Happy Friday, everyone!
Did you know that I used to think February was the shortest month of the year, so nothing much could happen in it? Well… I may have been a bit naïve 😅 Both on a personal and global scale, I don’t think I’ve ever had a month as eventful as February 2022.
First, there was the good. After almost two years of not being able to practice and perform due to COVID, my orchestra and choir finally had concerts again. I moved to a new town, started working at a school I immediately felt welcomed at, and although my days are now very busy, it feels great to be back to a fixed routine. I’ve been slowly finding my feet, exploring my surroundings, and stuffing myself with carnival food. I even went to visit a friend in Munich after we hadn’t seen each other in person for almost three years!
However, what had begun with me being excited about upcoming concerts, moving, and starting a new job somehow morphed into a nightmare of shock and terror, as a formerly relatively peaceful country was reduced to a brutal warzone by the choice of a power-hungry egomaniac. Just a few weeks ago, if anyone had suggested the possibility of a war in Europe, I would have laughed it off as ludicrous. Now, I’m fearing for the lives of Ukrainian citizens, desperately hoping for news of family friends in Kyiv, and aching for those Russians who did not want the war and feel powerless to stop it.
And I’m terrified that the violence might spread to the rest of the world. Because, let’s face it, it’s not like these types of things have never happened before. One of the advantages of being able to speak Russian is that you can watch and understand the Russian news – and the similarities in rhetoric that Putin’s speech has to one made by a certain German dictator when he decided to invade Poland roughly a century ago are doing absolutely nothing to quell my fears that we might be at the brink of World War III…
So, what do you do when you start freaking out about the historical parallels you’re seeing in today’s political situation? You have a deeply philosophical discussion about it with your friend while strolling through a graveyard that somehow ends up in the two of you deciding that you should visit a concentration camp on your weekend off, of course.
Unsurprisingly, it was awful. Although I have been to a concentration camp before – visiting one is a mandatory part of the German school system – KZ Dachau was a very different caliber from KZ Flossenbürg. As one of the oldest and biggest concentration camps, it served as a model for all others. Some of the most horrifying forms of Nazi torture were developed there, over 41,500 people died on its grounds, and countless others passed through before they were murdered elsewhere. I’m going to spare you the details of what exactly the exhibitions contained, but suffice it to say I had a hard time not vomiting into my mask during certain parts of the tour.
That being said, both my friend and I were glad we decided to go. The museum was so much more informative than anything we had ever learned at school – which is saying something, since it feels like half of our history lessons were dedicated to the Holocaust – and we left feeling so much more grateful for the society we live in now! As bad as things currently are in the world, I am incredibly lucky to reside in a country where I don’t have to fear inhumane torture if I speak out against the government or hold the “wrong” beliefs. I have never had to go hungry, experience bombings, or watch others threaten the people I love to get me to comply. I have never had anyone take away the peaceful life I have with brute force and felt powerless to stop it. Which makes me all the more sad that there are others out there who don’t have that privilege 😥 And I hope the world won’t look away until everyone does!
So yeah, after that depressing life update, I guess we should get into what I read last month… 😅 Thanks to being drawn to a whole bunch of positively massive tomes and spontaneously deciding I needed a full Harry Potter reread halfway through the month, I didn’t actually get to that many new things, but the books I did read all made me think a lot. So I hope you enjoy my reflections on them!
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (3/5 Stars)
(Original Russian title: Анна Каренина; I read the German translation by Herrmann Röhl)
In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve ever had such conflicting feelings towards a book before. Half of the time, I wanted to fling Anna Karenina across the room because I just didn’t think I could take another fifty-page bird-hunting, horse-racing, or talking-about-lawn-mowing-or-art-or-cows-or-dresses-or-something-else-that-was-absolutely-irrelevant-to-the-plot-of-this-book scene. The other half, I was engrossed in the world of 19th-century Russian aristocracy, deeply invested in the lives of these characters, and, yes, I even shed a few tears towards the end.
