Hmmm, it's been a while since I last wrote any reviews. Here are reviews of two books I read a few weeks ago. 1. "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera <http://www.amazon.com/Unbearable-Lightness-Being/dp/0060932139> This is basically the story of a man Tomas, and his wife, Tereza, who lived in Czechoslovakia and Switzerland during the 1960s and 1970s. There's a parallel subplot involving one of Tomas' (many) lovers, Sabina, and another of her lovers, Franz. All this unfolds against the backdrop of Czech history and politics during the era, including the Prague Spring (1968), the subsequent Soviet invasion, repression, and secret police. The novel opens with a very philosophical style, and I was looking forward to see where it would go. As the story evolved, I didn't get to like the central male character that much. Tomas is a respected surgeon in Communist Czechoslovakia, but he seems obsessed with sleeping with as many women as possible. He rationalises this behaviour rather clinically as the need to explore the differences between women. His motto is: "it must be". He's a bit like a collector, always on the look out for something new and different. But he also has a yearning for love, so he stays with Tereza in the hope of attaining true love. Tereza is aware of Tomas' infidelity, but she puts up with it because she believes she loves him. Tomas has a wife and son by a previous marriage, but he makes no effort to keep in touch with them after the separation. In fact, when his teenage son contacts him with a proposal that could form the basis for an ongoing relationship between them, Tomas decides against it. The story is told using episodes told out-of-order, rather than as a continuous sequence of events. Some episodes are told from the points of view of different characters, emphasising the subjectivity of individuals. The author provides a rather superficial survey of the characters - they are basically tools for exploring philosophical concepts. In particular, the author is concerned with the concepts of "heaviness" (or "weight") and "lightness", of being, and of sex and love. At various points, the author butts into the story to explain and analyse proceedings. Overall, while I found many of the concepts interesting, I was a little disappointed with this novel. My expectations, especially after reading the opening chapters, were probably too high. The mixture of philosophy and narrative reminded me a little of Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance": <http://www.amazon.com/Zen-Art-Motorcycle-Maintenance/dp/0061673730> I found Pirsig's book more engaging and inspiring. 2. "I Malavoglia" or "The House by the Medlar Tree" by Giovanni Verga <http://www.amazon.com/House-Medlar-Tree/dp/1417931116> The story is set in a small Sicilian fishing village in the mid-19th Century. It's about the Toscano family from Aci Trezzo. The family's ironic nickname, "i Malavoglia", basically means "the lazy ones", despite the fact that traditionally the family has been known for being hard workers. I should point out that the use of nicknames for families (not just individuals) was quite common in Italy, and in many cases families adopted the nicknames in place of their legal surnames. Interestingly, the English translation uses title the "address" of the family's house as the title of the novel. 'Ntoni Malavoglia is the patriarch of the family. He's a widower, who lives with his son (Bastiano), daughter-in-law (Maria), and their five children ('Ntoni, Luca, Mena, Alessi and Lia). They own a fishing boat and live in the "house by the medlar tree". The men in the family try to make a living by catching fish along with the rest of the fishermen of the village. The women stay at home and do other odd jobs like weaving and preserving anchovies. The story of the Malavoglia provides a stark contrast to that of their contemporaries in Sicilian literature, the aristocratic Salina family of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's "The Leopard". In an attempt to secure the futures for the children (i.e. dowries and inheritances), the elder 'Ntoni borrows some money to buy lupins (a type of bean) and deliver them to another village using the family's boat. This is where the family's run of bad luck starts. Bastiano and another man from the village perish during a storm, along with their cargo. They manage to retrieve the boat, and after repairs the grandfather and his eldest grandsons go back work to pay off their debt. Another blow is dealt when Luca, the second eldest and hardest working of the boys, is drafted into the navy. Luca is unfortunately killed in battle. The eldest grandson (also called 'Ntoni after his grandfather), had also been drafted, but he received an early discharge when his father died. The younger 'Ntoni lacked the work ethic of the rest of the family, and this will plague the family throughout the novel. The family is forced to give up the house to pay off the debt, and this compromises the futures of the grandchildren. As you can see, the family is having more than its share of troubles. And things don't get much better either. But, despite all the setbacks, you have to admire their courage to keep battling. The style of the novel is realist: the events are laid out clearly and in a matter-of-fact manner. The author had intended this to the the first in a series of novels, "Il ciclo dei vinti" (the cycle of the defeated). Each story was meant to represent the often futile struggles of a different strata or classes of society, from the lowest to the highest. He only managed to complete the first two of five novels. Reading the book I got a better understanding of the desperation that drives people to leave their homes in the hope of a better future in another city or country. Apart from that, I would only recommend this novel to anyone interested in the everyday lives and struggles of Sicilians and other southern Italians before the modern era. You won't find any Mafiosi here, but you'll get an appreciation of the rivalries between families, and the customs and superstitions of the people living in a small village. The novel was the basis for a neorealist film by Luchino Visconti, "La Terra Trema".