A World Tour of Books: Poems by Ricardo Reis by Fernando Pessoa

Ricardo Reis was a born in Porto, Portugal in 1887. He was of average height and had dark hair. At a Jesuit school is where he was educated and he worked as a doctor. He eventually left his homeland for Brazil since he was a monarchist and disliked that Portugal had become a Republic.

Another interesting thing about Ricardo Reis was that he never existed but was a character created by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. He had many such heteronyms, each with their own life stories and personalities. They also had different styles of writing and favoured different themes.

First thing I’d like to say about this book is that since it is a Swedish translation of the poems, it makes it impossible for me to give a truly fair assessment of them. Poetry doesn’t translate well and a lot of the “music” in the words simply gets lost. So, take my review with a grain of salt.

The most prominent thing I noticed about Ricardo’s poetry is that the theme of mortality and the impermanence of human existence runs through the entire collection. The inevitably of death is always there, hanging like a shadow over the poet’s life. Reis’ seems to have a nearly pathological obsession with reminding himself that he is going to die to the point where I as a reader was wondering how many more ways one can use poetic words to remind oneself of death.

Reis’ answer to the reality of mortality is both stoic and epicurean. He accepts the inevitably of what awaits us all and his solution it to simply enjoy life. That enjoyment in his opinion seems to mean a kind of “going with the flow”, to just be and not take one’s existence too seriously.

To me that sounds boring as hell. Such hippie, flower-in-the-hair passivity is the exact opposite of what I want to do with my short time on earth. But I can’t deny how beautifully Reis writes about his sentiments and his melancholy is relatable no matter how one best copes with mortality. There is a reason Pessoa is considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.

Overall, I enjoyed this collection of poems. Like all great poetry, it asks the grand questions and forces you to think about them and to search into yourself for the answers. I can recommend this work of art and am looking forward to read more of Fernando Pessoa’s poetry.

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A World Tour of Books: Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah (Sierra Leone)

Ten years ago, when I was in the Swedish equivalent to High School, we read in class Ishmael Beah’s memoir A Long Way Gone, about his experience as a child soldier during the civil war in Sierra Leone. It’s a truly shocking book about the atrocities of war and the difficulty of recovering from severe trauma. I can recommend it if you wish to learn more about the war that torn Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002 and what many children were forced to go through during that time.

I’ve wondered from time to time what happened to Ishmael Beah after he wrote the book. I decided to search his name online the other day and found that he is still a human rights campaigner and that he has continued writing.

His second book, the novel Radiance of Tomorrow, came out in 2014 and takes place seven years after the end of the civil war. It begins with an elderly woman returning to her home village Imperi. The place has not been inhabited since the days of the war and the ground is covered with human bones. She proceeds to gather them and soon meets another elder who also has returned.

More people come back to the town, entire families. Many are scarred, physically and psychologically, by the horrors of war but their spirits are not broken and together their rebuild their village.

But although the war is over, their struggles are not. A mining company moves in, pollutes the water, leaves deadly electrical wires lying around and lets its workers harass and rape the village’s girls and women. An top of that, corruption is rampant among the authorities and little is done to help the people.

I listened to Radiance of Tomorrow on Audible.

The inhabitants of the village fight on. Among them is the school teacher Bockarie, who does all he can in the face of oppression and poverty to take care of his family. Despite his best efforts, the future remains uncertain.

How does they keep going when everything seems hopeless? Where do they find the strength? And could the elders’ wisdom, passed on through the tradition of storytelling, have something to offer in these trying times?

Radiance of Tomorrow is a story about starting anew and moving on from times of despair. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything but shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel, hope to hold on to.

I loved the Mende expressions translated into English and found the novel to be well-written, often poetic. I’m honestly impressed Beah has been able to move on from the horrors he went through and become such a talented writer. People have given up for far less.

Ishmael Beah is one of West Africa’s most talented authors and has a promising writing career ahead of him, one I know I’m going to be following with great interest.

Back on Twitter

Just writing a short post to let you know I made a new Twitter account.

