaning of Tingo (And Other Extraordinary Words from Around
    the World)" by Adam Jacot de Boinod

This is a fun book about interesting, amusing, and very specific words
and phrases from various languages.  Last year I briefly mentioned an
article about the book in a B-List post.  Many of the words are chosen
because they have no direct equivalent in English.  That was my main
interest.  Other phrases appear to provide stark contrasts between
cultures.  It's interesting to see how circumstances affect language:
for example, there's the well known Inuit fascination with different
types of snow, as well as the lesser known precision with which
Albanians use to identify eyebrows and moustaches.

However, reading some of the reviews, the rigour of the author may be
in question.  I did some googling and in some cases the only places
the words appear are in pages about the book, so it seems the author
is either making some of them up, or has been a little sloppy.   But
I guess if you take the book with a pinch of salt, you're bound to
find something that will appeal you.  It's divided into themes, e.g.
work, food, weather etc.

Here are some words I found interesting that I've been able to verify
on the web:
* ataoso = "one who sees problems with everything" (Central American
* mokita = "the truth that all know but no one talks about" (Kiriwani,
  Papua New Guinea)
* nedovtipa = "one who finds it difficult to take a hint" (Czech)
* Shadenfreude = "the feeling of malicious pleasure in someone else's
  misfortune" (German)
* Weltschmerz = "a sense of sorrow at the evils of the world and a
  yearning for something better" (German)
* jeito = "to find a way to get something done, no matter what the
  obstacles" (Brazilian Portuguese)
* sprezzatura = "the effortless technique of a great artist" (Italian)

The author has set up a blog to promote the book:
It includes snippets from the book, plus new material.

A couple of articles about the book:
* "Tingo, nakkele and other wonders"
* "Tingo and other lingo"

2. "Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka

The book starts with the opening sentence:
"When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams, he found
himself changed into a monstrous cockroach in his bed."

Given that intriguing opening, and with the book being only 78 compact
pages, I decided to look into the writings of Kafka.  I'm sure millions
of words have been written about this story.  In fact, the edition
described on the Amazon page above includes 9 essays about the story
that dwarf the length of the work itself.

Many reviewers see the story as a savage indictment of the bourgeois
lifestyle, and Gregor's story as the battle against egocentric parents
and cruel bosses.  I can accept these arguments.  Maybe I'm stating the
obvious, but one of the things I found interesting about the story was
how Gregor's metamorphosis into a hideous cockroach triggered trans-
formations in those around him, in particular his younger sister (who
briefly took on the role as carer and provider for Gregor), and to some
extent the father (who found a job to support the family now that
Gregor could no longer work).  So, by changing oneself (whether by
intention or not), it is possible that those around you will also be
changed to some extent.

BTW, the edition that I read is depicted here:
and includes another short story by Kafka.

3. "Sette racconti" ("Seven Tales") by Alberto Moravia

This is a collection of seven short stories from the larger collection
"Racconti Romani" (Roman Tales).  The stories are written about the
post-war period in Rome.  They share a common theme of people living
in hard times, sometimes day-to-day, trying to get by however they
can.  But the stories are not all bleak, as there are little moments
of humour and farce, as well as some glimmers of hope.

I'll highlight a couple of my favourites.  "La ciociara" is about an
archaeology professor who wants to hire a peasant girl to be his house-
keeper, believing that she would have a cheerful disposition and be a
good cook.  Unfortunately, it doesn't take her long to trade her country
clothes and looks to take up the style of a city girl.  Her cooking
skills, or lack thereof, disappoint her employer.  She starts going out
with an unsavoury character, and they conspire to steal some books.  The
theft is later uncovered by a friend of the professor, and she tries to
make things right by replacing them.  Unfortunately, she can't read, so
instead of books on archaeology she gets books about law instead.  The
professor finds out, and when confronted the girl says the books are the
same size and have the same weight as the ones she took - in fact, they
even look better!  The professor initially laughs, but then complains
that the girl is perhaps too rustic after all.

"Quant'è caro" is about friendship, or rather the appearance of
friendship.  Luigi has some luck and help to open up a successful
butcher shop.  His friend Arturo is not so lucky, trying to raise his
family in difficult times.  After his shop takes off, Luigi decides to
buy a car, and takes Arturo along to the dealership.  Tensions appear,
and Luigi's wife suggests that Arturo is jealous of his success.  Such
fears are calmed, when Luigi announces his first child is due, and Arturo
seems genuinely happy for him.  But later, when Luigi takes Arturo to see
the flash new apartment he has bought in a well-to-do neighbourhood,
Arturo utters "quant'è caro" - "how dear it/he is".  Luigi takes offence,
accusing Arturo of being overcome with jealousy.  Arturo leaves in a
huff, the friendship apparently in ruins.  Luigi's wife claims she was
right all along, but Luigi realises he may have been at fault.  Perhaps
he gloated too much about his success, subconsciously rubbing Arturo's
nose in it every chance he could.  I think what Arturo meant by the
comment "quant'è caro" is how costly his friendship to Luigi has been.
Over many years he repeatedly forgave the behaviour of his inconsiderate,
show-off friend, but in the end it went beyond the pale and he could no
longer accept it.