While Anna Karenina is best known for the plotline involving its titular character – a young woman trying to escape an unfulfilling marriage by having an affair with a cavalry officer – it actually has a much broader scope, interweaving multiple stories to provide a detailed tapestry of late 19th-century high society in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Next to Anna Arkadyevna Karenina and Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky, there are Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky and Darya Alexandrovna Oblonskaya, who are half-heartedly trying to salvage what is left of their marriage. There is Konstantin Dmitrich Levin – My favorite character! 🥰 – a socially awkward landowner who flees to the countryside after having his heart broken by the love of his life, Kitty Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya. There is Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, unable to form a true connection with anyone and forced to watch in horror as his wife draws away from him. And so many more.
Ultimately, Anna Karenina is a tale of a changing country. Of the stifling nature of societal conventions. Of marriage. And although I came close to giving up on it several times, persevering was 100% worth it! If you’re willing to put up with a bit of frustration and boredom along the way, this is a book that will really make you think and give you a much deeper understanding of Russian history.
To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara (5/5 Stars)
I positively adored this book 🥰😭 While To Paradise isn’t the life-wrecking tearjerker that A Little Life is, it has a way of hitting you in the feels in a much subtler way, confronting you with a cast of characters who are all united in their profound emptiness, loneliness, and hope for something better.
Split into three parts, To Paradise shows us different alternate versions of the United States of America. In 1893, after the Confederacy has successfully seceded from the Union, we follow a young man who lives in a country that seemingly gives its citizens the freedom to openly love whomever they want. In 1993, in the midst of a global AIDS pandemic, we find ourselves in New York, accompanying a Hawaiian expatriate in a relationship with a much older man. In 2093, we reemerge in a country so ravaged by diseases and a horrifically totalitarian government that it is almost unrecognizable, following a famous scientist’s granddaughter as she tries to find a sense of meaning in her life. All three parts are interconnected through deep-running themes such as freedom, loneliness, LGBTQIA+ rights, power, family, death, love, a longing to eventually reach paradise, and something else that you are just going to have to discover for yourselves.
To Paradise is not the type of book you can just blaze through; it does not spell things out for you; it is dark, introspective, and rather slow-paced. Instead, it is the type of book that will really make you think. It gets personal and will confront you with emotions you might not be quite ready for. It will frustrate you by leaving so many things open-ended. But the more you reflect on it, you’re going to realize that that is precisely what makes To Paradise so brilliant. If you give this book a chance, you will feel much richer for having read it!
Zeit der Schuldlosen by Siegfried Lenz (5/5 Stars)
(I saw this play in the original German, but in case you’re interested, the title of the English translation is Time of the Innocent)
Technically, I did not read this play. I saw it on stage. But I loved it so freaking much that I wanted to talk about it somewhere, so you’re just going to have to deal with me including it here!!! 😁
Zeit der Schuldlosen is split into two acts, the first of which takes place after an underground resistance group fails to assassinate the head of the totalitarian regime ruling their country. One of the resistance fighters, Sason, is caught, but despite heavy torture, he does not reveal the names of his co-conspirators. Because of this, the government decides to test a new judicial method: They lock Sason up with nine innocent civilians, telling these people they cannot leave their jail cell until they either get a confession out of the prisoner or sentence him as they see fit. Four years later, after a successful revolution has put the resistance fighters in power, the civilians are forced to reconvene and confront what happened during that fateful “trial” – this constitutes Act II.
Holy shit, guys, this play!!! 🤯 I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days after seeing it, and thought the way it portrayed guilt, – or lack thereof – was absolutely fascinating. There was so much in here about the value of human life, about collective responsibility, about atrocities that happen while everybody “guiltlessly” looks the other way.
Zeit der Schuldlosen made me think a lot about Germany’s post-WWII history. It made me think about how I would act if given the choice between speaking up for what I believed in or quietly going along with something awful to keep myself and everyone I loved out of danger. It made me realize I didn’t have answers to a lot of scary questions.
