Going Solo by Roald Dahl

A childhood classic, an autobiographical sketch of Dahl’s years as a fighter pilot in the World War. The delightful little read is nostalgic, and conjures up those earlier years of my life where procuring a Roald Dahl book (only the edition illustrated by Quentin Blake, mind you) would be the highlight of time spent between school and home.

“Going Solo” follows Dahl’s life from his earlier autobiography “Boy” to his inadvertent enlisting as a fighter pilot whilst deployed in Africa. There is a continuous sense of innocence marked in the life of Dahl as a soldier, the inevitability that those seniors and juniors fighting for Britain against Germany overseas had no clue as to what was going on. Each time Dahl has a lucky escape from death, yet his courage is undiminished. Due to the fact that this indeed is a children’s book, the element of patriotism which underscores much of the narrative of the two World Wars, is duly missing from this story. There is a sense of having been randomly thrown into the midst of chaos and living each day for itself, for survival. The adventurous young Dahl sure did enjoy his travels across Africa and Middle East and the role thrust upon him as a pilot to shoot down enemy planes. A pleasing tale for any child who wants to get lost in exotic voyages without any gruesome details.


  • A life is made up of a great number of small incidents and a small number of great onesGoing Solo
  • Nowadays you can fly to Mombasa in a few hours and you stop nowhere and nothing is fabulous any more
  • it was rather wonderful for me, a conventional young lad from the suburbs, to be thrust suddenly into the middle of this pack of sinewy sunburnt gophers and their bright bony little wives, and what I liked best of all about them was their eccentricities.
  • There was something rather admirable about the way he was galloping round and round the deck with no clothes on at all, something wonderfully innocent and unembarrassed and cheerful and friendly. And here was I, a bundle of youthful self-consciousness, gaping at him through the port-hole and disapproving quite strongly of what he was doing.
  • Fingers are foul and filthy, but toes! Toes are reptilian and viperish!
  • Out of those sixteen, no fewer than thirteen were killed in the air within the next two years. In retrospect, one gasps at the waste of life.
  • A great sense of peace and serenity seemed to surround these massive, slow-moving, gentle beasts. Their skin hung loose over their bodies like suits they had inherited from larger ancestors, with the trousers ridiculously baggy
  • I was already beginning to realize that the only way to conduct oneself in a situation where bombs rained down and bullets whizzed past, was to accept the dangers and all the consequences as calmly as possible
  • He was a very small man and very soft-spoken, and he possessed the deeply wrinkled doleful face of a cat who knew that all nine of its lives had already been used up.
  • One of our pilots baled out and was saved. Four were killed. Among the dead was the great Pat Pattle, all his lucky lives used up at last
  • ‘Is this your land?’ I asked him. ‘Not yet,’ he said. ‘You mean you are hoping to buy it?’ He looked at me in silence for a while. Then he said, ‘The land is at present owned by a Palestinian farmer but he has given us permission to live here. He has also allowed us some fields so that we can grow our own food.’
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The Oil Jar and Other Stories by Luigi Pirandello

I stumbled upon the short stories by the brilliant Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello. This 9780486284590_lparticular collection of eleven shorts ruminate upon the nature of simple emotions and human relations but on a deeper, psychological level. Tragedy and farce of human life are well balanced in Pirandello’s concoctions.

“Citrons from Sicily” narrates the story of Micuccio who comes to the city to claim an old flame Teresina, now become a famed singer. With her old image in mind, Micuccio is disconcerted by what he presently sees; the innocent Teresina has been transformed into a loud, brazen woman who entertains her suitors and dresses somewhat immodestly. Her mother tries to console Micuccio who had helped them during their unfortunate days. Towards the end, the distraught Micuccio leaves them with a gift of oranges.