Starting over, I’ve lost the followers I had on the old one. But considering the ideological path I’d taken last year, I kind of feel like I deserved it.

Anyway, I’ll probably post most of my political musings there now unless I want to dwelve deeper into a specific topic.

A World Tour of Books: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan)

Years ago, when I was still a member of the conservative church I had been born into, I was designated to be a chaperone one a first date. We all three went to the movies and that’s when I first saw The Kite Runner, based on the novel of the same name by Khaled Hosseini.
I was shocked when my friends didn’t like the film because it was probably the best one I saw that year. It was a moving tale of guilt and redemption and highlighted important social issues like racism, fundamentalism and the treatment of children in Afghanistan. See it, if you haven’t already.

I thought about reading the novel for my this blogging project but figured a book whose plot I wasn’t already familiar with would be more interesting. So, I picked another one by the same author.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is partly the story of Kabul and of Afghanistan from the 60s to early 2000s. From the Soviet invasion and the subsequent Communist regime to the Islamist government that followed and then the even more fundamentalist Taliban regime, it gives the reader a better understanding of the hardships Afghanistan has gone through as a nation. It explains how Kabul went from a fairly modern city where women could go unveiled and become doctors and lawyers to a place where all women had to wear burqas and were brutally stoned to death if they were found guilty of adultery.

But this novel is foremost a story about friendship. Two women, one a poor villager and the other the daughter of a school teacher from Kabul, are brought together by fate and tragedy. In a time and place where women have few rights and close to no freedom, they will be each other’s family and confident. They will lean on each other to carry the burden of their oppression.

Hosseini’s portrayal of the characters is multifaceted and deeply human. Not even the most dislikable person in the book is made out to be completely evil but has some positive qualities.
The story itself is like the one in The Kite Runner heartwrenching and knowing that although it is fiction it still speaks of what is a reality for millions of people, especially women, really makes your heart go out to them.

But as with The Kite Runner, it ends with a note of hope, that despite all the awful things humans have done and continue to do to each other there are still those driven by love and that better days will come.

2 years post top surgery and the next steps

Warning: this post will discuss medical stuff and downstairs business. You might not want to read if that makes you uncomfortable.

This month, on the 15th, it will be 2 years since I had top surgery. The first thing that hits me when I think back is how grateful I am that I had the opportunity. I still have moments when I look at my chest and have this feeling like it’s too good to be true.

Sometimes I’m annoyed with the scars, though. Not for any aesthetic reasons but because they’re a reminder that I had to have the surgery in the first place, that I was born in the wrong body and all the pain that this has caused me over the years.

My goal with transition is to have as close as possible a body like the one I feel I should have been born with from the beginning. What I want is to be on the outside what I’m always been on the inside: just another guy. And to me that means look as much like a cis guy as possible. I don’t want to be reminded that I was born in the wrong body every time I look at myself.

Some ultra-PC edgelords have a problem with that, they think you need to want to look trans or you have “internalized transphobia”. To these people I say: fuck off, people do not exist to fight your personal ideological battles. I am my own individual, my feelings are not dictated by you or anyone else and I will do all I can to look as biologically male as possible because it’s what I want.

Anyway, sometimes I have thoughts of maybe getting a chest tattoo to cover up the scars but I know I probably won’t do it. Tattoo ink tend to have some not-so-healthy stuff in it and there has been some studies suggesting ink particles can travel to the lymph nodes and maybe cause cancer. If I get a tattoo, especially a big one on my chest, I know I’ll obsess for the rest of my life over whether it’s going to give me cancer so I’m just going to skip it. I already have enough health issues as it is.

I hope the scars will fade quickly and I’ve been looking into different scar lightening treatments but haven’t found anything that makes a difference yet.

I’ll post a pic at the end of this post in case you want to know what my chest looks like today. My body is all sorts of wonky because scoliosis and other reasons but whatever.

The next step in my transition will be hysterectomy. The waiting lines are as usual long as hell and it probably won’t be until next January. Then I’ll be waiting for bottom surgery, which will take at least another year.