I would highly recommend attending a performance if you ever have the chance, and definitely intend to get my hands on a physical copy at some point!
Shadow Status by River K. Scott (3.5/5 Stars)
When the author reached out to me, asking whether I would be interested in a review copy of this book, I immediately said yes. I mean, it’s dystopian! It features artificial intelligence! You don’t have to give me any more buzzwords than that; I was sold! 🤗
An extremely action-packed YA cyberpunk novel, Shadow Status is set in a future where an attempt to make human DNA disease-resistant backfired spectacularly and made all of humanity extremely vulnerable to pathogens. But some people – like the protagonist Jaffrey – are more affected than others, making them second-class citizens in their society’s eyes. If somebody found out Jaffrey was a Proset, he would lose the opportunity to become a Watcher – someone trained to search virtual reality for malware that could doom efforts to find a cure. However, when Jaffrey encounters an illegal AI, he realizes his future is not as secure as he once thought and that there is a lot about his world that has been kept from him…
Overall, I had a lot of fun reading this! I absolutely loved the setting and all the questions the dystopian backdrop leads the reader to explore, and I also really liked how much Shadow Status focused on Jaffrey’s relationship with his siblings.
However, the book was also a tad too plot-driven for my tastes – I personally prefer to have a stronger focus on the characters and their relationships, and I kind of missed that here. Plus, I just wasn’t a huge fan of the romance or the excessive amounts of futuristic slang, and I thought the ending resolved everything a bit too quickly and conveniently…
Still, Shadow Status was definitely an engaging read, and if you’re a fan of fast-paced, plot-based science fiction, I think you might really like this one!
(And if you’re still unsure and would like more of my thoughts, you can find my full-review here 😉)
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara (2.5/5 Stars)
After reading To Paradise put me in an enormous book hangover, I decided a good way to cope and prevent a full-on reading slump would be to continue on with another deeply depressing Hanya Yanagihara book. Little did I foresee that I would absolutely hate the experience 🙈
It’s not that The People in the Trees wasn’t good – it was! The writing, as I have come to expect from Hanya Yanagihara, was poetic and beautiful, and the story, which follows a doctor who discovers a substance that will ensure longevity on a trip to a Micronesian island was dark, deeply thoughtful, and provocative. BUT, OH MY GOSH, I FUCKING HATED BEING IN THE MAIN CHARACTER’S HEAD!!! Before reading The People in the Trees, I would have said that I actually enjoy an unlikeable narrator every now and then. That it’s interesting to see how they think, what goes on in that twisted mind of theirs.
Dr. Norton Perina’s mind, though, was too much even for me. When I wasn’t disgusted by his seeming fascination with torturing helpless mice or inspecting Ivu’ivuan natives’ pubic hair, the obnoxiously self-righteous way he had of describing absolutely everything in his surroundings bored me to tears. As did all the footnotes added to Norton’s narrative by his possibly even more despicable friend, Ronald Kubodera, who lost no time framing the story by saying that even though his bestie Norton had been accused of raping his adopted children, he was such a distinguished individual that he, Ronald, would stand by Norton’s side no matter whether he was guilty or not.