“He turned around uneasily and then looked at the old lady’s sorrowful, loving eyes, as if to read an explanation there. But what he read there instead was an urgent request to ask no more for the moment, to put off explanations till a later time”

“With Other Eyes” recounts the story of a wife who experiences a myriad of emotions upon finding an old picture of her husband’s first wife. Love, jealousy, denial, pride, self-pity all contribute to her finding the reason for her misery.

“Vittore Brivio treated his wife like a child capable of nothing but that ingenuous, exclusive and almost childish love with which he felt himself surrounded, frequently to his annoyance, and to which he had determined to pay attention only on due occasion”

 She concludes that she is stuck in a marriage of unreciprocated love, “that love which remained locked up in her breast like a treasure in a casket to which he had the keys but would never use them, like a miser.”

 Next in “A Voice”, we meet the rich but blind Marchese who in care of his kindly nurse, has fallen in love with her. Lydia is haunted by irrational thoughts echoing from what people would say about their engagement. When a certain doctor Falci arrives and in veiled words, accuses her of keeping her fiancé blind in order to secure his wealth, she rethinks her decision to get married despite the ferocity of their love. The doctor’s character is perhaps the most interesting. He is invalidated in the beginning but poses a great threat to the sanity of Lydia and her firm belief in her own love for the blind Marchese, which only later on falters.

“He had gradually formed a concept of life so devoid of all those friendly and almost necessary hypocrisies, those spontaneous, inevitable illusions composed and created by each of us without our volition, through an instinctive need—for social decency, one might say—that his company had now become intolerable.”

“The Fly” tells the story of two brothers and their cousin who is fatally ill. When the brothers fetch a doctor to help their ailing cousin, one of the brothers becomes a victim to the same disease. It’s a powerful story decrying the evil of selfishness and jealousy even in one’s dying moments.

“The Oil Jar” is a somewhat humorous story of a powerful Don Zirafa who mistreats his workers and it is this cruelty which leads him to part with an expensive oil jar he had invested in. He hires Uncle Dima who had discovered a resin cement which “couldn’t even be broken by a hammer.” In his arrogance and little regard for others’ advices, he forbids Zima to use his secret ingredient to mend the jar. What follows is a series of farcical actions that eventually lead to Don being butt of the joke for the entire village.

“To wrench a word out of his mouth you needed a hook. It was haughtiness, that taciturnity, it was sadness rooted in that misshapen body of his; it was also a lack of belief that others could understand and rightly appreciate his deserts as an inventor”

“It’s Not to be Taken Seriously” is a brilliant, incisive sketch of the character Perazzetti which can be best described by the following extract: “He had an extremely active and terrifically capricious imagination, which, when he saw other people, would fly out of control and, without his volition, would arouse in his mind the most outrageous images, flashes of inexpressibly hilarious visions; it would suddenly reveal to him certain hidden analogies, or unexpectedly indicate to him certain contrasts that were so grotesque and comic that he would burst out laughing unrestrainedly.”

The story is terrifically entertaining on an introspective level.

“Perazzetti knew clearly, from his own experience, how different the basic essence of every man is from the fictitious interpretations of that essence that each of us offers himself either spontaneously, or through unconscious self-deceit, out of that need to think ourselves or to be thought different from what we are, either because we imitate others or because of social necessities and conventions”

“Think it Over, Giacomino!” recounts the story of an aged Professor Toti who in all good intentions want his young wife and child to be financially secure after his death. He even takes a poor student under his wings, only later to be tossed out despite his innocent intentions.

“A Character’s Tragedy” is another wonderful short story, and my favourite of the lot, where the author Luigi Pirandello details on his creative form whereupon his characters come alive and demand an audience from him. In this story, a character from a novel written by someone else demands that Luigi give him life, and do justice to his characters motivations and actions as the original author failed to do so. This story masterfully analyses the relationship of a writer with his characters, and somewhat denounces plagiarism.

 “Because it’s easy for anyone to wish to be one kind of person or another; the real question is whether we can be the way we want to be”

“A Prancing Horse” is an absurd story of two horses who are employed to carry hearses but are unable to fully comprehend the nature of their job.