Because of my health issues caused by hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, I’m feeling less and less like having phallopasty. I don’t know how my body will handle all that scarring and phallo already has a high complication rate as it is even for healthier individuals. I also can’t find anything anywhere on how this surgery will affect someone with my condition and medical professionals I ask don’t seem to know either.

If I didn’t have EDS, I’d 100% choose phalloplasty over metoidioplasty. It sucks to be a top and not be able to fuck without a prosthetic but I guess I’ll just have to learn to live with it.

Metoidioplasty isn’t some minor surgery either but it is less risky than phallo and I need to have bottom surgery either way if I’m ever going to be comfortable with my own genitals. Not being able to have sex without dysphoria is awful and it’s why I’m celibate for long periods of time. I’m not dating at all at the moment and I honestly don’t know if I can handle being intimate with someone again until I’m fully post-op.

So, love and marriage and having kids is likely not going to be part of my life for at least 2,5 years and that sucks. But I’m trying to pass the time with focusing on my career goals, my political interest and my writing. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to make a decent living by the time I start looking for someone to start a family with.

A World Tour of Books: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (Pakistan)

A whole world was shocked when on the 9th of October 2012, a taliban shot a fifteen year old girl in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. That girl was Malala Yousafzai, an activist for girls’ right to education.

Her activism had began around the age of 11, when she followed her father to a local press club and gave a speech where she spoke against the Talibans’ attempt to take away the right to education. Her speech was covered by local newspapers and TV-channels and she became a well-known figure alongside her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, who is himself an education activist and at the time ran a number of schools.

Later she wrote an anonymous blog for BBC Urdu about living under Taliban occupation. During that time, the religious extremists blew up schools and forbid girls from getting any education. The Talibans hate of women learning is so intense, they have thrown acid in girls’ faced and killed many of them to make them stop.

The Pakistani army eventually drove out the Taliban out of the Swat Valley. Malala’s family, who had left to escape the fighting, returned and the girl school Ziauddin Yousafzai ran reopened. But sadly, the terrorists were not done with either him or his daughter. They received many threats and one day in October 2012, a Taliban shot Malala in the head after stepping into her school bus.

His intent was to silence her forever but not only did she survive the attack, people from all over the world where outraged and rallied behind her. Head of states like Gordon Brown and Barack Obama spoke in her support. Madonna dedicated a song to her on the day of the shooting and celebrities like Beyoncé and Selena Gomez showed her their support on social media. The shooter wanted to silence her but instead amplified her voice in a way he could never have imagined.

The audiobook of I Am Malala is available on Audible.

I am Malala is Malala’s autobiography which came out a year after her attempted assassination. It in she tells about her childhood, her activism, her brush with death and her recovery. It is an inspirational true story of courage and perseverance in the face of hate and ignorance.

And Malala Yousafzai has not stopped fighting for her cause. The same year her book came out she founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit organisation which fights for girls’ right to go to school.

Despite continued threats to her life, she is no backing down and in 2014 she was rewarded for her bravery with the Nobel Peace Prize. At only 17, she became the youngest person to ever receive the award.

A World Tour of Books: The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (Italy)

The term Machiavellian refers to someone who is cold, calculated and unscrupulous when working towards his goals. It comes from the name of the Italian Renaissance man Niccolò Machiavelli, who was a man of many gifts. He was a poet and playwright, a philosopher, a diplomat and politician and well as a historian.

What he is most known for is his book The Prince. A political treatise, it deals with how Machiavelli believed a monarch ought to rule and what he must do to stay in power.

Since remaining on the throne is a prince’s main goal, Machiavelli prescribed that he should not be guided by mere morals but do whatever it takes, including using cruelty and deceit.

If for example someone would try to take his throne, the prince must crush them and their family so utterly that the he never has to worry about retribution. As one of the most famous quotes from The Prince states:

If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.

Interestingly, Machiavelli believed the prince should act this way in a sense for the greater good. When the ruler is merciless in dealing with external and internal enemies of the state, then the state remains stable, peace abounds and the people are happy. Or at least that was Machiavelli’s theory.

