Friday, August 30, 2013

Wrap-Up: Language Freak Summer Challenge

Well, I have to thank Ekaterina at In My Book for a really enjoyable challenge.  It came at the perfect time for me, as I'm trying to improve my German by reading.  The challenge was to read as many books as we could in a language in which we are not fluent by the end of the summer.

I read Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen and Anne Frank's Tagebuch.  (Those reviews, auf Deutsch, are here and here.)  I hadn't read Harry Potter before, but it was an easy read and good practice for me.  And I acquired some fun vocabulary--dragon, goblin, monster, troll, etc.  Anne Frank's diary was much more difficult, but I had read it in English years ago, so that helped.

Ekaterina encouraged us to write our reviews in the foreign language, too, which intimidated me, as I haven't written anything in German since college.  But I did it, with a lot of sweat and effort, and much consulting of online dictionaries, lol.  I also enjoyed very much connecting with a couple of other students of German and reading their work.  And I got some helpful comments on the Harry Potter review from a native speaker, which was wonderful. 

Looking forward to next summer's Language Freak challenge...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

From The Ruins Of Empire

From The Ruins Of Empire by Pankaj Mishra was purchased in, of all places, a bookstore in King's Cross Station in London, where we had gone to see Platform 9 and 3/4.  While the kids were taking each other's pictures, I wandered into the bookstore and was attracted by this nifty cover. 

Basically, it's a look at the Victorian era through the eyes of some of its victims:  the Asians.  The Victorian era, which is generally thought of in the west as a time of expansion, invention, and progress, was experienced by Asians as the dismissal and devastation of their ancient societies.  What many westerners don't know is that this juggernaut of change triggered intellectual movements in various Asian societies.  Asia experienced a cultural renaissance forged by some of these thinkers who attempted to form responses to the financial, cultural, and military onslaught of the Europeans.  Pankaj Mishra focuses on three such people:  the Persian Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Liang Qichao of China, and the Indian Rabindrinath Tagore. 

Al-Afghani was an early espouser of pan-Islamism (Muslims uniting culturally and politically against European occupiers).  Al-Afghani used Islam to attempt to unify the people of Muslim countries, without much material success.  But he influenced such later figures as Saad Zaghlul, who led a nationalist movement against the British after WWI, the Salafis, an (unlike Al-Afghani) puritanical and Arab-centric sect, and Rashid Rida, who inspired the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Liang Qichao thought regretfully that China's traditional Confucianist culture was not ruthless enough to succeed in the cutthroat new world made by the Europeans.  China needed a "benign despot" to unite the Chinese people in order to better resist the onslaughts of the British.  He found republican democracy too chaotic and too vulnerable to incompetency to be successful.  His heirs were the New Culture movement, made up of young intellectuals, factory workers, and clerks who despaired of preserving old ways and wanted to completely remake Chinese society in Europe's ruthless image.

The section on Rabindranath Tagore was a revelation to me:  I knew him only as the author of beautiful spiritual poetry.  Tagore wrote and traveled tirelessly, trying to inspire Asians to hold on to the "moral and spiritual power" of their traditions against the exploitations of Eurpeans, and trying to find common ground with Americans.  He wrote a novel called The Home and the World (reviewed at Howling Frog Books!) dealing with the tension between old and new worlds in India.  Near the end of his life in the 1930s, he was appalled by the violent and militaristic trends in Asia, particularly Japan. 

As a look at a period of history through the eyes of the underdogs, this book is a lot like Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, which is US history as experienced by women, minorities, and the poor.  Both books should be required reading for high school, or at least college, students. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Ich habe Anne Franks Tagebuch auf Englisch gelesen, vor dreissig Jahre, als Teenager.  Dieses Mal lernte ich mehr uber die Geschichte der Zusammenstellung des veroffentliches Buches.  Auch, weil ich dieses Mal als eine Mutter das Buch gelesen haben, war meine Perspektive verschieden--ich merkte, und war ergrifft von, verschiedene Dinge.

Erst lernte ich, dass Anne das Tagebuch selbst uberarbeitet.  Im Radio hat sie gehort, dass nach dem Krieg, Uberlebenders Darstellungen wurde begehrt sein.  Sie schrieb fruher Textstellen um, um mehr interessant zu klingen.  Auch schrieb sie Textstellen dazu, in spater Eintragen.  (I know there's something wrong with that sentence;  I just don't know what.  Help?)

Annes Vater, Otto Frank, hat auch das Tagebuch herausgegeben.  Er strich Textstellen uber Annes sexuelle Gedanken und Gefuhle, ihre Gedanken uber die Natur ihrer Elterns Ehe, und andere.   (In spater Ausgaben des Tagebuches, haben diese Textstellen nachgestellt sein.) 

Was fallt mir auf, in dieses zweites Lesen?  Erst, naturlich, Annes Beziehung mit ihrer Mutter.  Annes Einstellung schaut mir jetzt sehr extrem an;  sie erklart sich unabhangig ihrer Eltern;  ihre Mutter ist "keine Mutter"!  Sie hat "keine Eltern;"  sie musst "selbst aufziehen!"  Der alleiniger Beweggrund, dass ich finden kann, ist dass ihre Mutter ist "Taktlos," und hanselt Anne.  Bestimmt, die Franks verstand nicht Annes Stress, und wahrscheinlich wahrnimmt ihr kommen in Pubertat nicht--uberhaupt, warum setzen Dussels Bett in Annes Zimmer?  Vielleicht findet sie Erleichterung vom Stress in extremer verbaler Ausserungen.

Auch findet ich Annes kleine Liebesaffare mit Peter sehr egreifend.  Es war so ruhrend, und so typisch, Annes wachsend Gefuhle fur Peter--sie weisst, dass Peter schluchtern und weniger intelligent als sie selbst ist, und in normaler Leben wurde sie ihm nicht interessant finden.  Aber sie fuhlt einen Mix aus Mitleid und Kameradschaft, und beginnt seine blaue Augen zu merken.  Und die Beiden wurde innerhalb Monaten tot sein.  Es bricht mir das Herz. 

As always, corrections from German speakers are appreciated--I know there's lots to improve here.  Also:  can anyone tell me how to get umlauts in Blogger?

Language Freak Summer Challenge