The last story Mrs. Frola & Mr. Ponza, Her Son-in-law” is my second favourite story from this collection. It is a story of two people who condemn each other to be insane and for the people of their community there is no way to discern which of the two speaks the truth. The circumstances around their warm relationship are sketched in a believable way so as to make even the reader suspicious of both characters. But:

“One thing is certain anyway: that both of them manifest a marvellous, deeply moving spirit of sacrifice for each other; and that each of them has the most exquisitely compassionate consideration for the presumed madness of the other”

Credit is due to the translator Stanley Applebaum who did justice to the stories, the dialogue and the masterful characterization.


My ratings:

  1. Little Hut – Sicilian Sketch 1/5
  2. Citrons from Sicily 5/5
  3. With Other Eyes 4/5
  4. A Voice 4/5
  5. The Fly. 4/5
  6. The Oil Jar 4/5
  7. It’s Not to be Taken Seriously 4/5
  8. Think it Over, Giacomino 3/5
  9. A Character’s Tragedy 5/5
  10. A Prancing Rorse 5/5
  11. Mrs. Frola and Mr. Ponza, Her Son-in-law 5/5

Wool (Wool # 1) by Hugh Howey

A quick easy read, immensely addictive with thematic concerns over the nature of truth and pursuing it for oneself, the illusions set by society and how love can alter our perceptions of reality.

The brilliance of this short story is set by its pacing, narrative style and how it packs a myriad of heavy themes in just a hundred and eighty pages of light reading. The characterisation is solid with a conclusive end that may shock many. The world Hugh Howey has built in such a short space deserves to be explored further. On to Wool # 2, “Proper Gauge”!


  • The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do12287209
  • This was the laughter of youth, of souls who had not yet come to grips with where they lived, who did not yet feel the press of the earth on all sides, who in their minds were not buried at all, but alive
  • Holston’s childhood now felt like something two or three lifetimes ago, something someone else had enjoyed. Not him
  • It only looked depressing compared to scenes from the children’s books—the only books to survive the uprising.
  • She turned. It was like the sun changing its mind and rising back over the hills. To acknowledge him gave him hope
  • At the top of the ramp, Holston saw the heaven into which he’d been condemned for his simple sin of hope
  • Could someone have decided that the truth was worse than a loss of power, of control?
  • He threw up spittle and stomach acid, the very lining of him trying to flee

The Last Interview Series: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

On trying to secure an interview with Marquez – Everyone said it was like getting an audience with the pope. As in: Don’t even bother trying.

I read Gabo’s interviews in the early hours of the day, just when the consciousness is 24708914evading sleep and yet drifting towards it with an elusive restraint. Marquez’s words rise up from the text and begin to spontaneously connect the dots for the fiction I’ve read from him so far. It’s a remarkable experience in itself, knowing the master personally, the man behind the magical One Hundred Years of Solitude and the poetical Autumn of the Patriarch, the reverential No One Writes to the Colonel and the meditative Memories of my Melancholy Whores.

Solitude was the most famous novel in the world, and perhaps the last to have a demonstrable effect on it.

The interviews, though brief, lend a vision into his meditations on politics and revolutions, the nature of power and violence, his attitude towards womenfolk, creativity and writing, personal superstitions, Latin American culture, the mystery of love and his aversion to fame. A recluse figure, a legend of mythical proportions in the literary world, Gabo still comes off as a giant in the most mundane of conversations. I’m most intrigued to read his biography by Gerald Martin.

ON POLITICS AND THE NEED FOR A UNIFIED REVOLUTION

Marquez was an active figure in Latin American politics, using his influence as a literary giant to change the course of corrupt governments and dictators who had long ruled the area, thrashing its culture, literature, economy all into a forgetful stupor. He stressed on the importance of using literature as a weapon to counter dogmatic beliefs and practices that had wreaked havoc on the Latin American society.