Machiavelli used famous examples to illustrate how a ruler should and should not act. Some were from history but others were more recent, things he had himself witnessed during his career as a politician and diplomat.

He goes in length into different types of states and historical events and I don’t know if it’s his style of writing of what but at times I found this book a bit boring.

Still, I found it overall interesting. The Prince is a historically important document and one of the most famous political treatises in history. But its lessons can be surprisingly useful in different areas, such a business and personal relationships. Even if you are yourself not inclined to Machiavellian tendencies (not that you should be), knowing for example the art of manipulation could prove useful, at the very least in helping you recognize it.

It is fascinating that book written in the 16th century could prove relevant 500 years later and that gives me a certain respect for the man who wrote it, even if I don’t share his views on morals.

 

As this book as no copyright, you can listen to it for free on Youtube and read it as a free e-book online.

Finally

This is going to be a short post because it’s late and I’m exhausted. I just wanted to update on the political situation here in Sweden. Well, the Riksdag voted today and it’s now official: we have a government!

I was worried the far-left would vote against the coalition of the Social Democrats, Green Party and the two social liberal parties but it seems they probably realised voting for continuing this no-government chaos might make them lose support.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this is the government I had been hoping for. The Social Democrats will now be working with social liberals instead of the authoritarian far-left and hopefully this will move their politics more towards the centre and make Sweden a country of greater freedom.

Spoke too soon: we don’t have a government

This post is a follow up to the one I wrote 3 days ago about the current political situation in Sweden. In it I wrote that we now finally have a government after an agreement between four political parties. But it seems I misread the news. A government will not happen until all parties in the Riksdag have given the thumbs up to this new arrangement. The vote will happen on Wednesday and all parties except for the far-left Left Party seem to agree.

So it is now up to a supporter of many former and current communist dictatorships to decide whether or not Sweden will finally have a government over 4 months after the elections.

The likelihood that the Left Party will shoot down this new coalition is very high since it excludes them and we all know how much authoritarian socialists love power.

Knowing that a decision affecting the future of my country lies in the hands of the Left Party honestly makes me nauseous.

A World Tour of Books: First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung (Cambodia)

It’s rarely that I come across a book that shakes me to the core and bring real tears to my eyes. Loung Ung’s autobiography First they Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is one of those books.

Through it she retells her experience of the tyrannical rule of the Communist Khmer Rouge. It starts in April 1975, when the Khmer Rouge forces invade the capital Phnom Penh and Ung’s family have to flee for their lives. They move from village to village and have to hide their true identities in order to survive. They come from a privileged background and that is enough to deserve death in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge. Even something like wearing glasses could get someone killed since it made them look intellectual and “bourgeois”.

This is an aspect of what happened that I think is important to read about for anyone interested in politics. It is crucial to never let the struggle for more equality degenerate into hatred for those who have more. It has in the past and can still lead to bloodbath and, ironically, to more oppression. Concern for people must be what motivates and not ressentiment towards the privileged classes, less we turn into monsters.

The Khmer Rouge eventually found and killed Loung Ung’s father and the rest of the family had to separate and disperse to get a better chance at survival. Loung ended up in a work camp for children where she was trained as a child soldier. Even the blood of children was considered worth spilling for the sake of the Khmer Rouge’s hypothetical communist utopia.

After the Vietnamese liberated Cambodia, Loung was reunited with her surviving siblings. Later she and one of her brothers travelled to a refugee camp in Thailand, from where they were accepted by American sponsors and immigrated to the United States.

Today, Loung Ung is a human rights activist and has campaigned for important issues such as an international ban on landmines.
There was a happy ending for her after going through hell but for two million Cambodians it wasn’t the case. This is why stories from survivors like her are so important, so that the truth of what happened is told and we hopefully learn something from it.

First They Killed My Father was also adapted into a movie available on Netflix. It is worth a watch if you want to learn about this dark chapter of the 20th century.