So yeah – while this book has a very interesting way of making you think about Western self-righteousness and the destruction of indigenous cultures, I absolutely detested reading it and had to force my way through tremendous boredom and hatred to make my way to the end. I did not like it at all, but the story also really stuck with me, so I have no freaking clue as to whether I would recommend it or not. Read it at your own risk, I guess? 😅
Midnight in Everwood by Maria A. Kuzniar (2/5 Stars)
Allegedly, Midnight in Everwood is an adult Nutcracker retelling with beautifully lyrical writing and an enchanting story reminiscent of Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy. In my opinion, the only one of those three things that is actually true is that the book is an adult Nutcracker retelling. In no way does it deserve to be compared to the Winternight Trilogy, and I’m also puzzling over how people could possibly love the writing so much 🤔
HONESTLY, ALMOST EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS BOOK DROVE ME NUTS!!! The prose is littered with pages and pages of sweet descriptions, weird candy metaphors and similes (I swear, if I have to hear about a character having butterscotch eyes or someone’s skin tingling like a sherbet lemon on their tongue one more time… 🙄), and so many loan words and ballet names that I felt like the author wasn’t actually trying to tell a story here, but to impress me with the amount of research she had done for it. Our protagonist Marietta, a member of Nottingham high society who would rather become a ballet dancer than marry her creepy new neighbor, was such a strong, not-like-other-girls feminist that she always felt the need to do the exact opposite of what everybody told her to do, no matter how stupid it was. And of course, she immediately attracted the attention of loads of handsome, butterscotch-eyed men without having to show a hint of agency herself… In my opinion, the romance and friendships in this book went from indifference to “I-would-die-for-you” passion out of nowhere, most of the characters’ decisions did not make sense, and overall, I just wasn’t a fan 🙈
The only things I did love about Midnight in Everwood were the Marietta’s relationship with her brother, the German and Russian language snippets (which were actually grammatically correct for once 😂), and the unique spin the author brought to the Nutcracker story by making her protagonist an adult rather than a child. But unfortunately, that just wasn’t enough to redeem this one for me…
I must confess, I was kind of terrible at blog-hopping these past few weeks… Starting a full-time job has its side effects, I guess, as does getting very distracted by horrifying international news 😅 Still, I did read a whole bunch of amazing posts around the blogosphere this past month, and I’m not going to withhold those from you!
- Lila @ Hardcover Haven and Jan, formerly @ The Doodlecrafter and now @ Inkspun Tales, both returned from their hiatuses (Hiati? Hiatus? What the heck is the plural of this word?? 🤔) and made my month when I saw their posts pop up in my reader! You guys have no idea how much I’ve been missing your content! 😍
- Riddhi @ Whispering Stories wrote an amazing discussion on content creation and what makes her follow a blog. If you’ve been wondering why you haven’t snagged my attention yet or why you can’t seem to get rid of me, look no further – that post and its comments should tell you pretty much everything! 😉
- Nehal @ Quirky Pages ranted about five annoying habits readers have that she can’t stand. As someone who can’t stand these things either, I felt extremely validated in my pettiness! 😈
- Rachel @ A Bookworm’s Paradise analyzed trends in YA murder mysteries. And let me tell you, she is hilariously spot on! 🧐😂
- Simran @ Far From Perfect became the star of the show in a collab organized by Nehal @ Quirky Pages and Riddhi @ Whispering Stories, where they asked other bloggers to share types of Riddhis/Nehals they all knew. Since I also contributed, I feel kind of weird mentioning these posts here, but Simran’s response regarding Riddhi was so far from far from perfect that I just felt the world needed to be made aware of it! 😁
- Frances @ Volatile Rune wrote a review of Bridget Collins’ The Betrayals 🥰🥰🥰 Do I really need to tell you any more than that to explain what I loved about it?
- In a brilliantly creative post, Lay @ bookshelfsoliloquies told us about musicians she wants to write books. Take all my money, musicians, because I desperately need these works to be real!! 🎵
- Phoenix @ Books with Wings wrote a super interesting discussion on the pressure book bloggers feel to write reviews – which Maria @ The Character Study followed up on with an equally fascinating discussion of her own! 🤓
- Line @ First Line Reader gave us a wonderful discussion on medieval Europe as a fantasy setting, which immediately had my fantasy-loving heart ensnared! 🥰 (And she also wrote a much better review of To Paradise than I ever could have given you, so if you’re still on the fence about reading the book, just head over to Line’s blog and let her do the rest of the convincing 😇)
- Emily @ Frappes and Fiction explained to book snobs why it’s okay to read YA. I really loved her take on this topic! 😎
And that was it for February! Let me know down below how your month went, and if you stumbled across any interesting books along the way! Have you read any of the books I mentioned here? If so, what did you think of them? Do you have any exciting plans for March? I would love to hear from you down in the comments!