We need to use our imaginations in Latin America, after so many years of ideological petrification, of swallowing things whole; the right already knows all our tactics.

For Gabo, the idea of revolution was the “search for individual happiness through collective happiness, which is the only just form of happiness.” He opposed the practice of active martyrdom for the sake of country.

I want revolution for life, not for death; so that the whole world can live better lives, drink better wine, drive better cars … Material goods aren’t inherent to the bourgeoisie, they’re a human heritage that the bourgeoisie has stolen; we’re going to take them back and distribute them among everyone.

With deep socialist inclinations and a dedicated friendship with Castro, Marquez’s fervent ideas on true governance, opposition to despotic advances are often reflected in his views on power and violence as the two are inextricably linked. His views and personal friendships barred him from entering United States for many years till the sanction was lifted. Once during his visit to the States, the interviewer asked him about the state of affairs back home, to which he candidly replied “I never talk about Colombian politics when I’m outside of Colombia.” And when the interviewer proceeded to his views on American politics, Gabo in all amusing seriousness replied “I never talk about American politics when I’m in America.”

Marquez’s sense of reality was deep rooted. He recognized the evils of power with an acute sense of profound understanding. “Violence has existed forever, and it’s an ancient resident of Colombia,” he recalls. On bitter criticism of his association with Fidel Castro, the writer says:

I believe when people sign a petition, they make a great noise. They don’t really care about the cause. They’re just thinking about themselves—what the public is going to think of their petition.

This also rings true of modern era petitions, either of a political or social nature – these entreaties are more true to the egotistical demands of those creating it or promoting it than to fostering real change in society.

ON WOMEN

 It was a Frenchman who said, “There are no impotent men, only unfeeling women.”

 I was most fascinated by Gabo’s personal opinion on womenfolk whom he holds in high regards, and how he dealt with them in his fiction – always giving them a focal role to play. The matriarchal dependency of many of his male characters pushes the boundaries of Latin American culture and give us a keen insight on how Gabo revered the female sex in terms of their wisdom, resilience and mystique.

All through my life there has always been a woman to take me by the hand and lead me through the confusion of existence, which women understand better than men.

Women have played a pivotal role in Marquez’s life. He grew up surrounded by oral stories from his grandmother, and a horde of aunts to tend to him. His wife Mercedes provided him with unconditional support. His literary agent Carmen Balcells had been working with him since 1961, his earliest years as a writer. All these matrons have been in one way or another immortalized as fictitious characters in his stories – altering the course of states, families as a whole or lone men in indubitable power.

Women uphold the social order with an iron hand while men travel the world bent on boundless folly, which pushes history forward. I’ve come to the conclusion that women lack any sense of history. Otherwise, they could not fulfill their primordial function of perpetuating the species.

At another instance, the writer details on the mystifying aspect of women, the allure of their beauty and femininity without any causal link to sexual advances.

When I walk into a place full of people, I feel a kind of mysterious signal drawing my gaze irresistibly toward the most intriguing woman in the crowd. Not necessarily the most beautiful, but the one with whom I obviously have a deep affinity. I never do anything, I just have to know she’s there and I’m quite happy. It’s something so pure and beautiful that even Mercedes sometimes helps me to locate her and choose the best vantage point from which to see her.

On women with corrupted morality, vengeful tastes and unstable lifestyle, Marquez has nothing but kindness for them. “All they need is some good company, a little understanding, and a little love, and they are usually grateful for it. I say “a little” because of course their solitude is incurable.”

 ON LOVE AND FAME

 STREITFELD: There is a stamp in Colombia with your face on it.

GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ: I hope it’s only used for love letters

Like Marquez reveres the female sex, he also venerates not just “love”, a singular emotion but also the ability to love which for Marquez is granted to only the extremely fortunate ones. Power and love stand as polar opposites. “Power is a substitute for love,” he says. This indeed is true for all his characters who practice supreme authority, are masters of their own fate and that of the country’s, and stand alone as bastions of terrible sovereignty – they all lack the fervent ability to love another, or to be an object of love themselves. Their lawlessness and arrogance equates to a crippling incapacity to function as normal human beings, and scarcity of experiencing love either ends in their downfall, death or both.

MENDOZA: Do you really think the inability to love is very serious?

GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ: I don’t think there’s any human misery greater than that. Not only for the person afflicted but for all those whose misfortune it is to come within his orbit.

For Marquez, the evident problem with love is making it last.

I don’t see love as a quick lunge with no consequences.

 And just as he admires love, he derides fame as a catastrophe for private life.

Fame unsettles your sense of reality, almost as much as power perhaps, and it continually threatens your private life.

The thematic use of Solitude in many of his books is undoubtedly linked to the author’s persona. It is his elusiveness that cemented his legend and he intended to keep it that way until the very end.

It’s as if you could even measure solitude by the number of people around you. You’re surrounded by more and more people, you feel smaller and smaller and smaller.

It isn’t a small wonder that journalists across the world had a hard time getting to him. This perhaps multiplied in the years after he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His aversion to fame was not just to protect his family but also to prevent any disturbances hindering his own sense of reality. This, for me, is a true mark of humility in a man.

More than most authors, he tried not to repeat himself, even as he got older and the temptation to revisit triumphs must have been acute

ON SUPERSTITIONS

One of the most amusing and surprising instances of the book covers Gabo’s attitude towards superstitions, including his own personal, somewhat peculiar superstitions.

I believe that superstitions, or what are commonly called such, correspond to natural forces which rational thinking, like that of the West, has rejected

Here, Latin American culture holds a keen similarity to South Asian culture where superstitious beliefs are a crucial building block of societal norms. In context of their geography and value, they are not “irrational beliefs” per se but hold a key to morals most valued. Gabo, earnestly discloses some of his personal superstitions such as “smoking in the nude did not mean bad luck, but smoking in the nude while walking about did”. He even details an instance from private life where getting out of a city and never going back again stands between life and death. These curious little fallacies can be spotted in almost all his stories, and which most definitely influenced his life as a story teller.

ON THE ART OF WRITING

 My father would say I was born in 1927. My mother said, “Let him be born whenever he wants to be born.” Clearly, she’s a practitioner of the new journalism.

When asked about his first publication Leaf Storm, Marquez candidly recalls how many years he had spent writing, re-writing, editing, cutting, correcting, tearing the many notebooks of the story just to bring a few final pages to the publisher. He adds as to how the ideas that he had initially trashed later formulated the plot to his second book.

For Marquez, “a writer writes only one book, although that same book may appear in several volumes under different titles.” And when asked what his collective book would be about, he calls it “The book of solitude.”

Marquez started his career as a reporter for the local newspaper. He’d often live in one of the shabby rooms in a hotel which also functioned as a brothel. Many a times, due to dire financial circumstances, he’d leave his manuscript as deposit with the hotel porter.

Journalism is my true vocation. It keeps my feet on the ground. Otherwise I’m like a balloon, I float off. Journalism keeps me nailed to reality. Curiously, as time goes on, I find the professions of fiction and journalism merging. The essence of literature and of journalism is the credibility they create. People are convinced by details.

His journalistic integrity is best shown in an instance where one interviewer proceeded to use a tape to record the interview session to which Marquez politely declined as he considered himself “an enemy of the tape-recorder. It has an ear but no heart.”

Marquez was dismayed at the immense success of Solitude as it seemed to eclipse the importance of Patriarch which he himself had declared as his masterpiece. Though he had no favourites, it became increasingly challenging for him to write the next book after each published work’s achievement.

I don’t think of one book as being better or worse than the last; I just want to take that step.

During the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Marquez had taken to writing on a computer, abandoning the old practice of using a typewriter.

On a computer, a novel is infinitely correctible. It’s so easy. You go on endlessly. But in the end it’s faster. The proof is I used to put out a novel every seven years, now it’s every two years.

When asked on the usage of run-on sentences and “breathing commas”, Gabo’s reply echoed the style of each of his work

My idea of a literary text is actual hypnotism. It’s very important that the rhythm does not have any stops and starts, because when you have a stop or a start, the reader can escape

This is indeed true whilst reading any of his stories where the reader is given a momentary relief with the aid of a comma or a semicolon amidst reading sentences that last the entire length of a chapter. The style mesmerizes and bounds the reader till the very end in a trance like state, where a single breath could break the spell of the magical realist story.

In his old age, Marquez had stopped writing entirely and devoted his time to being an avid reader. Inspired by works of Faulkner, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, he noted that “when novelists read another novelist’s work, they take it apart as if it were a machine. Nothing teaches you how to write a novel except another novel.”

The Dancing Girl of Izu and other Stories by Yasunari Kawabata

The mystifying aspect of the book is perhaps lost entirely to poor translation. I enjoyed bits and parts of the book where I felt the translator’s sentences did justice to what the author was saying. But the prose mostly fell flat and brazen and failed to evoke sentiments in me which I’m sure were due had I read the original or a better translation.

Japanese literary mindset is one which holds beauty and mystery quite similar to the literary culture of Latin America but this unfortunately could not emanate from this collection of semi-autobiographical short stories.

Many times the stories seem vague in themselves, most ending abruptly much to my annoyance. Only the author’s relationship with his grandfather invoked emotions in me and that too just lasted the first few pages of the book.

  • I stood stiff, staring at him, wondering how he could be alive, this mystery in the mountains.
  • Twenty years old, I had embarked on this trip to Izu heavy with resentment that my personality had been permanently warped by my orphan’s complex and that I would never be able to overcome a stifling melancholy. So I was inexpressibly grateful to find that I looked like a nice person as the world defines the word
  • “I wonder when I’m going to get better?” my grandfather asked, in a voice that was nine parts despair clinging to one part hope.14030
  • The sorrow of loneliness—that is my grandfather. My grandfather’s habit of saying “I have lived my life crying” is his true feeling.
  • What seemed strangest to me when I found this diary was that I have no recollection of the day-to-day life it describes. If I do not recall them, where have those days gone? Where had they vanished to? I pondered the things that human beings lose to the past.
  • Then, as I drifted from relatives’ houses to dormitories to lodging houses, the concepts of house and household were driven from my mind. All I saw were dreams of myself as a wanderer
  • My memory is so bad that I can have no firm belief in memory. There are times I feel that forgetfulness is a blessing
  • What I believe to be memories are probably daydreams. Still, my own sentimentality yearns for them as if they were the truth, suspect or twisted though they may be
  • “How horrible. Your kimono smells like a grave.” “It’s a bad omen if you don’t know the smell of a grave.”
  • So it was that as a youth, my decorous behavior at the funerals of strangers was never feigned; rather, it was a manifestation of the capacity for sadness I had within myself.
  • There were two ponds in the valley. The lower pond glimmered, as if brimming with molten silver, while the upper pond was deep and silent like death, as though the mountain shadows lay submerged in the green waters.
  • When you die, there is nothing—only a life that will be forgotten.
  • The man spoke cheerfully. “Wonderful. I will buy your daydream.”
  • Vanity happened to give this man, who had groveled in fear of women, a little courage for love.
  • The realization that she could not return home spread through her chest like water
  • Her idea that life would be more meaningful for her alone—with an education rather than with a man—was interesting
  • As death approaches, memory erodes. Recent memories are the first to succumb. Death works its way backward until it reaches memory’s earliest beginnings. Then memory flares up for an instant, just like a flame about to go out